Elizabeth Schambelan

New York, August 2019


Everybody else seems to have stopped thinking about you, but I haven’t. It’s not that I’m obsessed with you or anything, it’s that I’m constantly reminded of you. From my office I can see a new skyscraper that has reared up near the waterfront just south of Hudson Yards, and I know the developers must be touting it as “HudYar-adjacent” or “trophy-proximate” or “a full-amenities frontier outpost of the New West Chelsea”—never mind that the New West Chelsea would more accurately be called the New Hell’s Kitchen, a name that, though decidedly off-brand, is also very apropos, particularly in abbreviated form. Every time I glance out my window and see the modishly misshapen new spire, my mind’s eye ricochets uptown, to you, the fulcrum of it all, the navel of New Hell.

One of the things I think about is the way you override thought. You elicit such a visceral initial response. When a person first sets eyes on you, their optic nerve sends an urgent signal straight to the amygdala, bypassing all cognitive processes. The signal makes itself felt not as a thought but as a feeling, which may be expressed by the primordial phoneme UGH. Like the fight-or-flight response, the disgust response is fundamental to our survival and is controlled by the primitive-mammal part of our brains. Usually, public sculpture does not strike our primitive-mammal brains as an imminent threat to our existence. But you do. Thomas Heatherwick presumably has an amygdala, as do all the many individuals who must have said, at various points between conception and construction: Yes! This is a good idea! How is it possible that you were built? And what exactly are you?

People attempting to describe you usually mention aliens, insects, or both. Insects are basically terrestrial aliens anyway, at least within the symbolic economy of science fiction, where benevolent visitors from outer space tend to be anthropomorphic, and evil ones often resemble bipedal arthropods. In your case we seem to be dealing with only part of a gigantic alien insect, although it’s not at all clear which part, or what stage of the life cycle. You look like an armored torso, a carapace or cuirass, but there’s also kind of an Oz-the-Great-and-Terrible thing going on, intimations of a disembodied head. You could also be a colossal pupa. Meanwhile, the suggestion of a hive is somehow superimposed on all of these possibilities. Your very indeterminacy—sculpture? building? torso? pupa? hive?—provokes anxiety, contributing to the overall effect of grotesque, looming menace.

And yet—and yet—you are so thoroughly dwarfed by the starchitectural behemoths all around you as to seem absurdly tiny by comparison. You are both way too big AND way too small. This amazing double failure of scale is one of the things about you that I simply cannot get over.

In fairness, I should acknowledge that you become less disgusting at close range. Your interior is not gross. It’s just very postmodern, which is an otiose thing for contemporary architecture to be. Postmodernism, per Fredric Jameson, is the cultural logic of late capitalism. We are so far beyond that now. Late capitalism was still at least somewhat constrained by its own hypocrisies (as expressed in the rhetoric of “conservatism”). But late-late-late capitalism seems to have shed virtually all inhibition. Short of sticking a colossal banner reading FUCK YOU, POORS at the pinnacle of 30 Hudson Yards, it’s hard to imagine how the development could more clearly telegraph the cultural logic of our era. Yet here you are, offering your textbook rendition of hyperspace, a quintessentially po-mo architectural effect that today inspires nostalgia for the era of Max Headroom and asymmetrical earrings. Your hyperspace is kitsch. Its Escher-ish disorientations are no match for current reality, which has outstripped the capacities of any sort of spatial modeling. To grasp this, we need look no further than your very own Vessel Ambassadors. Diagramming the interdimensional insanities of an epoch in which that job title can exist is going to require something like string theory.

Terrifying yet laughable, decadent yet boring, semiotically incoherent yet way too on-the-nose, and heinous—I mean, aesthetically, just heinous… I suppose you are a wonder of the world, a sublime monument to badness. Whatever is wrong with you is wrong not just aesthetically but absolutely, existentially, ontologically. In one of the essays in Men in Dark Times, Hannah Arendt proposes “moral taste” as the faculty that permitted Rosa Luxemburg and her friends and comrades to find one another and to act collectively, as beacons. You’re sort of the opposite of Rosa Luxemburg, a cyclonic consolidation of the dark energy of dark times. The intersecting lines of your reticulated structure represent all the crossroads, all the significant junctures in the design process, and in the development process, and in history—all the diseased decision trees that brought us to this moment. I should congratulate you, because this moment is your moment, the moment of an object that is called the Vessel but is full of holes.



