Monday, August 01, 2005


My sister was in her bed, a comforter pulled up to her chin, a ceiling fan whirring, the AC wafting in refrigerated air. It was a big bed, and her husband, Mark, was beside her, the two bathed in the blue glow of the TV, muffins in a tin. My sister was wearing a light robe made of white quilty stuff. It zipped up the front, the sort of garment I had only seen on my mother, although my mother's robes were faded and frayed. She had arrived at an age where she couldn’t throw anything away or buy new things. Her thinking was: “It’s good enough for me, because I’m old, and nothing matters when you’re old.” Also: “I’m afraid I’ll run out of money before I die, so I better not spend an extra cent.”

I looked at my sister’s profile. She was pretty. Her skin was scrubbed. Her skin looked red when it tanned. Her eyes were closing, but she was resisting sleep. I was wearing a cotton camisole and black tights, the outfit I go to the gym in and lounge around in. I peeled back the covers from my sister’s shoulder and snugged in beside her, my head on her pillow. Now we were three muffins, except I didn’t like what was on, CSI. Mark tossed me the remote. “Pick what you like.” I flipped to Touch of Evil, and for fifteen minutes we watched Orson Wells, Charlton Heston, and Janet Leigh scowl around noirishly. My sister and I hadn’t slept under the same roof for more than 40 years, but feeling the curve of her hips and breasts next to mine required no border crossing. We got that from our father. Our mother was sick from smoking. My sister was quitting cigarettes, and I was helping her cross the smokeless divide.

We went to a bookstore, and I bought her a copy of The Corrections. She put it in a cabinet beside her bed and didn’t start it while I was there. She said it was hard to concentrate while she was quitting. She worked on a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table, a scene with lots of sail boats, identical looking masts and ropes and boaty-looking pieces, and the pieces all had the same shape. I helped her a little, though I couldn’t do it for long. She filled in crossword puzzles from the NY Times every day. She disliked the hot weather, but one night I asked her to walk with me around the development where she lives. That meant taking off her robe thing and putting on shorts and a shirt again, a process she almost never reverses once the robe is on. We looked at the townhouses, all rather similar. It was peaceful and the air smelled of honeysuckle, although the fragrance came from a tree we didn’t know the name of.

She put out lavender bath oil and Skin So Soft and said I could use her tub. “No ass but mine has touched it in 17 years.” I massaged her feet. She said she would see a chiropodist about pain in her metatarsals. We had manicures and pedicures. The woman who does my sister’s nails looked at us and said, “Sisters?” My sister said we were. The woman said, “Which one older?” My sister said she was. I thought my sister must really be giving this woman huge tips for her to ask that question. Ellen offered to treat me if I handed out the tips. I said I would, following her instructions. My sister was generous, like our father. There was a picture of our parents when they were young on her wall. She took it to Walmart to make a copy. She said it was the only time she went to Walmart. I told her to use witch hazel on her eyes when they were itchy. She bought a bottle and cotton pads.

We went to a mall to walk around in the air-conditioning. Before we got there, I said I didn’t want to shop, just walk. Ellen said okay, though she wanted to look at shoes in a department store. I said she should have told me ahead of time, so I could have brought a book and read while she looked. I calmed down and said she could do what she wanted. When we got inside the mall, I saw lots of things I wanted to buy, so the idea of not shopping flew out the window. She didn’t object, even though I was the one trying on clothes and asking people to hunt for things and write up the receipts and wrap stuff. The next time I came into her bed, she said, “You can put on anything but Touch of Evil.”

“I thought you liked it.”

“I didn’t.”

My sister is used to being the most competent person she knows. The one who takes care of problems, steps in to trouble shoot during emergencies, gets the job done. My sister is the older sister, the one my mother turns to. My sister was prepared to keep being the one my mother called on. “Just help me out,” she said. I showed her how to turn on the gas grill Mark used to cook his food and then I grilled us a steak and onions. By day fifteen, she had not lit a cigarette.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Morning After

The meaning of what we did, the meaning as it might relate to how books get made or how writers work, or whether you can witness any of this by marking off a territory to watch it—this kind of meaning feels irrelevant. Ideas show up. A bunch of them, and you look at them and say, What can I make of you, what have you got to say to each other? An idea floats out like a net or a smell, and people show up for reasons they can’t name. They look at each other and smell each other and wonder what they have to say to each other. Everything depends on who shows up. Everything depends on everyone showing up.

