Taking control of my life with a little help from Fight Club

Incredibly, here is another blog entry so soon after the last. I can almost not believe it myself either, no. So of course, the fact that I’m writing this so soon to my complete disbelief means there’s one small caveat: it’s one more entry in which I talk about multiple things at once, rather than picking a topic and making it the focus for the day, crossing out the other choices in the one or two entries after. The difference this time is that, though these thoughts seem unrelated, they all came to me from reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club these past few days, having finished the majority of that novel today in my back garden in the sun.

Let me now preface this post before you go any further, because as I sit here working out what to say next I think this could end up as a weird and definitely lengthier entry than usual. It’s all there in the title. This is a post in which I’ll be talking about Fight Club; how it related to me on a personal level; and how badly it has made me want to really push forward with what I want to do with my life. Tying into the way that I felt I understood the book on a personal level, maybe I’ll also briefly mention how it’s made me think, “Fuck it, independence it is!” when it comes to the Scottish referendum in only nine days time.

If none of that sounds interesting to you then you’re best leaving now.

For those of you who are interested and still here, a refresher on my depression, which I last discussed here, is probably necessary, so skim-read that before going any further with this.

The thing I find quite fascinating about that entry is that I skim over what I call “an atomic explosion of all the emotions I had been keeping buried”, even though it’s actually pretty important. Long story short: in my first University course, I made no friends whatsoever, knew in my heart that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, told my parents, and when they didn’t believe me, exploded into messy tears that had my father crying too in private. It was an ugly situation to say the least, and the first of several mental breakdowns, leading me to an even more interesting detail I picked up on as I re-read this.

Despite having a breakdown of even bigger scale since then, and fairly recently too, it doesn’t seem like I’ve discussed that on this blog at all, even though it’s even more important. Longer story short: after these many years of depression, I recently hit the bottom of the pit when my parents finally saw through the facade I’d been hiding behind, and came rising out of it in my worst breakdown to date, loud and violent and furious at them, the world and myself; but in doing so came to accept that, yeah, I had been fucking things up for years now, but to hell with that – that shit ends now – and so came to confess to my parents that what I really wanted to do with my future was simply write, which felt great to get off my chest and since then I’ve been mostly happy. 

Weird that I didn’t talk about this on the blog though, isn’t it? Especially since I mention writing, amongst similar career choices, as part of a list I showed to my parents in my last year of high school, a list they then rejected for the most part, which I attributed to being one of the biggest roots, the source of my depression. Where I could’ve been more specific is that the list as you see it is actually in order. So I mostly wanted to be a novelist, then a comics writer or artist, and then a teacher of either English, Art, History or primary school kids.

This is all very crucial in understanding who I am.

Stay with me.

Now. Why is this recent breakdown important?

Well, it resulted me in reminding my parents of a list I wrote in high school, eventually telling them that what I’ve wanted to do most of all in my life, for as long as I can remember, is write. My reasons for this I also skim over in that blog entry, strangely enough. Vaguely I mention a small classroom of six students, actually Advanced Higher English in my last year of high school which I insisted I sit against my previous teacher’s wishes and then passed with even higher flying colours than before. Vaguely I mention two notebooks I filled with writing as a child, actually my very first attempts at writing novels, aged somewhere between seven and ten. And vaguely I mention my lifelong interest in creativity, though only name the drama classes I attended and this blog, actually having been so obsessed with more creative pursuits that I used the anonymity of the internet since I got my first computer to upload anything and everything wherever I could, these accounts with writing and art sadly forgotten or lost for the most part, and I couldn’t even tell you what could be re-discovered in the loft.

Vaguely I make this whole angry case for myself but ironically don’t face the subject head on, continuing to do exactly what I criticised myself for doing my whole life when compared to my sister, doing exactly what landed me in the whole sorry mess in the first place – fuck all.

So why writing?

No more dodging the question. 

No more dancing around a real answer.

Bite the bullet.

Put your cards on the table.

Open the fucking door. Say, come on in.

Why writing?

