“an over-analysis of not wanting to overanalyze things followed closely by a baseless decision to give up things that keep you alive with the hopes that they might paradoxically keep you alive longer, despite the half-fact that you’re not sure they’ll work or if you even want them to…”
In a recent panic of job applications, I applied to a freelance position at SparkNotes (or as I know it, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literature” to CliffsNotes’ “Literature for Dummies.” Maybe it’s the other way around. Who knows… ) Yes, as a writer, I think those guys suck in principle, boiling down great crockpots of prose-chili into shitty-ass microwavable meals that make students/diners think literature/dinner is about getting the delivery of the Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast, and not the whole mad experience that is ordering it drunk from a sober/pregnant waitress with a “Rhonda” nameplate necklace at four a.m. and hearing her bow to the onset of morning sickness soon thereafter in a nearby bathroom. (Built-in point: Imagine that last sentence in a SparkNotes plot summary of this paragraph: “The author believes that SparkNotes cheapens a literature reader’s experience by stripping fiction bare and highlighting substance over the style that carries it.” Yeah, that’s the point. But the greater point is that sometimes the point isn’t the point. Sometimes literature’s point is Rhonda’s point, is James Joyce’s point*: “If you want something worth needing, you have to work at it until you need to vomit.” (*Not an actual quote from James Joyce or Rhonda.) And if you think that only applies to readers, sniff the breath of any writer returning to his or her seat after a trip to the figurative – but still misinterpreted – vomitorium. We’re on some Denny’s shit here – the servers get sick more than the customers, and believe it or not, the meals taste better for it.) Of course, I see the counter arguments for the existence of study guides: Educators have made this shit a necessity by treating art like a commodity and/or an earth science, and fall back on gauging student understanding with quizzes built w/ the same respect to substance over disrespected style. Because how do you really test style, beyond asking what the author is trying to do? And – another counter nod to the opposition – what the fuck is Ovid saying/what the fuck is hexameter/ I have plans tonight – can’t I just read the SparkNotes/CliffsNotes, or, you know, just watch the fucking movie? But I digress… (And I don’t think Epistulae ex Ponto would make a very good film, for what that’s worth.)
So, the SN lit. editor sends me a kind letter saying he thinks I’d be a good fit for the gig and requests that I summarize the first 47 pages of The Hunger Games to make sure I can relay/analyze plot (and am not the type of reader who doesn’t notice when an author switches tense mid-story for no reason). Long story short: I didn’t do it. [“The author’s possible motivations: 1. A lack of motivation. 2. He can’t get a copy of “The Hunger Games” at a Los Angeles library because every dormantly-violent kid in the county checked it out/reserved it, when his or her sexually-fucked-up mother dragged he or she to the library to get “50 Shades of” whatever-the-fuck the color is – 3. He’s not going to buy a book he doesn’t really want to read to write something for an application to a freelance gig that he’s not even sure he wants.] I later convinced myself that the real reason was all that shit I said above the shit above, the shit about waitress v. omelet, and how “it would ruin literature for me,” and a bunch of other nonsense that made my general disinterest seem more interesting/ethical.
So, Then – well, actually, let’s do this SparkNotes summary in advance, so you can decide if you want to keep reading: [“After deciding not to read The Hunger Games, the author decides to stop eating for 30+ hours and go see The Hunger Games in a discount cinema.”]
And, if you’re still with me, here are all the details you missed:
That same morning, I picked up the Harper’s that’s been in my bathroom since Super Tuesday (and, I guess Cyrenaica’s bid for semi-autonomy), read Steve Hendrick’s fascinating story about his 20-day fast and its health benefits, forewent breakfast and decided not to eat for the next 34 hours. What does that have to do with anything? I’m not really sure. Maybe it was a subconscious build from the hunger part of The Hunger Game. If you can’t figure out where it’s going, I’m not going to do the work for you… I’m not a Denny’s Waitress.
My last meal – which sounds more Jesus-y than it should – was the ¼-bag of Doritos (Nacho Cheese, best flavor hands down) I ate while watching something with my roommates the previous night. (It was probably either Twin Peaks or Downton Abbey. We’ve been watching both series concurrently for the last few months, switching back-and-forth between episodes. I’d definitely recommend the pairing if you ever want to know how it feels to be off-balanced/like one of those people at the bus stop/strip club/Costco who’s perpetually disassociated and forgets social mores and propriety from one scenario to the next. I was going to write about it proper (the feeling) but what can you really say about flipping between wartime Aristocracy drama and Lynchian self-winking nonsense, other than that it leaves you feeling like a ping-pong ball in a tennis match between a director you want to like but can’t, and a Facebook friend who bitches about Cheesecake Factory wait times, hashtags #firstworldproblems w/ faux-perspective and unknowingly nails #firstworldreaction by LOL-ing at advantage instead of doing something to counter it. Me: 15, David Lynch/That Bitch: Love… *wink*) [“Here, the author uses a tangential paragraph to announce his unrelated dislike for the “First World,” as well as its self-aware trendsetters, Twitocrites, tennis players and overrated directors. He then winks an apology, which could be interpreted any number of ways, which can be interpreted to be his intent.”]
