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Air date: April 13, 2014
[1:23] Okay everybody, here we go again. This is it, this is Otherppl, this is another attempt at communication, this is me making something and then sending it out into the world. How are you today? I’m Brad Listi, here in Los Angeles. It’s nice to have you here. Not to actually have you here in my physical space, but to have you in this mental space–if you will. And if I was trying to be more accurate about it, I would say: “It’s good to be with you, wherever you are,” because I’m there right now in your physical space. Or, at least, my disembodied voice is now invading your physical space.
[2:00] My guest today is Douglas Coupland. It’s great to have him here on the program. He’s got a new novel out called Worst. Person. Ever., it’s available now from Blue Rider Press. And I should mention too that Doug is scheduled to appear here in Los Angeles, at the Skirball Center, on Thursday, April 17th, 2014. So later this week, if you’re listening on time.
[2:24] I think that’s happening. Pretty sure that event is all locked in. Check online. It starts at 8pm, 2701 North Sepulveda, if you’re a Los Angelino, or you happen to be visiting and you are so inclined. Before we get to the conversation, I do have some mail that I thought I would share with you. A listener named Jen sent me a letter, and it reads as follows: “Dear Brad, I hope you’re well. I’m a recent fan of your show [and then parenthetically she says, “thank you, insomnia” and then she continues] and I have recently subscribed to the TNB Book Club.” To which I have to interrupt and say: thank you Jen, I love you. And if anyone else wants to sign up for The Nervous Breakdown Book Club, just go to thenervousbreakdown.com and sign up–how do you like that for a plug?
[3:18] So, Jen’s letter continued, or continues: “I don’t ever write to radio shows, or magazines, or any other media outlets. This will actually be my very first email correspondence to a media host as I am usually too lazy and self-conscious to communicate my neurotic thoughts to the unfamiliar public. But as a Los Angeles native and a fellow Trojan alumni (I went to USC for my Bachelor’s degrees) I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your show. I am not in the literary field at all–I’m actually in the child psychology field–but I find your program to be very intriguing.
[3:54] As a graduate student who is currently going through the final stage of her doctoral training, your show has been a great companion to me. It has helped keep me sane, and has made me feel less alone in my own neuroticism. I particularly appreciate the authenticity and [quote] ‘rawness’ of Otherppl, both the podcast and now the essays online. I find it refreshing to see people like Mira Gonzalez and Spencer Madsen to be unafraid to be candid about their experiences–[and then parenthetically she says, “I have Mira’s book I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough to Make Us Beautiful Together, and I have preordered Spencer’s book You Can Make Anything Sad.”]
[4:38] And then she continues: “If you don’t mind, and you have some time, I do have some questions that I’d love for you to answer. Number one: what prompted you to revamp the Otherppl podcast to its current format, with Mira and Spencer as co-contributors?” So, I’ll interrupt here, and I’m just going to answer these questions one at a time. Seems like that’s the way to go. First off, just to clarify, and I don’t mean to nitpick, but the Otherppl podcast has not really, you know, been revamped. It did get a new logo, and I did change the branding–which, you know, everybody should hopefully know about by now. The show’s name is now “Otherppl,” instead of the old, traditional spelling. It’s now otherppl.com. And, you know, the Otherppl Podcast. But it’s…You know what I’m talking about. [laughs] But otherwise, you know, format-wise, the podcast is just the same as it ever was, which should be, you know, self-evident to anyone who listens with any degree of regularity.
[5:46] But, of course, the website did get revamped, and it is now featuring weekly written content by Mira Gonzalez, Spencer Madsen, and myself. We put new stuff up every Wednesday, just one day a week. And, you know, going forward we’re gonna be featuring some posts by guest writers, whom we will select, which is another way of saying we’re not gonna be accepting submissions because none of us have time for that.
[6:21] So, you know, what prompted the redesign and the decision to include writing on the site? Well, for one thing, you know, the website needed revamping. Because the first iteration was really rudimentary and old-school. It was just a standard WordPress template that I wasn’t in love with. It looked sort of hackey, and, you know, when the podcast launched I didn’t put a bunch of time and resources into the design because I was lazy and it was for a podcast. I just figured: “Let’s just get this thing started and I’ll fix the website later.”
[6:57] I also know from being a podcast fan myself that most people listen via iTunes, or else they’re using the Otherppl app, the free Otherppl app (which everyone out there should get). So, you know, that said, it has been on my mind to fix the website, and to make it more professional-looking, and to make the design just look nicer. And I feel like we’ve done that. It’s very simple, but, you know, we wanted it to be simple, and I think it’s an improvement.
[7:30] And then, you know, as far as adding writing to the site and having Mira and Spencer come on as regular contributors: you know, it’s like everything else that I’ve done online, or pretty much everything in my literary existence. It’s just an experiment, I’m just making it up as I go. And the way that it went down basically was that Mira and Spencer and I, we were hanging out here in LA. We started talking, the idea came up, things sort of snowballed, and it seemed interesting. [extended pause] I mean, why not? Right? Why not give it a shot?
[8:10] And, you know, I feel like the generational gap between us is compelling–to me, anyway–because, you know, Mira and Spencer they’re in their early twenties, I’m almost forty. [laughs] How many online magazines feature one middle-aged contributor and then two contributors in their early twenties? I don’t know of any, personally.
[8:38] So that seemed odd to me. And I think we all sort of feel good about that. We feel like it could yield an interesting dynamic, possibly. And then secondly, and probably more importantly to me, was that I just wanted to start writing stuff and putting it up online. I need to do that. I mean, my show is about the narrative arts. I do all this talking about writing, I’m constantly talking to writers, and I’m a writer myself, but I’m not getting enough done because I’m too busy doing this other stuff. So this sort of hopefully will force my hand. I’ll get some words down, I’ll put them out there, share them with people–you know, as long as I feel like the work that I’m sharing is of a certain quality. Because I do want it to be good.
[9:25] And I talked about this on the last episode. If I find that I’m stretched too thin, and I’m not able to write stuff that I feel is worth people’s time, then I won’t do it. I will be holding myself to a certain standard. There’s no point in shovelling mediocre writing up onto the internet. You’ve gotta give your best effort.
[9:51] You know, so far it’s worked out, I think. It’s been fun for me. And the response to the writing on the site has been positive across the board, which has been gratifying. So, on with Jen’s next question. She writes: “Do you ever find it difficult to [quote] ‘connect’ with Mira and Spencer given the age discrepancy? I hope that’s not too offensive. Do Mira and Spencer ever find you awkward?”
[10:19] [laughs] Uh, okay. So to answer your first question, do I ever find it difficult to connect with Mira and Spencer? I think maybe with Spencer, a little bit more than Mira because, you know, I connect with Mira well. And I know her better, we’ve known each other for a longer period of time. She lives here in town, and we go back a little ways. And, uh, I just feel like we’re on the same wavelength. It’s an easy friendship. Spencer, it’s not like there’s a problem. It’s just that I’m just getting to know him as we go, and he lives in New York.
[11:00] And, you know, he’s a smart guy and he’s got this funny edge to him which I don’t think like–from the outside looking in–I don’t know if I necessarily expected that because he’s kind of a sweet-faced guy. But he’s got sort of an edge. And, you know, he’s from the Bronx, and I feel like that sometimes comes out in his work and in our communications in ways that feel a little unexpected–to me anyway.
