A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

October 13, 2021

Excerpt from chapter eight of the work-in-progress tentatively entitled Damp Heaven


It was so very early on a nondescript Tuesday morning when the first piece of the puzzle finally fell into place. I was walking down the street, I now can’t remember just exactly where I was coming from or where I thought I was going, when I chanced upon Pampero. I had gone to school with Pampero but we had not seen each other for many years, perhaps since graduation. On this particular morning he did not appear to be in very good shape. At the very least he had been awake all night, out wandering, and from the sight of him likely wandering for many nights before as well. I might say it looked as if he’d slept in his clothes but, more to the point, it looked as if he’d been wearing the same clothes for days on end and in fact hadn’t slept at all. After the usual mindless greetings he rapidly became very serious, saying that, if I had the stomach for it, he wanted to show me something, and when I agreed he handed me a sheet of paper folded in four. I asked if I should read it now, right here in front of him, he nodded in assent, so I unfolded the paper. It was clearly a suicide note. I now can’t remember exactly what it said, but the gist was that the ecological collapse currently underway was simply too much for him to bear, and therefore he wanted to end things now, before he had to witness what was to come, before he had to witness the world drown and burn. When I finished reading the letter I looked up and realized we were both crying. It was a rare moment in my life in which I felt I had nothing to lose.

I said to Pampero that I had a project he might be interested in, something that was highly experimental and unusual, and therefore might also take his mind from his troubles. I handed him back the letter, he folded it up, carefully placing it back in his coat pocket. It was such a strange, early morning encounter. He basically told me he intended to kill himself, and I responded that instead he might consider joining the research group I still hadn’t figured out any way to gather or convene. Then I said I thought it was a bad idea to leave him alone, that if I left him alone he might do something I might later regret, and so I proposed, at the very least, we spend the next few days together, talking through my ideas and, together, coming to some fuller conception of what may or may not be possible. He mentioned that, in school, we had never been friends, which was true, but I replied that I had always thought well of him, which was somewhat less true, and now needed someone to help me figure some things out, and it seemed to me that he also required the same, so it was an even match.

Pampero went back to his apartment to shower and change, and I sat in the living room while he did so, waiting. Also in the living room, already there when we arrived, was Sarma, who I was meeting for the first time, and who had also come because she’d caught wind of the suicide note, was worried, and wanted to (if possible) intervene. Sarma still had the spare key to the apartment from last year when she’d stayed here, and while we were waiting, she mentioned that the moment she realized she still had the key, the coincidence of it, was also the moment she decided to attempt to intervene. She had been sitting in this apartment alone, worrying, unsure what to do next, and therefore found herself extremely relieved when we returned, relieved to see Pampero alive, shocked to realize she had already assumed the worst.

When Pampero returned, freshly washed and cleanly dressed, we slowly began to breach the topics raised in his note. These were feelings all three of us had, feelings we had all experienced, at times with a searing intensity. However, as Sarma astutely yet gently pointed out, if he really wanted to end it he wouldn’t have shown anyone his note. The fact he allowed people to see it suggested what he was looking for was not an end but rather discussion and assistance. Pampero thought about this for a moment before replying that it wasn’t necessarily true. Perhaps he did really want to end it but, at the same time, wanted as many people as possible to fully understand his reasons in the hope that this knowledge might be one small gesture for effecting change and, in this sense, his death would not be a complete waste. Sarma replied that this goal could have just as easily been achieved by people reading the note after he was already dead, and the fact he had allowed people to read the note while he was still alive created a kind of opening, an opening through which the two of us were currently attempting to walk through. This was an opportunity he himself had created, which indicated to her that there was at least some part of him that wanted it this way. All of which suggested to Sarma that we must continue to open things up further, find strategies that might help us find the strength to face up to the future, however grim and unforgiving it might eventually turn out to be.

