Adjust Your Twig and Giggleberries

Adjustment Day

I need to disclose something before we begin. Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author. As far as I’m concerned the man could make a grocery list compelling and engaging. And since this was his first novel in 4 fucking years (1460 days, 35,040 hours, 2,102,400 seconds) I could not wait to devour it. Which I did. In one sitting. And I’m still sucking the juices off my fingers.

But more importantly than reviewing the book, this post provides me a great opportunity to tell the story about the time that I shared a stage with who my friend Bryce and I now call “Our good friend Chuck.”

A few years back he came to Kansas City promoting his short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread and Fight Club 2, a 10 issue limited comic book series (I have signed copies of both). My friend and I not only jumped at the chance to see the awesomeness live, but were also first in line for our first come, first serve seats.

As we came bounding down to the front row, beers and signed first editions in hand, the man himself was checking out the theater before going back stage. I would love to tell you that we had a wonderful and engaging conversation about fiction and literature and the arts, and that I impressed him with my eloquence and knowledge and wit and we are now writing partners.

Fuck, I’d settle for being able to tell you I got through the words “It’s an honor to meet you” without stuttering and fighting the urge to pass out.

He chuckled and took my awkwardness in stride, and said that he was gonna count on us to help him out later. We thought it was a throwaway line, but in that moment it was our throwaway line.

The event was glorious in all the ways you would expect. He has a rabid following and we all drank in his readings from the story collection, the answers he gave to audience questions. Broken up by playing “balls,” a game of batting balls filled with glow sticks around the dark theater. We cultists like exercise with our culture.

Then, at the end, as Chuck’s new trusty friends we were summoned, no beckoned, to join him on stage to help distribute the parting gifts to the masses.

You have not lived until you’ve been on stage with your favorite author, throwing boxes and boxes of severed hands into a hungry, ravenous audience.

To this day I go out of my way to find excuses to tell this story.

“Oh, you got a new car (or kid, or wife, or dog, basically insert object here)? That’s great! Have I ever told you about the time I was on stage with Chuck Palahniuk?”

“I heard you’re dog (or dad, or wife, or kid, or car, basically insert object here) died. I’m so sorry. You know what might cheer you up? Have I ever told you the story about throwing severed hands off a stage with my friend Chuck?”

Yes, I’m an asshole. I absolutely own that shit.

But enough about that, let’s talk about Adjustment Day. The key to good satire, especially dark satire, is to give people a safe place to laugh at the darkest corners of their nature. The key to great satire is to force them to address those dark corners without them knowing they’re doing it.

Jumping into issues of racism, misogyny and bigotry both headlong and feet first takes quite a bit of contortionist maneuvering. And balls. Big, brass, hairy, sweaty balls.

And this book has all of that. And fuck if it isn’t timely in the era of MAGA Trumptards sending their kids to Hitler Youth summer camp.

As with all of Palahniuk’s books, it takes the reader a while to piece together what is actually going on. His non-linear story telling and a fast paced diction propel the reader through the pages at a dizzying pace. If you want to understand what’s going on and keep up, you have to earn it. But rest assured you’ll be glad you did as you follow a variety of POV characters through the challenges of the Brave New World left by what became known as Adjustment Day.

There is a passage early in the book that sets the tone for the novel:

For generations pop culture has been promoting the idea that all men will eventually attain high-status positions in society. Globally, today’s young males have been raised to feel entitled to power an admiration as a birthright. Men in general need to accept their diminished status in the world.

And a little further in we get another nugget of wisdom:

A hard dick was never scared. Porn did to him what spinach did to Popeye or rage to the Incredible Hulk. Putting him in a state where he could Where’s Waldo the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and never find God because the butts of all the angels are so infinitely fuckable.

Porn made Walter a ruthless wolf pack of one.

Speaking as a male, we will never stop mistaking virility with vitality. And it will always keep us in a state of fear masquerading as strength.

For me, this is a direct call back to several lines from Fight Club:

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.

In fact, the whole tone of the book seems to be a throw back to Fight Club. When Palahniuk collapsed the protagonist, antagonist and narrator into one character, he drew stark, searing attention to man’s individual battle for his own soul. The book is the ultimate man vs. himself story, with a message that still slithers through my spirit today.

Adjustment Day draws that same searing attention to mankind’s soul, at least in our nation. The novel essentially says: “Okay bunglecunts, you think races and orientations shouldn’t intermingle? Go suck on this for a while.”

The creation of a website that contains a list of people to be executed Purge style on adjustment day speaks to a level of violent angst that many are feeling about the direction of the country right now. Complete with an all but realized threat to re-institute the draft so that world leaders can blow their load watching the porn of a World War III is terrifying. It causes us to realize how close we are to living that as a reality.

Dark satire hurts the most when it’s closest to the light of truth.

And the whole idea of cutting off the ears of those on “The List” is steeped in some pretty delicious symbolism. From a callback to Native Americans scalping their prey to the idea of taking the ears of politicians and educators because they never listened, with Palahniuk there is always beauty and purpose in violence.

Splitting the United States into three new nations of Caucasia, Blacktopia and Gaysia was also a stroke of genius, showing how each nation-state would choke on its own xenophobic bullshit and hypocrisy no matter how much it tried to play up its strengths and kill its weaknesses. The POV of the chieftains in Caucasia and Blacktopia and of a straight woman trying to make in Gaysia drew both striking contrasts and parallels.

But back to the twig and giggleberries for a minute. From Walter’s obsession with an erection being a source of power to Charlie’s manliness being reduced to goo by some well-placed spider bites and a sprinkle of patience shows how dangerous and misguided my gender’s obsession with our junk really is.

A truly great metaphor for how becoming obsessed with power can cost us control.

Most fiction provides a brief escape from reality in addition to insights and lessons into self and soul. I’m afraid that this one also provided a glimpse into what America’s could become.

There were many things to love about this book. But the thing I love the most is that my “Good Friend Chuck” is back.

Reading Rainbow

When-you-see-it-Bookcase

I am a very carnivorous reader. Seriously, some might call it an addiction. And when you extend that to my consumption of all forms of content there would be no argument at all. I am also an active user of a website called Goodreads. If you are a reader and are not using it, you should really give it a shot.

One of the things that Goodreads does is allow you to set a reading challenge for yourself for the calendar year. In 2016 I had a goal of 100 books, and ended up reading 103. So I set out in 2017 with a goal of 156 (three books a week). I hit that in August, and decided to reset the goal to 200, which I have hit and will have room to spare by Dec. 31st.

If 200 books seems like a lot it’s because it is. It is an average of just under 4 books a week. No one has time to read that much. Including me. Contrary to what that volume of books suggests, I DO have an active social calendar. I just learned how to fold reading into the everyday business of life.Overdrive

About 40% of my “reading” comes from audiobooks, which I get from an audible.com subscription and , which is an app that delivers audiobooks and ebooks to your phone or tablet. This allows me to fill pockets of time when I am running, cooking, cleaning, driving, showering, etc., with content. Stephen King famously reads for five hours each day. I’m not sure that I hit that high watermark, even with audiobooks, but they provide hours of “reading” that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

I also spent most Sundays, at least in the mornings with coffee, reading. Sundays are my time. I could get lost in a book for a day if I was able. It is one of my most tranquil practices.

As 2017 closes out, I am looking back at my year in reading, and ahead to 2018 and I have some new goals to push myself even further in consuming my first and favorite form of content. I am still debating on the reading goal for the year. But I have decided on a few things I need to do a better job of incorporating into my reading.

I need to get better about non-fiction. My non-fiction shelf of read books for the past several years is anemic. I get so caught up in my love of the unfolding of story that I forget about the great true stories of our past and present, the engaging wealth of knowledge that is out there just waiting to be consumed.

I need to get better about reading any of the several classics that I have missed along the way, which is more than I care to admit as an aspiring author. The greats of the past have influenced the greats of the present that I consume regularly and I want to experience what they have to say.

I also want to read more literary and fiction magazines. Not only because these are publications that I will be submitting to more frequently next year, but because these publications are full of stories by new and emerging authors that I have enjoyed reading in the limited amount I have experienced so far.

I love so many things about reading it is hard to know where to begin. I love exploring the world created by the author and walking with the protagonist on his or her journey. I love what it teaches me about being a writer. But most of all I love what it teaches me about myself as a unique human being.

Snowfall of Pain

snow

In one of my first classes as a creative writing major a professor told me that snow was a significant literary symbol meant to serve as a great equalizer among humanity. She said something like “Social status doesn’t matter, everyone has to deal with snow and it shows we are all struggling with the same things on the inside.” I call bullshit. And I say this as an avid reader and aspiring writer, no one should have to work that hard to see the symbolism and its meaning in an author’s work. Plus, snow is setting and sometimes snow is just snow.

