How I Got Into Young Adult Novels Through Chuck Palahniuk

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I used to think that Young Adult novels were lame, because I assumed that you weren’t allowed to cuss or discuss dark and gritty topics. Of course, that’s what happens when you assume things; you make an ass out of u and me. Now that I’ve actually read a ton of YA novels, I am hooked!

And I actually owe it all to Chuck Palahniuk!

Although he writes mature adult novels–full of excessive vulgarity, disgusting details, and overtones darker than the night itself–I got into YA thanks to him. Most of his novels do feature adult characters getting into adult situations, most of which involve some awesome plot twists (Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Snuff), but there’s one book of his that features a fat 12-year-old dead girl in Hell.

Damned follows the story of Madison “Maddie” Spencer, the daughter of two Hollywood big shots who are constantly too stoned out of their minds to give her any genuine attention or affection. She apparently dies of a mairjuana overdose, and is sent to Hell where she meets a group of other damned souls who become her posse of misfists.

The book is often described as The Breakfast Club meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in Hell because each chapter begins with “Are You There, Satan? It’s Me, Madison,” and she shares the coming of age struggle Margaret faces in Judy Blume’s book.

Now, I’ve watched The Breakfast Club several times in my life and have always connected with the universal themes of the teenage struggle, but never once have I ever read a Judy Blume book. Why would I anyway? Aren’t her books written for little girls?

Apparently not!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Damned, but the sequel Doomed, felt a little overwritten compared to its predecessor. The narrative voice felt too intellectual and masculine to be that of a 12-year-old girl’s, but I read it anyway because I highly enjoyed the overall adventure of Maddie’s goal to confront Satan and find out why she had to die early and be damned to eternal torture.

(Chuck Palahniuk’s idea of eternal torture includes walking on hills of toenail clippings, passing by rivers of pimple puss and rejected human fluids, and my personal favourite; working at a telemarketing office to troll the people still alive on Earth)

So I got curious about Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret just so I can see how much of it actually inspired, or at least reflected the content in Damned. Aside from the chapter openings and having a 12-year-old protagonist, there was obviously a stark contrast that astounded me.

Gone were the supernatural elements, gross descriptions, vulgarity, drugs, and violence etc.

What I got instead was a story about a middle grader feeling left out because she’s the only girl in her class who hasn’t gotten her period yet. That made for a great a surface theme–since I’ve never considered what the female puberty experience was like, though it was a welcomed surprise–but what really captivated me about the book was Margaret’s struggle with her religious beliefs.

It surprised me immensely when I started noticing the bigger picture. Margaret was raised without religious affiliation; her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian–but pushed  neither religion on her–and so Margaret’s internal struggle, on top of her desire to get her first period, was trying to find religious singularity.

[spoiler]There was this epic scene where her grandmother and her parents argue about what religion she should conform to, but she gets so frustrated and cries out about how no one even is stopping to consider what she wants to believe in.[/spoiler]

Although I prefer to read more mature YA novels with older characters who do cuss and discuss dark topics, Judy Blume single handedly diminished my assumptions about YA. Now I have absolute respect for it because it’s now that I understand the appeal to it.

Being a teenager is an intense time in anyone’s life because it’s when we begin to truly begin to question our identities as individuals separate from culture. Our hormones and emotions are the most sensitive and although it’s such a small amount of time in our overall lives, they are the most intense, bringing with it the growing pains that shape us. The teenage experience is universal for anyone who has survived it.

Stay tuned for How I Conceived the Idea of It Starts at Home…

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Crafting a Character Part 2: It’s All in the Past

In the previous installment of the Crafting a Character series, we took a look at how characters think and behave in the present. What usually shapes those behaviours and attitudes is their past.

Backstory is the cornerstone of all character development because it’s in the past where almost the entire identity of a person is formed. Whether you’re creating the backstory of a character, or looking at your own history, the past has a ton of answers for your questions about the present and the future.

 Why Can’t You Just Let It Go?

