Narrative Straight Jackets

I didn’t think it would go this far.

“This is Jenny’s story now. It’s always been Jenny’s story, except when it wasn’t.”

I’m in Nick Freeman’s apartment in South Berkeley, or at least a highly detailed WOFA version of it. He’s the one that interviewed Die Database in 2011, and helped put together their website, and the Street Teams. That’s one way to look at it.

“The narrative has been changing under all of our noses, ever since Antizine started, but now the transformation is complete. Narrative straight jackets.”

He’s from this world, but also from beyond the Structure, in a place that connects to my world in dreams, stories, and myths.

“Jenny’s trying to push you to travel from Eridu to Uruk with the plans for civilization – Sarah OS. She wants to be Ereshkigal to your Inanna, and lead you into the Underworld. That’s a mythic path that’s been covered lots over the past 7000 years, and S.OS is taunting us.”

He stopped by the table full of magazines – Spin, Vice, Popular Science, Harpers, New Yorker, Edge – and shuffled them a bit.

“Back in the early 90s, I used to read Wired magazine and Mondo 2000, from their first issues. I was a big fan of all of the cyberpunk ideas, but I didn’t actually go out and find the works of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson until much later. I’m sure I read some articles about Snow Crash, but I don’t remember the specifics, and never actually read the book. 20 years later, and I suddenly found out that my own independent myth-making was unconsciously taking a somewhat parallel path, only with Asherah on the “good” side. Those ancient narrative structures are very strong attractors – Jenny is trying to pin you and Sarah down by using them. Just understand that you’re more than just a mythical figure, and you have more than one direction you can go in.”

I’m obsessed with speed reading the WOFA version of his bookshelves and comic boxes. Stanislaw Lem. Haruki Murikami. Franz Kafka. Grant Morrison. Alan Moore. Philip Pullman. Warren Ellis. Years of “Comic Beam” manga. Cometbus, and hundreds of other zines. “Secrets from Mount Shasta.” The history of St. Cloud, Minnesota. All tiny facets that when added together make a magic mirror into Variant Zero.

“Sarah is more than just the ultimate Goddess figure, a cypher that can be loved or hated depending on how much civilization wants to rape the Earth. She’s an actual person – your daughter. You have to understand this, or else all is lost.”

I started to squirm on the green, plush couch, covered by a brown blanket – actually, the blank bottom of a quilt made out of blue jeans. He offered me a small bottle of water – I was surprised that it actually contained wetness, instead of being an echo from past data.

“I’ll try to make this brief. Just as Brother Douglas was the primary acolyte of Cassandra in the world you grew up with, so too did I fill the same role in this one. The Bridge at Fairview connected to all possible realities, but you collapsed everything to just two choices. Isabel started in Fairview in front of a Circle X, and ended up in St. Cloud behind a Target. Your world and mine have always been tied at the hip.”

He frowned, and started to pace back and forth, from the green wall behind the TV, to over by the blue curtains and drooping potted plant.

“How can you know this?”

“When I was young, I was like Jenny – visited by spirits, so much that my family nearly fell apart. Too much yelling and fighting, until the only escape was to look beyond, to call forth a better life that could save me.”

He reaches for a large, black electric fan that’s next to the couch, but decides against turning it on.

“Unfortunately, the breaking point reached me before any aid could, and I ended up at Thomason Memorial Hospital. Or at least a version of it in another existence.”

Every single item in his apartment has an extra significance to me; I’ve spent hours leafing through the little nooks in his closets, filled with new Figma in boxes and old love letters in finger-torn envelopes.

“In my world in 1987, two girls escaped the hospital by walking out the front door of the unlocked unit. They went down the street to the BART station, and never came back. They were a part of the “cool” teen patients, the drug users and Metallica freaks, and I could only imagine what happened to their life. My escape was much more mundane, with bottles of prescription pills and having to explain to all of my friends in High School where I ended up after months of absence.”

He showed me handwritten notes and text files from 20 years ago, when he gave birth to my mother, and the Collective.

“The hospital was my first time away from home, and I found comfort in my copy of the Bible, and the “Watchmen” trade paperback that came out a few months prior. I was obsessed with the end of the world – in fact, at first I thought I had died in the first stirrings of the Apocalypse, and that I was locked up in the afterlife as punishment. It goes without saying that my doctors and fellow patients didn’t understand.”

