Muumuu House, Tao Lin’s online and print publishing house, has added some helpful information to the galley of Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee—helpful for the reader either familiar or not familiar with Lin, Boyle, Muumuu House and their wider world. This is “debut poetry”—that is, not selected unpublished blog posts, not by a Mexican Panda Express employee, or maybe just not both (or any other combination of things). Pay no attention to the fact that some of the pieces have in fact been published in a format very similar to a “blog post” under Megan Boyle’s byline. I’m not being facetious here, really—you probably wouldn’t call these poems to look at them, but I think the label is pretty fair.
I hate to outright compare Boyle’s work to Lin’s, but it seems inevitable. His work appeals to me largely for the attention it pays to some of the most mundane elements of everyday life, and in this respect, Selected Unpublished Blog Posts is very similar. But where his novels often give introspective characters going about their quotidian business as narrated by a third person who strips things bare, Boyle’s book is occupied with direct first-person introspection, whether implicit or explicit.
That introspection, like so much of this daily life, is often mundane. “i’m not sure how the world outside baltimore perceives baltimore,” the narrator says, in a post that mentions living in the Maryland city most famous to me as the location of “Homicide: Life on the Street.” “it seems impossible to ever objectively know what other people think.” There are meditations on the balancing of language and emotion that recall the precision Lin’s narrator often seems to be searching for:
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 two words
The easy criticism here is that all this thought is aimless, pointless, and that our narrator is simply navel-gazing, musing on her own depression and alienation—in fact, that the musing is all there really is of that alienation. But there are moments in Selected Unpublished Blog Posts, especially toward the end, where the narrator’s honesty begins to feel unquestionable, and it becomes more difficult not to sympathize with her.
my behavior have been slightly histrionic lately
i talk to myself out loud as if i’m updating a friend i haven’t seen for two months
i say things like ‘well, i don’t know, i guess i’ve bene kind of depressed, sort of a lot actually, i just don’t like it here and i feel disconnected from everyone and…’
it’s really embarrassing, i think
She closes with a passage of self-honesty, “Lies I Have Told,” which ran in Thought Catalog in December 2010. Her second to last lie is, “i don’t know what i’m really looking for right now.” Au contraire:
i’m looking for a two to five year relationship with a man similar enough to me so we feel like we have a special, secret kind of bond, but different enough so we have things to talk about. hopefully he has been, but is not currently severely depressed. an interest in reading, writing, literature, and/or existential philosophy is important, though i feel stupid saying that.
The list goes on. Is the narrator asking too much? She is seeking, and we must acknowledge that; many of the posts recount meetings with new and old friends and acquaintances, and despite the social anxiety so common to these “severely depressed” members of my generation, she’s open to new experiences. But if the outer shell is always made up of the lie, and the truth is something so specific and demanding, how much of the openness is real and how much is superficial? The claim to the kind of self-knowledge this list of qualities implies betrays a greater self-obsession than the narrator’s various musings on her mental health, her cats, and her sexual history. The fact that we cannot dictate the personalities of our partners to such an extent is what creates this alienation. Then there’s the converse: the consumption partner made a new friend relatively recently, and commented to me on how “humanizing” it was to begin to accept the faults of a new person. This is the balancing act I have found appealing in what others have characterized as flat or boring or trite or childish—the constant choice we make between humanizing ourselves by accepting our own faults along with others’ and staying somehow “true” to ourselves by rejecting such faults but, through that, remaining alienated and isolated.
Update: I forgot to add the other day that the FTC compels me to disclose that I received a galley of this book from the publisher, MuumuuHouse.