INTERVIEW: Liveblogging with Megan Boyle
This past March, Megan Boyle — the author of Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee, a columnist at Vice, and the muse for Tao Lin’s latest novel Taipei — began keeping a liveblog on her tumblr. The intention behind this was to write about everything she did, in hopes that, according to one of her tweets, the project would serve as “negative reinforcement,” thus forcing her to behave better due to the self-imposed lack of privacy.
My initial reaction was one of derision: Why would someone waste their time doing that? And then I kept on reading… and reading… until I realized that something interesting was happening. At the surface level, I was entertained by Boyle’s sense of humor and massive drug use, and I enjoyed the voyeuristic quality the format lent. But it soon became clear that there was more going on in Boyle’s writing than shallow entertainment. This was not the written equivalent of a reality TV show. This was a painfully honest and raw record of a person’s life, filtered through a keyboard and not much else. In some ways, what Boyle is doing is the opposite of how social media is commonly used: this is not limited to clever one-liners, flattering self-portraits, and crafted reflections. Instead, the project is dedicated to recording the whole truth — the fights, the failures, the insecurities — the things that we normally would never share publicly, the things we might not even tell our closest friends.
The blog — now in its fifth month and around the same length as Don Quixote — has gone through numerous phases, and Boyle’s diligence for the project has waxed and waned. What began as an attempt at instilling discipline has morphed into a monolith of text that has taken on a life of its own, giving birth to a massive ask.fm account (where Boyle answers anonymous questions with an unusual amount of depth and sincerity) and numerous YouTube videos.
In the spirit of the ongoing nature of the liveblog, Boyle and I conducted a series of short interviews about the blog via Skype video over a period of three months.
— Juliet Escoria for Electric Literature
Wednesday, May 1, 10 pm EST
Liveblog length: ~180,000 words
Notes: Megan is at her mother’s house near Baltimore
Electric Literature: Have you thought about doing anything more permanent or formal with the liveblog, like turning it into essays or a book?
Megan Boyle: I’ve thought about it. I’d like that. I like the idea of it being totally unedited, so it documents how thoughts work. But that might not be good for readability.
EL: Gabby Bess was saying the liveblog was like performance art, and I agree with that, in that it’s a different way to use the internet, a way to erase privacy.
Boyle: Yeah, it feels different than other writing, in that I’m less worried. I don’t know, actually I am. Nevermind.
EL: Are you less worried about the order of the words and the syntax?
Boyle: I won’t let that stop me from writing something down. That part’s cool.
I forgot that it’s fun to just go, rather than think “I’m going to write about this,” and then two hours later I’m on the same word.
It seems good to just keep cycling through thoughts.
EL: Has the liveblog changed your interactions with your friends? Are they more self-conscious?
Boyle: I don’t know. They’re a pretty self-conscious crew, in general (laughs). And I don’t even really see them a lot. I don’t think it’s changed anything.
EL: Has your ex-boyfriend Zachary [German] said anything?
Boyle: Oh yeah. A little with him. We’ve argued about it, like he’s said, “Oh it wasn’t like that, she gave me her phone number.”
EL: So he’s reading it?
Boyle: He was. Then he told me, “I don’t want to waste my time with that.” He seems really touchy about how he’s portrayed, like people won’t separate him from my perception of him.
I’m trying to get away from changing what I write because of what other people will think.
But it’s hard, really really hard.
Saturday, May 18, 10:40 pm EST
Liveblog length: ~224,000 words
Notes: On May 5, Megan began to leave certain dates or events blank, and then update what happened during them later.
EL: Did the re-cap of blog posts do anything for you?
Boyle: It felt really shitty to look at it. I can’t even re-read it. It was really tedious to go through it, and it was all barely distinguishable from the next. It felt like, “What difference does it make?” I felt really bad that night.
EL: Like a “What am I doing with my life” kind of thing?
Boyle: Yeah. Like this has got to stop. This feeling of not knowing what I’m doing. Most people have a long term idea of what they want, and I feel like I just live impulse to impulse. It doesn’t feel good. The liveblog is making me more sensitive, knowing I’ll have to write stuff down. It takes a lot of time from people, like I haven’t really hung out with other people much.
EL: If it’s making you less satisfied or happy to do it, then why are you continuing to do so?
Boyle: I think I have a hope that it will do something. I like thinking about if I do it for 5 or 10 years or my whole life. That seems cool to me, that’s exciting. I feel like I can push myself out of it somehow.
EL: Is the liveblog giving you any problems in your interpersonal relationships?
Boyle: Sort of, in that I feel like it’s harder for me to have them, or to have the energy to want to have them.
I kind of dread having to hang out with people because I know I’ll have to write about what we did.
Lately I’ve been putting off writing about doing mushrooms with my friend, who seems to really want me to do it, which makes me want to do it less.
Monday, May 27, 1 am EST
Liveblog length: ~246,000 words
Notes: Megan seems to be getting progressively more and more depressed.
EL: Are you depressed?
Boyle: (Long pause.) Yeah.
EL: Are you uncomfortable talking about this? Because we could talk about something lighter.
Boyle: I’m uncomfortable talking about this but it’s not bad. It seems interesting to me to be uncomfortable.
EL: Okay. I’ll ask you uncomfortable questions then. Do you think the liveblog has anything to do with it, or is this just the trajectory that you were hoping the liveblog would prevent?
Boyle: I thought it would prevent it. I thought it would help me actualize things because I’m writing them down. I did feel a crest when I began doing this, and I thought it would make me act different. But instead I’m allowing myself to be this way, instead of pushing myself to be the opposite way. I feel like I’m getting to a point where I’ll feel sick of allowing myself to feel bad. It’s got to be something different soon. But I can’t even remember if I’ve felt this bad before. It seems like things could always be worse.
EL: It seems like there’s this push-pull of wanting the quality of your blog to be true, in that you blog everything, versus wanting it to not suck out your life.
Boyle: It’s fun to write about the good times and then go back and realize there’s things I might have forgotten the details of otherwise. But I feel weighted, big time, by this sense of obligation. Like I’m not doing enough, always. The minute I feel obligated to do anything I don’t want to do it. But I haven’t ever tried to fully stick with something. I dropped out of school five times, and even the way I do relationships — it’s like something gets bad enough and I just peace out. Or the other person peaces out. It feels good to think that maybe I’m growing by doing this, or
if I just keep wading through the shit of it, then something else will have to happen. But it’s also very possible that I’ll just wade in the shit forever.
Tuesday, June 18, 11:40 pm EST
Liveblog length: 289,000 words
Notes: 4 dates in June were left entirely blank. Megan has begun dating a person a person who she refers to as “[omitted]”. She is very drunk during this Skype session.
EL: Why did you stop liveblogging as consistently?
Boyle: I thought liveblogging — well, there was a time when I first moved into the apartment where I thought I had nothing interesting to say and I was annoyed by myself so I had to let it go for a while. That was before June. Then I started putting polls [about how to update the blank dates] on the blog, and then I met someone. That started making me feel happy and I liked spending time with him. But there was also an element where if people found out who he was then both of us would be in trouble. I’m in a weird place now of what I can talk about. Like, “How much should I write about you?”
EL: It seems like you’ve been paying more attention to what’s important to you and not the liveblog.
Boyle: Yeah, I definitely feel happier, like more of a person who can do stuff. The thing I used to return to every night was, “Oh, I have to write in the liveblog.” But now lately it’s been, “Oh, I’m happy about this person, maybe I don’t quite have to write about all of it.” I’ve been feeling better.
EL: Are you sick of liveblogging?
Boyle: A little bit. But I’m still interested in the idea of keeping going until it’s impossible to not go anymore.
EL: Until the internet is dead.
Boyle: Yeah. Or until my whole life is — wouldn’t it be cool if 500 years from now like a kid could find a thing like, “Woah this person’s life, like totally and full.” I feel interested in making that. So that’s why I don’t quite want to stop all the way yet.
EL: I thought it was interesting when you were talking about how people would be surprised that you believed in God, and then began to discuss what your beliefs were. It seems to me that God is more taboo to talk about than say, sex or drugs.
Boyle: When I wrote that, I had that feeling in mind. Nobody talks about what they believe. I went through that “God doesn’t exist” phase, but I feel like that’s off-putting. It’s like punk music: Fuck fuck fuck! Nothing matters, nothing matters!
