Reading Nabokov’s Mary


You think that summer will last forever. That you will walk out every night together in the wind and the sun on the hill in that peaceful village. As if you were a feature of the air. You think that nothing will ever change, that she will greet you with the same smile, the same excitement, whenever you meet. That you can take your time, not to make a decision—you already know what you’ve decided, or what you would have decided had you allowed yourself to—but that time is a luxury to burn, that time will decide nothing for you.

You think that you will not have to raise your voice to form a question, any question, that your hands will not need to touch her, that she will not need you at her side… That the river will cease moving for you. That you can dip your hand in again and again, into the same water, over the same pebbles, the same rocks, the same shore. That time will still. That’s what you think.

But the river is violated whenever you touch it without understanding that it changes. God will become angry at you.

You will think that you will need nothing more from her than what you can imagine. That your own feelings could not be stifled. Your dreams will play some part in this, as if what you apprehend there is not only the reflection or echo of some rapidly fading shade. As if that shade was not the part of you that you killed, instead some essential, immortal organ. It will die if it is not dead already.

Through the decisions you make, or do not make, you are dying daily. Some part of you is killed in favour of another. Some part of others is killed also. You have watched this happen before. The bloom and fade of human relationships.

A Party


On Friday we had a party and though that was almost two days ago I still haven’t sweat out all of the shit I took in then. This afternoon we cleaned the kitchen in shifts, and now it looks something like it used to in the time before the party. I went running after I cleared the counter and did the dishes and gathered up the empties. After my first long dash my heart felt like it was exploding and I had a deadly cramp that wouldn’t go away. I walked for a bit and continued running only when I reached Garrison Creek park, where I once rented a plot of land, an extremely small plot of land, and grew tomatoes, collards, herbs, and kohlrabi with my ex-wife.

As I was running I had the feeling that everyone I’ve ever loved lives in a two or three block radius. Or lived. I don’t know why I thought this. It’s probably not true. I liked running along the decrepit old warehouses and commercial spaces above Dupont, most closed down or converted into incongruous  residential space. Bodegas with their front windows boarded and dark green paint peeling.

John Cheever says he never looks back at stories he’s written, that once he’s done something he’s done with it forever and I admire that in him and think that I am holding on to more than need to. Maybe that’s because I consider so much of it unfinished. Like a swimmer I’ve got to put my head down into the water and forge ever ahead, until I feel again like the assembler or painter Cheever represents himself as in his Paris Review interview. I was something of that once.

Perhaps being published is a luxury, the luxury to forget what you’ve written, and I have so much that I haven’t published and haven’t—really—even attempted to publish. Perhaps all writers would be like Cheever if they had his luck, able to forget about their past work and forge ever forward, but most don’t have his luck. In some cases is it just a matter of putting the right story into the right hands by the time you’re twenty-four, or twenty-eight, or thirty-two? I don’t know, he has real talent, great talent, and he must have worked hard. It sounds like he did. But you can say an awful lot of things about not looking back at your stories when The New Yorker takes fourteen or fifteen a year.

Of course he is long dead now and The New Yorker means nothing to him anymore. I’m trying to pinpoint a time when I lost the feeling that I had this authority, Cheever’s authority, the authority to combine and to say whatever I want. I used to always gather material and thought in terms of themes, characters, that’s all I cared about—themes, emotions, situations, descriptions, and what I did was allow work that didn’t abide by these rules to creep into my heart and grow up in there. Now I must make the long slog back and cut through the bramble and weeds and make it to that little stretch of land with the cool water where I would sometimes sit and write or sit and squint and see a version of the world that I could put down on the page.

I have been unreliable and I feel like a child. My car’s tire is flat and I don’t know where to go—most car places close at four on Saturdays and don’t open on Sundays. It’s been flat since Tuesday or Wednesday and then we were having the party and I just completely forgot about it, or maybe I just don’t think it was important, or maybe I wish it wasn’t important at all. My instinct is to call my parents and ask them to pay for it, which maybe I should do since it’s flat through no fault of my own and it’s their car, and I wouldn’t have the car at all if I didn’t need it to keep an eye on their house while they’re gone, but some other voice inside me is telling me that this flat is like everything that I’ve been ignoring and if I give to them to take care of, somehow, then I will never start to feel better about myself. Maybe I’m tired of making excuses and speaking in a way that belies my own lack of belief or conviction…

I’m still recovering from the party and I haven’t showered yet, and I’m not hungry but I’ll probably have to eat soon, eat and then take off all my clothes and get in the shower and wash my hair, and hopefully knowing that I have written this will help me feel better as well as the cool water running down my body carrying my sweat and the shit through the drain and the pipes and forever out of my life.

