Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Fart Jokes Matter

I just released my first book as an editor this last week, and yes, it's a humor anthology about poop. Several people have asked me, Why a humor anthology from a guy who's branded as an author of dark speculative fiction? Indeed, how can a guy write so seriously about terrorism or climate change at one moment, and then in the next put together a book of stories about shitting?

Here's my answer. It's exactly because I care so much about things like global warming, police states, gender equality, and the positive impact literature can have on the world that I had to put together a book of toilet humor. I learned a long time ago that if you take yourself too seriously--if you can't stop and laugh at the painful ironies in life--then you're doomed to live a miserable life. If you can't laugh when life deals you a low blow, then what choice do you have but to cry or respond with violence? Too many people resort to the latter, and that's another reason I put this book together.

Laughter is a healing force, and we all need to remember to lighten up a little. In my introduction to the book, I talk about how shitting is a metaphor for all the insecurities humans hold secret in the dark places of their minds. We guard them, even from our loved ones, just like we keep our bowel movements intensely private. If we could simply remember that we all shit--hell, that each of us is essentially a big carbon-based sack that excretes all sorts of foul things--and if we could remember we're all in this together, I for one think the world would be a lot better off.

So, yeah, that's why I put together Code Brown. I gathered the best batch of writers I could find, writers who have been published in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, The Good Men Project, US Airways Magazine, PBS Online, The Writer Magazine, Exceptional Parents, and Classic Drummer Magazine, just to name a few. And I asked these folks to write about shit. The result is thirteen hilarious, yet articulate and poignant, tales about the more fragile side of humanity. It's high-brow toilet humor. Literally. (And I literally mean literally, not the literally that means figuratively.)

So here's me and thirteen great authors baring our anuses to the world to spread good cheer! Tomorrow I get back to writing dark speculative fiction about serious stuff. But right now I'm gonna laugh a little, maybe even light a fart to recapture some of my carefree, childhood exuberance. I hope you'll do the same.

Here's a sample from the book. I hope you enjoy it!

-Garrett Calcaterra

by Garrett Calcaterra

IT IS A LITTLE KNOWN FACT that there are three types of muscle in the human body. Skeletal muscle is the one most people think of when they think muscle. It’s the muscle-type that fills out our bodies and moves our appendages around: our biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and yes, our gluteus maximus. Cardiac muscle is another well-known one. It’s the muscle our heart is made of. It keeps blood pumping through our bodies year after year, decade after decade, until one day it finally craps out. The lesser known of the three muscle tissue types is smooth muscle. Smooth muscle is the tissue that makes our arteries expand and contract, and it is also the tissue that keeps things moving along through our intestinal tract, sort of like how your fingers work the last bit of toothpaste out of the toothpaste tube. I learned all this back in my college days, before I decided to become a science fiction and fantasy author, when I was getting my degree in chemistry and biology, still thinking I would get a proper job as an optometrist.

“Smooth muscle gets no respect,” my anatomy professor told my class one day. “It does not have the sheer brute strength of skeletal muscle, nor does it reside in the ever glamorous heart. However, similar to cardiac muscle, smooth muscle does not fatigue. The smooth muscle in our intestines, for example, will continue to push and push without stopping, until the day we die (and even then, for another hour or two). Meanwhile, our anal sphincter is comprised of skeletal muscle. This little spiral-shaped muscle is intensely strong; it can hold the gates against a furious attack, but like all skeletal muscle it will eventually grow tired. It can only withstand the siege of stools for so long. Eventually, inevitably, we must poop.”

This lecture has stuck with me all these years, mostly I assumed, because it was funny to hear an older gentleman with a Ph.D. and a very distinguished lisp talk about poop. But I’m not so sure anymore. Now, in the zenith of my adulthood, I’ve grown up a little and I’ve come to realize that this speech—of unrelenting smooth muscle, of the inevitability of shitting—is in fact the perfect metaphor for human existence. 

Think about it. Defecating is as natural as breathing and eating, yet because of the foul appearance and gag-inducing smell, we choose to ignore its existence. In polite company, we instinctively pretend like we don’t hear the flatulent noises coming from the bathroom down the hallway. We pretend like we don’t smell the nose-curling stench, or see the greasy skid marks left on the inside of the toilet bowl. We don’t dare point a finger at anyone else because we know at any given moment the table will be turned and we will be the person chumming up the toilet with half-digested corn kernels that refuse to flush.

But why so much denial? Who is it we think we’re fooling? We know shitting is natural, inevitable, that resistance is futile, and yet, like little sphincters, we keep up the fa├žade. Why is it we hide our bowel movements from even our lovers, the ones who see our naked bodies and share our most intimate of acts?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because shit is king. Not a proper king, mind you. More like a king in modern Spain or England—a symbolic figurehead of all our insecurities, all the embarrassing personal qualities we keep secret. Cellulite, debilitating bad breath, deviant sexual thoughts, irrational fears, addictions, ineptness at calculating tips... we keep these things secret and guard them like they’re our very soul, and the irony is, each and every one of us has insecurities and embarrassing characteristics. Just like all of us shit.

Think I’m wrong? Take a look at our idioms. 

Shit happens.
Up shit creek.
What a shitty day.
Shit-eating grin.
Screw you, shithead!
Oh shit…

Luckily, people with a sense of humor have more or less figured this all out. There’s nothing that can be done about the truly shitty things in our lives, so it’s best to not take ourselves too seriously and instead have a good laugh at our own expense. This is why once the deed is done, the inherent mishaps involved with shitting are fodder for our greatest yarns and barroom jokes. Whether you accidentally splotched your underwear right before a big board meeting, got the trots while on a twelve-hour plane ride, or ran into the opposite sex’s restroom at a fancy restaurant because you had to crap so bad you couldn’t see straight, these are the stories we tell when in good company and in need of a hearty laugh. And that’s where this book comes in.

Code Brown first took life at the dinner table with my extended family after Thanksgiving dinner a few years back. For whatever reason, my dad, my step-mom, my cousins, my uncles, an aunt or two, and I sat around telling embarrassing poop stories (I like to think this is because my family has a good sense of humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously, not because we’re sickos), and after a good thirty minutes of laughing so hard our sides ached, my dad said to me, “You know, you should write a book with all these stories in it.” At first, I scoffed (as any grown man aught to do), but then I got to thinking. My dad was right. Life can be pretty shitty at times, and these are just the type of stories people need to hear to lighten things up. So, I agreed. I made it my mission to seek out the funniest true-life pooping stories and essays about shit the world has ever seen, and after many years and sorting through the shit, so to speak, here they are!

I hope the stories will make you laugh as hard as I did, because here’s another thing I learned back in my college anatomy class: laughing is good for your health. It’ll help you live longer, and while that entails more shitting and paying taxes, don’t we all want to prolong the other, less desirable certainty in life….

You can find Code Brown here.

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