Jesus. I’m so not going to be able to say what I mean to say right now (laughs). But if you really think about it, it’s weird that… like why would anything be here? Why would you and me be here talking? Why would there be colors? [The idea of God] seems really happy and positive to me. It makes me think like, “Yeah, I wanna keep going on.”
[Megan’s laptop appears to fall onto the floor. Skype session ends abruptly.]
Monday, August 12, 5 am EST
Liveblog length: ~358,000 words
Notes: The liveblog was on hiatus from mid-July through August 1. Megan and [omitted] have broken up. She is Skyping me from a room at the La Quinta Inn in Rhode Island.
EL: What are some things that you’ve written about that you like the most?
Boyle: I liked a lot of stuff in the beginning. I was having a lot of crazy ideas. Like a reality TV show with Blake Butler and I — I imagined the whole commercial, it was called “Man of the House” — where we got to booby-trap the other person’s houses overnight and the goal is to stay awake for one week [March 19 ~6pm]. And stuff with my mom. I like writing down how she talks. I feel very affectionate about her when I write about her, I guess.
EL: Did [omitted] have an influence on the blog, or did your relationship with him have an influence on it?
Boyle: I think both. I was sort of in the beginning avoiding writing about him. And then I didn’t hear from him for a couple weeks and I thought, “Don’t leave him out, it doesn’t matter, write everything.” But then I went over for dinner and something felt different. And he had read everything. He’s very private, and doesn’t have like anything on the internet.
I was rationalizing it at the time, that it had nothing to do with him but it definitely did have something to do with him — the reason that I stopped [liveblogging]. I was spending a lot of time with him and I was like, “I can’t write about this cus it’s going to fuck up our dynamic. He’d probably like me more if I was ambitious in other ways.”
EL: So do you think you could liveblog and have it not fuck with either the blog or your relationship, if the person was more supportive of it, or is that impossible?
Boyle: I think definitely. It’s definitely possible. I could do it if someone was supportive. Like Tao and I used to do that for fun. We used to get done doing something and he’d be like “Okay, you write your account and I’ll write my account.” And then we’d trade accounts and — in Word documents they have “Track Changes” — and we would comment on each other’s accounts, and then we’d talk about our comments. It was so fun! I loved that.
EL: It seems like a common theme of the blog is your interest in tracking how your thoughts work, like the actual stream of consciousness in your brain. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that — the psychology of recording things, and why that’s interesting to you.
Boyle: It’s like the time lapse thing that happens in our interviews. Sometimes I can see your mouth moving but then I won’t hear you talk for a while. I feel like it’s the same thing, where I’ll think something and somewhere between the thinking of something and the action of doing something else, there’s a time lapse.
Oftentimes I won’t even get why I did something until after I’ve written about it.
EL: You said on the blog that you liked the idea of having “the most information on the internet” [June 20].What’s appealing about that?
Boyle: I was in the bathroom the other day, and I was really mad at like, everyone, for not doing [a liveblog]. It was like “Everyone should have to do this!” (laughs). I just wish every person had something where you could see exactly what was going on in their heads — there’s no mystery, there’s no wondering, there’s more certainty about stuff. No guessing. I don’t feel like I have that. Instead there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear and insecurity about other people. So I feel like I’m providing a service, maybe (laughs), in terms of anyone who wants to get to know me. In case they were wondering, “Is there something bad?” Yeah. There is. This is the bad stuff. You can take it or leave it.
EL: I think that’s one of the things I like about your writing — the fact that it’s so transparent in a way that most people wouldn’t be comfortable with doing. Most people don’t want to be vulnerable, or exposed, or have their flaws shown.
Boyle: That’s what I felt like was the big difference between [omitted] and me. [Omitted] is very guarded. It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to me, in the way that I don’t understand why anyone would think there was something wrong with being gay. Why would you cover up something about yourself?
If reading five months of blog entries sounds a bit daunting to you, you can sample Boyle’s blog on various alternative–literature-themed websites and tumblrs.
— Megan Boyle lives in New York City. Her book Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee was released from Muumuu House in 2011; it has since sold out and is currently available as an e-book. The second printing of the book will be available in four weeks.
— Juliet Escoria likes doing interviews. Her book Black Cloud will be released from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2014. She has a Twitter.