Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hit Bottom With Me

"The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club."
- Tyler Durden

I just finished reading the book Fight Club. Can't decide what I liked better, the movie or the book. Regardless, both have amazing one-liners. The book has more than the movie, although the movie is a bit easier to follow. Lessons can be gleaned from any book you read - whether they're life lessons, lessons on how to build a bomb, or lessons on how not to write a book - Chuck Palahniuk fulfills the first two. Did you know if you drill a hole in a light bulb, fill the bulb with gasoline, plug the hole with wax or silicone, then screw it back in, you've just created a bomb? All it takes is a thrown switch.

But, for obvious reasons, that's not the lesson on which I'd like to direct my focus. The life lessons in this book we call "Fight Club" are pretty all-encompassing. Sure, Tyler takes it to the extreme by killing the protagonist's boss and the mayor's special envoy on recycling (not in the movie), plus blowing up know, stuff like that. But as crazy and far-fetched as the man may be, I think he represents a little bitty piece of all of us, lying hidden deep in the recesses of our tumbling synapses, that just wants to say "Fuck it all."

I won't go into my rant on the slaves some of us can be made into by society and its expectations, but I will highlight 10 of my favorite "Fight Club" quotes that I feel represent various parts of our tiny lives.

(NOTE: My end-thoughts on all this are at the end of the post, so if you get bored with the quotes, skip on down to the "In summation" portion.)

Quotes that make you want to quit your job

"You do the little job you're trained to do.
Pull a lever.
Push a button.
You don't understand any of it, and then you just die."
- A little depressing, I'd say, but aren't we all just trained, through education or some other avenue, how to do a job that will make us money that will let us live a "normal" life?

"Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don't need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don't really need."
- Do you really need that $300 Coach purse, that $2,500 50" plasma television with built-in digital and analog tuners, or the couch cushions with the strinne green stripe pattern?

"Getting fired is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way, we'd quit treading water and do something with our lives."
- Think deep and hard about this and ask yourself if this is true of you...

Quotes that make you want to "hit bottom"

"One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection."
- This is one of the best lines in the book and happens when the protagonist meets Tyler Durden (he didn't meet him on the airplane). Don't buy into that bullcrap where people tell you "life is perfect." It's not. Get used to it. Even one of the Buddhists' key mantra is "life is suffering." Get over the fact that your life will not be one long, continuous stream of perfection and you'll find yourself a little bit happier more and more often.

"Losing all hope was freedom."
- Don't knock it til you try it. You'd be surprised how true this is. Learn to not expect anything and you'll always be pleasantly surprised.

"If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't."
- Valid.

"Only after disaster can we be resurrected.
It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."
- The best quote in the movie and the book, bar none.

Quotes that make you ponder death

"You melt and swell at that moment. For that moment, nothing matters. Look up at the stars and you're gone. Not your luggage. Nothing matters. Not your bad breath. The windows are dark outside and the horns are blaring around you. The headlights are flashing high and low and high in your face, and you will never have to go to work again."
- Stop fretting about the little, inconsequential shit in your life and look around.

"This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time."
- Tick, tock, tick, tock...

"Raymond K.K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you've ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life."
- A very memorable scene in the movie where Tyler takes a mini-mart cashier and threatens his life unless he starts working toward his passions, this quote defines that scene, although a little bit of the quote is changed in translation to the silver screen. Raymond's dinner will taste better because he realizes he might not have been eating it had he been shot outside of the mini-mart. Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of his entire life because he is finally on the road toward doing what he loves, not lying stagnant in a dead-end job where his passions become fruitless and his creativity is stifled, leaving him an empty shell of a human being, whose only signs of life are the fact that he walks, eats and breathes. Our life is one long epic battle against stagnation.

"If people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention."
- If only people really realized that we are all dying and that exact moment may be the last one you spend with the person...cliche, but likewise valid.

"Marla's philosophy of life, she told me, is that she can die at any moment. The tragedy of her life is that she doesn't."
- Just brilliantly written.

Quotes that make you want to tell society to screw off

"For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil.
And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born."

"Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover."

"Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you."
- In the movie this turns into the bar scene quote where Tyler says, "The things you own end up owning you."

Other memorable quotes

"Until today, it really pissed me off that I'd become this totally centered Zen Master and nobody had noticed."

"I just don't want to die without a few scars, I say...someday I'd be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car."

"After you've been to fight club, watching football on television is watching pornography when you could be having great sex."

