In Which I Try to Convince Myself that I Am NOT Writing “The Bourne Identity” in a Fantasy Setting…

Several years ago I brought a sample chapter of my book to the writer’s group that meets at my house every month or so. After reading it, the first comment was, “This sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity to me.”

My initial thought: Damn.

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked, even though I could kind of see whatever they meant. Here are a few of the similarities pointed out to me:

“Well, the guy has amnesia.”

True.

“He knows how to use a bunch of weapons. Killing is instinctual to him.”

I cannot deny it. This guy’s a freak of destruction.

“He’s part of a secretive military group, members of which may be trying to kill him.”

Undoubtedly so.

“What about the vague and unhelpful shaky-cam flashbacks?”

(Getting annoyed.) You didn’t need to take dramamine before reading my story, did you?

So, I resolved to make some changes. Granted, the premise is very Ludlum-esque, but it’s set in a fantasy world with a magic system and all sorts of freaky creatures, so I think I have a chance. Maybe. If someone can read past page one without saying, “Amnesia? I’ve read that one before.”

New marketing strategy: Target amnesiacs to read my book. It will be like nothing they remember experiencing before.

Five years later, I’m trying to write a log line for this book, so that when people ask me what my book’s about, I don’t have to say, “Uuuuummmm,” or, “It’s…complicated.” (I don’t have a gift for spoken words).  I sent the log line to a trusted fellow writer, who’s first comment was, “It’s sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity.”

Five years. Nothing has changed.

The good news is, I now have a working log line!

“Hey, I hear you’re writing a book! What’s it about?”

“It’s basically the Bourne Identity in a fantasy setting.” (sigh).

Enjoy an honest trailer of the book I’m currently writing:

 

“Prepare to Evacuate Soul!” (What Fight Club says about Generation X)

I was a little disturbed by how much I enjoyed reading Fight Club. It has a lot of hopeless and negative messages, for example, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” “Our Great Depression is our lives.” It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I liked so much about this cynical, chaotic, and seemingly hopeless book.

Around the same time I was reading Fight Club, I got into a discussion about the characteristics of different generations during this past century. The generations of this century have come to be known as the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1926), the aptly-named Silents (born 1927-1945), who often get forgotten about in generation discussions, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1945), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennium Generation (born 1981-2000). 

The piece of information that got me thinking about Fight Club in relation to these generations was a description of the G.I. Generation, the people who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Their legacy was that they had saved the world. They are often referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” It’s hard to measure up to that. Hearing about this amazing, patriotic generation that valued loyalty and teamwork, lived through one of the world’s greatest monstrosities, and came out on top, I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club, which was written in 1996. “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.”

Fight Club was written in 1996, around the time when Generation X would be the same age as the unnamed narrator of the book. The more I heard about Generation X, the more parallels I saw with Fight Club. The kids of Generation X are known as the “latch key kids.” They were the first generation to live with divorced or career-driven parents, and often came home to an empty house and had to let themselves in. Tyler, the cynical chaotic revolutionary in Fight Club, points out that he and the narrator are part of a generation raised by women. The narrator’s father left when the narrator was six. 

Generation X is independent and street smart. Government and big business aren’t very important to them, and they are cynical of institutions  and authorities that seem to have failed them and their families. While the G.I. Generation was more focused on the common good, Generation X focused more on the individual good. They still wanted to learn and explore, but with the arrival of digital information, there was a lot more that one person could do on his own. This trend of individuality had been evolving from the Baby Boomer’s revolution for free love and no-fault divorce, and finally became one of the defining characteristics of Generation X. The very name “Generation X,” came from that generation’s rebellious desire not to be defined or labeled.

That’s not to say that everyone from this generation was going around wreaking mindless mayhem in their youth. That’s not the point. Fight Club gives us a look at how the generations respond to each other, and the extremes that people can go to while attempting to be different from their parents. The G.I. Generation had a lot to offer in the way of achieving great things, but left very little room for an individual’s personal goals. The Silents lived off of their parent’s success, but made very little progress. Probably in rebellion against this disciplined and neat world of white picket fences, the Baby Boomers became known as the “Me” generation, the first generation to think about the individual as being more important than the community as a whole. And as a result of the revolutions of the 60s and 70s, Generation X became, in a way, an abandoned generation, rebels without a cause.

I feel like I’ve focused a lot on the negative here. But I just want to say, even though the year I was born says I’m a Millennial, I feel like I have more in common with Generation X. What can I say? I’m an old soul. The Millennials grew up with “helicopter parents” and have been told “you are special,” but I had a latchkey like my mom did before me, and even though I knew I was “special,” I knew everyone else was, too, so we all canceled each other out. I don’t find that depressing or anything, either. I find it very true and kind of funny. Like the narrator says at the end of the book. “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are.”