Because I enjoy it. Because it gives me satisfaction. Because I like words. Because I enjoy making sentences of words. Because I enjoy stories. Because I have stories of my own I want to tell. Because telling these stories through writing is the only way I know how. Because I enjoy telling these stories. Because I love my imagination. Because it’s a vast and huge and bottomless ocean of possibilities and it’s mine and no one else’s. Because this is how I’ve always felt since I first wrote and drew anything and realised each and every one of us has the capacity to do something amazing that makes us happy with our lives.

Because this is how it is.

Because I don’t want to do your boring, mundane, life-sucking job each day, you fucking vampire – I want to do what makes me goddamn happy and writing is the one thing that never fails to make me happy.

Fuck your promises of meeting me at the top of the ladder. You’d only step on my fingers when I reach the final rung. Fuck your money. It’s dirty, unclean, stained with the sweat of other hands that brought it there and I don’t want it. Fuck your rules. They’re stupid and I won’t live by them. Fuck your key to eternal happiness in exchange for a handshake and signed agreement to do what I’m told. You’re too late – I know what makes me happy.

This is my goddamn life and I won’t let you fuck it up.

So step aside because you’re in the fucking way.

None of this is meant directly at you, reader. You could be anyone, which is amazing. Me, I’m twenty two years old, but you could be fifty. Sixty. Thirty three. The same age. A teenager. Ten. A girl. A boy. Gay, straight, bisexual or asexual. Maybe you don’t even know yet.

You could be black or white. Transgender. You could be a friend or someone I don’t know and you could be from anywhere in the world. Maybe you’re Asian or maybe you’re Russian. An American, Indian, Italian. Scottish like me, or maybe English, Welsh or Irish.

Maybe you’re married or a widow or alone. Maybe you’re in your first relationship. Maybe you’ve never been in a relationship. Maybe you have lots of friends or maybe you have none. I don’t know you, so I don’t mean you any offence. 

But maybe you are living in the disillusionment that you’re doing what makes you happy, yet know in your heart that that isn’t true at all. Maybe then I’m talking to you in a way and, depending on who you are, then maybe I do mean you offence, I just don’t know.

But the most incredible possibility of all is that you could be someone who knows exactly what I’m saying, who at the moment they found this blog entry thought that it was about goddamn time they made a difference with their life. Someone who is sick to death of others holding them back or blocking their way, maybe kept on a leash like me by parents who want to raise you in their perfect image.

And maybe now you’re saying, no.

No, I won’t let you do this to me.

No.

Step aside, get out my way.

This is my life and I’ve picked which road I want to take and I will not look back.

Not for your empty promises. Not for your money stained with dirt and the sweat of hands it was passed through. Not for your shitty rules. Not for a handshake and a lie we’ll convince ourselves is true as you hand me a rusted key.

None of that means anything to me, so I won’t take it. Starting today, I’m in charge, I’m my own boss and I know what I need and I’m going to do everything in my power to get it, and if you’re against me then you either need to get out of my way or join me.

Now stop.

To cut all this ritualistic chanting short, this is what Fight Club taught me, though I suppose “brought me to terms with” is the better expression.

When I first started reading the book, I told my Facebook pals how it reminded me a great deal of some of my favourite novels, namely Trainspotting, The Outsider, The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and more. It was therefore no surprise to me then, after finishing the book and heading to Chuck’s website, that amongst his recommended books was Trainspotting itself and a few others that hadn’t occurred to me but certainly are very similar, such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Great Gatsby.

The point is: all these books resonate with me in some way on a personal level. These are the kind I re-read many times. Hell, they’re the only kind I read at least a third or fourth time and they’re the best in the world, and now this joins their ranks.

It’s a quotable book, just as all of the above are. At the start the narrator tells us that our life is “ending one moment at a time”, that “you are not special” but “the same decaying organic matter as everything else”. Yet in the end, speaking to a doctor who he calls God, he says this: “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.” Although not perfectly optimistic, it’s a remarkable change in character. And lets not forget that even though the book is filled with much more cynical lines, it’s also filled with many truths too.

Take for instance his sudden idea that “maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer” to his unchanging life. Read some of the first paragraphs of this entry and you’ll realise that I had a self-destruction of my own – a massive mental breakdown at the end of which I revealed all. Stepped behind the curtain reluctantly and angrily in the mask of someone else; came out from behind it naked and as a more honest and happier individual, my true self.