There are a lot of ways to look at the thing we did. The thing I mean is the whole thing. The three writers as individuals and a group, the three teams of habitat designers and builders as individuals and a group, the members of Flux Factory as individuals and a group, the intellectuals and artists and cooks attached to Flux Factory and the Novel project. That’s about 30 to 50 people, depending on the day, showing up. Publicity and visitors fluffed us and made us aware of ourselves as something being looked at. But the thing we were was also separate from our audience. I didn’t always feel like I fit, like I was understood, like my ideas were welcome. I interpreted. I attached meaning. I told myself to stop it and didn’t. I was happy. I didn’t need more than was there. I thought about death but not my own that much.

Grant, Ranbir, and I called the gallery space we inhabited Outerpodmania. I don’t remember who started calling our houses pods. No one entered Outerpodmania, except at visiting times. At the far end of our gallery was an area with a phone, computers, and couches where, normally, Fluxers conducted business. They quit using it during the project, so we wouldn’t be disturbed. We called that area Innerpodmania, and late at night we sat there laughing and gossiping—often with Sara and Ellen. Artless, not quotable laughter.

I got home late Saturday night, opened mail, slept a couple of hours, and then my sister scooped me up and we visited our mother who was doing pretty well for the moment. Two gigantic genetically engineered geese waltzed up from the river and mingled casually with the people scattered in wheelchairs across the lawn. I drove to my sister’s house in New Jersey, a pod as spotless and orderly as Flux is frizzy. At dinner one night, Ranbir noted that he could not feel cool unless his hair was cool. Unlike meteorological oddities, this wasn’t predictable. “I have to catch my reflection in a store window.”

Ranbir and I talked on the phone yesterday like we were still on the couch. He’d left a message for Grant but hadn’t heard from him yet. We missed his deadpan delivery. I stole lines from him. Where was he?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Fiction Piece

This is the beginning of Chapter 13 of Indestructable Beauty, the novel-in-progress I have been working on at Flux Factory. When the narrator's mother becomes ill, the narrator, a private investigator, is in the middle of searching for a missing person named Heddy, whom she knew. She has gotten a lead that Heddy has been working in several dungeons in Philadelphia, and she goes there to speak to one of the mistresses, Helena, having previously interviewed Miranda. They are all named after Shakespearean heroines. She goes with her friend Paul, a college professor who is curious about this world.

Paul and I drove back to Philly to see Mistress Helena. I gave her the same spiel about a newbie threesome, and we wore the same outfits. I had Mom’s ring on all the time, now, except around Becca and Mom, and hoped I wasn’t caught wearing it in a picture. But who was going to shoot me, outside of the surveillance cameras mounted on most street corners, the replicant, maverick cell phone militia that had taken over public space, and the videotape cranking in every store? I’m just saying.

Mistress Helena’s dungeon was in a chicer, more warehousy section than Miranda’s. Young Asian women in mid-thigh minidresses, Eurohipsters in Johnny Depp’s Fu-Manchu-goatee-and-nerd-glasses period, mid-thirties boys dressed like trench coat mafia in plaid shirts and leather raincoats.

Helena laughed when she saw us. The clothes? Food in my teeth? I couldn’t remember when I’d last eaten. I wanted Paul to protect me, although he had no inclination that way at all. Helena was tall with dark hair mounded on her head, a long skirt that hugged her dancer’s body and looked like a metal worker’s apron. She had on black leather platform boots, and she was muscled from some kind of heavy lifting. “I was thinking about something when you walked in,” she said in diction cultivated on the Main Line. She had probably gone to Bryn Maur and majored in porn studies. Now, she was putting theory to practice. She assessed me, and from the slant of her haughty nose—which was surprisingly long and a touch equine, though she made it work for her, she could have made an elephant trunk work for her—I felt failed. I could have been projecting.

I was wondering about the name of our sex worker, as they say in porn studies curricula, when Helena said that Bianca was waiting for us in Cell Seven. Helena’s place retained a warehouse gestalt, with its metal freight elevator, poured concrete floors, and corrugated tin ceiling. She turned to lead us to Bianca. I stopped her and told her our actual purpose. Paul looked even more crestfallen than the last time, and I thought I was going to have to buy him a session at some point or I’d never hear the end of it. Helena said the same thing as Miranda, that I could have stated my real purpose on the phone and saved myself the cost of a scene, but that was crap, as they say in PI curricula.