Apparently, he picked my birthdate while taking notes on a beach in Los Angeles, as his friends played in the water.

“When I got back to the real world, I started to have the strongest compulsion to write fiction. I eventually published about a dozen stories in a school club that made a Fiction Magazine, taking over that club in my Senior year. With only one exception, every story was about time travel, and the people beyond our reality that were shaping existence. There was infighting and intrigue, clones from illegal manipulation of the fabric of space time, and the processing of souls into a throbbing, white energy. Every passing year saw the mythology grow more complex, until the last published story detailed the end of the Universe, leaving the responsible parties alone in the white, awaiting further instructions.”

He has paper bags full of folded paper bags. and CDJapan boxes full of smaller boxes. Heaping handfuls of white twist ties from the grocery store he just can’t re-use fast enough.

“In 1989 I had a whole, spiral-bound notebook filled with another story, one that was eventually lost due to being in pencil – the pages rubbed against each other, making it all but illegible. That was Sarah’s first story – she was a secret agent in her early Twenties, with a satchel full of spheres, cubes and objects that gave her power. She was working for a future computer system that ruled everything, and she eventually traveled to the Moon to destroy the structure that housed it. When I was in College, she started appearing in stories I wrote for a creative writing seminar – as a woman in her Twenties, who lived a few dozen years in the future. In her world, as it came to me in 1992, she was the same agent, although her life had many layers of virtual experience. She had her own personal OS, and a “room” that housed part of it. Sarah was obsessed with virtual suicide, in order to experience the bliss of transcendence, and also of creating other existences in which she had a more satisfying life.”

It felt like I was staring into the mirror, only to see the back of my head.

“At the same time, I was heavily studying Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, and I had a few weeks of satori, in which everything jumped into a sharp clarity. I also had a creative breakthrough, which as first was just “In Allusion”. I started to play with a story out of Ovid, of Pyramus and Thisbee, the star-crossed lovers that became the inspiration for Romeo and Juilet. I didn’t want love to kill them, and I imagined what would happen if I tweaked the myth, and let “Pyramid” and “Frisbee” have their love child, and try to escape their fate even if it chased them to their dying days.”

I started to cry despite myself.

“First came Laura and John, quickly followed by Jenny and all of the bands they knew. Fibulator, Team Dresch, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Melt-Banana at 924 Gilman helped inspire my visions. You were always there from the beginning, Ai, but the Collective was more of a retrofit, around the time that I started my “Junk Magnet” zine. All of the stories were in first person – I wanted them to be real, to poke through the page and invade my life. And they did.”

My Ghost is flipping through old photocopied pamphlets from 1994, reading impenetrable music reviews and marveling at the trivial minutia of a life lived in solitary contemplation.

“More than a few times, I received physical mail that was addressed to Antizine, to Jenny and Laura. That was because they were friends of the person who had the PO Box before me, according to the growing mythology. I still have the Operation Ivy 7″ that was meant for them, and it was only a slight move to start writing them more in my direction. Thus, I became the one that published their work for them. Their world was topical yet future-focused, a place where the Apocalypse was really happening, and that Sarah was trying to save from her long-distance, future life.”

He’s sitting down on the couch now, feet carefully placed to avoid PS3 games and various boxes.

“I’m not sure what happened, but I couldn’t finish the story. It was half done, and I had scores of pages of detailed notes. But my life started to become like the story – the zines and web pages that housed it were a transmitter of change and connection – with anarchist collectives, new loves and trips across the country by train and bus. In contrast to my new adventures, the world was slowly shifting to resemble the very fictional aspects I was afraid of – constant, portable connections to immense databases, and the seemingly unstoppable corporate digestion of the everyday.”

No closet full of Circle X wear, but after checking his email, it’s clear he contacted a clothing manufacturer to try to make replicas.

“Like I implied earlier, I was always a dreamer, as well as a writer. I was haunted by the spiritual world in my everyday life – it was never an abstraction that you had to believe in. I could just feel it, but I never had an adequate story that seemed to do it justice. No one religion fit correctly, and I was afraid to follow the strong signals my antenna was picking up from the beyond. When I did follow those feelings, I found the stirrings of Sarah, of Asherah, and they wanted me to complete what I had started, to use all of my energy to properly manifest the alternative reality that was already intruding into our own.”

