December 27, 2020

Some sentences from my past year

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The technology and narrative we call “money” transforms the finite number of things a person can claim to possess into a seemingly infinite number of things and possibilities. In this way it also transforms finite possibilities for injustice into endless possibilities for injustice, which more and more we are realizing will soon reach some catastrophic limit if we let it.


I feel like the algorithms are gently corralling me toward more and more capitalist music.


Over the years I’ve gradually come to the perspective that useful activism is much more about what you’re for and not nearly as much about what you’re against. (But it is still absolutely necessary to clearly name the things you’re fighting against.)


The people who want change don’t have power and the people who have power don’t want change.


Activism isn’t about what’s possible but about what’s impossible. About taking something we’re repeatedly told is impossible and bringing it into reality.


There is one part of me that doesn’t want to write and just wants to be completely aware and painfully alive to everything that’s happening right now. And there’s another part of me that’s losing my mind because I seem unable to write.


When you’re a careerist, everything looks like a career opportunity.


When you see an argument, you don’t view it in isolation. You also look at the source. What they’ve said in the past. Whether or not you trust them. A solid argument from an untrustworthy source can at times be even more suspicious.


To be honest, I write because I want to change the world. But the evidence that I’m succeeding is not very convincing.


Alongside my madness, there also something about me that is almost too sane.


As things continue to get worse, paradoxically, there might be greater opportunities for change, as everywhere people begin to truly feel the severity of the situation and respond accordingly.


I spent my formative years reading about Latin American dictatorships - disappearances, torture, etc. - all perpetrated by individuals trained at the School of the Americas. And every moment of that reading was spent thinking: sooner or later this will all happen here as well.


I’ve always imagined an ongoing game where the purpose is to try to invent an art movement.


Every road and highway ever built was a subsidy to the automotive industry.


I don’t especially like people. I don’t especially dislike them either. I don’t know… people aren’t really my people.


Working on a book and also, every ten minutes, staring off into space wondering if the world will still be here when I finish it, or if it will be in any state that one can actually publish a book.


We are drowning in a very specific form of propaganda called advertising.


the world is ending / the world is unending


Well… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But since I’m my own worst enemy I guess it’s all right.


We all have blood on our hands. But definitely not in equal amounts.


I’ve never really understood why there always seems to be so much infighting amongst the left. Or even if it’s really true.


Why are there so many songs on the internet and why do I feel compelled to attempt to listen to every last one?


It’s my nature to be dissatisfied.


As an artist these days, I feel I’ve only got a few arrows left in my quiver. And I’ve got to make every last one count.


Being an artist is often about the feeling that other artists are getting something that you’re not.


I don’t really know what the right strategy is. My mind is the mind of an artist. It’s not really a mind of strategy and tactics. But whatever the strategy, we’ve got to keep pushing things to the left.


The people / divided / will always be derided.


Honesty without cruelty.


The romantic myth of the artist who struggles an entire lifetime only to be met with an astonishing rush of posthumous fame.


So many people are disappointing. But not all of them.


You finish reading a book and immediately pass it along to a friend.


I always feel better when I’m writing. But when I’m not writing it never really works to force it.


Money isn’t real. It’s a fiction, a story. But money can do things that nothing else can do. So in that sense – at the level of power – it has some sort of greater reality.


Today on the radio I heard the host say “what a frustrating time to be alive” and I felt that.


Watching some online performances this past year has made me realize something I already knew. The thing I like most about live performance is the fact that you’re there in person and it’s live.


desire and doubt


I decided to try to read some of the books I already have instead of buying any new books for awhile. And even though many of the books I already have are really brilliant and compelling, for some reason whenever I make this decision it always leaves me slightly depressed.


2020 was really the year I learned the degree to which I’m actually an introvert.


After nine months of greatly reduced work schedule during the pandemic, and an enormous amount of self-reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I have absolutely no idea what I want out of life.


Instead of trying to be more successful, which has never really worked for me, I have decided to actively attempt to become less successful with the hope that this will also backfire.


Selling Out Is Hard To Do (to the tune of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.)


The sweet spot between finished and unfinished.



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December 22, 2020

Every two years versus every four years...

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I've been thinking about this a lot the past few weeks. I had been complaining - mostly to myself but also occasionally online - that I was putting out too many books. I published books in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Every two years felt like far too often. (Complaining is never a good idea. Complaining online is even worse. And complaining about complaining, and doing so online - as I'm doing here - must be the very worst of the worst.) I felt I should give myself more time between books to think about them and to reinvent what I was working on. However, now I finished another book at the very beginning of this year, and (somewhat due to the pandemic) I'm still not exactly sure when it will come out or with who. If it had come out now it would have been two years after the last one, exactly what I was telling myself I no longer wanted to do. Most likely, it will come out in 2022, four years after the last one, which is what I was telling myself would be a much preferable schedule: every four years. I'm now working on yet another book, and I'm considering making it longer, and working on it more slowly, in order that it won't be finished until 2026 at the very earliest, to stay on this imagined, ideal every four year schedule. And yet I can't stop worrying about when the book that's already finished will come out. And what people will think about it. How will it be received. Before I was obsessively worrying that I was putting out books too frequently. And now I'm obsessively worrying that the book I've already finished won't come out soon enough. How does one become this neurotic and this not consequent? And does it have anything to do with the exact same impulses that made me a writer in the first place? At any rate, I genuinely feel there's a lesson for me to learn in all of this. As I often say: it's my nature to be dissatisfied. The object of my dissatisfaction seems almost to be beside the point.



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December 7, 2020

Five quotations on pessimism

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No one ever needs pessimism, in the way that one needs optimism to inspire one to great heights and to pick oneself up, in the way one needs constructive criticism, advice and feedback, inspirational books or a pat on the back. No one needs pessimism, though I like to imagine the idea of a pessimist activism. No one needs pessimism, and yet everyone—without exception—has, at some point in their lives, had to confront pessimism, if not as a philosophy then as a grievance—against one’s self or others, against one’s surroundings or one’s life, against the state of things or the world in general.

[…]

Perhaps this is why the true optimists are the most severe pessimists—they are optimists that have run out of options. They are almost ecstatically inundated by the worst. Such an optimism is the only possible outcome of a prolonged period of suffering, physical or metaphysical, intellectual or spiritual. But does this not also describe all the trials and tribulations of each day—in short, of “life?” It seems that sooner or later we are all doomed to become optimists of this sort (the most depressing of thoughts…)
– Eugene Thacker, Cosmic Pessimism



Pessimists shouldn’t be committed to pessimism. On the contrary, they should always be glad to be surprised when good things occur against the odds. It can thus precisely be pessimism that allows joy. Pessimism is not invested nihilism. It is the considered result of an analysis that suggests that the odds are not good. That what is faced is incomparable difficulty, and unless it is faced in the knowledge of how unlikely triumph will be, there is no chance at all.
– Rosie Warren, Some Last Words on Pessimism



Pessimism is essentially a religious disease. In the form of it to which you are most liable, it consists in nothing but a religious demand to which there comes no normal religious reply.
– William James



Pessimism is an inner love for life. The pessimist is one who cannot enjoy the joys of life and is very conscious that he has the passion of the unsatisfied and of the unsatisfiable.
– Kiki Dimoula



it’s too late for pessimism and despair, they’re too popular
– Chris Cutler (in 1975)



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December 6, 2020

2020-2030 (There's something I like about it being a calendar decade.)