We scampered behind her to her office at the other end of the loft and perched on a black leather couch. Helena’s skirt was slit high, and when she prepared to sit I noticed that her knees looked vulnerable, as if they were calling to each from different streets in a dangerous neighborhood and wondering when they could go home. Maybe she hadn’t always been cool. Maybe she’d spent some afternoons waiting to be chosen for kickball, her stomach churning as the names of girl after girl were lofted into the air and finally hearing, when it was down to two, “Okay, I get the retarded girl, and you get Helena.”

She sat on a high chair and looked down on us, folding arms that advertised the number of reps it had taken to build them and possibly the logo of the gym, located somewhere only her lovers got to see. I filled her in on Heddy’s disappearance and when she’d last been heard from. I said Heddy was not in trouble with the law, and I didn’t want to alter her course, just make sure she was okay for her mother and Dennis.

People seldom make me jump through hoops to talk. It’s the face, the unlikeliness of an aunt sidling up on a window seat and instead of asking about the job and the boyfriend, inquiring into the gun running and the crack whore. Helena did not have a life with window seats, but she exhaled. “Heddy, well Heddy is the most talented person I’ve ever seen, and I could never tell if it was easy for her because she didn’t care, wasn’t involved, didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t look at it. It depends on your temperament.” She smiled. “I’m interested in the scaffolding, the archeology, the Kubrickian star baby nub of my motives, and then I say fuck knowing and I unknow. Which is not the same as forgetting or never knowing in the first place.”

Paul looked like the best boy in kindergarten, waiting for directions to curl up in fetal position or fling himself into an orgiastic round of finger painting.

“You were saying about Heddy,” I reminded Helena.

“Regulars booked her weeks ahead, but she would disappear when she felt like it.” She snapped her fingers. “Vanish.”

Monday, May 30, 2005

Permanent Flux

Paul Davis and I talked about dismantling my house today. My house. He thought he might number some of the pieces and place them in storage for a time the firm would build another version of it. Then he said, “Maybe we should let it go and just remember it.” I thought my friend Esther, who works for the organization Women for Afghan Women, might need some lumber for their new office in Queens. She said they were set. Most likely my house will become a pile of stuff people can cart away, and some will be donated to Materials for the Arts.

The rubber smell of a library stool I climb up to my bed with triggered an image I used in the comic novel I’m writing about death and sex. When I was feeling doubtful one day, a friend advised, “Oh, just make sure you put sex in the book, and it will be fine.” I did.

Photographers from publications have taken pictures of the house and some with me in it, but I don’t have copies. Paul was going to take some shots, but it turns out he won’t be able to before he goes out of town this week. I said I didn’t mind, and I don’t.

Last Saturday, we gave our third reading, and a trio of regulars showed up again, wanting the next installment. One is a filmmaker who wrote and shot a movie in a month, so he’s particularly amused by our challenge. We had the biggest turn-out yet, and I think the three of us delivered our most relaxed performances.

After the guests left, Grant, Ranbir, and I sat in our loft by the open window. Actually, it’s a missing window pane, but never mind. Grant hung out of it, sucking on one of his last cigarettes, since quitting happens post-box. Ranbir snapped his fingers and talked about a man he used to sit on a bench with not talking. Occasionally one of them would grunt and look up and point to the dive across the street and say, “Looks like they need to fix the masonry.” The other would say, “Yeah, they do.” He said, in his mock-heroic murmuring delivery, “We had connection. We had an experience.”

We hear each other grunting sometimes in our loft. We were strangers, then neighbors, now, to me, collaborators on a book I hadn’t imagined before the installation began and is now a novel-in-progress. I have stolen bits of conversation and mannerisms from my mates for scenes. Talks I’ve had with several regulars who attend Flux Thursdays (weekly dinner/presentations) moved me to deepen one of the plots I’m weaving, involving a character who survives the attacks of 9/11 and decides to go missing, jettisoning a culture that has made him feel passive and enervated.

