A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

March 17, 2023

How many times have I gone online and posted a paragraph entitled “possible opening for a new novel?”


How many times have I gone online and posted a paragraph entitled “possible opening for a new novel?” That feeling of starting something new, starting over. The feeling or idea that it’s possible to start from scratch, a feeling most easily obtained in the land of fiction. The fiction that it’s possible to start again. Everything comes from somewhere, nothing is pure invention. The beginning of a new work is the beginning of a new day. And yesterday was also once a new day. Wondering if I should leave but no idea where to go.


March 15, 2023

Can an art of collective struggle really be made by an individual artist?


Can an art of collective struggle really be made by an individual artist? My secret, if I have one, is that I honestly hate being alive. What is your secret? What is the secret of some larger collectivity? A secret shared by everyone, a secret that everyone can work toward together? But of course not exactly everyone, just those within a certain specific circle of solidarity. What secret might be large enough to hold this solidarity together? My secret, if I have one, is that I can endlessly write about how miserable I am, but most often choose not to. Some other people are as miserable but, for the most part, most other people don’t seem to be. Illusions.


March 5, 2023

Possible opening for a new book tentatively entitled Desire Without Expectation


In my early twenties I had a long period of extremely poor health from which I don’t believe I ever fully recovered. This sentence, while true, has always seemed to me to be the kind of sentence that would make a good opening line for a certain kind of book. A type of book I am fairly certain I don’t actually want to write. I think I want to write about this time in my life, yet in a completely different way. What this different way is I still don’t really know. It is a question I continue to wonder about, as we can assume I will be doing a great deal in the pages that follow. If you find such notions off-putting perhaps you might do yourself a favour by not reading any further. I of course am not doing myself any favours by recommending this course of action so soon, when this book has barely begun. I believe I have always had a tendency toward self-sabotage even though, as I’ve gotten older, I have also continuously worked to avoid it. As you might already suspect, I have not always been entirely successful in such matters.

There is a quote from Pier Paolo Pasolini I often think about: “If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” And I am an unbeliever. But the world needs to change and I can’t help but feel that in the end it will be changed by people who believe, who possess a great deal of conviction. What these people who might someday change the world might actually believe is a question for which I don’t yet have an answer. (If we don’t want religious fanatics or fascists to provide this answer we will need to provide an equally potent answer of our own.) During that period in my mid-twenties when my health gave out I found myself searching for something to help get me through the ordeal and I did so mainly in reading. I read books of poetry that I now realize, only in retrospect, I was hoping might give me more to believe in. Hoping that such belief might serve as a counterweight to the daily chronic pain. I don’t think I ever quite found what I was looking for but the fact that, in my hour of need, my agnostic tendencies gave way to such a search is an insight that has never quite left me. When things take a turn for the worse there often arises some newfound desire for belief (or hope.) And in the world right now things are definitely taking a turn for the worse.

When I say things are taking a turn for the worse I assume the reader will know what I’m talking about. But I fear, in writing such words, I might be taking something away from the fact that things have always been extremely bad and everything that is happening now is in perfect continuity with the horrors of the past, for what could be more evil than, for example: over 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade, the worldwide genocide of Indigenous peoples often referred to as colonialism, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and I’ll stop here but this is of course far from a complete list.) There is no capitalism with its long history of colonialism. And the worldwide ecological collapse that is already underway would not be occurring if it were not for capitalism. So what kind of belief, what quality of conviction, might be fierce and caring enough to undo capitalism? Or to step in and replace it when it inevitably collapses?

Like many people in recent years, I’ve been reading a great deal about the abolition of police and the abolition of prisons. I personally don’t require any further belief or conviction in order to greatly desire a world without police and without prisons. There is nothing I want more. But I do require a great deal of belief and conviction in order to believe such a world is actually possible and perhaps also to land upon the best possible strategies and tactics to eventually bring it about. Sometimes I think this is because, as I often say, I am too much of an artist for my own good. Not enough of an activist. But I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t hope these reflections would also be of use to others. In my mid-twenties, when my health was in serious question, one way of understanding that time in my life was that it deepened my search for meaning and severed me from the irony that up until then had been my default setting. Another way of looking at it is that it somehow reinforced my already strong feeling that the best way for me to do anything in the world was through art. Since that time I have continuously found myself wondering if I made the right decision.

