Megan Boyle’s “Liveblog” and the Limits of Autofiction | The New Yorker

Early on in Megan Boyle’s experiment in live-blogging her life, she decides to take a bath. She’s trying to get it all down, but there are some difficulties:

12:22AM: bathwater is running. i’m just going ot do this until forever. ate half of some kind of pill, 1 mg Xanax ithink. ate other one […]

ookkk anoth athter xaanxn at some e oo==ibe, ijay sruffl is going to better e=vetter i know

1:12AM: woke in mostly empty bathtub. very cold. drain wouldn’t close so i just sat on it and refilled tub with hot water. when i woke felt obsessed with finding candy i had been eating but i guess i ate it all. flopped around trying to always be covered in hot water, thinking ‘sexy seal’ and ‘sprinkle princess’ and pictured someone tossing me a fish and this is what would get me into the maxim top 100 hottest women or whatever. because enough seals voted me in.

Falling asleep in the bathtub with her MacBook does not stop her from marinating for several more hours, dispensing thoughts of differing levels of coherence (“just realized wolf voices”). It’s Boyle at her least composed, a moment of deeply vulnerable self-exposure, broadcast to anyone who would care to read it. The obvious question follows: Why would anyone want to do this?

From March 17th to September 1st of 2013, Boyle detailed her life on Tumblr, updating every day, as often as possible, with no detail too small to leave out. The project, some years later, has been published as “Liveblog,” a seven-hundred-page doorstopper with possibly ironic comparisons to Karl Ove Knausgaard and David Foster Wallace on the back cover. Boyle begins with a disclaimer:

**THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE INTERESTING** ** I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO MAKE THIS SOUND INTERESTING OR TRY TO MAKE YOU LIKE ME OR THINK ABOUT IF YOU ARE READING THIS OR ENJOYING READING THIS, IT’S JUST GOING TO BE WHAT IT IS: A FUNCTIONAL THING THAT WILL HOPEFULLY HELP ME FEEL MORE LIKE IMPROVING MYSELF**

The ensuing pages are a chronicle of good and (more often) poor decisions, sensitive disclosures, personal musings, Gchat logs, and highly detailed records of food and drugs consumed. In terms of plot, the events are ordinary: Boyle begins living with her parents, clears out her old apartment with her ex-boyfriend, moves to New York City, socializes, starts seeing someone new, and stops seeing him. But “event” is perhaps the wrong measurement: the focus is the cataloguing of her observations and shifting states of mind—all the granular things that a judicious editor might cut. Boyle is hardly the first to want to record life in its entirety, but her persistence, attention to strange detail, and humorous sense of her own abjection begin to feel like a radical act.

Boyle belongs to Alt-Lit, a movement that coalesced, in the late two-thousands, through blogs and social media, and whose aesthetic was expressed on sites like HTMLGIANT and Thought Catalog. (Boyle spends some time thinking of pitches for the latter.) Despite being very recent history, the Alt-Lit ethos can feel like something from a bygone era. Its material, “edgy” and unprocessed, drew largely on compulsive online activity, depression, urban boredom, and dysfunctional relationships—in other words, the pains of being in your teens and twenties, and the plight of being unable to keep those pains to yourself.

Much of this work was condescended to at the time, or dismissed as puerile navel-gazing. And some of it was. But its authors were also the first group of young writers grappling with the constant presence of the Internet. To borrow from Sherry Turkle’s “The Second Self,” their computers and phones were the “evocative objects” in their writing, devices that they struggled to reconcile with a more “literary” tradition. The movement’s biggest star was an N.Y.U. grad named Tao Lin, who published other writers and became known for his flat, affectless voice. Lin’s centrality also played a large role in Alt-Lit’s dispersion: in 2014, he was accused of sexual abuse, following other suggestions that the scene was exactly as dysfunctional as its writers had indicated in their thinly veiled fictions. (Lin denied the allegations.)

It seemed telling, if unsurprising, that writers who aspired to total disclosure still had much to conceal. In “Liveblog,” too, memories of unethical behavior by men keep recurring, though Boyle rarely makes this its own subject of inquiry. (At one point she tells an interviewer that she is not a feminist.) Boyle is deeply tied to Lin: the two were once married, and the central love interest in “Taipei,” Lin’s most developed work, is based on Boyle. That book’s moment of fame is in turn featured in “Liveblog,” when Boyle, with a mixture of pride and ambivalence, listens to her mom read passages from the book over the phone.

In “Taipei,” Lin often deploys abstract descriptions (mental states filtered through computer jargon) and sophisticated metaphors. (“Fran slowly turned her head away to rotate her face, like a moon orbiting behind its planet, interestingly out of view.”) Boyle’s work has more to do with recording life’s texture, pursuing the granular for its own sake. She writes about bowel movements, online rabbit holes, intimate flashes of anxiety. A strange dynamic emerges: the most personal experiences are the most titillating to share, but they lose their potency after becoming public. More life needs to be uploaded. The effort becomes a kind of “map and territory” problem: the more involved Boyle is with writing her life, the more blogging alone simply becomes her life. At a certain point, she compares herself to Tolkien’s Gollum; the blog, she writes, is her “precious.”

One might be tempted to call “Liveblog” autofiction, a category into which many critically praised novels have been uncritically thrown. Perhaps this is because the term passes off as new something—the use of intimate personal experiences—that is in the marrow of fiction. It was coined, in 1977, by the French writer Serge Doubrovsky, to denote a fiction “of facts and of events strictly real.” The word is still applied to this strong French tradition (Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, or even Édouard Levé’s great “Autoportrait”) but it more often is used on contemporary authors—Knausgaard, Ben Lerner, and Sheila Heti, among others—whose “reality effects” create a strong sense of immediacy on the page, so that very little seems to separate the reader from the writer’s experience.

This is not a new project—one could trace it to the early twentieth-century Surrealist tradition of automatic writing, or perhaps even further. One early exponent was the surrealist and anthropologist Michel Leiris, whose works “Manhood” and the sprawling multi-volume autobiographical text “Rules of the Game” sought the nooks and crannies of experience—the things that “proper” literature couldn’t see, even if the details were embarrassing or just hard to understand. In “Rules of the Game,” when Leiris is writing about a song remembered from childhood, he wonders if its meaning might be too personal for a reader to understand

without the sort of preparation that forms a bridge between the author’s intimate emotion and the reader’s consciousness, or rather that creates between the two of them the indispensable conducting medium in which a current has some chance of being created, a series of waves some chance of being propagated by the apparently and cold and inert little pebble that lies hidden from everyone in a corner of the author’s head or heart.

It is precisely because we each have our own “pebble” of private significance that we become interested in the pebbles of others. But reading about them can be taxing. Susan Sontag, writing about Leiris’s “Manhood,” noted that the book was “formless,” “provides no consummation or climax,” and is “sometimes boring.” This, she believed, was deliberate, as Leiris sought to prove “not that he is heroic, but that he is at all . . . what he seems to wish is to convince himself that this unsatisfactory body—and this unseemly character—really exist.”

It’s hard not to see Boyle in this: the Liveblog is a method of proving she exists, regardless of feedback. As she writes in her disclaimer, the blog is “a functional thing”: writing her life out will, she hopes, encourage self-improvement. The desire to be productive haunts the book, with its frequent to-do lists (“pack one box,” “drink kale smoothie”) and recurring accounts of food or drug binges. And though the lists are almost never completed, they provide a surprising amount of structure to the book. When Boyle moves to New York City and becomes more social, her entries become less regular, and white pages of “did not update” begin to stud the narrative.

Another factor that hastens the Liveblog’s demise is Boyle’s new relationship with a man who does not want to be mentioned in the blog. (Boyle refers to him as “[omitted].”) It’s no surprise that the Liveblog can never achieve perfect transparency, and Boyle confesses early on that she’s leaving things out. But if the book has a kind of progression, it’s the slow discovery of necessary privacy—the need to protect oneself from the amassing and exchange of data. The quest to transform life into literature, Boyle realizes, can ruin the life.

This retreat sets “Liveblog” apart from most modern autofiction. In the novels of Lerner, Heti, and Knausgaard, immediacy is a kind of artifice, which works ingeniously toward a more convincing illusion. But for Boyle, spontaneity is not a device; it is the very premise of her project. “Liveblog” can, for precisely this reason, be thought of as a limit case for autofiction, or for the value of the truly immediate. When Boyle withdraws from her work, her absence has a certain power, but it also reminds one of how effective the shaping of fiction can be. Lerner, writing on Knausgaard in the London Review of Books, notes that he “appears to just write down everything he can recall (and he appears to recall everything).” It’s true that this appears to be so, but in “My Struggle” Knausgaard has, in fact, already done the mental work of constructing narrative—memory can’t help but form stories. Boyle’s is a more automatic disclosure, accelerated by her ability to post at any time. “Liveblog” ’s closest ancestor is really Andy Warhol’s novel “a.,” a series of transcriptions of conversations between Warhol’s Factory stars as they go about life in New York City. The book captures every mumble and interruption, as well as the amphetamines the stars take to keep the party going. In “Liveblog,” Boyle mentions her affinity for transcription, and briefly experiments with it, but finds it too exhausting to keep “live.”

Warhol—or, rather, his amphetamines—suggests another, perhaps more significant influence on “Liveblog”: the drug narrative. There’s hardly a day in the book when Boyle doesn’t consume Xanax, Adderall, MDMA, alcohol, heroin, weed, or some other kind of supplement, and the blog is very much a record of the resulting shifts in mood. Like autofiction, this habit places Boyle in a long and venerable tradition. As Oliver Sacks wrote, “to live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient”: we need “to transcend,” whether with “ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.”

It makes some sense that the writers most devoted to detailing life’s mundanity would seek to escape from that same grinding everydayness. In fact, the drug narrative arises around the beginning of modern self-disclosure. Consider Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater,” which was published in the eighteen-twenties, and which frames a tell-all account as an instructive, morally edifying story. Today, de Quincey’s project endures, on the Internet, as the trip report, a form that was often incorporated by Alt-Lit writers in their work. Reading about the warped experiences of others, we reconsider whether our own perspective is natural or fixed. Old ideals of art suggest that we should work for such revelations—that there’s something too easy about a chemically induced heightening. The value of “Liveblog,” and books like it, is to help us view that judgment with suspicion.