Before entering, I was asked if I’d feel nervous about reading raw work aloud and whether I felt competitive with the other writers. Were we in a contest? If one of us finished something or found a publisher first, would that matter? Glibly, I said no. But I did feel vulnerable after readings. Was my prose weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable? Grant has already finished a novel draft and is working on another. Ranbir intends to have a completed draft by closing. I’m ahead of schedule in that I’ve composed more than twenty pages and haven’t vomited. I’m spurred by their productivity and inspired by (also larcenously inclined toward) their accomplishments.

Today a journalist asked if I missed anything. I said I didn’t. I am happier here than in the life I left, partly because I’m part of a community rather than alone. I’m not saying I would like to live this way indefinitely. Nothing about the experience will be duplicable. But having a gaggle of people whose minds excite you to bounce ideas off and make work with—as do the Fluxies and the Flux extensions—is enviable.

I told Stefany I was sad my house would be dismantled. She shot me one her dry-eyed, get-real looks and said, “Everything at Flux Factory dies, like us.”

Some things are nowhere near dead, but you have to leave them anyway.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Intellectual Property

This blog will be fast, as I snatch a few minutes from the fiction story I’m concocting. There are multiple mysteries whose solutions I’m not sure about yet, nor if they can hang together. But what fun would an exercise like this be without the suggestion that the novel—well hung or a shreddy embarrassment—is obsolete? Last Sunday a panel assembled here to send the noble-but-dying thing off on an ice floe. Not everyone waved goodbye. The consummately gifted Myla Goldberg did not care if the novel was dead or if it no longer occupied the bull’s eye section of the public conversation. She was writing novels. “There’s alchemy in fiction between the writer and reader. The reader is changed, becomes sad by reading about sad events. The novel gets to draw on anything it wants to. The toolbox is unlimited.” Her next book is due out this fall. Three surpassingly intelligent and talented male writers were also on the panel: Tom Bissell, Josh Tyree, and Morgan Meis. Several expressed concern that writers might be dedicating their time and ambition to literary forms not that many people care about anymore. They go to nonfiction, among other venues, to check out the ways we live now. How many fiction readers are enough? If you throw a party that not everyone tries to crash, can you still get down? Maybe the smartest people around are devising computer programs that learn, and motion sensing technology, and nanobots that swim in blood and detect illnesses before they materialize. But doesn’t someone still have to mop up, giving form to tensions there are no answers or consolations for?

Speaking of mopping, maintenance of the Flux kitchen has improved. The table has been refinished, though the varnish wasn’t entirely dry when it was hauled back inside and two containers placed on top embossed the texts: Support Bottom, advice it is useful to be reminded of. A fair number of penis people have lately been sighted wielding sponges and paper towels at strategic sites. I’m not saying you should come here and eat on the floor or anything.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Napping on the Job

In some places, Flux Factory’s little novel experiment that wouldn’t hurt a fly is being likened to the monster that devoured Cleveland in its brutish, unnatural aim to foster Chia-fiction. Purely by coincidence, one of the resident writers, Grant Bailie, hails from Cleveland. In this week’s New Yorker, Ben McGrath wrote a “Talk of the Town” item alerting readers not of the dangers of laboratory engineered literature but of the laziness of part of its labor force. Me. Being a novice in the production of insta-fiction, I have humble expectations for my efforts. I am, however, proud of my capacity to stay awake. Awake is what I am good at. Ask anyone. If Ben had tried to make contact with me, I would happily have shown him my stash of melatonin, Unisom and Ambien tablets displayed prominently in my cabin to aid sleep. For anyone who cares, I have not met Ben McGrath, nor has he met me. (That I know of. What does he look like?) I was not called by Ben McGrath. I did not hear Ben McGrath knock on the door of my cabin, probably because I wear ear plugs and over them Bose sound reducing headphones most of the time. During the day, I don’t want to be disturbed by just anyone who happens along. At night, I'm protecting my fragile sleep. I do not nap. The blog he quoted was not part of a fiction piece and did not purport to be part of a fiction piece. It was titled "Things Found in the Kitchen of Flux Factory," part of my log of impressions of the residency. Like this one.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sticky and Tricky

The sticky table is being restored! Waxy varnish has been scraped, and the sanding is in progress. The surface is soft as skin, the grain a lapping wave. Ian says it must be varnished, but this time without wax. Sara says, “Women are doing the carpentry, and men are mopping the kitchen floor.” Stay tuned.

