selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee
A few weeks ago I got an email asking if I'd like a galley copy of muumuu house's new book: selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee, by Megan Boyle. I said sure. They sent me a copy of the book about a week ago. I read the book. Here are some thoughts I had about it.
First of all, it's written in an emotionally flat, consciously unnatural style that I associate very much with Tao Lin. Contractions are often avoided ('i am' is used in place of 'i'm', 'there is' is used in place of 'there's', etc); emotional states are mentioned unemotionally and without great detail ('some acquaintances sat at the table next to me and i felt uncomfortable. they ate in silence and i felt more comfortable.'); sentence structures are basic and show little variation, are even sometimes purposefully repetitive ('i just took an online quiz in my head and found out [...] i just took another online quiz in my head and discovered [...]'). Obviously, writing in such an affected way produces specific effects on the reader. What interested me, in this case, is how that effect differs when similar styles are used by different people.
With Tao Lin's RICHARD YATES this style furthers my perception of the narrator as socially dissociated to the point of exhibiting traits of Aspergers syndrome. The Haley Joel Osment character notes the emotional state of the Dakota Fanning character, but seems to lack any sense of empathy with her. When the HJO character is moved out of emotional neutrality by the DF character, what he feels is irritation and disappointment that the DF character has not lived up to his expectations. He doesn't seem very interested in supporting her; his interests lie, instead, with his personal goals: writing, pushups, things he wants to achieve. The stylistically-affected tone I describe in the previous paragraph seems to further that narrator's character by displaying distrust of, or disinterest with, emotions and emotional-connection/interaction with other people.
Boyle's character, on the other hand, seems highly interested in other people's emotions, or at least in the way that those emotions relate to her. She wants people to like her, to find her attractive and interesting. Again and again she makes statements like 'i felt scared about not having enough time to make myself look attractive for the person i was getting a beer with [...]'; or 'one of my primary goals is to not take myself seriously, or at least to convey that attitude socially...'; or 'i'm having good thoughts today, all seem interesting. i wonder if that would be interesting to read, or too self-indulgent [...]'; or 'eventually i think i made enough funny/relevant comments that i 'broke even,' or maybe exceeded and moved into 'well-liked.'. She obsesses about her weight, mentioning it more than maybe any other topic. She fantasizes about people falling in love with her ('maybe someone will fall in love with me and make me want to stay.').
The pairing of the personality revealed by these statements with the emotionally flat, consciously unnatural style this text is written in gave me a sense of internal contradiction and conflict that seemed mildly tragic, but also illuminating of difficulties faced by the 'internet generation.' To put the conflict into basic terms: she seems to want other people's approval, but she also seems to feel that approval is basically pointless; if it weren't for everything else being pointless too, she probably wouldn't be so obsessed with other people's approval.
I wonder how much of this attitude relates to, specifically, coming of age in an era where a large amount of social-interaction takes place on the internet--a medium in which true intimacy is very difficult to achieve. One reaction could be to start to doubt the potential of human interaction all together, and to come around to a sort of narcissistic/self-obsessed perspective in which the meaning of your own existence is both dwarfed by the internet--because you're only one person in an arena populated by billions of other people (as opposed to being one person in a small town, where you see the same people--even strangers--on a regular basis)--and seduced by the internet--because you have potential access to vastly more people than you'd otherwise have access to. Or to put it in words that Boyle might use, because of the internet 'our generation is fucked.'
Of course, the limits of human interaction and the dehumanizing affect of crowds on the individual are things people had to deal with before the internet ever existed, and the rise of the internet might potentially just have put those things into more immediate perspective. But if that's true, it's probably also true that the internet has brought with it a potential for distraction far greater than any we've faced before, which likely results in individuals having less presence of mind with which to contemplate these things that they've always dealt with.
Boyle's book shows that distracted state of mind--it never goes too deeply in the abstract, it limits itself instead to the very simple, to the very immediate, to concepts like 'i like touching people when i'm drunk'. Often times she writes of things that seem meaningless, or at least not very important--'five employees attended my works christmas party at a bar/ i ate peanuts and tried to hear what people were saying'--which brings to mind that old Miranda July quote about Tao Lin writing 'from moods that less radical writers would let pass—from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom [...]'. A lot of Boyle's book is coming from those moods. A lot of what she writes seems pretty meaningless, seems like words put onto a blog just for the sake of producing words, of saying something, of making noise in an arena of billions--not to communicate anything important, just to keep from disappearing in the crowd.