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Last night I was lying awake. I couldn't sleep. And I realized something that might be kind of stupid but felt like a revelation to me in the moment. I'm conceiving the book I'm currently writing - the telepathic kittens book - as the middle book in a trilogy. And I realized that if everything goes as planned the trilogy will take me approximately ten years to write and publish: 2020-2030. (There's something I like about it being a calendar decade.) And that each book in the trilogy might have been called Desire Without Expectation. I was originally thinking that Dry Your Tears To Perfect Your Aim might be called Desire Without Expectation but then changed my mind (it's now the title of the first chapter.) And then Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy was also - for a while - going to be called Desire Without Expectation, but I again changed my mind. And now I'm thinking of calling the third book in the trilogy Desire Without Expectation, but of course might also change my mind. (Third time's a charm.) And each book of the trilogy is about some kind of utopia. The question of can we imagine something better, what would it be, and what does it mean to try. Of course I might die before I finish, or not finish for some other reason, and that would be another kind of utopia.



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December 4, 2020

Some favourite things from my 2020

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[So it seems like I now do this list more or less every year. I really do love lists. As with previous years, this list is in no particular order and many of these things didn't come out during the previous year. Normally there would be at least a few performances, but it seems I didn't really get to see any performances this year. What a strange thing that is.]


Music
Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari – Grounation
Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds
Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Locate S,1 – Personalia
Thanya Iyer – KIND
US Girls – Heavy Light
Ben Reed – Station Masters
Nappy Nina - Dumb Doubt
Sandro Perri – Soft Landing
Destroyer - Have We Met
이날치 LEENALCHI - Sugungga
Stuart Moxham & Louis Philippe – The Devil Laughs
Carrie Cleveland – Looking Up: The Complete Works
NSRD – The Workshop For The Restoration Of Unfelt Feelings
Jody Glenham - Mood Rock
Vritra Burd – Wilma
Farai – Rebirth


Books
Beyond Survival – Edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet – Edited by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan & Nils Bubandt
I Hotel – Karen Tei Yamashita
Dominoes at the Crossroads – Kaie Kellough
M Archive – Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The Employees – Olga Ravn
Indelicacy – Amina Cain
Pew – Catherine Lacey
Trust Exercise – Susan Choi
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. – Sheung-King
Tender – Sofia Samatar
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
Ferguson Interview Project – Ama Birch
The Lonely Letters – Ashon T. Crawley
Conversations with Toni Cade Bambara
We're On: A June Jordan Reader
Theory of Bastards – Audrey Schulman
Listening for Jupiter - Pierre-Luc Landry (Translated by Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford)


Stories and Poems read online
In the Beginning, Sometimes I Left Messages in the Street – Lisa Chen
Stranger Kinships – Fathima Cader
Three Finals – Orit Gat
53 Acts of Living – Canisia Lubrin
Heal Her – Ariana Reines


Film and Video:
Auxiliary Mirrors – Sanaz Sohrabi
Vases communicants – Edith Brunette & François Lemieux



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December 2, 2020

Songs Between Works

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[A edited version of this text appears in the exhibition catalogue for La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux.]



1.
I am reminded of something I wrote many years ago, that “maybe all works of art are some kind of polyamorous love songs, offerings sent out into the world in order to get everyone to love you. Works of art and literature are not directed towards one person but towards many. Songs in the sense of birdsong, messages thrown out into the world.” I’m not sure I still agree with this sentiment.


2.
There’s that lyric in the old Jane’s Addiction song that I misremember as:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / I only knows if someone wants me

Except in my version I think I might change it to:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / don’t even know if someone wants me

And I wonder if this is also something about making art. To make something you don’t know if anyone will want. And even after you’ve made it you might still not know. But these things, these makings, can sing to each other. Since artworks are in dialog with the viewer, and they may or may not be in dialog with history, but they are definitely also in dialog with each other. Such conversations are both seen and unseen, forming and reforming in space, over time, and in memory.


3.
I once read that solo exhibitions hewed too closely to the logic of the market and therefore only in a group exhibition does art have the potential to think against capital. I don’t know if I agree with this argument but, at the time, it certainly provoked me. Can one framework really be said to be more commercial or subversive than another regardless of the works within it?


4.
I have not yet seen La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux and therefore I am definitely not writing about it. Perhaps I am writing parallel to it. Or perhaps only parallel to my own thoughts and assumptions about art and the world. I know there is still something I love about art but often don’t know exactly what it is. It is something about love, about song, about sending something out into the unknown where it may or may not connect with a viewer or with other works. Where it may or may not become political or be seen as such. Where something might happen, but you have to have faith because there are no guarantees and it is not even completely clear just exactly what you must have faith in.

It is of course anthropomorphic to speak of birdsong as I first did. The birds clearly know what they are doing when they sing their songs: who the songs are for, who they are trying to attract. But even though the songs are not for us (unless you are a bird of the same species currently reading this), we have listened to them, and given them meaning, since the beginning of time. So I do sometimes like to think of art in the same way, beyond the artists intentions, artworks speaking to each other, singing to each other, clear across so many rooms. They don’t even know when someone wants them. But also they do.



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November 23, 2020

Douglas A. Martin Quote

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We will go on from here, in this essayistic work, of which Acker’s fantastic, crudely philosophical letters are only one part of what will be revealed, to arrive at an injunction to “Define to love.” She underscores in her original. Acker begins to do this by exploiting, and upsetting, comfortable rhetorical models of logic. For example, after the opposition “love of knowledge” versus “love of sex” is established to mirror – Acker’s word – the mind : body opposition, Acker decides such a separation is resolved by the logical progression of her next sentence, that: The lovers of knowledge and the lovers of sex both love cats. Other oppositions, and their resolutions through third terms, follow. Acker does what she says she will do here: “Define to love by increasing complexity.”

– Douglas A. Martin, Acker



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November 17, 2020

Table of Contents for a work-in-progress

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Preface

1: The moment I no longer wanted to be famous
2: Amateur Compassion
3: Promiscuous Bewilderment
4: The world ends in our desires
5: A story about computers in the future
6: There can be no theory of the novel that is not itself a novel
7: Helpless laughter happens more than once

Interlude

8: Helpless laughter happens more than once
9: The doctorette (with others) make a discovery
10: A hell called paradise mission
11: To the success of our hopeless mission
12: Compersion
13: Real Life
14: the world is ending / the world is unending

Afterward








(A novel about ecological collapse and telepathic kittens.)








(Right now I'm about ten pages into writing chapter six.)



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October 29, 2020

Three Trilogies

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Unrehearsed Beauty (1998)
Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2007)
Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed (2010)

Polyamorous Love Song (2014)
Rich and Poor (2016)
Authenticity Is A Feeling (2018)

Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim (2022)
Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy (2026)
Desire Without Expectation (2030)






(Man makes plans, God laughs.)



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October 24, 2020

Michael Eddy Quote

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One could argue, like Maus above, that the antidote to irony is actually authenticity. If the self-reflexivity I called for above meant authentic presence, maybe we could indeed eliminate the risk of artificiality in the vague appropriation? In a performance of Jacob Wren’s recent book Authenticity Is A Feeling, which recounts the history of PME-ART, the performance group he has headed for twenty years, Wren explained that his ultimate goal and what keeps him going is work that strips away the baroque theatricality of most performance art (like scripts, affectations, etc.). It may be odd to finish this essay on an example that seems to eschew the scaled plating of appropriation for some type of biographical vulnerability. But while I found Wren’s performance affecting, I also could not help finding it affected. “In a way this echoed something that had followed us since the beginning of the show: when you are being yourself, when you are trying to bring more of this reality into the performance situation, so many people think that because it is still theatre, taking place onstage everything you’re saying must not be true. Or at least they come expecting fiction, and when it’s so unclear how the things you’re saying match or don’t match this expectation, they can easily become suspicious.” In my suspicions of Wren’s call to “being yourself in a performance situation,” I display the ironic symptoms of so many people. But a few pages later, I get a sense of why I enjoy this suspicion, these symptoms: “I am rewriting history from the perspective of now, because non-fiction is always also a kind of fiction.” Authenticity always also has a kernel of irony, not least when representation is involved. If we hope to find a more productive and just form of appropriation based on authenticity and sincerity, I have a hunch that scenes of self abuse would be necessary to make us feel possessed of our identities; or that dedication to a principle of opacity would firewall errant interpretation; or that it may not be appropriation after all.