That’s why I liked this book so much. The narrator spent the entire book trying to “be a different person,” and it took him as deep into cynicism and bitterness and destruction as a person can go, and he came out knowing an important truth about how simply existing is enough reason to exist.

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What’s In the Stack O’ Books? – I typically have two  or three (or five) books on the reading stack at a time. Here are the books I’ve chosen for November.

That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevzky

 

Creating Vivid Pictures (a storyboard sketch)

During my time studying theatre, one of the most important things I learned about constructing a scene was creating “pictures.” This is a moment on stage that’s visually interesting if you were to pause it like a movie or take a snapshot. I try to bring this picture making into my writing as well. When beginning to write a scene for “The Epic,” as it’s come to be called in the absence of a proper title, I had a very vivid picture of of what I wanted the last moment of the scene to be like. It was so vivid that I later sketched it out like a panel in a storyboard.

The story is pretty typical, a fifteen year-old boy with supernatural powers that he struggles to control. He inherited this power from his mother, but they both have very different ideas about how to deal with it. The vivid picture is of the first time the son lashes out at his mother. He accidentally hurts her and destroys her garden.

The truth was she was terrified of her own son, and she knew that everything in him that scared her came directly from herself. Everything she had ever done, she had done because she was afraid. Afraid of being weak. Afraid of being powerful. She had thought she couldn’t fall any further. But she feared her own flesh and blood more than she feared death.

“I’m sorry,” Elijah said again. Then more quietly he asked, “Why am I like this? Why can’t I do anything good?”

Alene held him in silence. She knew that with a few words, she should be able to dispel all his doubt and frustration and self-loathing. But she couldn’t even do that for herself.

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Neglect and Lack of Communication

Well, all I can say is it’s been a long time. In fact, it’s been so long since I wrote in the this blog that it took me a second to remember the name of the website I have a blog on.

“The logo is blue, I’m sure of it.”

“What was my blog called again? I think it had my name in it.”

Well, what’s been going on in the months I have failed to report? Golly, I haven’t written anything since the great Charcoal Marathon of the Summer of 2014. Shameful. An utterly shameful lack of communication.

Well, since that legendary summer I have managed to land three roles as men in my university theater productions, in addition to the two men I played last year. Well, technically, two men and a young boy.

We don’t have many actual men in our department.

Anyway, maybe if I continue to blog faithfully, I’ll find some reason to discuss that in more detail. Some reason other than my own vanity, such as it is. A woman can’t get too cocky when she is repeatedly type cast as “the smallest man in the show.”

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“The Memo,” bu Vaclav Havel. Franciscan University of Steubenville, 2014.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo.

So, to assert my femininity, I’ve been working in the costume shop and designing costumes for the past three shows here. In other words, when it comes to the parade of ill-fitting monkey suits I’ve been wearing, I have only myself to blame.

In all honesty, that was a pretty fun show. Vaclav Havel is a master of satire and absurdism. He wrote this play under the title “The Memorandum” in 1965 to critique communism. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the late 60s, he became a political activist and was subsequently blacklisted, put under surveillance by the secret police, and imprisoned on multiple occasions between 1979 and 1983. In a flash of poetic justice, he was later elected the first president of the Czech Republic in 1993.

“The Memorandum” is a black comedy about the dehumanization of the individual in an unnamed workplace. The story begins when the enigmatic bosses from “upstairs” introduce a new synthetic language intended to make communication more efficient. However, the language succeeds only in making work impossible, because no one understands the language except a few bureaucrats who instantly seize control. Like many absurdist plays, such as “Waiting for Godot,”  and “The Lesson,” this play pivots around a lack of communication, and how that lack of communication leads to the dehumanization of the individual.

Which brings me back to the pitiful and neglected state of my blog. Incapable of communicating, it has languished, unread and unnoticed, because it MAKER, who gives it ultimate purpose, has abandoned it.

But I digress. Back to Havel. One of his theories of theater is that good drama shows us that we are not alone. He touches on this in “A Time for Transcendence,” when he says, “We are not here alone for ourselves alone.” Man is made for community and belonging, and that is what theater gives us. We come to the theater with questions about life, but we aren’t necessarily coming to have those questions answered. All we need to know is that other human beings are asking the same questions. We are all together on this earth, striving for something beyond ourselves. As Havel says, “we are rooted to the earth and the cosmos.” It’s a sublime existence, to feel utterly small and insignificant, but also great enough to strive for the stars.

I guess that’s why I’m okay with being the smallest man in the room.

Sketch by Hannah Kubiak

Sketch by Hannah Kubiak