T H A N O S / S E E S / A L L 


“Kurt Cobain has a right to be upset.” On a moon in the middle of the solar system Thanos sits on his throne and watches the action on earth. A rock god passing judgement on humanity from his palace of absolute authority. Often he is disappointed. “The more I watch the music video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ the more convinced I am that Kurt Cobain is haunting the tape like some lonely devil, trapped in the re-enactment of the song that he felt killed his credibility … the one song that both perfectly encapsulated and destroyed his music.”

Some days I want to marry you, said Thanos, to the empty air of the moon palace from which he watched billions of humans go about their daily lives. “Kurt Cobain just wanted to make music, and after he was done making music, he killed himself. Or after he tired of making music. But he never died. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has over 165 million views on Youtube. Today’s teens are as free to discover Nirvana as their counterparts twenty years ago.”

Thanos is walking very slowly through the fields of golden poppies on the plains before his moon palace. In his mind the lives of billions pass.

“In what is often regarded as the novel that most closely represents César Aira’s theory of the novel—although every one of his novels contains an explanation of his poetics, somehow more than other novelists because his style seems so impromptu, in other words conceived in plain sight for the reader—anyway, in this novel, How I Became A Nun, there’s a scene in which the main character, César Aira, a young boy or girl, is told by the teacher that they will be a menace to society, a kind of monster that will devour everything in their path. Actually, the teacher explains this to the class as revenge against Aira’s mother as Aira looks on with shame or horror.”

The truth is, thought Thanos, that nothing is ever asked of me. And that when nothing is asked of me I feel dead inside. I’m dead, thought Thanos.

“In any case, whether this was prophecy or just a cruel trick, what the teacher says comes true. Aira will always be the monster the teacher describes, separate from the others, tearing up the fabric of society in order to feed its need to create. Or somehow the isolation of being a monster creates this need. Or the destruction creates the monster.

“In any case, it’s not so horrible, being a monster. It’s different. Lonely, maybe. Tenuous, perhaps, because you’re not really part of society, you never know what’s right—only what others do. I used to think it was horrible. But it’s really not so horrible. Monsters don’t have to be evil. Or maybe they aren’t really monsters, they only appear that way to people because they’re different from most people and will never quite fit in in the way that other people expect.”

No, it’s not me that’s dead, thinks Thanos, almost frantically. He ascends the stairs to the top of the viewing platform he doesn’t really need. The architecture of the moon palace is entirely redundant because his body is made of hard mineral and it has no need of sustenance or rest. Because the lives of billions pass through his mind constantly at all times.

No, no, I am alive and the people are dead, thinks Thanos. They’re dying and I will never die. This is living and that is death. He needs to convince himself of this in order to enter the viewing platform.

The viewing platform is a black sphere, completely stripped of detail. On a black stage Thanos sits on a black throne and watches as life on Earth unfolds. Sometimes visitors ascend the stairs and ask him questions. The light as the trapdoor opens hurts his eyes. Of course, he is never surprised by their arrival. He understands their motives and desires, perhaps more even than they do himself. But his answer is always the same, regardless of cause:

“Thanos answers to no human!”

How to Eat Shit


I am practicing eating less as a form of humanist discourse. If I can take in less, I say to myself, then perhaps there will be more room in me for other people. Or perhaps I will be more aware of my body and its needs and my status as animal. If I believe I am an animal rather than an “I,” I will be more patient and attentive to other human beings, because I will recognize that we are all animals and the shared vulnerability that this entails will make life seem more fragile and beautiful and worth sharing.