- Michael Eddy, Vague Appropriation



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October 20, 2020

Karen Tei Yamashita Quote

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By now we understood the joke about the Red Block on Kearny and swimming around in radical alphabet soup – KDP, IWK, WMS, KSW, IHTA, CPA, CCA, EBS. On the face of it, we were all radical activist revolutionaries, and we were all united to defeat a capitalist-imperialist system of greed. We threw ourselves into the concerted work of myriad social and political projects, and we worked our butts off. Our commitment and our passion were irreproachable. We were in these years full-time revolutionaries, and we only thought about the revolution we were building, the fierce resistance to a system that served the few and propertied and wealthy, a social system that had failed our immigrant parents and grandparents, had denied their human rights because of their class and color. We learned to educate ourselves in a literature and culture of resistance, and finding ourselves gathered together at the very center of our Asian communities, we also began to educate ourselves in the practice of that resistance. And that practice gave us experience and power. We were young and powerful, and we were the future.

Well, that was the face of it, because over time, despite our agreed ideals, we came to hate each other. For some strange reason, once we entered one of those four inviting radical doors of the I-Hotel and gave our lives to any one of the projects within, our lives were transformed. Our transformation from individuals into collectives was precisely the thing that gave us power, but power has many sides to it, especially the power of a group. Feeling power, wielding power, demonstrating power. A group could act as a single fist or as an open handshake. Well, handshakes were not the tenor of our times. Perhaps it could be said that four mighty fists emerged from four doors to confront a common enemy, to fight in concert the foes of the I-Hotel, but we admit that very often the left fists did not follow the right fists, the punches did not follow the hooks and jabs; we could not agree on our tactics and strategies, and outside the safety of our doors, we avoided or passed each other in hostility, rushing off to our separate tactics and strategies.

We could blame this all on Lenin and Mao, the two leaders whose theory and practice had led to real revolutions, to the overturning of old social structures, and we were avid readers and interpreters of their theories and practices. They were our heroes. We thought they had realized our dreams. Thus we may have followed their principles of democratic-centralism, meaning in theory that we should all participate in our arguments but finally follow in the fierce unity of our majority decision. And we also believed that our arguments were necessary to our collective struggle, that each group was pursuing a line of thinking that would eventually be proven or disproven in practice, that at the end of our struggle, we would finally unite in common unity. Our struggles would make us stronger, more powerful. But we were young and inexperienced, and our fighting was very real, our ideas held just under the tender surface of our new skin and flared in our nostrils. We wanted to be right. We wanted to win.

After we had worked together for our beliefs in twenty-four-hour days without rest, bonded ourselves to each other through the inner struggles of self-criticism within our groups, confessed our social sins to our brother- and sisterhoods, and lost our individual selves to our collective purpose, we finally could only be with each other. And we found ourselves fighting about if we should collude with the so-called system and its elected liberal officials, if our struggle should be defined as working with the working class or our oppressed Asian communities, if this or that hotel tenant was an advanced worker, if our loyalties were with the PRC or the USSR, if any of us were reformists, revisionists, or sellouts, if our art and writing must always have political purpose, and we were very sure that depending on our correct analysis of these definitions, we could then make decisions to act that would be ultimately unbeatable. But however we may have accounted for our thinking and our actions in these years, this was how we found and spent our youth.

– Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel



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October 14, 2020

Five Paul Valéry Quotes

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The path that leads from a confused idea to a clear idea is not made of ideas.



God made everything out of nothing, but the nothing shows through.



The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.



Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them.



At times I think, and at times I am.



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October 13, 2020

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

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“Environmental capitalism is a contradiction in terms. But is environmental totalitarianism?”

We were taking turns trying to imagine the future. Each of us taking a turn. It was mostly just a way to kill time. We had a great deal of time to kill at this particular juncture. We were waiting. There were four of us in that house. It was miles away from anything else. For reasons it became harder and harder to understand the longer we were here, we are almost completely isolated. There was no easy way to reach us and no way for us to reach anyone else closely involved with this undertaking. This was of course for everyone’s safety, but from moment to moment it didn’t necessarily make you feel safe. We had four motorcycles which we got better and better at racing, at the same time careful to avoid being seen, or at least seen going at full speed. Since the motorcycles were just in case. If we had to make an escape or set off in pursuit. In theory we were training but in practice it felt mostly like waiting. There would come a moment when we would move quickly. Until then, as far as anyone else in the world was concerned, we didn’t exist. We gave each other code names, at first as a joke, but later it began to feel like an essential part of the endeavor. Actually, there were a series of names until we settled on the ones that felt most real. First colors (blue, red, green, orange); then elements but only the first letter (f for fire, w for water, a for air, e for earth); then sports cars for some reason (mustang, ferrari, porsche, lamborghini.) Very quickly each of these short lists became far too obvious, even to us, as we searched for something that might improve us in the choosing of it. One thing I find so remarkable about this time is how we never really fight, never argue, focus our interactions on deepening our friendships and enjoying each other’s presence. I feel all of this has something to do with our sense of a common mission, with our commitment to that sense of common possibility.

“So green totalitarianism is your future?”

“Not the future I want. But sometimes it seems like the most obvious eventuality.”

“Are we choosing the futures we want or are we choosing the futures that seem most likely?”

“We didn’t specify. I think you can just choose any future. Anything you want us to consider.”

Then there was the matter of growing our own food. Only one of us had previously done so. So we followed her instructions as precisely as possible, knowing that if we didn’t do so properly we might not have enough to eat. (But that feeling is not a true reflection of the concrete situation. We have cash. When necessary we get into costume and head for a grocery run. For obvious reasons we do so infrequently. The food we grow is the safest option because we don’t need to interact with anyone other than each other in order to harvest it.) Over time, farming and waiting merge into a single activity. The motorcycles have been modified to run on vegetable oil. Which reduces their maximum speed considerably. I think about this each and every time we go over the escape plans. How commitment to certain principals might in the end be our undoing.


+ + + +


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.


+ + + +


“My entire life it felt like climate change, as we used to call it, was pending, happening in the future. But it doesn’t feel that way anymore. It feels like it’s happening right fucking now. So if the future is now, how do we imagine the future?”

“That’s the point of the game. That and to pass the time.”

“I imagine no internet. No phones. No televisions. All the thing we’ll have to do to communicate anyway. How much slower everything will be. Maybe a return to carrier pigeons or something.”

“Isn’t that basically how we’re living now?”

“Maybe that’s why I imagine it.”

“Still no carrier pigeons though.”

Often so little would happen, for weeks on end, and then suddenly something would. Like the day of the visit. The demonstration. They arrived early, first thing in the morning. I heard movement at the door and had a knife at their throat before they could even knock. But they knew the password, both passwords, and I also recognized them. I’d seen their picture. We’d gone through photos of everyone in the network, tried to commit each face to memory. They were one of the faces. They asked me to help roll the barrel inside. They’d biked it here, had a small trailer hitched to the back of their bicycle. I wondered if biking with that thing behind them was too conspicuous but they said there was hardly anyone along the route and most passerby’s were in cars, barely glancing in their direction.