[11:29] But, you know, at the end of the day I wouldn’t be doing this project with Mira and Spencer if I didn’t hold them both in high regard. And, you know, they both make me laugh; we have a similar dark sense of humour. We have an easy shorthand. I think they’re both very bright. And, you know, I don’t really give a shit about the age difference, to be honest with you. It doesn’t factor in. I mean, for one thing, you know, I’m not hung up on my age. It doesn’t bother me. I’m thirty-eight, I don’t care. Like what am I gonna do?
[12:06] And they’re in their early twenties, good for them. But that’s no picnic either. But, you know, that said, I have pondered it. And I think, you know, I think I’m always gonna have, throughout my life, I hope that I always have a healthy respect for people who are younger than I am, and particularly for people who are chronologically young. Meaning, you know, young adults, teenagers, kids, whatever.
[12:39] And I think that this stems from a feeling that I remember having in my own childhood and when I was a young adult. Where I felt maybe, you know, condescended to by people, older people in my orbit, un-listened to, discriminated against because of my age and inexperience, or what-have-you. I always bristled at that when I was younger, you know. Like not that I was some kind of know-it-all, but just, I didn’t feel like my thinking, or what I had to say (particularly if it worked against the ideas of those who were older than I was), you know, I didn’t feel like my thinking was always respected. And so, you know, I’ve sort of made a vow with myself to never treat people like that, just because they happen to be younger than I am.
[13:27] And then the other part of it, I think, has to do with being a dad. This might be a little bit, you know, a little bit more surprising of an angle, but, you know, I’m a father, and I think that my friendships with Mira and Spencer, I think I find them interesting in part because I have a young daughter. She’s gonna grow up. She’s gonna become a person in this world, and, you know, obviously her generation and her set of experiences on this planet, they’re gonna be vastly different than mine in a lot of ways. And, you know, I just don’t wanna be out of touch with what people younger than I am are going through, and with how they, you know, with how they see the world.
[14:07] Like there’s this quote, and I’m paraphrasing, from Kurt Vonnegut, and, god, now I’m thinking that maybe I even bring this up in conversation with Doug Coupland, but I’m not sure. But anyway, Vonnegut was asked about his work one time when he was being interviewed. And specifically he was asked about it’s appeal to young people, who make up so much of his readership, you know, because people tend to read Vonnegut when they’re young, when they’re teenagers–in the freshman dorm at college or whatever.
[14:37] And Vonnegut was asked about this, and he said something to the effect of, you know, “I like to reach people before they become like middle managers, and CEOs, and four-star generals, and so on and so forth.” He liked that, he liked that his readers were young, or at least he had learned to like it. And I think that makes some sense, I think there’s some wisdom in that. And I think there’s something really wonderful, and valuable, about the time in life when you’re an adult but you haven’t gotten too swept up into the world of adults. Which, let’s face it, it has some problems. There’s some dysfunction there. It can be a toxic and disillusioning place.
[15:20] So, you know, I hope that explains it. I think that’s the gist. I like Mira, I like Spencer. Together we are conducting an experiment, and I have no idea what’s gonna come of it or, you know, how long it will go for. But, so far, so good.
[15:38] So, Jen continues her letter by saying: “As someone who has been there and who has survived early adulthood (the ‘twenty-something’ years), do you ever feel the impulse to give Mira and Spencer advice?” And to that I would say: “sometimes.” But for the most part, I resist it. I don’t think I’ve given Spencer very much advice. But Mira, especially last year when she was living in New York and she wasn’t taking that great of care of herself, and she was in this bad relationship [laughs] with a guy who wasn’t treating her well at all. You know, I was privy to this because we had an epistolary relationship, we were texting, she was telling me what was going on. And I think in some instances I did give her advice, and, you know, some of this advice was solicited. She was asking me for my opinion.
[16:27] Some of it, I think, uh, was not solicited. And I just gave it [laughs], which I hope she doesn’t resent me for. I don’t think she does, you know. Because, I don’t put much stock in advice-giving. I feel weird about it, telling people how to live as if I have it all figured out. But, you know, it’s human. It’s tempting to want to give people advice. We can always see other people’s stuff better than we can see our own.
[17:06] So I think that actually answers Jen’s next question: “Do I ever worry about Mira and Spencer?” Yes. Of course. They’re friends of mine. I worry about Mira’s depression, her food issues, her drug and alcohol intake. I worry about Spencer’s relationship problems. I think he has some anger, some male anger, that sometimes comes out. And, you know what? I have that too. I mean, shit, we’re people, we’re humans. I’m not criticising, I’m just telling you the truth.
[17:43] Plus, you know, they both dropped out of college and they have no plans to go back at present. Which, I suppose, is a little risky. But I’m also seeing that through the lens of my own experience, and I think that Mira and Spencer are in a different situation. They’re in a different generation. They have different information. And, you know, these are both very bright, funny, talented people who have good natural instincts and have gotten a good education–either through the high schools that they attended, or whatever, or just by their own hand. Or the people who, you know, they have chosen to surround themselves with, or their parents, or whatever. They’re bright, and they don’t want the student loan debt that comes with college. They’d rather be debt-free (or, you know, mostly debt-free) and without a Bachelor’s degree in English.
[18:38] I think there’s some logic in that, but I do worry. You know, like, what happens when they’re thirty years old if they don’t get some good breaks in publishing? And I mean like some really good breaks, you know. Who knows? And you know what, maybe Mira marries a millionaire. Maybe Spencer marries a millionaire. Maybe otherppl.com becomes an internet sensation and we all cash in. I have no idea. But, you know, I worry about it.
[19:12] And I’m sure they worry about me too in a variety of ways. Or maybe not [laughs]. Maybe they don’t even think about me. I have no idea. But, you know, I think sometimes they may worry that I’m out of touch, that I don’t know a lot about what’s going on–in the culture, especially. And I don’t know if that’s, is that surprising to hear? I think I mentioned this before. I mean, I think I have a general sense of what’s going on in publishing, but I don’t know everything. Far from it. There’s a lot to keep up with, and I’m just not that voracious of a cultural consumer in the way that so many people seem to be. I’ve said this before.
[19:54] And then, of course, there’s the generation gap. And, you know, sometimes my lack of knowledge, I think, can concern Mira and Spencer. Like, for example, they had to explain the other day who Tavi Gevinson was. I mean I sort of knew, but when I asked for clarification they were pretty flabbergasted [laughs]. They were troubled by that. So it’s that sort of thing.
[20:25] So finally, from Jen, in her letter, she writes: “I hope these questions aren’t too creepy, or personal, or condescending. I’m not trying to imply anything at all. I’m simply interested in hearing people’s thoughts in regards to their interactions with us, ‘millennials,’ especially since we often get such a bad rap. Thanks for considering my email, keep up the great work, and best of luck to you and your family. Jen.”
[20:52] So thanks for the letter Jen, I appreciate it. And, you know, when it comes to these generational distinctions, these names that we give generations, I’m not really sure if it’s entirely helpful. Like as if you’re on a team or something, it’s like you’ve been branded. And I know that they do serve some useful purpose. They’re used as like time markers, or what-have-you. But ultimately we’re all people, we’re all on the same boat, and I think that older generations need to be appreciated for their wisdom–assuming that they’ve found some [laughs]. One hopes that that has happened.
