Ten Years of Great Society

Taking Greatsociety too seriously. Taking “Nacho Sasha” too seriously. It’s a trap that’s caught many people over the last decade. Since April of 2001, this page has seen a steady stream of internet drama. People desperate for community, understanding, or just some sort of emotional purge have stopped by and shit all over the place.

Friends have been lost, love affairs have ended, family has been horrified, and strangers have become obsessed with battling the essentially meaningless words and thoughts of someone who does not exist.

The power of Nacho. Women have dated me and, in short order, it became clear that they really wanted to date Nacho and were disappointed to find out that I do not behave in the real world as my alter ego does on these pages. How crazy is it when a woman says, as a relationship falls apart, “I thought Nacho could handle this”? It’s happened more than once over the last decade.

On the other hand, Greatsociety has forged some of my most important friendships. These friends, both in real life and in the sense of virtual community that has built up in the forums, have acted as my only solace in my darkest hours.

So, with both the good and the bad in mind, April is set aside to celebrate Greatsociety’s tenth anniversary.

Those who have struggled with Greatsociety – those lost friends, confused lovers, and insane strangers — are getting caught up in what we publishers call “creative nonfiction.” Where does the truth end and the lie begin? I’d love to make more use of the term “participatory fiction,” which, like the early participatory journalism of authors such as Pagan Kennedy, exists only from the point of view of the author who, themselves, are part of the story. When you tell a story that cuts at the truth, but is intentionally lacking the whole story, lies of omission are simply part of the process. The reader is forced to draw conclusions. The reader is tasked with filling in the gaps. A challenge which, in the modern day, is not often offered to the reader.

Now, of course, Greatsociety is rarely as high brow as all that. But when that’s the start point, it’s easy to take a step in more fantastical directions. Behind the mask of an alter ego, and with a somewhat zealous sense of “only write what you know,” the voice of Nacho Sasha is free to run with any tangent, to indulge anger and bitterness, to celebrate vice and decay, and to challenge reality. The writing becomes an insular sort of play within a play. The author’s personal experience as seen through the eyes of a fictional character. A separate personality manufactured for the sake of the story, and who exists only on paper. Or…whatever. Pixels. The actions and reactions are all what might have been. We all have this same sort of interior monologue. This personal story that occasionally diverges from what really happened.

People have struggled with the voice of Nacho Sasha, and Greatsociety as a whole. How does one describe it? From cutting at the bone of the personal experience, to having a conversation with my penis? From rolling my eyes at the antics of Texas Billionaire Oscar bin Laden, to irrational attacks on local businesses? Is it satire, is it some promotional stunt, is it the ravings of a crank? I like to think it’s a version of absurdism. The very basic definition of the absurd is that it results from the fact that we, as individuals, constantly seek meaning and importance in a meaningless and trivial world. This endless chasing of our tails is why we’re walking around with credit card debt, and the desire to assuage ourselves with material gain, and become obsessed with the career ladder and the nice house and the nice car. All the trappings of the pathetic one-way street of capitalism are born of our quest for meaning and importance.

But, in the end, we’re a bunch of nobodies.

Albert Camus believed that, in accepting the absurd, we freed ourselves. We essentially answered all of life’s questions by both fighting against and embracing the absurd. Which is, in itself, absurd.

From my viewpoint, life is meaningless. For most of my adult life, I was a chronic pain sufferer. For the bulk of my days on this earth, I’ve lived under the shadow of a broken family that reached beyond the closed doors of the home and ruined the lives of hundreds of people under our employ. A mini-tsunami of human betrayal and horror that still alters coastlines 26 years later.

The questions to struggle with are big ones. Why did these things happen? For most of Greatsociety’s decade, I fought the absurd. I rebelled. Partially, I was avoiding suicide. The chronic pain was of a nature that seemed incurable, and made life unlivable. In fact, what I had is still called “the suicide disease.”

I didn’t learn to embrace the absurd until 2007, when I finally got the chance to ask “why” of something and someone other than the air around me. I confronted my father in his final days – a man who stole millions and left us destitute and ruined the lives of everyone he came near – and I asked him, “Why’d you do it?”

He laughed. Then he shrugged. He replied: “I thought it would be best for you. And I’ve never thought any different.”

It all became clear at that point – life really is one colossal joke. There is no answer, no reason why, for anything that’s happened to me. Why did I suffer for 12 years with white-hot electric pain coursing through my face? Because I had a biological glitch that’s actually in all of us. Why did my parents go down the rabbit hole into madness?

You can go insane asking these questions. I probably did. Maybe that’s where Nacho Sasha comes from. That part of me that broke sometime around 1985 and can never be fixed.

Absurdism is hard to accept in any sort of written form because it demands that the reader, also, have a sense of the absurd. Not that the reader is required to surrender all belief in meaning, just that they have to see the dark comedy that surrounds all of us. I’ve found, strangely, that the very religious (or spiritual, rather) get me. The sort of believers who acknowledge the madness of the world and see no choice but to simply do no harm and carry on.

The ones who have trouble are the entitlement class. Those who lack belief systems, whose intelligence have been clouded by their own pains and struggles, and who have come to think that they deserve to be uplifted in some way. That they are owed because they were betrayed by family or physiology or psychology.

Greatsociety’s beginnings are deeply entrenched in the absurd. We’ll visit the page as it was in late April of 2001 later this month. We’ll hear from authors who were there at the beginning, and those who joined later. We’ll also spend a week this month battling over the top 20 Sci-Fi movies of all time. Because, beyond this whole philosophical discussion of what Greatsociety is, it’s also an extension of my interests and reactions to the world.

For example — things changed for this innocent page (and all of us) when the Towers came down on 9/11. Humor heals all tragedy, but something about 9/11 seemed more tragic than anything that had come before. My reaction (the creation of the character Oscar bin Laden) was poorly received by two of the original authors. That was the first big breakdown in December of that same year.

But what was I supposed to do? Roll up everything and quit? Give up? Those two former friends did. One fled the DC area and squatted in a burned out apartment in Tennessee for months. Shattered by the meaningless world. Our sense of control and security was taken away, and the weaker among us couldn’t understand what had happened.

Welcome to the American Experience. It’s okay if the blacks die, or if the Bengalis are inundated by a flood, or the Chinese get picked off by the tens of thousands in an earthquake. But god forbid good white people in suits get creamed. It was too close to home, I guess. It certainly was a weird day, I’ll give you that. Since then, it’s been a weird decade. And that has been reflected on the page. You simply can’t avoid it. It’s who we are – all of us. Whether it was my memory of being cast onto the streets of DC amidst the panic of an imagined invasion, or Cassander fleeing Katrina, who we are will always influence what we say to you, the reader. I’m of the school of thought that all fiction is participatory. Is real, to a degree. Whether it features real people and/or real places, or acts as a soapbox for our beliefs and desires, fiction is merely one way of writing an autobiography. Playing the middle ground between illusion and reality is simply the game of writing. At this level, writing is not a chore. It’s not a business. It’s an outlet. A rant. An interior monologue given voice, and form, and a name.

Voices from our Great Society – our Sick Society. Not really intended for anyone, they’re just cast out into the world at large. Join us, if you want. You’re welcome. If it upsets you, or you don’t agree. Well… Fuck off, then.