I’d never touched an oil drum like that. It was heavy, took both of us to roll. I asked what was inside and they just laughed and said “oil.” Ask a stupid question. A few of the others were out on their motorbikes, so we sat and drank tea while waiting for the rest to return. We all had to be here for the demonstration. Before long we’d rolled the barrel out back and were all standing around it as our guest pried open the lid. The fumes we so strong. I’d always imagined the smell of industrial oil as the smell of death and I wasn’t far off. Our guest quickly handed out protective masks, apologizing that they should have done so before opening it. Then they took a very small bottle out of their pocket and, with an eyedropper, dripped just a few drops of a clear liquid into the barrel. In a few moments, as we all surrounded and watched, the oil was no longer liquid. It was solid, like stone or cement, as the barrel began to split open around it. Our guest explained that what was so amazing was the process couldn’t be reversed. The oil would remain solid forever and there seemed to be absolutely no way to convert it back into any kind of energy. All of its energy generating qualities were neutralized in the chain reaction. The others were still working out the details of how it all happened. But it had been thoroughly tested and worked quickly and efficiently every single time. There was a slightly different formula that worked on natural gas. Before the demonstration we hadn’t known exactly why we were here, and now we did. I’d never felt anything like that before, an overwhelming energy, a charge through my entire body that we’d genuinely be able to fuck something up, throw sand into the gears of the machine, bring something to a halt. If we hadn’t seen it happen I don’t know how I could have believed it. But the barrel continued to split open in the center of our circle. It definitely wasn’t oil anymore. It was something else. Something else was happening. The exact details of what we would do still had to be mapped out, all of that would take much longer then we perhaps wished, but the fact that something worth doing was already underway felt undeniable. Our guest got back on their bicycle and stated that they’d be back in exactly one month. By that time the plan would be in place. Or, at the very least, further along. Could we all hold tight for at least one more month?

The days and weeks after their visit were almost hallucinogenic. We continued to farm and race our motorcycles. But we could feel the precipice approaching, that soon we’d be over the edge and in the intensity and rush of our emancipatory falling nothing would be predictable or certain. Prior to the demonstration there was the idea that we were off the grid, no one knew we were here. We could complete the mission, return to our lives, there was some possibility no one would ever suspect our involvement. But what we were going to attempt was so big it was impossible to believe they wouldn’t do absolutely everything in their power to hunt us down. It would be the true test of just how invisible we could be. Also the test of how many of us were out there. Just how thoroughly could we shut things down? Of course the idea was that everything would happen all at once and, by the time anyone realized what was going on, we’d all be back in our normal lives and the ensuing chaos would mask our involvement. It was hard for us to believe that’s how it would go but also difficult to imagine the infinity of other more difficult scenarios. Our friendships also grew stronger during this time. That was something I was eternally grateful for, each and every day.


+ + + +


On days when the writing wasn’t going so well Petra would turn out all the lights and sit in the dim room focusing all of her energy in an attempt to open her mind as fully as possible to the thoughts of Penelope K. Some days they’d manage to converse, while on other days a connection didn’t quite seem possible. Petra spent a great deal of time wondering why sometimes it worked and at other times it didn’t, if there was any discernable pattern to it. She had the feeling that Penelope K was still in the process of learning, perhaps they both were, that the ability to communicate was something that might improve over time, with practice, and therefore their telepathic attempts should take place regularly.

It was about a month since Veronika had vanished and Petra was sitting in the dim room as per usual. Penelope K lay spread out in the middle of the floor, as calm as twilight, and Petra could feel that it was once again going to happen, a connection that felt as palatable and alive as her own most compelling thoughts.
P: Do you like it when we communicate? Like this?
K: It’s just a thing. One thing out of many.
P: For me it’s more than that.
K: What is it then?
P: I’ve told you how much I miss Veronika.
K: Yes.
P: The connection with you isn’t quite like that. But it’s the closest thing I still have. A connection that feels absolutely important and mysterious and real.
K: I feel that way about food.
P: Yes, I also like food.
K: And sleep.
P: Yes.
K: But I don’t want to hurt your feelings.
P: It’s okay. I understand. But you know…
K: What?
P: What we’re doing now. It’s highly unusual. Not all humans and kittens are able to communicate like this.
K: Really? I thought they were.
P: As far as I know it’s only us.
K: That’s really strange.
P: Yes.
K: Are you sure?
P: Yes.
K: But why can we do it when others can’t.
P: I don’t know. I was hoping maybe you knew.
K: I don’t.
P: So because it’s so rare, so special, I feel we should try to do it as often as possible. So we can really learn how.
K: You want to do this more? More often?
P: You don’t?
K: I never thought about it.

Later that night Petra was staring at the internet, trying to see if she could find any evidence that Veronika was still out there somewhere in the world. But there was none. She knew this was a good sign, since somewhere she also vaguely knew that it was Veronika’s intention to disappear as completely as possible. How exactly Petra knew this was difficult for her to say, a series of hints Veronika had dropped over the time they’d loved each other and been together, a repeated yet gentle warning, combined with some kind of intuition that might also, in some sense, be likened to telepathy.

She knew whatever it was Veronika was doing out there was something she considered to be of such intense importance that everything else must be momentarily set aside. And because she wanted to support Veronika as fully as possible there was a part of her that of course wanted to support this disappearance. But that was only one part of her. There was another part that hated it all so completely she could barely stand it. Why did she have to be left alone with no real information as to what was going on? What could be so important as to necessitate such irredeemable loneliness? Over time Petra began to feel the only way for her to cope was to write about it. To write what she imagined might be happening somewhere out there in the world. She would probably never know the entirety of the real story, but she could at least know the entirety of the story as she imagined it. Whether these pages would actually end up in her book was another matter. For that she would require Veronika’s permission. Permission that would only be forthcoming upon Veronika’s return. So writing what she imagined her to be doing was also a way of calling her back, or at least wishing for her return. Writing is so often a way of wishing for something to happen, something more or less realistic, more or less possible, imagining what you hope to see or hope to escape. Imagining the things outside of our control and how we can make them ours again through imagining them. Opening up a different strand of reality that might be less real but at least it’s ours, words on a page that will not spin as completely out of control as the world around us always threatens to do. The energy of words on a page. The dream that such words might be or become just a little bit less powerless.

(But in the end, she wasn’t really able to write about Veronika. Not even a fictional Veronika. Not even Veronika completely imagined, all the details changed, living an adventure that could only take place in fiction. It was simply too painful to imagine her in such danger.)


+ + + +


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. (Love before politics.) 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.

That was all somewhat before the house and the four motorcycles. Before the farming. There was a period of constantly on the move, of hiding from place to place. Then Veronika heard there were cells and they realized there might be a larger project they could slot into. They’d had another plan, or several possible ideas, but the rumor of a larger project sidelined everything they’d been thinking. It was better to join a movement then hustle up a project of their own. What seemed insane, it was difficult to know why this didn’t dissuade them from the start, is the cells involved something from the future, something funneling information back into the present that could then be put to use. Maybe, at the time, they thought this was only a manner of speaking. That the future was a metaphor for something, since wasn’t all of their activism in some way directed toward improving the future. So of course the future had a say in the matter. But over time they began to feel there was much more at play.


+ + + +


“How could the future be so different that we’re barely even able to imagine it?”

“Isn’t that what always happens? Something you’re not completely able to imagine beforehand.”

“But history repeats. The same things happening over and over again.”

“Not in the same way.”

“Sometimes too much the same way.”

Before our guest rode away on their bicycle, dragging the now empty trailer on the hitch behind them, they left us a package of maps. We were meant to study each and every one and we did at great length. Nothing was marked on the maps so it was unclear exactly what they would be used for. We discussed this amongst ourselves and decided it might have been done this way on purpose. To encourage us to become familiar with each territory without having any particular route or objective in mind.

