“…universal and relatable.” That is what Publishers Weekly said about Megan Boyle’s LIVEBLOG (Tyrant, 2018), a raw, genre-defying tome that documents several months of the author’s life in 2013, when she was living with her parents and consuming lots of drugs—a 706-page mental breakdown recorded in real time that Boyle, just now recovering from the haze of making what author Juliet Escoria calls “the Bible for the 21st century,” is finally ready to reflect on.
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS: I remember LIVEBLOG was originally supposed to come out in 2015 but didn’t.
MEGAN BOYLE: Yes, it was supposed to come out November 2015.
BAE: Did you consider not publishing it at all?
MB: I had considered it. For about two years after I gave up editing it (2015-2017), I wanted to pretend I had never written it. My mental state since I stopped liveblogging was progressively bleak. My relationship was failing big time, and in the summer of 2014 I decided I would stay with my parents, who had recently started renting a house on the eastern shore of Maryland, where I knew no one. The plan was to focus on editing LIVEBLOG and return to New York in two months. Other than my parents, the only person I was in regular contact with was my boyfriend, who then became the target of an insane twitter rampage, ending the relationship. So then I was left with nothing, it felt like, but the book.
BAE: What drugs were you taking?
MB: I was prescribed 10mg Adderall twice a day and quickly worked it up to 30mg twice a day. I rarely used it as prescribed, 2014-2017. But I think the worst of my addiction was in 2014-2015. I would stay awake for days, spending increasingly less time on “actually editing sentences” and more time picking at my skin, which I began to believe had been infected/infiltrated by nanotechnology. I was mostly sleepless and tweaked out, entertaining delusions about what was happening to me, and trying to hold onto my sanity, which began to matter less to me. I stopped responding to texts and emails, and people stopped sending them. One good thing that came from that period is weaning myself off of Xanax, with the help of my psychiatrist. I tried micro (and macro) dosing LSD a few times in 2015, as a substitute for Adderall, which I think didn’t help my mental state other than providing a temporary alternative. I also went on Vyvanse for a couple months in 2015, for the same “temporary alternative” purpose.
BAE: LIVEBLOG is being promoted as a novel, which contradicts what I thought the true intention of the book was: a raw, unedited glimpse into the life of a real person named Megan Boyle that is documented by a real person named Megan Boyle. Was calling the book a novel purely a commercial move, or did you need that separation of fact and fiction due to personal reasons?
MB: There was a need to call it something, yeah, for distribution purposes, which I understand. Honestly I don’t really care what you want to call it. It’s not about what it’s called, it’s about what it says. I like the idea of calling it something people already understand, so they don’t have to think about what kind of thing they’re about to commit to getting into reading. I feel like it does the things I like novels to do.
BAE: The thing I like novels to do is not bore me, which is what most of them do… I feel LIVEBLOG is an experimental novel but, like, a readable experimental novel, much like Elizabeth Ellen’s Person/a… and not like Naked Lunch or what I imagine Infinite Jest to be like.
MB: I actually really like Infinite Jest, I read it on my first break from editing LIVEBLOG. I’m glad you found LIVEBLOG readable. I’m comfortable with just calling it a novel.
BAE: How does the Megan Boyle of 2013 (documented in LIVEBLOG) differ from the Megan Boyle of 2018?
MB: Oh man. This is a big question. I guess I’ll start with surface-level differences. I’ve been living alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Baltimore for two years. I moved back here to finish my B.A. in psychology/philosophy/writing at the University of Baltimore, where I finally graduated this spring. I went back to school because I thought I wanted to be a psychoanalyst. Now the plan is to get my MFA somewhere and hopefully teach. Last summer I also re-started weekly meetings with the Jungian analyst I saw, 2007-2011.
BAE: According to astrology, I would make either a really good detective or at least a pretty solid spy. I wait tables at a restaurant, instead. How come studying to be a psychoanalyst didn’t work out for you?