If autofiction provides the thrills and little voyeurisms of immediacy, if the trip provides a possible guide to transcendence, then perhaps Boyle’s work is an attempt at synthesis. The result could be called a fiction of the Internet—a representation of an infinitely extending and seemingly available world. The idea that the private lives of others are accessible online, transparent and ready to be clicked into, is a commonplace in our culture. “Liveblog” is a new kind of story, about how we arrange those lives for public inspection. It pushes that inspection to an extreme, in the hopes that, by choosing to give over everything, it might be possible, for a moment, to regain a sliver of agency. Writing it all down isn’t a new consciousness, exactly, but it might allow you to see yourself in a new way. All you have to do is open a document and begin.

Source: Megan Boyle’s “Liveblog” and the Limits of Autofiction | The New Yorker

Nudging the Lexicon

GMAIL’S “SMART REPLY” FEATURE OFFERS three options in a choose-your-own-adventure game at the bottom of received emails: “Got it.” “Got it, thanks!” and “Looks good!” are common choices. Sometimes the suggested responses are lightly ridiculous. An “I love you” email can prompt “It works!”—perhaps an overcorrection from an early bug when the algorithm was saying “I love you” unprompted all the time? But mostly the Smart Replies are bland formulations of convenient and functional corporate language. They confirm receipt, accept a proposed meeting time, or express general positivity!

The more email we produce, the more we beckon the arrival of a two-way interchange between human language and generated speech.

This is The New Gmail, which users could opt into as early as April, but which was rolled out to 1.4 billion active accounts this summer. Like most changes to the design of our daily use technology, The New Gmail began as an annoyance, one roundly condemned on Twitter, the internet’s ne plus ultra of usage and style. A few weeks later there was a subtle change: some people were copping to using it, or if not actually using it, then being surprised by the spot-on replies. “Not a technophobe, but I find myself refusing to use Gmail’s auto-replies even when they are exactly what I intended to write. I’m a writer, dammit!” tweeted Lane Greene, the language columnist for The Economist. In late September, The Wall Street Journal reported that 10 percent of all Gmail responses were being sent by Smart Reply.

The reply suggestions—which Google now allows users to turn off—are not the only major change to Gmail. There’s an even more demeaning feature: Smart Compose, or suggested-email-writing. If you leave the option on, you can see a ghost-text of what Gmail thinks you’re about to say and hit “tab” if that’s it. Type, “How” and the algorithm will recommend, “are you?” Little did it know that I intended to type, “will we continue to live in this Hades of aphasia and manufactured communication?” Like the suggested replies, the auto-compose feature is geared toward the professional: type “What did you discuss at the . . .” and it ad-libs “meeting.” And, like the replies, it’s polite, always seeking to add a salutary “thanks” after your commas.

Just as bad, there’s a feature called “Nudge” that reminds you of emails you’ve ignored, or, more painfully, emails written by you that have been ignored. With its time-based reanimation of digital content, it’s a distant cousin of Facebook’s nostalgia machine—three years ago on this day you became friends with so-and-so—but with more obvious “professional” usefulness. “Follow up?” it ask-demands, imploring you to generate more email traffic. Emails that once would have lain dead and buried in the dirt of your inbox now have a life of their own—and, really, ignore these nudges at your own peril.

Is there a reason to be so ill-tempered about these features that I’m not being forced to use, that are probably, on balance, convenient for people working in high-email-traffic office jobs? Yes, there is, thanks! Automated communication is not new, but it’s starting to get scarier and more efficient. The more email we produce, the more we beckon the arrival of an all-encompassing two-way interchange between human language and generated speech.

The algorithm is mimicking us, but now we’re also mimicking it. The algorithm—which I’m using as shorthand for a series of complicated machine-learning processes—has been absorbing human-email-speak by creeping through billions of perfunctorily worded emails—and it is now spitting them back at us. It’s a refraction, then, of how we write to each other online. But suggestions are also manipulations, as we might know from, say, Amazon’s effective monetization of RIYL logic. Yet these seemingly gentle intrusions into our digital lives are not so passive as they might appear.

It’s also about the automation of perception: these algorithms will gently manipulate—perhaps nudge—our lexicon.

In the case of digital advertising and marketing, the motivation behind these recommendations is glaringly obvious: buy this based on everything we know about you. It works. With Gmail, it’s a bit more diffuse, though no less craven. Google is running the rat race to develop automated communication and machine learning technologies that will have unspeakable monetary value in the coming decades. Alphabet chairman John Hennessy claimed in May that Google’s voice assistant system, Duplex, passed the Turing Test, the vaunted AI threshold for human-robot communications; one “tech expert” said he couldn’t distinguish between the voice of a human at a hair salon, and the robot, which had learned to say “Mmm-hmm.” So Gmail’s new email features, benignly annoying as they seem, are a long-term bid for monopoly and profit by way of accelerated automation.

But it’s not just about the scourge of technopoly, which is day-after-day confirming its deleterious effects. It’s also about the automation of perception: these algorithms will gently manipulate—perhaps nudge—our lexicon. Even those who don’t use Smart Reply will see them at the bottom of their emails. Empty phrases like “Got it, thanks!” will “occur” to us more often, which means we’re more likely to select from Gmail’s three shades of bleakly positive and corporate-readymade replies. “I think it’s perfect!” we might find ourselves saying, in response to a memo draft.

Gmail’s suggested replies and auto-compose features rely on communication by mental proxy. An email reading, “I’m hungry!” can prompt the response, “Yum!” This is outrageous, but it has a primitive relationship to how we think and speak. The function of these replies is to eliminate complexity, to pare communication down to dumbness, to “acknowledge” or “affirm” without saying much of anything. How do we feel about the degeneration of language at the hands of monopolies? Looks good!

Source: Nudging the Lexicon

Middle-earth’s Hottest Hobbits, Ranked | Tor.com

Look, sometimes you wake up in the morning and think, “What can I do today that would make J.R.R. Tolkien proud of me?” And your brain, rested and wise, supplies the only true answer:

You will rank hobbits by hotness for Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday.

Disclaimer: This is a ranking of hobbits by hotness, not the humans who play them. They are being ranked on their hobbit forms. Take no offense, dear reader.

Note: Peregrin Took is not on this list because during the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he does not reach the hobbit coming-of-age of 33 years old (he does in the appendices, but that’s not where the bulk of his story can be found). He’s only 28 when the story starts, which puts him at roughly 16 or 17 years old in human terms. Ranking the hotness of a hobbit teenager (no matter the true age of the actor playing him) is not cool. Unless the person doing the ranking is also a teenager! Which I am not.

11. Odo Proudfoot

Hobbits, the Proudfoots

Look, while we must appreciate his declaration of “ProudFEET” at Bilbo’s birthday party, Mr. Proudfoot is clearly a hobbit with no love in his heart. His angry glare as he sweeps this stoop while Gandalf ambles past in his cart proves that he is a very bitter fellow indeed. He’s so bitter that he hides his own happiness! When Gandalf sets off some fireworks for hobbit children, old Proudfoot forgets that he should not laugh… and then promptly reverts to glaring when this is brought to his attention.

10. Sméagol/Gollum

Hobbits, Gollum and Smeagol

The overall effect here drops him pretty far down the list, since there’s not very much hobbit left in Gollum by the end. But he did help get that pesky ring into a very big fire, so he’s not bottom of the list. Helping to save the world bumps you up a place.

9. Déagol

Hobbits, Deagol

Deagol technically started most of the world’s Ring Problems when he scooped the One Ring off the bottom of a river bed, and while it’s true that the ring was trying to get found, it still bumps him down the list. Also, he wasn’t very good at sharing, which led to his unfortunate demise.

8. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins

Hobbits, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins

Bilbo’s cousin is a genuinely nasty person. We know this because Bilbo takes every opportunity to let us know. (Is Bilbo an unreliable narrator? Well yes, but a cousin who takes every possible opportunity to loot your house for the purpose of looking richer isn’t a very nice cousin.) She’s not all the way down at the bottom because she didn’t bring about the end of the world, and also, she has spectacular taste in hats.

7. Gaffer Gamgee

Hobbits, Gaffer Gamgee

Not necessarily a smokin’ babe, but we have no idea what the old Gaffer looked like back in his heyday. He’s a pretty okay dad, even if he does get a little bit caught up in the gossip of pub buddies. He does his hobbit job well. He’s just pretty okay all around. And he’s an inspiration to his kid.

6. Bilbo Baggins

Hobbits, Bilbo

Poor Bilbo could be higher on this list. He’s an adventurous spirit despite all intents not to be, and he’s always got a full pantry stocked. He writes stories (mostly about himself, but they say “write what you know” and it’s not his fault that’s he’s learned quite a lot in his travels). But he also stole a ring from some poor creature in a cave and then lied when questioned about it. Then he tried to take said ring back from his nephew, and the act made him decidedly unattractive. For about two whole seconds. Guess in this case, the ugliness on the inside really does show on the outside. Yikes.

5. Farmer Maggot

Hobbits, Farmer Maggot

Farmer Maggot is fine. He’s got a proper hobbit job, he’s never short on mushrooms, and he’s got a very cute dog. Sure, he betrays the location of the Baggins family to a terrifying dark stranger on a horse, and he chases thieves away from his farm with a scythe, but those are reasonable actions in certain lights. And there’s still the dog to consider.

4. Meriadoc Brandybuck

Hobbits, Merry

Some people will cry foul that Merry isn’t in a top three spot, and they might have a point. But in the end, Merry is the perhaps the least “hobbit-y” of the Fellowship crew. He’s constantly looking after cousin Pippin to his own detriment. He shouts at Ents when they seem less than keen to help with the war effort. He insists on fighting in the battle he’s entirely too small for, which leads to him having a hand in Eowyn’s vanquishing of the Witch-King of Angmar. He’s just very insistent on being a rebel, and that’s a totally hot thing for a human to be, but probably less so for a hobbit? He’s still a handsome fellow, though.

3. Frodo Baggins

Hobbits, Frodo

If we were ranking hobbits by the likelihood of drowning in the depths of their haunted eyes, Frodo Baggins would definitely take first place. If we were ranking hobbits by their ability to be elven and otherworldly with a melodic cadence to their voice, he would also take first place. But we’re ranking the hotness of hobbits as hobbits, and Frodo Baggins falls just a little outside of that brief. He saves the world (for the most part), which bumps him way up the list, and those eyes are gonna get you whether you mean for them to sway your rankings or not. So he comes in third with the acknowledgement that he’s far too pretty for a mere list to contain.

2. Samwise Gamgee

Hobbits, Samwise Gamgee

Sweet sunshine perfect soft boy who never did anything wrong ever including dropping eave on wizards. Excellent farmer, wonderful cook, lovely father, protects you with frying pans, cries when you’re sad because he feels your sadness, would literally die for you without hesitation and never regret doing so because he believes you are worth it. A++ please swipe right and give him all of your poh-TAY-toes for boiling, mashing, or otherwise sticking in a stew.

Which brings us to the #1 spot, who could only be…

1. Rosie Cotton

Hobbits, Rosie Cotton

If you hadn’t guessed that Rosie Cotton took the top spot on this list, then shame on you. She is perfect. Her smile is like a blooming flower, and her curls are well-moisturized. She’s an excellent dancer. She’s neither a gossip, nor a ring thief, and she doesn’t make terrible split-second decisions all the time, like some other hobbits we could mention. Plus, she’s always ready to hand you a tankard of ale. Samwise Gamgee would die for you, but we would all die for Rosie Cotton, and should not pretend otherwise.

And that’s the list! It is accurate and brooks no argument. It is eternal. It is written on a door somewhere in Sindarin. Sorry, I’m just delivering the news.

 

Source: Middle-earth’s Hottest Hobbits, Ranked | Tor.com

Literary ambition. Fabulous parties. A hidden past. Who is Anna March? – Los Angeles Times


She threw a welcome party for herself at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a beautiful old building with black and white marble, Alice-in-Wonderland floors. The guests, more than 400 of L.A.’s literati: authors, editors, publishers, book reviewers, literary agents, the local independent presses.

Anna March whisked in and out, a flash of pink hair in a polka-dot dress. The 2015 party at the Ace’s mezzanine bar, serving free drinks, was packed to overflowing.

March had never published a book but had been quietly working literary Los Angeles’ social media connections for months. A spunky, unapologetic, sex-positive feminist ready to raise hell, she was supportive and flattering. She was also conspicuously generous — concerned about the line of people waiting to get into the party, March asked a pair of new acquaintances if she should give $20 bills to those stuck on the sidewalk. The bill for the night would total more than $22,000.

Why is she doing this? people asked, stealing glances at March.

Some had a larger question:

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

That was a harder question to answer than you might think. Anna March first appeared around 2011, when she started publishing online. Before that, she was known by different names in different cities. In researching this story, The Times found four: Anna March, Delaney Anderson, Nancy Kruse and Nancy Lott.

In three places — Los Angeles, San Diego and Rehoboth Beach, Del. — March became a part of the literary community. She won over new friends, even accomplished authors but especially writers trying to find a way into that world, with her generosity, her enthusiasm and apparent literary success — only to leave town abruptly.

In two others — Montgomery County, Md., and Washington, D.C. — she has had financial judgments against her, the latter for more than $380,000.

The Times reached out to March, who declined to speak on the record.


She landed in Southern California in 2014; her calling card as a writer was a recent Modern Love column in the New York Times about her relationship with fiancé Adam Pesachowitz, who has been in a wheelchair since high school. The two lived on the East Coast, then moved west, first to Santa Barbara, then to Los Angeles. March published occasional essays on Salon.com and in smaller online literary outlets such as the Rumpus.

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

After coming to California, she gathered writers together to advise her on the local literary landscape. She was a generous presence, picking up the tab for steak dinners at Musso & Frank.

She successfully leveraged social networks to connect with significant literary figures. She organized a series of national events with well-known writers such as Ashley Ford, Saeed Jones, Audrey Niffenegger and author of the bestselling memoir “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed.

March branded herself an intersectional feminist, sensitive to issues of race, class and LGBTQ concerns as well as gender, and also supportive of victims of trauma. She positioned herself as a connection between worlds: the published and unpublished, the successful and the hopeful.

The authors of this story crossed paths with March several times. In 2016, she gave Melissa Chadburn a prize from the Lulu Fund, which March had founded with Ford. The awards were presented at the Palm in downtown L.A. during the Assn. of Writers Programs conference. It took almost a year for Chadburn to get the $1,000 she had been promised by March. Their final email exchange was heated.

The Lulu Fund, founded in 2015 to “support racial, gender and class justice” with support from donors, posted a forward-looking plan on its site that stretched to 2020. But nine months after it launched, it shut down.

“Her vision for Lulu was something I wanted to see more of in the world and something I would still love to see more of in the world. It sounded like an opportunity to give back to the communities that had already given so much to me,” Ford told The Times. “Her abrupt decision to end Lulu was as confusing to me as anyone else.”

Although she declined to speak to The Times on the record, after receiving detailed inquiries from the paper, March posted a long response to them on a website she founded. In that posting, she wrote: “mostly what I want to say is this: I have had successes and failures. I am proud of trying to make things work. I regret my shortcomings and failures and apologize for my mistakes. I have never run from them or hidden them. In fact, I’ve tried to be open about them.”


The woman who introduced herself to Angelenos as Anna March was born Nancy Lott on June 20, 1968, and raised in Maryland, where her mother was involved in local Democratic politics.

Court records show that a Nancy Lott, with the same birth date, pleaded guilty in a case involving a political campaign. According to the Report of the Maryland State Prosecutor for fiscal year 1992, Nancy Lott was treasurer of the political campaign and was ordered to pay restitution of $18,000, receive psychiatric care and serve five years’ probation.

“Did I sign a campaign finance report with erroneous information nearly 30 years ago in 1990 when I was 21? Yes. Was I on five years probation and did I pay $18,000 in restitution? Yes,” she writes in her open letter.

The court records show that she did not complete her probation and that a judge ordered her outstanding fees turned over to Central Collections for the State of Maryland.

Later in her 20s, Lott married and split from a man in New York; she kept his name, Kruse. But she didn’t use it right away.


In the mid-1990s, she landed in San Diego, where she called herself Delaney Anderson. She headed to the Writing Center, a small San Diego nonprofit that provided classes and community for aspiring writers.

“Did I run a small struggling literary arts organization of two years — receiving a total of about $9,000 in compensation for the entire time …? Yes,” March writes in her open letter.

Anderson started as a volunteer; founder Judy Reeves says that she was so enthusiastic and full of good ideas that she hired her, making her the director in 1997. Anderson was charming, telling stories of how her mother worked for the White House and once ironed the pleats in Amy Carter’s dress. She launched a gala called Literary Lights that included a fundraising auction, and she enticed George Plimpton to come to San Diego to accept its literary prize.

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

As a member of the board of directors, Reeves recalls Anderson presenting sunny financial reports. But in 1998, an eviction notice appeared at the Writing Center offices. An emergency board meeting was scheduled with Anderson, but before dawn that day, she tacked a note to Reeves’ front door: I resign.

When Anderson left, Reeves says, “We had no idea how much damage had actually been done.” The furniture was sold at a garage sale. The board officially closed the Writing Center.

Reeves never did a financial reckoning of Anderson’s tenure, nor did she pursue Anderson legally. “I wasn’t looking to make any money off all this, I wanted a community,” Reeves says. “It was my dream.”


Anderson left San Diego and that name behind. Three years later, in 2001, she surfaced in the Washington, D.C., area, calling herself Nancy Kruse. She met and married film historian Andrew Smith and landed a job in direct mail fundraising at public radio station WAMU.

It was a time of transition for nonprofits: Many could see the possibility of using the internet for fundraising, but they didn’t have the expertise to begin. Kruse seized the opportunity and created a consulting firm, Nancy Kruse + Partners, with WAMU as her first client, boasting a $150,000 success on the company website.

After her apparent success for WAMU, Kruse’s company was hired to run a national online fundraising auction that encompassed 15 public radio stations, including KPCC and KQED.

The contract had landed, in part, thanks to Barbara Appleby, a public radio fundraising consultant Kruse had hired — and charmed. “She played up her Quaker background and her feminist beliefs,” recalls Appleby. “She said her mother was high up in the press office, that she was press secretary for Carter … . Why wouldn’t I believe her?”

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library says that it has no records indicating that Kruse’s mother was ever a staff member.

In September 2004, Kruse and Partners, also known as Kruse and Associates, launched its national online auction. Each of the 15 stations paid Kruse and Partners up front, in amounts of $8,700 to $68,400, to participate.

They were to recoup that plus a share of the total. Items for sale ranged from a Birkenstock gift certificate and NPR swag to an Apple computer and high-end travel packages.

When the auction finished, revenue totaled $677,916, according to the report that Kruse sent to the stations in January 2005.

But she was slow to send the money. Kruse sent $10,000 to nine of the stations, then no more. The rest received no repayment at all.

Inside Kruse and Partners, there had been signs of trouble. Even as the auction was taking place, Kruse’s office landlord filed suit against her for five months’ back rent at $10,356 per month. Sue Winking, a fundraising professional who had joined the team, recalls that some of her co-workers’ paychecks bounced and, in her case, no deposits were made to her retirement account, even though her paychecks reflected those deductions. Appleby, instead of being paid her fee, was sent home with a promissory note for $56,629.73.

In February 2005, Kruse abruptly shut down Kruse and Partners, notifying clients by email that the company “does not have any financial assets.”

Six months later, the radio stations, under the umbrella of the Curators of the University of Missouri, filed suit against Kruse in Washington, D.C., Superior Court to recover the lost funds. They asked for, and eventually won, a judgment against her totaling more than $380,000.

March now claims that she was “cleared by a court-ordered receiver of any wrongdoing.”

In general, a receiver is a court-appointed custodian who protects and maintains property that is subject to a pending lawsuit, and does not make a ruling on the merits of the case, legal experts say.

Greg Hays, president of the National Assn. of Federal Equity Receivers, reviewed the receiver’s report about Kruse for The Times. “The court-appointed receiver reported that he did not have sufficient documents to complete his investigation,” he said. Hays noted that the receiver, in his report to the court, also said the company was “perpetually insolvent” and that it is “more than arguable that a cause of action exists against her [Kruse].” The receiver, Hays added, recommended that the creditor “pursue the claims against the defendant and that the receivership case be closed.”

The report explained that Kruse’s company “received a large volume of payments from credit card companies which represented payments on auctions” and “used those funds to make partial payment to the various public radio stations of $10,000 without any apparent regard for accounting for the proceeds. K&A appears to have used the balance of money received for those auctions to pay operating expenses and other debts. There was a complete failure to hold money in trust or to properly account for its receipts. As such, it appears that sufficient grounds exist to seek reimbursement from Nancy Kruse for conversion of what should be trust assets.”

Additionally, the report made clear that Nancy Kruse, Kruse and Associates and Kruse and Partners had been used interchangeably in contracts and bills — with the receiver arguing that Nancy Kruse was personally responsible for the debts.

The public broadcasting industry newsletter the Current followed Kruse and Partners’ work first with enthusiasm, then skepticism. After the company closed, Current reporter Jeremy Egner pursued the story — and revealed that Kruse, then calling herself Delaney Anderson, had been involved with the Writing Center and its dissolution in a 2005 story headlined, “Fundraiser’s Past a Red Flag No One Saw.”

By the time the connection had been made and the judgments filed, Kruse was gone — although, surprisingly, she hadn’t gone far.


In October 2005, when her soon-to-be ex-husband Smith was declaring bankruptcy in Washington, D.C., Kruse surfaced in Rehoboth Beach, Del., just 120 miles to the east.

Kruse didn’t reveal her recent past; instead, she wowed the small town’s writing community with tales of literary ascendancy. She told Maribeth Fischer that she had signed a two-book deal with Random House and had gone to the National Book Awards with her friend Malcolm Gladwell. Fischer recalls Kruse pointing at a picture of Gladwell in the newspaper the next day and saying that she had been just out of frame.

She told both Fischer and another local, Kent Schoch, that she had a contract to write a series for the New Yorker — Schoch traveled with her to New Orleans to research it (but wound up paying the bill). Schoch and Fischer became suspicious of Kruse’s success stories when she told them she’d received a personal phone call from Bob Dylan. When they contacted who they thought were her agent and her publisher, both said they didn’t know her.

It was midsummer of 2006 when Fischer confronted her about what she’d found. Kruse left town soon afterward, Fischer said.


The woman born Nancy Lott resurfaced five years later, in 2011, as Anna March. She was dating Adam Pesachowitz, and in December of 2012, she published her first story in Salon.com, which would remain her largest regular outlet.

March and Pesachowitz moved from the East Coast to a beach cottage in Santa Barbara. Later, they moved to the Melrose neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

March’s pieces in Salon were confessional and attention-getting: “My Shazam Boobs” and “This ‘Bitch’ Won’t Shut Up.”

In person, she was both outspoken and attentive. “It’s been my experience that she has a good nose for what people need to hear,” said Ashley Perez, an emerging Los Angeles writer who was close with March for a time. She was flattering, Perez says, and “she told me she wanted to give me opportunities and I wanted to learn more — any chance I could.”

March was diligent about becoming a key literary figure in Los Angeles. But a year after her big party at the Ace Hotel, she sent an email with the subject line CONFIDENTIAL to a number of friends.

“I am writing today to ask for your help,” the email read, linking to what she called “a private crowdsource campaign” and instructing recipients, in all caps, not to share it on social media. The message referred to a temporary separation, taxes, helping her mother, a pending windfall from a property sale and an immediate financial need for unspecified medical expenses. She said she needed $9,000 (she got $6,200).

What wasn’t clear in her message was that Pesachowitz had left her, he told The Times. She had not been honest with him about her past, he says, including telling him that she was expecting an inheritance from her family. “This was a painful and costly chapter in my life,” he said. The two never married. “I am happy that I have moved on and I am now focused on recovering and rebuilding.”

After a year in Los Angeles, March departed, returning to Delaware in April 2016.


March announced a series of writing workshops that she would lead in remote, attractive locales. Such writing workshops are common. Some are independent and long established; others are connected to literary magazines and writing programs. Most have a formal application process and well-known authors as their teachers.

But March’s retreats were smaller-scale. She and one or two other people would be the writing instructors. Attendees did not need to submit writing samples to apply. They signed up by paying March in advance, amounts ranging from $400 to $3,000 to cover classes, hotel and food. Travel was not included.

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

During 2016 and 2017, March announced 11 workshops. One took place in a heady destination — Julia Child’s home in Provence, France. But several — slated for Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Italy, Santa Monica and Rehoboth Beach — were postponed or canceled. Although it took some time, most who have asked for refunds have received them.

But one cancellation was problematic for three Angelenos: Perez; Perez’s partner, Seth Fischer; and Karen Palmer, who was to be an instructor in exchange for free room and board. They made it to Positano, Italy, in April 2017 for one of March’s writing workshops that didn’t happen.

Palmer had already arrived when, two days before it was to begin, March canceled the workshop. Perez, who comes from a working-class background, had been given a scholarship by March; Fischer had paid for the workshop. They’d bought cheap, nonrefundable airline tickets, so the two traveled to Italy anyway. At least they would have a place to stay. But they didn’t. They learned when they arrived that no rooms had been booked for the workshop at the advertised hotel.

When the retreats did happen, they didn’t always go smoothly. “I taught a cooking/writing workshop in Julia Child’s home as a way of earning money,” March writes in her open letter.

She brought Craig Clifton, a chef from the U.S., to that retreat in Provence, France, but stranded him there, owing him $1,300, Clifton says. When he asked for his money, she messaged him: “if you want to get into a public pissing match — i do not — but if you do, just remember mine comes with pictures and video. pick someone else to be rude bad boy too — i’m over it.”

At least four of her workshops, all with enrolled students, were promoted with images of the destination hotels. Representatives of those hotels, including the one in Positano, said they had no knowledge of March or her writing classes — she had not booked any rooms there.

Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín For the Times

March started a new literary project in the fall of 2016 after the election of Donald Trump: Roar, an online magazine of “literature and revolution by feminist people.” Using empowering rhetoric and online social media solicitations, March quickly attracted writers and editors looking for a way to speak out against then-President-elect Trump.

Using GoFundMe, Roar raised about $49,000, says its former executive editor, Sarah Sandman. In her open letter, March notes that Roar paid its “contributors a $25 symbolic honorarium.”

But Sandman says she had a hard time getting that money to Roar’s writers. “We were saying we were an intersectional feminist magazine promising to challenge the patriarchy,” Sandman said. “But we didn’t do what we said we would do.

“I sent spreadsheet after spreadsheet to Anna so the writers could get paid — she even told me she paid them,” she said. “I believed her until I started receiving emails from people gently asking me when they might expect payment.” Sandman left Roar.

In her open letter, March writes, “I have been working to pay Roar’s debts and will continue to do so.”

The site, which has essentially gone dormant, is where March posted her response to The Times’ questions.


Today Anna March is far from the Ace Hotel and her soirée. She now offers private literary consulting — manuscript consultations for $1,600 to $3,000 and coaching for hopeful writers to construct submissions to literary agents.

She now tells people that she has three books, not two, almost ready. She’s returned to Rehoboth, Del., where she planned a prom for adults in April to benefit a local community center, then canceled it. She had been posting photos from the local bar on social media. But, after The Times’ inquiries, she deleted her accounts.


Chadburn, a contributing editor for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her debut novel, “A Tiny Upward Shove,” is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kellogg is the Books editor of The Times.

 

Credits: Animation by Swetha Kannan, production by Andrea Roberson

 

Source: Literary ambition. Fabulous parties. A hidden past. Who is Anna March? – Los Angeles Times

Philip Roth and the Heavy Demands of Genius – The Atlantic

Pascal Parrot / Sygma / Sygma / Getty

To mourn Philip Roth is also to mourn a particular kind of literary celebrity.

If you Google the phrase literary lion, here is one of the first definitions that will be returned to you for the effort: “Noun: a noted author who has reached celebrity status.” And, then: “Examples: Philip Roth is a literary lion.”

With that, once again, Dictionary.com cuts to the chase. Literary lion is, fittingly, being used a lot today, along with “towering” and “preeminent” and “incomparable,” as the world comes to terms with the melancholy fact that Philip Roth is no longer in it. The obituaries’ soaring language is often accompanied, as per the mandates of internet protocol, by searing URLs—“philip-roth-dead,” The New York Times reports of the novelist who, elsewhere, has been “borne aloft by an extraordinary second wind”—and there is a certain aptness to the collision: Philip Roth, literary lion, had little patience for lionizing. Embracing that quintessential writerly mandate, “Write what you know,” he wrote about Newark. He wrote about glove factories. He wrote about fathers. He wrote about sons. He wrote about Jewishness, and lust, and one very unfortunate piece of organ meat. He wrote about America. And he wrote about the body—specifically, through the translucent veneer of fiction, his own: its appetites, its indignities, its absurdities, its inevitabilities.

The body of Roth’s work is similarly somatic, impatient with idealism and clear-eyed about what it means to move through the world in a fickle vehicle of flesh and bone. Even when a Rothian narrator morphs into a 155-pound female breast, Franz Kafka merging with Hugh Hefner, there is very little magic, of realism or any other strain, to be found in the proceedings. There is, instead, as in most of Roth’s work, a pervasive ennui. A wry wit. Philip’s Complaint. “All that we don’t know is astonishing,” Roth writes in The Human Stain. “Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.”

And so the novelist who loved playing with doubleness—his semi-memoir, teasingly titled The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography, found the author engaged in a dialogue with his fictional counterpart, Nathan Zuckerman—is celebrated, today, through obituaries that traffic in their own small ironies. The assessments want him, in some ways, both ways: Roth, the artist, transcendent and wise … and Roth, too, the person—male, white, Jewish, American. Human, fragile, weary, relatable. The bard of the body.

Roth the god vs. Roth the dude, Roth the man vs. Roth the Everyman: Humming in the lower registers of the obits for him, lurking just at the edges, is a mourning not just for Roth, but also for the notion of literary greatness itself. For the notion that heroes, in this sad and messy world, can walk among us, still. “It has been six years since Roth announced his retirement from writing, and there were surely no more books to come; so why does his death feel so much like a loss, as if readers had been deprived of something?” my colleague Adam Kirsch asked. “Perhaps it is because Roth was the last of the larger-than-life novelists of the mid-20th century, a reminder of a time when literary excellence and bestsellerdom and celebrity could all go together in one electric package.”

That package has often been sold under a single, generic brand: genius. Writers at Roth’s level—level, definitely, because there is a cultural capitalism at play in our assessments of literary greatness—have tended to be treated not merely as entertainers or artists or celebrities, but also as fonts of wisdom. They are spoken of in hushed and reverent tones. They are shrouded in the glistening fog of the literary romantic. Their words double as incantations. The writers themselves, sure, may be engaged in the same rough work as genre writers and screenwriters and comic-book writers and other workers whose lot in life is to do battle with the blank screen; writers of literary fiction, though, we have decided—or, more specifically, we have taken for granted—represent their own kind of genre. They are the writers we talk about when we talk about American Letters. They are the ones we think of when we think of “the canon.” Literature, the logic has gone for so long, exists on a different plane than other forms of make-believe. And, so, the people who produce it exist on another plane, as well.

It is an approach that many of today’s novelists, caught as they are within the inertias of highbrow assumptions, often attempt to correct. Writing, after all—any writer will tell you—is pretty much the least romantic activity imaginable. Nicholson Baker wrote parts of House of Holes from a booth in a Friendly’s. Kazuo Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day in a state of self-imposed isolation, working every day from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., pausing only for meals. Toni Morrison has compared the quiet alchemies of the writing process to the labors of the scientific laboratory, with its experiments and tools and rats: “If you think of [writing] simply as information, you can get closer to success.”

And Roth, for his part, put it like this: “Solving the problem of the book you’re writing always remains hard work, and your progress is snail-like. Even if you write a book in two years, sometimes you get a page a day, sometimes you get no pages … every sentence raises a problem, and essentially what you’re doing is connecting one sentence to the next.”

The writers are asking to be humanized. They are pushing back against a system of commodified reverence. They are suggesting that even literary lions, as Kirsch argued, deserve the dignity of being doubted. There are, after all, so many lingering questions about Roth’s work: questions about misogyny, about anti-Semitism, about entitlement, about objectification, about the hazy lines between fact and fiction. How should critics assess a body of work that spanned so many decades, and so many ideas? What to make of insights that tangle philosophy and fantasy and repurposed baseball gloves? The artist and the art, the good and the bad, the human and the stain: These are live, and live-wire, matters, with implications far beyond Roth himself. And yet the obituary impulse is to simplify, to allow Roth to double—not on his own behalf, but on ours—as his own work of magical realism: both of his time and beyond it. Both of us, and better than us. “The book is fundamentally defensive,” Nathan Zuckerman notes, in The Facts. “Just as having this letter at the end is a self-defensive trick to have it both ways.”

We ask so much—too muchof genius. Genius is not merely a condition, the thing that happens when soft bodies collide with a hard world at just the right angle; it is also a kind of hope. It is a kind of faith—in greatness, in heroes, in the notion that heaven can be, despite all evidence to the contrary, a place on Earth. The joke of the “great American novel” is that it can never be written; if it were, we’d have nothing left to strive for.

In American literature, though—“American Letters,” as the sweeping idea goes—genius is increasingly untenable. It is both too narrow, reserved as it has been almost wholly for white men like Philip Roth, and too broad. It is collapsing under the weight of its own obligations. It is falling victim, finally, to the forces of gravity. Jonathan Franzen is telling jokes on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Margaret Atwood is saying something weird in The Globe and Mail. Joan Didion is a brand ambassador. Authors’ words are disentangled from their narrative contexts in the form of Goodreads quotes and email signatures and mugs ordered on Zazzle.com. The people who decide literature’s Nobel prizes recently revealed themselves to be that most reliably disappointing of things: human. All your faves are problematic.

That is, in part, what is being mourned today, in the mourning of Philip Roth: not just the great author, the towering genius, but also the notion that anyone can be, anymore, a towering genius. Roth represents the promise of distant gods; his death suggests its demise. In place of the old system will be something much better—more expansive, more inclusive, more reflective of the American identity—but something, at the same time, much less woozily romantic. The center cannot hold. And so we will adapt, as we always do, embracing a more realistic, and more permissive, view of what literature really is: literature as lyric, literature as the furtive movement on the flickering screen, literature as the soft vibrations of the human voice. Bob Dylan won the Nobel, when Philip Roth did not. Artists who tread in their paths will find new ways to merge philosophy and fantasy. Writers will find new words to explain us to ourselves. New geniuses will be anointed. But they will talk with us, not to us. They will be of us, not above us. The last of the lions has gone.

About the Author

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    Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering culture.

Source: Philip Roth and the Heavy Demands of Genius – The Atlantic

A Lord of the Rings-inspired space opera wants to connect you with African mythology — Quartz

Artist Paul Louise-Julie counts among his inspirations the words of Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, the images of Star Wars and the whispers of a Senegalese elder who opened his eyes to the oral history of West Africa.

Six years ago, he challenged himself to combine these influences with his skill as an artist and his desire to tell African stories. One of the results of this endeavor is Yohancè, an upcoming futuristic space opera rich with imagery influenced by ancient African culture and design, which aims to connect people with Africa’s past by creating a new mythology inspired by the continent.

The first installment of the graphic novel is planned for April and tells the story of professional burglar Yohancè, whose martial arts and acrobatic skills have earned him the nickname ‘The Monkey.’ Yohancè is on the run after stealing a precious artefact from a ruling empire, an object that he discovers is connected to his past.

Yohance Flyby
A scene from ‘Yohancè: The Ekangeni Crystal’ (Paul Louise-Julie)

The graphic novel promises to be a sprawling space adventure, but for the New Jersey-based artist, it’s a deeply personal project born from a desire to invigorate interest in Africa’s rich history, and reestablish connections disrupted by war, colonialism, industrialism and time.

The American-born Louise-Julie, who has Creole, European, African and Indian ancestry, spent much of his youth traveling with his parents around Africa where they ran their own telecommunications and security systems design business. During his senior year, spent at an international school in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, the young teenager was introduced to a Senegalese griot, or storyteller, who spoke to him about the history of the region; recounting stories of kingdoms and wars, of royalty and noblemen.

Back in the US a year later, Louise-Julie came across a diary entry detailing the meeting. Recalling the South African-born Tolkien’s use of different mythologies to create the sprawling fantasy world of Middle-earth, he began researching the history, oral stories and artworks of different African tribes and nations. He used his extensive research to create an encyclopedia of sorts, a frame of reference to create new storylines, characters and civilizations rooted in African history.

Paul Louise-Julie
Yohancè is rich with imagery influenced by ancient African culture and design.

The first fruits of this research was The Pack, a graphic novel series published last year which tracks a group of Egyptian werewolves. Late last year, he began work on Yohancè, which he describes as a compelling space romp filled with alien futuristic cultures, an intergalactic universe of colorful characters. The first chapter, titled ‘The Ekangeni Crystal,’ will be published for free.

“Mythology isn’t just a collection of stories,” says Louise-Julie, but “one of the fundamental pillars of civilization.” If we want to redefine culture in a post-colonial world, “then we have to re-establish that connection, at least to that mythology,” he believes.

His parents extensive collection of African art was a deep source of inspiration for Louise-Julie’s work. Yohancè’s headgear is modeled on the aesthetics of the Fang people in Central Africa, his spaceship inspired by the Bambara people of Mali, and the architecture references historic Ethiopian, Malian and Benin design.

A cityscape in the Yohancè universe.
A cityscape in the Yohancè universe. (Paul Louise-Julie)

The specificity of the illustrations also extends to text. Louise-Julie decided to nickname Yohancè‘The Monkey,’ as a way to take ownership of a racist epithet that continues to be in use today.

He imbued his “rogue hero” with the traits he found fascinating about the species: intelligence, strength, agility, their unpredictability and cunningness—not the distortion that is the racial slur. Yohancè “doesn’t tie himself down to any code,” says Louise-Julie. “Moral ambiguity is also part of his character too.”

Louise-Julie’s work comes at a time of increased interest in African superheroes, evidenced by the work of the Nigerian startup Comic Republic, Ghana’s Leti Arts, and South Africa’s Kwezi Comics.

He hopes that the fact that the story is “rooted in the bones of ancient Africa and folklore” will appeal to people who have African ancestry but also those with a general interest in the continent. Plus, it’s given him the chance to create an epic saga set in space, which has been somewhat of a thrill for the Star Wars and David Bowie fan.

“Most people…just want to be taken to the stars,” says Louise-Julie. “The fact that it’s African, is just something that adds a unique flavor to it.”

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Source: A Lord of the Rings-inspired space opera wants to connect you with African mythology — Quartz

What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch’

The first story in Carmen Maria Machado’s ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ brings up big questions about who we believe and why

Photo: Luke Braswell

When I teach Carmen Maria Machado’s story “The Husband Stitch,” the first in her collection Her Body and Other Partiesto my fiction workshops, it’s unlike teaching any other story. For one thing, the men in class don’t speak. I’m not sure if, like me, they don’t know what to say, something I admit before we begin. “I don’t quite know how to discuss this story,” I say. “I’m really having us read it because I love it.” Or maybe they feel like they shouldn’t because it is, among other things, a story about being a woman. The conversation limps along, uncharacteristically weighted with all the things the students are thinking and not saying. Often, one woman admits she cried when she read it, and when I nod and ask why, she says she doesn’t know. Always, a student says that she sent it to all of her friends.

I have that impulse, too, to share it, which is why I have my classes read it. There is a truth in the tales that I recognize viscerally but have never been taught. Machado’s narrator tells the story of meeting the young man she knew she would marry, their mutually desirous marriage, the birth and raising of their son, and an inevitable betrayal by her husband whom she loves. “He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt,” the narrator says. “He is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would be a deep disservice to him. And yet — ” The title refers to the extra stitch sometimes given to a woman after the area between her vagina and anus is either torn or cut during childbirth. The purpose of the extra stitch is to make the vagina tighter than it was before childbirth in order to increase the husband’s pleasure during sex.

Often, one woman admits she cried when she read it, and when I nod and ask why, she says she doesn’t know.

I was first introduced to the husband stitch in 2014, when a friend in medical school told me about a birth her classmate observed. After the baby was delivered, the doctor said to the woman’s husband, “Don’t worry, I’ll sew her up nice and tight for you,” and the two men laughed while the woman lay between them, covered in her own and her baby’s blood and feces. The story terrified me, the laughter in particular, signaling some understanding of wrongdoing, some sheepishness in doing it anyway. The helplessness of the woman, her body being altered without her consent by two people she has to trust: her partner, her doctor. The details of the third-hand account imprinted into my memory so vividly that the memory of the story feels now almost like my own memory. Later that year, Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” was published, and sometime after that, I read it, and the details of Machado’s scene were so similar, down to the laughter, down to the words “don’t worry” (though in Machado’s story they’re directed at the woman), that I’m not sure now what I remember and what I read.

Reliable information about, or even an official definition of, the husband stitch is conspicuously missing from the internet. No entry in Wikipedia, nothing in WebMD. Instead there are pages and pages of message board entries and forum discussions on pregnancy websites, and a pretty good definition on Urban Dictionary. In James Baldwin’s 1979 New York Timespiece, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” he writes, “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.” How can a practice like the husband stitch be warned against if there’s no official discussion of it, no record of it, no language around it, nothing to point at, to teach? Every time a woman received a husband stitch, is it in her medical file? Does it say, “2nd degree perineal laceration repaired + husband stitch”? Or might the record leave off the extra stitch, whether it happened or not? I asked three male friends in medical residencies in different areas around the country if they’d heard of the husband stitch and only one had, but not from medical school; he knew it from Machado’s story. And yet it happens, based on the chatter on message boards, women’s chatter, which I have been conditioned to approach with skepticism, a category of information I might dismiss as an “old wives’ tale” (a term with its own troubling connotations). It happens even now.

But this is not an essay about the husband stitch. It’s an essay about believing and being believed.

My mother has always had a flexible relationship with facts. She is constantly solving mysteries, including (often incorrectly) the mystery of what you’re about to say next, or the mystery of someone’s motivations. Sometimes in recalling these instances, she’ll substitute in her solutions for the truth, her prediction for what I actually said. “I thought you said you weren’t taking the baby to Portugal because of Zika,” she’ll say, and I am exhausted by the prospect of unraveling all of the inaccuracies. “No, that’s what you said,” I say, like a child. “I said I am taking the baby to Portugal and there’s no Zika in Portugal and the reason people worry about Zika in the first place is if you’re pregnant and neither I nor the baby are pregnant.” But of course she’s not confused, though there are times when she is; in this case she’s knowingly using incorrect facts to tell me her emotional truth, that she doesn’t want me to take the baby to Portugal because, like me, she’s afraid of everything. The truth that she is afraid of everything is as real as the truth that there’s no risk of Zika in Portugal. Both are true. By working backwards from her emotional truth I can understand why her facts are wrong.

Machado’s narrator tells a story from her own youth, when she’s certain she has seen and felt toes among the potatoes at the grocery store. Her mother thinks she’s misunderstood the word. Potatoes, not toes, she tells her, but the narrator remembers the detail of the way the toe felt when she touched it. Her father lays out the logical case against the existence of toes among the potatoes, a clean, five-point position: she knew the grocer, why would he sell toes, where would he get them, what would be gained from selling them, and finally, why did no one see them but her? She reflects on this, “As a grown woman, I would have said to my father that there are true things in this world observed only by a single set of eyes. As a girl, I consented to his account of the story, and laughed when he scooped me from the chair to kiss me and send me on my way.” Machado is teaching us that truth and logic only occasionally overlap. When you start poking at the idea of an absolute truth, a truth unfiltered through someone’s perception, it can fall apart entirely.

Machado is teaching us that truth and logic only occasionally overlap. When you start poking at the idea of an absolute truth, a truth unfiltered through someone’s perception, it can fall apart entirely.

“Of all the stories I know about mothers, this is the most real,” Machado’s narrator begins, and goes on to tell a story of a mother and daughter traveling to Paris. The mother falls ill and the doctor sends the daughter to get medicine, a task which takes so long, a meandering cab ride, the doctor’s wife making pills out of powder, that when the daughter returns to the hotel she finds her mother gone, the walls of their room a different color, a hotel clerk who doesn’t remember them. Then the narrator says there are many endings to this story, one in which the daughter persists, stakes out the hotel and starts an affair with a laundryman in order to finally discover the truth: that her mother died from a highly contagious disease and in order to prevent widespread panic, the doctor, cab driver, his wife, and the hotel employees conspired to erase any trace of the mother and daughter’s existence there. Another ending to the story is that the daughter lives the rest of her life believing she’s crazy, “that she invented her mother and her life with her mother in her own diseased mind. The daughter stumbles from hotel to hotel, confused and grieving, though for whom she cannot say.” I would tell you the moral, the narrator says, but I think you already know.

We are taught to value simple, elegant truths. In science, philosophy, theology, and politics, we apply Occam’s razor, the idea that between competing hypotheses, the simplest one is the right one. That the daughter is crazy is a much simpler explanation than that a whole cast of characters conspired to hide her mother’s death and erase their existence, simpler than the introduction of a contagious disease, simpler than the construction and remodeling done to the room. And yet —

In class, I don’t say to my students, “Do you feel it, too? Or can you imagine it? The perils of living in a world made by a different gender? The justified and unjustified mistrust? The near-constant experience of being disbelieved, of learning to question your own sanity? How much more it hurts to be let down by ‘one of the good ones?’” Instead I say, “What effect do the horror tales have, placed associatively where they are in the story? What effect do the stage directions have? What would be lost without them? Do you see how they’re braided together? These are tools you can use in your own stories.”

In class, I don’t say to my students, “Do you feel it, too? Or can you imagine it? The near-constant experience of being disbelieved, of learning to question your own sanity?”

One night we had a thrilling summer storm, bright and crashing, wind and rain blowing into the house from every direction. I wanted to open all the doors and windows wider and run around, but it was better for the house, the wood, to close them tight. We hadn’t been in the house long, and it was the first time in this house we’d had to close all the windows. In the morning I smelled gas, strong, unmistakable. “I smell gas,” I said to my husband. “I don’t smell it,” he said. He had a friend come over. “Why are you having a friend come over,” I asked, “when it doesn’t matter if he can smell it or not, and none of us can fix it?” His friend didn’t smell it, either. I called the gas company. The gas company employee didn’t smell it, either. He waved his reader around and it blasted off in three places, substantial leaks behind the stove and in the basement. “Always trust a woman’s nose,” the gas company employee said.

Yes, I thought, believe us.

Then, No, I thought, I’m not a fucking witch. Believe anyone who smells gas. If someone smells gas, believe them.

But what if this story had a different ending? What if his reader hadn’t picked anything up? What if there had been no gas? I was so relieved there was gas, so afraid I was crazy. If I smell gas and there is no gas, am I different than if I smell gas and there is? Am I crazy, then, and does my value come from not being crazy? Does my value come from being right? If there is no gas, am I not right? Does it mean I didn’t smell gas or does my experience of smelling gas still remain?

Why are we disbelieved? Why am I skeptical of women’s chatter? Why does my husband think I don’t smell gas? Later, in the same piece, Baldwin writes, “There was a moment, in time, and in this place, when my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my sister, had to convey to me, for example, the danger in which I was standing from the white man standing just behind me, and to convey this with a speed, and in a language, that the white man could not possibly understand, and that, indeed, he cannot understand, until today. He cannot afford to understand it. This understanding would reveal to him too much about himself, and smash that mirror before which he has been frozen for so long.” Maybe this is why we don’t believe women. If their experience is true, we can’t stand to see our role in it.

Once, after class, a student approached me urgently. “That happened to my mother,” she said. “I didn’t want to say it in class, but they did that to her. The husband stitch.” Her eyes were wet, unblinking. “It’s real,” she said.

Yes, I said. It’s real.

Source: What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch’

‘Harry Potter’ fanfiction author of ‘My Immortal’ reveals her identity – INSIDER

Harry Potter and Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance are two touchstones for “Tara Gilesbie,” the invented author of the fanfiction “My Immortal.”
Warner Bros.; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The INSIDER Summary:

  • The authorship of a so-bad-it’s-good “Harry Potter” fanfiction called “My Immortal” has been an internet mystery for a decade.
  • The author, Rose Christo, is stepping forward.
  • She’s writing about the experience in her forthcoming memoir, which mostly covers her childhood separation from her brother.

Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way has come forward.

For more than a decade, people have been trying to crack the case of the mysterious author behind “My Immortal.” It’s a notorious so-bad-it’s-good “Harry Potter” fanfiction published between 2006 and 2007.

All this time, no one knew if “My Immortal” was a genuine effort from an emo teen or a parody of “Harry Potter” fanfiction and the emo teens who write them. Its hilarity has produced a cult following on the internet, and even inspired a live action web show adapting the work.