I feel like I want to be generous and hungry because I am reading Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, and that is a book about an individual human’s concerns and troubles. It is that book that makes me want to be more concerned and generous about other human beings, and not some other book, not for instance a “grander” book that wants to cast away the “I” and portray broadly the dignity and struggles of humanity, such as Camus’s The Plague, which I absolutely hated and couldn’t finish.

Another’s “I” makes me want to do away with my own “I.”

Books that want to portray the dignity and struggles of humanity make me want to puke. I like books that are intensely focussed on individual experience, such as Sheila Heti’s. These can be either realized simply or concretely or written with a sense of the absurd, such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Southern Mail or Night Flight, in which moments of excess somehow illustrate the existential crisis at the centre of life, life which cannot ever be in any way satisfactorily related or circumscribed.

Nothing written is ever quite enough, as perhaps is demonstrated most notably by someone like David Foster Wallace—his excess functions like Xeno’s paradox, writing which constantly halves itself but never reaches the finish line, the finish line which is the ideal or dream or nightmare of completely translated human experience, or real psychic connection, as if that was at all desirable.

How could I write about fiction and Xeno’s paradox without mentioning Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, in which Shandy the narrator repeatedly delays the story of Shandy’s birth and life? In that book human experience is a loud marbled shimmering clusterfuck and there is nothing more calming than reading through the heap of shit Shandy lays for us and realizing that the heap of shit is where we come from and where we go and what we swim in daily and what we might as well enjoy and share and revel (some might say wallow) in.

Dumb Jokes


I’m really going to do it, it’s happening, tonight is the night I fall in love with Edith Wharton.

Said Steve Martin, of his long-time friend, artist Ed Ruscha: “I always feel like I’m meeting Ed for the first time.” “Hey, Steve,” I said. “It’s me, your long-time friend, artist Ed Ruscha.”

The more I use the internet the less capable I am of empathizing, which is weird because I am ostensibly interacting with other human beings. But it all comes down to how I use the internet. For example, I don’t care more about asteroids when I play Asteroids. I care about my high score. Like my fucking post, asshole.

I hate money and I hate people who have money and I especially hate young people who have money. It’s hard to believe such people exist, and when I see them I gawk at them like they were an open wound. But if I had money I would bathe in expensive mink oil every night. Every single night.

I feel happiest when I’m able to hate something I usually love.

Person at bar: “I like women who don’t seem like women yet. It’s not an age thing. It’s about maturity.” He smiles wistfully. “I guess, in my heart, I’m a pedophile…”

Laughing at a Facebook status while sitting by yourself on the patio is like watching television during sex.

What I regret most are all the hours I spent playing Unreal Tournament: 2003. God, what a stupid fucking regret.



Today I told myself I’d had enough. I spent 20 minutes deleting the Steam client from my computer hard-drive. But I could not delete the entire associated game library even though all of those games could be re-downloaded later. What if I needed them? I have a backlog of material that feels larger than I can handle, and logging into Steam or looking at my Steam account to play a game only makes me feel worse, because it reminds me of games I have paid for and will never play. I can’t imagine ever allowing myself to play through all those games and typing that now feels like a weird release, even though some part of me has always known this. There isn’t enough time in the world.

It doesn’t feel good to play video games. It never feels good. The best I’ve felt recently was guiding the protagonist of Gone Home around her family’s empty mansion. A close second was choosing to save a boy on a tractor in a game instead of a man caught underneath the tractor. Zombies were attacking them, and even though I find zombies boring, in that moment I felt something that I have never felt from any other form of media—a feeling of responsibility, along with the regular feelings of sadness and shock. The main character in that game, The Walking Dead, walks around mostly with his eyebrows raised high as if he wishes to constantly convey his earnestness. He is a black man who committed a crime in a different life and as much as his character feels real and convincing his eyebrows are an extreme way of getting the player to empathize with the character.

The world outside is shocking constantly. We are all walking with our eyebrows raised.

There is a feeling I can locate inside that is the feeling of a boy, a young boy who wants to play inside a game forever, because playing games makes him strong. He feels he is learning things about life even if he is learning nothing about life or if the game has nothing to do with life. He doesn’t want to avoid life, because he is preparing for it, and one day he will be ready to face it. He is acquiring the tools to do this, whether they be real or digital. What he wants is for time to stretch infinitely while he’s playing the game, but time doesn’t work that way and so the game makes him lose time and causes him to feel less prepared the more he plays.