We need belief and conviction and yet I am a creature of doubt. And of course we also need doubt. Each of my books is generally read by approximately five thousand people (and for some of them considerably less than that.) Five thousand people is not nearly enough to incite the kinds of changes currently required. And reading one of my books won’t necessarily make anyone do anything. And why should anyone listen to me, for that matter. Yet if I’m sitting here writing a book, as I’ve done so many times before, I realize I need to struggle with the questions that feel most pressing. To send this message in a bottle out into a future that may not even exist.

I like books that mix essay with fiction. Why do I like books that mix essay with fiction? Because fiction creates a greater margin of ambiguity and evocation, pulling the work away from mere thought, instruction or opinion. A dialog between conviction and doubt. When I try to write about my own chronic physical pain I always end up writing about something else, I suppose because I don’t like thinking about it. There are so many things I don’t like thinking about. Ecological collapse is something I certainly don’t like thinking about and yet I can’t seem to stop. So far, almost against my will, this mix of essay and fiction is leaning rather heavily on the essay side of the equation. And yet I also think of all of this as a poem.

A few years ago I had an idea for a detective novel that takes place in a world without prisons.

[A earlier attempt at an opening for possibly the same novel can be found here. Both represent my attempts to begin the third part of a planned trilogy based loosely around questions concerning the desire for utopia.]


February 27, 2023

Excerpt from the work-in-progress Damp Heaven


And then came the segue into discussing her work. It seemed to her that this person sitting next to her had in fact read a lot of her books, perhaps even too many. As often was the case in such situations, she was asked about things she barely remembered writing. But as the questions continued she gradually realized they were all circling around something she wasn’t so certain she felt like talking about right now. To put it bluntly: what exactly was her politics? Her books often had different characters take different positions, but what exactly was her position? Petra considered various different ways she could further avoid answering. She did have a politics, but for her it was somehow expressed in the totality of her work, and to narrow it down any further almost felt like doing it a disservice. She knew this wasn’t a good answer. And then suddenly there was a desire to fully tackle the problem, to give an answer that might effectively point in the right direction. It occurred to her that this chance encounter was an opportunity. An opportunity to no longer hide behind art and just say what she meant, to one other person, a person who was completely free to either take it or leave it.

– It makes me wonder what the best way might be to summarize one’s own politics. In a list? A poem? A manifesto? How not to sacrifice the complexity of it? And how to leave open the possibility that it might continue to change over time?

– That must be why I’m asking so many questions. Because reading your books… I don’t know… I always think I know where you stand. But I never feel completely sure. I’m always afraid you might secretly hold some positions that might not make me want to read your work anymore.

– Like what?

– I don’t know… Like sometimes I worry you might think art, or at least writing, is the most important thing.

– It’s the thing I’m most able to do. I’m sure that skews my perspective. It’s my contribution.

– But your contribution to what?

– I don’t know. I guess I ask myself that all the time. Maybe there’s no completely satisfying answer. Or maybe my contribution to understanding how change is going to happen, how people can change things. But I don’t really know how to change things. So it’s a paradox. But maybe it’s possible to spark things in the reader, in the world, that one doesn’t already know.

They both realized this wasn’t a very satisfying answer, but it seemed to be as far as they were going to get for the time being, and Petra also felt that she’d been asked enough questions and it was now time for her to start doing some questioning.

– Do you think you know how things can change? How things are going to change?

– What a question.

– Isn’t that what you were asking me? Just now?

– It could also be about what we want. Not necessarily about how we’re going to get there.

– What do you want?

– Sometimes I wonder if it comes down to a change in thinking. A change in how people think about life. The first step is of course a thinking where white people aren’t in any way on top, where creatures who call themselves men aren’t in any way on top, and then very quickly it needs to move to a thinking where people aren’t on top, where all living things – including soil, air and water – have the same value and are fully cherished. And then also a thinking and feeling built around care. That possession is meaningless and only care is able to generate any sense of meaning. That soil, air and water care for us by keeping us alive and we must return the favor. Then also something about time. Realizing we create the future and taking responsibility for that daily act.