It was a weekend of visitors, creating a tug between the hive and the birds. Those attracted to the project have tended to be accomplished and open, so during visiting hours it was like having a cocktail party delivered. A question arose: “How has being here influenced your writing?”

The best part so far is writing, period. For long stretches. In proximity to two other pods containing silent workers. There’s an inaudible hum, a synergy in this slightly public but not interactive condition. In this way, my work is collaborative with the other writers, as well as with the designers of our habitats and with Flux Factory. More than one visitor likened this to a meditation circle.

I doubt my writing will be influenced by the content of what my companions are composing, but I’m spurred by the containment of my house and the seriousness of purpose the participants share. I felt that as soon as I entered—even before, watching the habitats go up. Being honored by another artist’s effort and excellence is an impetus to ante up, make the project sweeter with what I throw into the pot. No one is goofing off or wants to, though I’m sure I would be if I weren’t here. I’d be pouring myself into too many other containers. My insecurities would get the better of me. I feel them here, but being in my house or re-entering it if I’ve taken a break transforms my mood fast. I don’t think what I’m writing here is better than what I’d produce outside, rather that I’m motivated and able to keep going.

Architects think about the ways that space effects people’s emotional states and performance. I’m thinking about this more than usual in my little house, partly because I want to be a reporter rat for Salazar Davis, whose design creates tensions between exposure and concealment and between security and interruption. Paul visited on Sunday to participate in the artists’ panel and to spiff up the interior of my house. I now have two rubber and stainless steel library stools for stepping up to both ends of my bed, as well as a handle to open my door from inside. (Outside, to throw off visitors, the door is camouflaged as part of an exterior wall.) Paul installed eight double hooks for clothes and towels and built a shelf for an electric fan positioned to cool the bed at night and circulate air the rest of the time. We screwed in five more shelves between exposed two-by-fours, allowing surfaces for toilet stuff and books I’d stacked on my desk and the floor. Oh yeah, he brought a bouquet of peonies that stunk up the place real good. What a change. Moving things off my desk felt like moving things off my chest, the house an extension of my body, like a pilot’s cockpit, everything within arm’s reach or nearly so. The house is a body.

At the artists’ panel, Mitch McEwen, a partner in Tricky Ink with Kwi-Hae Kim (the designers of Ranbir’s house), explained some of the triggers for their fascinating visual conceits. They were interested in “the secret nature of a box” which led them to think about secrets in building structures, like cavity walls, and about espionage and the ways spies exchange messages in “dead letter boxes.” “The secrecy of writing appealed to me,” said Mitch, who wears her hair close-cropped and has an impish smile. She was sitting on her skateboard as she clicked images on her computer screen. The team used boxes in their construction, creating an exterior wall out of materials generally used inside. By building with packaging materials, they wanted to make visible in some ways the nature of building, comparing that to an idea in Flux Factory’s proposal, which was to make writing visible by letting people observe fiction writers.

A young man who attended the panel said afterward that he’d recently read Hebdomeros, the novel by Giorgio de Chirico, in which writing achieved a surreality equal to the paintings. Did that make the writing visible or did sentences produce sensations similar to ones stirred by a visual medium? The young man said that in a different way blogs expand the visibility of writing, by allowing a window into process—people posting work that isn’t finished and isn’t necessarily aiming to be reworked and polished. Through their comments, readers also affect how a writer might evolve a text, interactive technology enabling new forms of collaboration, authorship, and invention.

I said I was wary of publishing fiction excerpts I considered raw. I was discovering the plot of the thing I was writing now as I went along. He said readers of blogs knew how to approach text in this state. I suppose they see it containing cavity systems and dead letter boxes they can leave messages in. I am willing to experiment, though I don’t think writing can be made visible by watching someone compose in a box or anywhere else. For me it’s a solitary conversation between me and words I summon, fiddle with, and coax into meanings I intend and others I didn’t realize were there.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Fiction Excerpt

The working title is Indestructable Beauty. This is the beginning of Chapter Two.