About the only thing he is preparing himself for is playing more games.

God, Gone Home is good. After I finished that game I downloaded albums of all the bands that are in that game, mid-nineties girl rock that made me want to stick up for myself even though I’m not a girl.

Games are art, but my mistake is how I play them. It is a problem of moderation as much as it is one of expectation or evaluation. Games must be balanced with constructive pursuits, if they are played at all. The feelings and thoughts and connections one experiences while playing games are worthwhile of course, but not if you go in so far there is nothing left to reflect upon those experiences. There is a hollowness I feel when I play too many games. When someone asks me what I have been doing lately I look at them blankly and try to call back to my life.

This problem of succumbing, really succumbing, seems unique to electronic media, but games are somehow worse than radio or television. It is a problem of privilege too of course. Not everyone can afford to succumb. Most people can’t.

The internet in many ways is a game, or acts like a game. Games came first.

Of course, it was a young boy who wanted to destroy the games, like taking a hand to a tower of blocks that has obsessed him and taken all of his time. The impulse to destroy is part of the impulse to control. I will destroy the games and take back my life. I will excise what I don’t like until I resemble what I do like. But over time no matter how positive the direction of this anger I hope for my own sake that these tantrums will eventually cease.



It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. I am lying in front of the 7-Eleven and my ear is on the pavement. I hear thunder in the distance but it is not the storm that I am seeking in the earth.

There is a light rain falling from the sky. I close my eyes and let the drops run down my face. I swear to god I heard a voice just now and I am trying to make myself as quiet as I can be. I am stilling my heart and praying for my blood to stop. I want my pulse to cease running in my ears. I heard a voice over a thousand miles and I am trying again to hear it now.

The rain feels good in the July heat but I know that when the thunder comes near it will be with the heavy black clouds they predicted on the forecast. And then I might never hear the voice again.

It is late out, so late that no one has noticed me yet. So late that the 7-Eleven’s sign is not lit. So late that the dogs have stopped barking. Ghosts are walking the streets with a cool and calm aloofness. Everything that is in me is gathered in the earth. I am poised like a diver, focussed on a point just before me, in the air above the heaving water where I descend to make my livelihood in a small village in Korea.

The thunder is nearer now and I know that at any moment the sky will erupt. I can feel the crack of lightning striking some target nearby. A billboard, a hydro pole, some eave or antenna. The hairs stand at attention on my neck, my arms, my calves. When the rain comes I will raise my body and walk calmly underneath the overhang of the 7-Eleven where I will wait out the storm. By the sounds of it, it will be well into morning when the storm is finished and I will have to go to work. If there is no time to change I will go there in the clothes I am wearing now. I will not explain why I appear so dishevelled. Why I have not changed or washed. What has altered in me and what I have seen. A few will think that I must have slept with someone the night before. My friends will whisper into my ear as I stand gathering my strength in the breakroom with a cup of coffee in my hand.

“Alison,” they will say, discreetly, “are you okay?” or “good for you.”

I will not feel dishonest as I nod blankly in affirmation. They could not hope to understand. Soon I must go anyhow. I could not abide any place that was not here or in the distance I am waiting over.

But the rain has not yet come and it is not yet morning. And I have not heard again the voice I thought I heard coming to me over one thousand miles, the voice that was once to me so familiar.

I am still waiting with my ear on the pavement and a chill in the air.

No Face Says No


“How can I get tougher?”

“When those guys get that colour, you’ve got to hit them really hard, otherwise they come back to life. Hit ‘X.’ Hit ‘X.’ I think if you do that once they don’t come back to life again.”

“I don’t care if they come back to life.”

“If they’re still alive you can’t pass the level.”


“But if you want to get tougher just save your gold. I think there’s like a shop or something on the next level.”

“When was the last time you played this?”

“About a year ago.”

“There. I died again. That guy kept hitting me.”

“You should have hit ‘X.’”

“He was too fast.”

“Well, next time be ready for him to come back to life.”

“I’m tired of this game.”

“Fine. Do you want to play something else?”