What it is to become Coupland.
n the midst of big projects, long road trips and epic movie marathons, there’s always a need for pacing, and for breaks (even if it’s just to pee and replenish your snacks). In reading The Pale King, somewhere between the horrific and delicious banality and the rapid devouring of the text, as I broached the landmark 100 pages from the end I slowed down: I needed a break. Part of this was sheerly motivated by laziness: I also decided to go to Vancouver last weekend on a mini-holiday. I’ve been a gypsy for so long I find change is often as good as a rest. The lack of routine is less exhausting and more familiar than the expectations that have manifested themselves in the quotidian. I left the tome at home; 550 pages is too much to cart around the city. Instead I brought with me a collection of Massey Lectures by Douglas Coupland: Player One: What it is to become one of Us. I have attended one lecture in the past (Stephen Lewis) and heard many of the other lecturers speak in different contexts. When this series was announced, touted as “a novel in five hours” my curiosity was piqued: one of my formative literary influences, doing a reading from a new novel, however logistically it would’ve been impossible (or financially crippling) to attend. Nonetheless I couldn’t pass up a copy of the collection.
In addition to Microserfs I have read (or attempted to read) the majority of Coupland’s fiction work. Life After God was one of the most important books I read in the dark years of my angry adolescence, and could likely be pinpointed as the novel that brought me back from the brink. I saw him speak shortly thereafter. One of my parents took me, I can’t even remember which, because I can only remember their mystified silence as the ferried two of my friends home. He remains one of the strangest and most memorable performances I have ever seen. Somewhere between a train wreck and actual genius he banally jumped from side to side of sanity. He opened with remarks (which were quite funny), and followed by a reading of his latest novel (which was not), and then (perhaps to curb the awkwardness of the reading) proceeded to tell a collection of random (and equally awkward) vignettes.
He launched into the stories with a combination of charisma and desperation you would note waiting for the cheque during a terrible bad blind date. One of these was a rant about the sensuality of bottles: that the whole idea and design of bottles was to be something entirely tactile, that they were to be something you wanted to pick up, to touch, to squeeze, to hold. He described this day where he became fully obsessed with them, drove to a store, and bought every bottle you could imagine, poured all the contents down the drain and now had a shelf full of the bottles proudly displayed at his house in Vancouver. He closed the evening by announcing that he was bored of answering questions, so instead he had decided tonight would end “Jeopardy!” style, where people could offer answers and he would invent questions around them.
I had a similar reaction to this novel. It started off like a regular, enjoyable easy read. Then the satire-scale tipped over to horrific, but like a bad highway accident, it was impossible to look away. In return Coupland offers a poor, confusing story-arc, stitched together with thoughts, half-formed,half-funny, half-incredibly memorable, relevant and profound, and leaves us with the sensation of accidentally stumbling backstage during the best magic show you’ve ever seen in your life: disappointment, relief, fascination, annoyance and delight. Also the sense that there is some type of intention, you were meant to read this novel atthis particular point in time.
Flags at the Richmond night market, July, 2012.
The weekend was brilliant. It was hot and sunny, I was looked after and hosted with terrific friends and great hospitality. I danced to some great music and laughed my face off. Aside from logistical, I was motivated to go for comforting things: being looked after and being totally anonymous. There is something so cripplingly sweet about friend’s hospitality, allowing you to inconvenience them. The tenderness of being up too late and seeing your pals with their hair down, retainers in and glasses on. The extra warmth that grandma’s afghans and spare blankets hold. The soothing effects of hearing other people’s apartments late night noises.
At the end of Player One, Coupland leaves us with a “Future Legend:” snippets of definitions of words and expressions that will be important in the post-apocalyptical world he goes to great length orchestrating.
Achronogeneritropic Spaces: Nowhere / everywhere / timeless places such as airports.
A plane trip exposes you to situations and landscapes unthinkable until recent history, moments of magnificence and banality that dissolve what few itty-bitty molecules of individuality you possess. After a plane trip, you need to rebuild your ego, to shore up your sense of being unique.
I love this feeling. It was a huge part of why I went. Airports are everywhere. This clean, geographic-less freedom exists only in transit. Exists only in music. It’s a form of escapism that bookends the majority of all trips that I have taken. The uniqueness of everyone else renders the differences to relatively zero:
“I bring myself into the song. I am an artist. People listening to songs are like people reading novels: for a few minutes, for a few hours, someone else gets to come in and hijack that part of your brain that’s always thinking. A good book or song kidnaps your interior voice and does all the driving. With the artist in charge, you’re free for a little while to leave your body and be someone else.”
Whenever you are lonely, go find a record store and visit your friends. Like dancing in a crowd of strangers, until you all dissolve and you’re just some crazy new amoeba of the music. Some people look back and remember their favourite haunts and hangouts, I feel more at home in this feeling. The feeling of being so anonymous you are yourself, or so lost you are actually here. Being here in this city is the longest I have been anywhere in a long, long time. There are definitely days where I have feeling like the “Halloween Costume” version of myself. How every little thing I do that is somehow slightly different needs to be exaggerated, so that I can somehow be somebody, and that I can somehow create a personality for myself out of these exaggerated little veerings from normal.
Coffee rings and my coffee shop books, today, 2012.
There is more and less to say about this book. He quotes himself no less than three times, which drives me crazy both in that it is incredibly vain and narcissistic and also that even in fiction, I find it maddening when direct quotes are not properly cited.
Please God, just make me a bird, a graceful white bird free of shame and taint and fear of loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly, and give me a sky so big and wide that if I never wanted to land, I would never have to.
There are alot of other thoughts, pleasant and kind of unsettling that are repeated motifs that run through the book. I understand it is not a perfectly constructed novel, it can’t be. It was designed to be read chapter by chapter to five different audiences nation-wide. This makes the repetition both useful as well as comforting and emphatic.
If you tell people stories it calms them down…if you tell people they look relaxed, they relax.
Another theme was the pithy idea that the police were always coming, they were going to save the main characters during the apocalypse. In a world of anarchy, chemical warfare and no oil, the police were going to remain the constant force of good, that they would continue to be this ongoing source of justice and salvation. This idea (since it was offered by Coupland) could be both satirical or sincere, and probably offered some type of political commentary that was a little lost on me.
Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.
Human beings were probably not meant to think about time. It’s that simple. When people think about time too much, it always seems to cause bad feelings. Infinity is the worst concept of all. What was God thinking when He invented infinity?
Despite the fact that I went to this book to try to take a break from The Pale King, I can’t help but see all the similarities. Where David Foster Wallace attempts to illustrate desperation and humanity through the most mundane thing conceivable (national tax auditing), Coupland goes to the other extreme and uses a global apocalypse to shock us into embracing and seeking out the banality. Both books illustrate our need to seek comfort in repetition, in the everyday, in predictability and relative indifference. This book was by no means a disappointment, but perhaps a testament of Coupland’s exhibitionist approach to the victimization of his success.
Next week…something lighter!
Lights @ Habit, July 2012.
Drop cap by Jessica Hische.