[21:32] And I think that in our culture we don’t appreciate older people nearly enough. It’s a bad thing. We fetishize youth and youth culture. There’s all this botoxing and whatnot. There’s all this hiding of death, and you know, like running away from the realities of old age. I don’t think that’s good, I wish it were different. It’s not healthy. Just accept it. It doesn’t mean…you can fight against it, but do it naturally. Take good care of yourself, exercise, eat well. Stay vital. But don’t…You know what I’m saying.
[22:11] And, you know, at the same time, in the same breath, I think that younger generations deserve to be heard and treated with equal respect because, you know, we’re all people. And while the younger generations might not have the experience of their elders, they do have a lot to say about the way the world is now, and a lot to say about the way the world is gonna be in the future. Plus they have the energy of youth, and their minds (for the most part anyway) are unclouded by so much of the toxic build up that accumulates in the adult mind–and that’s a valuable thing. So that’s my feeling on it. I have no problem with millennials.
[22:49] I have no problem with any generation, except for maybe the Baby Boomers who have, you know, vacuumed up so much. They’ve had it all. Sex before AIDS. A steadily rising economy…You know what I’m saying. George Carlin does a good bit on the Baby Boomers, and he says it way better than I ever could. So go watch George Carlin talk about Baby Boomers on YouTube.
[23:15] My guest today is Douglas Coupland. He’s the author of several books, including the 1991 bestseller entitled Generation X, (speaking of generations and generational nomenclature). Doug’s new novel is called Worst. Person. Ever. It’s out there now from Blue Rider Press. I’m very pleased to have him here on this program, and let’s get to it. Here he is, this is Douglas Coupland and his new novel, once again, is called Worst. Person. Ever.
* * *
[23:46] Douglas Coupland: Right now I am in my bedroom at home in Vancouver, Canada. And I’m in bed because last night I had incredible insomnia, and I couldn’t sleep until around five, five-thirty. So I took a sleeping pill, which I use very, very judiciously, and it was a really hard wake-up. So I’m awake now, but like I feel lost in time and space sort of.
BL: Yeah, I have insomnia problems sometimes, I couldn’t sleep very well last night either. And I’m curious: what was it that was keeping you up? Was it something specific? Or was it just general malaise?
[24:23] DC: Ah, there’s just too much going on in my head right now. So I call it ‘planning head’ where, you know, I’ve got staff I have to work with, I’ve got two trips I have to make, things I forgot to do, and, “Oh! Oh!,” and just, “Oh that!’ And before you know it, you’re not sleeping.
[24:40] BL: But you’re a very busy person. I’ve been reading about your work ethic, and all the different things that you do creatively. Like you’re not somebody who really stops. You’re not prone to taking vacations or to giving yourself days off. Like do you think that’s part of it?
DC: I don’t know…My issue with vacations is that it implies that your real life is something that needs taking a vacation from. And so, I mean, I build my days so that every day is a Thursday, that is the best day of the week. And, you know, like the worst time of the year is Christmas, or the last week of the year, when it’s very very hard to pretend that everything is a Thursday in the middle of a regular working week.
[25:26] BL: Why do you think Thursday is the best day of the week?
DC: Well, okay, well, Monday just blows; Tuesday is like: “Ugh, still the rest of the week to go,” Wednesday is like: “Oh, halfway!” But Thursday, okay, everyone knows that they could well be bailing on Friday, and, but it’s not quite…you’re not desperate for the weekend. I get the most emails on Thursday afternoon for some reason, and it’s just a very, very productive time. I like that. And, lowest email volume of the week is Saturday mornings, Saturday early afternoon. What’s your busiest day email day of the week?
[26:08] BL: You know, I don’t…I guess it would probably be sometime in the middle of the week. And I was thinking about what you were saying about Thursday and it’s like, I feel like I sort of understand that from the perspective of the anticipation. Like I’ve always been a person who likes Christmas Eve better than Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve better than New Year’s Day. Thursday seems to hold some sort of promise to it, you know, it’s like you’re still in it, so you’re still being productive and getting things done, but there is some sort of promise of the end of the grind, or, you know, the promise of the weekend, or whatever.
[26:40] DC: Yeah, I think so, yeah. Someone should be talking about this: why are there seven days in the week? At one point the Americans were going to go metric and they actually toyed with the idea of a ten day week and it was just like blown to bits by every single person. And…How did we end up at seven days a week? Shouldn’t it be like, eight?
BL: I don’t know, yeah, I guess it’s kind of an arbitrary…I mean, is it an arbitrary decision? I feel like you would know more about these kinds of things than I would, I’ve never thought about it that deeply. But why do we have a seven day week?
DC: It’s probably the optimum number for capitalism.
BL: Yeah, just like having the…I mean but did we always have the, I don’t even know if we always had the weekend? It was like…we had Sunday off because of some sort of biblical concern, but then everybody worked six, and then eventually like workers’ rights, you know, they fought for those and got the extra day? Is that how it worked?
[27:31] DC: Well, I think, years ago there must have been sort of a Mr. Burns from The Simpsons like person, who experimented on living human beings on how many days of the week were needed, and then were like [impersonates Mr Burns]: “Hmm, excellent!”
BL: [laughs] How many can they take before they completely crumble?
DC: Before they implode…
[27:51]: BL: So, how do you work? You’re living up in Canada, outside of Vancouver? So you’re in like a…
DC: It kinda maps onto the Bay Area. If you think of Vancouver as San Francisco, I’d be over in the Berkeley area, across the bridge on the map.
BL: Okay, and then what’s your ritual? Like last night’s bout with insomnia notwithstanding, are you a morning writer, or?
DC: Oh, I’m fifty-two, until about forty-two I was a late-night writer and I loved it, and every writer older than myself said like: “Oh don’t worry, you’ll become a morning writer,” and I said: “Oh, like Hell I will!” – and [gasps] and then one day it happened!
[28:33] DC: I find that: Wake up, bit of news, yogurt, and you’ve got maybe ninety, a hundred and twenty minutes where your brain is fresh, where you’re actually going to be creative or create something, and then that ends. And, well, there’s the rest of the day, so you’ve gotta go do something else, so you go do something else, but your brain, of course, is churning away on what you did in the morning. And then late in the afternoon you can go and edit what you did, and then before bed you do one final sort of clean up and edit, but anything creative has to take place in the morning.
[29:05] BL: Okay so you mentioned, and I think like there’s a…You know, I’ve talked about this with writers on this show before, there’s a similarity between late at night and early in the morning. Namely that there’s not a lot of distraction, it’s quieter, you know, the brain finds a way to quiet down–either by virtue of sleep or by virtue of just the stillness of late night. But when you say “a bit of news,” (because this is a problem for me) [laughs], is that it’s hard for me to kind of temper that and keep some kind of constraint on how much news I ingest, like do you read the paper in the morning? Do you just like sweep through a couple of websites just to get your…?
DC: Oh Brad, I mean, a week ago I had to ship something to someone, I said, “Do we have any newspaper?” And I realized that we haven’t had a newspaper here in about two-and-a-half years, and so I had to go up to the studio and find some old crumpled up newspaper that came in an EBay purchase and use that to pack it. So I don’t read newspaper paper.