MB: Haha, I think I got those results on some astrology chart reading too. Basically I saw that it would take 2-3 years to complete a Master’s in social work, and an additional year or so to attain licensure as a counselor before years of advanced analytic training, so I wouldn’t really have a stable career until my early 40’s. I also realized sometime this year that my main reason for turning away from writing was fear. I found comfort in the idea that “someday, after enough time had passed, I could pretend Megan 2008-2013 never happened.” That’s not a good reason for changing careers, especially to one in the helping profession. I’d need to confront my past honestly if I were to become a psychoanalyst, too. It just seemed easier and more honest to keep going along the path I’d already started.
BAE: How have your personal relationships shifted?
MB: My relationship with my parents has changed in complicated ways. Also, I no longer want to be with someone to “make me okay,” and think it’s healthy to have friendships as well as one romantic relationship.
BAE: I tend to be closest to whomever I am romantically seeing at the moment. I am not one of those “hangin’ with the boys/girls” kind of people.
MB: Yeah, I think prioritizing romantic relationships is human, and makes sense developmentally. The funny thing about our generation is a lot of us are deciding not to have children, but it’s still in our genes to seek out a companion with whom we deem worthy to procreate. I think all of this other stuff gets projected onto our partners, in the absence of the former utility of seeking a mate to raise a family. At least, that’s how I’ve made sense of my experiences in destructive relationships founded on some elevated impossible thing called “love.” I want a family someday, but I’m also curious about the idea that takes a village to raise a child. I still don’t have many close friends. I’m putting conscious effort into making them. I call myself a recovering codependent now, and am reading self-help books and listening to podcasts about codependency.
BAE: How has your health changed since 2013?
MB: Routine, sleep, healthy eating, and exercise are important to me now. Weight is now a neutral indicator of health for me, not some ultimate barometer by which my worth as a woman is divined. I feel comfortable in my body, despite its imperfections. I eat because my body needs fuel, and run because it’s a great way to lovingly kick my ass.
BAE: I run too, but only emotionally, and away from my problems as much as possible. Also, The Brian Alan Ellis of 2018 still eats as shitty as the Brian Alan Ellis of 2013, and doesn’t really exercise.
MB: Oh, that’s not good. That’s what I’m like when I’m feeling bad. Megan of 2013 exercised to make less of herself in the world; Megan of 2018 exercises to build physical and mental strength. Megan of 2013 was obsessed with external validation and appearance, and wanted something other than herself to intervene and “save” her life, which was a big reason why she so exhaustively liveblogged it. I didn’t want to take responsibility for my life or body; I just wanted a better life and perfect body to suddenly be awarded to me someday, from all my hard years of work at “feeling so bad.”
BAE: Tell me about your parents. They come off as very warm in LIVEBLOG.
MB: I’m glad they come off as warm to you. I love them both a lot, despite the problems we have/have had. Writing about them made me more empathetic to them. Like, I felt protective of them… and wanted to pay more attention to their positive qualities/their positive effects on me, because I don’t think they’re aware of those things. I think they’d both say it was difficult to raise me. There were a lot of screaming fights, mostly between my mom and me, mostly when I was a teenager and in my early twenties. I wanted to make that right.
BAE: What does your mom do for work?
MB: My mom worked in publishing, and retired a few years after I was born. She would cover events like technology conventions and jewelry auctions, and eventually somehow ended up working for a company that paid her to travel the world and write about that. Eventually she had her own newsletter called The Joy of Travel. She dropped out of college her second year, I think, and was able to get this sweet job with just a high school degree.
BAE: What does she think about your writing?
MB: She’s said she loves my writing but it has “a cringe effect,” and seems cautious about reading things I don’t explicitly ask her to read. I think I’ve asked her for edits on maybe 75% of the things I’ve published, and have probably taken 50-60% of her suggestions—that would be a higher percentage, but a lot of her edits are about “Do you really want to say this?” or “Think about what it’d mean if an employer/the police/your future husband/your future kids found this.”
BAE: My mom always asks for copies of my books and I eventually give them to her but I am not sure she ever reads them because she never brings them up, which is fine because I don’t really want to discuss them with her, you know?