Yet like I said, I’m not perfectly happy, not yet, just as the narrator at the end of this novel doesn’t get a happily ever after either. Consumerism is a big theme of the novel and it again it’s something that struck close to home. In the past I’ve chatted to myself about buyer’s remorse on this blog, having indeed done so fairly optimistically in a post more recent than that of my depression talk, though I realise now that that was actually complete naivety on my part. If it hasn’t been obvious since that entry’s publication then let me make it clear: the amount of books I’ve purchased since then has increased tenfold. And only on Tuesday night did I make the most ridiculously huge single purchase of them all, and in finishing Fight Club the next day did I stare in horror at my bank account and realise I didn’t need any of this.

Another quote: “The things you used to own, now they own you.”

But what can you do about it? Me, I’ve shit to sell. A lot and lot of shit to sell. Shit I don’t want, shit I don’t need. It seems insanely well-timed that sometime in the near future even the house I live in will be sold and my family and I will be moving to another.

That’s the other thing you can do about it – start again. I really do quite like the idea of self-destructing and resurrecting from the ashes a new person, a more positive person, a better person. And so starting now I tend to really seize this forward thinking attitude. The total annihilation has happened, the depression’s in the past, and now I am going to do everything I fucking can towards the future I want.

Start by getting rid of the shit I don’t need and replacing them with the things I do.

Make sure I write every single day, more than now, more than ever.

Start that novel I know I want to write, see it through to a finished first draft.

Re-write those short stories I know are good and send them somewhere.

Write that Future Shock I know I can muster up and send it to 2000AD’s offices.

Sure, get rejected – but never give up.

Never stop.

You know, there’s a moment in the video game Portal 2 where the player hears the founder of Aperture Sciences, Cave Johnson, voiced by the wonderful J.K. Simmons, hilariously taking the popular phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, and turning it on its head. It’s a side-splittingly funny moment as he eventually threatens to make a combustible lemon, but he also has a point too. Furiously, he yells, “When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade – make life take the lemons back! Get mad! […] Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons!”, and though brilliantly funny, it actually makes sense too, doesn’t it?

But as tempting as it is to leave you there, with a good quote from something completely unrelated to the rest of this entry, demanding you take charge of your own life like I will of mine, I will instead end this post with a final quote from Chuck Palahniuk, probably my favourite in all of Fight Club and one which best sums up my past in relation to where I stand now. And make no mistake – a stand is what this is and I for one don’t intend to fall to my knees any time soon, and neither should you.

Take control and don’t stop until you’re bathed in that light that once seemed so far away.

“For years now, I’ve wanted to fall asleep. The sort of slipping off, the giving up, the falling part of sleep. Now sleeping is the last thing I want to do.”

 

– Jordan

The From Hell Companion

Perhaps writing a short review of a companion book to a tome-sized graphic novel is a pretty unusual way to reboot your blog after a month’s hiatus from a giddy, excited first post, but oh well. A review of From Hell itself, and then this, would indeed probably be the better way to do things, but that would mean re-reading the god-only-knows-how-long book, and I don’t currently feel like I could manage that underneath all the other books I plan to read (more on this in a forthcoming blog post). Besides, my sole caveat to people who’d consider picking up From Hell’s complete edition would be that it’s a graphic novel, wordy in length itself with something like sixteen chapters (that includes the Prologue and Epilogue), which has a further ridiculous number of words on top of all that with a 42 page appendix. Indeed, this is no small book.