[30:00] DC: I read, it’s kind of horrifying, I start with the Daily Mail out of England and because it’s just like a big, noisy, sensationalist paper. And then I go to The Globe and Mail, which is Canada’s national paper, and then The New York Times. Now, I have this theory, that if you read those three papers, and the headlines are different in all three papers, then everything’s all right with the world. And the days you want to watch out for are the ones when all those three papers have all the exact same headline.
[30:30] BL: [laughs] And, you know, you mentioned, I’ve heard…I’ve read you in interviews before talking about a shift that you made at the age of forty. You know where you, you felt like you were not using your brain in the way that you wished you were, or you made some sort of pivotal shift. Like can you talk about that period in your life? I’ll confess to having a certain interest in this because I’m thirty-eight, so I’m coming up on it. What should I be looking out for?
[31:02] DC: Well, at forty I had this theory that, men and women, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, at forty you’re gonna make two and a half really stupid decisions.
DC: I don’t know what they’re going to be but they will happen, so watch out. What happened at forty was…Oh boy. Since I began working with longform fiction, I’ve always been doing interviews where the interviewer says to me: “You know, Doug, your writing is really visual”–and I was never sure if that was a put-down or a put-up. And then I began to read about brains and how we’re built, and I realized what those people were really saying is, “Doug, I’m not a visual thinker and you are. You write like a visual thinker, so when I read it I don’t have the necessary cues that I need to go through a book.”
[32:01] DC: And, when I say “visual thinker,” like I can say to you, “Okay Brad, pretend Hitler is sitting across from you and he’s eating spaghetti,”–and you can probably see him in your head, because you’re a visual thinker. But I’d say like half of humanity I think is biologically distributed randomly, can look at an empty chair and they’ll never be able to visualize Hitler eating spaghetti, or an ostrich wearing a tutu. They need to be told what they’re seeing, and then they need to be told how they feel about what they see. Which is sort of, it goes against that thing you’re taught in school, you know: “Show, don’t tell.” I think you actually have to show and tell, like, you know: “Brad saw Hitler eating spaghetti across the table, and he was very afraid.”
[32:52] DC: And that actually, if you look at the literary world (especially in academia) it’s loaded with non-visual thinkers who went there precisely because they don’t want to have to deal with visual thinking, and I realized, you know, partially, you know: “You’re not gonna change your brain, they can’t change their brains.” And I looked at all the people who I get along with, and they’re all usually painters or people in the visual world, and so I decided that’s a very good reason, you know, to change realms and go work in another realm. So that was back around 2000, so I began–I went to art school to begin with–so a decade late I started doing a visual career…and…
[33:42] DC: I mean, the other thing too is writing takes place in time, and visual art takes place in space. You know, there are exceptions, or hybrid forms like film, but that’s the way the nature of the brain and so when I was writing…I’m always…you know, thinking about time and sequencing, but when I make something physical it’s all about that thing that’s there in front of you. Which is, you know, they’re probably, those two cortices are as far away in your head as it’s possible to be, and I found that unless…I wasn’t truly happy until I started using both an equal amount of time. I think that was the ultimate reason.
[34:26] BL: Okay, so but, okay so, you, and you mentioned this, but you were educated as a visual artist?
DC: Yeah, and I went to art school from ‘80 to ‘84.
BL: Okay, so and as a sculptor?
BL: Okay, and then started publishing in the early ‘90s?
DC: Generation X came out in March 1991.
[34:48] BL: Okay, so what prompted the shift for you? Like you go to art school, you’re working as a visual artist. You were presumably doing some of that after graduation, or at least making some sort of pursuit of that, and then decided that you wanted to work both sides of your brain. You know, like what prompted the beginning of Generation X?
DC: It’s sort of one of those “Lana Turner wearing a sweater at Schwab’s” kind of stories. I was living in Tokyo, and I was working as a designer at sort of I guess the equivalent of Condé Nast, a magazine that was in Tokyo. I sent the wife of a friend a postcard, and I forgot about the postcard. Then the summer came and I had this really, really bad dermatological reaction to the sort of very sweaty climate there, and I had to come back to Vancouver which was a terrific comedown after the excitement of what I had been doing. And because I was in my twenties I had this thing called a “protective clueless coating,” and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I’m horrified, with hindsight.
[36:04] DC: And the phone rang, and what happened was the magazine editor was at my friend’s place, read my postcard on the fridge, and said: “This guy should write for us.” And…”Doug, he doesn’t write.” “Sure he does, this is a great postcard!”
[36:21] DC: And so, ring ring, “Hello?” “We’d like you to write for us,” and I said, I think, “Have you got a wrong number? I don’t write.” “No, sure you do, it was a great postcard!” “Well, it’s your money…”
BL: What magazine was this?
DC: It was like a city magazine for Vancouver, and it had a zenith in terms of page count and ads and everything. And so, two days later I was down in Los Angeles and I was writing this article about this, you know, this art crook who originally comes from Vancouver. And I had a glamorous two days there, wrote it in three days, and got this check for $3500, which was: “Holy moly, wow!”
BL: Yeah. That would be great today! [laughs]
[37:07] DC: I had fun, and it was easy. I had a studio then, and studio bills are expensive because when you make something 3D like it’s…you multiple what it costs to make a painting– you know, square it. So, I was able very quickly to pay all my studio bills, and get proper materials. And it was a nice relationship.
[37:30] DC: But then after a year, I was like: “Well if I’m going to write, I should be writing fiction because it seems like the most pure form of writing.” And then I wrote X, and that struck a chord, and so I spent ten years really developing writing the way I do. And then I just hit the wall, like: “If I don’t do visual, I’m gonna freak out.” So, I stopped.
[37:55] BL: Okay, so, but like when you say you wrote X, I mean you didn’t, I mean you apprenticed a little bit, I guess, doing this magazine work, but had you made attempts at fiction before you sat down to write Generation X, or was that kind of just your first go at it?
DC: I had done two pieces which were sort of semi-fictionalizations of real life, but no. Yeah, that was pretty much it, it was right out of the gate. Like: “Boom! That’s what it wants to be, and that’s what it is.”
BL: Do you think that you have a really strong innate talent for fiction writing?
DC: I have a talent for writing the way I write [laughs]. Um…Hmm…
[38:43] BL: I only ask that because, you know, I feel like a lot of writers it’s like such a struggle to learn how to get to that point, but you seem to have found it early. Like do you think that maybe that was because you had already studied and worked as an artist, even if it was in a different medium? Do you think that that education, and the work that you had done in design, had prepared you to write fiction, in a way that maybe like a more traditional apprenticeship might prepare a writer?
DC: Hmm, I know that most of the writers I’ve ever met who write for a living usually were doing something else up until the age of thirty, and then they sort of fell into writing quite naturally. Did my art training help me? Nah. I think you go to art school to learn your sense of style, or to learn who you are, and to learn how to be more honest to yourself and your perceptions. I think that was very, very helpful. People who come out of literary programs, they harbor, not misconceptions, but like: “[gasp] Are you published yet? Did you get published? Oh my God, it’s published!” And like, “Oh my God, like so-and-so got published, I’m so jealous, yadda yadda yadda…” When, in fact, I’ve always come to the gate knowing that, well, I am going to write and people are just going to read it–I assume that. So, you might as well just get to the point.