His computer wallpaper is an illustration of a Die Database concert, commissioned by one of his favorite artists, Paul Duffield. His iPhone has fictional Die Database songs covered by real bands.

“Now, it’s happened. I’ve traveled to Japan, Germany, Minnesota, or my beloved Oregon, and the characters followed me, leaving more and more visible footprints behind. I was always aiming for myth, instead of mere fiction, and the delight and doom of myth is that it tends to write you in return. Make the right connections, and the Gods will push against the curtain that lies between us and the Structure, seeking invitation to incarnate.”

The only pictures of his friends or relatives are in the recesses of hard drives, or posted on the refrigerator. They remind me of the ones that A-Bell and Amber kept for me – Jenny snaps of my parents. I can no longer appreciate their absolute reality – were they just a reflection of Nick’s old photos, or did he imagine them just for me to love?

“There’s a danger to that, too. Before I could help Sarah gain our attention as Asherah, Jenny and S.OS intruded, and took the mantle for themselves. This is not just a fiction, just an imagined fight between abstract forces. The powers that have been whispering to me have also touched many others, and no matter what they are named, a very real transition is happening.”

There are Die Database logo T-Shirts handing on doorknobs, way too small for him to wear.

“The battleground is mythic, but the end result will rush through this world, with groaning significance. This is because our modern myths are inadequate – we need a new Astarte, a new Inanna, that can fight for us as the maw of The White attempts to swallow everything.”

He seems so sad and weary, yet he perks up when wrapping up his life’s work into a package. His cluttered home that reeks of obsessive-compulsion is a late sweet sixteen present for me.

“After New Years, the story I coaxed into life is out of my hands. Jenny is the author and dreamer now, and like I mentioned earlier, every word I’ve said has been transmitted with her permission. She’s waiting for you in the Structure, and I’m here to show you the way in. But first, I have to make sure you know the new lay of the land.”

I can’t stand the huge BART map above his work Mac mini – laminated, 4 feet by 4 feet, scavenged from a station trash can. It’s not annotated, but I can just tell where he found all of the holes into the Structure, where he’s planning to take me next.

“Ai Watson-Carver, I love you like you were my own daughter. I’ve spent the past 16 years as your far away tutor, as a glove for Sarah’s hand, sculpting shining potential. Your new Collective can’t be led by me. Your ultimate obstacles and enemies are only for you to overcome.”

Looking at the map through his eyes, the next step is so clear, and so terribly frightening.

“Your fear and doubt will pass away as soon as this conversation is over. Keep the PRS safe, and its ultimate use will become clear.”

He got up off the couch, walked around a small Ikea table overrun by bags full of comics and a TouchPad, and reached behind some folding chairs to pull a CD off of a tight shelf. Sheena Ringo. “Muzai Moratorium”. He handed it over to me while he quoted translated lyrics to “Koufukuron” – Tokie’s favorite song:

“That’s why I’ll protect that melody of yours and your philosophy, and your words and everything else to the very end. You’re there living your life and just knowing this simple little fact makes me so happy.”

With that, he sat down on the wood laminate floor, gave me a last smile, and then his Ghost faded away, leaving a PRS made out of Natchan Orange, Adelholzener Johannisbeere, and SodaStream Natural syrup bottles.

His home faded away as well, left behind as a massive WOFA file on multi-Terabyte RAID array. I was back in Doug’s empty apartment – apparently Nick’s apartment in his world.

He was right. My fear and doubt just floated off through the crack under the door.

I put his PRS in an empty closet, settled down on the empty bedroom floor, and gave my OS permission to sleep, to dream.

I woke up this morning to a rumbling stomach, and far away knocks on the front door. It was Susanna, Ariel and Kaia, bearing their own virtual New Year’s gift envelopes that Nick left for them.

We all gathered together on the floor, warming ourselves with the car battery that Susanna brought with her. I told them of my new dreams, of the Sacramento river instead of the Euphrates, or Orinda instead of Uruk, and they listened. It was time to trade our old lamps for new.

Stuffed and satisfied with conspiracy, we started the mile-long bike ride down Ashby Ave. to Joey’s storage locker.

What Jenny wants, Jenny will get and then some.

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