We Don’t Mourn Electronics Enough
“Where do you feel most comfortable?” I ask Guillaume Morissette.
“Online,” he replies matter-of-factly.
I would have to agree. “I can't live my life without my computer,” I tell him in the midst of some technical difficulties. “When people aren't around me... I don't miss them as much as I already miss being able to turn on my computer.”
“We don't mourn electronics enough,” says Guillaume. “I think I could write an entire novel about this.”
Most of what Guillaume cares about in life involves staring at a computer screen … and never logging off. He likens himself to a robot. That being said, robots probably have a way better chance of job stability than he does moving forward. “I am entering my mid-thirties & I more or less currently live in a Megabus somewhere between Montreal & Toronto,” he quips.
His words also live inside the line 11 of the Belleville métro station in Paris.
“Dude, you’re in the métro!” I congratulated Guillaume via Messenger when I recently spotted an excerpt of his novel New Tab (French: Nouvel Onglet) displayed prominently on the quai.
I had seen Guillaume at a Metatron reading years ago in Montréal but I had the pleasure of officially meeting him in Paris the midst of the Festival America, for which Canada was l’invité d’honneur. Guillaume’s most recent novel, The Original Face [French: Le Visage Originel], was released at the end of 2017. Set in Montreal, Toronto and Newfoundland, it follows a freelance internet artist named Daniel. [Read a free excerpt here.]
Guillaume admits that being around other human beings (in more or less any capacity) can freak him out a bit. It is therefore my honour to share his insightful words, which I gleaned from an online interview. He had a lot to say about Jub Jub the celebrity St. Bernard, decentralizing the internet/making Facebook pay us for our data, Zen Buddhism, and more. //
RS: What kind of spaces do you like to dwell in?
GM: I am an indoor person and I feel at my sanest when I am in giant cities where I am one person out of millions of human beings and I can be alone in a crowd. My theory is that playing SimCity 2000 and 3000 a lot as a kid made me fall in love with large, sprawling, out of control cities and now living in one is the only way I can live my life, even though cramming what feels like every human in Canada in only two or three cities is a terrible idea that’s probably unsustainable.
RS: How does capitalism affect you?
GM: In Canada, simply finding a place to live in Toronto or Vancouver is already a brutal, incredibly depressing experience and it really feels like those problems are only going to be made worse by the twin forces of automation and climate change. To be fair, it’s possible to imagine a future in which automation frees us from all the shitty, unsatisfying, humiliating jobs that no human being should have and allows us to redistribute wealth maybe through stuff like value-added tax, universal income etc, but at the moment, we seem wildly unprepared for what’s coming. If you want to feel like trash, I would recommend the book The Water Will Come.
RS: What do you do when you want to not feel like trash?
GM: I am an insane dog person and I am always ready to dog-sit any time, anywhere, just try me. I've done light volunteer work for a few animal rescue shelters, including Gerdy’s Rescue, a Montreal-based shelter. One of my favourite animal rescue shelters is the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. I genuinely love browsing their Facebook page when I feel depressed and I’d be extremely down to do some sort of live reading there someday.
RS: What do you look for when you do live readings?
GM: When I do live readings, I like to hear people laugh, which always feels reassuring, like, “Okay, they’re actually paying attention, they haven’t tuned me out yet,” but humour is also tricky because it’s kind of like sriracha, like it’s a strong flavour that can overwhelm the entire piece if you’re not careful. Ideally, I want humour to be one of the mechanisms that encourages someone to continue reading a thing by me, but I don’t want it to be the text’s only feature, if that makes sense.
RS: What’s your ideal novel?
GM: Probably one that’s kind of funny and has witty dialog or something, but still achieves dramatic earnestness in the end. I guess I am picturing something like Metal Gear Solid 3, which is campy and goofy and mixes registers but somehow still achieves a sincere, heartfelt dramatic climax.
RS: Who are your favourite authors?