– Yes, but I can’t hear all that without asking myself how? How could we possibly change people’s thinking to that degree on a large enough scale to make any significant difference?

– Change can start anywhere. One step at a time. And you never know beforehand just how far it might go.

– As I’m sure you already know, indigenous cultures often hold these kinds of values. Have lived them for thousands and thousands of years. As well as other values you didn’t mention.

– Yes.

– I don’t know what your lineage is. But, as I’m sure you already suspect, that’s not my lineage. In fact, my lineage is connected to a Eurocentric worldview that built its wealth on the dispossession and genocide of peoples who lived consequently within the kinds of values you just described, the values we’re now saying we should emulate. So how to transform such a destructive history, a history which I’m part of, into it’s opposite? Or how to collaborate with indigenous peoples in ways that are genuinely reparative? Because that dispossession and genocide is ongoing. Governments everywhere are still doing it, no matter who you vote for. And I have yet to see any actions that come anywhere close to making them stop.

– All that is true. But white guilt can only take you so far.

–I’m sorry. You’re right. And I’m also talking too much. I’m not always this pessimistic. I of course do believe change is possible.

– You believe change is possible but you don’t know how. That’s actually your politics.

– Actions have so many unintended consequences. You have a plan but things end up going so differently than you expected, and those differences set off other consequences.

– Sometimes it sounds to me like you’re only making excuses. Excuses for your inaction.

– You might be right. But writing books is also a kind of action. Or at least sometimes I hope it might be.

She didn’t want to write about real life. But was that only an excuse, so she didn’t have to face too directly her unwanted complicity with so many ongoing and endless injustices? Writing about real life injustice felt misguided, since direct action would be a better response. (And I now have to ask myself if I’m doing something wrong in putting all these thoughts in the mind of Petra, when they are of course also my thoughts.) Yet something that spoke of injustice not directly, but rather in some other manner that opened it up, created certain possibilities that were not nearly as available within the confines of reality; this was, at the very least, her fantasy about what she hoped her writing might do. As they continued to talk Petra learned that her travel companion – chosen for her randomly and by fate – was on her way to a convention for degrowth, a movement, according to Wikipedia, that “highlights the importance of autonomy, care work, self-organization, commons, community, open localism, work sharing, happiness and conviviality.” Petra knew just enough about degrowth to know she didn’t know much. Whatever she did know must have been gleaned from things she’d scrolled past on the internet. Endless bits of information that rarely added up to anything she could fully grasp.

For some reason she found herself trying to remember what life had been like before the internet. She was old enough but rarely thought about it anymore, since the time before was both different and not so different after all. She remembers standing in a shop in front of the magazine rack, picking up each magazine and scanning page after page, like scrolling through her feed but somehow different, since she had to go somewhere to do so, and there was also something almost illicit about it since you were of course meant to buy the magazines and not just endlessly flip through them. Maybe she was reading each headline and sub-headline looking for story ideas, though that really doesn’t sound like her, ideas came to her aplenty and she rarely felt the need to search for them. Or using a payphone to call someone in order to make plans for later that night. How if they weren’t home when you called you simply couldn’t make plans. Did degrowth lead back toward any experiences of this nature? Where things felt like they were happening more in the moment, during something one might refer to as “the now.” The internet had its own kind of now, the feeling you’re seeing someone’s experience, an image of someone’s experience, at the exact same moment they post it.

(Thinking back to how I heard about things before the internet, I find myself remembering this line from Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow: “Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)” (I of course just looked up this quote on Wikipedia.) I must have read Gravity’s Rainbow sometime in the mid-eighties, and this parenthetical shoutout led me to reading everything by Ishmael Reed I could get my hands on. These days, when anyone asks me what I like, I continuously recommend books by Renee Gladman, especially her Ravika books: Event Factory, The Ravickians, Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, Houses of Ravicka, and I’ve heard there might be more to come. So if you haven’t read Renee Gladman yet, I highly recommend you do so. She knows far more than you will ever find here.)