Main Shaping and Influencing Incidents: 

Usually in childhood, but not always, we’ve all had significant moments in our lives where our views of the world and of ourselves were changed forever. These incidents range from being tragic, comical, or inspiring. Either way, discovering the life changing events in your own life, or creating one for your character, can drastically improve your understanding of what may drive a person to behave the way they do in the present.

In a classic episode of The Simpsons, the family wants to go on vacation, but when their plane is about to take off, the family learns that Marge has a fear of flying. “Let me off the plane,” she says and then starts pacing down the aisle back and forth.

“Let me off! Let me off! Let me off!”

Marge starts going to therapy and at the end of the episode, she uncovers childhood memories she must have locked away for years.

She recalls thinking that her father was a pilot, and child Marge follows him into a plane to find out that he was a stewardess–which was a rare occupation for men in the 60’s–and the embarassment of her father working a woman’s job apparently traumatizes her into having a fear of flying.

There were a few more adverse memories she recalled, and those were the ones that seemed more logical in explaining why she had the fear, but I won’t go into detail about them here. Just watch the episode, it’s hilarious!

Can you recall any traumatic events that have fundamentally wounded you for life? Or do you have any memories of being significantly inspired by someone that motivate you to this day? How have any of these influencing incidents impacted the way you behave in your present life?

Relationship With the Family: 

Your family is your first experience of what it’s like to be in a social circle, particularly in your formative years. The way you relate and interact with your extended family helps you develop the social skills (or lack thereof) that which you bring in to the rest of society, be it at school, post-secondary education, work, and the market place.

More importantly, your parents’ marriage vastly influences your ideas of love, marriage, and friendship. And depending on the bond you have with your parents–whether it’s strong, weak, or non existant–you’re automatically subjugated to either replicating or replacing your experience of them.

The nameless narrator in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk grew up, for the most part, without a father. So when he befriends the wise and witty renegade Tyler Duren, he looks up to him as a father figure.

When they start living together, Tyler gets into a sexual relationship with Marla Singer, a woman the nameless narrator met at a bunch of support groups. This becomes a recreation of the narrator’s childhood in that he never sees Tyler and Marla in the same room together, and becomes the middleman of their interactions–thus recreating his experience with his parents before they got divorced.

Furthermore, the underground Fight Club would not be possible had its members had their fathers around, or meaningful bonds with them if they were around for their childhoods. It’s well established among psychological circles that fatherlessness causes a variety of societal and psychological problems.

What template for romance have your parents imprinted for you? What relationship do you have with your extended family? How have these affected your mode of interaction with the rest of society?

Where They Grew Up:

From your country of origin, to your economic status growing up, and your childhood home, where you grew up also greatly defines how you’ll fit in to the rest of society.

The-Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air-1x01-The-Fresh-Prince-Project-the-fresh-prince-of-bel-air-20895611-1536-1152In West Philadelphia, born and raised, is where the Fresh Prince spent most of his days. But as you know by the title sequence theme song, he got in one little fight and his mom got scared, so he moved in with his uncle and auntie in Bel-Air.

What made this sitcom so great was how Will Smith’s care free and eccentric hood mentality clashed with the prestigious and more “dignified” culture of upper class Los Angeles.

This made for an interesting conflict with Will trying to behave in a way that was acceptable to the culture, while also staying true to himself. Though, the funniest parts of Fresh Prince for me was when he was free to be himself around rich and pretigious people, and they welcomed him with open arms, thus showing that cultural division can be torn down if both parties are willing to be friendly.

Are your current living conditions different from how you grew up? If so, what has this contrast done for your sense of identity? If not, was it a conscious choice to remain comfortable with the familiar or do you intend on breaking the cultural barrier?

Stay tuned for Crafting a Character Part 3: A Better Tomorrow

Save $20,000 on Therapy by Buying a $20 Journal

Gotcha! There are no shortcuts to self-knowledge.

