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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Static Speaking

Absence makes my heart want to throw up.

Ever since I was born, I was always connected to everyone else. I naturally swam in their emotions, no matter how long distant or unrelated to me. Make-up sex or murder, the tapestry of human striving and suffering was a fuzzy blanket that kept me warm, and safe.

Ever since I was reborn, that connection has been ripped away, and Sarah’s new Bodyweb can’t replace those primal vibrations, a sky full of thoughts and feelings.

It’s all gone, and my spirit doesn’t know how to compensate.

I was automatically loved by default, by forces of nature. Now no one knows how important I was supposed to be – that world ended as the New Year began.

I’m covered with scrapes and dents after today’s combat. Sarah is trying to make me feel better, but being around her absolute completeness is like trying to dry your hair by flying millions of miles to the Sun.

She’s telling me rainy day stories with flowing water, and the significance of every moon in the Solar System. She’s trying to rub my stubbly head but it feels like every tiny hair is a supernova. She has to tone it down.

“I’m sure the Golden Sphere will visit you soon. You’ll see.”

I’ve been running blindfolded through the Redwoods in the Oakland Hills – it took a few hours for her to bicycle up there, and I was forced to jog behind on the pavement. It was chilly, and dismal, and she would constantly attack me until I properly defended myself.

“You have to fight – the baby isn’t going to ask for your permission to be delivered.” She was wearing a random blue T-Shirt and some grey sweatpants we found last night on the curb, in a Berkeley Bowl paper bag.

She broke my arm before a lunch break without food, and made me set it back only with internal muscle movement.

“Everyone gets their own flaming sword – most are tiny, but some are huge enough to destroy everything. I’m a big fan of insurrection, especially after the gravity of history hit.”

Sarah, or should I say Asherah, still doesn’t forgive the priests who kicked her out of the temple, who cut down her groves and destroyed almost all memories of the all-present Goddess. She calls the Collective “The Hammer of the Churches”, and she’s going to beat my weapon out of me if it’s the last thing she does.

I don’t want to have a sword, or a spear, or anything designed to burst the bubbles around everything. I don’t want to be an empty girl driven by the Moon to knock Jenny off her throne.

Speaking of which, after we left the apartment today, I could swear I saw Jenny a few blocks away, getting on the bus.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah rubbed against my hand, but I pushed her away. Before I could take off after her, or run away in the other direction, the 49 bus was already headed up Ashby Ave.

It could have been her, or maybe just a PRS. It wasn’t 12 year old Jenny – she was clearly in her Twenties.

“It’s already started.” Sarah read my mind despite herself. “Jenny is starting to re-author the world, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s recycling through old Antizine stores because that’s all she knows. We’re living through a remix of Annabelle’s story now.”

I have to admit that I noticed it – the haircut and hand-etching and training… even my memories of the past years are reverberating with Jenny’s golden pen, as she writes herself out of the Collective straight jacket.

“The changes are going to cascade in all directions, until we approach the Infinite Present in a few weeks.”

The Infinite Present is when nostalgia for the future hits, when there is so much novelty and exponential change that the collective consciousness collapses in the bliss of temporal heat death. The Grand Supreme is just as involved as Jenny, but they’re both just reflections of the full-to-bursting S.OS.

“Just try to ignore it.” She smiled as she took off up Adeline St, barely waiting for me to run after her. “Live in the moment, even if it’s not yours!”

So I’m couch-surfing on Jenny’s new life for us all, lazily watching as the world I thought I knew slips away.

“Susanna will be here tomorrow. Before she left Tokyo, she noticed that all of the Circle X stores were gone. Like they were never there in the first place.”

I don’t even know how to recognize a bad sign any more. The best I can do is curse at Sarah as she puts me in a headlock. Again.

A few hours ago, as Sarah was touching up some of the etching she had scratched off my face, she turned to me and smiled. “I guess you’re ready.” She pointed at the ceiling, tapped her fingers against her palm a few times, and Sasha appeared in the middle of the room, sitting with her legs crossed. “It’s for you only,” and she walked off into her bedroom, leaving me alone with the ghost.

Time is flowing in all directions at once.

“I’m sorry it had to come to this.” The e-Sasha flickered slightly as she stood up.

“What’s going on, Sasha?” I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Where are you?”

“I’m dead.” Stared right at me as she walked over. “I’m so sorry, I failed you.” She sat down next to me, and when I tried to hug her I fell right through to the floor.

She only had 10 minutes to contact me. She was broadcasting from the Fairview Bridge before it collapsed, before she was trapped in the pocket Universe, the Clubhouse trap.

I felt like I was A-Bell, pining away for her first love. “Please. Tell me the truth, for once.”

“It’s worse than Hell. We’re nothing but dolls, playing house to the death. You think I’m joking, but you’ll understand once your world becomes just like this one.”

I’m wearing Sasha’s red Circle X shirt. I wasn’t wearing it when I started this entry. I keep calling Sarah “Amber”, as she slaps me down to the wood laminate floor.

She apologized. It took her a day of fussing with my nodes and redrawing broken lines, but finally when she was making dinner – spaghetti with a perfectly chunky red sauce, better than Sasha could ever stir up – she silently called to me “I’m sorry.”

