Let’s Talk Books (Sort of) – A Dirty Job

Warning: Spoilers

For those of us uncomfortable or fearful of change – especially if change happens frequently and provides little to better our lives – it helps to know there’s always something you can rely on. A constant, if I may borrow something from Lost. Like maybe there’s always been a restaurant you could go to that you’ve been visiting for years. Maybe there’s an album that always lifts your spirits. Maybe there’s a movie that you watch whenever you’re sad and you can share some of your sadness with it.

Unfortunately, these things aren’t resilient to change. They may hold up better than other things when change happens, but eventually you may find yourself not being able to count on the “rocks” in your life that you thought would always hold you together. (And for the purpose of this post, I’m talking about physical things like the examples above. People that play a similar role in our lives is something I’ll talk about another time.)

Recently I’ve had the misfortune of discovering that I no longer liked my favorite book as much as I used to. It seems so stupid to write a post about, but it’s been bugging me ever since I started rereading last month and I kind of want to get it off my chest. The book is A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore. He’s one of my favorite authors, and starting with this book, I’ve been reading his work for almost 10 years now.

I first found it in Barnes and Noble in 2006 during my senior year of high school. I’d lost my childhood love of reading after years of being subjugated to books I held no interest in throughout middle and high school, not being able to understand the themes and concepts the schools tried to teach me, and dealing with snobbish attitudes by other students that actually liked to read. I fell into the anime and video game crowd, and at the time it seemed more of a proper fit for me so I never really missed my love of reading all too much. Sure, I’d stray away from reading manga every now and then for an actual book – I read the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books when they were released, I got really in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when the movie was released, and I spent at least a month trying to make my way through Dracula after developing a fascination with vampires by watching an anime called Hellsing (this fascination was so great that I ended up writing my senior paper about vampires throughout literature, something that seemed a lot more interesting and badass before Twilight swept the nation).

But it wasn’t until I read A Dirty Job that I felt like I really connected with a book again. Christopher Moore wrote like I’d never seen anyone write before. The writing and dialogue was extremely humorous and felt very modern. The way his characters went back and forth with quips made me feel like I was listening to an episode of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family (if I had been watching those shows at the time, or if they’d been created at all). The story was about a guy that lost his wife immediately after his child was born. In addition to adjusting to this new life, he was also given the task of becoming what the book coins a “Death Merchant,” who needs to obtain souls of those about to pass away and help guide them to their next destination. And yes, these last two sentences feel very dark and serious, but it’s mostly written in a light, humorous way. While the book had it’s fair share of more serious moments, it’s safe to say that it’s a comedy and everything in it should be taken as such.

And it was really interesting, too. If the protagonist doesn’t find souls in time, they fall into the hands of The Morrigan, who live underground and are trying to gain enough power back to emerge into the world and take over. There are a lot of little nods towards mythology regarding death and the afterlife throughout the book, and anyone interested in stuff like that would find a lot in the book to enjoy. The fact that it has fun with these elements makes for an even more enjoyable read.

Maybe it was because it’s not quite the same type of fiction I was forced to read in school for so long. After years of dealing with stories in anime and video games, where realism is definitely not a prominent trait, this was a really good book to help me get back into the world of fiction. There was enough supernatural stuff going on that it felt like an adventure, yet there was enough human nature and commentary in it to make it realistic enough to speak out to me, at least a little. I can’t say my love for reading came back immediately after, but over the next few years I started reading more book books. Granted, a lot of them were cheesy YA novels (which I had a total thing for in my early college days), but still. I was starting to enjoy reading again outside of manga. And it was all because of this book.

I reread this book every year, year and half tops. It’s my favorite for not just how funny and interesting I thought it was, but because it set me back on the path of appreciating fiction. It influenced my own writing style for many years, and eventually put me on the path to wanting to become a writer. If I’m ever depressed or in the need of a good laugh, I could always count on A Dirty Job.

