When I was in the 8th grade, my friend Jeff Cooper, told me about a book during a Boy Scouts camping trip… it was called J-Pod, he said, it’s a funny book about a bunch of video game developers who smoke weed and build a hugging machine. “You should check it out, you’d probably like it a lot. It’s by Douglas Coupland.”
When I was in Middle School, I was the walking embodiment of listless… which is to say, I didn’t walk much at all. Outside of Boy Scouts, I didn’t participate in many extracurricular activities—unless you count playing World of Warcraft as an activity (I do, but…)—I was starved for attention, getting it, of course, but also giving it. I previously blogged about my hearing loss (undiagnosed at the time) and how it impacted me during school. While it’s safe to say that its impact was mostly negative, one rather fortuitous positive benefit was that I read. A lot. It’s where I directed my attention. I didn’t read the books assigned to me in class because it was already the most frustrating part of my day and the source of a lot of failure; attempting to keep up via acing homework seemed fruitless. I had the school-wide record for Homework Incompletion Slips.
Until Jeff told me about J-Pod, had you asked me who my favorite author was, I probably would have (somewhat unfortunately) have said Orson Scott Card, who’s Ender/Ender’s Shadow series of books were a continual source of inspiration for me. (Later, once my hearing loss was finally diagnosed, the Ender’s Shadow series took on a whole new meaning as I was drawn to characters with disabilities, real or imagined.) If I was feeling particularly precarious, I might have said William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which I had, at that point, never completed, but “loved” because the aesthetics I understood were cool and I knew that it had inspired some of my favorite movies and TV shows. I also might have said Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, a series of comics my dad would buy me in exchange for reading books on the reading list he made me… books like Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
This changed shortly after my dad took me to the local Barnes and Noble and I picked out my first Douglas Coupland novel. They didn’t have J-Pod, but I was drawn to another title, All Families are Psychotic. I read it in maybe a day… it was everything a young boy could want: profane, “adult,” truly funny, edgy, surprisingly accessible, deep. From the moment I finished it, Douglas Coupland was my favorite author and that was my favorite book… until I picked up J-Pod online… then that was my favorite book… then it was Girlfriend in a Coma… then it was Eleanor Rigby… then it was Hey Nostradamus!… and then it was Life After God.
The impact that Douglas Coupland had on my life cannot be understated. It’s always somewhat cheesy to say “so-and-so author saved me” or “such-and-such piece of media saved my life” but in this case, I honestly think the statement is somewhat literally true (which has, in turn, caused me to really believe people when they talk about someone or something in the same trope-y way). As I grew older, the funny and edgy qualities that drew me to his work fell out of the forefront of my mind and I realized that his novels were truly deep and had much to say about contemporary culture, loneliness, and spirituality. That’s a story for another blog post… though, frankly, it might be good enough to try and get published.
Jeff, always brilliant, went on to work at Google and now lives in Pittsburgh. We fell out of contact quite some time ago. His impact, however, has stuck with me… ask me today who my favorite author is and I will still tell you that it’s Douglas Coupland. Through a series of pleasant circumstances that, I can truly say, felt like the hand of God pushing me towards a goal, I found myself being selected to present a paper at the first Douglas Coupland Conference and sit on the “Aesthetics” panel, chaired by Andrew Tate. I have told many of the attendees and all of the organizers that being able to simply be there was a dream come true… but to be honest, had you told me, a C student in the 8th grade, that I would one day be at an academic conference presenting my work to a bunch of scholars all of present to celebrate the work of Douglas Coupland: I’d have never believed you nor would I have dare dreamed it.
So, although I’ve said it many times now, I want to say again, in remembrance of 8th grade me: thank you all, meeting you was a pleasure, the conference was a joy, it really was a dream come true.