MB: Damn. My mom hasn’t read LIVEBLOG but she’s said she plans to, seems supportive and excited overall, and is glad I’m billing it as a novel. She actually suggested I do that in the book.
BAE: Maybe she was nervous about what people would think if it was billed as a memoir.
MB: Yeah, she’s told me that directly a few times.
BAE: What does your dad do?
MB: My dad is a clinical psychologist. He’s a workaholic, and was when I was growing up too. I used to show my Vice and Thought Catalog articles to my parents, or read them my stories aloud, so I think he’s read everything I’ve written but LIVEBLOG… maybe parts of it, while I was writing it. But he doesn’t have a good memory. He’s always seemed supportive of my writing, and doesn’t seem to have the typical “dad reaction” to things about drugs or sex.
BAE: That would be an interesting web series: “Dad Reactions,” where fathers review stuff their kids have made, especially stuff with questionable content.
MB: Haha, I like that idea.
BAE: Let’s discuss drugs again. Drinking and drugs have probably been the hardest things for me to shake as I’ve grown older. Are you still having problems in that area?
MB: They’ve been hard for me to shake too. I’ve been going to AA/NA meetings for about a year. I haven’t touched Xanax since 2015, and haven’t touched Adderall since February 2018. Those and alcohol are the big ones I’ve struggled with in my adult life, but separating some mind-altering substances from others is part of why I’ve slipped up a few times since February. I’ve learned that I can’t mess around with any chemical compound that gets me high or low, period. I’ll rationalize myself into anything, then I’ll wake three weeks later and be like “what happened to my life?” After doing that so many times, I’ve found that the answer to that question is never “drugs/booze happened,” it’s “I happened.” I’ll have 4 months clean on November 22.
MB: Thank you. “This time I’m serious about it,” I think with caution, because I always think, “This time I’m serious about it.” But, uh, this time I’m serious about it.
BAE: I went 6 months once, mainly out of guilt for getting black-out drunk and then peeing inside an ex-girlfriend’s car.
MB: Good job on 6 months, be it from guilt from a pee-pee session or whatever, that’s no easy feat.
BAE: Do you still consider yourself a depressed person?
MB: I wouldn’t call myself “depressed” anymore, nor do I glorify or gravitate toward a depressed worldview. I see such nihilistic bitterness and a rejection of life in my writing, 2008-2013. Life has meaning to me now, and I’m the only one responsible for making it work. But I also feel supported by something larger than myself, which was there quietly in the background in 2008-2013 too–I just didn’t want to pay attention to things that’d contradict my hopelessness, because there is something sinisterly comforting about feeling that you are correct about how intrinsically bad you are.
BAE: I totally get that. I generally feel that I have some sort of self-hate fetish, or something. It’s a struggle. I am an extreme person in many ways. Extremely selfish/narcissistic, extremely humble/friendly or extremely depressed/withdrawn. Those are my three gears in life.
MB: It’s also my default to run on those three gears. But I also think life occurs in gray areas, not in the extremes.
BAE: I don’t usually ask writers questions about being writers—I prefer knowing the minutiae of their lives, like favorite TV shows and movies; their regrets; their personal traumas—but I don’t consider you a typical writer. I think of you more as a personal documentarian who just happens to create in the literary medium, like Spalding Gray (or maybe Darcie Wilder). I find that process more fascinating than someone who is just a typical writer writing typical novels and typical stories in hopes of winning typical literary awards. How do you view yourself and your work in regards to the work and motivations of some of your peers within the literary community?
MB: I’ve met other writers and become friends with them. So I view myself in relation to those people as a friend, with similar interests. There are other people whose work I’m interested in less, and so I’m less interested in getting to know them, personally. That’s always been the case with me. If I read something that’s really cool, I’ll want to connect with the person who wrote it.
BAE: That’s where social media comes in, I assume.