"Ever since college, I make friends. They get married. I lose friends."

"What Marla loves, she says, is all the things that people love intensely and then dump an hour or a day after. The way a Christmas tree is the center of attention, then, after Christmas you see those dead Christmas trees with the tinsel still on them, dumped alongside the highway."

In summation...

I met a guy at the Westlake YMCA locker room tonight. He works at a nearby Nissan dealership and is serving at his post 6-7 days a week, selling people hunks of steel, leather and rubber all day long. He asks me, "So what do you do? You seem too mild-mannered a guy to be a black belt teaching people how to snap vertebrae." I laugh heartily, thoroughly humored by the misconceptions and Paul Bunyan theories cast upon me over the years. I tell him he knows how to break a neck just as well as I do - the American cinema is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

I tell him he should join. He seems eager to do something more extracurricular and I can tell I've piqued his interest with just my uniform...but he barely has time to make it to the gym as it is, he says - he had just gotten there and had to leave in 20 minutes. The demands of work and a family keep him pretty tied up. He got this look of sorrow and resignation on his face that made me want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him as hard as I could, waking him up to a more conscious life than he's living now. Sounds a bit harsh, I know :). But he can come to my martial arts class if he wanted to - he's just afraid to change his routine. He feels trapped. People like that need to feel empowered to make a change in their lives. We all need to feel empowered. Not power over others, just power over our own actions, over own lives. If we are powerless to control our own lives, we are slaves.

I, for one, refuse to be a slave.


Matt Barnes said...

good post. living up to the freebird name for sure.

I'm not sure how I feel about Fight Club as a movie yet. I think I need to see it again to fully understand. I agree with most of the quotes and all but man, I think you were a bit harsh on the guy at gym. Damn homie, punch him in the mouth cause he's working hard to keep his family afloat and all? I mean, I'm all for chasing my own dreams, not being tied down by society and living each day as the last but I think that's really easy for us to say as 20-somethings with next to no responsibilities. Or do you think I am off-base there?

I'm just interested if you think this "Fight Club" theory should apply to us when we're 35 years old, married and a kid in 1st grade.

A Freebird said...

haha you saw the draft, not the final. i'm no longer punching the guy. i'm shaking him hard - a bit less extreme, maybe?

my theory is not a fight club theory - it impresses upon a state of mind that everybody strays away from as they get older (added responsibility, as you said, is the primary reason for this - we bring this entrapment willingly upon ourselves). look at him - he's living the "American dream" isn't he? got a job, a family, working so his kids can have a "better life." that's respectable, sure, but he's trapped. the guy's trapped himself and he obviously wasn't happy. people think that by the time they're 35 they should be married and have a family. then THAT happens. i'm not saying it's a bad thing - i would love to have kids and be married and in love. i really would - but i never want to feel trapped like that. in the end it's just a state of mind. and he's not doing anything to get to that state of mind. it's a hard mindset to swallow, i know, but maybe that's why it's not mainstream

Raymond said...

I am bothered by your statements that you would love to have kids and be in love and be married but don't ever want to feel trapped. I think that being trapped is something that you choose to accept given your choice to have children/spouse in exchange for all those warm fuzzy feelings you get from providing from them in countless ways.(You know I am a big fan of warm fuzzy feelings) Sure it is important to find some time for things you enjoy, but I think the goal is that you can find joy in the role you play in their lives. Perhaps I am not properly interpreting what you mean by feeling trapped, but it seems to me that when you choose to become a spouse or parent you choose to put their needs before yours, at least at times, and therefore being trapped might be necessary and maybe not a bad thing.

Oh ya and like I said on facebook, lets test out this bomb thing sometime and law school sucks, no warm fuzzy feelings involved.

A Freebird said...

Good point Raymond. With a family obviously comes an unprecedented level of commitment, and the things we are able to do post-conception are limited (just wanted to work in a form of the word conceive somewhere...).

Ultimately, freedom is a state of mind. Yes, certain things in the "temporal" world play a part, but my problem is that people get married and have kids b/c they think they need to. It's the natural thing to do, based on what we grow up hearing and still hear in our 20's and 30's. People who aren't married at wherever that breaking point age is (depending on the individual) feel like they're missing something b/c of their upbringing.

