Coupland: 'Your twenties are like a car crash'


From University Wire (February 4, 2000)

by Laura Schaeffer

Douglas Coupland, best known for defining a generation with his first book, Generation X, has spent the last 10 years revealing the world to itself. Microserfs, Shampoo Planet, Life After God and Girlfriend in a Coma highlighted what it meant to be young, confused, hopeful, lonely and searching in the '90s.

Now Coupland gives the world his latest novel, Miss Wyoming. Written in a new style, the poignant characters leap off the page.

Coupland spent last night in Madison doing a reading at the University Book Store, 711 State St.

He entertained his rapt audience with witticisms about life (he refers to airline food as "joyless little snacks"), answered questions (he prefers Macintosh computers) and read from the pages of Miss Wyoming.

Coupland agreed to a brief interview prior to the bookstore engagement, and spoke about his beginnings as a writer, his methods and his observations about the world and our place in it.

The Daily Cardinal: Have you ever been to Madison before?

Douglas Coupland: No, and actually there's a lot of really good architecture here I would like to have seen. Why is this the town I only get to spend one day in?

TDC: When you start a book do you have a specific goal in mind?

DC: I used to work one way and now I work a different way. Once I decided I was going to do fiction and gave up everything else in my life, I started keeping these spiral-bound notepads. I went through one about every 10 days. I would be here or there and notice a thought or you'd say a word that for whatever reason just resonated. I wouldn't give it too much thought or I would've killed it.

At the end of the year, it would be 30 pads. I'd only write on one side and I'd cut them up into pieces. I spread a thousand on the table. I'd go through them like a jigsaw puzzle.

Certain voices would emerge and they'd become characters, certain themes, places. I think the reason it worked was when I saw something that struck me--I use the word resonate--I'd just write it down and [find that] four or five times a day my subconscious would reach itself up and sort of go 'hello?'

When you put them all together, you realize what a deeper part of you has been thinking about.

The earlier books would be quilted together from those notes. [It was] a lot of work, but if you enjoy it, it's a labor of love.

I stopped wanting to write things down. But now, I realize there's this point when it becomes simultaneous. I internalized the process.

I began writing Miss Wyoming for an hour before bed every night, no notes at all. It was wonderful, it didn't feel like homework. I felt the characters resonate in advance.

I reached that weird, strange place where I'd be writing--especially Marilyn; I loved that character--and she'd just say things ... like, "Augh! I can't believe she just said that," and sometimes a lot of scenes would just play themselves through because that's the way they wanted to play themselves through.

It's been really exciting. When I'm touring, or on planes, [my next book] is all I'm thinking about.

TDC: How long have you been with your new publisher?

DC: A year and a half.

TDC: Do you think your new book will be written in the style of Miss Wyoming?

DC: No. No, it'll be something--I hope--is an evolution- ary leap.

TDC: How did you fall into writing?

DC: Well, I was doing sculpture and I just ... it was one of those discoveries. Writing was originally just to pay my sculpture bills. I moved to Toronto, the center of the art world, and I was doing magazine work. And I had this moment, outside the Golden Griddle Pancake House in February or March.

I didn't breathe. It was like 'I can't do what I'm doing anymore. You've got to put down your tools, you've got to write, and if you' ve got to write, you've got to write fiction.' You can't mess with a moment like that."

TDC: Do you read other people's stuff?

DC: I read everything. Like Modern Poultry in the dentist's office. That's the best stuff. You never know what you're going to find. I love used-book stores.

TDC: Do you watch TV?

DC: Not a lot of time for that, but I do a lot of e-mail. There's one night every two weeks when I think "tonight would be a good night for surfing." Because it's not even TV anymore, is it?

TDC: You must like "The X-Files," being a Vancouver native.

DC: Oh yeah. I loved it, it was right down the street.

TDC: What's your advice to college students?

DC: I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your twenties are awful. I speak the words of wisdom. Don't you wish that back in high school or grade school there was a class, 'What Happens After You Leave This Joint?' What are the issues? Gee, the world's expensive. S

omehow that never quite sinks in. The other one is like, okay, descriptions of loneliness. Especially around dinner time when everyone is out and you're not.

The other big one too, is "where am I going to live? Who am I going to marry?" Your twenties are like a car crash. Twenty-five and 26 are statistically the worse. By 27 it gets better. By 30, you realize you're not the only person going nuts like this. Everyone's going through the same thing.

You think everyone's having a great time, and no one talks about it because it's, like, uncool.

We should have little cards or something ... we can talk about this, it's okay. I got to 30 with no map whatsoever and I thought I was nuts.