Pampero thought about all of this for a rather long time, and we waited while he thought, the three of us patiently sitting in quiet reflection. Then Pampero said: “You may be right. I don’t know. I don’t really see it that way. To me the matter seems considerably different. However, it also might be true that I’m not thinking all that clearly these days. That, due to my distress, my thinking has lost a certain degree of its previous clarity.” Then, once again, silence. During this second long silence I sat looking at Pampero, examining his demeanor closely, trying to decide whether or not there really was a strong possibility he would soon kill himself. But I discovered nothing. One really cannot tell such things simply by looking at a person. And then I wondered how much one could really tell simply by looking at anything. There was so much one could hide underneath the surface of things, which reminded me of my project, still very much in its infancy, to discover all that was hidden under the serene surface of the activity we refer to as cuddling.

Since none of us, or so it seemed to me, had a strong desire to continue talking at length about suicide, slowly the conversation came around to the topic of the research group I was someday hoping to convene. It turned out that Pampero and Sarma were already part of another, very different, research group, and could bring that experience and knowledge to my attempt to more fully formulate what I someday hoped to do. I was grateful for their assistance. For reasons they were either unable or unwilling to explain, they could not tell me very much about their group, I suppose it was meant to be something of a secret, but they did tell me that there was a very intense period of several years where they met basically every day, and now they had moved on to a different period, where they met less frequently, and each of them was required to bring the ideas and methods out into the world, but in a subversive manner, without drawing too much attention to themselves. It seemed to all of us that the group I wished to convene should also enter into, or in another sense begin with, a period of intensive and regular activity. As well, the group they were part of didn’t have a name and it made sense to me that the group I wished to convene should also not have a name. It was about chasing something mysterious and therefore should be mysterious itself, difficult to grasp. Since we don’t yet know quite what it is, no one else should know either.

It felt to me like this conversation was effectively taking Pampero’s mind off his previous troubles, and I thought to myself, even if nothing else comes of it, that at least my desire to convene a research group had already served this one, small purpose. Since Pampero now had Sarma for company, it felt safe enough for me to leave, and as I walked home so many thoughts raced through my mind I couldn’t process them all. Nothing had really started but it now truly felt like something was starting. I didn’t yet know if Pampero and Sarma would be members or mentors, but either way it was a step in the right direction. When I get home there is an envelope taped to my front door. I rip it off and tear it open so quickly I barely even know I’m doing so. It reads:
I am writing to you because I am hoping we can play a game together. Yes, it is a sort of game I am proposing. For now we might call it a game. One part of this game involves me attempting to blackmail you. It is unlikely I’ll succeed. That is probably not the most interesting part of the game, but we’ll begin there regardless. The topic on which I hope to hinge my futile blackmail scheme are certain indiscretions from a period of your past I believe you will remember well. Things you did that might not match up so well with your current persona or intentions. Mistakes you made for which I might easily be able to forgive you, but with others you might not be so lucky. Whether or not I bring this information to the public’s attention – or to the attention of other members within your group, who might seriously reconsider their participation in your joint project if this information were to eventually come to light – of course very much depends on you. In one week you will receive a second note in which I will outline my demands. In the meantime I wish you well.
I finished reading and stood on my own doorstep in dismay. I didn’t understand. How did he know about the research group when it had hardly even begun? And which specific things from my past was I supposed to find incriminating. (I just naturally assumed that this letter was written by a man. I couldn’t really imagine a woman or non-binary person writing a letter of that sort.) I took the letter inside and did my best to organize my thoughts. Any attempt to generate discovery or change is bound to encounter obstacles. This was merely the first, the first of potentially many. I checked my email. I was waiting for one very specific email which, day after day, failed to arrive. There would be a meeting. I hadn’t yet invited Pampero or Sarma to attend but I would. I had invited three others, only two of which had replied, yet their responses were positive, expressing a willingness to learn more. As soon as I received the third response we could set a date, but the third response repeatedly failed to arrive. Another obstacle, admittedly a considerably smaller one.