[Today is March 22, 2023. I haven't told anyone yet, but a few days ago I finished a first draft of Damp Heaven, which I'm now realizing might be the second part of a planned trilogy based loosely around questions concerning the desire for utopia.]


February 20, 2023

There is a genre of scene I believe I had read several times in a certain kind of nonfiction book...


There is a genre of scene I believe I have read several times in a certain kind of nonfiction book. In this type of scene, the author of the book shows an earlier draft of said book – the very book you are holding in your hands – to a character in the book, or more precisely to a person in the author’s life upon whom one of the characters is based. And this person reacts extremely badly to the manner in which they’ve been portrayed. Which creates a sort of ethical dilemma on the part of the author. Do they remove this character from their book? Or rewrite the character in order to make it more to the liking of the person on whom it is based? Or fictionalize the character even further so as to make it unrecognizable? I have seen different author’s deal with this dilemma in different ways, and it always strikes me as somehow getting to the very heart of the ethical problem of the relationship between fiction and reality.


February 17, 2023

And things started to happen, but none of them were the things we said were going to happen...


And things started to happen, but none of them were the things we said were going to happen, and none of them were the things anyone else expected either. But at least something had begun. Or so we thought. Were we willing to classify whatever it was that seemed to be happening as “something”? We had no choice: we couldn’t go back and the only way forward was to go with what was happening. What was starting. What we thought. It had something to do with the way one thing followed the next. If we didn’t intervene. All we had done is open the door. It was exhausting.


February 13, 2023

Virtual Coffee Chat with Jacob Wren and Julia Lee Barclay-Morton


On Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 5pm EST I will be having a Virtual Coffee Chat with Julia Lee Barclay-Morton about her book The Mortality Shot and my book Polyamorous Love Song. Discussing what we share as authors: the crossover between words for performance and for the page and not falling neatly into categories.

The event is online and free but you have to register for it here.

If you haven't already you should definitely check out The Mortality Shot. This is what I had to say about it:

"These stories and essays (plus a stage text) push up against heartfelt questions of life and death in ways that are complex, counter-intuitive, humorous and striking. Writing against the grain, in varying styles and intensities, The Morality Shot goes places that so much current literature wouldn’t dare, demonstrating that real writing is always a risk and a gamble, and that only through taking such risks can we get at the things which truly matter."

And, if you missed it, the Virtual Author Coffee Chat is now online and you can watch it here:


February 10, 2023

My life is entangled in theatre but I now know almost no one else who works in theatre...


My life is entangled in theatre but I now know almost no one else who works in theatre. It is like a place I have almost completely left as that place continues to almost completely rule my inner life. Be careful what you decide to be against. I find myself feeling like I’m stuck in a tunnel of things I don’t want to do. But what exactly is the tunnel? An inability to usefully think what other sorts of things I could be doing. Doing things in reaction to what I’ve previously done, rather than thinking toward what might interest me in the future. This has something to do with the idea of a diary.


February 8, 2023

They warned me the soup was extremely hot and I might burn myself...


They warned me the soup was extremely hot and I might burn myself. I didn’t heed the warning and did indeed burn myself. I couldn’t say that I hadn’t been warned. I retaliated by writing the experience down, an account you are currently reading. A rather boring and predictable account. It has happened before and will happen again.


January 31, 2023

To not start from a theme but from an activity...


To not start from a theme but from an activity. A theme can lead anywhere. An activity can also lead anywhere but not quite in the same way. How open is a theme? How open an activity? Can it all be thought of as some kind of music? The question of how to start and the question of where you’re going seem to be the same question. Where to start? Where are we going? Most people aren’t dancing but there is one person in the audience who is absolutely dancing their face off. Is that person a stand in for the thing we’re searching for? Never a good idea to use anyone as a stand in for something else. The very best thing about that dancing person is they are not doing it for anyone but themselves. To start not from a theme but an activity. I know what I’m addicted to but what is it exactly I’m addicted to? What is the exact thing, the exact moment.