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Monday, October 15, 2012

on fight club

When you leave the house at 5 in the morning; no breakfast, no shower, just a brush  everything looks and feels surreal. If you aren’t used to these early hours your brain is still half asleep. Life is vaguely dreamlike; the air isn’t quite air and the light, it shimmers around corners and around bodies. Everything looks wraithlike, people don’t seem especially real another layer of protective something surrounds them so there are two outlines to everyone, they look glowy as if you can see both body and spirit.

At that time the sun has begun to rise. The truth about the things you see is that they are nothing more than reflections of the things you feel. The sky doesn’t look rosy cheeked to me what I see instead is an angry red wound, scrubbed, scoured and raw tearing across the face of the horizon turning it all to blood.

I began reading fight club the other day. Most people have watched the movie and know the premise for those who don’t it’s actually quite simple while also completely disturbing.
"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."

That’s a quote from the narrator a man who is leaving a meaningless life but not fast enough. Thoreau once said that most men live lives of quiet desperation. The tragedy at the heart of the narrator’s life is that he doesn’t even know it. The book was written in 90’s America a society consumed by materialism and consumerism where the hole in your heart was filled with a hole shaped couch that you put in your living room as part of your quest for meaningless. The main problem is that they don’t know how to be men. A generation of men raised by fathers who were dead or absent, they have no idea how to be what they feel they should be. All they know is what TV and advertising told them and this leaves them all distinctly unsatisfied, especially the narrator who meets a character named Tyler and one evening in a bar Tyler asks him to punch him as hard as he (the narrator) can.

Why I am awake so early is that I have a dentist’s appointment. It’s been years and years since I went to the dentist an appointment put off by both the incredible expense of dental hygiene in Kenya and my irrational fear of pain. However I have an emergency and I can’t put off this visit any more. I recently wrote about a fall I had. The aftereffects of falls stay with us much longer than the fall itself. Scars result from a single moment of pain and you wake up one day and find that your tooth isn’t what it used to be. For sure there is a chip off the old block but good luck to you finding it and down the tooth runs a scar line. I own my vanity you see.  I can admit to myself that on some things it matters how I look, I want to have a nice smile because flashing it around makes a lot of people much nicer and makes me much happier. So to fix this I find out the University of Nairobi dental school on valley road offers cheap services to the public you just have to be there early, therefore my wraithlike feeling  that morning. I have some experience with treatment at public health centres so I carry a book with me to the hospital, that book just happens to be fight club.

The narrator swings a fist at Tyler and from there our story goes on a disturbing trajectory. The truth is we all love a good fight. Boys, girls, all of us there’s something about a fight that keeps our blood flowing, keeps us hot and bothered and leave us satisfied at the end of it all. Someone else sees our  narrator and Tyler fight, a crowd gathers as it usually does and they ask if they can join. You see this is not a fight over honour, money or women it is clear that the purpose of this fight is just to fight.
"Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered."
And when the two of them sat down next to each other, relaxed and at peace, the people around them felt they wanted the same thing. They wanted the release, they wanted to put things at risk for a while they wanted to feel like men.
“What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women.”
The premise of the novel isn’t as far as I can tell that women do a bad job raising these men but that there’s a feeling of a sense of abandonment and rejection that the men can’t work out. That along with all the pressures of a modern life that feels like nothing, a life without any great achievements a life spent waiting  to die brings them to this piston point and when at that point a valve is let loose everyone wants to steam up.

The thing you have to remember about having a chipped tooth is that it comes with all these attendant injuries. You have to have scratched your cheek, you have to feel tender in another tooth, and you have to have facial scars and there may be a point between the lower lip and the gum, that place where the scars are always white that is gashed open. A friend of mine told me the other day what an invention the tongue is. No computer has been built yet that can bring to visualisation all the different sensations and contours that come of tasting food. Taste is essentially an imagination and your tongue is better at feeling than anything else you possess.

