October 13, 2020

Excerpt from the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy

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Petra stared down at the notes in front of her:
A novel with many storylines, many loose ends dangling – and some of the loose ends are tied up, some are partly resolved to varying degrees, and some are left dangling – so as you continue to read you are always unsure which storylines will be completed and which left incomplete.
She had been reading this sentence over and over again. She found herself reading it over and over again. Was this really her idea for a structure? The natural world was disappearing, which she mostly only read about in books and newspapers and online. And Veronika had also disappeared. She knew there was no direct connection between these two things but she couldn’t stop herself from connecting them in her mind. Was Veronika a storyline from her life that would be completed or would it be left incomplete? Could heartbreak ever really be said to be incomplete, since it was also so total, so all consuming. But they hadn’t broken up. The story wasn’t nearly so clear and that made it gnaw on her all that much more viciously. Veronika had only left a note saying there was something important she now had to do, she didn’t know when she’d be back but Petra definitely shouldn’t worry (sure, that was going to work,) and for both of their safety it was better not to try to contact her until matters calmed down.

Petra might have had a few slight ideas where Veronika had gone, but such ideas were of little solace in the face of such a wrenching and sudden disappearance. So she was trying to do what she had always done in difficult times, always done when she found herself alone, namely bury herself in work, take her mind off the wrenching unpleasantness of reality by throwing the entirety of her thoughts into the imagined world she had been piecing together, little by little, for far too long, as several deadlines approached and then passed, and her editor no longer called in search of updates. Hence the many years of notes spread out on the desk in front of her. And asleep on the very edge of that desk was the kitten given to them at The Vicinity, who had been in her life, one of the most elegant parts of it, just over a year.

(A small problem: we now seem to have two characters named Penelope and that might become confusing over time. So, in order to avoid such confusion, I will call, at least for now, the kitten version Penelope K.) Penelope K and Petra had only communicated telepathically a handful of times over the previous year. For the rest they communicated in the more usual ways kittens and humans find to interact: meowing for food, brushing against a leg for attention, scratching at the door to be let outside.


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There’s a story I read once. A journalist hires a private detective to find him. He tries to disappear in order to find out how quickly the detective can track him down. The detective finds him in less than a week. In our surveillance-drenched world it is difficult to disappear for long.

In her book Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years 1960-1975, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes about the process of going underground. Shortly after she first does so, she stops to visit with some old friends:
Betita and Rees greeted us. The cabin was simple – a living room, a small bedroom, and a kitchen where a wood-burning iron stove provided the cabin’s only heat. We gathered around a table near the stove and drank boiled coffee. Betita and Mike went into the other room to tape their interview. Sheila stretched out on her sleeping bag and went to sleep by the fire. Rees told me the latest news of the land grant movement.

Betita returned to the kitchen. I gave her a copy of the new issue of NO MORE FUN AND GAMES.

“So you’re putting it out again? Great. It’s been more than a year, hasn’t it?”

“Nearly two years since I had anything to do with it. Cell 16 published one more issue after I left, and then the Trotskyists took over. It’s dead, I think. This is a special issue I edited alone – a collection of my essays from the first three issues and a new essay.”

“Let me read the new essay quickly.” Rees and I sat silently while Betita scanned the lines quickly, professionally, like the editor she was. Her brow furrowed, and she lit a cigarette.

“Hermana, Roxanne, I love you dearly, but you’re dead wrong. You’re planning to go underground, aren’t you?”

“We already have gone underground, in New Orleans since June. We’re returning from a trip,” I said. Betita shook her head. She smiled, but it was a smile of disapproval. Rees read the essay, his face contorted. He finished and slammed the journal down on the table.

“Bullshit, Roxanne. What the hell’s come over you? This is nuts.”

I sat at the table with them for hours. It felt like I was being interrogated by Betina, who argued in her soft, reasoned voice; then by Rees, bellowing, slamming the side of his fist on the table, pacing like a wild animal in the zoo. Somehow, both Mike and Sheila slept through the long argument. I trusted Betita and Rees completely and knew they cared about me, but what they were saying felt like the caution of relatives, of parents who worried too much about a child.

“What about women? You have the ears of millions of women and now you disappear on them, desert them, and even lead some into the same inferno you’re headed into,” Betita argued.

Rees took a different tack. “You’re working class like me. Think about it, this is bourgeois crap. The only kind of working-class people you’re likely to attract are some demented ex-cons or bikers, certainly not the women, certainly not a militant union worker struggling for socialism.”

I countered by referring to the Wobbly tradition of violence. Rees got angry when I said that. “The Wobblies had to defend themselves and they were a mass of workers: It was their movement. Sure, they bombed things and used violence but they were a grassroots movement. The violence came out of a mass struggle, not from some self-appointed underground groups. I don’t have a damned thing against violence, just suicide and misleading people.”

“What about Cuba, the attack on the Moncada?” I said.

“Cuba is Cuba. This is the United States, not the situation for a national liberation struggle,” Betita said.

We argued back and forth for much of the night, finally deciding to sleep without coming to any sort of resolution. I lay awake thinking, their arguments running through my mind. I struggled to suppress any doubt.
Every time my mind goes back over that passage I think: if you have friends who truly care about you, and give you honest advice that comes from their hard-earned life experience, you should consider this advice as fully as possible and most likely take it. (In another part of the book, about what is soon to come, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes: “In retrospect, I think that I lost my bearings for a time. I was about to make some very unwise choices.”) But Veronika didn’t ask anyone for advice before she went underground. Not even the love of her life. (Politics before love.) She somehow knew in the long run that Petra would understand. That if she survived they would reunite and their love would be stronger through the experience. For the entire time she was hidden she didn’t touch a phone, computer or bank card. She avoided cameras of any kind, ducking away if she spotted one in the distance. It was an experiment to see if they could take an action and have it remain completely anonymous. None of them fully believed it was possible but if they could pull it off they’d have gained a kind of necessary knowledge that could be put to use by so many others in the future. There were four of them in the cell and they trusted each other almost completely. They’d been careful and, to the best of their knowledge, no one even knew they all still knew each other.



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