We were standing around the former oil barrel. The metal had now almost entirely peeled away revealing a dark grey waist-high column. Almost like a pedestal or plinth. It wasn’t exactly like stone or concrete but perhaps somewhere in between the two, or more like hardened lava. It seemed almost like a substance, an object, that had arrived from outer space. Certainly it felt like something I had never seen before. Some of the cells had been getting jobs working in the oil industry. To give them heightened access. But this was a double-edged strategy in that it also might make their escape more difficult. There were going to be as many different approaches as we could imagine, to maximize our possibilities for success. The solidified column was too heavy for us to lift, even with all four of us, so instead we dug a giant pit directly next to it, the edge of the pit creeping as far under the column as we could manage. Then it wasn’t so difficult to tip it over, as it fell of its own volition down into the hole. As we covered it with shovel after shovel of earth, there was almost a feeling of something coming full circle. This oil had come from the ground and we were putting it back where it came from. There was also a joke made about how now maybe an oil tree would grow in this spot. An oil tree or a dark grey lava tree. Or something might grow that we couldn’t previously imagine. A tree of eternal unreality. We had a kit to check the soil for toxicity and, at regular intervals, we checked the soil in and around where the column had been buried. But there was no spike in the toxicity of the soil. Our guest had said that, in the process of becoming solid, the chain reaction also neutralizes the substance and, from what we could tell, this seemed to be the case.

“I find it difficult to imagine a world without money. A world where money doesn’t exist. That would really be a future worth imagining.”

“But maybe also a world without barter.”

“A world without economics. Without economists.”

“What about without images: no photographs, no paintings, no videos or films.”

“What do images have to do with it?”

“If you don’t have a window into somewhere else, it might force you to stay in the here and now.”

“I wouldn’t want to ban images.”

“I’m not talking about banning anything. I’m just talking about what we can imagine.”

The maps were often miles upon miles of empty grassland or desert. In terms of markers of civilization the instances were few and far between. But in the emptiness of that vast representational expanse, it was easier to imagine us pulling something off and actually getting away with it.


+ + + +


I am imagining every single copy of every single one of my books underwater, they have survived into the future but they are underwater so no one can read them. This image might encapsulate how I feel about being a writer today, in our times, when not so many people read and it’s hard to imagine reading making any kind of serious comeback in the immediate future. This is based only on anecdotal evidence. For example, eavesdropping on public transport. When I eavesdrop they’re almost always talking about television shows. It’s even harder to imagine the concrete relationship between reading and the distant future. I can readily imagine that electricity might become considerably less plentiful, and as an activity that requires less electricity then either television or the internet, reading might seem to have certain advantages. Also in the way books can be so easily shared (you finish reading a book and immediately pass it along to a friend.) But I know, to return to the essential, that I keep coming back to books because books are simply what I like. And other people like other things. If you are reading this there is a fairly good chance that you also like books, and this assumption gives me the feeling that, in writing this, I’m not necessarily speaking out of turn. It gives me the comforting, though possibly misguided, feeling that I’m speaking to someone who has at least some inking what I’m getting at.

Something that happened to me, that I thought about again the other day. I’m on a writing residency. And, while there, I meet with a young writer who I vaguely know from another city. She’s here studying and she tells me about the head of her writing program, a recent hire. She tells me there might be some similarities between his books and my books and I should check them out. I look up his work, never end up reading it, but I do find a quote from one of his books that I find particularly striking so I post it on social media. (As you probably already know I’m constantly posting quotes on social media.) Then I forget all about him. A few years later I’m in a different city and I see this young writer again. She gently chastises me for posting a quote from this older writer since, in the meantime, he’s been accused by many in her former program of predatory behavior and is considered a despicable figure. She asks me not to post any more quotes by him in the future. I say that I only posted the quote because she originally told me about him, that there might be similarities between our books. She has no recollection of ever having told me about him.

Petra is sitting in the dimly lit room thinking about her internet addiction. What does it mean to be a writer in the age of the internet? How many things in her books were influenced by something she’d read online? Penelope K is curled up on the desk, just at the edge of her peripheral vision. Petra glances over at her now most regular companion, considers once again working to fully open her mind and communicate, but instead, for the moment, decides to attempt a bit of online research, googling “telepathic kittens.” What she gets in return is an endless list of cartoons, science fiction scenarios, popular science articles about how much our cats know about us and how-to guides for how to mentally connect with your pet. Penelope K slides up and strolls across the desk – stepping over several pages of the handwritten first draft manuscript along the way – and stops just beside Petra, where they both find themselves staring at the screen. A long article outlining anecdotal instances of animal extrasensory perception. These instances, of which there are many, are anecdotal rather than research based because, as the article carefully states “among scientists the subject of telepathy has always been taboo.” Alongside more familiar household pets such as cats and dogs, we are told that “more than twenty other species showed similar behavior, especially parrots and horses, but also a ferret, several bottle-fed lambs raised as pets, and pet geese.”

But none of these stories – anecdotal or otherwise – have any resemblance to the communication they have experienced together. These are stories of pets waiting at the window because they can sense their human is about to return. Not what they do. Which is something more direct and informative. Petra thinks: “If I write about it as fiction at least no one will think I’m crazy.” Then she wondered when she started worrying about what other people think. Or if she really was worried about it. And how confident was she that she remained entirely sane. Penelope K stepped down into her lap to be petted and, as she complied, Petra could feel herself calming.
P: Can you hear my thoughts even when I can’t hear yours?
K: How do you mean?
P: For example, when I’m away from the apartment, can you hear or sense that I’m on my way home?
K: Of course.
P: What does it sound like?
K: It doesn’t sound like anything. I just know.


+ + + +


There was a section in a comic book I read when I was a child that I’ve always remembered. Catwoman has fallen deeply in love with someone (I can’t quite remember who) and is dancing barefoot around her apartment singing “all you need is love.” She is happy and singing and has never been happier. Then she steps on a newspaper carelessly strewn on the floor and looks down. The headline is something about a diamond, perhaps the world’s largest diamond, I can’t quite remember. She looks down at the headline and suddenly remembers the heist she had been planning. She says: “no, love is not all you need.” You also need wealth, you also need diamonds.

For Veronika, it was not about diamonds, but rather about making some sort of positive dent in the status quo, about trying to improve the world. She knew it was impossible to do so alone, that it had to be done collectively. But there were so many different ways to think of something as a collective, so many different ways for something to be collective. The four of them had met along so many different tangents, not all at once. Two of them had met, then the other two. Then an encounter that brought together one from each pair. It was only at the farm that all four found themselves at the same place, same time, and it could have been a disaster. Having to live together day in, day out, no other people to distract them. Either it would cohere or it wouldn’t and it did.

Rosalind knew Windsor was following her. He thought he was far enough away that she couldn’t see him. But she didn’t have to see him. She just knew. As she weaved her way through the side streets, slowly toward the small blue house and yet another evening meeting, she wondered why she hadn’t seen Windsor in a while. What could the reason be? Also, she now had to admit, it was rather strange he was following her at a distance, as if hidden, not the way one normally interacts with someone you have known almost twenty years. It wasn’t until much later, that evening, she fully realized that no one had told Windsor the gatherings had been moved, the implications of such an omission. She had never really liked Windsor, supposed that none of them really did, but he was certainly one of them and you couldn’t just leave him out, sneak away to another place in the hope he wouldn’t follow. What’s more, his activist credentials were considerably more robust than anyone else in the group. He had engaged in so much direct action, risked his life so many times over. The value of such experience certainly couldn’t be denied, whatever philosophical shortcomings the strategies behind these direct actions might or might not have been.

Rosalind thought all of these things as she biked toward a rendezvous she was momentarily unsure she should attend. She was nervous to be meeting someone new without first telling the others. But she was advised to tell no one and she did not want to betray this advice before the first encounter had even taken place. There was a part of her that thought she might know a little bit about what she was getting into and another part of her that had absolutely no idea. It was a childhood friend who had contacted her but it was not this friend she was about to meet. The friend had only said it was something she might be interested in, something that could not be shared, something that could only be created through connections with people you absolutely trust. The fact that she hadn’t shared it with the others from the gathering suggested that it was possible she did not absolutely trust them. But perhaps she would share it with them later, or with at least a few of them, once she had a better sense of whether or not they might be helpful in the endeavor. She arrived at the park and locked up her bike. She wasn’t sure where the exact spot was, or even what exactly she was looking for, but she walked slowly along the path, alert for any sign of a person who would someday – she already suspected – become an important part of her life.

