Try This: Make the Incredible Mundane
This can be a writing prompt as well
Prepare to be miserably disillusioned…
In 2019 I spent much of the year in Los Angeles pitching ideas to streaming services and film studios. Yes, I pitched the Prayer story to everyone, including Disney… “Yes, it’s about unprotected anal sex, but we’ll never say anal sex.” And people just stared at me like I was a lunatic. A situation I kind of liked because it made me feel like Charlie Manson pitching record labels in 1968. Across each conference table was always that same mix of fear and disgust.
Anyway… as I trekked from Amazon Studios to NBC Universal to Hulu, I saw something in common between all these glam workplaces. Did you know that HBO has “Bagel Fridays”? And that 20th Century Fox has “Sushi Wednesdays”? All of these places where people dream of working, they all have some version of Taco Tuesday.
Hell, at Freightliner we had Taco Tuesday, and people were manically excited to get a deep-fried tortilla bowl full of taco salad. To see people at Netflix and Apple and EPIX yammering with joy over Taco Tuesday or whatnot, that broke my heart. It seems to prove that no matter how high-status a career looks from the outside, it’s still the same old day-to-day on the inside. Free Red Bull! Free toilet paper! While I was aboard the nuclear submarine, the Louisiana, the crew talked endlessly about the food-specific days they celebrated while at sea. Prisoners frequently write to me and describe the same thing. Pizza Thursday! Yes, they have Taco Tuesday in prisons and at Freightliner and at Netflix. The White House no doubt has Taco Tuesday. Buckingham Palace, too.
And—here’s the crushing part—when we eventually travel into outer space and orbit in slow-motion space stations and colonize Mars with Elon Musk… there, we will also have a Taco Tuesday. And we will all yammer in excited voices, and not even the presence of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg at our elbow will make Taco Tuesday in Space any less sad.1
It’s like I yammered about on Joe Rogan: Outer space is going to suck just as bad as here. We loved the film Alien because it demonstrated that very point. Instead of the Space Needle and The Jetsons, we were going to be working Amazombies in a dirty Nostromo sniping about our pay and deep-throating aliens and yearning for… Taco Tuesday.
Okay, now the upbeat part…
This is exactly how to make the incredible seem credible. If you want to create a “real” sense of life on a Mars space colony, give that world the same Fish Stick Friday that every high school in America “enjoys.” Use the familiar mundane to ease your reader into the incredible (yet still mundane) distant future. In fact, open with the excitement about Taco Tuesday, then gradually introduce elements until your readers see that this is Taco Tuesday 2055. On Jupiter. And everyone is relatable, and no one remembers what a taco really is because now it’s farm-raised crickets fried with spice. But keep the deep-fried tortilla bowls. Only then you can you introduce the space aliens or whatever.
Use the familiar, well-known aspects of our lives—again, from prisons to Disney—to ground us in incredible circumstances. It’s depressing but relatable. And it will give us a sympathy and a bond with the working stiffs of any distant, seemingly glamorous future. Or past… perhaps Alexander the Great’s army had a Taco Tuesday. Or a Falafel Friday. What matters is that readers will recognize the convention and buy into it.
You can weep openly, or…
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Recently someone who works at the elegant, glamorous Amazon headquarters wrote me here to say that he and his coworkers referred to themselves as “Amazombies.” At that I felt a similar defeat. Until then I’d envisioned them snorting blue-quality blow off of Bret Ellis’s naked body. I so wanted someone, anyone, to be having a glorious life beyond the sadness of Taco Tuesday. But… Amazombies. The book 21 Dog Years made it all sound so appealing.