Obviously you can not achieve the same results you would in therapy through journaling alone. However, there is still a goldmine of value you can gain from jotting your thoughts down on paper.  You can potentially save a sum of money by doing your own self-work before hand, but let me make this clear: I am not at all claiming that therapy should be replaced with journaling. Put together, both tools go hand in hand like different instruments in a band.

If you can’t afford to go to therapy or just don’t feel comfortable with opening up to a stranger you may or may not connect with, journaling could be an affordable and more comfortable alternative to dipping your toe into self-knowledge.

Journaling can be used in a variety of ways including outright emotional release, decluttering your mind, and organizing creative ideas to name a few–but for the express purpose of this post, let’s focus on pursuing self-knowledge through this practice.

Following in the principle I provided in The Free Fall Journal, you need to feel comfortable with writing down your thoughts and feelings, most especially when you journal for self discovery. It’s an invitation to have an open and honest dialogue with yourself, after all.

Now, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of that crazy guy you saw downtown arguing with himself at the street corner that one time, but I assure you it’s nothing like that. In fact, the reason why this man lost his mind enough to shamelessly berate himself in public is because he never learned how to keep it to himself and journal it out.

Just kidding!

Though within every joke, there is a hint of truth. We are not all that different from that guy, you and I. We all have an inner dialogue that runs through our heads all day, he just chooses to express it out loud, albeit in an unfiltered and frightening manner.

Keeping your most distressing thoughts and feelings to yourself doesn’t make them any less frightening unless you choose to write unfiltered. When we write about our experiences, we provide evidence to the contents of not only our minds, but most importantly the expression of our hearts.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

You can just as easily journal for the sake of emotional release, but when you pursue self-knowledge through journaling, it’s important to also examine the evidence so you can understand yourself better. Self-knowledge is all about understanding what sets you off and gets you off (your couch 😛 ).

Having the luxury of reading back what you’ve written, you’re bound to notice a few patterns. When you recognize certain patterns in your thought process, you can then spend the time to explore why you may have them, and then decide on whether or not to break them.

That’s not to say that all patterns are negative, but generally speaking, the ones that fill us with the most doubt and distress are usually the ones that require more than one entry.In fact, some of the best journal entries are the ones that span beyond different dates, either in chronological order or streamlined between other topics. If you find yourself revisiting certain events or themes in your life, it just means that you’re comitted to understanding that aspect of yourself.

“Pain demands to be felt.” – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I cannot promise your entire life will be saved and understood through journaling, and I can not speak much for therapy in that regard, but the only guarantee I can offer is that if you commit to this practice frequently, you will develop a better relationship with yourself. It doesn’t have to be everyday, sometimes you need the break, but come back to your journal frequently and you will notice that you gradually become more honest in your writing.

Be sure to have compassion for yourself when you come across things you may not like re-reading, especially immediately after writing. Those are indicators that you might need to make drastic changes in your life, or at the very least, learn to play the hand you have been dealt.

Keep in mind that your journal is a safe place for you to express yourself authentically. So just like free fall journaling, do not worry about poise or eloquence in the way you write. Sometimes I decide not to separate paragraphs and write in the most unreadable chicken scratch possible (take THAT, would be invaders of my private journal!)–vulnerability is expontentially more important.

It has been in my experience that the less I filtered myself, the happier I became. I used to just reiterate what I learned from the plethora of self-help books I read with the intent of simply reprogramming myself to think positively. Although it helped in the short term, it only masked the pain, rather than helping me understand and heal it.

When I go back to my old initial journal entries, I can sense how inauthentic it was to cover up my pain by forcing myself to think positive, just for the sake of faking happiness. I don’t doubt that thinking positive can have its benefits, but there’s a disconnect between mind and heart when it’s not genuine. When I realized this–and wrote from a place of truth instead of falsehood–that’s when I finally got to experience what authentic positivity feels like.

 

Do you journal? If so, how has your experience been?

If you’re new to journaling or thinking of trying it out, what do you look to gain from it?