The moment they saw each other they already knew. It wasn’t really like romance or friendship – it was something more political than that – but it was about each of them, how (one might say) they resonated on the same frequency, a feeling of connection with another person that for some reason you simply trust. They’d both lived long enough to know that such feelings don’t come along so often, so when they do you must grab the moment. And then something happened that neither of them had ever experienced before. Without either of them saying a word, they walked side by side through the park in silence, and when they reached the end of the park, still with neither of them speaking, they turned back and retraced their steps, walking back along the same path to the spot they first met. For most of that first visit neither of them said a word – wandering throughout the park, always returning to the same spot, as if to remember just exactly where it was – except at the very end when D quietly said that it was too dangerous to use phones or email, there was already too much surveillance on the go, so perhaps instead they could meet once a month, same time, same place, and in that way begin to gradually formulate some sort of plan.

The following month they once again walked together in silence. It was a warm night in the park, and they walked the same circuitous route they would come to know so well. Month after month, little by little, their silence was slowly replaced with words, sparse at first, a few words followed by the comforting resumption of silence, but these sparse words over time became a kind of spoken shorthand: to what degree would it be possible for them to disappear, in order to do something together that could only be done in secret.


+ + + +


“The future might be a little bit like what we’re living now. The four of us in this house. Taking food from the garden. Tending it. Waiting for a specific moment to arrive. Not knowing precisely when or what it will be.”

“Things feel pretty good here. I can’t really imagine the future feeling anywhere near this good.”

“Things might feel good here. But I can assure you they feel plenty bad elsewhere. The future will probably also be like that. Some places better than others.”

It was amazing how little I knew about farming when we all first decided to come here. And how – even though we’ve been here a while – I still don’t know all that much more about it now. But thank god R knows and continues to give us such careful instructions. R knows about growing things. D knows about motorcycles. B knows how to make secret plans. And I know how to cook. (But we’ve all been getting pretty good on the motorcycles.) Before we really didn’t know what we were waiting for, and now we have a much better idea, so in a sense that changes everything. And yet in another sense it doesn’t change all that much. The days begin to run into each other, each one much the same as the last. Wake up, harvest some things from the garden, cook, eat, look at the maps, practice racing motorcycles, cook and eat again. Imagine different scenarios for the future. But the mere facts of what we do together provide an insufficient picture of what is actually happening. Because while we do these same handful of activities over and over again, there is also something else at work. We’re cohering: as a group, as a project, as four individuals realizing how much we actually care for each other. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me. We need to cohere in order to prepare for what’s to come.

R grew up on this farm, ran away from home to become a student radical, inherited it from her parents when they died. She’d been planning to use it for some form of organizing ever since, preparing the garden to make it as self-sufficient as possible, for a time when such self-sufficiency would become necessary. Every day we can see how happy she feels that such a time is now, what she’d been preparing for so long, before any of us had even met. In so many ways we are here working and cohering in her childhood home, memories she’d sometimes prefer to forget. Though we rarely talk about it, we can all sense that her childhood was not good. How is it possible for someone to have such a rough formation yet turn out so well? I asked R this once, and she explained that while her actual family was abusive, she had two “aunts” whose home she escaped to at every possible opportunity. It was a two hour walk each way. A few years later they found her a bicycle and after that the trip went more quickly. These aunts knew everything her family didn’t, everything her parents refused to know.

There are certain stories, when we are here together, that get told over and over again. That we like to hear each other tell. That someone tells from their own lived experience and is then, later, repeated by someone else, to make a point or reinforce some thought or reflection. And one of these stories, that I’m sure has now been repeated by each of us many times, in different forms and iterations, has to do with R, with this farm, with her life just before she ran away, beginning the long journey to become, more or less, who she is today. We don’t really know who she was back then, back before we knew her, but we do know this story, different forms of it, and it is not really a story at all. One night R is in their kitchen, her two aunts taking turns telling her things about the world, when one of them says something that completely shifted R, at the time she barely even realized it, no idea how it happened or why, but that night in the kitchen, slowly, over time, became a kind of origin story or myth for why she left home, how she began to alter her understanding of everything , why she is doing the things she’s doing, the things we’re all doing, preparing for, here in this house in the here and now.

R’s aunt – and as you might have already guessed they weren’t factually related, only in spirit, (and in the fact that they practically raised her, or at the very least raised all that was best in her) – said that the degree to which everything needs to change is so large that none of us are really able to imagine it. But, nonetheless, the most important thing for us to do is imagine it. And not imagine it in any one specific way, but imagine it in as many ways as possible. It is a change in everything we do but, more importantly, in everything we think and feel, in what we think is most important, in what we feel actually matters. From her perspective – and R still remembers to this day how her aunt said this with a small, trenchant laugh – the change had to do with a realization that everything is symbiotic and interconnected, like a house of cards. But already she could feel that a house of cards was completely the wrong metaphor. All the metaphors we currently had at our disposal were wrong. A house of cards went upwards, and if you took one card away the entire tower tumbled. And the cards didn’t place themselves in this arrangement. They were placed there by another hand. But the everything she was referring to, that was symbiotic and interconnected and, in her humble opinion, our potential new understanding of the entirety of our lived reality, was made entirely of “cards” that each found their own way into mutually beneficial arrangements through their own organic, evolutionary volition. Each “card” found its place within the evolutionary knowledge that it’s role was vital or the entire house would fall. Each “card” implicitly knew it needed every other card, knew how to live this knowledge. And of course we weren’t “cards.” But what were we really? And where could we find the humility to know that the bacteria in our gut was just as important and vital as anything we might do or say in this life?

I now imagine myself listening to R as she explained to me how deeply this idea first struck her. That everything needs to change. That our thinking in and around what everything actually is fundamentally needs to change. How she felt that her aunt wanted her to understand that without symbiotic relationships, without all the living pieces that held each other in place and allowed each other to thrive, there would be nothing. And without this knowledge we – our culture, our society, our humanity – were no sturdier than a house of cards. She didn’t know if there was a way to fight for this idea, out in the world, the world of ideas or the world of people, but she knew she had to try.

We had all told this story so many times, in so many different ways, that over time it became, in a sense, our idea. An idea between the four of us. The “idea from her aunt’s kitchen” as we sometimes called it. We had simpler version and more complex ones. (The version I just recounted above is perhaps one of the simpler ones.) And how could we, together, generate a politics of symbiotic relationships. Or even formulate such a thing. That was one of our many questions, one of the many questions we worked on, quietly, in the background of our daily life. Questions that were also part of our game of imagining the future. A house of cards was a terrible metaphor, but what was the metaphor we preferred? Sometimes I thought that perhaps it had something to do with music.