I wanted to show the letter to someone, but I wasn’t sure who I should trust, which person I knew that I perhaps trusted the most. There were only a handful of options, so it might have made sense to work through them systematically, weighing the pros and cons of each potential choice, but when it came to other people I was able to do no such thing, only able to work through instinct and feeling. (Though I’ll be the first to admit my instincts have often led me astray.) Nonetheless, I took my bicycle to the train station and brought it onto the train. D lived so far away from technology there was no way to reach them apart from showing up unannounced, which I intended to do. The journey to get there was without incident except one. As I was getting off the train, the person directly behind me offered to help maneuver my bike out the door and down the steps, and I accepted. But, when we had the bike halfway out, there was a brief moment of confusion during which it felt, to me at least, that I was trying to get the bike fully out while they were trying to pull it back in. This could not have actually been the case, since it made absolutely no sense that they would volunteer to help get the bike out, then change their mind midway and start pulling it back. However, then again, how am I to know the motives and reasonings of complete strangers? I said: “I feel we’re pulling in opposite directions.” They said: “Yes, that seems to be the case.” So I momentarily let go of my end, they fell backwards, having continued to pull hard in their direction but without the counterbalance of my pulling in mine, and in the brief moment of confusion that followed I carefully lifted the bike down the steps, got onto it, and rapidly rode away. As I did so, I seriously wondered if I had just done the right thing. That stranger had offered to help me and, instead of negotiating a solution, I fled the moment things became difficult. What possible reason could there have been for them to pull the bike back onto the train? It occurred to me now that I would never know.

The ride to D’s farmhouse was smooth and pleasant. I had visited many times in the past but now it had been a few years. I tried to recall: how many years had it been exactly. I was unsure. Over the years, there had been periods where we’d seen each other more regularly, and periods where such regularity was on pause, and a pause of two or three years was certainly not uncommon. I still knew the route well enough that I could enjoy it without giving any thought about how to get there. And, as I approached my destination, I realized I had been letting my mind drift, had managed not to worry about the research group or the blackmail letter for at least the last leg of the ride. I try to remember this feeling, telling myself I should in the future also give myself similar moments to unwind as frequently as possible, lest the stress of everything to come undo any possible value I might accrue from it. I lock my bike to a tree and knock on the front door. There is no answer so, after a while, I decide to sit in the front garden to wait.

As I wait, I examine the front of the farmhouse, trying to intuit any small changes that might have arisen over the years, but find none. It is exactly as I remember it. However, as I stare at the building I sense some movement in the shadows. I stare at the place I believe I saw something shift and what I think I see makes absolutely no sense. What I think I see is D standing within the shadow, trying to remain as still as possible, observing me but clearly wishing to remain hidden. I call her name and she says “yes.” Then, realizing she no longer remains hidden, says: “How did you know I was back?” I reply: “I didn’t know you had left.” This seems to relax her somewhat, as she steps out into the sunlight and continues: “Then we might as well go in.”

Inside, the house has been stripped bare. No furniture, nothing on the walls or floors, empty barren room after empty room. We sit on the floor and it actually takes me a while to understand what she’s explaining. She had lived here with three friends and they had done something together, an activity she now refused to really tell me anything about. Hearing this my first thought is: another research group. Another group with their own very specific project, a project that, based on the evidence of my surroundings, had not ended that well. It was perhaps inappropriate for me to think of the situation in such terms, but what I felt in that moment most strongly was that there might be something for me to learn in all of this, mistakes that D’s group had made that it still wasn’t too late for me to avoid making within the trajectory of my own.

Whatever D and her friends had done, after it reached its natural conclusion they’d all gone separate ways, and since that moment she had frequent periods where she felt all right, during which she was more or less able to live normally, but also periods where she became paranoid, even though it wasn’t exactly paranoia since there was a realistic possibility that the authorities would find some way to connect her to what they’d done and there would be repercussions. She said she was less worried about whatever might happen to her then she was about being forced, under some kind of duress, to rat out the other three, though at times her paranoia extended to the fear that one of the others might be caught and do the same to her. That was why she cleared out her house and was mostly living elsewhere. So if there was any sort of raid on this place they could comb the building top to bottom and find absolutely nothing. However, in the years since they had done the thing (about which she still refused to give me any sort of hint as to its nature) there was no sign anyone was onto them. She now wondered if she had been living in fear for nothing.

