Outside of Time

by Lamorna Ash

Around a year ago, from a since deleted Twitter account, the American writer Megan Boyle posted, ‘I DON’T WANT TO READ PALE KING EVEN THOUGH I LOVE DFW BECAUSE I’M SCARED IT WILL MAKE ME WANT TO KILL MYSELF’. This is a paraphrase, but I’m pretty sure the sentiment was adjacent to this. Her next tweet was something about being equally scared that people might feel suicidal after reading Liveblog: A Novel, the 707-page printed version of her online attempt to document every moment of her life for one year, starting March 17, 2013 and published in 2018 by the alt lit scene’s indie publishing house of choice, NY Tyrant.

I remember these two tweets in particular, out of the deluge of exclamatory content Boyle was liable to produce on a daily basis, because it struck me that, after reading Liveblog, I had felt — not suicidal, nothing like that, I don’t think — but more lost or outside of time than I usually did on finishing a novel. Partly, this was a result of my own life having been reduced to a thin, etiolated rendering of its former self, and so Boyle’s book became a kind of substitute life; but, while this transference could probably have happened with any book I read during lockdown, there was something singular about Boyle’s writing, which both disturbed and attracted me to her.

I hadn’t heard of Megan Boyle until one afternoon pulled out from amongst the mass of dragging days at the end of 2020, when I was sent the trailer for her book. And I, who had pre-emptively judged all book trailers to be the very worst sort of literary marketing tools, fell for it. It was a simple premise: a rapid-fire slideshow of the 2,257 photos Boyle took on her iPhone the year she was making Liveblog, with some oneiric, half-mournful, half-euphoric pop song playing over the top. It was so seductive to me, to glimpse a person’s life in this way, every pulsing instant they had considered worthy of documentation. I loved her instantly. I wanted to make a room for myself inside her head.

Boyle started liveblogging on Tumblr when she was 27, in response to an ‘uncontrollable sensation of my life not belonging to me or something. like its just this event i don’t seem to be participating in much’. ‘Or something’ arrives at the end of many sentences in Liveblog, the effect like watching a plane trying to take off, but every time its front wheels are just leaving the ground, it gives up because it remembers that flying is impossible. THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE INTERESTING’, she adds in the first post, as a caveat. ‘I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO MAKE THIS SOUND INTERESTING OR TRY TO MAKE YOU LIKE ME’. Supposedly, Liveblog was just for her, a way of holding herself to account so that she might become a better, more fulfilled person.

But it didn’t work, obviously. Boyle’s life was soon disintegrating all around her. She had no job, she’d moved back in with her parents, she was catastrophically addicted to drugs and often stayed awake for 36-hour Adderall binges. She spent a weird amount of time sat in convenience store parking lots. A typical entry: ‘12-2:22AM: alternated between “the office”, porn, trying to download “bridesmaids”. Searched “eating cheese puffs with hummus” on youtube, to feel less alone.’ The emotional architecture of the book is a complicated balancing of the desperately sad, the painfully true and the incredibly funny — until it ends suddenly, not quite a year later, a final entry tailing off ‘i didn’t get on an elevator’. That evening, Boyle made a suicide attempt.

Throughout January, all I did was read Liveblog, and talk on the phone about Liveblog, as if it were my life. Boyle’s ambition, at the time of writing, was ‘to eventually have the most information about a person possible on the internet’. Midway through, I started experiencing a kind of mimetic desire, whereby all of Boyle’s aspirations were becoming things I also wanted. Despite knowing that blogging had not saved Boyle from her demons, I wanted the awfulness of my solitary existence to be made public, too. I was desperate to make things count, to give my days some kind of substance, because it felt like nothing in my life really counted anymore. So, I started my own liveblog. I called it ‘Supernothingeverhappensblog’, which was actually a name Tumblr suggested to me because ‘nothinghappensblog’ was taken. I was glad; it was a better name. I wrote about spilling cornflakes on my bed, running and smoking and eating and missing people. As a test, I sent it to a friend. He said it was kind of intense and that he felt almost ‘rude’ reading such personal details about me. I abandoned it after three days. When I go back to my liveblog now, I realise it didn’t sound much like me. It sounded like a poor imitation of Megan Boyle. Part of Liveblog’s achievement was its magnitude, the dizzying prospect of a text containing almost everything a person did for many months.

I don’t think Liveblog has the effect Boyle was frightened it might. It is distressing to read about someone for whom staying alive becomes an insurmountable task; it is also a pretty amazing thing to be given access to another person’s desperate, messy attempt to live — because the version of Boyle in the text does so clearly want to live. And while David Foster Wallace may not have made it to the end of The Pale King, Boyle is now clean, she has a steady job, she is still weird and great on the internet. Liveblog was a reminder of what life had been like before the pandemic: complex and chaotic and often very hard, but still, at all times, richer than the approximation of an existence we’ve been left with for the last year.