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25 November 2015 @ 06:07 pm
At some point last night, the Foodtown grocery at 148th and St. Nicholas caught fire.

The subway station entrance across from it is a few blocks from my apartment, and by the time I had passed that intersection this morning, the front window was gone and inside was nothing but bitumen.

A haze hung over much of the morning. It followed me into the office and despite the luminosity outside, my office was shrouded in darkness. I'd made the mistake last night of watching the recently released dashcam footage of Laquan McDonald's final moments. The incident itself takes place near the end of the nearly seven-minute clip. Much of the video's body is taken up with reckless driving and distorted sound such that one hears, instead of a siren wailing, a dying thing, drowning. Such videos are legion. Social media is lousy with them. They spawn and consume Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines like cancerous cells. At one point, they lose their shock and induce only numbness, in part because the result is almost always the same, that cavernous yawning that faces the colored American public where justice or restitution or vengeance should be found. Sometimes, however, the horror leaps back out and becomes a visceral, churning thing. It scoops out insides and it renders nerve endings more sensitive, sets them afire, and it cripples the muscles that hold one up. The heart deflates, and one feels, instead of a deadening, a dying.

"Calling in black" is a bit of morbid humor that has seeped into the lexicon of late. I joked morosely with a South Asian colleague about it this morning. Here we sat, on our floor, saddled with our mission of enforcing the laws guaranteeing civil rights for the people of the State of New York, and Chicago had purchased so much real estate in our minds.


November 25, 2014, I woke up in Paris to news that the grand jury had declined to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown. The following week, Daniel Pantaleo found the same result, stemming from his murder of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

Facebook has recently begun prompting users to share "memories" of specific days in years past, anniversaries of a sort where you can re-share particular status updates or pictures or linked pages. November 25, 2014, I'd written the following Facebook status: "I just...I don't know how not to be angry anymore." 19 Likes. 1 Comment. 1 Share.


This past weekend was notable, in large part because of the radiant people of color I was privileged to spend time with, some of whom I met in person for the very first time that day. The day was a reminder that joy can take corporeal form, that luminescence can be a felt thing, a visceral experience where the entire body is rendered clement. A blanket has wrapped itself around one's insides. Smiles glow. Hugs calm the chaos of warm things. Where normally one speaks, one instead sings. Dancing becomes a larger thing than oneself, so that we moved as a swarm, as a glorious, teeming mass caught beneath that tent, a single organism thrumming with life and love. Of self. Of each other. The weekend was also notable because I got to spend time with a man I'd styled as a bit of an older brother.

We spoke last night, and I had ISIS on my mind when I'd asked him when these videos of police-initiated executions become atrocity porn. At what point does it reach that level? In the back of mind was an image from a glossy page of "Dabiq," the monthly online magazine produced by ISIS. In it, a child holds a severed head aloft. Towards the end of the video of Laquan McDonald's murder, he lies still on the ground, and puffs arise from his body and from the concrete where bullets strike. Moments earlier, the first bullets had twirled him in a grotesque pirouette that preceded his collapse. To write of his death this way approaches sacrilege. There was nothing beautiful or aesthetically intelligent about the destruction of his body. There isn't a sentence in the world that can make it anything other than the abominable and heinous act it was. But the words are what to which I flee when confronted by the confusing and the hurtful and the lessening. The murder is the severing of the head. YouTube is the pike on which it is planted.

The video of journalist Steven Sotloff's beheading shows him wearing a lapel microphone. The wind would have made sound difficult to catch. The video does not show the actual act. Just the beginning, a fade to black, then the result. The camera then pans to their next hostage. It's gratuitous and primal and obscene. No message superimposed on the video can counter the exorbitant violence of this gonzo pornography. Fucking for fucking's sake. The exorbitant violence is the point. Further along the spectrum, approaching the purely-gonzo atrocity porn, is the grainy cell phone video footage taken by jihadis. Snapchats of executions. Vines replaying mutilations. A masked jihadi holding up a severed head in one hand and throwing up a gang sign in the other. Caption: “Chillin’ with my homie...or what’s left of him.”

The video footage of Laquan McDonald's last moments is evidence. It is a snuff film, but it is also evidence. It is a riff in the song that has been sung over and over and over. Occasionally, a new verse is added or inflections change, but it is the same song. The video brings the tuning fork in my soul to same reverberation as had the video of Walter Scott's murder in North Charleston, South Carolina on April 4, 2015.

The tragedy of so much of this lies in the fact that the snuff film is evidence. It is necessary. Without it, the dirge for Rodney King would have been a different song. Its absence is, in part, why Freddie Gray's murder was attended by mourning and rage at that particular pitch that rode at the base of Baltimore's conflagration. The snuff film is necessary when it should not be.

Laquan McDonald was murdered as Darren Wilson rose from his seat to walk free. Only now can we note the horrible synchronicity in the rising of the one and the falling of the other.

Gene Demby wrote in August of the particular psychic toll that afflicted reporters of color who had fallen upon this particular beat: black reporters reporting black death.

He writes:

"As calls for newsroom diversity get louder and louder — and rightly so — we might do well to consider what it means that there's an emerging, highly valued professional class of black reporters at boldface publications reporting on the shortchanging of black life in this country. They're investigating police killings and segregated schools and racist housing policies and ballooning petty fines while their loved ones, or people who look like their loved ones, are out there living those stories. What it means — for the reporting we do, for the brands we represent, and for our own mental health — that we don't stop being black people when we're working as black reporters. That we quite literally have skin in the game."

A genre of the same afflicts citizens of color in general. It's still someone who looks like us who is collapsing amidst the recorded mutilation of his own body.

And when you find that name-turned-hashtag, or that latest released recording of dashcam footage pops up on Facebook, joy and the prospect of it dies.

Right now, protests sing in Chicago's streets. In Minneapolis, melody fights through the white supremacist gunfire trying to silence it.

We've been singing this song for so long it is a wonder our voices have not left us.

And here I am, writing. Wondering what notes I can throw into the chorus. Trying to figure out how best to join my voice in the singing. Struggling with the prospect that this writing does nothing.

I know it is a thing that brings me joy. I feel useful doing it, even if such a feeling is an illusion, smoke keeping me from seeing a difficult truth reflected back at me. It will not rebuild that Foodtown that went up in flames last night. It will not restock it with cereal and toilet paper and canola oil. But terror abates when I write.

This weekend, I will see my family. And what will surround me, engulf me, protect me is love, joy turned visceral.

Gonzo pornography is the absence of love. The beheading performs the same act, the erasure of humanity, so that all that remains are grunts and fucking and scratching ourselves. I know that watching video of police-initiated executions does something in me that brings me closer to that, hits a particular pitch at which the tuning fork is activated. But to watch it is evidence that I am not that thing. To watch it is, in part, to be reminded that elevated lifeforms exist, to see and be reminded of the activism that attends the aftermath and the preceding, that Laquan McDonald was more than a figure in a snuff film. They all were.

Before long, the Foodtown will stop being a husk and will become, once again, something in which people move and buy sustenance. A place where babies wail while being held by their mothers, where young adults shop for dinner ingredients, where people go about the business of being human. A teeming mass, contained beneath a tent. A single organism thrumming with life.

The urge to text my "older brother" bubbles in me. If only to hear in his voice or read in his text the beautiful, living chaos of warm things.
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Little Dragon - Twice
24 November 2015 @ 11:55 pm
-- The Serial Swatter - Jason Fagone, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 24, 2015

"Obnoxious often sent a text to his target telling her that the SWAT team was on its way — too late to stop it — just so she would know it was him. Sometimes victims received phone calls from the police before the SWAT team arrived. A Canadian Twitch streamer named Maple Ong got a call one night in January 2014, telling her to leave her house with her hands up, along with her panicked father and younger brother, so the police could search it for bombs that Obnoxious had told them were placed there. Allison Henderson, a 26-year-old artist and streamer who lived with two other streamers in Costa Mesa, Calif., received a phone call one night from a woman with the Police Department, asking her how many people were in her apartment and what she was wearing. Allison and her roommates had recently been DDoSed and harassed by Obnoxious. The policewoman told Allison to step outside with her hands above her head."

