Megan Boyle talks about poetry, alt lit, and “Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee”

Megan Boyle talks about poetry, alt lit, and “Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee”

“i’ve been having regular sex with this guy

“he hits my cats on their heads and they look insulted”

Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee, the first book by 26-year-old Baltimore writer Megan Boyle, is the first book I’ve ever read that truly represents the strangely compelling way people reveal themselves, in writing, on the Internet.

In fact, the book was written for the Internet: the title accurately describes the fact that the several dozen short chapters were written as unpublished blog posts in 2009 and 2010. But they now come to us in book form, and they’re written with such engagingly offhand style and unvarnished candor that holding the book feels like holding the encapulation of an entire moment of literary history in all its charmingly awkward self-consciousness.

The book is published by Muumuu House, “a publisher of poetry, fiction, Twitter selections, Gmail chats online and in print”; the pubisher is a project by Boyle’s husband Tao Lin. People have been publishing their personal diaries for centuries, but the lines of Unpublished Blog Posts zing in with a pointed pithiness that unmistakably marks them as the product of a time when diaries are published in short real-time bursts.

“i come home and remove all clothes but underpants

“there would be boundary issues if I did not wear underpants

“people might come over and sit where my bare ass and vagina sat three hours earlier”

For some (including, the book suggests, Boyle’s parents), it will seem like TMI. For others, it will seem like the kind of insight about really real life in all its dolor and uncertainty that you can’t find anywhere else—except, maybe, in your Twitter feed. In a line that seems to speak for a generation, Boyle writes, “What other people define as ‘self-indulgence’ just seems like honesty to me.”

This afternoon, I gave the author a call.

Is it true that your best friend is a school bus driver in St. Paul?
She was. She lived in St. Paul for a while. She worked at the YMCA, and I think she drove kids to some sort of after-school program; it was part of her job.

How much of the book is genuine autobiography? Is any of it fiction?
It’s all true. It’s all thoughts that I had, based on events that happened in my life. It’s a when-does-memory-become-fiction thing: it’s all based on my life. They were like blog entries that I wrote originally.

The book is classified as poetry, thought it doesn’t necessarily look like what most people would call “poetry.” Can you talk about that?
I feel weird calling it “poetry,” but I don’t know what else to call it. I didn’t think, “I’m going to write poems now.” I would feel fine calling it essays; it’s something in between the two. I don’t know what to classify it as. I don’t really read a lot of poetry; I don’t really even like poetry. You can call it whatever you want to call it.

In her Tangential review of the book, Becky Lang wrote that your “native environment is text and chat.” Do you feel that’s true?
I rarely Gchat; I don’t remember the last time I did. I’ve gotten pretty involved in the Internet; that’s a big part of my life, but everything in the book is based on real-life interactions. I’d say, chat: not natural. Text: natural. Talking with people [in real life]: natural.

Do you think the Internet is changing what literature is?
I feel, like, not really qualified to answer that. I’ve just been exposed to the Internet and literature at the same time. The Internet is making things more accessible, so that could be changing—but [the Internet] is just part of reality now. There will be more access to literature, along with it being in books.

There’s a self-described “alt litster” movement that has proudly claimed you as one of its shining lights. Do you have any thoughts on that movement?
“Alt litster”? People really say that?

Yes, there’s a whole blog devoted to alt litster gossip. They often write about you.
That makes me feel good. Is it, like, Thought Catalog types?

It’s people like Steve Roggenbuck and Stephen Tully Dierks and Crispin Best.
They’re all funny. I like them. They’re doing funny, interesting things.

What do you see as the general project of Muumuu House, and why is it important?
I just like a lot of the stuff that they’ve done. I found Tao Lin; I’ve always been really drawn to his writing, and I like the honesty of people who write in that style. It’s direct, honest, funny, self-conscious: stuff I identify with a lot. It seems ideal for me in terms of what they put out, uncannily fitting. I sent Tao a bunch of unpublished blog posts, and he was like, “This would be a cool book.” I didn’t set out to write a book; it came about through Muumuu-House-related things.

Who are your favorite writers these days?
I’m just reading Nothing by Blake Butler, and I love it. I read half of it yesterday. I was not reading for a long period, feeling tired of everything. That was the first thing I’ve read in a long time that I really liked. Frederick Barthelme, Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Tao Lin. Richard Yates, he’s a big one.

Is there anything you wish I would have asked you?
Nope. This was good.

Jay Gabler

This interview was originally published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet.