Was all that, featuring Jill Stukenberg, Daniel Thomas, Ben Parzybok, & me. Here's the transcript. Post if you're interested in participating.
With any luck it will have been forgotten that
Cook the books
The envoy will be here in two years. They'll land in Alaska -- they're partial to cold, what with their smaller sun. It’s a small ship, meant for exchanging gifts and making nice with new species. We're all very excited and as you can imagine we're taking our jobs very seriously. We all want to look our best. It’s a first date, if you will.
My job is to rewrite history. Still, everybody keeps talking about 1984 and the Ministry of Truth. It's not the same! I try not to let it get my dander up. Think about the 20th century and put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to meet us?
But we do have fun with it, listen to this bit I wrote:
Carol sees the ugliest shoes -- yellow and green with frills and dangles. She’s inexplicably compelled to try them on. With them on her feet the hovering shoe salesman leans in close and whispers: “Your beauty terrifies me. Touch me, and I will rend myself in twain.” He shapes his hand as a claw, ready, and she wishes she hadn’t seen the sweat glisten on his fingertips.
My coworker Carol will find this in her mind, surfacing like a dead body bubbling up from the swamp. It’s a little game we play, adding florid little fabrications to each other’s memories.
With any luck, it will be forgotten that I have access to all history, not just the 50 lives I’ve been assigned to rewrite. I could cook the books for the entire history of humankind, had I a thousand monkeys.
When the aliens finally land and sift through the silt of commerce, the plastic grocery bags afloat in the Pacific, the convenient, ugly architectures of office buildings and defunct cafes, when they review the wreckage of our war driven economy, the worst of my love letters will have been lost. With any luck, it will have been forgotten that I emailed Rick Lockwood six separate times during one inauspicious September night in 1999; the unintentional reference I made in one email to the film Pretty Woman will be cast adrift among the dander of that bad decade. “You hurt me,” I wrote. “Don’t do it again.”
When the anonymous referees of the future preside, I will want to cook the books. I will erase my florid, earnest declarations of love to Mike Callaghan, Zefrey Throwell, and that guy whose name I cannot remember. who I pretty much stalked at Western Michigan University in 1992—I made him a mix tape (yes, cassette) that included Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Sisters of Mercy. I made it by candlelight, confident that the mood would communicate, that the skies would rend, and the science project I felt myself then to be would work: the baking soda volcano would erupt, and there I would be, Loved. For this man and others, I wrote bad poetry. Give it five hundred years. The glaciers will progress right over Michigan again, and all sins committed in that state will be chemically altered, assume the crystalline posture assigned to ice. Don’t worry, my mom used to say on the first day of school. No one is looking at you.
I wrote a novel… for National Novel Writing Month.
The challenge was to write 50000 words in 30 days.
Not wanting to produce some tedious science fiction crap, I began by writing a memoir.
While furiously typing, an unbidden salacious narrative was rent from underneath me, a florid schizophrenia, blood and urine dripping from the pages.
The genre: Post-Apocalyptic-Junky-Porno.
With any luck, I will forget that I ever wrote it.
To further the shame, I went to the after-party with the joiners in Portland who wanted to share their 30-day novel writing experience.
The host lived in Orenco Station, a “Created Community” whose tagline is “Just Like a Real Neighborhood”. I should have known of the trouble.
The foyer cascaded with street-hikers and gortex shells.
The next guest entered and unfurled a cape from a Safeway shopping bag.. He produced a crown. A paper crown. That he put upon his head.
Cheetos and Doritos in stainless mixing bowls on a beveled glass and brass table. Diet Coke and McTarnihans were the hard drugs. The accumulated dander of months of cats, hours of dogs, days of gerbils awaited a razor and mirror.
They announced that we were all to offer up a reading, a snippet of the 50000.
Frightened, I tried to cook the book by marking blasé passages and realized that opiated sex dreams pervaded every section. It was my turn. I made the scripted introduction: Daniel: Genre: post-apocalyptic-junky-porno. Then read. And realized I wasn’t wearing pants.
The morning I arrived home to discover my car had been stolen, I was left less with feelings of bamboozlement, and more of simple, total desertion. My dander, you could say, was slow to rise. The first thought is that it’s one’s own fault, a problem of parking, or memory, or vision. As if a ’92 Accord (yes that dented and dirty one, with the cracked windshield and florid mold) might still be parked out front, its purplish-gray paint job defiant of license and insurance form descriptors and solid usually in contrast to the baby blue plaster of the Waldorf apartment complex now rendered undetectable, lost to register in my brain.
Skimmed. Shafted. Phrases I don’t know the meanings for come to mind: cook the books. The car had been in my possession since back when my fake I.D. was “a good one,” before I left the Midwest. It had belonged to my aunt, one married in, the tallest woman any of us had ever met, who could argue about politics and real estate, and who died of cancer (the rest of us preferring anxiety and heart attack). An adoptive mother, she was also the only one who could choose anything. The rest of us will rend garments rather than select a pair of socks, and have children only through accident.
Now, car shopping for the first time in my life, the effects of being so gifted at such a young age are what rise to the surface: doubly crippled, not only can I not decide but I can’t distinguish; I never learned to tell. Make, model, wheel, and cylinder. These things must be pointed out to me; still, I won’t remember a moment later. With any luck, it will have been forgotten too that I once walked here, here on this sidewalk.
And the thing I most fear may come to pass, that
The bumper sticker already said “F the president.” There were normal dents and dirt, appalling mileage, and just one wound enough in the windshield that no one could spurn the Nissan as too good a car for Lexa and Billy. Lexa’s hopelessness was sufficiently re-conjured, the gummy despair with its granular aftertaste. Even the feeling dissipated, each time, like cotton candy
“And the thing I most fear may come to pass,” Billy said. “That we drive a Nissan.” He finished lovingly. He had radar for every worst car on this long strip.
“The thing I fear is two lots ago from beating your skinny ass,” Lexa said. Their morning supplied a montage: cracked hubcaps, mismatched paint jobs, and who knew what underneath. Lexa had a vision of her grandmother’s tablecloth, the nicks below it from the time somebody waiting for something had sat at the end stabbing with a blade in and out between their fingers, not imagining they would live the night much less the story remixed as family joke.
“Can you speak nicely to the salesman please?” Lexa said.
“We have $1,000 dollars, and that’s it.” Billy whispered.
She grew aware of the thinness of the day’s light, the fading quality of the air on which words hung.
“I’m prepared to walk right out of here, right off this lot.”
The sensation in her mouth, the tiny rocks, were no bigger now than her taste buds, regular bumps.
“I’m sorry,” Billy said, enjoying himself, “we’re just not interested—today—in being cheated.”
“Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook.” –Randall Jarrell
Cue the montage: Passiflora outside
The dining room window, a candy wrapper in
The garden, a kid in a t-shirt that reads
Life Has Options. Navigate the grammar
However you like, the granular quality
Of the image: a woman cracking eggs
On the edge
Of a green glass bowl.
I change the tablecloth because it is
Sunday, and so you change
The tablecloth. It follows
That afternoons happen, no matter what
You’re planning. Golden light. The single mom
Hanging a birdfeeder in the cherry tree. Bushtits
Wheel & twitter, spurn the tiny house
The girl scouts put up in the cypress. I feel that
At some point
I had plans. I will
Have plans again.
I will have fun
Choosing the protein or
The bright vegetable we’ll eat one
Night of the week, I’ll say the names of the vegetables like
in the preternatural brightness of
The produce section:
Everything we eat grows somewhere.
I will encounter that dirt. And the thing
I most fear
May come to pass: that I push my face
Into the loam, the compost of kitchens
Past and present
And cannot catch the scent of
Whatever’s to come next.
Though I’ve encountered that white wall
Before. What is
Is nothing like it was, and
This house I live in too
Shouldered out of the blank verse I once called
The future. I will feed the dog.
I will do the laundry.
I will write letters.
Today Carol and I made a house call. This happens. Someone whose history you have to rewrite turns out to be alive, and you need to plug into their memory and rearrange a few things. It’s very awkward.
War has been erased, so the request can’t be spurned. Our memories will also be rewritten once we've finished our work.
An old man answered, stooped in his bathrobe with a pipe at the corner of his mouth. He inspected our badges, blew a great plume of smoke and nodded: "The thing I most fear has come to pass."
He offered us tea and we talked idly about The Landing, how the aliens might like our cinema, etc. His tablecloth was a mythic Indian battle scene (this would have to go ,too). I nestled my teacup between Shiva's thighs and paged through the screen-montage of his memories, describing, in the softest of terms, how we would artfully re-arrange them -- only the smallest parts would be removed. He wept silently through all of it, good memories and bad.
This is our challenge. Take this memory:
The old man’s grandfather sat around a campfire and reluctantly told a war story. Inside a house was a young boy. The grandfather had just shot down the boy’s parents outside. The child, still oblivious, indignantly explained that he had done his chores, and now was owed a bedtime story.
Memory is not granular, it is the structure upon which a human is built. Remove a building block - what becomes of the mind?
The thing I most feared had come to pass, I had written 50,000 words of shameful science fiction.
A few maxims emerged while writing a post-apocalyptic-junky-porno novel in 30 days.
1. It’s not a writing exercise it’s a typing exercise.
2. Type 1667 words per day. When that fails, as it always did, type 15,000 words each furious weekend.
3. Spurn the spell checker.
4. Embrace your sallow complexion, get in your pajamas and lie in bed contemplating the shadows that insects cast on the walls of your shrinking room. And type about it.
5. Strive for embellishment and flourish. Strive for a Proustian granularity. Don’t “set the vail of Dilaudid on the tablecloth”. NO, that’s only 9 words. Instead: “Shakily set the delightfully full glass vial of Dilaudid (a hydrogenated ketone of morphine that is 8 times its strength) on the wrinkled, blood stained, blue-checked tablecloth inexplicably thrown over the hood of the red and gold striped 1985 Camaro parked in the middle of the otherwise well kept and fully stocked Rite-Aid, the dead naked blonde woman still at the wheel.” That’s 63 words, and says nearly the same thing.
6. Ignore the creeping fear that instead of writing in the well established genre of Post Apocalyptic Junky Porno, you are actually writing a clunky montage of Pulp Druggie Noir with Post Apocalyptic Circus Clown Porn.
7. Don’t get enthralled with your own story. Remember, this is never going to be the Great American Post Apocalyptic Junky Porno Novel.
Intermission: Matthew Hattie Hein.
The kitchen gods, the transit gods, the gods of commerce and poetry
will smile, and
The kitchen gods, the transit gods, the gods of commerce and poetry will smile, and then kick you in your fevered face. While there is nothing like your own personal fuel-eating float to truly gauge the silliness of your life and projects, there is also only traffic that remains for commentary on the human condition. Really, there’s no further purpose for art.
Go ahead. Honk. A man swerves, gains speed, and crosses two lanes merely to indicate to me that I am a retard—either that or he is the retard, a real one, choking to death, and in need of aid.
I am unwilling the cleansing required of me. It’s my fever, my fever too, and I like it. Several thousands have I told of my firm belief for the future: we will teleport. It’s not so much that I do believe this, but that I want to be right about a long-shot.
Take this backlog and burn it all. Take this petroleum and eat it. And if we can be broken into millions of particles, transmitted like our favorite TV characters, shot into living rooms in Bangladesh, we will never be more alone than this.
Yesterday, I threw a #6 plastic gallon jug filled with uranium and rubber into the heart of the rainforest. I flew it there on a 747, returned with the plane empty of anyone but me and sat on the runway idling, finishing off only half of one of two Hostess cupcakes. Like a fish, live where you live. What you will leave on this Earth is carbon, carbon, carbon.
The odd thing is that this unwilling post apocalyptic junky porno narrative was not the product of any drugged fever, it was not the desire to cleanse my system of some backlogged prurient history.
I had been sober for some 6 short months, without any hard or soft liquor, no drugs, prescribed or not, no chemical flights of the soul, no escape for 6 months from my own tight skull.
I had even resisting that pre-teen drug: spinning myself dizzy, arms akimbo, the world tilting gloriously, and the sensation of the air becoming a heavy water pushing my body unexpectedly upon the ground, through chairs, off walls, over tables. Its one of the cheapest highs out there, and no matter that the dizzy-drug pushers were your siblings, that shit has legs.
We could all just fly right now, giggling upon the upturned tables, the spilled drinks. The dizzy care not for consequences, they care not for their family, the waitstaff, the beers of the undizzy, the frowning faces of the serious and undizzy.
I invite you all: stand up! Spin! Puke your dinner upon the floor! There is more food!
Spin! You will need a taxi or bus back to your table and seat!
Swirl! You will have new friends and newer and less informed enemies!
The kitchen gods, the transit gods, the gods of commerce and poetry will smile, and we will all lie tangled, laughing, wondering why we don’t do this every night.
Until the comedown hits us.
Why I will Never Get Hired on as Permanent at the College
I like being sick sometimes, the cleansing self-effacement of a fever. I believe that a cadre of creole angels sentry my skull when I am unwell. I might mention this at an interview.
I enjoy planting bulbs and tubers but am unwilling to weed. Who died and made me Billy Wilder? The wild carrot may become ready for a close-up. I am not good at arbitrary judgments of this kind.
I grade essays at a truly stagnant rate. I am backlogged. I want to give everyone coffee and pie.
I have a small mole on the right side of my rib cage. It is probably nothing. I may have to mention it in an interview.
I have never been able to watch the entire original version of the film The Fog all the way through. An older kid told me about in detail when I was eight years old, and I still have trouble sleeping sometimes when I think about it. I think some of the dead must be angry, and I’m prone to taking blame for things that were not my fault.
I’ve tried to do a dietary cleanse several times but have always failed by the second day. They might want to know about that in the interview.
I believe in transubstantiation, that the kitchen gods, the transit gods, the gods of commerce and poetry will someday smile. This, surely, cannot be healthy. They would want to know.
There was a crisis in the office. Desks were scattered across the floor and there was a feverish cursing coming from a large man.
"We did him last month, during the backlog", Carol said breathlessly, "Look – “, she pointed at her screen, “his memory is out of control. Cleansed memories are bleeding back in, unwillingly - not just his own, but the erased memories of others."
The man began to stride toward us in a straight line, barreling down desks and memory workers in his path like blades of grass.
“Oh shit!” I said.
"Do you think they will all smile down upon you?” He said. “The kitchen gods, the transit gods, the gods of poetry and commerce? Do you think you can choose the gods you want and ignore the rest?” He picked up a pencil from a falling desk and brandished it. “You think you are human without all your gods? The god of war will not be banished!“ Then the man bellowed like a cow in labor and fell to the floor.
I stood and stared at his form and wondered what we’d done to him. Had he just tangled with a bad rewriter or was there something about the nature of memory that we didn’t understand?
On my tablet I pulled up his mind – empty. Clean. A black hole. We’d turned him from human back to clay, from life to lifeless; I worried about us all.
“Quick,” I yelled, “get him someone else’s memory before he wakes up!”
a new economy
headlong into peril
and the words
I have a joke I use all the time, not a very good joke: every time you say a new word—elephant, lid, necklace—I smile brightly and say to your father, “That’s one step closer to ‘fuck you, mom!” This is supposed to be funny ha-ha, not the other kind of funny, but it’s like those jokes people make about sleeping with you when they really want to sleep with you. The new economy of terror: that chugachugachoochoo here comes the broccoli will subside, as it must, to talks designed to head off bulimia and bad early sex with carnivorous boys. Not to belabor the boring point that Parenting Changed Me, I offer thanksgiving for your allowing me to belabor it. This whole thing has me spun out.
Here are some headlines from the past: it appears they might save the tigers in India from their headlong dive into peril, says the yahoo homepage. That’s good. I want for you that tigers should not be mythological beasts.
Hilary Clinton appeared on Saturday Night Live tonight. Your pop and I once had a photo op with her at a Senate campaign fundraiser, so if Hilary wins, I will be able to say to you, yeah, the President complimented my hat when I was pregnant with you.
And you attended a Detroit Tigers game in Seattle, in utero. Your mommy, 8 months pregnant, stood up in stands dominated by the home team and shouted “Get the ump some fucking glasses!” Try to remember.
Just as I sometimes dream conversations with my dead grandmother, my dead aunt, and my dead mother—though she is not dead yet in real life—lately, I’ve dreamed of my Honda’s return.
You will get your car back, a friend now a screen writer, once an insurance agent, wrote to assure me. You’ll get pieces of it back.
THE PORTLAND POLICE COMPOSED A LETTER TOO, ALL IN CAPS. HAVE I FOUND MY CAR YET? I RESPONDED: OH, ALL THIS TIME, I THOUGHT YOU WERE LOOKING.
It’s a new economy, I whisper to the women in my dreams. Dollars don’t even work here. Whatever doesn’t accrue dissolves. When you see a homeless man, you slide your debit card behind his ear.
I picture my Honda, a carved Thanksgiving bird, its exposed ribs, hideous corpse, the fluttering, un-spun shards of fabric I once worried about burning tiny firefly holes through; I imagine now gone entirely the sideswipe dent I never repaired, parting gift of a woman with Lyme’s Disease, the same place dented further by a woman on the corner of Pacific Street two years who pleaded to pay cash—no insurance, no cops—but from whom I simply accepted and exchanged nothing.
There you are, I will croon to my baby, my Honda, belaboring the point just like they do in the movies. Oh, darling—do it to me.
Before the final credits, it will top out on the horizon—shining beacon, everything a car in America, in the movies, in a poem means.
Oh kiss me, kiss me, headlong into peril. All the dead women have been waiting for you.
Thanksgiving loomed. I had a scant 25,000 words, and needed a new economy of typing. I had given up control of what came from my fingers, and had run headlong into peril.
A synopsis of what spun from my unfettered hands:
One man left. Has no idea where all the people went while he spent 2 months holed up in his apartment with 50 grams of unadulterated heroin.
One woman left. Has no idea where all the people went while she spent 2 months in the backwoods of New Mexico with her dog Max and came out to find empty cars parked carefully along the highways.
She is the smarter one. The evolved vegan naturalist.
He is the consumptive crystallization of a belabored and overindulgent empire.
It’s the end of humankind.
His choice: seek out and ingest the best abandoned drugs.
Hers is to camp and rejoice in the long-predicted destruction of the unnatural human infestation.
He is the last man on earth, and the last she would choose.
He is the last weak glimmer of man, self indulgent, flaccid, moribund, wrong and devolved.
She has a raven as pet and Animus.
He has a needle and vial.
She eats fruit and wild grains.
He eats Spam and Twinkies.
She hates him and is driven to kill him, cutting break lines, poisoning food, lacing crystallized chlorine into his stash.
He gets high and pisses on her sleeping form.
It’s the firm foundation of the last and only relationship on earth.
The second memory collapse happened on Thanksgiving, but this time it was like a reactor meltdown, the sickness spread everywhere and we fell headlong into our own peril.
The work we’d belabored over, the careful memories we’d spun, dicing out war and pestilence for this new economy of human wholesomeness: Lost. We did it for our unearthly visitors for whom we waited with such self-reflective expectation. Instead, everyone’s memories were blown scattershot across everyone else’s.
Carol spends most nights at my house now. We tell each other the stories we find in our minds and try to hold on to our own identities. Some days I feel I know her, others I don’t know myself. It’s a drugged state, an endless violent movie reel of Deja vu plays in our minds.
We had a terrible scare. I made Carol a sandwich and it triggered in her the memory that she was deathly allergic to peanut butter. Her body went into anaphylactic shock and her heart stopped. I performed CPR. It took me an hour to convince her it was someone else’s memory, that she and I had eaten peanut butter sandwiches many times.
The aliens will touch down soon. We wanted so much for them to see us as equals, but when they arrive, they will not find a species looking toward the future, but one awash in the misery of the past, obsessed with what it was that brought us to where we are.