Betrayed by a Poke: Local writer Guillaume Morissette tweets his heart out
The first time I heard Guillaume Morissette perform, he read a distraught poem about how his relationship with iTunes was unraveling because of the program’s incessant prodding for an update. The Montreal-based writer’s work often details tumultuous romances, social media, and what he calls his self-diagnosed “emotional attention deficit disorder.” His debut book, I Am My Own Betrayal, published in 2012 by Maison Kasini, is a vibrant collection of short stories and poems that simmer with his singular sense of askew humour. This week, Morissette will read from his book at the literary event This Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not: Chapter Two—The New Sensitivists. I spoke with the writer about the themes in his work, perversely happy giraffes, and the participatory impetus behind This Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not.
Aside from your rocky affair with iTunes, a few selections in your book focus on social media. What did your work look like prior to these interfaces?
I started making personal stuff in late 2009, around the same time I got accepted in Creative Writing at Concordia. It’s pretty daunting to think, “What can I, as a human person, contribute to literature, there’s already so much of it.” Realistically, my only advantage over William Faulkner or Albert Camus is that I’m alive now and they’re not, so that means I get to try to capture how my era feels and they can’t. I can barely imagine my life without a laptop in it. I watched Mad Men with my roommate the other day and I was like, “Don’t those people check their emails? What is this?” I think if I was a writer in 1972 instead of 2012, I would try to do the same thing, capture my era, but I have no idea what that would look like.
Your writing melds themes of technology and masculinity. How do you see your digital interactions affecting your own sense of masculinity?
I am not a very “masculine” person. Sports hate me and growing a beard makes me look like a radioactive ferret and I am not even a very intensely sexual being. I try to have an interesting Twitter presence and I also do charts from time to time. I think those aspects of my personality come across very clearly through that because I view my flaws, limitations and neuroses as fair game—I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do with them, so I use them or make fun of them. I don’t feel “more confident” or “more masculine” online than in real life. I think I make more sense online and seem less confused because I have more time to think about what I’m trying to articulate, but that seems like the only real difference to me.
One of your stories contains a recurring “character” that’s a digital giraffe with a painful amount of joy. It’s a wonderful, pithy tale about corporate vapidity and videogames. Has anyone from the business ever commented on your depiction of that world?
Before switching to writing, I worked in videogames for 5–6 years as a game designer and other roles. At one point, I had to work on online browser-based games aimed at children and I remember at that time feeling cripplingly depressed, lost, and purposeless—having to stare at, like, insanely happy cartoon bears all day long and thinking things like, “I hate you guys so much.” So far, no one has reacted to that story negatively. People have been saying things like, “This is pretty much how it feels,” but I would be curious to see what my former manager or videogame people like Leigh Alexander or Phil Fish would think of it.
What’s the origin behind the name of This Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not? It sounds like a literary Fight Club. Is this just an excuse for authors to wail on one another?
The first This Is Happening was Ashley Opheim’s initiative. I think what she meant by the title was, “Everyone hates readings, this is a reading.” Most people think of readings as kind of boring, just someone reading their feelings to you in a monotone while you drift off and start thinking about gummy bears or elaborate fight scenes. I honestly believe readings can work as an accessible and affecting form of entertainment. Ashley and I would like This Is Happening to become our party reading series with installments whenever we feel like it. We like readings where the crowd can be social and expressive as opposed to just sitting there quietly like it’s a chess game or a tennis tournament. We like mixing different talents. Having bands playing and people reading at the same event seems, to me, like it creates a different kind of energy than just three bands making noise in a row.
Can you speak a bit about the other performers?
Majical Cloudz’s album is called II and features guest vocals by Grimes and seems dangerously underrated to me. New World Magic describes her style as “haunted synth pop” and is yet another very talented local person to keep an eye on. Emma Healey’s first book is coming out in August and she’s funny, charming and way better at talking to crowds than I am. Ashley Opheim’s writing is hyper imaginative and very true to how she is as a person. Dylan Riley and Sarah Brunning are emerging talents.
How does your work fit into this particular event?
You won’t see my book advertised on, like, the side of a bus or something, and at the moment, it still seems “outside” of most media outlets’ cone of vision, so it might need additional exposure or being championed by someone. I’m going to try to read at as many things as possible in Montreal, but also in other cities if I can, and at anything that will have me: book launches, lit magazine launches, basement shows, opening for bands, loft parties, house parties, birthday parties, garage sales, company picnics, anything that has an audience.
I Am My Own Betrayal by Guillaume Morissette
Maison Kasini | 102 pages
$14.95 | Kasinihouseartshop.com