+ + + +


Penelope K absolutely hated being in the plastic pet holder, really little more than a cage with a handle on top, but implicitly understood they wouldn’t let her on the train without it. She remembered the first time she’d been on this train, how they’d allowed her to sit on Petra’s lap, but even then they had been making an exception. (Petra and Veronika had to carefully explain that the kitten had just spontaneously been gifted to them and they hadn’t had time to purchase a pet holder yet.) Now, going back in the other direction – Veronika somewhere out there in the world, neither of them knowing quite where or when they might see her again – Penelope K had decided to make the best of it, staring through the bars of the cage and out the window as the scenery streamed past. It was her idea to return to The Vicinity. Together they had agreed to spend a few weeks there in order to get away from the city. It was unspoken, but both understood there were fewer memories of Veronika at The Vicinity then there were back home. Getting off the train, Rana once again met them with an extra bicycle, and Penelope K was let out of the pet holder and placed alongside it in the bed of small trailer that Rana pulled along behind them. Even though Petra felt she hadn’t spent much time with Rana during their last visit, had barely gotten to know her, now it was like they were old friends reuniting. Rana of course asked about Veronika, and Petra was vague in her reply, saying Veronika had some work to do and couldn’t join them, but she of course sends her best. The moment they reached the main building, Penelope K took off, running through the half-ajar front door and down the hallway in search for her long-lost kitten siblings. She could sense them everywhere. But when she found them she realized that only two were left. All the rest had been given away. Penelope K and her brother and sister briefly frolicked like it was old times, before stretching out in the sun of the atrium for a nap. Upon waking there was much to learn:
K: What have I missed?
B: There was a police raid.
K: What happened?
S: About a hundred police stormed through the place, tearing through everything, taking away boxes and boxes of people’s stuff, confiscating them, taking away people with their arms handcuffed behind their backs, yelling, pointing guns, ripping up the crops and soil, stomping on all the things that were growing.
B: It was terrifying.
S: It lasted an entire day.
B: We hid.
K: Of course. What else could you do?

If kittens really had telepathy (and I suppose there’s a sense in which they do,) they probably wouldn’t talk to each other like this, using human speech, grammar and syntax. Maybe they’ll communicate differently as this story progresses, but for now this seems to be the best I can do.
B: Things here feel different now.
K: How do they feel?
S: The people are more nervous. Everything is more stressful.
K: That makes sense.
B: We’re waiting. Things seem to get more calm over time.
S: As things get more calm we roam more freely.
K: I was expecting to see everyone again.
B: It’s only the two of us now.
S: Such a strange feeling seeing them each leave, one by one.
B: Each one going to a “good home.”
S: As if this wasn’t a good home. Where we began. Where we all lived together.
B: Do you like your new home?
K: It’s all right, I suppose.

Rana decides not to mention the raid. She senses that Petra is already nervous and feels there is no reason to make her more so. The raid had left everyone exhausted and demoralized, but slowly, day by day, they were pulling themselves back together, finding all the necessary ways to get The Vicinity back on its feet. The police held those they took away for a couple of weeks but, in the end, released them without charges. What it felt like was a warning. But precisely which activities they were being warned not to pursue felt somewhat unclear. (There were so many to choose from.) Maybe the police didn’t quite know themselves, simply felt what was occurring here at The Vicinity was so different from the normal way of doing things that if it wasn’t already illegal, maybe it should be.

Rana knew she didn’t have nearly the same level of protection or security as so many of the others she lived and worked alongside. She was here without papers, having escaped from the camp never to return, and therefore she could absolutely not afford to be arrested, however temporarily. For this particular raid she’d had enough of a head start to effectively hide in the woods and stay there until long after it was over. However, if there was another raid, would she be able to successfully pull off the same trick a second time? She wondered if she was safer here then she might be somewhere else and, if not, where that safer somewhere else might be found.

Over again over again, in spare moments and during late night walks through the woods, she weighed her various options, the merits and demerits of each one. Staying at The Vicinity often remained at the top of the list, for now anyways. There is still more to learn here. And she continues to make contacts, all of which might become useful if she ever has to leave. She tells herself she must think strategically, as strategically as possible. There is so much work to do. Short term thinking will get her nowhere. Long term thinking is the key. As far into the future as possible and then even further on from there.

Next week some guests are arriving who worked at a tech firm. She didn’t quite know all the details yet, but once again it would be her job to show them around. The task she repeatedly volunteered for. In playing tour guide she also got more direct access to whatever information might be gleaned. Each group she showed around somehow contributed another sentence or chapter to some potential or possible plan. But the overall details of the plan never quite came into focus. Nonetheless, she had faith that they would. Eventually. When necessary. Since the raid she no longer thought of The Vicinity as a safe place to hide until the details were in sharp enough focus to proceed. But since she felt no certainty that any other place would be safer, she needed to focus on whatever advantages were to be had. And there was something so intriguing about what was being attempted here. A different way of living. The desire to believe a completely different way of living might actually be possible.

Because Petra was writing a novel about ecological collapse, among many other topics, she felt she should read at least a few other novels on the same topic as research. She had brought them along with her to The Vicinity, where she assumed she would have a great deal of free time to read. The idea of her time here being “internet-free” both intrigued and annoyed her. She knew the amount of time she spent online was, in some ways, counter-productive, but at the same time how could you be a person or a writer in this very specific day and age without incorporating all that was to be found there? As she unpacked the ecological novels from her small suitcase she spent a long moment staring at each cover. Most of the covers featured images of the natural world, at times more decimated, in other images considerably less so. In direct contravention to the common expression that said one should not do so, she found herself judging each book by the image with which it presented itself. The titles were also an occasion for much judgement. What were these books she hadn’t read yet, she found herself wondering as she also began to wonder whether she would actually be able to get herself to read them. They were part of a trend that was also part of the response to what was perhaps the most existentially terrifying situation humanity had yet to find itself in. How could you face the enormity of this situation and decide the solution was to write a novel about it? “How could you?” she asked each book cover as she threw it onto the small desk in the corner of the room. But of course that was also what she was doing herself. It was so easy to find other author’s motivations suspect while feeling her own motivations to be something she could more or less live with (at least most of the time.) But when her book was finished and published, and placed alongside these other books strewn haphazardly on the small desk, judging only by the covers all the various motivations behind each book would feel basically the same.

Penelope K wandered into the room, hopped up onto the desk, and stretched herself out across the books. It clearly wasn’t the books that had led her to this decision, but because the window was placed at an angle such that the sunlight hit the surface of the desk more brightly and warmly then it did any other part of the room. The sunshine was also nature, even more so than the images gracing the covers of any of the books. Petra sat down at the desk and stroked Penelope K’s back. The sunlight had made her fur warm. Petra momentarily stopped thinking about these other books, which were in some way her competition (but wasn’t that so much part of the problem, that so many of us seemed to be in competition with each other instead of working together, pushing in the same direction, to make the necessary changes that might mitigate, to the greatest extent possible, the onrushing ecological collapse), and instead began to wonder just why exactly she was here, what exactly had brought her back to The Vicinity? Was she really going to write about it? Would it find some place within the multiple, overlapping storylines of her seemingly endless novel-in-progress? And, if so, precisely what role might it play? Here they were genuinely trying to do some of the things, in real life, that she was only writing about. In a way, being here, watching them work, should even be inspiring. But she had to admit she didn’t feel especially inspired. The reality of it all seemed so low key and pedestrian. She stood up and went to the window. In the distance she could see half a dozen people working in the fields. But, from this distance, she couldn’t quite make out exactly what they were doing. One of them was spraying the crops. She knew from her last visit that the liquid being sprayed was homeopathic and natural. She wondered if there was something more specific she could do with her time here that might lead to her feeling more inspired. Did she come here to be inspired or only to escape the ghosts of Veronika back in her apartment? What part of real life, of her life, might be useful for whatever it was she was actually trying to write: the heartache or the collective farming? Something that was broken within a single individual or something that was many individuals working together to find a more livable and hopeful way to help each other survive? Could one even be seen as an answer to the other? Was it misguided to think of heartbreak as little more than a question?

That night at dinner she sat at a long communal table across from Rana and alongside a handful of others she was meeting for the first time. Rana asked again about Veronika and this time Petra felt she had no choice but to give a somewhat more honest answer. She didn’t know any of the details, but she hadn’t seen Veronika for a while now. No, they hadn’t broken up. It didn’t exactly have to do with things like that. It had to do with something else. She wasn’t completely sure what. With activism. With preparing for something that could only be done far away from everyone she knew, so as not to put them in unnecessary danger. Rana asked how she felt about it all and Petra didn’t quite know how to answer. She felt everything. She felt so much. She wanted to fully support Veronika in whatever it was that she now had to do, but how could she support her when they weren’t in contact and she had no idea when they might be again. She could only support her in her thoughts. She could only have faith, however slight, that they would someday see each other again and it would happen at the right time, in the right way, a reunion made more precious by this time they had spent apart.