After listening to all of this, and doing my best to reassure her that everything would be all right, it felt almost impolite to explain the original reason for my visit. However, I had already come all this way and reasoned that, hopefully, hearing someone else’s problems might help take D’s mind from her own. Recounting the details of the letter led me directly to the details of the research group, how I was now worried this blackmail scheme might undermine the possibility of effectively convening it. However, it rapidly became apparent that D was much more interested in hearing about the group then she was in hearing about the letter. She wanted to know everything: what exactly was this group was planning to do? Of course I didn’t know exactly. Everything about the plan was the very opposite of exact. We were going to get together and try some things, we didn’t even really know what things. Then D said something which would later become legendary when many of us did our best to recount the true history of our research group. She said: “We’re here now. We’re old friends. You might in fact be my very oldest friend. I believe we trust each other, I might even say, almost completely. So why don’t we just try some things now.”


October 6, 2021

A detective novel that takes place in a world without prisons...


A detective novel that takes place in a world without prisons, a detective novel with a twist and the twist is: there is no crime and no detective. A cross between a detective novel and a book-length poem.

Working title: Desire Without Expectation


September 23, 2021

A few actual dreams from the past eight years


In my dream last night, the last thing I remember saying just before I woke up was: ‘Alain Badiou says the most nihilistic song is All You Need Is Love.’

In my dream last night, the name of my band was: This Unstable Honorarium.

Last night in my dream I googled: how do you fight capitalism.

Last night I dreamt I was an arsonist: as I headed to set one last fire, I got a text saying it’s a trap, turned around, and decided to go see art instead.

Last night I dreamt the telescope was invented by aliens, who sent it to us telepathically, to put us on the wrong track.

Last night I dreamt I had writer’s block.

In my dream last night I came to the sudden realization that celebrity culture was the worshipping of false idols.

In my dream last night I read an essay that began: “We’re sick of reading books that are only men writing about their loneliness. We want to read books by women writing about their __________.” But I couldn’t make out the last word. (I had a sense that the last word might be rage.)


September 21, 2021

An ongoing list of titles I'm considering for my current work-in-progress


Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy
the world is ending / the world is unending
Joyous Doubt Beneath the Future
Now is the moment when it’s not too late.
Damp Heaven


September 20, 2021

The institution only cares about the institution


If anyone has any ideas, now is the time to try them.

Find them strange, find the difficult strangeness within each one.

We’ve undone what was done, yet it keeps endlessly redoing itself.

(People who are good at art often also have a great deal of difficulty
with many of the other parts of life.)

The aspects of life that make life worth living, how to explain
to myself just exactly what they are.


September 19, 2021

Ecological collapse is well underway...


Ecological collapse is well underway
and there is no future to write for

Yet one can still write to pass time
that can no longer be lived as if it were endless

One can still sit doing nothing
knowing climate grief is the grief of our time
the grief of this moment

The moment that knows capitalism
as a project to set fire to the world
a project with a definite end


September 8, 2021

I believe it is a common enough experience...


I believe it is a common enough experience for a writer to have finished a book and, due to any number of factors, wait a very long time before it sees the light of day. But I've always found it such a strange feeling. Almost as if one's entire being has been put on hold.


September 5, 2021

An excerpt from The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine Stewart


Christian academies soon came to depend heavily on public support. In Falwell’s Virginia, for example, state-sponsored tuition grants allowed students to take public money to the school of their choice. As religious entities, moreover, the schools and the organizations running them benefited from significant tax exemption. But in the late 1970s, following a string of court cases, the IRS began to threaten the tax-exempt status of religious groups running race-segregated schools. For conservative religious leaders, the previous decades had seemed like a long string of defeats. And now they had a chief bogeyman in the IRS, which was coming after their schools and their pocketbooks.

