by LAUREN BERLANT (tagged by Luke A. Fidler)

Abusive Encounters for the Revolution

1. I take writing classes because art that says it loves women hates women and it can't be undone by theory. Any "story about a woman who" is already doomed only to be but a laugh. As in love, though, some bodies savage the narrative-spectacle-prison-shackle, blazoning a freedom for which there's no world and bad luck in the one that is. Bette Davis fires gestures, Cate Blanchett wildly slurs her being without banter faking the encounter once more, and there then was the Mahalia Jackson incident. I have deleted five instances of the word "really" from this hundred.

2. A colleague's combover is a living crop circle whose origin might just reveal the hand of god. His club sandwich of shame and contempt is braced by the sourdough toast of xo's. After I ate one I blistered in hives and slept hard for two days in a Benadryl haze. I now have spontaneous "episodes." O love, we know that the fidelity principle makes details inconvenient. O love, your history is only and always one of collateral damage. But what is it when no love is there or lost? It is as though analogy can force itself into full-bore likeness.

3. On a street corner I was accosted by a homeless mind. It pressured me for housing; I mimed to vomit. Having found no time to invent an intention, I am now bound eternally to a failed reparation. Aristotle says debt is material and moral and Nietzsche says this way debt can't be retired. As Arendt says, there is no unsaying. Philosophers of the desert make aloneness less lonely. I aspire to deadpan femininity. An anorexia of the encounter would be a gift card allowing for sadism and the feeling of smallness to sift through like flies that shimmy through screens.

4. The phatic man squeaks with each movement, exhaling ten times more than he inhales, whistling. I lie on the ground to let him step on me so that he’ll be relieved of groaning. I say sounds have to come from somewhere but not just from him: solidarity is vigilance redistributed. But the truth of that shit hits just a bit. Events will surely induce a groan confirming one’s lost omnipotence. But the blame game, the twelve-step, the paranoid tells, the expert shocked once more at what simply is, they’re what haunts in the air of relief at reawaking in the AM.

5. In my dream there's a power outage and everyone walks outside alone and quietly dangerous, haunted by the zombie, rape, war, and stalking films that memory turns into realism. All of the wishes ever fulfilled shatter in the face of the pressure not to disturb what's already disturbed. I also fear that my verticality will come to a shocking pratfall. That's funny! I fear tripping as much as dying! O dreams and your false equivalences. Spectacle has been made the soundtrack to legs moving under a blanket in the dark. Silhouettes emerge from my fingers typing there was no dream.

6. Every time he says hello I atrophy a little, as though yesterday’s saliva had never squirted its business onto the situation, and by atrophy I mean become-jerky, evaporating imperceptibly like the bubbles that pop from women's mouths and look like stains on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, I'm training to soften my eyes at what’s hard so it doesn't get any ideas. You could stick your fingers in them now and if it’s raining they'll just thud the other side softly. Yes, the foundational fantasy lays down tracks for staying with the frightening thing--the wall of noise, the inside joke.

7. Everyone leans on her desk, everyone leans on his desk, the animal does a downward dog and he’s a cat, things go beyond gimmicks, productivity, therapy, and citizenship. OOO sometimes failure is just bad. Not queer, better, redeemable, a profile in courage, delicious, or a genuine experiment. Some days you throw up your—wait, wait, wait--“why bother?” hands. A disaster is what we go with because pleasure might rest under the scratch-off, Pandora. I eat noodles made from yams that have no flavor, calories, carbs or protein, yet smell like fish, hoping to break the neck of oncoming affect.

Three Elizas

Life can change in a minute without anything structural changing, and that's no joke. Once I ran into a friend who beamed as I walked into the office. She said, Laurie, I was just thinking about you! I said, Buffy! but can't remember a thing after that because completely stunned to be thought of when absent and to have induced some happiness at a mere thought. I was 35. It was the first time I realized it was possible that someone could carry around an image of me and be happier. We called each other by our ridiculous childhood names.

Her iron was low and her sugars were high. She fell asleep during conversations because she could NOT NOT. But also because the noise of the world, although white and bearable, was NOT to be borne. A lovely face asleep, one could love her asleep, except NOT if overcome by worry that her sleep predicted a death later on when the wearing out was final. She had her hair straightened and colored the sheen of the extinct light brown M&M. She wore classic clothes and had posture that would shame a chair. She spends much of her life ridiculously still.

Her best friend was Princess Grace’s first cousin so she was referred royalty. She looked twenty-one when her friends looked sixteen. She had cheerleader breasts and a parenthetical ass. She was a Beverly Cleary heroine who'd known no reversals, the kind who was nice to homely girls, with a big impersonal smile. People who grumble through the world cannot give a big impersonal smile. Hers was like a free brownie or a dollar found on the street. The ordinary is an ocean that moves for the lucky, whose ridiculousness remains a secret so open that it remains a secret.

by ANTHONY MADRID (tagged by Anthony Opal)

There was an old man from Montclare,
Who detected a bug in his hair.
When he tried to extract it, it merely contracted
And ran to its lair in his hair.

When it ran to its lair in his hair,
He sat himself down in a chair.
He whipped out a comb, and raked hard at the home
Of that damnable bug in his hair.

When that damnable bug in his hair
Could not be evicted from there,
That gentle old man took a moment to plan
An excursion down into Montclare.

On finding himself in Montclare,
He asked for the services there:
“I can tell by your faces you’re teeming with places
That terminate bugs in Montclare!”

But the citizens’ league of Montclare
All gathered ’round, started to stare!
“You seem unaware! Can it be you don’t care
There’s a BUG running laps in your hair?”

LAUREN BERLANT teaches English at the University of Chicago. This excerpt is from a project in attention, worlding, and the ordinary she's making with the anthropologist Katie Stewart. Her most recent books are Cruel Optimism (2011) addressing precarious publics and the aesthetics of affective adjustment in the contemporary US and Europe and an introductory gesture called Desire/Love (2012). She is reachable at l-berlant@uchicago.edu.

ANTHONY MADRID lives in Chicago. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Fence, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, Lana Turner, LIT, Poetry, Volt, and WEB CONJUNCTIONS. His first book is called I AM YOUR SLAVE NOW DO WHAT I SAY (Canarium Books, 2012).

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