The Internet is weird.
Blogging is at once an act of exhibitionism and anonymity–Blogger by Google, for example, is equal parts personal diary and public platform. When you write for the Internet, you contribute to an infinitely expanding database of voices in pixels. Your audience is both limitless and unseen; blog posts often read as either newsletters to an over-estimated fanbase or self-conscious, schizophrenic indulgences. But for all this, there is something singular and personal and genuine about writing on a blog, saving drafts onto Blogger with a wary hope akin to a diarist that someday the scraps will add up.
This is the feeling captured in Megan Boyle’s debut book, “selected unpublished blogposts of a mexican panda express employee,” a collection of blog drafts written by Boyle over the course of two years and published this September by Muumuu House, a publishing house created and run by writer Tao Lin (“Richard Yates,” “Shoplifting from American Apparel”).
Muumuu House has published two books of poetry; Lin also curates writing found on the Internet and, with permission, publishes everything from tweets to Gmail chats. With Boyle’s first book, Muumuu House has gone a step further: publishing a print, perfect-bound book of the 100-some blog posts that once sat in Boyle’s “Blogger drafts.”
Skeptical? It’s understandable. In an age where everyone and their hamster has a blog, there is resistance to accept Internet writing into the world of “literature.” And, to be fair, the vast majority of writing on the Internet probably shouldn’t be considered “literature.” But with Boyle’s poetry collection, Muumuu House has found the kind of raw, honest writing that can, perhaps, only take place within a Blogger window.
“There was a period where any time I wrote text in the Blogger.com window I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about what I was writing,” Boyle said. “One time I started writing a paper in a Blogger.com window because I was having a hard time with it.”
The syntax and formatting of “selected…” is, fittingly, casual. The ends of lines go unpunctuated, nothing is capitalized, text is sans serif. The result is a book that feels unprecedented in its sincerity.
Throughout “selected…,” Boyle describes her surroundings and her emotions with plain, unadorned language, and her imagery is all the more powerful for it. In the first entry of her book, Boyle lists a few of her “favorite things to feel,” a series of sensations that are almost harder to state simply, as Boyle does, than they are to dramatize (“the way time doesn’t exist when you’re waking next to someone and you just roll around quietly in bed together and sometimes open your eyes,” “the night before leaving for a trip on an airplane”). So many experiences have been embellished, over and over, in attempts at turning the ordinary into poetry; Boyle tears these moments away from the cliche and returns them to their simplest state.
“selected…” is self-conscious and self-aware in a particularly twenty-first century way; today, we not only cultivate our internal thoughts and our external world, but our online persona, our blogging voice, our Internet life, ever more public yet increasingly obscure.
“i would like to matter to every person in the world,” writes Boyle, “i would like every person in the world to matter to me/neither of those things will ever happen.”
In addition to the blog draft poems, the collection is sprinkled with essays previously published on the Internet, including “Lies I Have Told” and “Everyone I’ve Had Sex With.” Arguably Boyle’s most famous essay, originally published on Thought Catalog and the Muumuu House website, “Everyone I’ve Had Sex With” is exemplary of Boyle’s unassuming honesty, the voice of a brave introvert on the Internet (“i am an introverted person but i like approval,” she writes in “selected…”), a 20-something trying to figure things out through writing.
You can see the wheels turning, so to speak. And reversing. And stalling. And drinking iced coffee. In “selected…,” she writes, “am i consciously trying to think interesting thoughts because i think i’m going to write this down later? am i actually interesting or do i just want to construct a view myself as ‘interesting’ so i can feel like i shouldn’t die?”
Boyle named a few of her favorite books as influences: “Where You’ll Find Me” by Ann Beattie, “Bed” by husband Tao Lin and “Like Life” by Lorrie Moore. As for inspiration, Boyle said, “If anything inspired me it’s the same thing that inspires me to do anything (wanting the world to know I was here, wanting to connect with people honestly, and make life more interesting by writing things down).”
“selected…” deals with some heavy topics–death and depression and relevance and need of love–but in the most straightforward, unassuming way. Boyle doesn’t take herself or her concerns too seriously. Her writing shows the internal calm of intelligence.
The result is a reassuringly candid look at one individual’s consciousness, in all its quiet insecurity and raw hopefulness; “selected…” is a series of drafts, dispatches not from the ‘frontlines of a generation’ but, instead, from one 20-something’s world–and that in-tune and individual voice, which disowns grandiosity in favor of honesty, is the only kind any generation has use for.
“selected unpublished blogposts of a mexican panda express employee” is a remarkable debut. Megan Boyle has given us a book that reads as a series of finely tuned drafts that feel both painstaking and unpolished, earnest and unassuming, plain, poetic, moving, self-conscious and, above all, real.