I have met Douglas Coupland on two separate occasions. What follows is an account of the man himself, rather than his works, based on the first time I met him: January 11, 2000. (The following was taken from my journal, written the following day.)
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I left work here in Red Bank, New Jersey, at 5:00PM. By 6:00PM I had arrived in Hoboken and was on the PATH train, headed to 23rd Street in New York City. I arrived at the 7th Avenue Barnes & Noble, where the reading was to take place, at about 6:30PM. When I got there, the seating area for the reading was about half full, so I picked up a copy of Doug's new book, Miss Wyoming, and headed up to the register to purchase it. I picked out a seat in the middle of the seating area and waited while the place filled up.
Coupland himself was announced at exactly 7:30PM, by the Barnes & Noble guest coordinator (or whatever her title was). He walked up to the podium from the direction of the photography books section and was heavily applauded. He seemed nervous, but I could understand that. I think he comes across as rather shy, and that reading his own work out loud embarrasses him at least a little bit. He started out by passing out 3"x5" index cards and ball-point pens, on which the audience was meant to write their five favourite movies by drawing the movie posters/video box covers for them. As the tour progressed, he would scan these and send them to his website designer, along with that day's tour diary entry. (I can't remember exactly what I wrote on the card, but I do remember that I still couldn't draw worth a damn. I got two pens, though, which I kept!) After that, he was a bit goofy, doing an impression of an Air Canada flight attendant distributing peanuts -- just randomly tossing them in no particular direction and not really caring if they were received by anyone. He was a bit hoarse, probably from the previous stops on the tour and all the traveling. (Vancouver and Montréal, with apparently a lot of shuttling in between.)
"Random Paragraph" quickly followed -- members of the audience were selected to choose a paragraph at random from Danielle Steele's Sin, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul by Jack Canfield (editor), and a book about mass extinction, for Doug to read aloud. It was rather silly, particularly the passage from Sin.
Following the silliness, Doug read two chapters from Miss Wyoming; one about Susan crashing in on John and then having a baby on his new Ethan Allen sofa, and the other about Susan's mother, from later in the book. Apparently this bit went a little over the scheduled time, as Doug was hesitant to finish the chapter about Susan's mother because it was too long. He finished it, though, and then fielded three questions from the audience:
- "What are your five favourite movies?"
- "What can you tell us about your next novel?"
- "Do you write longhand or on a word processor, and what are your word-processing preferences if that's what you use?"
A few of the movies he mentioned were Being John Malkovich, Kurosawa's No Regrets for Our Youth, Fearless, and a few others that I can't quite recall. Much to my surprise, he admitted to writing all of his most important stuff in longhand. Being the "spokesman for the wired generation," which he is often referred to as, I would've thought he'd type everything on his PowerBook. As it turns out, he doesn't much care for PCs; they're too non-intuitive, he said, just like he wrote in Microserfs. But no, just like Herman Melville, he writes in longhand. He also gave a brief description about his work-in-progress, currently known as Klondike 5. (The book was released on September 6, 2001 as All Families Are Psychotic.) It's to be set in Florida, and it's about families who be nice to each other all the time and then rapidly disintegrate, and family where hellfire-ish fights are common and that they hold families together longer than the boring, non-conflicting ones.
Next came the book-signing. My friend Anne and I were in the fifth row from the podium and therefore the fifth row of people to be allowed up to the podium. After a brief wait, we were with Doug. Anne did most of the talking, as I was either too awestruck or nervous to initiate a conversation, though I was able to satisfactorily answer his questions (he complimented me on my Cure t-shirt and we talked about 1980s music for a bit) and make the right comments on what he was saying. I handed him my copy of the book for him to sign, which he accepted, opened, and began to write on the title page. He wrote:
from Douglas Coupland (X)
Jan 10, 2000
He signed it with the wrong date -- January 10, 2000 -- which was the day before. He did that in Montréal, too -- I wonder what the signficance is, if any. Maybe he's just waiting for someone to correct him, but no one has yet, I don't know. After he signed our books, Anne presented him with a plastic UPS shipping sack full of various items -- New York-centric books and things, an Andy Warhol datebook/journal (he's a big fan of Warhol), and some other stuff. This collection of stuff was presented to Doug on behalf of the mailing list. (Anne and I were there as representatives of the NYC branch of the Coupland listserv.) He seemed immensely pleased with the items, and he showed them to his media handlers -- three interns in their early twenties, presumably from Pantheon (his publisher at the time; he has since moved to Bloomsbury) -- but they seemed impatient and probably couldn't have cared less. Then came the pictures, with Anne and I flanking Doug on either side while a reluctant handler snapped two Polaroids, both of which Doug kept, promising to put a scan of them in his tour diary, which he did a few days later. When they turned up on his website, we found that he'd spackled both of them with Barnes & Noble "20% off" stickers, which covered his face, leaving Anne and I in the pictures, flanking the headless Generation X icon. Then, in turn, he hugged us! He shook our hands and then said "group hug!" We were more than happy to oblige him. He's very accessible for someone so (I daresay) famous.
While Doug is seemingly quite shy, I think he's particularly enigmatic, especially in his works. Meeting him is akin to the experience you have when you read one of his books -- that he has Answers, or can express Things that you've been thinking about for years but never been able to verbalize, with a handful of sentences. I will always remember January 11, 2000, as the finest time I ever had in New York City, and as the first time I was in contact with someone profound and seemingly understanding of the world around us. Meeting such an articulate and creative person leaves a permanent impression on the brain. Anne and I are both aspiring writers, so that feeling was intensified even more.
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I found myself in NYC again when he was touring to promote his next book, All Families Are Psychotic, in early September 2001, so of course Anne and I went to meet him again. It was the opening of his art exhibit in Soho, with the book signing playing second fiddle to his gigantic, post-post-modern art exhibits. He remembered the both of us, and talked to us for a good ten minutes about various things. Though he doesn't write about himself, you can't help but glean some part of him from his written works, which produces a feeling of friendship with him, and when you meet him he seems to confirm that. He's very nice and talkative (when he's not addressing a crowd). Unlike many other authors and public figures, Doug seems like someone who might live down the street from you. He completely downplays his status as a generational voice, and you'd never guess he was a millionaire just by speaking to him. He's even actually based characters in his books on people that he meets while doing book tours. (Check his previous tour diaries at coupland.com for some examples.)
His inscription on the title page of my copy of All Families Are Psychotic:
Sept. 6, 2001
Welcome to Soho, America's theme park for people with IQs over 110.
While Douglas Coupland may be an internationally recognized A-list author, he is above all a nice person, which perhaps is what makes his works (of which I have read all but Lara's Book) so riveting. His coming out in 2005 caught me by surprise (not surprise that he was gay; rather, that he hadn't come out sooner), but I think it makes him more interesting, if nothing else.