One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter
Scaachi Koul (Doubleday Canada)
In Town: The author will be at the spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 27 at 8:30 p.m. in Christ Church Cathedral. For more information including tickets, please see writersfestival.org.
Turns out, Scaachi Koul says, writing her collection of essays One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter was cathartic. “Having it out feels better than having it inside my head,” she says with a laugh.
This collection of very personal essays offers takes on insidious racism, gradations of skin colour, horrible twitter trolls, body hair and what to do about it, binge drinking and friendship, the length of Indian weddings, her parents, her niece, her weight and life with her older white boyfriend.
It is by turns, profane, bleak, caustic, very direct, confrontational, insecure and funny. The book has given the Toronto-based culture writer and editor for BuzzFeed and other publications a certain cache in this book season.
Next month, she’ll be in the States for the launch of a U.S. edition. This week she’ll be at the Ottawa International Writers Festival at an event where she is the only star. Not bad for 26-year-old second-generation Indo-Canadian woman originally from Calgary who lives by her keyboard.
In an interview she is, a lot like her book, smart, incisive, caustic and occasionally profane.
Her book, she says, “initially was supposed to be a little light, funny. It would have been shorter though and would have required less introspection. But I have editors who do not allow me to skate over things.
“I think it’s better for it. Certainly if I am left to my own devices I’ll write 10 sick jokes, get my cheque and get the f*** out of there.”
She says she’s not sure the world wanted her to be revealed. “I think what they wanted was a more nuanced and contextual look at human suffering (laughing again when she says this).”
But the book was always going to be deeply personal and potentially very controversial.
“When I was initially working on the book proposal, the themes I had in there are still there in final version. There are parts which I hope are still funny because if it isn’t, it’s just an unrelenting collection of agony. … Sometimes you just have to say that the sad thing happened.”
Running through the essays are her parents, in particular, the presence of her father in her life is felt strongly. Each chapter is bridged with series of emails between the two of them. It’s not necessarily an easy relationship.
“I think my father gets me about as much as a 60-something immigrant dude can understand this weird daughter that he produced in a country that he isn’t from. He is trying. He is not going to read the book. He knows it is not really for him and if he read it, he would find parts maddening
“I don’t think he’d be frustrated with the stuff I wrote about him but the things I have written about myself would make him nervous. There’s a level of intimacy that I don’t think my dad wants with my body for one thing.
“Fair enough, I don’t really need him to have this info in his head. He is doing his best to relate and understand and he’s looking for ways to be supportive. He is very involved in my job. At end of every day he asks what are we writing as if he’s involved.”
Koul is certainly out there on social media. And she has been targeted by trolls. One infamous episode followed her twitter stream asking for submissions to Buzz Feed Canada, in particular from people ‘not white and not male.’
The flaming was so horrendous that she dropped her account for a time.
These days Twitter is just a tool.
“It’s necessary for work, but I don’t like it. I think I got to a point a little while ago where I realized that the Internet and Twitter had shifted in a way that I couldn’t play with it in a way that I used to.
“When I launched Twitter I remember thinking this is the dumbest thing I had seen on the Internet. For first four years I had it I had 150 followers, all people I knew from school. … The internet felt like this environment that I had just for me and people I liked. Then it shifted until it completely broke. Then I realized this wasn’t something to play with.
“I don’t regret what I said. What it taught me was that I don’t get to play in that way and think that nothing will happen, not that I think that something should happen.
“I haven’t shifted my tone, but I do think differently about what words am I going to amplify. If someone sends me something stupid, do I post up and give them more views? These are the things I have to think about now.”
She says another roasting occurred after a piece of hers appeared in the New York Times commenting on the Trudeau government and the state of affairs in Canada “and how things here are not ideal even compared to the U.S. People were furious with me.” Not only was she a woman saying this about the True North, she was a woman of colour.
Now she sees male writers saying the same thing in U.S. publications and they are not getting the same response.
“People might disagree with them but I don’t think any of them are being called a slut. I’m OK with people disagreeing with my ideas, but it’s clear to me that no matter what version of myself that I present people will get upset.”
She says she believes that the behaviour of trolls is learned.
“No one comes out of the womb and goes ‘You are all c****. At some point they learn it and it becomes acceptable to them.”
Koul admits to having been pretty mean in her own time. Her high school self “was awful. It was a defence mechanism. I was really uneasy about my weight so guess what I went to other girls with. It’s really basic behaviour. It’s what I see with men. At some point somebody taught them that was the thing to do.”
She is her own metaphor in this collection. Her experiences, she believes are typical of those lived by many young women her age.
“I feel that people are connecting to the book because the experiences I’m detailing are really mundane. I was a very timid teen and then I moved (from home and went to university) and got in a little trouble but survived it. That routine experience isn’t really talked about.
“I can’t tell you how many girls in university who are like ‘Oh My God, I could not figure out what was wrong with my friends and that was what was wrong we were drinking like that’.” (She has a whole chapter about heavy drinking with a few friends including one poor fellow who appears to have slipped deeply into alcoholism. She says she may still drink too much, but so far her doctor says no physical damage done.)
“I don’t know how often those things are contextualized. But it’s the same thing for being brown and trying to date this white weirdo. It feels so simple. And I’m going to show you what it looks like.”
On a deeper level, she speaks out as a person of colour against a complacent society that thinks that it isn’t racist and it has fixed sexism.
In her working milieu, most newsrooms are predominantly white.
“Newsrooms have shifted to being more female heavy but it is all white women. That’s a good first step but it’s not enough.
“People get angry when I say that other voices need to be heard. … They think it is a zero sum game. But I really have to struggle to understand why we have to let old white dudes — I don’t mean this personally — why do all of them get to eat first.
“How many transgender writers are working and thus able to write about trans issues. I don’t know of many and it’s not good. If you are a black writer in Canada, my God. Forget it.
“If you fight against bringing diversity into newsrooms or anything you will end up being on the wrong side of history and you are happy with having that on the record, that’s your stuff. You will have to defend that later.”
She has her own failings.
“I’m a fair-skinned privileged elitist. My parents paid for my education. I graduated with no debt. I could take all these internships that paid little or nothing and could work for little and figure it out. But I have been super lucky. Not everybody gets to have that.”
She doesn’t think she should ever pat herself on the back for a job well done.
“We should always be trying to figure out a way to tell everybody’s story. What frustrates me is there is such resistance.”
Main art: Scaachi Koul is certainly not afraid to speak her mind. Photo: Barbora Simkova