Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Diary

After the cinematic brilliance that is Fight Club came out, I borrowed my brother’s copy of the novel to read.  After that I stole my brother’s copy of Survivor, loved it, and was forever more captivated.  I can’t remember if Choke or Lullaby came next for me.  Doesn’t really matter cause I loved them both.  And now, true to form, I loved Diary.  But before I get into that, a couple words on the author.

Chuck describes his writing as transgressive meaning that it focuses on characters who are outsiders, living on the fringes, and therefore usually rebel against cultural and societal norms in very controversial ways.  For those of you interested in the philosophical debate on whether or not literature should be censored this is definitely the genre for you because these novels have been in the foreground of this debate for centuries.  (Check it out if you’re interested.)

The history of the man himself, his involvement with rebellious actions and behaviors, and the personal events that (I assume) helped to shape why he writes what he writes is all fascinating and totally beyond the realm of this review.  I definitely encourage to look into him, his work, and what’s so fascinating about him.

But it is the writing and not the man that makes me love these books.  The characters he makes up all manage to walk the fine line between the unimaginably disturbing and the disturbingly familiar.  It’s the age-old fascination with monsters and murders that requires the creator to both alienate and endear the characters to the reader.  This is a balancing act that Palahniuk does very well.  Every single character I’ve read has been both psychologically unsettling and personally familiar.  I not only judge them as irreparably fucked up but also relate to them.  This is terribly unsettling since it would be comforting to just dismiss the whole thing and console yourself that you have nothing in common with these characters and their psychotic existence.  But you can’t because that thought or that emotion is too similar to something you’ve thought or felt and it draws you in and keeps you turning the page.

And the plots, of course, make the characters what they are.  They’ve all been buried under an avalanche of crap before the first page and that’s part of why you relate.  ‘How well would I cope,’ you think, ‘it that happened to me?’  The answer, always, is ‘not too well’.  Cause that’s the thing about extraordinary circumstances- they push you past your limits and you do things you didn’t think you were capable of doing.  Of course, Palahniuk’s worlds are always far more twisted than you can ever imagine they will be at the first page and the way that he gets down to the really messed up nature of the story is a thing to behold.  It’s like peeling back an onion- layer by layer it’s hard to keep your eyes open but you can’t help but want to keep going.

Another thing that seems particular to Palahniuk is his flair for throwing all these strange little facts at you.  His characters always know things that are… odd.  Everything from graphology to the ins and outs of support groups to the age of the laugh tracks on sitcoms.  Strange little factoids that clue you in to who a particular character is and add an unsettling layer to the content of the story.  At first, these just seem like quirks but as the story evolves you see how they’re connected to themes of the greater story arc and the climax of the individual characters.

Add to all that the minimalistic style he’s so famous for and you’ve got yourself a Chuck Palahniuk novel.  His writing is more like a series of interconnected poems than a typical novel.  The short, choppy sentences.  The repeating words and sounds.  The way it prevents you from falling into any kind of natural flow as you’re reading by throwing in these short, truncated sentences just when you started to develop a rhythm.  Almost as if he sensed you getting comfortable and purposefully disrupted the pattern just to mess with you.  It gives you the feeling of being in a really precarious position: always just a little off center, a little unbalanced.

Diary has all of these tell-tale signs: the characters are irrevocably messed up and the circumstances they start out in are devastating.  The main character herself is a case study in borderline madness and her questioning of reality is the key to the reader’s buy in.  The more clues we get the more confused we become until the questions she’s asking and the things she’s perceiving cause us to wonder and question the same things. 

The main thematic concept here is one that is near and dear to me: the line between creativity and madness and whether or not one can exist without the other.  Under normal circumstances my opinions on this topic tend to be pretty reasonable but within the distorted reality of this story it’s hard not to fall into the theoretical quandary.  Especially when her own creativity emerges only when she is pushed to the brink.

On a deeper level, the circumstances serve for a look at contemporary reality and the role that art plays in consumerism, financial status and what makes or breaks a community.  There are questions about family, community, sacrifice, betrayal and inspiration that fold into the bigger mystery and leave you guessing about the end.  And, just when you think it’s over, he throws in one last page that changes the whole context of the story.  The critics all rave that this is as close to a mystery as he’s ever written and I would agree.  But it’s got the familiar trademarks that make the rest of his library of work so fascinating.

I highly suggest that you check out any of Mr. Palahniuk’s books for any number of reasons, even just plain old curiosity.  This book in particular is great as a stand alone since it’s self contained and doesn’t require any pre-existing knowledge base.  But then again, all of his books are pretty much like that.  It’s the most fascinating kind of madness and it keeps you coming back for more.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The World's Greatest Puppy

One year ago today my boyfriend and I brought home the world's cutest puppy.  He was only 9 weeks old at the time, petrified of everything (and I do mean everything) and unable to manage a moment alone without falling apart.  It took a long time to get him house trained, comfortable on his own outside of the pen or able to comply with simple commands like sit or down.  And it tested the will of both of us to deal with the far greater than we could have realized responsibility of raising a puppy.  (For the record, it's really not all that different than having a baby.  It's just that growing up goes a lot quicker, thank god.)

It's so easy to get caught up in the daily technicalities.  Getting him out for a walk before work when you're running around like a headless chicken in the morning.  Being frustrated that he's still so anxious around other dogs.  Trying to get him to stop barking his head off when you come home from a long, trying day of work... The annoyances, the details, the facts of everyday reality.  Like everything, you can get caught up in it and lose track of the bigger picture.

But the bigger picture is this: he is, when it comes down to it, a miracle.  The fact that this creature exists- that he's just walking around the house, looking up at you with those amazingly round puppy dog eyes that show such overwhelming love, jumping at your heels so that you'll play a game a fetch with him, sitting in his best 'good boy' pose in expectation of a treat, snuggling in your lap like a fluffy teddy bear, all of it- is a miracle.  The world's cutest, most devastatingly adorable dog  is right there, waiting for me to get home from work and take him for a walk.

I try not to lose track of that, and I've written here about how he helps me in that endeavor.  Reminding me to slow down, take a few moments to just realize what a beautiful day it is outside as we walk around the block.  To fully enjoy a game of fetch with a puppy who wants nothing more in the world than to play with you.  To just look at that face and melt the way that you can't help but melt at the sight of such a face.  To be present that way that one can only be in the company of a puppy.  I like to think I take that seriously enough to be always grateful for him, everyday.

But on this anniversary of bringing him home for the first time I can't help but pay special attention to that and to fully acknowledge, with all the weight that acknowledgement bears, that I am so blessed to have him in my life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Set Building

When I was in college I worked in the scene shop where we were tasked with building the sets for all the shows the college put up each semester.  There was a wide range of shows that we built the sets for and we had a wide range of things we needed to build for them.  A few stick out as being really eccentric and lead us to cart in garbage from a local dump, cut cars in half so we could have a junk yard scene, carry bags and bags of sand in to build a beach and go antiquing in search of avocado green refrigerators.  There were some interesting times that came out of all that.

Most of the time, however, we just did relatively simple, straight forward stuff.  Put flats together, painted them a billion times over, constructed door frames or book cases or chairs and built so many risers that I scarcely could find a pair of pants in my drawer I hadn’t left an allen wrench in.  It wasn’t complicated but damn, was it fun.  I loved being a scene shop chick.  I loved working with power tools, I loved covering t-shirt after t-shirt with paint splotches and spills, I loved coming back to my dorm smelling of sawdust and perpetually finding screws in my pocket.  It became equated with the creative spirit I so worshipped.

And I didn’t realize how much I missed it all until today when we built the set for the show.  As soon as I got there I grabbed a screw gun and handful of screws and went to work.  I loved it.  I loved the things that you wouldn’t think about loving in such a circumstance.  The smell of the smoke as you screw into the wood, the cold metal of the level as you try to even the legs on a platform, the high-pitched moaning the wood makes when you screw it into place, even the scrapes and bruises from a run away block that hit my arm when someone lost their grip on it.  It had nothing to do with aesthetics or how everything looked when we were done; it had to do with the hard labor of putting everything together.