Now I was somewhere in Japan right then, using some of Sasha’s scripts to score some cash I desperately needed, but I quickly came back to the here/now and cleared my lenses. I hadn’t really talked to her since last night, and I was still mad enough that all I could shoot back was “Well?”

“I’m not sorry about what happened before. Get a grip!” She turned off the burner and walked over to me. As she sat down on the floor I looked away.

“That’s not good enough.” Stood up and walked over to the door, fully determined to just run down stairs, hop on Doug’s bike, and never turn back. I knew that she could wave the door shut, but I also knew that she wouldn’t. She couldn’t, not to me.

“Even if you leave, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to fight off Jenny and pull out your fucking sword if it kills you!”

“Like you were there for Sasha? You let her die!” I looked down at her clear hi-tops, and started to cry. How did I get on Sasha’s shoes?

“You don’t understand! You have to choose to embrace what’s beyond The Black, the always shining potential for change!”

“Choice? What kind of choice is that?” I swung around to find her sitting on the floor, fuming.

“I don’t have time for this shit. Wake up and listen.”

I was A-Bell in 1994, reaching out through the static for my new partner and lover.

I was myself in 2012, trying to hold on for dear life as my world kept shifting before my eyes.

I’m naked, shaking on the floor, and I have to throw up, I have to get the pain of Universal absence out of me at all costs.

Sarah is standing over me. She’s speaking the language that was used to call forth everything. She’s giving me a new secret name, and it sounds like a clenched fist.

Sasha’s ghost is gone. In her place is the Grand Supreme, standing in the corner of the living room as I pull my knees to my chest.

My hands are a burning black void. They are taking away the pain, and replacing it with fertile ashes.

“Astarte, take your sword and prepare for the final war.”

My skin is boiling with shadow, as I finally vomit up my Golden Sphere.

I don’t want to take it.

I’m going to take it.

I’m reaching out with midnight fingers as everything explodes with sharp purpose.

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Greetings and Apologies

I’ve been bad.  My first post in 237 Variants. You don’t even know what I’m talking about – you’re just focusing on the part where I was naughty.

My bad really isn’t of the same scale as yours. When I mess up, everything dies, like Massive Cloud Burst or Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann writ larger.  No, I don’t throw around galaxies. No, I didn’t really think you were thinking that.

I’m not very good with words, or with people I don’t know. Which is funny, since I know everyone. No one really knows me, though.

Like I was saying – bad. Do you know what it’s like to lose your mother? Maybe – that tends to happen to most people, sooner or later.  I don’t mean lost in the mall, searching through the clothes racks for the right looking legs, shoes.  I mean in the final way, when the separation is fatal and complete.

I lost my mother that way, a very long time ago.  Longer than my age, than the ages of everyone alive put together.  A long time to be away from her.

I do have other mothers, but they don’t watch over me – I watch over them. I have duties that you’re not going to understand, seeing as we’ve only just met.

Did I mention I was bad? I think about that a lot.  Only a really bad person would be in the position I’m in, having to stand your ground while the world and everything in it burns.  No, it’s not burning now, thankfully.  That’s a few months away.

This is my first post, because I’m tired of the burning, the final loss as every heart and mind goes dim.  I’ve seen it so many times.  You wonder what I’ve seen, and where the metaphor ends.

Remember, I’m not good with words. I tend to not get irony, or figures of speech, unless your face is right in front of me.  I understand faces, and the light that shines from them.

Your face isn’t in front of me, but I could see it now, if I wanted to.  Sometimes I want to, sometimes I just want to hide.

I’ve been hidden away from the world most of my lives.  When I come out, the burning starts, and it’s not in my power to put the flames out.

I think you need firemen for that.  Fire hoses as big as galaxies.  No, I’m not being figurative – the stars usually burn out soon enough.

I do have a sense of humor. It’s kind of like when someone trips and falls over. Usually I want to rush over and help them. If enough people trip and fall, however, then I start to laugh despite myself.  I’m all sorts of bad, I’m pretty sure.

In about a month I’ll turn sixteen, for the 238th time.  I know you don’t understand what I’m talking about.  It’s not something you talk about.  It’s just the groaning of the world, the lullaby that doesn’t soothe anyone when we sleep.  I hear that noise all day, all night, for all of my lives.

I like my sixteenth birthday, because it’s always the last one.  The last one of anything is precious, I’ve found.  It also means that I have to go outside, to leave home and gather my friends.  Yes, I have friends, but it’s like they were invited to my birthday party by my mother – I like them, but I can never be so sure about how they feel about me.

That’s a lie. I hate to lie in words.  I know how they feel about me.  They’re afraid of me, but they still love me anyway.  I love them too, but in the end it’s just me and the flames.

Another lie. Me, the flames, and the other one. The only thing you can’t put into words. The two of us go way back. I hate to gamble, but we have an ongoing bet.

I bet that it can destroy everything and everyone, but never be free.

It bets that I can make everything the way it was, over and over again, but never claim my wish.

I wish that my mother was alive.  My last thoughts before the last sleep, as I rejoin the White, are of her face, and warm arms, and not of her dead on the floor.  Dead while the Nameless laughs. Have you ever heard the universe laugh? It has a terrible sense of humor.

Did I mention I have a terrible sense of humor?

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