The Most Fun Thing: A Conversation with Kyle Beachy
Filip Tenšek had a chat with Kyle Beachy prior to the VX presentation and release of his book The most fun thing.
We might think our medium is language, but our medium is time.
I’ve often wondered whether book reviews, or for this sake their younger siblings, accolades, short pieces usually placed on the back of the book, maybe squeezed on the front cover or today online, followed by a star classification and mostly on Jeff Bezos’ Gates of Hell, with its universal values held so high and which by a magical force at the same time somehow appropriate the singular of someone’s writing, style or signature, oh so smoothly, could very well be describing any book whatsoever. If it’s a major one, it’s fairly possible that it’s marketed and championed as an instant classic, an idiosyncratic work of a true genius or an idiomatic exercise in style, someone’s groundbreaking debut or a catapult into the forefront of the literary scene. Smaller titles, also nicely versed in rhetoric, are more humble and lighter in their approach, but the structure remains the same.
With books, as with other goods, really, this wasn’t always the case. It was with popular (and mass) culture, with free education and with it the rise in general readership, with the revolution of the bourgeoisie and genres specifically devised for women, children, later even teenagers, to name just a few, that started with the allotting of space on the object that is known as the book. Always mapping borders, even on things, cutting into their physical space, a little to the left and we’ve got it. We are more or less attuned to this form of messaging now, or marketing, and it comes to us in a blink of an eye, a come-and-pick-me from the sea of possibilities, we don’t mind, then a hook is thrown, and it’s the birthplace of the first impression. It is the introduction.
I was introduced to the existence of Kyle’s book in a different manner, when Nikola called me on the phone and asked me if I’d like to do a short interview with Kyle or write some sort of text on The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboard Life, his new book and the thing you are here for, which I gladly accepted, having already read some of his pieces in online mags, fully aware that there is a serious possibility of me failing that task. I’m not a great presenter and, like most of us, I’m always dealing with some insecurities. But I’ve done my research, read his book of essays, read also some reviews and opinions, which, by the way, all seemed really nice and positive towards his writing, and were overall amazed by his ability to weave skateboarding into the fabric of everyday life. And I was there with them, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his decade long stroll – it’s difficult, really, and imprecise to call it that, as it is at times hard as it’s geeky and playful, special and strange — maybe a quest for meaning then, which is both provided by and obfuscated by skateboarding.
The singular, this skateboarding thing which can’t be narrativized properly, as Kyle said to me, as something that pricks one and can also slam you on the ground pretty hard, by means of the universal always becomes displaced in favour of the universal. This book is an exploration on how to speak to it, to try and capture some of it, to squeeze some of that hidden energizer that presents to us as skateboarding, and which from one person to another, quite amazingly, is a wholly different one.
When you get deep enough in skateboarding, it grants you a permission to sit in a parking lot for six hours, it grants you a permission to, in the middle of a book of essays, also put some piece of fiction in there.
When I’m reading his essays I get a double urge: to go skateboarding and to continue reading at the same time. So, the feeling of fervor and restlessness that is being produced inside this reader, one that by chance also happens to be a skateboarder for a little over seventeen years, which gives a solid context in which the performative seems to be working, in my opinion, is one of the greatest successes that this book of essays has to offer. But it’s by no means the only one, for writing about it to a wider audience, and maybe even trying to read it from a different angle, for an entirely different purpose, seems to be working just fine:
Any reader who is curious about skateboarding will find satisfaction in this book. Not someone who necessarily does skateboarding. The reader who is curious will find reward in it. What unites the challenge with writing to skaters and writing to non-skaters is that both of them must be curious enough to go into this book. That’s what literature should traffic in, the curiosities and mysteries and the pursuit of those. The great thing about skateboarding is that it’s a pursuit that is also non-linear, iterative and indirect. But if curiosity is there, you can make those steps. You can take those wide arching turns and slowly come back around.
Curiosity. Another name for the proper setting of the introduction, or maybe its prerequisite. Maybe it’s a matter of tacit solidarity, an affirmative without any reservations. While discussing different parts of his book, by the way there are four, Kyle mentions that the last part – with pieces on Dylan Rieder, Jeff Grosso or his process of combating the wallride shove-it out on a Picasso monument in Chicago, both literary and physically – is the heaviest read, but if we’ve made it so far, he says, we’re good, we’re completely on the same page and in cahoots, as kids would say it. On the cover I see a broken board, it’s split in two parts and juxtaposed with playful yellow grainy letters of the title. The ‘truth’, or some other name for that which it signifies, is always at least twofold, and his questioning of that exact ‘truth’ of skateboarding was done in a really careful, pedantic and serious manner, dabbling with the conditionality of it, an investigation, how he calls it, and adds that the sustained act of wandering has always been very appealing to him:
I think there is a way that a sustained, prolonged investigation, just by being sustained and prolonged, is going to yield something new. You shine a light on something long enough, something is gonna cross through that light. Something is going to emerge, some shadow is going to shift or something is going to be jostled and you’re going to start seeing something again.
I guess that a certain degree of trust is necessary, after curiosity, in deciding to give it a go, a gentle nudge in a familiar direction, at least in this laissez-faire economy of desire in which book reading is being challenged and contested by other media – even other texts, trimmed down to suit one’s ever shortening attention span… A technological revolution? Maybe, but that is besides the point. Where can trust be found in just looking at an object with some letters on the top and an image on the front cover, let alone in the whole body of someone’s text?
The thing it seems to me is that a book, as an object, offers us a special experience of time, and I say this from a moment historically where probably the book is as undervalued as it maybe has ever been in the history of books. What these books will do for us is create an experience of time that no other experience can give us. It seems to me that there is an experience of time that we’re missing out on, and that experience is central to our existence.
We speak of manipulating time and, more broadly, narrative, and how insisting on skewing time in literature affects our perception of those familiar details and material of the everyday, rendering them somehow stranger, just by changing pace and focus, therefore surprising the reader – the making of an unfamiliar within the familiar.
When I had the opportunity to take the standalone essays, and make them into the book, what was most exciting for me was the prospect of doing some of that slower, more gradual and sneaky work.
Gradual and sneaky work, that’s the basic principle of quality literature, no matter the topic and the decorum, which in this case manages to bring to life skateboarding’s long historical route and its everyday peculiar incarnations or, on occasion, personal and special little events. That is the feeling I cannot yet name, but it exists, you’re just gonna have to trust me, and it has to do with peeping into someone else’s space which is also yours, but in a different way. It is a sense of a hinted community that clumsily and proudly congregates around this thing.
Whatever happens to skateboarding, it will be the case that it always offers the opportunity to exist outside of its society. There will always be a path that skateboarding offers that runs counter to various systems of law, economy or culture. There is a way that the perspective that is rooted in skateboarding can offer a view on broader culture, which you can’t see from within that culture. I think there will always be a branch that leads to Vladimir, that leads to the weird underpass beneath the highway system, that leads to the parking lot being more interesting than the store that the parking lot serves.
I’ll consider this book as a promise that, at least for some time, skateboarders and those who are skateboard-curious, will have a voice which is both forgiving and highly critical, which is endlessly curious and actual, and as a place in which you can, at times, and at your own preference, take shorter glances or longer reads, or simply let yourself be guided in the wonderful maze of only one of skateboarding’s possible memoirs.