The person sitting next to Rana was clearly listening in. The more Petra explained, the more avidly they listened, until they couldn’t hold their thoughts any longer and felt compelled to interrupt. “You’re talking about Veronika? Who was here with you last time you visited?” Petra of course said that, yes, she was talking about that Veronika, who else could it be, at which point this complete stranger fell silent, had to be coaxed at great length to continue, and wouldn’t do so here in the communal dining room where anyone might overhear, but later that night they met in the atrium and went for a walk deep into the forest. It was only when Petra and this complete stranger were far away from all the buildings, with only forest sounds and darkness for company, that some sort of partial explanation could begin. “I really shouldn’t tell you this. I’ve told no one and that’s the way it should stay. But I’ve read a few of your books. I feel I know something about you. It makes me want to trust you. Perhaps more then I should.” Petra listened, but that was all she was told for now, so they continued to walk in silence. There was a kind of thin half-path carved through the trees, but it was dark so you had to walk slowly and carefully if you weren’t to trip. The silence went for long enough that Petra began to feel she wasn’t going to get anything else, that she was going for a walk at night, in the darkness, only to learn there was some piece of information she wasn’t going to be told. But then this person spontaneously resumed. “I thought back in the dining hall you were going to start crying. I really didn’t want to see you cry. Though crying is a natural part of life. Of course crying is healthy. But, I guess just because I read your books, just because of that it seems I like you. And, I don’t even really know why, but I guess because I like you I didn’t want to see you cry.” Again the forest sounds, a placeholder for another silence between them, and, as her eyes continued to adjust, a darkness cut into by a strong moonlight felt down through the cover of the trees. This time Petra was more confident that the silence wouldn’t last forever. That the thing she shouldn’t be told would eventually be told to her, though at that moment she couldn’t even begin to imagine what it might be. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this. But, at the same time, I feel maybe I have to. It was such an intense coincidence that I was sitting almost across from you as you explained what had happened, as Rana and I both heard your explanation for the first time. It’s the force of the coincidence that makes me feel I have to tell you. Such an intense coincidence to see you on the verge of tears because you don’t know where Veronika is and I do. You can’t tell anyone. I only saw her for a few hours. I was only there to deliver something, for a demonstration. I don’t mean a protest. More like a science experiment. I know this probably makes no sense. But she’s safe. I just felt I had to tell you she’s safe. She’s about to do something dangerous but, for now, she’s exceptionally safe, surrounded by friends who completely and deeply care for her. This project is so much bigger than any of us. I don’t even know for how long we’ve been planning it. Or how many of us there are. You can’t tell anyone. We’re really going to do something that will change everything. Or maybe it will. We hope it will. But you shouldn’t worry. At some point soon the planning will have come and gone. I feel that then, or shortly thereafter, she’ll find her way back. I guess that’s why I can’t keep the secret that I really know I should have kept. I don’t think anyone told you my name. Don’t ask anyone to tell you my name. I’ll leave tomorrow and hopefully you won’t see me again for a very long time. I think I’m still mostly keeping the secret if I tell you that our project is closer to the end then it is to the beginning and after that I imagine she’ll find her way back.” Then Petra couldn’t help it. She explained she needed to be alone, there was no need to worry, she’d always had a good sense of direction and would easily find her way back. The moment she was alone she sat down in the spot where she’d stood and began to cry. She was still crying many hours later when the first glimmer of sunlight could be sensed through the trees though it was still too early to feel its warmth. And then, she could barely believe her eyes, she sees Penelope K snaking her way through the underbrush, calmly walking toward the place she sat. As if she was being rescued. As if this kitten had appeared to lead her back to humanity. If Penelope K hadn’t appeared she might have sat there crying for many more hours. She had always cried the most upon hearing the painful uncertainty of possibly good news. She thought: when you really need some sort of sign, some indication that not everything is lost, or at least an arrow pointing you in some possible direction, sometimes you might just get one. Sometimes you might even get two. And what did this experience mean for whatever she was or wasn’t going to write?


+ + + +


And then, so suddenly we could barely believe it, we were given the go ahead. They arrived on bicycle, this time without the hitch or the trailer, gave us four small vials and a clearly marked map, and left just as quickly.

“It seems we’re about to get a glimpse.”

“A glimpse of what?”

“Of the future.”

“We’re not about to get a glimpse. We are the glimpse. We’re making this happen.”

“We’re making this happen and we’re only one small part of it.”

“A small part of the future.”

“A cut into the present that opens out toward the future.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

We set out at dawn the next day. Perhaps the motorcycles were only to look cool, but they were also especially well-suited to our mission. Riding single file through small towns on through even smaller towns until we reached the desert. Keeping our distance from one another in case there was trouble and we were forced to split up. This wasn’t desert before, but drought after drought was steadily edging the soil in that direction. You could still feel the residue of grass and trees as patches of it sped by. Greenery fading brown and grey. We had studied the maps and knew exactly where we were going, knew it so intensely it was almost as if we had been there before, had done this before, the route that unraveled before us providing some feel of uncertain destiny. As we rode, distances between us widened, we were naturally spreading out, each taking up our necessary space. Soon I could no longer make out either R’s motorcycle up ahead nor B’s motorcycle far behind me, but I could sense that we remained in formation, that the four of us continued to ride in sync. We had practiced this together so many times, each keeping our speed even and steady, sand blowing past us on either side of the thin asphalt strip. There was a lone building in the distance we all knew marked the turnoff, and I turned left on the road just past it. Even though I could no longer see them, I knew each of the others had or would do the same. I’d never felt more focused or, for that matter, more alive. It was another hour before we spotted the pipeline, stretching endlessly in both directions.

Just as the map indicated, there was a valve every thirty miles, and we were to place ourselves forty valves apart. When B got to forty she was to stop, as would I when I reached eighty, then one hundred and twenty for R, and finally one hundred and sixty for D. I counted the valves as I sped past them, stopping at eighty and waiting for R and D to reach their positions. We’d estimated it would take D about twenty hours to reach her valve. As I waited I could feel myself purring with anticipation. I hid the motorbike behind some brambles, sat down beside it, and waited for the moment of reckoning. Every hour I ate something small and drank some water. There was so much to think about, but thinking made the time go slower, so instead I emptied my mind. We had no devices so there was no way to communicate. Devices would only give them a way to track us. We were each alone but also together, each waiting our carefully timed wait, required to have enough faith in our ability to remain in sync and not fuck this thing up. That time passed so strangely. I was never bored or tired or on edge. I felt exactly as I was meant to feel, a heightened reality, and confidence in each of the others, a knowledge that none of us would ever get this chance again.

When the time came I stood back up and walked calmly toward the valve, turning it open, removing the vial from my pocket. I could already hear a distant crackling resonate through the steel so I knew that I was not the first, that the moment was now, as I let each drop fall into the opening, one after another, the cracking getting louder from both directions. I looked into the distance and could see and feel the pipeline rapidly splitting open, spitting up dust and grit as it rushed, like a contained wave blasting through, opening the sand. It sped so fast that even in the first moments I looked I couldn’t sense where the commotion came to an end, and it wasn’t ending, it was racing further away from me in both directions, a solidifying column that splintered metal as it burned into the distance. I walked back to the motorcycle, propped it up, got back on. I wouldn’t see the others again for many years. This was both a momentary victory and the end of our time together. For now. So I hoped. It was time to return to some other - perhaps equally temporary - life.



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