This most recent reread, though, didn’t leave me feeling nearly as satisfied as I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book or anything. I still laughed at enough parts, so I was enjoying it. But I don’t know, it just didn’t hold up as well. In fact, there were certain parts of the book that left me really annoyed.

For one, remember the quips I mentioned earlier? There’s a lot of back and forth conversation involving quips like these, and they’re still great, but it became more and more jarring to feel that natural flow be interrupted by stating who just said a line or sprinkling little descriptions between every few lines. I remember trying these types of conversations all the time in my college fiction workshops, and I always messed it up because I didn’t always say who said what or added additional descriptions. I wanted to capture that feel of quickly going back and forth in a conversation the way Moore had, even if he did break it up a lot with these methods. And I always felt like you could do all this in fiction, it’s just a matter of doing it well. (Do we really need so many “person a said” and “person b said” when there are only two people in the conversation?)

But the more I read A Dirty Job, the more I felt like this kind of dialogue would work better on film than in literature, and I started coming to the realization that one of my favorite things about my favorite author was becoming a source of annoyance.

Another thing: Christopher Moore is very much a guy’s author. Meaning there’s a lot of jokes in here that are more for men than women, and a lot of it’s content is aimed more for men then women. I’ve read a lot of comments about his work on Goodreads, and a lot of women enjoy his books just as much as men. And when I went to see him on tour last year, there were just as many women there as men. So I don’t know, I guess it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s only for guys.

But some of the things he says reminds me of stuff like The Man Show. Depending on context, he’d often make a lot of dick and boob jokes, and while I’m not above that, the way he did it made it feel a little juvenile. Like he wouldn’t just limit himself to saying dick, but go through the whole cycle of cliche alterations, like wang, schlong, etc. And while I can appreciate that he mixed up the vocabulary a little bit, some of these words just sound so… stupid. Like, who says “fun bags” when talking about breasts? Realistically, who? No one. It’s one of those phrases that only exists in places like… well, The Man Show, I guess. I know these sound like really petty complaints, and to some extent I agree. These were always little issues I’ve had with Moore ever since I first started reading him, but something about this latest reread just really irked the hell out of me with those little things.

Then there’s the last third of the book. It always struck me as a little off, and over the years I’ve been slowly realizing why. Again, it wasn’t until this latest reread that it actually bothered me, though. So after years of trying to get over the death of his wife, the protagonist finally finds someone. They get together, he falls in love all over again, and… ugh. The way it’s handled is very, very much like you would expect in a movie. The woman, despite having an extremely lengthy explanation of her past, is a pretty flat character. She’s one of those I-only-exist-as-a-love-interest-for-the-main-character kind of character.

It also doesn’t help that she’s written as a poor female character. She’s sweet, kind, a little naive, too supportive, etc. You’ve seen this character before and she feels very much like a plot device. I can’t say I hate her or that I hate that she and the main character find love in each other after spending so much time alone (in fact I’m happy for them, if still put off at the “new romance” phase they both go through that’s always so annoying), but the way it’s handled feels extremely rushed.

There’s also this scene towards the end of the book that makes me cringe in general. Before he goes off to fight The Morrigan in “the final battle,” he calls almost every single character from the book to his living room in this awkward, “I know I’ve been very secretive about what I’ve been doing throughout the whole book, but I just wanted to call you together to say I’m going off to do another secret thing and I may not come back” kind of thing, and god it just… UGH!

I don’t know why this kind of scene annoys me so much. Maybe it’s because, like I said, he had to keep the whole Death Merchant thing a secret from almost everyone during the entire book, so calling them all together to announce he has to go off and do more secret things seems kind of stupid. Like it’s supposed to glamorize him as a hero and everyone’s supposed to just go along with it and support him.

The fact that everyone does basically go along with it doesn’t help. To be fair, there are a lot of times in the book where people address this and try to get him to reveal what’s been going on. But they never push enough. It reminds me of Spiderman (the 2002 movie) a little too much. In fact, I don’t think it would be terribly inaccurate to compare some scenes (especially this one) to any superhero movie where a bunch of people unrealistically rally to support someone that’s been distant and secretive. And it’s like I’m just supposed to buy that because the guy is off being a good guy.

This whole scene, and the whole end of the book, really, seems very cliched and cheesy. It always rubbed me the wrong way, but again, this latest reread left me cringing.

Writing this was depressing. I feel like all I’ve done was bashed Moore and this book. Please don’t get me wrong, Christopher Moore is still one of my favorite authors, and I’d like to believe that in some form this book is still one of my favorites, if for no other reason than the role it played in my life. But this was one of those cases where I was extremely aware how something I could always count on had failed me. I originally thought it was because I just haven’t been in a reading mood lately. Like maybe I just didn’t feel like reading and that’s why I never really wanted to pick it up, forcing myself to finish it. And I guess part of that could be true, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I haven’t been in a reading mood for a little while now, but I still found myself enjoying other books way more. Just like with my love for anime, I’m beginning to think I’ve simply outgrown this.

And that’s hard, so, so hard to admit after it’s been one of my constants for almost 10 years now. But I suppose in some ways it’s good. I guess it shows some signs of growing up. My tastes have definitely changed over the past few years, and I’m glad they have. What I look for in fiction is very different than when I first got back into reading it all those years ago, so I guess it’s a little natural to be put off by this book. But even during those times of change, this book always did something for me, whether it suited my tastes or not. I guess that’s what this all comes back to and why it irks me so much – the book couldn’t do for me what it always could. And I needed it to.

“Mature” isn’t something I’d say to describe myself, but I don’t think I’m completely immature, either. I’m not above liking stupid things and enjoying the immature. I mean geez, the other day at work I picked up this decorative Easter chick, held it out to my coworker, and said “Here, I got you this because you’re a – hot chick -” and then proceeded to laugh and grin at my oh-so-clever pun. I’m not above stuff like this. But I think there’s a line between immaturity and being juvenile, and unfortunately, a lot of stuff in this book came off juvenile this time around. And that really scares me.

Some things should always be counted on. And when they can’t, it can be really unsettling.

Change Is Scary

Hey! I’m moving soon! Hey! I’m not handling it well! Hey! I suppose now’s a good time to talk about change.

CHANGE (pronounced in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way) is something a lot of people struggle with, including me. Absolutely including me. I don’t view the word “change” as neutral or context sensitive. (And to those ready to say, “well what about when you change a tire or change into your pajamas: please don’t be that person. We all know what we mean by “change” right now.)

To me, change is bad. Most people don’t normally think of the word “change” during positive events. “I started dating an amazing person!” isn’t viewed as a positive change, but instead as dating an amazing person. “I broke up with an amazing person,” however, is viewed as change. We think of the horrible ways this change affects us. No more cuddling. No more emotional support. No more love. I don’t need to explain the reasons why this change sucks, do I? I think you guys are smart enough to fill in your own answers.

I think by default, the concept of things changing is negatively viewed. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. But that word seems to swim through my head more frequently when negative things start impacting my life. I don’t want to sound like I’m promoting the idea of things staying the same in a closed off bubble world for all eternity, but when something shitty happens and it in no way makes your life better, I think it’s a little unrealistic to believe the positive person that continues insisting that “change is good.”

I get that the pro-change crowd is only trying to help when they say this to people suffering because of change. Yeah, okay guys. I get it. I appreciate the effort into making us feel better. Please try to see things from our perspective, though. Those that have been affected by change, especially those that have difficulty talking about how hard it’s been for them, really really don’t need to be told that change can be a good thing. It feels like you’re writing us off, like you’re saying the problems change has brought us aren’t really affecting us. If you really want to help, the best way is by understanding our position and trying to be there for us. You don’t need to solve our problems, you don’t need to try fixing us, you just need to be there for us.

That being said…

There is… a certain… truth… in what they say (also spoken in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way).

Oh, and believe me, I don’t want to admit that. I really, really don’t want to admit that. I’m still for my stance on change being a negative thing.

But when something negative changes your life… sometimes there’s something else that happens as a side effect. Sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes.