[40:18] BL: Well and you don’t…I mean, working the way that you do with the discipline that you do, you know, being a seven-day-a-week worker, like you don’t have any of the, or I’m assuming you don’t have any of the neuroses that can fell other writers, where they have trouble getting to the keyboard, or to the blank page, or whatever. Like you just sit down and do it?
DC: Well, I mean, there’s no way to do a book or longform fiction unless you have discipline and you put yourself in a certain place every day to write. And some days it’s not going to happen and some days is great, but you have to be absolutely meticulous in keeping that schedule going. And you know, if I meet someone and they’re a writer. “Oh, when do you write?” And they say, “Oh, when the spirit moves me.” In my head I’m like: “Hack!” You just…it’s discipline. I mean, I’m not patient, but I am disciplined.
[41:14] BL: So what does your writing space look like? I mean, you’re in your room right now, is that where you work? Or do you have like a study, or something?
DC: Oh, it’s funny, in T Magazine the New York Times took a picture of it for a series they did on writer’s writing rooms, and they showed me these past photo-series they had done of writer’s rooms. And they were all these big, white, empty rooms, with nothing in them except a desk, and maybe a thinnest of thin sheer blowing in the breeze. And I look at them and it’s just horrifying; I get agoraphobia. I mean, I work in a small black room, with the walls completely covered in stuff. And…
[41:55] BL: A black room?
DC: A black room. It sounds really grim, but it’s not. If you paint a room black whatever you put on the walls just pops, and it really makes your brain feel good. And I my thinking is that, okay, I write for a while, okay, I’m doing time, and then you pull your head away and I look around the room and there’s all this space, and so my brain gets this wonderful sort of calisthenic effect moving between time and space.
BL: See, that’s the kind of thing that only a writer who has a visual arts background would even think of. I think. And, you know, it’s interesting to hear you say that because, I remember, you know, every-so-often you’ll read something, whether it’s online or in print, about writers and their workspaces, and I seem to remember reading about Bret Easton Ellis, back in his New York days, working in a blank white room. You know, that I think was like a simulation of the blank page or whatever. You know, needing to kind of have that completely like antiseptic, clean space. But you’re doing the opposite.
[42:53] DC: Yeah, and it’s funny, whoever wrote the captions on that story, they kind of phoned it in. You know, there was all these paintings on the wall, paintings leaning against the wall. You know, I gave them the name of these painting, the painter who did it, the year. And one of them’s round, and like…“Coupland works in an office with a porthole-shaped painting.” And where the hell did that come from? I don’t know. There’s always one weak link in the chain of any process, and the caption writer was it.
[43:26] BL: Right, right. So, when you talk about having like you know the understanding that some days it’s not gonna happen–and anybody who’s tried to write anything longform will eventually come to this realization–how do you work through that? Like, do you…You said you’re patient, or you’re not patient? You’re disciplined but you’re not patient. Like do you ever get fed up with a project and just junk it? Like how do you soldier on?
[43:50] DC: I’ve never junked a project. You have to remember also that on the best writing day of your life it’s probably only gonna be about twenty-two hundred words. That’s the other side of the spectrum. It averages out to about four hundred and fifty words a day, and that’s been a constant for about, I’d say, twelve to fifteen years now.
BL: That’s like a page and a half, right? Something like that.
DC: I don’t get page counts. Like: “How far along are you?” “I’m a hundred and eleven pages in.” I mean, what’s a page? What matters is word counts. And, I mean, seventy-five thousand is a book, so if you’re at fifty thousand then you’re two-thirds of the way through the book. It just sort of…It’s much simpler math. And it makes sense.
[44:42] BL: So do you work on a daily basis, are you counting your words? Like do you keep a log and say, “I got my four hundred and fifty today,” or is it more just intuitive…you know?
DC: No, at this point I can just, I know instantly.
BL: When you got it?
DC: Yeah. It’s…I used to be such a notetaker. I had these little pads in my pocket and a pen, and I’d hear a word or phrase that had resonance, or I had an idea and I’d put it in this book. Then after about ten years I slowed down and I stopped doing it and thought, “Oh no! Like I’m becoming…This is how it starts and I’m losing my vim.” And what I realized is I guess it’s that ten thousand hour rule. It seems like after taking notes for ten thousand hours, like I learned how to make a good note on my own. I didn’t need reality to really inform it.
[45:34] BL: I’m sort of, I’m kind of in two minds on that because I’ll talk to writers who do that with discipline, like they’re never without their ink pen and their notebook in their pocket, and they’re constantly grabbing like overheard conversations and, you know, language off of billboards, or whatever it is that’s in their environment that might serve as inspiration. And I can think to myself like, “Oh God, I need to do that! I’m missing stuff that would otherwise be good fodder.” And then I also hear, I’ve also heard somebody say, you know, “I don’t keep a diary because the good stuff sticks.” I think there’s some truth to that too, you know?
[46:08] DC: Well, I know, I mean basically I make shit up for a living, so I just, I’ve gotten better at bullshitting I suppose is the answer.
BL: Well one would hope, you know, if you do it over time…
DC: I had this weird thing happen starting about four year ago, and maybe it happened to you or your listeners. I mean, I’m not a good typer, I’m like a three and a half finger typer, and after every fourth word I have to look down at the keyboard. ‘Cause I taught myself, which was a bad decision, but nonetheless. About four years ago, I realized I was making all these weird new mistakes. Like I was intercapping, forgetting letters, putting the wrong word here or there. And I thought, “Oh dear, this is what it’s like having a stroke. It’s like, it’s in slow motion.” And it just kept on getting worse and worse, and I was really panicked but I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it because I didn’t know how to deal with it. And then I look back and I realized, okay, you know, typing–at least the way that you type–is like this little cluster of neurons, or whatever, you know, back in the rear-right part of your brain and for twenty years you’ve been doing typing a certain way and then you went out and bought an iPhone. With which you’re also a three and a half finger typer except on an iPhone your thumbs are doing what your fingers do and your fingers are doing what your thumbs do and it has autocorrect on top of everything. And so that poor little cluster of neurons in your brain that does typing, suddenly you’re giving it the opposite rules, and it’s freaking out and…
[47:55] And then, “Well, at least I know why this it’s happening.” And then I read this thing that said that everyone on Earth, regardless of age, gets ten thousand new brain cells a day. But if you don’t use them they dissolve back into the body, which is kind of creepy. And so I think it took four years, plus a lot of attempts to get fresh brain cells, for me to finally be able to type the way typed before an iPhone.
BL: You know, that seems like a very “Douglas Coupland” thought-train, right there. Like I never had thought about that but you really do, it flips the hand, like the whole iPhone typing process is an exact inversion of…
DC: Yeah, and your brain’s like, “What the hell?”
BL: Yeah, I still can’t type on an iPhone, and I’ve had one for the last, you know, what? Two, three years. And I’ve typed however many messages on it, but I find it frustrating to this day.
DC: [laughs] I agree.
[48:45] BL: So, I want to ask you about your approach to your fiction work. Because you remind me of writers like Vonnegut, in the sense that you seem to work from big ideas, principally. Like that seems to be the foundation of your work. Not that there aren’t obviously other elements that factor in, but you seem to be a writer whose novels serve as vehicles for big ideas. Like do you agree with that assessment?