Mom had smoked for sixty-five years. Sixty-five years of dreaming as she looked out windows with a cigarette, white smoke snaking around her beautiful face. Mom’s beauty was tenacious, like her smoking, a contrast to the formlessness of her desires. She said that nothing mattered, and depending on whether the thing she meant was trivial to you or something you cared about—like you, yourself—she could seem world-weary in a romantic, Bogart-movie way or clinically depressed. She watched her organs sputter and leak, a kid strapped to a scary ride. Still, whatever happened, she didn’t want to be cut open. The one time she had been, I was born.

She did not like things pouring in or out of her, not even a bead of blood from a paper cut. Even a small incision reminded her the flood gates could open. That’s why people faint at the sight of their blood. They know where it must lead, and yet they can’t believe it. They can’t believe it, because they know.

I tried on her ring. It fit the fourth finger of my left hand. A sense of peace came over me combined with the feeling of being nibbled by ants. It was as if I was marrying Mom. I read somewhere that people are most reliably who they are when they’re alone and don’t have to pretend for anyone else. With her ring, my fingers looked alien, as if they had more claim on things.

I thought wearing it would attract bad karma, whatever that was. I didn’t believe in karma the same way I couldn’t grasp the big picture, and yet actions had consequences. You didn’t need belief to see that. Who gave Mom the ring? I didn’t ask her, and she didn’t say. She disclosed information about her past with the enthusiasm of a spy in enemy hands. I didn’t even know much about her life with Dad before Becca and I were born, and Mom had no interest in probing herself. She would have been suspicious of her motives. I returned the ring to its plastic bag and secured it with tape, the way, as a kid, I’d masked tampering with the chocolate and chips Mom hid around the house. Somehow, they didn’t make her fat.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dream Houses

For many years, I’ve had a dream in which my house has no roof and I can see the stars and moon from my bed. There is always an element of anxiety in the exposure, and sometimes it’s really scary, the result of a skirmish or war. Mostly, though, I discover the public nature of my private space by accident. I turn a corner and realize my rooms aren’t enclosed, as I believed, but extend through hallways into a fuzzy area, like the lobby of a hotel. Strangers are floating around, in front of me or without my knowing, right there, outside and yet inside.

In a way, my house at Flux Factory is that dream come to life. My walls are translucent. When the lights are on, it glows. Shapes ghost by, beast or person, unclear. You can see the objects inside my house from outside, the closer the form is to the wall, the more distinct its outlines and colors. A barge of wood floats my bed high off the ground, and set underneath the mattress is a window spectators can look into and through which I can see them crouching along in a tunnel that clefts my domicile into two lobes of a brain. Sweeping up from my bed is a steep, carpeted slope that projects the inside of my house outside, through the kind of gaping, roofless opening I dream about. I sleep well. Granted, I know my neighbors, and the three of us have observed the quiet rule in our space. So far, I’m sleeping in the material form of my anxiety dream with less anxiety than in my apartment, with its solid, impermeable walls, where I have solitude. Maybe that’s how it always is with fear.

Though it’s far more elegant, Ranbir’s house reminds me of the forts I made in abandoned lots in childhood, out of crates and bricks and stuff, and it summons the houses under construction I used to play in when I was older in Lido Beach, where speculators went crazy building alongside the dunes. They were dangerous and irresistible: framed, but floorless in places, and open to the sky. We’d dare each other to leap from the second story into sand and soil mounded near two-by-fours. I jumped, because I was afraid, and the spaces became sexy. I didn’t break anything. There were early kisses in those lawless rooms.

Grant’s house is sprouting, and he reports he’s on a tear, producing “the freest writing I’ve ever done.” On Saturday when we moved in, the seed beds that cover the roof panels and create a garden in the front had the merest stubble. Now they are velvety fields of rye, clover, wheat grass, and vetch, tufting in patterns, like mini hedges in a maze. The lushness of the plantings combines with the rough but exacting carpentry to form a vibrating hub for our space. I once wrote a weird little fairy tale about a man turning into a tree. It wasn’t so nice for the man. I’ve had dreams, too, about floors made of grass—the outside and inside jumbled again but with different architectural elements. These dreams aren’t scary. They’re erotic, bodies plunked into growing aliveness, feeling the house as an extension of the flesh and vice versa, contained and uncontained, protected and unprotected. At the end of the movie Secretary, lovers who devote their lives to their sexual fantasies fling their naked bodies onto a marriage bed made of grass.

