Like any responsible and loving parent, I always look for as many opportunities as possible to get away from my children. So this past weekend, my wife Robin and I dropped Austin (5) and Sydney (almost 2) off with my mother and checked into a hotel for four days.
When we do this, we get a room with a giant hot tub and spend most of the weekend in it. And we get to do things that we’re not normally able to do, like read books without pictures in them and watch movies that aren’t animated.
When you read in a hot tub, you need a light book so that you can hold it above the water. I was working on Stephen King’s Under the Dome at home, but it’s like 1300 pages and hardback, so instead, I brought along my paperback, 200-page copy of Fight Club, which I hadn’t read in a while.
If you haven’t read Fight Club, do yourself a favor and go buy it now. (And no, having seen the movie doesn’t count.) If you like reading my stuff, you’ll like that book. It’ll put ideas in your head. Bad ideas. Rebellious ideas.
It’s about a group of guys who discover that they’ve been living very sterilized, materialistic lives. You wake up, you go to work, you come home to your IKEA furniture that you just had to have and that felt very important, and you repeat. You behave, you become soft, your emotions and reactions and behaviors dull to the predictable, and soon you realize that the things you own, they actually own you.
What the narrator does — and this is a complicated setup, so I’m simplifying — is that after months of insomnia, and after months of attending support groups for diseases that he doesn’t have just so that he can feel alive enough to sleep, he meets a guy named Tyler Durden. They’re both learning that the things in life they thought were essential, that maybe they’re not essential after all. It starts to feel like the only way to be reborn is to hit rock bottom. But society teaches you to live a safe life. A predictable and behaved life, where you do not only what you’re told, but what is expected of you.
Neither of them have ever been in a fight. So they go into the parking lot, and they take turns hitting each other as hard as they can. Who are you fighting? They ask. My father. My boss. My life.
Well, it goes on from there.
I’d read Fight Club several times before, but I found myself reading it this time and thinking, “I kind of want to join a Fight Club.”
Not literally, I mean. The fights in the book take place barefoot on a concrete floor, two guys to a fight, and the fights go on as long as they have to. Everyone ends up with knocked-out teeth, gashed lips, and broken bones. So yeah, I’m not quite antiestablishment enough to want to actually do that in its full glory, but I’m intrigued by the concept.
Now, try to see beyond what may be an initial reaction to this all as a bunch of macho bullshit, and get what’s behind it: What do we fight (no pun intended) to avoid in our day to day lives?
What is the standard of beauty and order that we’re upholding at all costs? What are we afraid of, and what would happen if we did that thing that terrifies us?
Life used to require exertion and threat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m digging the fact that I don’t have to fight daily to keep my woman and my cave, but would it really be the end of the world if I had to fight? And how would I do in a fight, anyway? What am I made of at a deep, deep, deep and primal level?
I’m not saying that fighting is a good thing. I am, however saying, that most of us are afraid to find out if we could hold our own, because of the threat of pain and discomfort. Again, don’t go thinking I’m saying that we should get in fights to find out. I’m not saying that at all. But I do find it interesting that we’re so very afraid of it.
These guys, these stockbrokers and waiters and customer service representatives in the book, they find out that they can be hit and that they can hit back and that still, life doesn’t end. They’re not as fragile as the world has caused them to believe they are. They find out that they’re different people than who they thought they were. Harder. More resilient. Confidence carries over into every other area of their lives. The petty aggravations that used to upset them can no longer faze them. They sleep well. They have explored that darker side of themselves and found out what’s in there, and it’s like they’re magnified, in person and in personality, as they go about the rest of their daily business.
And all I find myself asking is, Are we really so intent on living and dying a safe existence?
And at this point, I could easily slip into a lot of the themes I’ve been writing about lately, about doing something crazy and breaking the rules and being abnormal. I’ll let you make that connection for yourself, but… you know. There’s the whole “What are you really afraid of?” thing to consider here.
The guys in the book, they decide they don’t want to die without any scars.
I have a pretty fucking badass scar. It’s on my left forearm, and I got it doing a 205 lb. Olympic clean and jerk at my gym a few years ago when at the bottom of the clean, my elbow hit my knee, hard.
That was gross. It was also expensive, and one hell of an inconvenience. I don’t recommend it. But it is an awesome story to be able to tell, I won’t lie. I like that scar. It’s proof that I’m not living my life wrapped in protective bubble wrap.
Some of you ladies reading this are likely disgusted by the testosterone in this post.
Except Jess Commins. I’ll bet she really likes it.
(Oh, and on a side note, when Sonia Simone interviewed me for the Third Tribe, she described a certain masculinely pushy internet marketing technique as “masturbatory,” and I was like “Yeah, it’s awesome, right?” and then I realized she meant it in a negative way. Women.)
I’ve built a career out of saying what’s on my mind whether it’s stupid or out of context or embarrassing or what. And so I’m telling you, whether you think it makes me a macho jerk or not, that part of me wants to get into a fight, for once. To see what I have in me. To take a peek at some aspects of myself that I’m never allowed to let out. To explore my id. To take and overcome a trial.
So maybe I’ll join some sort of a class. Like mixed martial arts (what the Ultimate Fighters do) or Krav Maga, which is supposed to be one of the few self-defense things that actually works in real life. I’d be wearing pads and wouldn’t get the shit beat out of me, but maybe it’s close enough.
I think the essence of pretty much everything I’ve been doing lately is this, to make a point out of this whole Fight Club thing:
I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”
And then, if I can find a version of it where I won’t die or risk major injury or other huge ruin, I do that thing.
Maybe this is all too macho for you. Maybe a safe life is just fine, in fact. But just for the hell of it, ask yourself what you’re most afraid of, and ask why it scares you.
You try one thing that seemed impossible or terrifying and suddenly, it’s like you’re a new person. You’re bigger and better and stronger and bolder than you thought you were.
All I really want to know is who I truly am.