selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee is the debut book of poetry from Megan Boyle. Taking the form of dated blog entries through 2009 and 2010, the book follows the life (ostensibly Megan’s) of a woman in her early to mid 20s who lives in Baltimore with her cats, goes to school (classes in evolutionary psychology are mentioned frequently), writes “things,” goes to poetry workshops, has relationships and sex with different people, works, and ingests various substances.
Each event, thought, impression, or idea is isolated or localized in a way that to me seemed unprecedented in this exact form. It’s like each moment or situation noted is, to some degree, broken free from any overarching metanarrative, belief system, culture (except for pop culture), history, place, or other abstractions. I get a similar feeling when I’m on Twitter in that all points of reference are more or less assumed. A person tweeting doesn’t explain why he’s doing something, or even necessarily the context. He or she just says it. There’s a kind of freedom in that, and in Megan’s case it feels very reflective of the way people often seem to think, but up until now haven’t really expressed in written form beyond Twitter. I believe over time however that more people will begin writing this way.
It’s important to note that place, culture, and history do not seem denied or repressed in the narrator’s consciousness. She expressly writes about living in Baltimore, her family dynamics, etc. But it’s like these elements are insubstantial, inconsequential as causal factors of anything she really thinks, feels, or does. The only real connective tissue in her moment to moment existence is the immediate concrete reality of wherever and with whomever she happens to be and whatever hyperpersonal thoughts or emotions are stimulated / associated.
Again, this seems very reflective of the way people seem to think actually, but which is often obfuscated in their writing. I think people are afraid of seeming self-absorbed or crazy or expressing something that betrays how little mainstream “values” or “cultural heritage” or “identity as a _______” really means (but at the same time isn’t necessarily “meaningless”) to them.
But when these conventions are let go, there is a chance for something hyperpersonal, localized, and unique to emerge. And the irony of this is that the more personal and local it is, the more universally relevant it begins to feel:
i’m at the computer lab and this window says ‘blogger.’ people might be reading over my shoulder and perceiving me as ‘blogging loser’
i wonder if they’re going to tell ghost stories about social networking websites someday, like someone will find out the ‘groups’ part of their facebook profile was haunted
usually when i start craving cigarettes i stop smoking but today i bought another pack instead
i sat in starbucks today and studied for my evolutionary psychology exam. the man sitting next to me had long grey hair and many bags. there was an 87% chance he was homeless. as we sat next to each other both ‘everybody hurts’ by r.e.m. and ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ played and i knew we wouldn’t say anything to each other and both of us have parents somewhere
The overall effect is a sense of spontaneity and honesty. Of it all being “real.” And yet, interestingly, there is no sense of self-awareness that these “blog posts” will actually become her first book (which the author would have known IRL in 2010), nor any meta-fictional devices such as the writing itself being referenced (she just says “i’m writing ‘things'”), nor mention of the fact that some of these pieces were actually published, ostensibly as nonfiction, at Thought Catalog. It’s as if maintaining a fictionalized persona of the “mexican panda express employee” and the convention of the “diary” of blog entries helps reinforce the notion of “truth” as something permeable in the context of one’s identity IRL versus his / her online persona or creative expression.
selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee is the third book published by Muumuu House (the second publication was Matador contributor Brandon Scott Gorrell’s book). It seems necessary to talk for a minute about the publisher, Tao Lin, who is also Megan’s husband, and obviously a large influence.
Tao Lin recently signed a $50k contract with Vintage for his third novel. When asked about it by the New York Observer, here’s how the exchange went:
NYO: Do you feel now like you’ve “made it”?
TL: I honestly feel, to a large degree, like me and everyone else are close to death and that the awareness of this has, to me, precluded thoughts of “making it” (this is a theme of the novel).
When I first discovered Tao Lin’s writing 3 years ago, more than anything else I connected with the way he used scare quotes. It seemed much more than just a device or cheap way of creating irony, it gave me a sense of saying “these words don’t speak for me. The prescribed meaning of this language alienates me.”
It seems immensely important for writers to look at language this way. Not necessarily how you can subvert a word’s meaning but more how a particular word or meaning belongs to you (or you to it) at a certain moment in time, and how this can change over time. I feel like this at the center of Tao Lin’s work, not just as a novelist, but what he’s fomenting as an editor, publisher, and person: the act of letting go of codified language and meaning, of language and meaning that doesn’t belong to you – and finding meaning instead simply in the act of recording what is actually there present IRL.
Probably my favorite example of this in selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee is where Megan Boyle describes a bar as “full of people who looked like they listened to dave matthews band.” I read that off a .pdf on my iPod while walking up an airstrip in Patagonia, Argentina. I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t know how people 20 or 30 years from will identify with that, but as a reader now It gave me a sense of belonging [to what I’m not exactly sure, maybe nothing more than just that moment in time] that I probably wouldn’t have felt had she described the place in some other way.
Interview with a mexican panda express employee
In trying to show some of these points expressed above, I’ve decided to “interview” a few lines from the book. Each “answer” is an excerpt, with the lines in the same order exactly as they appear in the book.
[DM] Hey are you nervous at all about this interview?
i feel like i’ve entered a parallel universe and i’m overlapping myself
like in ‘being john malkovich’ where he enters his own portal and sees all the other john malkoviches
Damn. What is Baltimore like? I’ve only just been to the airport.
most men seeking women in baltimore on craigslist say they like hiking, sushi, and movies
most women seeking women in baltimore on craigslist like posting photos of vaginas
most of my social duties consist of trying to convince different groups of acquaintances that a different group of acquaintances is my primary group of friends
That seems like the reality shared by a lot of people who spend a lot of time online. Have you every thought what your life would be like without the internet?
i would be moderately overweight and probably would have graduated college on time
i would talk to more people and spend less time analyzing conversations
i would have higher self-esteem but feel less inclined to question my purpose in life
i don’t know how many boyfriends i would have had, but definitely wouldn’t have had one in particular
i might get pleasure out of telling myself i was addicted to something
i would write sci-fi stories about the apocalypse or humans with cat faces
maybe i would be happier if i had unlimited resources and lived something like tom clancy’s life
but i don’t want to be tom clancy
tom clancy probably wears a baseball hat when he has sex
No doubt. Do you ever worry about your writing coming off as basically just self-indulgent bullshit?
i like reading things other people might describe as ‘self-indulgent.’ what other people define as ‘self-indulgence’ just seems like honesty to me. i feel a need to inventory my thoughts and experiences, it makes it seem like they had a purpose. i think i can write some kind of best-selling thing from my thoughts and experiences. that is so stupid. how is it possible that i feel incredibly high and incredibly low self-esteem at the same time? i have no original thoughts, really.
If you could express your worldview in 10 words, what would it be?
everything i touch is going to be a fossil someday
What do you say to those who expect some kind of meaning out of poetry?
some moments are not meaningful at all
‘meaningful’ is not the right word and neither is ‘introspective,’ it’s a word that exists between those words
i think some moments exist to be simple sentences that don’t necessarily have a greater purpose than to be exactly what they are
i think most animals experience life in simple sentences and most people do not. or maybe they do. it depends. i don’t know. i am done thinking about this
Please visit Muumuu house to preorder a copy of selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee.