Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Which Are You?

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, a book by Patton Oswalt

I apologize ahead of time for not even trying to aim at Point B, or even starting from Point A. Comedy and terror and autobiography and comics and literature—they’re all the same thing.

To me.

I hereby officially nominate Patton Oswalt as the spokesperson for the Generation X nerd. And would like to perhaps hire him as my personal ambassador to the world. He’s a couple of years older than I am, but we definitely share similar formative experiences and outlooks. Except he’s funnier, more articulate, well-rounded, and culturally educated, and a better writer.

The libraries and bookstores I checked have this book in with the humor because Oswalt is a comedian, but the book is much, much more. As he says in the quote above from the book’s “Preface Foreword Intro,” it’s a random mishmash of things. Personally, I would put it with the biographies, because the autobiographical reflections are the lengthiest and densest, making up the bulk of the book in terms of both physical pages and tone. While these are funny, they are also insightful, poignant, vulnerable, and sincere. The comic bits in between made me laugh out loud often, and I’ve been sharing some with many of my friends; unfortunately, they’re for the most part too complex, nuanced, and lengthy to easily share here without context. I love the variety and randomness of the whole endeavor.

One of the not-so-comic quotes that represents me well and that I’ll be keeping handy:

I want to experience as many different tastes, sights, emotions, conflicts, and cultures as possible, so that I can expand the canvas of my memory and enrich my comedy.

As to the title, it’s from one of his central essays reflecting on his youth spent immersed in fantasy, science fiction, and comics and how it played a role in his career choices:

Every teen outcast who pursues a creative career has, at its outset, either a Zombie, Spaceship, or Wasteland work of art in them. . . .

The real-world experience we’re going to need, as writers or artists or filmmakers, will come later, when we actually have to get a real job to support whatever creative thing we’re hoping to do.

So until then, anything we create has to involve
simplifying, leaving, or destroying the world we’re living in. . . .

Looking back on it now, I realize I’m a Wasteland. A lot of comedians are Wastelands--what is stand-up comedy except isolating specific parts of culture or humanity and holding them up against a stark, vast background to approach at an oblique angle and get laughs? Or, in a broader sense, pointing out hos so much of what we perceive as culture and society is disposable waste? We wander the country, seeking outposts full of cheap booze, nachos, and audiences in order to ply our trade. I’m amazed we all don’t wear sawed-off shotguns on our hips.

I should also mention that this work needs to be experienced as an audiobook with the physical book handy. While Oswalt is a surprisingly deft writer, he’s a performer first, and the book needs his performance to truly give it life. Not only does he provide the proper cadence, tone, accents, and voices when called for, he also supplements what’s on the page. Some sections have musical accompaniment and other readers. A musician performs his faux old hobo songs. Michael Stipe reads the R.E.M. lyrics in the essay constructed around them. He tells us his footnotes are footnotes before he reads them and simply adds a few bits of introduction and related thoughts that aren’t in the text.

Conversely, he also says he’s not going to attempt an audio version of the graphic novel chapter and to use the enhanced features of the CD to read the included pdf. And you need the physical book to see things like the faux note about the typeset at the end of the book and the “Also by Patton Oswalt” list of imagined books opposite the title page. I’m particularly interested in getting my hands on the three children’s books:

The Candy Van
A Ewe Named Udo Who Does Judo and Other Poems
Everyone Resents

A few other random passages:

My fresh-from-the-oven toddler’s eyes were fixed on the frame of the glass balcony door. And they must’ve thought the snow was stationary and the building was rising through the morning air into the sky.

My first coherent thought about life was that apartment houses could levitate in the snow. Decades later, when I took LSD in a tiny apartment in San Francisco, I had a realization. Most narcotics are designed to approximate the nonjudgmental, magically incorrect way we see the world before we can speak.


Not only did I conceive of Ulvaak as physically ugly--eyes crookedly set, a sneering maw full of gray teeth, horribly scarred from a slime monster attack--but also obnoxious and unpleasant. Cruel jokes, quick to anger, slow to calm--he was comfortable being everything that, in life, I wished I wasn’t. Even at my politest, with my braces and cystic acne and snowman torso, no one wanted anything to do with me. So I created a fantasy character who had the strength, speed, and guts to back up every awkward remark I spent my days apologizing for. My comfort during the loneliest days of my adolescence was happy nihilism, which carried an ebony sword.


The story ends--like most German children’s tales--with one animal cursing God and the horror at the heart of the universe, while another animal performs a happy, demonic murder dance under the blue moonlight.


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