DC: Um, sure, why not? I think, each book, and this might be my inner art student, each book is an experiment. It could be experimenting with a certain cadence of writing, it could be thematic. The new book is all, it’s a vulgar, hilarious romp, I mean, other books have been really almost religiously meditative, other ones have been an epistolary novel…I mean, I guess the thinking is, I have trouble with genre fiction, like westerns say, because–you know, or mysteries…Because you know there’s a crime, there’s a procedure. The crime is solved and, but you’re not really changed as a person. There’s nothing in there that had the possibility maybe to transform your life.
[50:18] DC: So that when you conduct an experiment–and sometimes they work well, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they work just for certain people–you’re at least offering the hope of some sort of inner change in the reader and possibly yourself, too. And, basically, I know a book’s working when the characters start talking, and after a while, they start talking on their own and you’re not doing anything. And so when someone says something great you’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe they said that!” Like, “Wait…technically I said that! But where did it come from?” It’s a strange, it’s a very unnatural process, writing is. I don’t know what they were thinking when they invented it.
[51:05] BL: Well, okay, so but like…Because I know like some writers they’ll start with the title, or they’ll have, you know, an opening sentence, or a visual of a character in a certain situation, or whatever. And when I imagine you, I imagine you having some sort of problem that you’re trying to solve.
DC: No, no. You know what it’s like? And I’m gonna guess here, because I’m a guy, “Hmm hmm hmm,” like and you’re sitting doing something else, or you’re driving a car and suddenly, ‘Oops, uh oh, I’m pregnant.’” And the book just appears to me like, “Boom!” Like that. “Oh, that’s the book? Okay.” It really, it exists sort of intact in my head completely from the start. And then it’s a matter of, over a number of days bringing it out into the real world but…
[51:59] BL: So you don’t outline or anything? You get like…With Worst. Person. Ever., how did this, like just to continue your metaphor, how did this pregnancy [laughs] happen?
DC: Well, first of all, I was kind of like slightly appalled, because it’s an experiment in vulgarity, but it was enjoyable to write. I have never written an outline for any book I’ve ever done and I always write in one direction, from A, B, C, D, E. I never retro-insert chunks or I never move a chapter around. You know, the way it comes out of my fingers is what it’s going to be. I’ve donated my papers, and will continue to donate, to the University of British Columbia, here in Vancouver. And bear with me. In the old days, writers would hand in manuscripts and they were sort of the most coveted item. Because, you have, it’s like Abstract Expressionist painting, it’s like a direct neurological link between you and the words you’re putting out in the world. But since people began writing almost entirely electronically back in the ‘90s, archivists are like, “Mmmm?”. Number one: all those diskettes from 1993, half of the electrons have floated away and they’re unreadable. And the older archivists just want to, you know, retire and get out of here now, and, but, the younger archivists are saying: “Okay, well, what’s new about today?”
[53:37] DC: I’m with Gmail and at the end of every writing day, I email myself, as a backup, a copy of the book as it stands. And so, we’re going back, there’s this one book called The Gum Thief, which is a novel. And rather than showing a manuscript, we’re showing sort of a real-time, or a visualization of the book and how it grows from like day one, day two, day three, day four, into the editor like “chung chung chung chung”…the second draft. And so you actually get to see how a book is made, sort of played out visually in front of you. And so it’s a new way of looking at a very, very old process, it’s like, “What are books? Where do they come from? Like why do we have them?”
BL: Well, yeah, no, you know, it’s an interesting point about the job of being an archivist in the digital age and how much that’s changed, especially a literary archivist. And I think of Gmail, which, you know, I feel like is sort of, it’s the most popular email platform, at least among my friends. And you get all that storage, you save everything, and I can imagine, you know, a writer dies and the archivist gets his or her Gmail password and that could be a huge trove. Because… Well, I guess back in the day people wrote long-hand letters in really high volume, but the amount of volume you can accumulate emailing can be pretty extraordinary. I’m imagining literary biographers are going to be able to make hay with that, if they’re not already.
[55:08] DC: Well, I mean, I’m not sure if I’d want to give anyone on Earth my Gmail password. The other thing archivists really want, Brad, is laptops. You know, I got my first laptop in ‘93, it’s this big, wood-burning Mac. It weighed a ton, but it was really good at the time. And I’ve got eight or nine of them now and they’re out in the storage room, and the old ones are probably unretrievable. But that’s what they really want, because they want, archivists, they want to sort of syphon all of the information they can out of them but of course…
BL: It’s like the N.S.A.
DC: [laughs] Yeah!
[55:48] And by the way, on my iPhone 5S it has this thumb…instead of putting in a code number, you just put your thumb and it recognizes your fingerprint. It’s fantastic.
BL: Oh wait, you’ve got…It has fingerprint…I guess I might have the old IPhone 5.
DC: It works beautifully, and on Twitter I put up a question, you know, “Now they’ve done the thumbprint on my iPhone, does the N.S.You-know-who, you know, know my fingerprint now?” And apparently they don’t, it’s a graphic that stays within your machine.
BL: One hopes.
DC: One hopes. And so, oh no, back to Gmail, you were saying, sorry.
[56:25] BL: Well, I was just thinking, I just think it’s going to be an interesting resource for literary biographers and archivists, and whatnot. And it’s just an interesting way to keep track of oneself. Like I’m not on Gmail, I kind of wish that I were just because I feel like it…it’s not gonna go anywhere. I have a private email company that does my email, you know, with respect to my website or whatever, but I don’t know. I’m never gonna go through it all. It seems like too big of a pile, but at some point maybe it would be fun to poke around and…
DC: Oh I mean, I just, I have this theory about emails. If you’re writing an email and even once if it goes through your head like, “Hmm, might this be too emotional? Or might this be…” Don’t send it.
DC: And give it like a few hours, come back to it, okay, like, you know, be big about it. Remove that flaming sentence there, or, you know, be nicer about it, or be neutral about it. People are always talking about that app, and I think it’s apocryphal. That they actually have an alcohol breathalyzer attached to the harddrive, where if you’re over .02 it’s like [imitates buzzer] “Nope!”
[57:39] BL: Yeah, well, I’ve had to learn that the hard way. What I have to resist, is I have to resist, particularly when I’m sending emails in any kind of business context or sending emails with somebody that I don’t know well, is I have this kind of nervous impulse to try to want to be funny. And a lot of the times when you’re trying to be funny, you’re overly personal or, you know what I’m saying, like you’re assuming a level of familiarity that you might not have–or that seems out of context, or you know, with respect to the nature of the conversation. So I’ve got to temper that. I think that, I don’t what that is. I guess I’m just trying to make friends, or whatever, but it’s not a good tactic until you’ve actually gotten to know somebody.
[58:14] DC: Well you just want to be liked, that’s not a crime. Mine is exclamation marks. I always, I put them in wherever and then I sweep them all out at the end.
BL: Yeah. No there’s a great line from F. Scott Fitzgerald about that where he’s like, “Using an exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” [laughs]
[58:32] BL: I think that sort of works, you know. So, I want to ask you, before I let you go, I want to talk about the way that your work has been received, you know, as predictive. You know, you’ve managed to be pretty prescient in your novels to an almost eerie degree, and, you know, you’ve invented words that have wound up in the vernacular. Do you have a sense of why that is? And like can you talk about the way that you read? Because I have to imagine, you know, your areas of interest and the way that you read is a big component of how that stuff filters down into your fiction.
