Feathertale editor Grace Flahive recently caught up with Canadian novelist, designer and visual artist Douglas Coupland over email, in which she asked the whats, wheres, and Dear God, whys about spit glands, the writing life, and the benefits of a well-formed beard. The following is a hashtag-free (but entirely tweetable) record of their back and forth.
JUST THE FACTS:
Born: The Canadian Air Force base in Baden-Baden, (West) Germany, December 30, 1961. I always put in the West as it’s specifically because there was also an East Germany that my parents were in Baden-Baden in the first place. It really pisses me off when, on government forms, they cross out the West.
Currently living in: West Vancouver.
Currently working on: A reasonably large solo museum show that runs all next summer at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
If not a writer/artist/designer, you would be: I can’t imagine any other life.
What’s in your pockets right now: An iPhone and a tube of lip balm from Icelandair.
First job: Bussing tables at Ricky’s Pancake House, West Vancouver. I was fourteen. I’ve always had as many jobs as possible. It was a way of escaping the suburb I grew up in. It was so remote as to be technically rural — alpine rural, but rural still. Possibly even hillbilly.
JUST THE ANSWERS:
Feathertale: Hi, Doug.
Douglas Coupland: Hi, Grace.
FT: Nice to meet you.
DC: Likewise. Grace, did you know that there are technically thirty-two question marks in the set of questions you sent?
FT: Ummm . . . I guess that’s an insane number of questions to ask someone who, like myself, probably has many time commitments, isn’t it?
DC: It is, Grace. But because I am benevolent and merciful I will answer pretty much all of your questions.
FT: Thanks, Doug. I promise I won’t ever send thirty-two questions to writers ever again.
DC: They will all thank you, Grace.
FT: Your path to becoming a writer was an interesting one, and one that you’ve called an accident, beginning in 1987 when you took a magazine job.
DC: No. It was in January of 1988 when I took a magazine job with Western Living, but I’m not even sure it was accidental. I think writing would have happened anyway, somehow. Differently, but it still would have happened.
FT: What’s the full story of this accident?
DC: It’s too long to tell here in this format, Grace. Sorry. It just is. Basically I wrote someone a postcard. She put it on her fridge and a magazine editor read it at a party and phoned me.
FT: Why did you stick with writing?
DC: Because I enjoyed it. It was easy and fun and I like magazine people more than most other creative types. They’re of necessity both verbal and visual. And then the act of writing went past enjoyment and tapped into something elemental in me.
FT: In researching for this interview, I came across a quaintly retro thirty-second YouTube clip of a spoken-word spot you did on MTV in 1994. What do you make of the fact that that grainy nineties video can now be posted and reblogged into infinity?
DC: There ought to be six segments from that series. I’m glad they’re all out there still having a life. They let me art-direct them, and it was a terrific experience. They’re beautiful.
FT: Your upcoming exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery is called Everywhere Is Anywhere Is Anything Is Everything. Typically, where and what are you?
DC: Grace, I just don’t know how to answer that kind of question. Sorry. It’s just too broad a question. Most days I wish I could just reincarnate as a bird and drop it all.
FT: When working on a novel, what does your writing process look like?
DC: Ritualized and monotonous, but there’s no other way to get the job done. All other fiction writers I’ve met say the same thing.
FT: Do you get up early?
DC: No. I build my life so that I don’t wake up for anything. Ever. If you make me get up early to do something with you, I will hate you and resent you and figure out a way of never having to work with you ever again.
DC: Usually by 4:00 p.m. I’ve hit the coffee wall.
FT: Braid your beard?
DC: No. But I like having a beard — a pleasure you will never know. My beard changes my face shape and allows me to see in it family members who I love and can’t see otherwise.
FT: A common preoccupation of your novels’ characters is loneliness — such a universal emotion. What do you think is the best antidote to loneliness?
DC: It’d be preposterous for me to propose a universal cure to loneliness. I will say that people who do the things they find interesting, either creatively or vocationally, tend to become unlonely very quickly.
FT: You once said that, “Nothing very, very good and nothing very, very bad ever lasts for very, very long.”
DC: I did.
FT: How do you account for thirteen-season reality TV series?
DC: I like a lot of reality TV. I find people who prejudge reality TV to be annoying. Art comes from anywhere. Culture can ooze out of any crack. Prejudging is the death of creativity.
FT: Ten years ago, this symbol, #, was called a pound sign, found on phone dial pads. Now, it is unequivocally a hashtag.
DC: Unequivocably? Grace, I disagree. I still hear it called a pound sign more than hashtag. Some people still call it number sign. Way too early to forecast its death.
FT: Can you predict the next symbol that might be appropriated by the Internet?
DC: I hear the right-facing caret sign, >, is trending heavily.
FT: You once chewed up copies of your novels and constructed wasp nests with the pulp, to address the physicality of books and to see what would happen when a human cultural form was placed in a non-human context.
DC: I did.
FT: How did the experience of chewing your work differ from simply reading or speaking about it?
DC: Chewing printed pages is very harsh on your saliva ducts. Reading doesn’t dry out your ducts for a week-long span, nor does it force you to use artificial mouth-moisturizing solution (it exists).
FT: Why was it important for you to interact with your work in this way?
DC: I wanted to see books taken out of historical time and placed into a different timeline, such as evolutionary or geological time, as a means of putting the human experience in context.
FT: What do you think is the novel’s place in twenty-first-century culture?
DC: As necessary as ever. I wonder if, maybe, too many people are trying to write the World’s Worthiest Novel to the detriment of the novel that actually lies within them. Nobody cares about worthiness. People care about what is real inside of you. If you’re trying to impress your fourth-year lit teacher then you might as well quit right now and do something else.
FT: How is the novel’s place different from the last century or the one before?
DC: In the old days people had far fewer channels in which to place their imaginative time. There’s definitely more competition for time . . . and yet people seem to be reading as much. You needn’t worry.
FT: Your newest novel, due out in fall 2013, is titled Worst. Person. Ever. Who would you consider to be the best person ever, and why?
DC: The best person ever? Graham Roumieu, who does the Bigfoot books.
FT: If you could speak to that person, what would you say?
DC: Graham, don’t ever stop. We need ten thousand more of you.
FT: In your novel Player One, you suggest that past the age of fifty-five, “nothing new is learned, and nothing new is transmitted,” and yet it is common to live for another thirty years. What do you hope to be doing when you’re eighty-five?
DC: I’d like to keep taking on new jobs, just like I was fourteen again. Life without learning curves is death.
FT: Of all the generations alive right now — pre-boomers, boomers, Gen X, millennials — which do you find the most interesting to study, and why?
DC: I think individual people are interesting, not really groups of people. So I bail from answering that question. I mostly always have. Discussions of generations only go downhill. There’s no point in having them.