fiction excerpt

I have a short story coming out through Holum Press pretty soon. Here’s a bit from another one I’m working on — I guess this at this point it’s more of a character sketch. A real plot’s about to happen …


When Rose was a little girl, she’d lock the door to her bedroom whenever she was inside it, even though nobody ever tried to bother her in there. It was the first thing she did when she came home from school. Tiny feet pounding the stairs, backpack swinging from one thin arm, breathless by the time she reached the end of the hall. As soon as she slammed the door behind her, she’d click the knob upright. Then onto watching TV or drawing with colored pencils and construction paper. Dinner was always at six.

A few times she forgot to change it back. After-dinner-tired, Rose might slouch upstairs about nine o’clock to encounter the obstacle. This is the story of how she learned to pick locks. She even slept outside the door once, waking up before her grandmother to spring it open with a bobby pin. The next step was to carry bobby pins all the time, which she remembered most days. That would be easier than getting into the habit of double-checking. After a few months she knew exactly what to do. No one ever saw her.

Rose at the bar, age eighteen, didn’t move as nimbly as you might expect of a seasoned lock-picker. Sometimes clumsy, sometimes so self-conscious it would break your heart. Usually she would chat to men if they started first, controlling her already-meek voice to be even softer. Rose ordered red wine and scotch when they were around, and when she danced people watched her.

At twenty-three she drank vodka and club soda with lemon. She danced less and slept past eleven most days. Her ennui was underwritten by the keen sense for cultural vacancy she picked up college. Rose thought she hated everything.

Tonight she visits an abandoned warehouse adorned ostentatiously with fluorescent paint, psychedelic patterns and bloated cartoons stretching themselves across its corners. Here she comes, picking delicately toward the place where a few early drinkers hang in a flock. It’s not a real bar, it’s a folding-table construction watched over by a young woman who has no idea how to mix a cocktail.

Rose orders a vodka and soda and realizes she knows the woman from somewhere, maybe a friend of a friend. This “bartender” introduces herself as Laurie and takes a shot as Rose crosses the halfway mark on hers, leaning against the table which would collapse against the weight of even the slightest bodies. Both of legal age, but they exchange the smiles of partners in crime. The drink tastes like a dividing line.

All-grown-up Rose still knows how to pick locks. This will come in handy soon, but she doesn’t know it yet.

At sixteen, she prayed for the end of her boredom. “Please, God, let something interesting happen.” A friend asked her if she could enjoy life without looking for significance in everything. “You can’t just tie everything up in a metaphysical bow of meaning,” he’d told her.

Now Rose stumbles out of the warehouse, falls on her knees. She picks herself up with the scrappy dignity of the drunk, gripping a faux fur shawl of dingy taupe to her chest. Pink and silver bangles nearly slide off her right wrist. She thinks she lost her shoes but they’re in a velveteen backpack slung halfway down her spine, and anyway it doesn’t matter, since she’s getting a taxi to her apartment.

She waits in a parking lot, observes the fall’s first chill. Rose used to hate this moment of the year, back-to-school time, the early nightfall stoking grim feelings that would flower into smothering depression by November. Now she doesn’t mind so much. It’s early September, time to fold up the season and stow it in a forgettable place.

The taxi will arrive soon. As Rose edges toward the curb, she hears a muffled banging noise from across the lot. She’ll spend the next few hours learning about this sound, but by daybreak she won’t have fathomed the depths of its strangeness. Certainly she won’t grasp its significance to her future.

Rose scans her surroundings, sees nothing. The sound is coming from the northeast corner. Still very much under the influence, she correctly identifies it: someone’s trapped in the trunk of a car, struggling with to get the attention of a bystander. Oh, shit.

She ducks behind a parking meter as the taxi moves in, watches as it makes one slow cycle around the perimeter before turning away. Now the lot is emptied of all signs of life — in fact the scene is totally silent, except for the clamor of the hostage.

Rose turns her gaze toward the sedan. Parked at the furthest space, it’s the only vehicle in the northeast quadrant. Glossy black exterior conspicuous under a halogen lamp, it’s  not at all a well-chosen site for an abduction, she thinks. As her fingers locate three pliable hairpins tucked inside a velveteen pocket, she rises from her stooped position. The rescue mission begins.


Mrzyk & Moriceau made a music video and it looks really good.

you’re living all over me, part 2

Richard Doyle says the drugged narrator writes in the “Nth person plural” — a psychic transfer that starts in a level-up from first person to third, then beyond, full exit from singular personal enclosure, ego immolation. It starts when you notice how often you use I in your writing, how references to you and your problems punctuate everything you say and do, the hell of the self, the effusive suffocating I, me, I, I, the crime some people charge social media with: crowding oneself in with oneself, filter bubbles, “the daily me,” bodies made out of their own information.

In this moment depression, our current pandemic, is not as an infection, a malignant actor from the outside like bacteria or rape, but an infarction, endogenous — it’s cancer. Too much self growing inside the self. I’m living all over me.

Recently I read that masochism as a kink is deep down more purely evil than sadism. That masochists are more self-interested, less compassionate. That their libidinal energies well up and attract predators like mosquitoes circling to stagnant water.

Now I think about what it would be like to dominate someone else, to conjure blood to virgin cheekbones, train my fingers to pinch and beat and hypnotize, read my eros into its translucent surfaces. To bring a blush to the back of a neck, so pretty like the stem of a young plant, just to find out if it’s as easy to snap in half. I imagine this complete alien who exists in time but not space, who takes up no weight in the world, the fairy thing-body of time but not even time because you can only seduce it in quantum lightshows that flicker somewhere between your fantasy and the fantasy that it sees you, too.

And I think about a strain of continental philosophy that categorically rejects psychology as a science. That remakes heart medicine in the image of a collective awareness, a translatable jargon, a realpolitik. According to which the question what does pain mean? makes sense.

I’m a childless pacifist, I’ve never brought life or death into this world. At times I’ve felt pretty inhumanly exterior to these normal cycles of genesis. But pure life and death, I mean total pleasure and pain, unnumbness, I know them too. Buddhism says life is suffering, but doesn’t pain push us back into the blindness of the ego? Doesn’t it remind us of that basic separation we’re always grieving? I think I’m right and the Buddhists are wrong.

the dirty south < the debased north

Last week I was in Dallas, Texas, where I found this great book:

The inscription says Listen! Magick is afoot. Which is better than a hand!

Now I am in New York City to talk about bots, phenomenology, and maybe the entire Internet at Theorizing The Web. I am preparing by watching this:

Which I recorded in Woodstock last summer. If I had one wish I’d be heading there after the conference. But I’ve got some important stuff going on in Virginia next week, see. This is only a three day trip.

I will return to New York soon!


Today is my birthday. It’s also my brother’s birthday (we’re twins) and my cat’s. She’s 2.

I am 29. I thought a little about getting older today. All I have to say is that I’m happier at age 29 than I was at 19, but probably not happier than when I was 9. When I turn 30 perhaps I’ll have richer thoughts re: aging to share.

In more important news, last week I scheduled a defense for the proposal of my doctoral dissertation. The working title is “Psychedelic Science and the Epistemic Regime of Data.”

I would like to say more about it. I will soon.

The defense will happen (or not) the morning of May 1st. Then I’ll go celebrate International Workers’ Day, or something.

If all goes according to plan, I will defend the actual PhD around May 2020.

I made up a list of sources I’m drawing from. This is not the entirety of my citations/inspirations, but it does represent a great deal — years— of research. It’s a chronicle of 3 decades of commitment to weird stuff.

Just remembered this great joke from The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy:

PREFECT: You should prepare yourself for the jump into hyperspace; it’s unpleasantly like being drunk.

ARTHUR: What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?

PREFECT: Just ask a glass of water.

At one point I was in the habit of making music on an almost-daily basis. I miss it.

The lyrics of the second song are taken from an epigraph to this graphic novel.


“I knew two things to be true of your world

here and there, there and here
there and here, here and there

And that I stood Here at all times —
I knew it.

When I realized the two were whole
I lost sight of the boundaries of my home.”

everyone alive wants answers

A young-Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-looking guy in a dark t-shirt. A few inches north of his solar plexus a beam of light is refracted into rainbow through the slender quadrilateral of the Ethereum logo — the dark side of the cryptocurrency. He’s leaning over a café counter, shoulders drawn toward his heart, and he takes my order in illegible penmanship before switching the music to LCD Soundsystem. I heard I’m blowing Marxism to pieces. I tell him I like his shirt, I mean I like this town’s casual relationship with the future. We could talk about it if we weren’t at work.

They say libido doesn’t deal in organic wholes; I know the pornographic arts require mastery of surfaces, cut-ups, debasement of the codes that seal the self airtight to maintain homeostasis. What cybernetics tried to discover and replicate.

So the younger are happy to trade ghost money. Maybe they read substance into the flatness. Some days it chills me to feel known exclusively from two dimensions. But that’s just pathos. I have a new mind now that assimilates lossiness, the magazine quality of desire, depthless rumors about the possibilities of skin on skin.

He’s a nerd. Probably into H.P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read “The Color Out of Space” even though a few years I totally said I had to gain someone’s respect.

And I’m sitting in his café reading this card I got over the weekend which lists the effects of 2C-B (4-Bromo-2, 5-dimethoxyphenethylamine):

A psychedelic drug first synthesized in 1974 by Dr. Alexander Shulgin. At lower doses 2C-B produces a mild entactogenic effect, with few or no hallucinations. At higher doses 2C-B produces intense visual effects. Moving objects leave “trails.” Surfaces may appear to be covered with geometric patterns and may appear to be moving or “breathing.” Colors may appear from nowhere.

I want to talk to this man about the net worth of nothing. The epistemic value of no, omniscient narration, colors that appear from God-knows-where. How pop music taught me that nothing turns itself inside out (i.e.) and has healing power (i.e.). How in the world of things bound by open secrets, nowhere absorbs the autonomous horizons of the mind.
If money appears as if by magic it should at least grow on trees, that’s my opinion. I want to tell him.

Last weekend I met a man in a mauve belly shirt and acid wash jeans, long slim fingers, ugly skin. A manic pixie dream boy. He only had one name, that’s what he told me. Come party he said and I replied I’m Emma Stamm and I don’t want to join any party, I am tired of them.

He said the town he’s from is so small that he swiped through all his Tinder matches in a single hour, that he had to expand the gender options, then — skipping half a conversational beat to hand me a postcard — he circled to pornography. He revealed a lot of the nothing at the peak of his dreams. A claw-foot bathtub with bubbles spilled over onto the warm lacquer floor, soundless as an anechoic chamber or sensory deprivation tank. A place of nothing-privilege where nobodies mind their own business. That’s the party boy’s fantasy.

And he fell silent as he produced another card. This one’s about ketamine he told me, over-steady eyes like a sidewalk clairvoyant. One for nitrous oxide, another for cocaine. He said it was for safety and I replied that after so many parties I know how to stay nimble, how to be well. That I give equal attention to knowledge and its other, but it’s hard to behave normally after a pure encounter with either one.

And now some of the cards live here, where normality is law, some are slipped between the journals in my bedroom. I took so many. I don’t know if they’re souvenirs or notes of affection or … ? For some, personal integration means learning everything there is to learn about oneself, for others it’s an article of faith.