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.


I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.


  1. A lot of my friends who have kids now are going the no-violent movies, no gun toys etc route. Complete waste of time, you can't control through abstinence. Something about becoming a parent makes people think they can make things work that have never worked for anyone else. I enjoy undermining their efforts and making guns out of Lego for their kids.


  2. You nailed it when you talked about control, I think. On a long enough time frame, you can't protect your child from anything. Life is a bastard and it's willing to take its shots at anybody. In fact, the more you avoid things, the harder they will hit him in the face later.

  3. I don't know about your country, but here in the U.S. religious people are trying to exert more control over people than ever before. Here in Utah, they are approving an abstinence only sex education law where public schools will be prohibited from mentioning anything else other than "just say no". In Virginia, they approved a mandatory ultrasound prior to a woman having an abortion. Rick Santorum says that John F. Kennedy's remarks of a separate church and state are vomitous...he wants church and state to be one. Santorum attacks Obama calling him a snob and saying that he wants kids to go to college so that they can be remade in his image and not yours.

    It's fucking ridiculous. The older I get, the more I see the controlling behaviors of people. The biggest of course comes from parents on their kids. It makes me wonder...does this come out of fear? Are people afraid that if they don't control their kids that they will be left alone to die alone in the future because their kids won't be able to stand them?

    Here's the thing.

    The universe doesn't owe anyone hope, happiness, or a great life. If people just accepted this and then applied this to their thinking that what is best for a person is as much education as possible in order to make their own choices, I think our society as a whole would be much better.

  4. My view is that people, in general, have a desire to control others, to tell them what to do, to make the rules that skew things in their own favour. It's part of our genetic make-up. Only most people don't get the opportunity to exercise that part of themselves, so they do it whenever/wherever they can, their kids being the most obvious place. I think it comes from the feeling of impotence at not beiong able to fulfil that primal desire.

    Religion is another area where they get to do this. No religion says do what you think is best.

    America's just the most extreme example, because of all that pursuit of happiness bullshit. Also that spooky eye/pyramid thing on the dollar bill is a bit freaky. An evil cult may be pulling the strings.

  5. I agree with Moody about the need to control other people and to steer them towards our own desires. Realizing that was the most single depressing, alienating and frightening thing in my life. But it does make for more interesting stories! You're right about the kids too. They're little buckets of projection. Does funny things sometimes. You got cool intel on that, man.

    Mike, you should read THIS IS WATER, by David Foster Wallace. It's short, easy and it talks about that issue you're raising. The hardest thing for someone is to see himself and his vision of the world as not being the center of the universe.