GM: Osamu Dazai, Elfriede Jelinek, Clarice Lispector, Shunryu Suzuki, Ben Lerner, Chelsea Hodson, Sigrid Nunez, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Jarett Kobek, Mark Epstein, many others.
RS: What kind of people do you like to hang out with?
GM: I would recommend my friend Julie Mannell, who’s also a writer and also originally from a small town. I would estimate Julie’s IQ to be around 7000, give or take.
RS: What would you recommend to someone who wants to be a writer?
GM: I think I would recommend failure. Getting a rejection letter is never fun, but in hindsight, historically, being rejected has almost always been a good thing for me and ended up pushing me to produce things that exceeded what I thought my brain was capable of. Except for having my piece rejected for the Canada issue of Granta, that just sucked.
RS: How has failure been your secret power?
GM: Here’s one example: I occasionally make mistakes when I write in English and then someone else later has to tell me, “The way you structured this sentence is weird,” but it doesn’t bother me too much because I can always blame these little failures on the fact that I write in my second language. This built-in excuse can be really convenient because it gives me infinite permission to fail and allows me to not dwell over small mistakes (at least small mistakes that involve language, I still agonize over all kinds of other small mistakes otherwise).
RS: This is an advantage you have over native speakers!
GM: Yeah, exactly. Native speakers sometimes feel like they need to be absolutely perfect in their mother tongue and choose exactly the right word at all times. I don’t have that pressure. I am largely winging it and making shit up as I go. I can mispronounce anything and it's never a problem.
RS: So you were born in a small town in Québec and you are asked all the time why you don’t write in your mother tongue. Does this bother you?
GM: Kind of. I have grown tired of answering that question, which makes me feel like a one-trick pony and also like it’s obscuring what I am actually trying to communicate. I always feel uneasy when someone’s giving me compliments for writing in my second language because that’s not the part that’s “impressive” to me, like, any jackass could write a mediocre novel in English.
RS: Hahahaha. That is true.
GM: What I worked hard on is writing a novel that’s on par with a native speaker’s and is actively trying to communicate various ideas and stuff, so praising me only for not writing in my mother tongue is nice but I also feel like it’s missing the point a little. It’s preventing you from paying attention to what I am trying to get you to pay attention to. Just treat my book like it’s any other novel.
RS: Do you take a lot of notes on your phone?
GM: I often take half-assed notes on my phone while walking from one place to another or something. I always assume that my note will make sense to me later and that I’ll remember what I meant, but I should really have learned by now that that’s not always the case. Sometimes I read myself back and it’s like, “What is this gibberish, wow, this is nonsense,” but that’s also okay because in the process of re-reading my own typos and half-thoughts, I sometimes create new meaning that’s different from the thought I originally wanted to note down, but is still helpful overall.
RS: Besides writing, what mediums do you employ to express yourself?
GM: I like to rescue bad paintings that people are throwing out on the street or have donated to secondhand stores and then paint words or sentences over the original images. I do this for fun and to relax, so I don’t think of this work as “serious” or “artistic,” I am honestly just fucking around, but I like the randomness this introduces in my artistic process and the juxtapositions
the paintings create.
RS: Who’s your favourite artist?
GM: I don’t know. Jim Davis.
RS: Best concert you've been to?
GM: Most of them were boring, then I stopped going.
RS: What is your favourite travel destination?
GM: My favourite travel destination is Japan, which I’ve never been to, but is beautiful and very moving in my imagination.
RS: What is your personal philosophy in life?
GM: Enjoy your problems.
RS: You mentioned you dabble in Zen Buddhism?
GM: I do, but I don’t think of it as a religion. It’s more like something closer to a philosophy or a framework for life to me. Lately I’ve been getting into meditating while high on weed, which it turns out can give you wild, complex insights about your entire personal history and overall life trajectory.
RS: What’s something that’s made you laugh recently?
GM: I Don’t Even Own A Television, “a podcast about bad books.”
RS: When was the last time you felt truly happy?
GM: Finally beating Final Fantasy III after many failed attempts in 1995.
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