“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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Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

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Sketch Series Inspired by Young the Giant (Part 2)

When I was studying theatre, a common exercise we did for play analysis was to think of an image or metaphor that best described our impression of the play. Ever since then I’ve found pictures in everything.

I’ve decided to do this image exercise for music, and I’m in the process of creating drawings inspired by each song on Young the Giant’s “Mind over Matter” album. Here are the next three:

Sketch #5. Daydreamer

 

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Sketch #6. Firelight

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Sketch #7. Camera

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Brideshead

I just finished reading Brideshead Revisited, and one of the things that I found funny about reading this book was different people’s responses. They ranged all the way along the spectrum, from, “One of the greatest Catholic novels of all time!” to, “The story of a couple of guys boozing around at college.” It’s a marvelous story, both about hitting rockbottom and redemption, so I guess you could say both descriptions fit. I loved it. You get way too many religious stories in which all the characters are perfect. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the struggle, I ask you? Who’s going to relate?

There’s something for everyone to relate to in this story, I think, but most notable is the doubt that pretty much every character experiences, whether it be about their marriage, their place in their family, the religion they were raised in, their own goodness and worthiness. Deep stuff, people.

The jacket cover of the book boldly proclaims that “Evelyn Waugh developed a wickedly hilarious yet fundamentally religious assault on a century that, in his opinion, had ripped up the nourishing taproot of tradition and let wither all the dear things of the world.”

Eloquent words, but the common man of today cannot help but say, “What?”

It really depends on what you consider to be the dear things of the world, I suppose. As I read Brideshead Revisited, I began to see that these “dear things” are past days and simpler times. The theme of memory is very clear in the story, and in fact, the entire book, except for the first and last chapters, are the memories of the narrator Charles’ life ten years past. “My theme is memory, that winged host that soared above me one grey morning of wartime.” You can’t express your theme much more clearly than that.

The character who interested me the most in this story was Sebastian Flyte, a character closely connected with the theme of memory. From the moment he appears, he stands out, and the narrator Charles says as much. “I was struck less by his looks than by the fact that he was carrying a large Teddy-bear.” This image, at least for me, influenced the way I would see the character for the rest of the book. Sebastian has a wistful, childlike air to him, and his holding on to the Teddy-bear he becomes a visual representation of what people all tend to do in holding on to their past. Sebastian is a very nostalgic person, and it shows in his wistful way of speaking. “I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy, and then when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”

Most of the other characters in the story don’t share his nostalgic, childlike outlook. Of all of his siblings, Sebastian is the only one who visits their estranged father, and he holds on to childhood habits like his affection for his nanny, calling his mother “Mummy,” and carrying his Teddy-bear. He stands out as a black sheep in his family from the start, and in a way he puts himself on the outside, when, approaching Brideshead, instead of saying,  “it is my home,” he says “it is where my family live.” He’s a flighty, brightly colored character who sees the beauty in things and the fun in the moment, but as the story progresses he falls by the wayside, and his family and friends see him as a burden and an embarrassment. As I read this book, I thought of him as the personification of the “dear things of the world” that the century uprooted.

Gosh. That was depressing. But, by his own admission, Evelyn Waugh got his pleasure from “spreading alarm and despondency.” And now, a blatantly stated theme in the style of Evelyn Waugh: My theme is despondency… that cloud that shuffles across the brain like a snail on a bedewed drainpipe one lackadaisical morning in the twenty-first century..