Taking the Red Pill
Today I'm (most likely) going to finish the first draft of a novella I've been working on for all of February. That was my goal at the start. Ten to twelve thousand words and wrap up the first draft in a month. I got nine thousand words and twenty-four hours to go. I'm about there. But you know, hammering on my keyboard like a drunken monk, writing a story about predestination and the nature of the divine, I started asking myself one question. Was it my destiny to sit down at a computer and write stories about desperate men who cause gruesome bodily harm to each other? Did I choose to be there or was it written somewhere in a big, eternal book. Craig Clevenger once said writing is a pretty counter-intuitive lifestyle. You spend hours working hard at something that will give you very little money, while you could have fun and enjoy life. Yet, so many people are doing it.
Here's a story from my childhood that I think explains a little where I'm at now. My parents were interesting cats. Loveable, but a peculiar accident in between two eras. They were old school, especially my dad, but since my mom got her bachelor degree in education in the seventies, new ideas seeped through my sister and I's upbringing. Happy self-esteem, my-child-is-the-future-of-society kind of stuff. I don't think any of us seriously believed in them, but we always gave it an earnest try. One thing my parents were hardcore about was violence. From zero to maybe seven or eight years old, any form of violent entertainment was forbidden in the house. It was the equivalent of a powerful acid. It kills on contact. One dose and you're damaged forever. They were so scared television and video games would turn me into a sadistic asshole that when I look back on it, it's cute.
Of course, you can exercise that type of control if only one parent in the neighborhood disagrees with your teaching methods. I watched WWF wrestling at a friend's house once and fell in love with it. I've been a fan for more than a decade after that. Mom & Dad also let me watch G.I JOE and TRANSFORMERS. Although they openly despised it and acted disappointed that I watched it, cartoons had an aura of harmlessness. "You'll outgrow it, you'll see", they kept telling me. But I didn't. A turning point in my young life was at a dinner my mother brought me at her friend's. After dessert, they put us kids in front of the television in another room so my parents and their friends could talk. What was on? You bet. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II.
My life changed that night. Yeah, there were bodies dropping all over the screen and I wasn't used to that. But the standard screenplays involving Sylvester Stallone are very easy to follow for a seven years old. I was moved by the strength of this lonely man, fighting off an army of angry, anonymous foreign men. Something about the balletic pace of it got to me and settled in. From this very precise moment, I started a fascination with the nature of violence that is still going on today. In music, video games, literature, movies, culture in general. Whether it's physical, psychological, emotional or intellectual *. Every form of violence fascinated me and took over my life. "If it has blood, sweat and tears in it, I'm in", I used to say. I never tortured small animals or anything. My stance was one of an observer at best **, but it took over everything.
Were my parents right to be so radical about this? Probably not. There's nothing more seducing than the forbidden fruit. But judging how the concept fit me like a glove. How different would it have been, if they didn't take that demonizing stance against it? I think I would have become one of those book snobs who gauge the value of their existence by the number of cynical jokes they can crack about everything literary. I like my earnest stance on things, so I don't think it's a bad thing I am where I am now. If I read so many dark stories and I write my own, it's because it's what I love to do. It's just that I wonder how much of it was my choice. Life is chaos. It put me in a room with the red pill only. It could have been worse.
* A good noir story has all of these. Maybe that's why I love the genre so much.
** Before I started writing anyway.