“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
- Tyler Durden, Fight Club
“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
- Pablo Picasso
“Sometimes you have to rage against the machine before you can make your peace with it.”
- Mandy Steward
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
- Walt Kelly
“I say never be complete. I say stop being perfect. I say let’s evolve. Let the chips fall where they may.”
- Tyler Durden, Fight Club
I watched it, finally.
The movie Fight Club has been on my radar for years. Every time I heard someone speak of it I knew it was a movie I would love. Problem is, I also knew it was a movie I would hate. And so I went years without watching because I couldn’t decide what to do with that paradox.
I can remember being little and sitting on the edge of my dad’s bed while he watched a boxing match. “So the whole sport is just to hit another person?” I questioned, grimacing at the contrast of silky blue and red boxers juxtaposed over flying sweat and beads of blood forming along the brown bone.
“And whoever can’t take anymore hits is the loser?”
“Well, yes, basically.”
I had a love-hate relationship with boxing, with Rocky movies, with Ultimate Fighting Championships. But mostly I had a hate-hate relationship.
My classmates and I were gathered in small clusters outside the brick walls of the back of our high school. It was during some sporting event that was going on inside the gym, but word had gotten round that there was going to be a fight, and so I had reluctantly joined the trickling of my friends who were sneaking outside to watch. I could feel the burn of vomit in the back of my throat. I could taste the surge of teenage angst and human pride mixed with our frailty. I had to swallow back the nausea of hopelessness. My jaw dropped at the sight of this real life, skin-to-skin, and unfortunately sometimes steel-toed boot to skin, battle. I was not close. A football field’s distance away perhaps. I couldn’t get any closer. I couldn’t look away.
We can’t just stand here, I kept thinking. “You’re going to stop this thing, right?” I yelled over to the huddle of boys. These were supposed to be his friends. These were supposed to be the people who had his back. “Please!! Can’t you guys pull them apart? What’s your problem?!”
Should I run inside and get help? I wondered. Where were the big people? The principal, the vice-principal, the adults with their arms crossed in disapproval? The law that set things back in balance when things go askew? Why was no one stepping in? Was the Earth off its axis. Was evil going to win?
I was desperate and they just yelled back at me, none of us taking our frozen eyes off the fight, “He wants to fight! He wants this! Leave it alone.”
“I’ll try to stop it then, if none of you will! This is stupid!” I said, making false promises, threatening with my shaky voice and tear-filled eyes while my feet remained motionless.
“Shut up, Mandy,” one of them yelled back at me. And I knew I would do nothing. None of us would do anything, but watch our friend make an eventual fall to the dust. Him too, motionless, as the other guy made one last kick in the ribs and then walked away.
Want to know what I remember most though? My friend’s unrecognizable swollen face at school the next week, bragging to me about how he could have won. And the vomit burned again in my throat because I couldn’t understand why enough is never enough. What is rock-bottom and who are we if we never hit it? Who are we if we never come to the end of ourselves?
My brother-in-law grabbed Fight Club off of his bookshelf. He wrapped up the movie for me, in pink pastel paper with black polkadots, which only added to the paradox. He wrote in sharpie marker, “For a time of great strength.” I was touched that he believed someday I might actually unwrap the thing and watch it.
And then that day came. Tony agreed to watch it with me, afterall, it’s one of his favorite movies, but he said, “I think you’ve made this into a much bigger deal then it is and you might be disappointed.”
I wasn’t. I wasn’t disappointed, and I wasn’t over-reacting towards how the fighting would make me feel. That reminiscent sting of vomit when he says, “I felt like destroying something beautiful.” And the looming, haunting question of “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?
The novel takes it a step further and says, “I don’t wanna die without any scars.” I wanna get MESSY.
I have a page now in my journal with that ripped out piece of wrapping paper. I’ve glued the words, “For a time of great strength” in the center, and around it I’ve written the quotes from Fight Club that were their own proverbial gut punches to my Ego.
But what I can’t make sense of is why my Soul longs for paradox so much. Why it wants to die so it can live. Why it wants to stare at something hard even when it knows it’s going to get squeamish. Why it wants to have a time for war as much as it wants a time for peace. Why “losing all hope is freedom.” Why “it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Why “only after disaster can we be resurrected.” Why in order to live “first you have to give up. First you have to ‘know’…not fear…’KNOW’…that someday you’re gonna die.”
I don’t want to be “trapped in my lovely nest.” I don’t want to pretend answers are working for me when they’re not. I don’t want to be sheltered from the punches life is serving out. If meeting me is gritty and it’s hard and it’s dark, I wanna do it anyway. I wanna know that I faced every demon.
The mantra Tyler stands on in Fight Club is an artist’s mantra. It’s why my friend sees disturbing and disrupting as a service to humanity. “We have to show these men and women freedom by enslaving them and show them courage by frightening them.” That’s what we seek to do as artists, right? It’s the bait and switch. The ultimate reverse psychology. Because most people will do all they can to avoid a fight. “Stop rocking the boat,” they say.
But if what if we don’t stop? Will people come alive again? Like Raymond K. Hessel when he has his knees pressed into the earth and a gun to the back of his head. All of a sudden he is sure that he has the gumption to chase his dreams and pay attention to his soul’s desire if only he can be given one more shot at life. “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”
We set gun to head, we set fire to our strongholds, we die, and then somehow our eyes are opened and we awake to a new life, perhaps to true life.
“I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. This is stupid.”
But for some reason there is another part of me yelling, “Shut-up. I wanna fight. I want this. Leave it alone.”