Natasha Stagg

New York, 2002

Do you remember watching fireworks with me at the coastguard festival? I wrote a poem about it for school. Maybe I’ll send it to you. You were the closest thing I’ve felt to love. You once said that I was trouble with a capital T. Do you still think so? I think I’ve grown up a lot. I’m 17 now, you know? I hope jail isn’t so bad. I hope I see you again before I move away to Chicago or New York to become a librarian. Do you want to travel the world? Do you think I’ll ever find someone who thinks the way I do? I want to draw pictures for you, of ancient Greece and of crying Elvis fans. Do you remember kissing my hand and my cheek when we said goodbye? It was a beautifully dramatic breakup. Do you agree? I’m hanging out with X again because she’s the only person I’m comfortable doing drugs with. Two things I hope I never do: heroin and anal. I want to stay pretty for as long as I can and then become a recluse or get married. I quit smoking pot because I used to have a quick wit, I think, but I’ve become addicted to cigarettes and I hate it. My dad is a pothead and an alcoholic. I love both of my parents very much, but they’re better apart. I’ve lived with a few different relatives while my mom is in the hospital. What did it feel like when your dad died? Please don’t answer that if you don’t want to. I miss you. Write back.
PS My cat Spooky ripped up this letter and I taped it back together.

Christian Lorentzen

Brooklyn, September 10, 2019

Dear Tom

My bank says you haven’t registered for Zelle yet. Maybe I just put in the wrong email or you registered under your phone. Anyway I wired you the rent money this morning in the usual way, and it’ll be there in three days. If we do Zelle, the money will move faster and Bank of America won’t fuck me out of $6 and Citibank won’t fuck you out of whatever they’re fucking you out of. Who knows how Zelle fucks us, probably via surveillance. Anyway sorry to be late on the rent this month.

The summer was a bust. I was broke the whole time. I prioritized cigarettes and cut back on food. Generous people bought me drinks and lent me money. The checks from little magazines take a long time to show up. You shouldn’t expect much from life when you’re a husk of the husk of your former self. In any case, it was quite a time seeing you at the wedding in Boston. Good to know we’re still professionals when it comes to that sort of thing.

I wasted a lot of time in July thinking about ‘the Book Idea’ without writing a proposal. I scrapped one and move to the other one, the one that’s ‘only darkness’. But every time I talked to somebody about it they said, ‘Maybe you should write a book about the future of reading!’ And I said, I don’t care about the future of reading. Or they said, ‘You should write a book about how to be as literary as you are. I remember when we lived together you would wake up in the morning and just start reading a novel!’ And I said, I don’t care about people who don’t read. Let them watch television and listen to podcasts. Or they said, ‘What are you gonna say about this book when you go on NPR?’ And I said, I would say, ‘Terry, did you read my book? See, you and your whole public radio network are the problem. Why don’t you stop interviewing television actors, Terry, and stop making your listeners feel like they deserve intellectual credibility for enjoying TV shows?’

Today is the 25th anniversary of the release of Oasis’s Definitely Maybe, Tom, and tomorrow is 9/11. I miss the 90s, and I miss irony.

But I won’t be missing the rent again.

I’ve secured some decently paid hackwork, so I should be financially stabilized next month and debt free by, well, maybe Easter. On Friday night I made a thousand dollars in an hour without getting out of bed. I wrote a short story based on a paragraph from a biography of Jack Nicholson. It was from the point of view of his biological father. It was mostly dialogue that I made up. It turns out that dialogue is fun and easy to write, there’s a lot of money in podcasts right now, and that when Jack Nicholson was a teenager his nickname was ‘Chubs’.

Why did I spend the last ten years writing book reviews? The whole dialogue thing made me think I should just write a pseudo-DeLillo thriller about Brooklyn. Title: Assignment: Brooklyn. Here’s the plot. A clean-cut Catholic boy is recruited from a small Jesuit college somewhere rural, like Maine, and employed by a shadowy private intelligence firm. They lean on him because his impoverished mother, a 9/11 widow who fled to Maine to grieve, is stricken with cancer and doesn’t even have Obamacare. The Catholic kid is sent on a mission to DUMBO: to infiltrate the Democratic Socialists of America, n+1, and Jacobin, COINTELPRO-style. He joins a reading group studying Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Diaries. There he falls under the sway of a balding yet undeniably charismatic 42-year-old literary critic who’s down on his luck, except that he may be secretly writing the memoirs of a revolutionary dissident, his distant cousin, hiding somewhere in the mountains of Albania. A love triangle ensues. The Catholic boy is seduced by the critic’s girlfriend, the femme fatale of the Gramsci group, and she confesses to him that she’s a spy too. Then it’s revealed that the DSA, n+1, and to a lesser extent Jacobin, are actually full of moles. On any given night Clandestino is crawling with feds, everybody except the bartenders. The entire podcast industry is a CIA-funded hoax. The novel ends in an abandoned monestary on a cliff beside the Adriatic where the Catholic kid, the strangely charismatic literary critic, and the dissident are being tortured. Will the femme fatale, a sort of Crown Heights Rita Heyworth, switch allegiances and rescue them from certain death?