In terms of equalizers in fiction I have a different idea to throw out there. It’s pain. Pain is something everyone can relate to on some level. Some more than others, and seeing different types of pain on the page, screen or stage will affect people in different ways, but it will affect everyone. Also, pain is part of every story. The agonizing background of the anti-hero that propels him through the narrative. The physical wounds of a soldier trying to fight his way home. The angst of unrequited love.

Pain is a part of all narrative precisely because everyone can relate to it on some level. It will always conjure up emotion. Sometime it’s fear. Other times it’s anger. Still others it’s grief. Almost always there are feelings of empathy.

Pain helps us identify with the story. It helps us stop looking at characters as characters and makes us start looking at them as people. It makes the story more real to us. We identify with a character’s failures, and his suffering. But that also makes us rejoice in and celebrate in his triumphs even more. In short, making it real enriches the story for us.

My favorite novel is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The story is driven in large part by the protagonist’s fear of a cookie cutter lifestyle, the internal pain it causes and his rebellion against it. It was a concept that intensely resonated with me and allowed me to feel every page of the novel, and every frame of the movie.

Pain can invoke feelings of anger, fear and grief. Wait a minute. Actually so can snow. Maybe my old professor had it right all along.

Medium Matters

Art is Freedom

I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about creative content, and I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you what I love about each creative medium. They each have a unique way of storytelling. I’m sure there are mediums I am missing or haven’t been exposed to yet, but for now I am going to stick to those I am exposed to on a frequent basis.

Books

Books were my first love, and still my favorite. I can read a book from start to finish in a day, real world be damned. The experience of an author’s unique voice, and the fact that no matter how descriptive he or she gets, the images of the world and characters they create come from my head, making me feel like I am part of the experience.

Audiobooks

A good narrator can bring a book to life (a shitty narrator can also kill one) while still allowing the listener to get absorbed in the world the writer creates. Audiobooks fill the nooks and crannies of life that don’t require your full attention, allowing for the enjoyment of even more content.

Podcasts

I’m relatively new to the podcast world compared to other forms of creative content. Like half the country, I was drawn in by the first season of Serial (which was amazing in case you missed it) and wanted more. One of the taglines from the podcasting community is “It’s television for your ears.” And that’s the best way to describe it. There’s something for everyone, from journalism to docudramas. From the darker corners of life to reliving your favorite television series.

Television

If books were my first love, television was my second. My first TV memories are re-runs of Lost in Space and the original Star Trek on summer mornings. I came of age at the start of the Golden Age of television, with Friends, X-Files, 90210 (the original, not that shitty remake) and my love has continued to grow as TV evolves. Like books, binging gives the opportunity to spend a day getting immersed in a different world. And a TV season allows for story and character arcs to develop over time, allowing writers to play a long game (ratings permitting).

Movies

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get out to the movies as much. I don’t really feel like paying $10+ for just the ticket to the cinematic experience. That puts me in a lot of danger when it comes to spoilers and buzz. That being said, who doesn’t love a great movie? Everyone loves Star Wars and has an opinion on Ewoks. Quentin Tarentino changed the rules on how movies were made with Pulp Fiction. And you can get a full story, complete with a sweeping character arc in about 2 hours. And the dramatic effects bring their stories to life, I mean who doesn’t like special effects?

Comics

Much like podcasts, I am a relative newcomer. The cinematic and television universes have done a tremendous job of opening up the world of comics. I also started listening to Jay & Miles Xplain the X-Men and that got me going. Once that door was open, I quickly learned that comics aren’t just for kids (Walking Dead, Sandman, Watchmen) and that their stories have all the complexity and depth of any other medium. They blend the narrative benefits of books with the dramatic effects of art and play a long game that can span years if not decades. And they can retcon (retroactive continuity) whatever they want to suit the present narrative, which is part of the fun.

Performing Arts

Although there are significant differences between the three main types of performances I frequent (Play, Musical and Opera), for the purposes of this post I am grouping them together. The performing arts provide a uniquely intimate experience. Being part of a live audience is to share the same space as the performers. You are surrounded by the experience. A shared experience between you and the performer, and no other medium can replicate that.

This list is incomplete, and so are the descriptions. For the moment they are meant to be. I wanted to get the overview out of my system and out of the way. I will definitely be expanding on each of these, and exploring more over time. Exploring content is a constant and never ending journey.