All right, here’s an example. After my first semester of college, my best friend stopped talking to me. She was going to school in a different state, she stopped answering her phone, she stopped responding to E-mails, she basically disappeared. There was no warning, there was no closure, and it left me feeling abandoned. How else was I supposed to feel? The person who, throughout the entirety of high school, I’d talked to every day, confided in, made inside jokes with, and unfortunately, had feelings for, just disappeared. Had I done something? Was I not good enough to be friends with anymore? Did the knowledge of my feelings for her ultimately make her not want to deal with me anymore? Well, I’ll never know. I convinced myself that she was better than me and I didn’t deserve her as a friend, and that I did deserve to be given up on.

Fast forward a few years later. One of my friends from a creative writing workshop introduced me to another one of his friends. He eventually had to go, but me and her continued talking for hours. We clicked instantly. She said we should meet around campus and hang out more often. We exchanged numbers and each day that we were on campus with one another, we sat and talked. We talked for hours. If I wasn’t in class, I was either waiting for her to get out of class or actually hanging out with her. We texted each other at night, and we eventually started calling each other more frequently too. One night we talked for six hours. For the first time in years, I felt like I had an actual best friend again. It felt like I was making some substantial progress with my life, which for the longest time, felt stuck in time.

The best part was that both of us felt comfortable enough to open up to each other with unresolved issues from our pasts. She was the first person to really care and try helping me with my issues involving my best friend from high school. I told her everything that happened. I was a completely open book. She was the one that helped me realize I’d been bottling everything up for years. She was the one that convinced me to try therapy. She was going and it was really helping her. She made me aware of the wellness center at my college. She became an extremely important and essential part of my life, and I’d only known her for a couple of months.

Well, sometime during winter break she stopped answering my texts. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but when a week went by and she didn’t even try getting back to me, I started to panic. Memories of trying to talk to my best friend from high school started overflowing from the bottle I’d corked them all in. I was terrified the same thing was going to happen again. After years of trying to find another friend to have that kind of connection with, I’d finally found one, and as each day went by, the realization that the same thing was about to happen again kept washing over me. Only this time it hurt more. The first time allowing myself to form a friendship like this since high school, and it ended in the exact same way. And she knew how much that kind of ending affected me, too. No, this time was definitely worse.

I didn’t handle it well. I don’t remember what I started texting her when I tried getting in touch, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything that would make her start wanting to talk to me again. Don’t get me wrong, with both this girl and my former best friend, I was by no means always easy to deal with. But to go from what we had to simply not speaking for no reason… I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t handle it well, but I think I deserved a reason for why they did what they did.

As you can imagine, I had a lot to talk about when I returned to therapy once school resumed in the spring. I viewed the entire loss as an unneeded change. I felt like I was finally moving forward. After years of trying, I’d not only made a close friend, but… well… a friend. People came into and out of my life with each semester and no one really hung around long enough to form a friendship with. The change with this girl only brought me down to my lowest emotional point I’d as yet experienced. What did it do for me? What good came out of this? How, in any way, shape, or form, was this good?

Well… therapy came out of it. I needed it, and eventually the bottle I’d stored all my feelings in was going to burst at some point. Do I feel like I needed the loss of another close friend to start the healing process? No. Do I feel like there was a better, less painful way to acknowledge I have issues and to seek proper help for them? Yes.

But the fact is, this whole thing happened. And therapy, and thus this long, not even close to finished road to recovery began. It was a side effect from change.

I’m still not saying this change was positive, even if it may have been… needed, for lack of a better word. There must have been better ways to get to where I am now. I’m just saying sometimes, when looking at the bigger picture… I don’t know. Sometimes there are some side effects to change that may be, what the pro-change crowd, would consider… good.

I hope that made sense. Telling this story took a lot more out of me than I thought. Drawing cats and toast is definitely easier.

Hang in there.

Drifting Apart

Last week, my parents and I took my cousin out for her birthday. This struck me as kind of weird because we’d never really done this for her before. We’re fairly close, though, and my parents have gone out of their way to do things for her before, so maybe it wasn’t as weird as I initially thought.