You do sacrifice some of your physical freedom when you get married or have kids, but you still need to be willing to take risks and have new experiences. Some people don't need as many new experiences as others, but everybody needs to find small (or big) ways to get out of their routines and realize they have the power to change things if they want to, whether in their own personal lives or on a broader scope. The guy at the YMCA needs to free up another hour of his time, one night a week, to break out of his routine and do what he wants to do. Truth is, I've had more than one conversation w/ the guy. He wants to join - he tells me and I can see it in non-verbals - but doesn't feel like he has time. That's the type of shit that depresses me. I'm convinced that if you want to make a change like that in your life you can. Some things may have to be sacrificed in turn, your routine will have to change, but ultimately it's for the better. Even if you look back on it and wish you wouldn't have done it - you did it, that's the point. You still need to live for yourself a little bit. Otherwise it's a cycle of parents wanting their kids to have a better life...over, and over, and over, and we can work our whole lives, retire at 55 (the new 60), go to florida and golf, go on cruises, you know, finally live life like you've wanted to for the past 40 years, then die. There's gotta be something more than that.

If that doesn't make sense or I didn't answer your question, let me know.

EricHug said...

Jeffrey; so many quotes and insights into your view of the world. Where do I begin?

"You do the little job you're trained to do.
Pull a lever.
Push a button.
You don't understand any of it, and then you just die."

Yes, everyone pulls a lever, but we all pull it to a different extent. Many will be more resistant to this, and in turn they either sacrifice their life for better or for worse (the worse being violence or crime, for example). Although many will not get to it, some will understand their purpose and be able to reflect on their life, essentially completing Maslow’s highest need, “Self-Actualization.” I like to think our purpose in life is to fulfill that fifth element.

"Losing all hope was freedom."
Andy Dufresne, my favorite book/movie character comes to terms with this in The Shawshank Redemption. It was not until after his wife was murdered, he was sentenced to life in jail, and he had lost all his possessions that he could figure out his path. “Hope is a good thing, and no good thing ever dies.” Movie/book to movie/book quote on this one.

"I just don't want to die without a few scars, I say...someday I'd be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car."

I like this quote, because I believe each scar is a representation of an experience in life. Without living through those experiences, how much “living” did you do? In essence every scar represents one’s individual struggle and success; representing one’s steps; their epistemology.

“I, for one, refuse to be a slave.”

No one wants to be a slave, yet we are still stuck within societal norms that may or may not tie us down. If you try and run down the street naked, you will likely be arrested. If you are a minority of one, you will likely be institutionalized. If you refuse to work in society, you may be subjected to an inadequate or difficult lifestyle. Although we are not slaves in the traditional sense I still believe we are limited in how much power we really have. I suppose it all comes down to how much you are willing to pull that lever, and how you live with the choices you make.

A Freebird said...

I was just telling Barnes the other day that I haven’t had a good argument in a while. Thanks to the three of you for alleviating that desire!

Good shit, Huggles. You bring up some solid points. Nice job bringing in Maslow’s Hierarchy, too! One thing I want to mention – I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of the quotes I included. They are just my favorite because they offer perspectives that aren’t quite mainstream and touch upon some perspectives I feel people don’t spend enough time on.

You say in reference to Maslow that SOME will understand their purpose. That’s part of my point. More people need to understand it. If you can grasp your purpose on a higher level and associate that purpose with your daily life (not just on a subconscious level) then yes, you’re closer to realizing that highest need. But I do not think that’s “our purpose in life.” Put simply, and to quote one of my favorite country bands, there’s gotta be something more.

Good things do die. Hate to break it to you (but I appreciate the optimism and the Shawshank reference. Definitely one of my favorite movies). I think we all should experience a point in our lives where we lose all hope. If you lose all hope, you are closer to losing your fear of death, which is a major step in the right direction toward that odd effulgent ball in the distance that is enlightenment. Have to admit, there is a flaw in the line of thinking regarding no hope. Not sure what it is…maybe instead of hope dying, it hibernates…

I understand that we’re stuck in societal norms to an extent, but I think people wrap themselves up in society to the point where they’re afraid to do what they really want to do if it goes against the grain. What if the societal norms that exist aren’t right? How do we know if other norms could be better for us? It’s normal for us in society to be concerned with ceremony, celebrities and professionalism in the workplace. What if there’s something better than this, where people would realize that they don’t have to be obsessed with celebrity icons, that congressman don’t have to clap during the State of the Union every time the president says something remotely inspirational? Societal norms help us govern our daily lives, yes, but I feel there’s a higher level of existence that we can reach where we don’t need to abide by societal norms. Something along the lines of universal understanding.