I haven’t figured that out yet but I bet I could sell that book on Fresh Air.

As ever,


Emily Segal

New York, September 2019

Dear M & J,

Do you remember our DMT trip? To call it ours is a bit misleading since I was the only one who really tripped. We sat in a triangle on the second level of your apartment in a black berlin winter, and it was night but could have been the middle of the afternoon. I had just gotten back from teaching in Amsterdam, a series of classes on the swastika as a symbol.

On the third day I’d told my students to break into small groups and construct a symbol they thought had power. One of my favorites came up to the front silhouetted by the projector light. “This symbol represents the fundamental awareness of COWS, the centrality of COWS in our consciousness,” he said. Certain earlier societies had more respect for COWS being as it is central to our ability to create. With this symbol we celebrate COWS.” Why was he saying COWS like it was singular, dot dot dash I waited a moment. Oh CHAOS. Yes. I liked that. We looked then at many swastikas in culture, on the armband of a punk, in a retail environment in Tokyo, in the center of a synagogue in Connecticut where a certain progressive rabbi was trying to take it back, in the center of the forehead of a hippie who was trying to do the same. I think people should be able to say and do whatever they want one of my Dutch students said. Yeah if they take responsibility for it said one from the Balkans, an older one, more saltily. I seemed to be the only american around for miles. My first class had been the day after the election and all these young faces had strained toward me and said, “but what is going to happen?” I was unprepared for this to the point of comedy, schlepping back and forth to dark berlin. On the Easyjet back I had the Mediterranean Mezze Box, maybe you’ve had this, six small crackers in an oily tapenade, then at the end, baklava oozing honey out of its molded plastic container. I relished each bite increasingly lonely. When I get back I’ll do something fun I thought. That meant coming over to your house to do ketamine or something, order pizza and have a minor psychedelic experience. You guys didn’t want to do K since you heard it had a negative impact on sperm count, something I had never heard before. What about DMT you said? It felt like walking into the dark park in high school behind older kids who are offering something you know you should reject, except you are my dearest and most cozy friends, so the overlay was strange. I agreed even though I shouldn’t have. We were drinking glasses of weak white wine from the corner store, white crusts of German pizzas in the box on the floor beside us. Upstairs, we sat on pillows in a small triangle on the floor and one of you arranged a freebase situation, a cut open plastic bottle and some tinfoil. Leaned onto the wall in front of me was a tall square piece of op art, high as my hip, vibrating in its consecutive circles.

You handed me our improvised pipe and I slurped in the drug-air three times, immediately felt my chest closing, I couldn’t breathe. One more squeaky terrified in-breath and my eyes closed and in front of my face oh no what worse than what I was sure a swastika welting open in front of my eyes. I tensed and tried to wrench my head away from this sight, but there was nowhere to wrench, since it was inside my head. In Germany I was often terrified of swastikas appearing out of nowhere – that is, seeing the history of the place where I lived present itself suddenly (and sickeningly) on the surface. Instead of history what broke open was a Chanel supermarket fused with enamel harlequin. My deepest and most arterial moodboard was this? Little machine elves (they must have been) tiny dark ladies with dark sheets of hair carving the harlequin grooves which were part of a fractal floor plan, pepto pink and an egg yolk yellow, metal shelves up to the sky as far as you could see. Commedia dell'arte and a fake protest inside a Chanel supermarket, i was rolling my eyes at myself even as my burned lungs struggled to breathe in and I was terrified, through my half open slitted eyes I was aware you two were there, my placid and human friends. Having broken open the swastika I saw not COWS or CHAOS but CHANEL. I felt incredibly alone, let myself feel this for the first time that winter, how scared I was to live in a foreign country by myself for no good reason and with a falling apart relationship I kept trying to save with shrieks and scotch tape, I didn’t have an apartment and wasn’t sure how to get one, I was deeply and severely scared. Recognition of this was a gift but didn’t feel like one at the time. All of a sudden it was over and I was awake and sober, our glasses of white wine still half-empty on the kilim beside us. You two looked at me with hopeful glimmering eyes having not tripped but seen that I had, and you were envious even though I was petrified.