-- On Pandering - Claire Vaye Watkins, Tin House, Nov. 23, 2015

"I’ve watched boys play the drums, guitar, sing, watched them play football, baseball, soccer, pool, Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I’ve watched them golf. Just the other day I watched them play a kind of sweaty, book-nerd version of basketball. I’ve watched them work on their trucks and work on their master’s theses. I’ve watched boys build things: half-pipes, bookshelves, screenplays, careers. I’ve watched boys skateboard, snowboard, act, bike, box, paint, fight, and drink. I could probably write my own series of six virtuosic autobiographical novels based solely on the years I spent watching boys play Resident Evil and Tony Hawk’s ProSkater. I watched boys in my leisure time, I watched boys in my love life, and I watched boys in my education. I watched Melville, I watched Salinger, watched Ford, Flaubert, Díaz, Dickens, watched even when I didn’t particularly like what I saw—especially then, because it proved there was something wrong with me, something I wanted to fix. So I watched Nabokov, watched Thomas Hardy, watched Raymond Carver. I read women (some, but not enough) but I didn’t watch them. I didn’t give them megaphones in my mind. The writers with megaphones in my mind were not Mary Austin, or Louise Erdrich, or Joan Didion, or Joy Williams, or Toni Morrison, though all have been as important to me as any of the male writers I mentioned, or more. Still, I watched the boys, watched to learn. I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave."
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: J. Cole feat. Drake - In the Morning
24 November 2015 @ 11:14 pm
Catching the Bus - 11.24.15, 11.06pm

New Words: 2643

Total Words: 50087

Page Count: 244

Reason for Stopping: Goal reached./End of scene (chapter).

Notes: Well, there's 50k words for you. Third year in a row that I've won NaNoWriMo. Now, if I can squeeze the rest of this novel in by the end of November, that'll be the double hat-trick. (Is that a double-triple?)

A neat bit of plotting surprised me this evening and brought to life something I'd been meaning to get into and am a bit sad I didn't get to in this draft. Some of the troubles faced by women in tech and in the Internet. There are allusions to Ellen Pao early on, and bits of the novel brush up against GamerGate, but what I'd wanted for the main protagonist was a bit more of a deep dive into a lot of that. I'd read up on the Reddit shakeup and knew of GamerGate and the proxy wars fought through the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaign. I imagine, in revisions, that'll be one major thread that gets pulled up from the palimpsest.

Still, barreling towards the end like this feels good. It's hurried and messy, and I've lost all sense of form, but the End is near. Hopefully, this'll see a different result from The Sparrow, which didn't see me finish that draft until the following year, lol. This time around, I don't have school to get in the way.

Currently reading: The Town That Started the Civil War - Nat Brandt
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Theory of a Deadman - Say Goodbye
23 November 2015 @ 11:53 pm
Catching the Bus - 11.23.15, 11.53pm

New Words: 3321

Total Words: 47454

Page Count: 231

Reason for Stopping: End of scene.

Notes: This has gotten downright stygian. It's interesting that what was initially envisioned as the inciting incident has, it seems, become the prelude to the climax. The pacing of this thing has taken on a recognizable shape, even though it is a wholly different thing from what was initially envisioned. I imagine, in any vision that sees this expanded, that this latter third or quarter or so will be the part that most enlarges its girth, while some of the earlier stuff is likely to be cut, or maybe not. Maybe it'll all just be spread out more evenly. That said, I think the plot kicking into overdrive here explains the high "new word" count, and is perhaps even greater evidence of my desire to see this to its completion.

Currently reading: The Town That Started the Civil War - Nat Brandt
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Machine Head - Darkness Within
22 November 2015 @ 11:55 pm
Catching the Bus - 11.22.15, 11.49pm

New Words: 2433

Total Words: 44133

Page Count: 215

Reason for Stopping: Exhaustion. Yesterday, at the Harvard-Yale tailgate, I used up all the weekend's emotional energy loving and being loved, dancing to Future, being admired for that "Hotline Bling" sweatshirt, seeing my Big Bro for the first time in entirely too long, meeting loved ones in person for the first time, and just being surrounded and swallowed up in the embrace of so many beautiful, brown #wokebros and #wokebaes. Just a fount of "wakens". Either way, it's a wonder I got pages today, as I wasn't entirely sure when I'd be back in NYC. And, it turns out Thanksgiving is this week, lol. But, at this pace, my Dashboard has me hitting 50k by Nov. 25th. This draft is going to be more than 50k. Lol. All of the lolz.

