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I Want My Scalps

August 30, 2009

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Inglourious Basterds (I know, spellchecker, I know) with a friend whom I’ll call Sarah because that’s her name. The movie was fantastic. I’m a big fan of Tarantino. I mean, I’m a big fan of Tarantino’s writing. I saw him interviewed on some MTV show last week and was a little disappointed but only half surprised to discover that the author of my favourite screenplays and creator of my favourite film characteresses is, in person, virtually indistinguishable from a hyperactive 12-year-old. Dude can’t sit still or stop talking, and it’s impossible to imagine him participating in a meaningful relationship or holding his own in a conversation about anything other than hot chicks or his own films. He’s one more embodier of the great paradox of creativity: most of the world’s most insightful, intelligent, and powerful dialogue and characters are created by wackjobs who are either excruciatingly self-conscious about or completely oblivious to their almost total inability to behave appropriately in real-life social situations. The self-aware ones cave in on themselves until they’ve become recluses and the clueless ones flaunt themselves until they’ve become celebrities. Anyway, never mind any of that: I enjoyed the hell out of the basterds, and, as is usually the case after I’ve watched a Tarantino heroine roar and rampage and get bloody satisfaction, I’m in one of those restless moods where I just generally crave vengeance.

One of my religious beliefs is that it’s the gods’ job to make sure everyone gets fucked over in a major way at least once every ten years. Everyone says that personal calamity builds character, and in many cases that’s true, but the process can take years, and you can lose huge chunks of time to the chaos.  When I was 13 my parents had our bathrooms and kitchen redone and I can still remember the stress of those weeks, showering in the dark and concocting pathetic meals from the contents of a bar fridge in the basement day after day and trying to keep my five-year-old sister from stepping on exposed nails and/or falling to her death from the unbannistered unwalled stairway, all to the tune of a soundtrack consisting of interminable pounding and drilling.  When it finally stops you realize how desperate for routine and silence you’ve been all along. It’s an even more exhausting process to endure the renovation of one’s own mind.

On the other hand, there is something to the Notorious B.I.G.’s thesis that you’re nobody ’til somebody kills you. Until three years ago I was a fundamentally cowardly person. Then one fine summer day I found out that everyone in my family as well as a bunch of assorted other people had been lying to me for almost twenty-five years. To make a long story etc., it turned out I had more siblings than I had been led to believe, one of whom had been abandoned by our father, as a result of which my prospects of establishing emotional proximity with her were slim to none despite our mutual fondness for black cats, Trailer Park Boys, Jay-Z, writing, sarcasm, master’s degrees, and Vancouver. This whole situation is – if I may be permitted to deploy some preschool vernacular – no fair. Unconscious awareness of her existence haunted me all my life, and now I’m grieving for someone who’s alive and well in the city to which I may well be relocating before the year is out. And goddamn it, I want someone to pay. Someone other than me, because I didn’t have a fucking thing to do with any of this bullshit.

Something I wouldn’t have guessed is that under the right circumstances, devastation can be accompanied by a feeling of invincibility. It turns out that you can accomplish all kinds of amazing shit and make any number of surprising decisions when you trust yourself utterly. I want to go back in time and slap all the previous versions of myself in the face. Then I want to return to the present and say and do some things to some other people.

I’m one of the more vengeful people I know. I don’t believe in afterlives, I don’t trust eternity as a concept let alone believe in it as a reality. I think life loses most of its meaning when it’s viewed as a loyalty test or a character assessment or a pre-game show. The way I see it, the reason an individual’s choices and actions and relationships are so important is that each of us is a one-of-a-kind, limited-time offer. It’s beyond impossible that you exist, but here you are. The history of the universe happens to have unfolded in such a way that billions of years after it created itself the only two human beings who could have brought you into it got together at precisely the right moment and the one out of a hundred mazillion cells that was your one and only chance of existence won the race. There’s nothing more astonishing than this and nothing more comparatively simplistic than the idea of some incorporeal omniscient being creating you out of thin air for some reason and having you play out a bunch of scenes on earth for a fingersnap’s worth of time only to be sent up to the clouds or down to the fires of hell forever and ever and ever and ever. I mean what a fucking waste of effort for all concerned. The concept of immortality drains the meaning from all of the other concepts that human beings value.

There are people who feel confident that God has their back, but all my gods are metaphors, and as far as I can tell, my back has always been my own responsibility. When I was younger I used to put a shitload of effort into trying to be one of the other kind of people; I thought their faith would be a relief and a comfort compared to my skeptical self-reliance. But I never got there and eventually I realized there was a different kind of comfort in my own perspective. It can be argued that divinity isn’t as interesting or profound or miraculous as humanity.

So when it comes to justice I guess I’m impatient. I want it done and I want it done now and I don’t trust anyone else to git ‘er done for me. Yet, perhaps regrettably, unlike a Tarantino heroine, I’m on board with the majority of my country’s laws – plus I’m scrawny and I don’t have a driver’s license and I can’t dance at all. I can’t go tearing around in the Pussy Wagon maiming and killing and pillaging and starting fires and crushing skulls with 3″ heels and winning the Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist contest and poignantly finishing off my archnemesis with the five-point-palm exploding heart technique. I can fantasize about that type of thing, and believe me, friend, I do. Every day. I want my scalps. But reality requires that I acquire them in accordance with the parameters set by reason and the law and my bony-ass physique.

The pen is alleged to be mightier than the sword. On certain occasions that’s just not true – sometimes one’s life depends on having one’s Hattori Hanzo masterpiece within reach – but in general, more often than not, the pen can get the job done. It sometimes takes a little longer, and it’s not as effective in a physical assault scenario (although tell that to the subject of my philosophy thesis, Mr. John S. Eriugena of eighth-century Irish Christian fame, whose students stabbed him to death with their pens), but it’s more eloquent, more portable, and more affordable. And, considering my commitment to being a respectable law-abiding citizen, the pen and its e-quivalents are probably the only weapons available to me.

I’m okay with that. One day last year I saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said The best revenge is writing well, and when I thought about it I realized that my manuscript was essentially a revenge story. I wrote it in a sort of mad delirium of brutal voracious unblinking honesty that was the equal and opposite reaction to a quarter-century of relentless deception, and – judge me as you will – if it is published, the pleasant glow of achievement I’ll feel as the story’s author will pale in comparison to the bloody satisfaction I’ll feel as its avenged protagonist.

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