Two winters later, my life significantly more sorted, I sat in my brother’s apartment in Bed Stuy smoking weed alone. He was in California. My parents were uptown. I was setting my intentions for the following year, feeling changes come, desired and undesired, and a phrase came to me, BE THE WAVE, and I choke-laughed because it was so corny, a surfing metaphor. In the days that followed the only desire for a tattoo I’ve ever had began to plague me, the sense of a pulsing darkness on the back of my right ribcage, the locus for a BE THE WAVE tattoo. That New Years Eve I had an important dream. Our friend K. had cut his hair, short on the sides and long on the top. I was telling him about my desire for a tattoo. I pressed his hand into the spot on my back, fingers bunched together like a duck bill. Here, in this spot. He took me by the shoulders. Don’t get a tattoo on your body, Emily, he said. Get a tattoo in your mind.

So here today I share with you the mind-tattoo of our time together, already a few winters ago

I love you guys.


Mieke Chew

New York, April 2019

My dear——

I received word of the calamity. I searched for a cure in the library and found only this remedy.

A Potion prepared by Divine Authority for the help of a Wounded Man, which will be discharged by the wound, and heal it from within without fail——

Drink a concoction of blessed thistle for nine mornings and refrain therefrom for nine mornings following, then drink and refrain as before for nine mornings, and again in the same way for nine mornings more. Let your diet be wheaten bread and milk of the kine.

If this fails to soothe, I implore you to remember Things that are Hurtful to the Brain—–

For all brains the following things are hurtful: gluttony, drunkenness, late eating, much sleeping after food, tainted air, anger, depressed spirits, much standing bareheaded, eating much or hastily, too much warmth, excessive watching, too much cold, curds, all kinds of nuts, frequent bathing, onions, garlic, yawning, smelling a white rose, excess of venery, too much music, singing and readings, strong drink before sleeping, restless sleep, too frequent fasting, wet feet.

In times of perplexity, excessive watching is the greatest aggravation to injury.

If all else fails run into the sea.

Yours faithfully

Elvia Wilk

New York, September 2019

Dear future dreamsex partner:

I just finished reading Michelle Tea’s book Black Wave. It’s been a long time since I read a book obviously written just for me. I felt smug the whole time reading it, like I had a sexy secret (this book is so hot for me rn) except for the times I was crying while reading. Those times felt more like I had a secret so sad I couldn’t possibly tell you. But then: how did Michelle Tea manage to tell those secrets to me?

In the book, the world is sneaking toward apocalypse. The climate catastrophe in the background of the first chapters eventually trips into the foreground: Oh! this is not just the feeling of the world ending, the world is actually ending. Now that I say it, this sounds like Lars von Trier’s movie Melancholia, where the paranoid depression of the main character turns out to be justified when a meteor hits Earth, but it’s not at all like that because it’s funny and not stupid.

Anyway, at the end of the world that is the end of Black Wave, when everything is dying and breaking down, people start having intense lucid love-and-sex dreams about strangers, about partners they haven’t met yet. People who have the dreams start posting descriptions of their dreams online, so the dream partners can find each other in real life—because it turns out both of you are having the same dreams. But IRL, your dreamsex partner doesn’t necessarily look like in the dream, not at all. IRL, the partner might not be the same gender, race, age, or species (?) as in the dream. Maybe your Fabio turns out to be a 12-year-old-girl, maybe your Madonna turns out to be a seahorse. But the connection between the people in the dream is all real. No matter who they turn out to be in real life they're still each other's ultimate dreamsex match.

Since I finished reading the book I have been waiting very impatiently for my dream. I have been waiting for my brains to manifest the reality where you will meet me. So far, I've had one steampunk nightmare and one work-anxiety dream about my inbox. What's going on?

Love, Elvia

Mirene Arsanios

Beirut, November 9, 2018

To my lost rationality, then to my father

I deflect from the tenderness expected from an epistolary beginning: I would be lying if I pretended you were dear to me. It’s been a while since we gave up on each other and although I’m doing fine, I sometimes wonder about your silence: are you pissed at me or have you finally let up on universalism now that you’ve converted almost everyone, even those who most despise you?