Currently reading: The Town That Started the Civil War - Nat Brandt
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Nonpoint- The Wreckoning
21 November 2015 @ 12:48 am
Just crunched the numbers and this most recent progress report puts me at exactly 899 pages of new fiction so far this year. I look on track to break 2014's page-count total, and I've an idea for a December project that may just push me over the 1k mark, which would be AHMAZING.
Current Location: Zoe's
Current Music: Mushroomhead - Becoming Cold
21 November 2015 @ 12:19 am
Catching the Bus - 11.21.15, 12.00am

New Words: 2950

Total Words: 41700

Page Count: 203

Reason for Stopping: End of scene

Notes: This scene very much got away from me, something I'm more than happy to allow happen during NaNoWriMo. If it means more words on the page, I am content. I'm aided in this acclimation by what's attended the last few books, in that they've been much less plotted-in-advance than my earlier efforts. The Project Cameron quadrilogy saw four books worth of scene-by-scene outlines. I love those books, but they're nowhere near as discursive as these later efforts. There's no way they could have been. Also, this is litfic, which means I have industry permission to digress, to wander. :: winky face ::

But the Eve sections seem to be when and where the most heartbreak happens. It's all in the context of this novel's greater mission to showcase the effects of lives lived in the Internet age by people so incredibly immersed in the medium, in that particular mode of being. But this bit with Google Maps might've even topped the scene where she breaks down in front of her employer at the content mod spot for heartbreak. I like being able to do this, to explore heart-space in this manner. While it's definitely, in my estimation, evidence of growth as a writer, it seems, more importantly, evidence also of growth as a person. Much of my thought recently has gone to why I value writing and words as much as I do, and I think part of the power of being a writer is this massive importance placed on being able to say things, describe them. Knowing how to say them. That isn't to say that infants, for example, aren't capable of complex emotion, or of having different emotions braided together and feeling that, but I wonder what it is to have that and simply lack the tools of expression. Maybe that's why their crying is always a mystery and the magic of child rearing is in deciphering the cry, trying to figure out whether it's a lament or an entreaty or simply a wail into the void. I think an infant is capable of all of that, but I've never had one of my own. And I think it's a long way coming.

But this article on female friendship pushed me to thinking of male privilege and the pitfalls of stunted development. Does a little boy push down a girl he likes on the playground because he doesn't know how to tell her he likes her? Likes spending time with her? Early on, we dudes are socialized into just this sort of violence, force is lionized and in so many ways it's portrayed as the chief mode and manner of expression, it is the chief validation. It reminds me of the father screaming "I love you" to his child, not realizing that the message is lost in the medium.

Does greater facility with language presage greater self-awareness? Is it a necessary precursor? I don't know. The strong-and-silent types are surely never without depth, right?

I don't know that I'd have been pushed to consider these things with such detail had I not endeavored early on, maybe this year, and in revenge against one of the major critiques of The Sparrow to write more female characters. It is certainly a gift, this impulse, and I'm glad it has been pushed into my hands, by givers who perhaps were unaware of what they were handing over. Maybe they were, and I simply did not understand their language.
Current Location: Zoe's
Current Music: Emmure - We Were Just Kids
19 November 2015 @ 11:24 pm
Catching the Bus - 11.19.15, 11.04pm

New Words: 2211

Total Words: 38750

Page Count: 190

Reason for Stopping: End of scene.