Now author Rose Christo is claiming the work as her own. She’s telling her story in a memoir, due in May 2018, titled “Under the Same Stars: The Search for My Brother and the True Story of My Immortal.” She’s verified herself as the real author with Macmillan, which is publishing her book.

“There’s a faction of people who really like not knowing who wrote it,” Christo wrote in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “But I think in most cases, honesty is the best policy.”

 

A still from “My Immortal: The Web Series,” an unauthorized adaptation of the work.MyImmortalSeries/Vimeo

The premise of “My Immortal” is that the author, Ebony (sometimes spelled Enoby), goes to Hogwarts. There, she hangs out with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and the rest of the teen wizard crew. Everyone is goth and My Chemical Romance plays on campus all the time. Like many works of fanfiction, it is filled with misspelled words and names, often rambling, and sexually explicit. It is also very funny.

The whole thing lives online on several sites and can even be purchased as a paperback book. Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea of what “My Immortal” is like:

I was really scared about Vlodemort all day. I was even upset went to rehearsals with my gothic metal band Bloody Gothic Rose 666. I am the lead singer of it and I play guitar. People say that we sound like a cross between GC, Slipknot and MCR. The other people in the band are B’loody Mary, Vampire, Draco, Ron (although we call him Diabolo now. He has black hair now with blue streaks in it.) and Hargrid. Only today Draco and Vampire were depressed so they weren’t coming and we wrote songs instead. I knew Draco was probably slitting his wrists (he wouldn’t die because he was a vampire too and the only way you can kill a vampire is with a c-r-o-s-s (there’s no way I’m writing that) or a steak) and Vampire was probably watching a depressing movie like The Corpse Bride.

“My Immortal” was originally published on FanFiction.net under the username XXXbloodyrists666XXX, with an author who identified herself as Ebony (sometimes spelled Enoby) Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and also claimed to be a teen named Tara Gilesbie living in Dubai.

Christo confirmed that the work was, in fact, intended as a “trollfic,” which parodies fanfiction.

“Sorry if this disappoints anyone, but I thought it was obvious,” she wrote on Tumblr.

Christo’s forthcoming memoir isn’t just about “My Immortal.” “Under the Same Stars” is about her life as a Native American woman living in New York, her childhood separation from her brother.

 

The emo aesthetic of the band “My Chemical Romance” was an influence on “My Immortal.”
AP Photo/Branimir Kvartuc

“Under the Same Stars is not a book about My Immortal, even though My Immortal shows up,” she wrote on Tumblr. “This book is really just a love song to my brother, to my grandmother, to my city, and to my people.

On her Tumblr, Christo has been talking more about “My Immortal” and her legendary character, Ebony. When one user asked her if the character was lesbian, Chriso said that so much time has passed that she’s comfortable with other people projecting their own creative interpretations.

“I’m going to say that Ebony’s whatever you want her to be,” she wrote.

 

Gerard Way is My Chemical Romance’s frontman and emo master.
Dave Etheridge-Barnes/Getty Images

In 2015, Annie Jamison, then an associate professor at Princeton University, assigned “My Immortal” as reading in a class about fanfiction. Christo said she was shocked when she found out her work was being taught there — and now she’s in touch with the professor.

“It’s still surreal,” she wrote on Tumblr. “I’ve recently come in contact with the woman who teaches the course, and I just don’t know how to behave.”

When “Under the Same Stars” is released next May, we’ll learn more about the creation of “My Immortal,” one of the landmark achievements in the history of fanfiction.

More:Harry Potter
Books
My Immortal
My Chemical Romance

 

Source: ‘Harry Potter’ fanfiction author of ‘My Immortal’ reveals her identity – INSIDER

A close reading of Equifax’s statement about its data breach.

 

531606550
Just a little data breach affecting 143 million U.S. consumers

weerapatkiatdumrong/Thinkstock

On July 29 the credit reporting agency Equifax discovered that someone had accessed enormous amounts of the information that it held. This Thursday—more than a month later—Equifax released a statement announcing the breach and the company’s planned response.

As is so often the case with such statements, this is a shambolic text, evincing collective and perhaps contentious authorship: Note, for example, the erratic spacing after periods, sometimes one, sometimes two. (In one case, the space seems to be missing altogether after a hyperlink.) In such details, we glimpse the outer edges of a hastily assembled response: paragraphs bounced back and forth between divisions and departments over email, lawyers screaming at one another over the phone.

Given, however, that Equifax had more than a month to labor over these words, we can and must read also read the statement as a carefully crafted object, a sort of prose poem for our troubled times.

The key to this challenging text’s style arrives in its opening paragraph. Having breezily introduced what happened (“a cybersecurity incident”) and to whom it happened (“approximately 143 million U.S. consumers”), our anonymous authors abruptly pull back from the scene of the crime. “The company has found no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases,” they write. In this statement from Equifax itself, “the company” rings strange, somehow suggesting that Equifax is not an actor in its own drama.

More importantly, though, this phrase confronts us with a wan sort of bathos that seems almost satirical. Having outlined a breach so enormous as to border on the sublime, we are implicitly told that we need not worry after all. Never mind the very real threats of identity theft. No one has actually manipulated your credit rating, it seems to propose. Yes, unknown criminals almost certainly have information about you, oh reader, but, no, you need not fear.

The statement’s second paragraph comes hard and fast with the true details of the hack, almost immediately undermining the wan gesture of assurance that concludes the first. The information “primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.”

And yet, Equifax’s artistes erratically (but strategically) reintroduce notes of minimization, a deliberate arrhythmia of irony: Yes, more than 100 million social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses may have been compromised, but driver’s license numbers have only been accessed “in some instances.” This is a phrase whose power flows from its uncertainty. How many is some? Should I count myself among their number?

As in the fragmentary remnants of Sappho’s poetry, we recognize ourselves in these lines precisely because they are incomplete. The company has also, we learn, “identified unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain UK and Canadian residents.” (Italics mine.) These vague adjectives—“limited” and “certain”—suggest a kind of effortless shrug, especially in contrast to the hard and huge numbers that precede them. In the poetry of Equifax, what is large is always also small, the enormity of the situation not quite so enormous as one might fear.

This commitment to irony takes on a new form soon after as a single voice—that of Equifax CEO Richard F. Smith—begins to emerge from the corporate chorus. Smith almost, but never quite, acknowledges that the situation itself constitutes a reversal of expectations. “We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting customer data,” says this man whose company has just made a mess of both of those tasks. Here, teetering on the brink of something life self-knowledge, Smith continues, “We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all U.S. consumers.” We are obliged, he proposes, to trust him because he has failed us.

A fuller version of the statement that appears on PR Newswire further amplifies this dynamic interplay of trust and uncertainty. “These statements can be identified by expressions of belief, expectation or intention, as well as estimates and statements that are not historical fact,” it reads. In aggregate, “expressions,” “expectations,” and “estimates” add up to something more than the sum of their parts. Each admits to a degree of ignorance, but together they suggest a species of certainty. We know because we know so little, Equifax tells us, enacting a sort of auto-deconstruction that would make the French philosopher Jacques Derrida smile. A thing, this text repeatedly indicates, is inevitably evident in its opposite. History is always already shaped by the absence of “historical fact.”

Here, the ordinary logic of time grinds to a halt, every description of past action only ever an anticipation of what is to come. “Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight,” CEO Smith declares near the end, eliding past failures and future struggles. “While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more.  And we will.”

We believe you, CEO Smith. And we don’t. As the text is written, so it demands.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

 

Source: A close reading of Equifax’s statement about its data breach.

eyes I dare not meet in dreams | Tor.com

Undead girls begin re-entering the world of the living, emerging from refrigerators.

 

The staring. A leaf alone in the horrible
leaves. The dead girl. The staring.

—Joshua Beckman, “[The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett]”

At 2:25 a.m. on a quiet Friday night on a deserted country road in southeastern Pennsylvania, the first dead girl climbed out of her refrigerator.

So the story goes.

We never saw the refrigerators. Eventually we gathered that they were everywhere, but we never actually saw them until the dead girls started climbing out of them. Holes in reality, some people said. Interdimensional portals, real Star Trek shit. There’s a tear between these parallel universes and something falls through, and next thing you know there’s a refrigerator in the middle of the road, or the sidewalk, or someone’s lawn, or a football field, or in the bottom of a dry swimming pool, or on the seventh floor balcony of a five star hotel. On the steps of a museum. Basically anywhere.

Later, watching a shaky video taken on someone’s phone, of a refrigerator on a long, straight line of train tracks. Train not far, nighttime, lights blinding. The blare of the thing sends the sound into an angry buzz of distortion. The fridge, just lying there on its side like a coffin. You can’t even tell what it is, except that it’s a box. Or something like that.

It opens. Kicked. Out climbs a broken doll girl, hair stringy and wet, head lolling to one side. Can’t see her face. Don’t need to see her face to know that she’s fucking terrifying. The train somehow looks terrified but physics is a thing, even now, and it can’t stop. She stands there, broken doll head on a broken doll neck, and over the heavy buzz you hear someone screaming holy fucking shit holy shit holy shi—

Even filmed on a shitty cell phone, a train derailed by a dead girl is quite a thing to see.

Okay: the official story goes that the first dead girl stood on that deserted country road on that quiet Friday night for quite some time. She stood motionless, listening to the pat-pat sound of her own blood dripping onto the blacktop. Not listening for her heartbeat, which was not there, nor for her breathing—which was not there either. She was listening to other things: wind, leaves, owls, fox scream, sighing of distant cars. It was a quiet night. That’s the story.

The story goes that the dead girl palmed blood out of her eyes and looked down at her sticky fingers, as if considering them carefully—in their context, in their implications. In the slick undeniability of what was still flowing out of her, like inside her was a blood reservoir which would take thousands of years to run dry. Like she was a thing made only to bleed.

And the story also goes that at some point, after studying the fact of her blood to her own satisfaction, the dead girl dropped her hands to her sides and started to walk.

We never would have believed, before the dead girls started climbing out of their refrigerators, that people could be literally resurrected by sheer indignation.

Probably it should have been obvious. People have been brought back to life by far more ludicrous means and for far more ridiculous reasons.

The story also goes that no one saw the first of the dead girls. The story goes that when they came they came quietly, unannounced, no particular fanfare. The dead girls did not—then—demand witnesses. They weren’t interested in that.

They wanted something else.

Later the dead girls were emerging everywhere, but the first dead girls climbed out of the dark, out of the shadows, out of the lost places and the hidden places and the places of abandonment—out of the places in which one discards old useless refrigerators. Out of the places in which one discards things which have served their purpose and are no longer needed.

The dead girls climbed into the light in junkyards, in vacant lots, in the jumble of shit behind ancient disreputable institutions one might kindly call antique stores. The dead girls climbed out in ravines and ditches and on lonely beaches and in dry riverbeds. Wet riverbeds. The dead girls climbed out into feet and fathoms of water. The dead girls climbed into the air but they also clawed their way out of long-deposited sediment and new mud, like zombies and vampires tearing their way out of graves. The dead girls swam, swam as far as they needed to, and broke the surface like broken doll mermaids.

This is how the story goes. But the story also goes that no one was present at the time, in the first days, so no one is entirely sure how the story got to be there at all. Or at least how it got to be something everyone accepts as truth, which they do.

First CNN interview with a dead girl. She’s young. Small. Blond. Before she was a dead girl she was definitely pretty and she’s still pretty, but in the way only dead girls are, which is the kind of pretty that repels instead of attracts, because pretty like that gives you the distinct impression that it hates you and everything you stand for. Dangerous pretty, and not in the kind of dangerous pretty that exists ultimately only to make itself less dangerous.

Dangerous pretty like a carrion goddess. You’ve seen that pretty picking over battlefields and pursuing traitors across continents. You’ve seen that pretty getting ready to fuck your shit up.

Small young blond pretty dead girl. Broken doll. She stands facing the camera with her head tilted slightly to one side. Her face is cut, though not badly. Neat little hole in her brow. The back of her head is a bloody crusted mess. It was fast, what made this dead girl a dead girl, but it wasn’t pretty.

But she is.

Looking at the camera—it’s somewhat cliché to say that someone is looking right into you, but that’s what this is like. The eyes of the dead girls aren’t cloudy with decay, or white and opaque, or black oil slicks. The eyes of the dead girls are clear and hard like diamond bolts, and they stab you. They stab you over and over, slowly, carefully, very precisely.

Can you tell us your name?

The dead girl stares. Anderson Cooper looks nervous.

Can you tell us anything about yourself? Where did you come from?

The dead girl stares.

Can you tell us anything about what’s going on here today?

Behind the dead girl and Anderson Cooper, a long line of dead girls is filing slowly out of the Mid-Manhattan Library, where approximately fifteen hundred refrigerators just came into material existence.

The dead girl stares.

Is there anything at all you’d like to tell us? Anything?

The dead girl stares. She actually doesn’t even seem to register that there’s a camera, that there’s Anderson Cooper, that she’s being asked questions. It’s not that she’s oblivious to everything, or even to anything; she’s not a zombie. Look into that diamond-point stare and you see the most terrifying kind of intelligence possible: the intelligence of someone who understands what happened, who understands what was done to them, who understands everything perfectly. Perfectly like the keen of the edge of a razor blade.

She’s aware. She just doesn’t register, because to her it isn’t noteworthy. She doesn’t care.

Can you tell us what you want?

The dead girl smiles.

What they didn’t seem to want, at least initially, was to hurt people. The train thing freaked everyone out when it hit but later as far as anyone was able to determine it hadn’t been done with any particular malicious intent. Mostly because the only other times anything like it happened were times when a dead girl needed to act fast in order to keep from being…well, dead again.

Dead girls wreaked havoc when they felt like someone or something was coming at them. So don’t come at a dead girl. Easy lesson learned quickly.

Dead girls have itchy trigger fingers. They hit back hard. You shouldn’t need to ask about the reasons for that.

Something like this, people struggle to find a name for it. The Appearing. The Coming. The Materializations. All proper nouns, all vaguely religious in nature, because how else was this going to go? By naming something we bring it under control, or we think we do—all those stories about summoning and binding magical creatures with their names. But something like this resists naming. Not because of how big it is but because of the sense that some profound and fundamental order is being altered. Something somewhere is being turned upside down. The most basic elements of the stories we told ourselves about everything? A lot of them no longer apply.

A bunch of dead girls got together and decided to break some rules with their own dead bodies.

So the mediums of all the media looked at this Thing, whatever the fuck it was, and they tried to attach names to it. Dead girls on the street, just standing, watching people. Dead girls in bars, in the center of the place, silent. Dead girls on the bus, on the train—they never pay the fare. Dead girls at baseball games—just standing there in front of the places selling overpriced hot dogs and bad beer, head slightly cocked, looking at things. None of them have tickets. Dead girls at the movies, at the opera, dead girls drifting through art galleries and libraries.

Very early on, a mass migration of dead girls to LA. Not all together; they went via a variety of transportation methods. Flew. Again, trains. Some went by bus. Some took cars—took them, because again: you don’t go up against a dead girl. Some—as near as anyone was able to tell—just walked.

Steady. Inexorable. The news covered it, because the dead girls were still always news in those days, and while even news made up of a wildly diverse collection of media and organizations usually adopts a specific tone for something and sticks to it, the tone for this coverage was profoundly confused.

Watching dead girls standing in the aisle of a jumbo jet. Refusing to be seated. Staring. Interrupting the progress of wheely carts and access to the tail-end restrooms. This specific dead girl is missing half her face. Blood oozes from the gaping horror. Flight attendants don’t look directly at her, and one of them gets on the PA and apologizes in a slightly shaking voice. There will be no beverage service on this flight.

Cut to the ground below. Twenty-four dead girls have run into a biker gang and confiscated their vehicles. They roar down a red desert road in loose formation, hair of all colors and lengths pulled by the hands of the wind. They’re beautiful, all these dead girls. They’re gorgeous. They take whatever name anyone tries to give this and they hurl it off the tracks like that train.

You get the sense they’re pretty sick of this shit.

That’s the thing, actually. There are exceptions: girls with horrific traumatic injuries, girls missing limbs, girls who were clearly burned alive. A lot of those last. But for the most part the flesh of the dead girls tends to be undamaged except for the small evidences of what did them in, and there’s always something about those things which is oddly delicate. Tasteful. Aesthetically pleasing.

As a rule, dead girls tend to leave pretty corpses.

Dead girls outside movie studios, the headquarters of TV networks. The houses of well-known writers. Assembled in bloody masses. Broken dolls with their heads cocked to one side. Staring. People were unable to leave their homes. This is how it was. Footage constant even though nothing changed. People started throwing words around like zombie apocalypse but no one got chomped on. The dead girls didn’t want the flesh of the living.

Initially police tried to clear them out, then the National Guard. Casualties were heavy. One of them—a girl with long, lovely brown hair gone reddish with blood—threw a tank. So people basically stopped after that. What was this going to turn into? One of those old horror films about giant radioactive ants? More contemporary ones about giant robots and sea monsters? Maybe we weren’t ready to go quite that far. Maybe you look into the eyes of a dead girl and it feels like your options dry up, and all you can do is be looked at.

You were part of this. We all were. Complicit. Look at yourself with their eyes and you can’t help but see that.

Except on a long enough timeframe everything has a half-life. Even the dead.

You don’t get used to something like this. It isn’t a matter of getting used to. You incorporate.

Dead girls everywhere. Dead girls on the street, dead girls on public transportation—staring at phones and tablets, reading over shoulders. Dead girls in Starbucks. Dead girls on sitcoms—no one has ever really made a concerted effort to keep them out of movie and TV studios, after a few incidents where people tried and the casualty count wasn’t negligible. Dead girls on Law & Order, and not in the way that phrase usually applies—and man there are a whole fuck of a lot of dead girls on Law & Order. Dead girls in the latest Avengers movie. Rumor has it dead girls surrounded Joss Whedon’s house three months ago and haven’t left, and have decisively resisted all attempts to have them removed. Dead girls vintage-filtered on Instagram.

Dead girls on Tumblr. Dead girls everywhere on Tumblr. Dead girl fandom. There’s a fiercely celebratory aspect to it. Dead girl gifsets with Taylor Swift lyrics. Dead girl fic. Vicarious revenge fantasies that don’t even have to be confined to the realm of fantasy anymore, because, again: Joss Whedon. And he’s by no means the only one.

Dead girls as patron saints, as battle standards. Not everyone is afraid of the dead girls. Not everyone meets that hard dead gaze and looks away.

Some people meet that gaze and see something they’ve been waiting for their entire lives.

So in all of this there’s a question, and it’s what happens next.

Because incorporation. Because almost everyone is uncomfortable, but discomfort fades with familiarity, and after a while even fandom tends to lose interest and wander away. Because we forget things. Because the dead girls are still and silent, constant witnesses, and that was unsettling but actually they might turn out to be easier to ignore than we thought. Or that prospect is there. In whispers people consider the idea: could all the pretty dead girls climb back into their refrigerators and go away?

Is that something that could happen?

It seems vanishingly unlikely. Everyone is still more than a little freaked out. But it is an idea, and it’s starting to float around.

We can get used to a lot. It’s happened before.

A deserted country road in southeastern Pennsylvania—deserted except for a dead girl. Quiet night. Silent night except for her blood pat-patting softly onto the pavement. Palming it out of her eyes, staring at her slick, sticky fingers. Dropping her hand limp to her side.

A dead girl stands motionless, looking at nothing. There’s nothing to consider. Nothing to do. The entire world is a stacked deck, and the only card she can play is that she’s dead.

That might or might not be enough.

The dead girl starts to walk.

“eyes I dare not meet in dreams” copyright © 2017 by Sunny Moraine

Art copyright © 2017 by Yuko Shimizu

 

Source: eyes I dare not meet in dreams | Tor.com