To be fair, it wasn’t always all bad. The partitions you’ve been accused of were often inaccurate: argumentation has always been a matter of emotion. I felt emotional, in love with acolytes of yours— men whose entire existences were devoted to the study of other men. We had sex and it was not bad sex, although your penchant for threesome felt contrived, too French so to speak, just as your contempt for jealousy: it makes no sense if you think about it, you kept saying. I thought about it and was still jealous.

I was in a relationship with your commitment to knowing and you, with what you called the truth without quotation marks. We went on this way. I was part of the truth. Which part, I asked. Only now am I beginning to understand. Contrary to what you believe, beginnings belong to the future and conclusions can only be reached in the past, which is where I am now, in this back and forth.

I’m trying too hard to locate the beginning of our end and think that things began to shift the night I caught my Dutch roommate playfully practicing self-suffocation in the living room. He had been discussing the Israel Palestine question with his expat friends, and had come to the conclusion that Zionism was entirely justifiable: there are arguments for it.

I felt jealous, resentful of your neutrality. Proving anything to anyone amounted to proving nothing at all. What you called common sense was only common inasmuch as it was widely distributed. Everyone wanted a piece of you: the fascist the zionists the racist the leftist the anarchist the nationalists, the cheaters and those who were cheated on. No one was wrong and everyone was right. There were two sides to every story, each faction claiming a share of your truth. You didn’t mind. You put on weight, settling comfortably into the underlying arrangements of a system you had devised to serve your autonomy at the expense of everyone else’s dependence.

I became dependent, relying on you to shield me from erratic behavior and other expressions of loss of control, the way my mother banged her black stiletto against the bedroom door, yelling, “Let me in!” She was a terrifying victim. If I could argue she was wrong then I must have been right. I grew addicted to your articulations. Each action had to have a reason or justification. How much hurt and deception fueled the election of a fascist, how much self-hate lied behind the blind embrace of patriarchy? I began psychologizing you, crafting narratives bent on humanizing the abject, stories inclusive of our deepest ideological rifts. What could be said could be understood, and what could be understood could be defeated. I stayed calm. I failed systematically. My mother was right: It was almost always night.

When my roommate received a letter from Mike Pence, I picked it up and left it on the kitchen table. I began withholding sex. The distance between us grew thicker. You went for morning runs that stretched into the evening. I won’t list everything you did wrong: what’s the point? You’ll have your reasons and I’ll have mine, and you’ll say that we’re both entitled to our point of view. To be honest, you’re just bad at being god.

But the sad truth is that I haven’t learned anything. I could never let go of my dependency on rationalization. When my father was dying I was arrogantly alive, peddling in common sense because I couldn’t recognize his pain as mine, and by extension, yours too. “Look at the big picture. You’ve had a full life. It’s time to prepare yourself to go.” My attempts at making sense of his decaying body lacked empathy. Empathy is placing oneself in someone else’s position, a practice entirely alien to you, and by extension, to me too.

Although bedridden, my father diligently went through his leg exercises. I explained the view of the sea outside but he didn’t care much. He was being you: pragmatic, reasonable, down to earth. He didn’t see how things could get better. The odds were not in his favor. If he could take a pill to avoid witnessing the degradation of his body and imposing it upon others, he would. We tried visualizing a light flowing through our internal organs, but he couldn’t see anything, he said, when he his eyes were shut. His sister slipped a figurine in his suitcase. He demanded she took it back. He was never a believer—all his life my father fought for the recognition of a secular, anti-sectarian rule of law, and other archaic concepts that dramatically fail at sustaining the transition from life to non-life.

I argued that he was part of something larger, a universal pre-historical intelligence humans share matter with, and that everything once felt reverberates beyond the self. He preferred sticking to what was really happening. Religion is fake news, he kept saying. Although you two were close, at night, when he couldn’t find sleep, my father wished you’d vanish and leave him alone.

I hate sounding naïve and unover you but I feel stuck, unable to hate you the way I should. Don’t get me wrong; I do not want us to get back together. I just want you to stop dating other people until you’ve sorted out your own shit and come to accept your many genders. You cross dress as rationality, neutrality, objectivity, but like everyone else, you are a system of belief with a body, heart and very sad story.