MB: Yeah, it’s a positive force in that way. But it threw me out of balance. After taking a break from social media, I felt (and still feel) somewhat bombarded with all of the activity in the “publishing world.” It seemed like over the course of a few years twitter turned into more of a promotional tool, less as a tool for relating and understanding others. But that’s how I use my twitter now too. Like I just mostly retweet/repost things related to LIVEBLOG, because I no longer see twitter as the playful, artistic, connection-oriented medium it used to be. I realize this is a combination of the “not wanting to be part of any club that would have me as a member” and the “not being the change I want to see in the world” bias/fallacy. Time for some sweeping generalizations… I see my “peers” in three categories:
People who want to push their personal brands, amass giant followings, and never actually sit down and do something meaningful (with both their lives and their creative work). They want to receive success rather than intentionally work at it. There is a sense of entitlement among these people. This is the category I probably would’ve fallen into if I had never tried liveblogging, or if writing articles had come easily to me. I would’ve just whored myself out and waited for the world to pat me on the back, and when it didn’t give me what I thought I deserved, I would’ve found some way to “make it wrong” for not giving me my dues (i.e. “because I’m a woman,” “because of my sexuality,” “because of my socioeconomic status”). There is a trend among the people who fall into this category to view their work, writing in general—or maybe just their twitter—as political. I didn’t notice a distinction between these people and myself until 2014, when the former Alt Lit community collectively “decided” (if you can call a series of passive reactions “decisions”) to sully the reputations of some of its best and most exciting writers. It was like they all wanted to congratulate themselves for being so moral. It looked so bad to me, like, a really transparently jealous, sore loser attitude, which is scary and depressing to see enacted en masse. The kind of success these people want is exaggerated. It’s just a black hole of “gimme gimme gimme.” I don’t think they’d be satisfied even if they had, like, an HBO series based on their lives. There would always be a problem, and they would never see the problem as internally sourced. And the world would love it.
People who earnestly want to create something new and different, and put it out in the world. These people write to connect, and take their work seriously. They have a strong work ethic. This is evident from just reading what they create. Where people in the first category might affect some kind of toughness or apathy about their work’s reception (as a kind of reverse psychology, I think, to entice readers), the people in this category are either peacefully indifferent or genuinely concerned about the effect of their writing on its readers. Most of the people I consider friends fall into this category. The kind of success these people want is realistic, maybe “typical” if you sat each person down individually to talk about what they want. They favor artistic achievement over money and recognition, but they want people to read their work, and want to be financially stable, and think it’d be optimal/cool if those things intersected in a fruitful way. But they’re not spending hours of the day gawking at their twitter analytics, pandering to their followers.
People who want to write commercially successful books, like, marketable books for mass consumption, and are successful at doing this. I know the least about this category, and am the least interested in it. Most of what I know about the first two categories are from my experience as/in both.
BAE: This is like a “choose your own adventure” for writers but every writer ends up in their own hell…. So what’s next for Megan Boyle, the person?
MB: I’m in a weird period of reading a lot and feeling inspired, but unlike other times in my life, I’m not sure what I want to do with that inspiration yet. Also, unlike other periods, I’m not throwing in the towel.
BAE: What about Megan Boyle, the writer?
MB: I’ve been playing around with writing “actual fiction.” The results are pretty disheartening so far, but I’m excited by the idea of pushing myself to do something I haven’t tried, so I’ll keep going for a few more months. I feel a need to do something I haven’t done before, but I’m not sure what that is yet.
BAE: So no more liveblogging?
MB: I’d like to try liveblogging again under explicitly monitored conditions, maybe just for personal use, to see how I’ve changed.
MEGAN BOYLE (born October 15, 1985) is the author of Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee (Muumuu House, 2011) andLIVEBLOG (Tyrant, 2015). While publishing articles for Thought Catalog and VICE, Boyle became a prominent contributor to the Alt Lit and internet writing community. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and Something to Do with Self-Hate (House of Vlad Productions/Talking Book). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Fanzine, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Funhouse, Heavy Feather Review, and Queen Mob’s Tea House, among other places. He lives in Florida, and tweets sad and clever things at both @brianalanellis and @HouseofVlad.