Some Thoughts About Tao Lin's 'Richard Yates' But Really More About Me and Writing and Also the Internet

Added on by Lindsey.

A topic that's revisited a lot in Writing School discussions is whether or not we as authors "should" utilize brand names, topical trends, etc. in our writing; in these very internetty times, that usually translates to doodads-cum-entities like Facebook, iPods, Twitter, etc. We run the risk of dating our work when we mention things which will undoubtedly become obsolete in the next couple years, as newer better faster shinier things evolve; think how much you'd LOL if the main character in a novel supposedly set in the present-day updated his or her Friendster profile in the first few pages. Setting a whole novel in the orbit of the internet also puts you in a spot likely to alienate whole demographics of readers--my best friends and I may Gchat all day from our separate cubicles in far-flung office buildings, but my mom still can't seem to figure out how to update her Facebook profile with anything except thumbnail-size photos, for instance*, and my grandma actually shed tears of terror when presented with a new computer at Christmas.

But here's the thing. We do Gchat all day long, my generation and I, and we have to put Facebook on LeechBlock via Firefox so we don't spend all day refreshing our live feed, and we tweet @ celebrities, we reblog and "like" and we cancel cable in favor of Netflix and this is the way we communicate, right now; it's the way we live. And the internet might make my grandma feel anonymous and lost; but I started coding websites in Notepad when I was fourteen, and I've confessed to sins of all sizes via Livejournal text boxes, and I know that when you meet an Internet Friend IRL, you really do spend tons of time talking about the other Internet People you have in common, just like the characters in Richard Yates do the first time they meet. (Yes, the characters are named Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment, an obstacle which several other people in the Rumpus Book Club apparently found unsurmountable, to which I say: REALLY. Did you struggle through Wuthering Heights because you couldn't stop picturing Heathcliff as a rascally orange cat romancing Catherine on the moor? As someone who once posted tortured teenage poetry under the romantic-to-a-Midwesterner name "Autumn," I didn't waste my time questioning the names--in Richard Yates, of course, famous aliases are borne of just as much self-delusion as they are -absorption.) Sure, maybe it will all look ridiculous in thirty years, but so will these pants and this tattoo and every weary anecdote about 2010 that I'm trying to force on my kids, you know? Who gives a shit? It means something real to me now. A few parts made me cry.

The internet is this sprawling Rorschach test of self: plain as you make it, intimate as you want it. This is the first book I've ever read that portrayed that accurately, and created two people who move within the same universe I do, who try to forge a relationship in an e-medium wherein it is easy to leave out most of the truth, if you want, just by setting your status to Away when you're actually right there, or limiting yourself to 140 characters when you need to say much more.


 

*Actually a totally unfair thing to say because she has now figured out the new Flickr format and all her photo albums look like a normal person's now. LOVE YOU, MAMA