"Cursing, red meat, fluid exchange is illegal."
Greetings from the midst of a snowstorm in Philadelphia. It’s February according to the imperial linear calendar.
What a depressing fucking slog. I have sensed that some of you are waiting for me to wax poetic about politics, big tech, and so on. Loathsome topics. The forecast from my perch in the matrix is woeful. I don't like it. Cyberpunk dystopia is perpetually a form of disaster tourism, a fictional future for privileged and indoctrinated citizens of empire, who don't realize that the dystopia is and has been reality for our exploited, for generations. In high school I read 1984, Brave New World, a novel about a Russian Jew who is imprisoned for being Jewish and who dies in prison, The Stranger, Canterbury Tales, etc. I think, too about Roadside Picnic, and films about underground resistances that are in the end captured and murdered by fascists. I think of The Stand. I think of my own story world, where the landscape is environmentally devastated and dumbassed private incorporated city enclaves hire out exiled and forlorn trans people as experimental land surveyors.
This godforsaken pandemic and the world of possibilities that spiral out from its locus make me think about what it was really like to live during the long fall of the Roman Empire (or maybe even its approach), the destruction of the Reconquista, the widely and willfully forgotten barbarism of white supremacists during Reconstruction. I went on a bike ride across town to pick up the new bookmarks I designed for mine and Metropolarity's books. Death is everywhere. New developments are under construction block after block, and 1br apartments across the entire city are starting to go for $1200 with NO utilities. It's nauseating. Anger is eating me up again, and this time there seems to be no where to let it loose.
When Metropolarity formed in 2012, I began to pen short performance-type pieces for our public readings, when a short story was too long and many assumed we were poets whose work could adequately be expressed in under 5 minutes. I was angry then about a disappearing Philadelphia, succumbing to the choke-tight hold of capital as it does every generation, where long-time residents are displaced and newcomers arrive to speak in familiar ways about a place they are not familiar with—an example of my generation, transplants calling Fishtown North Philly, calling North Philly “Brewerytown”, and other sad and laughable discrepancies of experience and memory.
Do you ever conceive of the world in generational terms? Eras? When I was a plucky twenty-something I was wooed by a Silicon Valley techno-future of cybernetic prosthesis and personal devices and novel retail environments. I was into that, I thought it was good. A bitch was living out of a car, working minimum wage, and thinking yes I can't wait for my capsule apartment with shiny Sony appliances and derivative Orientalist decor uwu. One day, one day. Now the day beckons.
On my holodeck resort discord, we had a movie night to watch Demolition Man, a portrait of one Biden-Harris techno-future where criminals are housed in a reform prison system that cryofreezes and then rehabilitates its “criminals” with subliminal programming to be calmer, gentler people. Cursing, red meat, fluid exchange is illegal. Taco Bell is the only restaurant left from the Franchise Wars. Schwarzenegger is President. 1950s commercial jingles replace popular music. Brown people live underground and straight up eat grilled rat meat, and are inexplicably led by a liberatarian everyman who just wants the right to choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle, man! Hollywood can fucking implode for all I care.
Yes, it's going to be really something to live through this. As so many generations have done before us. What will we do when the next pandemic comes? When the floods or the fires come? When the power goes out and does not come back? Last week my housemate had us watch a trio of Frontline specials about white supremacists, and the night after that we watched Fury Road, finishing off the the Mad Max series—another white fantasy dystopia. There's a line in my piece, Monk’s Dream: IS IT GONNA BE THE PURGE IF EVERYONE’S JUST MINDING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
All That's Left has been fucking grueling to write because I still don't know how it ends. I know how I want it to end, but my self-esteem and depression and anger and grief are making it hard for me to realize. Yeah it started out as an interesting transy smut series set in a dystopian world. That shit was easy to write. I had a real live audience to listen to its latest episodes. It was purposefully non-linear. But as a book? Well, what kind of wicked form IS a book, let me ask you that much. Delany's line from his book About Writing—"the false memory is what the story is"—lingers perpetually. I'm rendering a false memory. I don't even remember most of my fucking dreams, and the ones that I do tend to be nightmares.
I started a draft of this talking about my habits of smoking weed and how they changed since the pandemic. I told an anecdote my 80-year-old dad shared with me from his father, a solider in the Mexican Revolution, that they used to give the soldiers marijuana to calm down. Donna Haraway's academic ass makes the point that cyborgs emerge from the technologies of the military industrial complex, and I believe that. Motherfuckers wanna talk about unity and society, god and country, but they don't bat an eye at the legacies of generations and generations of war and pestilence. No imagination and no accountability.
Lately I contemplate, like the traitor in the Matrix, what it would be like to go back to some form of ignorant complacency. I contemplate what it's like to be a start-up warmonger who sits back and sells off millions of vaccines, to be a lying ass white boy making money off selling people's information in a non-profit turned for-profit, to be a city councilperson sitting pretty and cutting deals, to be a jaded and bored rich kid looking for a meaningful existence by joining a radical militant homoerotic Nazi crew.
These are all things that ARE. I ask myself to think about what CAN BE. And it goes alllll the way deep into the heart of myself, what's possible for me to experience in this life of mine. I have not being doing well. In my journal I asked, "WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU HATE YOURSELF?" Maybe the answer is, annoyingly, to yourself. My mom told me that she is pretty sure my nana was anti-abortion and conservative because her mom used to let people get abortions where they lived in industrial Kensington. This same woman, my great grandmother, also apparently read tea leaves during the Great Depression to make money. One of her tea reading cup and saucer sets sits on the lower level of my main altar.
Did you know that the author of Hagakure, whose passages are quoted in the great movie Ghost Dog, was the absolute last son of a shitty samurai father, who was sired when the man was in his seventies and was almost given away to a salt vendor before someone intervened? Hagakure was written well-removed from the height of ~real samurai times~ yet still close enough to be a fond recollection. The book’s introduction offers context:
"But peace and prosperity also brought problems for the samurai class. Without constant warfare, the warrior in a sense found himself without real employment, and the Spartan ideal so long associated with his class began to lose its sense of immediacy."
It's an incredible collection of what ought to be and what is. I love this book. There is a lot of silly bullshit in it. There is also this passage:
"Everyone says that no masters of the arts will appear as the world comes to an end. This is something that I cannot claim to understand. Plants such as peonies, azaleas and camellias will be able to produce beautiful flowers, end of the world or not. If [people] would give some thought to this fact, they would understand. And if people took notice of the masters of even these times, they would be able to say that there are masters in the various arts. But people become imbued with the idea that the world has come to an end and no longer put forth any effort. This is a shame. There is no fault in the times."
Till next time, my loves.
(Audio tracks in this episode come from 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai OST)
Post Script: The price on my short story collection, Transitional Times Transitional Body, will go up starting February 15th, from $8 a copy to $10 a copy. They will also come with this sexy bookmark, for all my paper nerds.