DC: Mmm. From the beginning–this is going back to ‘89 and ‘90, when I was writing X–I have always made a point of setting my books in the extreme present tense, which is like, “This story is happening right now!” And when I look back at all the writers I do like, like Vonnegut, or Joan Didion, British writers like Evelyn Waugh, you can tell almost to the week or the day when that story is taking place. And, you know, early on in my career people said, “Oh, it’s going to be dated, it’s gonna be…,” or…well, dated was the word. Instead they ended up being time capsules, and which I, you know, I love because that’s what I do like to read. But when you consciously set the book in the extreme present it’s kind of like calculus or something, that it sort of squeezes the next phase of society out of you. Oh God, this is so boring, I’m sorry. There’s a technological determination, but, you know, tomorrow is always predictable within the present.
[1:00:30] For example, in Miss Wyoming–which I think was ‘97 or ‘98–a character needed to trace another character driving across the States. And there was this whole elaborate, unbelievable things all the characters had to do just so that they could put a tracer of some sort on the car, and even that didn’t work very well. And now we would just have a GPS.
[1:00:58] Or All Families Are Psychotic, which was 2001, where they needed to find an address, but so to do it they had to actually go to a library, then they had to like sign in, and there was no Google, and so they had to and then yadda yadda yadda yadda…But so younger people, especially, they read those books and go, like, “Man, why didn’t they just have a GPS, or man why didn’t they just go to Google?” But you forget that all that didn’t exist back then. You know, there were inklings of it, but…predictiveness, whatever, it ends up being just a side effect of writing about the extreme present.
[1:01:38] BL: And also, but I think also having like a very acute awareness of what’s going on in the extreme present. You know, you’ve got to combine the two things, right? I mean have you…Let me put it another way, have you ever looked back at your own work and been creeped out by how prescient you’ve been? [laughs] Or like spooked, you know, by like, “Wow, I really nailed that one somehow.” Like it’s gotta be, you know, it’s part reading and awareness and paying attention, but it’s also intuition and maybe some other sort of information, you know, reception of information that might…I don’t know, I don’t want to get too like…
[1:02:18] DC: There’s this video game right now called Minecraft, which is the most popular game on Earth at the moment.
BL: Yeah, my nieces, I was just with them, they were playing it. Constantly.
DC: Okay so, back in ‘94 I wrote Microserfs which…the characters leave Apple to go start this project called OOP which stands for “object-oriented programming.” Which is like…Pages go on articulating what OOP is and OOP went on to become Minecraft. And, okay, well, I’m not part of the company, and part of me is like, “Hmm, Doug, maybe you should have been developing that instead of something else.”
DC: But that’s one example where, “Okay, yeah, just nailed it.” And…
[1:03:13] I mean, human beings are not built to think about the future. We’re meant to, you know, “Fight that mastodon: yes or no?” or you know, “Eat that berry: yes or no?” We’re not meant to do long-term planning. And I think there is a part of the brain that deals with one’s ability to perceive their own passage in this weird thing called time, and some people get a bit more of the brain that does that than others. I seem to have no problem thinking five, twenty, or a hundred years out, and I think that that is a genetic anomaly. I mean, some people are really good at music, some people are really good at balance, I’ve just sort of got this weird thing that happens in the time-cortex of my brain.
[1:04:09] BL: Well and what about…’cause I feel like, I think of Vonnegut here too, because you seem to have both an interest in and an ability to understand science and technology that is rare in a writer of literary fiction, oftentimes. I remember Vonnegut, in particular, bristling at being categorized as a writer of science fiction because he didn’t feel like they got treated fairly by the critics, or whatever. And he always argued that paying attention to technology, and the world of science, is a natural thing to do. You know, like, why would you not? Especially in the day and age that we’re living in now. Like is that…
[1:04:46] DC: I can answer that. Also in Microserfs, I did this thing where I had–actually I think it was J-Pod, years later–like ten thousand random numbers, which takes seventeen pages, or the first ten thousand digits of pi. And it was just sort of like a Warhol portrait of numbers, and I thought it was just quite beautiful and a fun way of, you know, giving the reader something to think about. Well, I would do interviews and it was the male interviewers especially, it was like, “What the hell are you putting numbers in a book for? My god, I went to literature so that I never had to see a number ever again.” And the tell-tale phrase there is, “I went into literature to avoid.” And what you have in the literary world is people who don’t like numbers, who are more likely than not to be non-visual thinkers, and they probably can’t stand technology. So when you give them a book with numbers and/or technology in it they’re like, “Ugh! Oh god, it’s like homework, make it go away!”
[1:05:56] BL: So, when you were growing up were you good at math?
DC: Oh, um, yeah.
BL: Okay, so you have both sides of the brain going. Like a lot of writers it’s just, they hit the wall at algebra and that was it. But others…I had a friend like that, I went to film school, I had a friend like that who could draw like a perfect portrait of you, make a brilliant film–animated or live action–but he could also do calculus. It was kind of an embarrassment of riches.
[1:06:22] DC: Isn’t that funny? Did you know that at Microsoft they won’t even hire you as a personal assistant unless you can do calculus?
BL: Oh, that makes me…that cancels me out.
DC: They call it, “Calculus as a filter.” And if you can’t do it then don’t even bother entering the building. A few years back, here in Vancouver, I went out to join someone for lunch in a hotel restaurant. So I walked in, and there’s all these people in the lobby sitting up and standing down, filling out, obviously filling out a form of some sort. I thought, “What kind of job are these people all going for?” I mean you had bikers, you had guys in suits, you had, you know, soccer moms. And so finally I asked one of them, “What are you guys filling out?” Like, “Oh, these are applications to be on Jeopardy.”
DC: And I realized, “Oh, you people are all smart!” And I realized this is what smart people look like. And it was just one of those funny experiences. People come in clusters of certain things, and you can’t fight it. Once you realize it, it makes life easier and much more understandable.
[1:07:38] BL: Right, and so, like when you talk about clusters and like the types, and you consider your own type, because I think you are sort of a hybrid form. Like you’re doing really interesting visual work, you’re doing really interesting work in the literary realm. I know that you’re friends with Michael Stipe, who is also kind of a hybrid form, he’s a musician who’s got a visual arts interest. Like do you find yourself running with people who carry both of those parallel interests?
[1:08:08] DC: Most of the people that I hang out with…painters or sculptors, or film & TV people. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence, I think it’s because it’s just verbal and visual together in the same package. And, I mean, sometimes I’ll meet someone, you meet a poetic soul, which is really lovely, but there’s nothing we can really talk about. And now when I meet someone who’s like a true poet, I actually quite enjoy just sitting there and enjoying their aura. I don’t try and make conversation. And isn’t life interesting? That we have all these different kinds of people.
[1:08:53] BL: I think there’s something to it as well, like being a writer. And, you know, especially if you’ve been working really extensively in that realm. Like you’re in the realm of time, you’re in the realm of words, and then to get to hang around people who have been spending their days in the realm of space, or in the realm of color, whatever it is, it can be kind of a relief. Like sometimes I’m like, “Oh God! I need to talk to somebody who’s not a writer!” [laughs]
BL: I’m too deep into it.