You’ll notice a lot of question marks above – that’s because I don’t have all (if any of) the answers. Here’s what I do: I offer my perspective. I try to challenge normal behavior, convention, and the oh-so-popular societal norms. I make bold statements so people will listen. Then I pray to a higher being that people will respond and we can debate – one man can’t find the answers alone, damn it. You, Raymond and Barnes have all helped me clarify what I mean, and realize that I’m not always right…or am I?
And I, for one, would love to be able to run naked down the street. :)

Marisa said...

Hey Jeff, thought-provoking entry, as usual:) Here are some of my thoughts in response to your post - albeit somewhat later than I had intended.

I own both the book and movie adaptation of Fight Club, although I haven't read/watched it in several years. It's a hard-hitting (pun absolutely intended) and justified critique of consumerism. Palahniuk makes his points effectively and very memorably - "I am Joe's Enraged, Inflamed Sense of Rejection." - really, just brilliant.

However, I do think he goes a little off the deep-end with his self-indulgent middle-class angst. (granted, that was probably intentional) For example, the product of our consumer culture creates an alter-ego as a way to seek the intellectual, emotional, and physical stimulation he found he lacked in his perfect cookie cutter life. He lived out his subconscious longings vicariously through Tyler Durden and thus freed himself from the semblance of responsibility, and consequently, any guilt.

In the protagonists’ case, his life WAS the depression, and he would (subconsciously) do anything to break the monotony. The assumption being made is that we need some kind of violent (“We don’t have a great war in our generation…”) or otherwise taxing (“…or a great depression…”) commonality to give purpose to our lives. I for one do not feel that my vitality is a waste because I LACK these defining tragedies. I am thankful that there is no World War III or a second great depression. (although, with the economy like it is, I guess that point may be moot eventually) Why should we wish suffering on the world so that we can define ourselves in relation to it? If anything, we are given the unique chance to define our lives on our OWN terms since we are, “the middle children of history.” One of our challenges as these “middle children” is that we find ourselves in a position of relative prosperity (if you are reading this that most likely means you) completely embroiled in the crass consumer culture that Palahniuk demonizes in Fight Club. But we have the ability - to a certain extent - to choose our level of involvement in this cultural phenomenon and can regulate our behavior in this context. Anarchy is not the only solution, nor is it a good one. There is an excess of tragedy and suffering in every corner of the globe - whether mental or physical. We have absolutely no need to deliberately create more for the convenience of our own "definition".

I am certainly not arguing that one shouldn't combat stagnation or the clever marketing techniques that persuade us to buy expensive items and unnecessary name brands, etc. (side note, ever think what the term "branding" was originally used for? Yup, branding livestock to denote ownership. Congrats to us, we are now owned by Nike and Coach. Cheery thought, huh?) But I find myself unwilling to accept that losing all hope is freedom. Losing all hope is despair. That is, in my mind, actually different from the other quote "It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything." You can lose everything and not lose hope, and that, I think, IS one of humanity's defining points.

Anyway, hope that made sense - I also have a comment on retirement and societal norms, etc (thanks to my current living situation in the retirement capitol of the world) but I'll save it for later (it's past my bedtime). Keep up the blogging, I enjoy reading your entries.

Pragash Ganju said...

Good discussion guys, but i think some of you have misinterpreted what palahnuik i trying to convey.

'we have no great war or great depression....we're the middle children of history'

Marisa, this statement does not mean that having a great war or depression is the only way of finding meaning in life.
What he means is that people who lived during the times of war or revolution had found heartfelt meaning in what they were fighting against because they had a sense of feeling that what they were doing is right.
We on the other hand have no such insurgent situation around us, so we need to find our own individual meanings for our lives.

Losing all hope is neither despair nor freedom.
On a short term scale, yes losing all hope is freedom, because if you never expect good things you will never be disappointed. (and all things whether good or bad do in fact come to an end....Nothing Is Permanent)
But on a long term scale, when it comes to pondering over the future of humanity, Yes...being hopeful that one day all this hypocrisy and mass hypnosis will come to an end is natural, or else we'd become depressed, atleast i would.

Fight club to me is one of the best books/films exposing the reality of this mental slavery and consumer culture we are being raised in today.

P.S - the shawshank redemption is an awfully cliched and unreasonably positive 'oscar friendly' flick which has absolutely no sympathy towards what goes on in the lives of "real" people.