To cut the long story short, I wanted to ask you: can you let go of my father? If you stepped aside, he could begin to stop believing that he doesn’t believe. I know it’s a lot to ask of you but I’m only asking because I know you can do it; you trusted me once and I’m trusting you now. On good days, your impartiality can be generous and forgiving. I also wanted to add that I’m open to couple therapy. Notwithstanding all the red flags, I hold on to the hope that our love can outgrow the patterns of a mind forged over the past 500 years, otherwise it wouldn’t be love, right?


Shiv Kotecha

New York, August 9, 2019

Dear Joe,

I’m afraid it’s time Joe. Time for me to go. it’s over, meaning, I should not come back. Things have been getting out of hand — unexpectedly difficult, full of clunky silences, you shut your eyes sometimes while I’m talking and meanwhile I just want to lie down or leave; truth be told I’d rather be anywhere else, as I imagine you also might.

And, you’ve known this. Maybe for a longer time than I have, maybe with a stronger understanding of where we are as individuals in arbitrary relation to one another: readily afloat, flailing downright romantically elsewhere but here, righteously duplicitous in our own petty responses to one another about enjoyment or it’s lacks. The time spent has felt not unlike some perverse durational experiment with too much activity to fit into a pre-established time frame, 45 minutes, a few times a week, ongoing practice. Why not break up. Why didn’t I come. Why write a letter. For whom is it.

My roommate, Diana, told me to to ask of you a favor before you were through, to play a thought experiment of a sort with me. She thought you might agree to it. There’s precedent.

Cut to: that beautiful trashy Chantal Ackerman movie we talked about, A Couch in New York, and of which, you’ll remember, you had not much to say. I’ll give you plot in lieu of detail. Director Ackerman gets actor William Hurt to teach actress Juliette Binoche to sit on a couch that Ackerman herself chose for Binoche to perch on. It’s a set up. Narratively, Hurt’s tush should sit; for Ackerman’s pleasure and for ours, Binoche’s.

It could go like this. If I were there with you, I’d set up our pre-breakup spell and say to you, “I’m Henry’s Beatrice, Chantal! Beatrice’s new non-Harry, Chantal! Have a seat let’s share a wine.” You’d ask about the imaginative leap I was making. “Wait,” you’d demand, for something beyond associative thinking at least. “Slow down,” or “You lost me,” you would say, “I’m not following.” “Time’s up.”

Let’s work backward. in lieu of plot here’s detail:

Bianca says, “There’s a lot of transference that happens in the film.”

Akiva says, “It sounds like its just about a bunch of dogs running around in Central Park.”

Diana says, “Juliette Binoche’s best movie is definitely the Chantal Ackerman one.”

Take a seat, Joe.

Memories seem bad for you, perhaps for the both of us. Let’s try again with secrets.

Early on, I want to say spring of 2015, I heeded your advice, accepted the world as both generous and resourceful, mine for the taking, and latched onto your socks as mine own image while restless amid an early AM fantasy, for one, to act as some kind of gauze between myself and my attendant frights and hallucinations—an ongoing spurn only hightened by summer’s oppressive heat, the petulant itch of nearby phone—and two, so as to, despite the fitful night, come.

Let’s start a story: a striped socked man—sometimes striped, sometimes dotted, floral, quirky in one annoying way or another—met a contriver with a pen. The socked man began to see the contriver somewhat seriously. Vice versa. Knowing the latter’s penchant to look see paranoiacly at clothes as at anything else, the former made it a point to dress consistently, which is to say bizarrely, with socks in turbulent combination with the rest of his get up, designed to shock the latter by way of sudden peeps, the socks themselves perking the attention of the contriver at every minor move. At times, over chewing gum or water, a leg would say flail over another and reveal a colorful skin tight adornment. A moose, stars. Juvenalia tied tight to a leg. “Wot” the contriver might have exclaimed, “is going on.” Twas but a signal to lead the contriver anywhere else but the man with the socks himself, and it worked: ex-lovers, instructors, street men. And it worked.

The socked man appeared and reappeared. One evening he appeared unbidden in a reverie, no less but as an aluminum can of cats that sprayed, condensed, sprayed out its contents again, as if into real-life things that could pierce through the pure shit of “consciousness” the contriver otherwise thought he felt during his eighth painful hour of an otherwise untethered (or, you could say, solitary—no—there was one friend Josef and there was a dude named Aaron, then obviously later there was Diana and there was Buffy; not untethered or friendless honestly, but with people at least made him feel, in his own words like “hah, an absolute unit” as they peeped from above onto him in his apartment, dancing naked and weeping loudly to Bowie waiting for the socked man’s image to appear and calm him down) trip on acid.