It’s such a simple activity, a necessity of any production that most people don’t even think about.  But it brought up so many great memories for me and reminded me of how much I’ve missed this whole theatrical world I’ve been without for so long.  And even though we’ll tear down the set even quicker that we put it up as soon as the run finishes I can’t help but be a little giddy about what we built today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring

Outside the sun is so bright it nearly blacks out the interior of the room.  The faded wallpaper surrounding the window is nothing more than a black box from which the light emerges.  A blinding green coming from every corner of the world as new life emerges again.  It’s so overwhelming he can’t see the world through the color.  There is nothing but the green burning into his eyes, enveloping him in a cocoon of greedy weeds swallowing his body completely. 

Outside fresh stalks are pushing their way up through the ground.  Slowly climbing through a thick weave of clay, top soil, dead leaves and lush weed cover until they finally break free to the air and sunlight they thirst.  He can feel the light warming his skin.  Eventually, a sheen of sweat will begin to emerge from his pores as he traces the residue of long, hard days working out in the field pushing plows through red soil in the oppressive heat.  He can sense it the way that arthritics sense rain.  A dull pain in his muscles promising hours spent kneeling in a garden combing through the moist earth planting seedlings and staking budding plants.  His body aches for it- a hunger in his bones.

Outside the wind is full and ripe, almost like it’d been blown in from off shore carrying the scent of salt water and flotsam.  He hears it beating against the window and can almost taste the scent.  If he focuses he can smell the entire world out there.  Every particle flooding his nose with scents that bring back memories of landscapes so lush he can barely breath through the aroma.  They say that emotion is more deeply rooted in olfactory stimulus than any other sense and he can feel the truth of that now.  His eyes water with the deluge of feelings that pour over him.

Outside there is a pulse beating heavily as the world moves.  He can hear it thumping against his eardrums and his body responds to it violently.  The sound of his heart, of his blood flowing through his veins, his breath moving through his lungs, his muscles stretching all fall in line with the rhythm.  Every molecule in his body is one with that sound and it moves him like the tempo of a song so old he can’t remember its origin.

Outside it is spring and he knows it.  He knows it in a way that he is not capable knowing without eyes or skin or a nose or ears with which to connect to it.  He knows it on a level that transcends the lifeless body that cages him. 

As they turn off the machines whose incessant beeping keep his heart beating at an artificial rhythm the sound of the outside world becomes more real.  As the sterile, blank interior retreats from his nostrils he can smell the soil and the sea.  As the tubes that pump air into his lungs slow he can breathe the air outside.  As the feel of the starched cloth evaporates he can feel the wind and the sun and the rain.  As the sight of people around him crying and talking of loss and endings fades away into the green he can see the shores and fields beyond the window.  An excitement expands beyond the boundaries of the physical form that once jailed him.  Because today, he is finally going outside.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hindsight

Whenever I was with you, our conversations were so ethereal.  Not because of the content, but because of the feelings I had.  Like it wasn’t quite reality, for a time.  Like the concrete details of my life and my presence on the planet were somehow disconnected from me.  And they always seemed to linger just outside the door; I held my breath least I ruin the scene.

Every time you spoke, it seemed as if I’d missed a step.  Like a portion of our exchange had passed by unnoticed and you were on the next subject, expecting me to follow.  I did my best to follow but felt lost in a sea of near understanding.  As if I was constantly catching myself as I stumbled forward, trying to regain my balance.

Maybe that’s why I felt the way I felt with you.  There was no reality to interfere with my fantasy.  I could believe that you meant what I wanted you to, that all those silences and thick pauses exhibited a shared connection rather than a lack of understanding.  I saw us together, on the same wavelength, riding the same tides.  In actually, we were probably not even in the same body of water.

But how could we have been?  You were on a pedestal, so far above me that I couldn’t see you as anything other than a brightly burning star.  I watched you soar above the world, separate from it and immune to the everyday annoyances that plagued us mere mortals.  And I worshipped you, loved you, obsessed over this perfect, ideal vision I’d created of you.

Of course you were never really anything more than human, composed of the same capacities and failings.  But I realized that too long after you left my life to ever really see you.  And now I can't help but wonder what you look like.