On a long enough timeline the survival rate for anything is zero.
This is not a happy book by any definition of the word. The writing left me permanently on edge I was disturbed all through the book. There is a sequence where hired waiters do things to food. They don’t spit in it, they piss in it, they fart, they stick dirty things down food with aromas so rich(both the food and the things) that no one realises what’s going on. There’s also a beautiful sequence where the narrator’s body parts speak to him a la something he read in readers digest, I am Joe’s boiling anger it shouts out at someone, I am his clogged intestine. In the afterword the writer talks about this waiter in England who had done some of the same things. After some cajoling the waiter admits what he had done to a certain celebrity. “Margaret thatcher has eaten my cum 5 times.” I sincerely hope that if she hasn’t heard this allegation this blog is not where she gets this titbit of information.

I am graig’s questing tongue. The crack in his tooth feels interesting, contours upon contours of something I never felt in my life, sharp and dangerous and tasty in that way that all human wounds are tasty. When I press on it though his brain tells me to stop, only to stop itself not sure if it enjoys this or not. In his mouth I can taste all manner of other injuries. The inside of his cheeks are rugged and raw, sweeter in that way that blood always is and when I feel towards the lower part of his gum  there is  a taste of almost perpetually fresh blood. I want to keep down there but it hurts him.

I am graig’s stained teeth. I feel shaky and inadequate, a bite sends tremors up me and down me. I am afraid that my crack will grow wider. My sense of immortality has been questioned and so I don’t bite down as hard as I should. My rough edges send panic triggers everywhere. There is a throb in the part missing, a pain that may be phantom but may also be a too real way for me to know that my days are numbers, I am graig’s shay teeth.

I am graig’s wounded pride. I hide myself away from him most of all, in words that I find I can almost not believe myself, “this kind of thing happens to other people too right?”

Tyler doesn’t like nightclubs… the music is too loud and after a few drinks you feel like you are the centre of attention while at the same time being alienated from everyone else, your own living morgue.
There are a lot of truths in this book. Truths as they apply to some people and the thing is they are only harsh because they are true. We all inflict so much harm on ourselves in the quest to feel alive. How many people drink too much, smoke too much, get into situations that they know will end up as shit, relationships with the wrong people , faith in the wrong causes just because all they desperately want is to live. All we are promised in this life is death  the quest for living is our responsibility.

It’s easy to cry when you realise everything you love will either reject you or die.
It’s easier to see the effects of this particular drug because fighting very quickly has visible effects
More of my lips are sticky with blood…my mouth shining with blood and blood climbing the cracks between my tooth
…rammed my face into the concrete until my teeth bit open the inside of my cheek and my eye was swollen shut and bleeding and after I said stop I could look down and there was a print of half my face in blood on the floor.

You see the book doesn’t romanticise a fight. They happen but they shouldn’t. My mouth ached for days. Every time I ate there was a new pain. I would chew something and feel a different sensation. Little balls of salty, meat flavoured ugali would lodge themselves in the crevice created by the white scar just below my teeth. I couldn’t dislodge them without significantly more pain. I tried to move them and it hurt. When it hurt I wasn’t even sure where it hurt from whether it was from the tooth or the cheek. Which tooth it was, when your mouth has gone an extensive trauma everything hurts and everything feels the same. The nerve endings aren’t used enough to properly differentiate where the pain signals are coming from. I am graig’s confused nerve jumping all over the place.

I am graig’s forgotten dignity I thought as I slopped food into my mouth. Now that there is a chip that hurts and apparently phantom pain can be just as bad as actual pain I had to avoid it. I had to open my mouth in a weird angle and approach the tooth from that angle like a plane coming in to land. I had to quickly slop the food down and sometimes some soup would dribble down my cheek. The sound I made pulling it back up made me want to eat with no one around for company until I could get it under control. And then I would find new injuries hiding away until the pain of the current ones was gone. Small balls of ugali and sukumawiki would hide away and explode in a pain born of salt and flavour.

After a night in fight club everything in the real world gets its volume turned down low.
This is the problem isn’t it? The problem or the solution depending on how you decide to look at things. After a night riding close to death life begins to look pretty ordinary, pretty boring. And when we aren’t in the midst of a self-destructive love or an incapacitatingly addictive drug binge we feel like we aren’t living. What happens when your death takes over your life, for many people the very thing that makes you feel alive is also the thing doing it’s dogged best to put you in a grave of one form or another.

Am no expert but Oscar Wilde once wrote “Everything in moderation including moderation.” Maybe that’s the answer, also "don’t crack your teeth" is advice I feel comfortable giving just about everyone.