“I tried to sleep but could not, and the night revealed to me that I could only not do one thing with you which was to please myself. I somehow still don’t feel bad about it.”

The end.

Point is, you fight a lover.

Let’s talk. Work is not done. Still haven’t talked to you about papaya guy, about how Wayne told me way before you did that I sound straight when I talk about my dissertation, about the time I found your torso on scruff, etc. g2g,

Your patient,


Ottessa Moshfegh

Los Angeles, March 29, 2019


I just got the sheets, they are so beautiful and luxurious, I think linen will be very cool for summer, and just my style. You're so sweet. Thank you...

I just typed out my nightmare from last night. Can you interpret it?

DREAM: I was rooming with this ugly anorexic girl I knew in Oakland. She told me that she'd begun a romance, and it turned out that she'd been sleeping with T and was falling in love with him. I was so horrified and hurt! My sense was that T saw an innocence in her that I lacked, the problem being that I was never happy and always negative... I went into an auction with mostly dumb white hick antique dealers at the preview, and looked at a box of rings. Two hick dealers were also looking at the rings--they looked like fat farmers, white men in their early 60s in plaid shirts and baseball caps, hands like laborers. The female auctioneer helped us to access the rings that weren't immediately visible under the glass. They were truly weird rings. One had a live bee on it! I spoke (in French) to one hick because he was handling the bee ring roughly, "Attention, peut te faire mal," or something. I asked the auctioneer if she had any wedding rings. I don't remember what she said. Then I left. On the way out, I felt I had the air of a disguised celebrity, and there was a crowd at the door trying to get seats at the auction. I saw my old AA sponsee in the crowd, a tall black woman named Lorraine Loveyear who lives in P, wearing hospital scrubs. (She was studying to be a nurse when I knew her, and worked in people's homes as a kind of nursing aid. When I visited her a few years ago, she was very very sad and had lost a lot of weight. Thinness is a theme in the dream.) At the auction, she hugged me absentmindedly, like she didn't really care. She was full-figured in the dream. There were other parts of the dream I can't remember. Maybe something about sitting shiva (the Jewish tradition of mourning) in a hospital nursery.


Lucy Ives

New York, June 2019

You said a while ago that you liked the feeling of the smock that barbers/hairstylists put on you, because it feels good when that smock is removed again (and pressure on your neck lessens). I took this to mean that anticipation is satisfying to you, because you know that eventually it will lead to something (other than anticipation).

I can no longer tell if I am angry, sad, desperate, or something else. I’m lost in my experience of the moment, which feels incoherent, unrecognizable. My own feelings don’t make sense to me, and certainly they do not correspond to things that are happening in the world.

Something else you once said to me was that I wouldn’t be able to handle going to some club or other (some nightclub? some bar?); this was an offhand remark, and I think that you meant something about people in this location being attractive, that I would have trouble with this.

I’ve come to see more clearly in the past two months how naïve I am. And not only this: how reclusive.

I have put so much into my writing that I have not developed much of a social life. Yet I continue to think that something will change for me, that I will somehow, perhaps by magic, be reconciled with the world and come to know and accept it.

What I am trying to say is, I’m often afraid.

You and I have not really talked about this, I don’t think. At least not in a literal way. I admire so much, I want to say, your honest, genuine politeness to others, your thoughtfulness and patience. Years ago (I was in college) at a party I was talking to the writer ______. I was probably 21 or so. My friend was in ______’s class and had introduced me to her before (my friend did this) walking away to get a drink or something or other. ______ asked me what I was interested in. I suddenly felt completely unable to think. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was clear that I was struggling with relating to other people in a pretty extreme way and that this was much of what I thought about. ______ took pity on me and said, “Politeness is a form of truth.”

This was (although of course she is still alive) possibly one of the most poised human beings on the planet.

What can I say to you. It’s obvious to you that I am struggling. I get to feeling very far away from things and simply watch them, as if they were occurring on a screen. Why, I ask myself, is the show not about the things I want to see? I ask, Why isn’t what I would want to happen, happening?

There is an error here, but it is not one that is easy to correct. I cannot tell if all the reading and writing makes it worse. But I do want you to know that you matter to me, so much. I feel afraid, but I sit here and write this down, and in doing this believe I have done a very small thing to act instead of believing that it is impossible to act. Please forgive me and keep me as your friend.

Thora Siemsen

New York, September 2019

Hi, sorry I’ve been truant.