Still, it wasn’t a great night. I didn’t really expect it to be; as close as we are as family members, we aren’t particularly close as people. I don’t think we really have anything in common, and we both struggle to find things to talk about. I actually didn’t even want to go. I usually don’t volunteer to go to any kind of social situation where I know I won’t be able to have an actual conversation with someone. But for the sake of showing my support and care for her, I tagged along. We left the house late (of course), and as we took her exit off the parkway, we hit an unexpected backup of traffic. This led to about 20 minutes of my dad cursing, complaining, and being an overall uncomfortable person to be stuck in a small car with.

We met up at a Mexican restaurant, which I thought would be pretty cool because I’ve been craving tacos and quesadillas lately. It was packed, though. And I mean really packed, there were people trying to push through each other in the waiting area alone. When my cousin and her boyfriend came in, we greeted each other and chatted, but the place was so loud I could barely hear anything at all.

The noise didn’t really stop all night. My mother, who was sitting next to me, kept yelling so my cousin, who sat on the other side of me, could hear. And my dad, who spoke loudly all the time anyway, took it up another notch and made sure the whole place could hear him. I was mostly quiet. Sometimes I chimed in with questions or commentary to whatever we were talking about, but as with most social situations with my family, I was usually ignored or spoken over. Eventually, my cousin and parents ran out of things to talk about, and they kind of just faked their way through dinner until the bill came. And as with most situations like these, the greetings and goodbyes were filled with twice as much energy and enthusiasm than the actual get-together was.

On the way home, I sat in the backseat, letting a bunch of frustrated feelings simmer. My earphones decided to give out, too, so I tried playing with the cord to find that one sweet spot that lets me hear music through both buds. Alas, it didn’t help my mood much. My mind was filled with thoughts on how much people change and drift apart from each other, and I started yearning for the days when my dad didn’t flip out and shout as much as he does now, when my sister was still living with us, when my sister and I actually got along, and when seeing family felt nice as opposed to some kind of chore. And it’s nothing new; I’d thought about this a lot over the years and accepted that we’re all just different people. But sometimes I still wish for things to be different, and it frustrates me.

When we got home, I could tell that I was getting into one of my overly negative, over thinking, shitty moods. I just went through one a couple of weeks ago, and I really didn’t want to fall back into another one so soon, so I called a friend and tried to explain my night and feelings on it without trying to sound like I was about to crack. So we talked for an hour, mostly about how people drift apart and attempts to get close again (which that dinner kind of seemed like). And even though it’s an unfortunate, inevitable part of life, it made me feel better getting it off my chest.

Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a new concept for me or anything. There have been many people that came and went, some more gracefully than others. It’s sad when people drift apart, but at least it’s better than relationships that end with one person hurting another. When people drift, at least they’re still on good terms. Meetings may be awkward, and they may never reach a level that you’d like them to, but at least there’s no hate. Well, usually.

And sometimes people need to drift from each other. It’s sad, but it’s true. Sometimes you think you’re close with someone, and maybe you were, but tastes and needs change. Sometimes two people need to drift a little and reexamine who they are. And that in and of itself is very healthy. You need to be comfortable knowing who you are and what you need in order to have good relationships. It’s just that sometimes, it turns out old friends and family can’t fulfill those needs.

It’s sad, but well… sometimes it just happens. And it’s important to be able to know how to make yourself happy so you don’t crave relationships that don’t work anymore.

Snow

I think I hate snow. I don’t like hearing that we’re going to get heavy snow. I don’t like my commute time doubled. I don’t like looking at the muddy mess leftover after the initial snowfall. I don’t like slipping on my driveway. I don’t like when my car decides to lose control and I have to play a dangerous game of “get the car back in the lane it’s supposed to be in.” But now I’m looking outside my window, snow falling, slowly piling up on the fence, the patio, the grill, and everything else in the backyard, and I’m thinking perhaps I’m too hard on it, knowing well enough that tomorrow I’m going to hate it again.