Incidentally, that’s a great starting point for talking about its Companion. You see, as Alan Moore says in his long appendix to all the chapters of the book, it took over a decade for he, Eddie Campbell, and others who assisted with the book to finish it. This is partly due to the comic’s difficult publication life, as Eddie outlines throughout this companion, and – wait. I should probably explain what this companion is exactly. It’s written from Eddie’s – he’s the wonderful artist of this comic, by the way – perspective, and what he’s done is split the book into separate parts around various themes. Taking up the bulk of the book is Alan Moore’s insightful script (which I’ll talk about a little later) but he does find time to talk about his own job as the artist; as the man who brings Alan’s story to life. Okay, so where was I? Ah, yes. Well, although trouble with publishing the comic in its serial format proved difficult, especially with censorship butting in (if you’re not in the know-how, the story’s centred around the Whitechapel murders, known more famously as the Jack the Ripper killings, in 1888 so, needless to say, this is a rather violent comic we have here), the thing is, so much research went into this book, and to such an extent, that at one point – as I found out from reading this book – Alan had to have the murderer change the position of one of our main character’s cut-off breasts because he found out that where he initially had Eddie place it was in the incorrect position that forensic evidence had revealed. And this was apparently on a re-read of such an investigation into the final murder. If you’re wondering how this mistake was made in the first place, it’s because Moore would send Eddie his scripts quite irregularly over the years so that, in this case, he’d already drawn the murderer place the breast in one place when Moore was on the next part of the script and realised he’d made a mistake.  This irregularity certainly must have lent itself to the long time it took to complete this too, no doubt, but that would only be because, as you find out in the first appendix, Moore read quite a lot of books on this grisly subject to such an extent, as it happens, that he and Eddie mock themselves in the second appendix alongside others who have obsessed over this unsolved series  of murders.

And hopefully that large paragraph illustrates why a Companion of 288 pages isn’t as unnecessary as you might think. Trust me, this is one hell of an ambitious book for the comic medium. The good news is that they pulled it off, as I’ll one day discuss in the future, I hope. This Companion admittedly isn’t as amazing as I’d hoped it’d be, however, and that’s for a few reasons. The biggest reason, and only one I’ll bother to discuss, is that 288 pages isn’t enough! That must sound quite silly but, as I’ve said, the bulk of this book is Alan Moore’s script. That isn’t a slight against his writing, of course – in fact, I found it to be very revealing not only about From Hell itself, but how to write about the comic book medium. In double fact, it’s a shame more graphic novels don’t have accompanying Companions like this, as I feel like there’s quite a lot that could really benefit from such treatment, albeit perhaps on a shorter scale than this.

But where I was a little disappointed was that such a large amount of this book being given to the script means we don’t really get to explore what drawing for the comic book medium is like, which was really bloody strange since this was written by the artist. Certainly, you see Eddie’s finished pages to compare with Alan’s scripts on every page the two share, which is fascinating in itself, but he doesn’t always spare time to explain his thought process before we dive off into the script. Certainly too, he does spare several pages of the book to talk about what went into the art, but it’s never in-depth unfortunately, which is a great shame because he talks a lot about his thoughts on things like panel compositions in comics, with some great examples no less (his knots and crosses analogy of the nine panel page blew my mind, especially when he pointed out a diagonal sequence that I completely missed in From Hell), leading me to believe he’s a very interesting men. As it is, though, the book’s main focus is on Alan. Perhaps if it were a bit lengthier, say by an extra hundred pages, the book could have been split in focus between the writer and artist. Then again, I imagine it must be quite difficult to talk about your own work, so I don’t know if I necessarily blame Eddie, to be honest.

Whatever the case, although I left a little disappointed because of this big reason, and some smaller ones, it won’t stop me from recommending this Companion to the following people: to those who take a great interest in how comics are written and drawn, and to those who loved From Hell, and appreciated its chunky appendix. Just bear in mind that, in terms of insight into the craft of making comics, this is mainly focused on the writer so, if you’re looking for insight into the drawing aspect, you’re better off picking up something like Hush Unwrapped.

Before I sign off, I’ll just point out something that amused me. I own several first edition copies of books, several of which are ones collectors would probably freak out over, and this is another, having pre-ordered it, but funnily enough the first I’ve consistently noticed mistakes with the printing and spelling in. For example on the former, Eddie, as I’ve said, splits the book into several parts, and these come with page references for that theme. But, quite humorously, they are almost never correct, to the point that one part actually begins two pages before it’s supposed to. Sometimes he’ll even say something along the lines of, “I talk about this some more on pages 232-233”, only this is usually incorrect. Remind me never to buy a second edition copy of this book, ever, because finally I have a first edition book with plenty of mistakes to treasure.

In my next blog post, I’m probably going to talk about the frankly insane amount of graphic novels I’ve bought over the last several months, and how I intend to tackle them, because I will indeed be talking about them here. Until then, cheerio.

– Jordan Smith