Last night was Flux Thursday, a weekly supper cooked by valiant and generous donors, followed by a presentation by a guest . . . a reading, a video, a slide show, a performance of an artwork in progress. This celebration was for Morgan, who successfully defended his philosophy dissertation at New School University and can now be addressed as Dr. outerborough fringe artspace macher terrible. The spread was plentiful and veg-centric. Nothing with a face or lips was served, unless you count an image of the Holy Virgin that appeared on top of one of the shitakes.

In my dream shared space, labor is divided equally between the penis people, the vagina people, and those with alternative genitalia. At Flux Factory, where everyone came of age in the grow light of feminism and other progressive rights movements, on paper chores aren’t parceled out according to gender. Everyone does a share of what’s required and also tolerates mess. Eighteen bodies plus their mates and friends and visitors carpet bathrooms with hair, track puddles from showers, fill garbage bags to overflowing, pile dishes with stuck food in sinks. Still, attempts are made, kudzu is hacked with machetes.

Sort of. There was all this food, platter after platter of sliced, oily veg dishes, cheese, fruit, pasta and mushrooms, bruschettas, a strawberry shortcake warship, I mean counters and tables covered with food, plus a zillion mismatched plates and pieces of flatware, glasses, and bottles of beer and wine. There were maybe thirty-five people max in and out, and after a couple of hours around fifteen were in the kitchen. The scene was a cyclone, a zoo. It was time to get in there scraping plates, covering leftovers, finding fridge space for them, emptying beer bottles, carrying stuff to the sink, setting up stations for washing, drying, and restocking. The women started to work. The men did not. The men needed to be asked to help, and then they did, some with more initiative and sense of purpose, others needing remedial instruction in the technologies of the sponge and paper towel. What the hell?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Conceptual Art Dinner

A fat perk here is that chefs and chef-like friends of Flux Factory cook dinner for the writers. I am the only meat-eater of the three, so I’m not being served anything with fur or feathers (unless you count tofu), though we have been getting fish. So far the meals have been inventive and delicious. We leave clean plates. Last night artist Miwa Koizumi prepared a meal that was also a performance and a witty commentary on packaging and transformations. Miwa likes unexpected combinations and throwaway containers for elegant contents. We had newspaper placemats. Our menus were written on paper towels that also served as napkins, and our four courses were presented in milk cartons, juice containers, plastic bottles, and jelly glasses. Normally solid foods were liquefied in surprising (and appealing) combinations. A corpse of white fish rested on a bed of ramps—a wild leek with small onion-like bulbs and green shoots that taste like scallions—under a blanket of béchamel sauce, all snugged into a milk-carton coffin.

Dan, one of the Fluxies, is writing a dissertation on the Federalist period in American history and is interested in the ways people respond to and assert authority. I cut a grapefruit for breakfast, slicing off the rind and pith and plucking out the seeds. (The day before, Sarah, another Fluxie, watched and said, “That’s so Food Channel.”) Dan ate Quaker Oats, as we talked about the authority of the project rules. I said I was pleased that some were working for me, although among them was not signing in and out on cards to keep track of the time we spent out of our houses. I’m complying out of respect for the plan, but the rule feels nagging and suggests that self-regulation is an anemic impulse. It is, Dan said, for some people. “If I were doing this, I’d play solitaire in my house all day. I have a conflictual relationship with work.” So do I, though it’s not about putting my shoulder to the wheel. I worry the work is no good. What has so far been useful is having nothing to do but work, gorging on it. Distraction is still possible, but it’s limited, and the limits are, as the Flux Factory designers imagined they could be, bliss. I also like the rule the writers have established that no one can speak in our domain, including us, except during visiting hours. Most of the time it’s pin-drop quiet, and Fluxies generally sleep late, which means we can, too.

Though perhaps the experience was meant to be something of an ordeal-—sadism-wise or body-art-wise—-it doesn’t feel like a proper dungeon. To blow-dry my hair, I have to haul an orange extension cable from the kitchen into the bathroom, but that’s what the Fluxies would have to do if they cared about fluffing. I don’t myself when it’s just us and visitors aren’t coming. It’s like living in your pajamas for a month without the ice cream and the depression. For exercise so far I am running or walking around the perimeter of the roof, sometimes with an umbrella if it’s sunny, looking demented.