Oh, snow. We have such a toxic relationship together. What happened?

I have pretty fond memories of snow from my childhood. My best friend lived next door, and every time it snowed (and if school was cancelled), we’d be out there playing in it. I know, I know. Pretty original story, right? But to be fair, most childhood memories of snow are about the same thing. We’d bundle up in a bunch of clothes and jackets and it was hard to move around in, and then we’d just go out and fling ourselves around the snow like dogs. It felt really nice, to have this weird snow thing just pepper our bodies throughout the day, and we wanted to enjoy it because who knew when it would come around again?

We’d pretend we were characters from video games or cartoons. Well, we did that a lot when we played outside anyway, but this time it was different because it was the snow version. And there was just something about how the snow blanketed the entire neighborhood that made it seem like we had a brand new, blank canvas to play on. We explored more, we stayed outside longer, and we played with the landscape. We tried making snowmen. Sometimes it worked out. It was a little rare to find snow that packed well enough. But we had fun doing it. Sometimes we tried making characters out of snow. That didn’t work out as well. We tried building igloos, too. Probably more than snowmen. I think we wanted to try igloos more because they stumped us. We knew what the looked like, but when we tried building them they just seemed like a structure that defied nature. Why did they keep collapsing??? Some of them just turned into snow forts or bunkers. Which was fine. I don’t know, there was something about being a kid and wanting to be cradled by snow. It sounds so claustrophobic now, but there was something comforting about being in a small area surrounded by snow.

And after a day of playing in the snow, we would either get called in by our mothers or decide we were too cold and wanted to warm up inside. And there would usually be hot chocolate. And it would be made with milk, because you can’t get away with making it with hot water on a snow day, you need to use hot milk for that special snow day hot chocolate flavor. Sometimes there’d be marshmallows. It didn’t really matter, though, because we were just in from the cold and had something really warm and delicious in our bellies. And then we’d play video games.

To be fair, we played video games a lot as kids. But I don’t know, there was something special about playing video games on a snow day. Snow days were like extra weekend days because we usually had all our homework done the night before, so we could just play all day with no real consequence. And for our school, if we got a snow day, the next day was most likely a snow day, too. At the very least, a delayed opening. So we didn’t have to worry about getting up early, we could just stay at each other’s houses for much longer than we normally could. We were only next door, after all. So we just played video games for the rest of the day, but the best part was we were still looking outside our windows the entire time, so it was like playing video games in the snow. And I don’t know, something about that was just kind of magical. Like, I’m trying to recall memories of snow and the strongest ones include staying inside playing video games, but for some reason I’m still remembering the snow. That kind of magical.

What happened, snow? Did I just become a cynical adult? Does the bad just outweigh the good? Back then we made such great memories. What do we have now? I drive 15 mph on unpaved back roads to get to work. Work doesn’t usually get snow days unless it’s really bad. Even when I was in college, snow days were rare. And I had a 50 mile commute, too. So even if it snowed so much I couldn’t open the front door, it didn’t matter because that didn’t necessarily mean it snowed that much at my school. It may not have even snowed at all. And college professors don’t tend to excuse absences for dangerous driving conditions.

I know, it sounds like whining. Maybe we tend to hate the snow after a while because we can’t play in it anymore. It doesn’t mean much if we still have to go to work. We need to get up earlier and clean our cars off and shovel our driveways and drive slower just to get there on time. The world doesn’t stop anymore when it snows. It’s far less beautiful that way. All snow does is create extra obstacles.

And yet…

There’s nothing like seeing the first snow of the season. Seeing a neighborhood blanketed by it, before anyone makes footprints or tire tracks, is stunning. Holding a handful of snow still feels cool, and good. Bring it close and you can see the light bounce off the tiny crystals. And call me a sappy romantic, but the idea of walking through a small flurry with someone you like makes me warmer than that delicious, made-with-milk hot chocolate ever did.

Oh, snow. You’re too much like an unhealthy relationship I just can’t seem to break away from.