Fasting is one of those things (like running, unemployment, salad, abstinence) that sucks while you’re enduring it, but leaves your brain with an oil slick of positive associations that tricks you into enjoying the pain hindsightedly, and makes you think you “could have gone longer,” at it, even though you know you couldn’t have. The only reason you even get through what you get through is that voice in your head (mine is played by Tom Waits) that reminds you that the shit, whatever it is, is finite. The finish line, the job, the dessert, the sex, they’re all there… shuffle that with the cardiovascular benefit, the absent dress-code, the colon-cleansing, the orgasm (and, in some cases, cardiovascular benefits, absent dress-code, colon-cleansing) – there’s the push/incentive that makes you think it was bearable/want to repeat it.
So, was it bearable – the fasting? Well, I obviously survived it, so “yes,” but also “no,” because it wasn’t as easy as I think it is now that I just housed six veggie tacos and an RC Cola. With that in mind: Sure, it was easier than I thought it would be. [“In this passage, the author contradicts himself and Frisbees bullshit discs to the three people who kept reading after his advance chapter summary. He doesn’t appear to care either… What a badass!”] I wasn’t hungry, per se – more frustrated by the inability to ingest anything other than water. I guess it came down to more of a scheduling thing than anything else. Working a desk job/as a freelancer have transformed eating into more of a leisure-lusted activity than anything done with sustenance or nutrition in mind. It’s about using 12 p.m. or sunset as an excuse to close a Word .doc you weren’t writing in anyway. So, when that’s not an option, shit, as they say, gets real.
Some time in the mid-afternoon – usually around the time I wanted to sleep anyway (so, 1 through 6 p.m.) – I began to feel really surprised/annoyed. Surprised b/c I wasn’t hungry/didn’t feel weak. I’ve always had a weird suspicion that I was hypoglycemic for I-don’t-know-why, and this pretty much put that to rest. The real problem was that I always confused the symptoms of boredom with those of low-blood sugar: Irritability, discomfort, inability to focus. I had those – though I didn’t really know why at the time, probably on account of the inability to focus and the way it made it hard to separate cause from effect, or really do anything but think about realities of the flesh v. those created in the mind – which, now that I can half-focus, doesn’t really seem to matter, because who cares if you’re irritable because you haven’t eaten or you’re irritable because you think you’re supposed to be when you haven’t eaten… After a while, you feel like a mimic octopus beaten at his own game.) [“Unbeknownst to the author, he was also irritable/foggy-headed b/c he’d been weaning himself off caffeine at the same time and was anxiously waiting to hear back about an interesting job for which he’d had two interviews; one for which he ended up being “the runner-up,” and currently wants to write about, but can’t until he know that the, um, runner (is that right?) has finished his probationary period and won’t be fired in favor of the same author, who eventually gave in to his growing boredom/frustration and decided to do something passive: watch The Hunger Games, a dystopian fantasy YA Novel whose themes, as described by someone who ended up writing for us (SparkNotes), are: ‘The inequality between rich and poor; suffering as entertainment; the importance of appearances’ (For balance, our competitor (CliffsNotes) lists them as: ‘deception; identity; manipulation; rebellion; reality versus the Games,’ but are you really going to trust a study guide that mispunctuates its name?”]
I don’t know if it was the movie, my brain forgoing glucose early in favor of Ketone bodies (and slight euphoria), or the discount cinema (one that looked like a gymnastics training center built for the 1984 Olympics, and then shoddily reverted into a cinema), but I had a great time watching The Hunger Games. The plot isn’t much to fling shit about. (It’s basically a mash-up of Theseus and the Minotaur, The Lottery, The Running Man, Lord of the Flies, The Most Dangerous Game and, of course, Battle Royale – which just started streaming on Netflix, BTW). And besides Jennifer Lawrence, the rest of the cast didn’t leave much of an impression. Nevertheless, it was entertaining and engaging, and allowed me to watch hungry children fight and stop thinking about eating/food for a couple hours.
And that’s the idea at the heart of my oversimplified under-analysis: Things are more bearable when you’re not thinking about how unbearable they are. Life, in moments like these, becomes more of an experience, and less of a perpetual study of experiences… It’s rare and beautiful, and – [“After deciding that his last point finally connected with his first (and contradicted everything that followed it), the author decided to stop writing, open a bag of Doritos and watch “Battle Royale,” on Netflix,” leaving the end open to interpretation.]