It would be hard to overestimate the degree of outrage that the threat of losing their tax-advantaged status on account of their segregationism provoked. As far as leaders like Bob Jones Sr. were concerned, they had a God-given right not just to separate the races but also to receive federal money for this purpose. Emerging leaders of the New Right were prepared to defend them. They began to meet regularly, to discuss politics, and to look for ways to make their voices heard in Washington. Paul Weyrich stoked the flames with sympathetic words about the unjust efforts “to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de-facto segregation." In the grievances of the segregationists, he saw the opportunity to found a movement.

The correspondence between the religious conservatives and the New Right conservatives now crackled with energy. At their meetings in Lynchburg, common ground began to emerge. As Harry R. Jackson Jr. and Tony Perkins relate the story in their 2008 book, Personal Faith, Public Policy, “At one point during the wide-ranging discussion, Weyrich is reported to have said that there was a moral majority who wanted to maintain the traditional Christian values that were under assault in America. Falwell asked Weyrich to repeat the statement and then spun around and declared to one of his assistants ‘That’s the name for this organization – the Moral Majority.’” That day, say Jackson and Perkins, “marked the beginning of a new force in the American political landscape… At the rebirth of the Conservative civic involvement in 1979, the new leaders were determined not to repeat the “sins” of the fathers. They would not shy away from controversy, nor would they yield to criticism; they would work with others to restore the moral foundations of the nation.”

But they had a problem. As Weyrich understood, building a new movement around the burning issue of defending the tax advantages of racist schools wasn’t going to be a viable strategy on the national stage. “Stop the tax on segregation” just wasn’t going to inspire the kind of broad-based conservative counterrevolution that Weyrich envisioned. They needed an issue with a more acceptable appeal.

What message would bring the movement together? The men of Lynchburg considered a variety of unifying issues and themes. School prayer worked for some, but it tended to alienate the Catholics, who remembered all too well that, for many years, public schools had allowed only for Protestant prayers and bible readings while excluding Catholic readings and practices. Bashing communists was fine, but even Rockefeller Republicans could do that. Taking on “women’s liberation” was attractive, but the Equal Rights Amendment was already going down in flames. At last they landed on the one surprising word that would supply the key to the political puzzle of the age: “abortion.”

As the historian and author Randall Balmer writes, “It wasn’t until 1979 – a full six years after Roe – that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

More than a decade later, Weyrich recalled the moment well. At a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a religious right organization called the Ethics and Public Policy Center (to which Balmer had been invited to attend), Weyrich reminded his fellow culture warriors of the facts: “Let us remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially-discriminatory policies.”

As Balmer tells it in his book Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, Weyrich then reiterated the point. During a break in the proceedings, Balmer says, he cornered Weyrich to make sure he had heard him correctly. “He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the 1970s.” It was only after leaders of the New Right held a conference call to discuss strategy, Balmer says, that abortion was “cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.”

– Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism


September 3, 2021

I often think about how strange it was...


I often think about how strange it was that, in my youth, I gravitated toward doing the opposite of something I didn’t like. Instead of simply doing something I liked.


August 26, 2021

I was just talking. For no reason. Off the top of my head.


I was just talking. For no reason. Off the top of my head. And that’s when all the subconscious biases willfully emerge.

Almost every day I say something aloud that, upon further reflection, I’m no longer certain I completely agree with.

How to let one’s thinking most productively change over time? To stay somewhat true to one’s previously held ideas and even truer to newfound ones?

What are all the different ways to change? Honesty in self-questioning without honesty just for honesty’s sake.

We all have blood on our hands. But definitely not in equal amounts. Nowhere near it. To live in this world that invented my biases, and one by one undo such biases, and yet still to live in this world.

What to search for when solutions are possibly the wrong thing. I feel the activists know but fear I only wish that activists know.

I was just talking. For no reason. Off the top of my head. And hope for reasons and methods to speak in all the other ways.