DC: I know that sensation!
[1:09:24] BL: So, I guess, before I leave you, like I’m interested to know, you know, if you look towards the future, like both creatively and also like generally…like I’ve been reading the news lately that, especially climate-related news, I can’t stop, and it’s just depressing the hell out of me, I’m assuming you’re aware of all this. I guess the first question would be like, “Where do you think we’re headed?” Not just with respect to climate, but with respect to life in general. Like do you find yourself optimistic? Are you kind of a fatalist?
[1:10:03] DC: No, I mean, I pull back and look at the numbers. Still, in 2014, life is statistically, numerically, on an averaged out basis, better than it’s ever been for human beings on Earth. I mean, there’s a lot of horrible situations, but there are fewer of them, that’s one way. I mean, the other? I was in China and I was doing research at Bell Laboratories in Shanghai, and I was meeting with the Vice President of the Shanghai Communist Party. And we were talking about the future and China’s new Five Year Plan, which ends, I think, on 2017, is to give every citizen–man, woman, child–in the top twenty cities one gigasecond of connectivity. The secondary and tertiary cities, like I think it’s maybe two hundred, and for the people out in the countryside about five megs a second, which is what you get with, you know, downtown Manhattan, at the moment. And it’s China and it’s a Five Year Plan, so it’s going to happen. You know it is. And it’s like, “Well you know, have you thought about the unintended side effects of extreme connectivity for one point two billion people?” And like, “Side effects? No, why would we?” “Well, you know, it could, you know *cough cough* have a lot of political ramifications.” And he waved it away and said, “That doesn’t matter because the fact of the matter is: no matter where you are on Earth the future is about extreme connectivity. And if we don’t do it then we’re just going to be second or third to get to the party. It’s the future, it’s inevitable, so we’re doing it.”
[1:11:46] And that was kind of a shivers-down-my-spine moment because it is the unavoidable future, and I don’t quite know what that means for relationships and interrelationships between people, or organizations, or politics, or religions. Sometimes I feel like I’m strapped into a rollercoaster and I’m just like not getting off. But that’s maybe all of us right now. But the net overall result seems to be that things are kind of actually getting better. And we’re at the point now where things are starting to get more creatively diverse. What am I saying? That we’ve entered the phase of technology where people are customizing things, and we’re getting back to unique items and needless machines. I don’t know, Brad, if I overthink it, I’ll get depressed. If I think about it properly, I’ll just get energized and, you know, look forward to it.
[1:12:49] BL: Yeah, I think, I mean it seems like the saner way to go. I’ve got to keep myself from getting too deep into, like, the polar bear on the iceberg–I’ve got to stay away from that visual.
DC: Just go look up, you know, “puppies and kittens” on YouTube.
DC: There’s this newspaper in Florida that old people get, I think it’s called The Good News Times, where it only has good news.
BL: There we go.
DC: So like on September 12th the headline would have been something cheerful, and probably 9/11 has never been mentioned in it once. But you know, maybe what you need is a subscription to The Good News.
[1:13:25] BL: [laughs] Well I think there’s something to that because I think, you know, the way we consume, informationally, matters, you know, a lot. And maybe more than I, or most people, might think, you know.
DC: Well just stop binging on TED videos.
DC: And stop binging on info.
[1:13:45] BL: That’s right, that’s right. So, one last question. Are you working on anything new? Or are you just, are you in kind of the promotional phase for Worst. Person. Ever.? Or?
DC: Oh, I’ve got a huge museum retrospective starting in Vancouver on May 30th. It’s like ten thousand square feet, it’s a huge show, and so for the last half year it’s absorbed most of my life. I have this column that runs every other weekend in the Financial Times magazine in London and, but you can get it without a paywall in the States. And it’s wonderful because it just, it’s a way for me to get a little calm and centered. Everyone thinks that it’s killing me, it’s too much pressure, it’s quite the opposite. It’s relaxing and frees me up to just, “Okay let’s put the writing part of the brain, give it a bit of a run.” But no, lately it’s all been for the show. It’s just been, ugh! Sixteen-hour days.
[1:14:35] BL: Wow, and that show is going to run from May?
DC: Until Labor Day.
BL: Until Labor Day.
DC: And then it’s going to a few other venues. So it has a big four hundred page catalogue. Sorry, that’s where writing’s gone, after the catalogue. That’s a lot of work. Wow.
BL: So if people are up in Vancouver they can check it out. Ten thousand square feet? You’ve got a lot of work to show.
DC: [laughs] I’ve been doing it for thirteen years, fourteen years now. I could put images on the website, but I think I’m just going to wait until the show is up and can say, “There! I wasn’t just kidding folks.”
[1:15:11] BL: Well, I wish you luck with it. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you. Congratulations on the new novel, and congratulations on the upcoming show. And we’ll certainly be interested to see what you come up with next, both as a writer of books and as a visual artist.
DC: Well Brad, thanks very much. You’re very gracious. Thank you.
* * *
[1:15:30] Okay you guys, there you go, that is Douglas Coupland. Go get his new novel, it’s called Worst. Person. Ever. It’s available now from Blue Rider Press. You can find Doug online at: coupland.com. He’s also on the Twitter where his handle is @dougcoupland. Thanks to Kill Rock Stars, as always, for the good music. Be sure to check out: killockstars.com.
[1:15:48] Don’t forget about the app: the free, official Otherppl app. It’s available now wherever apps are available. New episodes automatically upload to the app. You don’t have to do anything, it just happens, it’s automated. You can download episodes to listen to while you’re offline, and, best of all, you can sign up for premium right there within the app. It’s just two bucks a month, or five bucks for six months of access, or $9 for a full year. You do that, you sign up for premium, you get access to everything, the full archives, all two hundred and sixty-some odd episodes, including my conversations with writers like: Susan Orlean, David Shields, Erik Larson, Sam Lipsyte, Lydia Millet, Ben Fountain, Ben Marcus, Ben Loory–all kinds of Bens! So, please do that. Go get the app, and then sign up for premium and support this program. I would appreciate that.
[1:16:33] Otherwise, if you would like to email me, the address is: email@example.com. firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know what’s going on in your life, tell me a story, let me know what you think of the show, whatever you want to say. Perhaps I’ll read your letter on the air, it could happen.
[1:16:52] Okay, so, uh, I don’t know what generation I’m in. Am I in Generation X? I should have asked Doug Coupland that [laughs], perhaps he could have told me. I’ve never been a hundred percent clear on it, probably because I don’t really give a shit. What does it matter? You’re a Millennial? I’m a Generation X-er? What does that change? Do you get a t-shirt? Do you get like a coffee mug or something?
[1:17:20] Please remember that Jean Genet was a paid informer for the Nazis in World War II, and that Van Wyck Brooks once described James Joyce as, quote, “salacious, bad-smelling, and sick.” That’s it for now. Thanks again to Doug Coupland. Go get his new novel. Go see him in LA at the Skirball on April 17th if you happen to be in town. And I think that’s it. I think what I’ve done here, ladies and gentlemen, is that I have just completed another episode. We have now come to the end, I hope it was an enriching experience. I hope that wherever you are, you are currently sitting in a relaxed position, with a faraway look in your eyes and a glazed smile on your face. What generation are you in, by the way? What is the name of your generation?