I probably haven’t told you yet but lately my higher power is reality… and I don’t feel close to it right now. I’m thinking of the moments when I don’t feel real as hiccups of faith. I spoke with a woman tonight outside of the Bishop and Martyr Church on 7th St. about how she’s paying for surgeries out of pocket just two years after she found situations like getting an apartment intimidating. She shared a nadiral detail about stealing change to pay for things, which sort of embarrassed me. I still have so many loose change days; surgery still feels so remote. She reminded me that when I think about the phrase “there is a solution,” I hear it both in the voice of people getting sober and my girlfriends getting procedures done, changing their names and gender markers. Days when I do nothing towards those solutions make me feel like my womanhood is provisional, like I’m not a real woman. Days when I’m not seeking things that could be called fake make me feel less real.

Do you remember exactly when we first rived the word “unreal” from our vocabulary? I think it was after the drive over that imaginary line which is really a division of river systems. Or after hearing that artist we both liked, who some people in the audience thought was being satirical, say that “everything real deserves to be real.” You and I were choosing words to not use anymore and it became habit-forming to quit things together. Now, I crave that time with you again more than the habits. I love you and I’m glad you wrote. I stopped writing for awhile and that was fake of me, I’m sorry, but I had real reasons to do so.

Jess Arndt

Los Angeles 2019

Dear 20 lines a day, "genius or not,"

Pisces moon stirring things possibly scarily down drain. Southern Railroad in Griffith Park=cute but depressing. Sad ponies/undercared for horses next door to train lot. Propane billowing from miniature engine stack. O glowing "whoo whoooo." Later L and I watch grim shallow tv, fight about something impossible to discern like our own personal disappointments, defensivenesses, ambitions? More "tracks" coming from across the street airbnb. I go next door, "have a talk." "I love your sound but you're waking up our kid." Blah blah. Somehow satisfying, but only minimally. Earlier, more plastic pool time. O doing naked belly flops/butt slaps on my head. L says "if you know you should write, and you can write, why don't you?" At the park (Shane's Ambition) we all got seasick on the new equipment. Later, rare total harmony, movements between bath + seaweed snacks + oatmeal + train vids + books + bed, seem to predict a positive outcome. But. And yet. Luckily I am still receiving texts. 1 friend is moving today in NYC and needs $/help bc asshole ex roommate. 1 friends wants to know "should I buy these?" (Sneakers). Can't help it, I tell her yes.

Childhood separations. My opuntia is turning yellow, wrinkling. Can you be brimming and simultaneously dry? Secretly everyone wanted SABBATH. Writing from the chiropractor's. It's packed. O slept til 7 am which is like god, a sufi mystic whirling vision. I understand the worry about soap and toothbrushes, but that seems BEYOND secondary, tertiary, to the psychological neglect trench we're inflicting, minute by minute, every minute. It takes so many minutes to care for a kid! Like more minutes than are in a day, each day?! Meanwhile, selling cases of mezcal to everyone I can. Negroni week, Immigrant Heritage month (=June, of all placements, of all ironies.) Who invents this stuff??? One time we rode a ferry and shared a beer. I wanted another, it was July and your skin was glowing. I hid in the sea-lurching bathroom closet. Now we share a house, a billion expenses + ghost expenses, the tallest 2 yr old in the world. He's cuddling, biting, long-limbs constantly dinosaur, bear, wolf, bird. At least how I call him. Tonight he ran his cheek into one of those built-in pull out cutting boards. Lights blurred and I doubted myself. Coyote on the street this morning, 8 am in a collar. Signs of survival, hello.

shld be writing a letter but this is one. but the shld cld disturb honesty and has honesty ever been honest ie communicatively transparent ie see-thru, really? today i ate a cold pancake. i sat on the toilet, angry and alone. I sped down a wet dirt-packed road with O on my lap, we laughed. it was raining and the fir trees were/are glistening. a friend texts tonight: can i come sit/drink on your beach. yes. i leave some on the deck, me inside coaxing O to sleep. some letter project wants a letter. and here is my outbox, full of them. here everyone is reading. here is diffuse. here we may have run over a seal, i saw blood in the water. it was gory and obliterating. here i don't want to leave but don't know how to stay. here everything wadded up, a million beans, a million ears of corn. here is tiny woodland houses all mossed over. here is a portal (at least someone said that). here=webs of family and the older i get I'm sliding backwards, not sure who i am.


Ser Serpas

Geneva, July, 2019

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