Notes: So, I thought The Sparrow was the darkest I ever got, as far as characters and what they would get up to. But this latest section about a guy who fights organizations like ISIS online, a bit of an ANON counter-terrorism guy or self-styled online anti-jihadist, is downright stygian. And I realized something while writing that scene: I don't think this is my bad guy. I'd had this whole trajectory planned for him, turning him from the person he is at the "beginning" to someone who eventually brings himself, by sheer volume of contact with the evil on the Internet, to commit evil himself. But I want this dude to get better. And I think his role has, thus, shifted. All this time, I've been unwittingly organizing his path to redemption. The whole arc would highlight one of the threads I've been meaning to bring to life here with this work, which is that, despite the almost unceasing bituminosity of some of the Internet's depths, there is light and kindness and companionship to be had in abundance. It's been interesting because particularly this character's interaction with the Net is so substantively different from my own. I mean; it's flavored very much by one night years back where a friend introduced me to 4chan, which struck me and still strikes me very much as the Internet's id. It's the source of so much: online hate groups, LOLCATS, My Little Brony. And the challenge isn't plumbing the depths of sludge, that stuff seems relatively easy to see and dramatize and dig my fingers into, but figuring out how to dramatize the latter two things, the happier and more idiosyncratic colors of one's Internet activity without turning into some maudlin rumination on how much our online selves may be divorced from our flesh-and-blood personhood. There's so much out there about that, especially the more tragic consequences of such a divorce.

One of the things that Infinite Jest managed so incredibly and that I notice in the films of Jacques Audiard is the juxtaposition of sweep with minute observation. That scene near the beginning of Un Prophète where the protagonist folds up a 20-euro note and sticks it into a ripped portion of his shoe's sole on his way to prison comes to mind. A little gesture or minuscule bit of "process" in a sweeping, epic crime story. It's something to which I aspired at the outset of this enterprise, and it's something of which I have to constantly remind myself. You spend so much time with individual trees that you forget to acknowledge the immense, verdant expanse of forest around you. How to dramatize les deux will, I think, be the signal trial of this narrative effort.

I'd managed to curb my book acquisition/borrowing habits a little bit. (I still haven't put up reviews of Interpreter of Maladies and Cloudsplitter yet!) But last night's National Book Awards got me to put a hold on Fortune Smiles with a quickness. An industry professional with whom I'd spoken earlier today and who had attended last night's ceremony, gushed over the book. The Orphan Master's Son left me a little cold, but we'll see if these short stories warm me up.

Currently reading: The Town That Started the Civil War - Nat Brandt
Current Location: Zoe's
Current Music: Emmure - We Were Just Kids
18 November 2015 @ 12:32 am
Catching the Bus - 11.18.15, 12.26am

New Words: 4222

Total Words: 36539

Page Count: 178

Reason for Stopping: End of scene, luxury reading, sleep. Plot finally snuck up on me, which is to say that the "inciting incident" finally happened. Over halfway through this NaNoWriMo draft. I imagine nearly everything written before will be cut, but I don't care for this go-around. The goal is to hit 50k, and it'll be interesting to see how much of the rest of the story will be enlisted in the enterprise of reaching that goal and how much of it will be spillover. Either way, this makes me happy. I'm making good time, I think.

Also, this thing got DARK. I'm talking straight-up bituminous.

Currently reading: The Town That Started the Civil War - Nat Brandt
Current Music: Drowning Pool - Sinner
16 November 2015 @ 11:26 pm
Catching the Bus - 11.16.15, 11.12pm

New Words: 4464

Total Words: 32388

Page Count: 158

Reason for Stopping: Sleep. One of the dangers of NaNoWriMo is that the priority becomes putting words on the page rather than organizing a narrative. This wasn't too much of a problem with the previous two efforts but I had outlines or previous material to work off of, more or less. Here, as this was nothing but a Word Doc with notes before November 1st, the trap has come to light, and I notice it only after I've fallen in and my world is constricted to a small circle over which passes the rest of the world. In more concrete terms, the incident that I thought would be the inciting event still hasn't occurred, which makes this a much different novel than was initially intended but also conquers my worry about its potential brevity. Perhaps the influence of Infinite Jest is too strongly felt. But having come to piece with the fact that this is but a first draft (and that I'm not really capable of banging out anything other than a first draft during this kinda of exercise) helps make the gap between idea and effort less annoying.

Still, I'm eager to finish this, not in an I-Can-No-Longer-Stand-This-Project way but in that I am currently sitting on some news that could make me very busy over the course of next year and I will soon need to begin studying for the Bar in earnest. And I'd rather an unfinished novel draft weren't hanging over my head. :)

Just Finished: Cloudsplitter - Russell Banks
Current Location: Sugar Hill
Current Music: Freddie Gibbs - Pronto