‘This isn’t a novel, this is a film. A film is life.’ Weekend (1967), Jean-Luc Godard
‘I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.’ ‘The Mystery Box’ (2007), J. J. Abrams
‘How Can We Finish a Book, a Dream? … What happens at the end of a text?’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (1993), Hélène Cixous
Last night I dreamt I was touring with a vaporwave musician. In the dream, I was a VJ, or more specifically my job/reason for being on this tour was to perform a live solo VJ set at each concert, but I kept finding myself lugging my open and possibly broken suitcase down labyrinthine hotel corridors, trying not to lose clothes out of it, trying to remember where my room was, trying to locate my room key by repeatedly patting my pockets and losing touch with my suitcase. And then ruffling the contents of my suitcase, roughly scooping it all back into my clamshell (suitcase) again and trying to remember, or more accurately, (since I’ve never tried it in waking life), imagine how to VJ. Lucky for the suitcase dragger, moi, early tech issues meant that my set was pushed back and then cancelled on the first two shows. So I was relieved but becoming increasingly fearful about what would happen when it was my time to… shine. I carried on pulling my broken suitcase down confusing passageways.
I found that most hotels we stayed in had amazing buffets free for guests. Instead of investigating my role as a VJ, figuring out if I had the tools, the files or the software that I would require in order to perform: I ate crab all day. Crab and, after a tip-off from a staff member regarding their deliciousness, I began to pair the crab with gourmet ‘edible mini clothes pegs’ which tasted corny and woody, and that I now, awake, suspect were probably meant as just a garnish, or maybe a surreal play on Melba’s mini toast.
I have been reading some Katherine Mansfield this week, after reading Ali Smith’s ‘The Art of Fiction No. 236’ interview in The Paris Review (2017) in which she talks of only truly getting Mansfield’s work once she was jet-lagged in Brazil, where she came to understand the condition of Mansfield’s writing:
distance, foreignness, knowing you’re out of place or in limbo, between countries, selves, times, people, psychologies, histories, and however much you feel at home, you’re fooling yourself, and however strange you feel in the world or in the work, it’s natural, it’s the most natural thing.
In waking life I am not, nor have I ever been, a VJ. As the dream-tour wore on I became more and more anxious, which caused me to collect more and more buffet crab and do more weird luggage-dragging—anything as distraction from the fear of my professional role. Finally, I woke up before having pressed play on anything at all. The dream never ended, just as it never began. In dreams one is prone to emerge fully in situations. No entry point is necessary, maybe a stumble or a gasp, but probably just you weren’t and then you were. The closest I came to playing with a digital display was approaching the RFID reader on my hotel room door with my sometimes-in-the-pocket-I-just-checked electronic key.
Upon waking I remembered hotels I had seen in films and TV. Personal Shopper (2016), in which Kristen Stewart texts would-be ghosts in needy and uncomfortable ways, the ‘International Assassin’ episode of The Leftovers (2015) in which Justin Theroux emerges from a bathtub in a hotel room and is instructed by a plaque on the door of the wardrobe to ‘Know first who you are then adorn yourself accordingly’ (Epictetus said) in order to move through a near-death/purgatory/dream sequence. Later in the episode, the character’s father contacts him through his hotel room TV screen, by setting fire to a bed in a matching hotel room in Perth. The Shining (1980), scary. The Conversation (1974), hypnotic. Bachelorette (2012). Chungking Express (1994). Rebecca (1940). Lost in Translation (2003). The Lobster (2015). I have a feeling Haruki Murakami has a hotel in most of his books from the 80s, and definitely in Dance, Dance, Dance (1988). Dolphin Hotel. Hotels are purgatory. Hotels are liminal. Hotels are numb, and anon. Hotels are a holiday, an escape.
Hotels and dreams are only half real spaces. Sometimes stories feel this way too. In a tweet (2019) writer and consultant Venkatesh Rao defined ‘surreal’ as ‘underflowing with life’. ‘Flow containers that signal more elan vital capacity than is actually flowing through them. That’s why “spaced out and disconnected” are good descriptions of the subjective state and why the paintings feel empty.’ Showers are half real spaces too, it’s a personal waterfall, you probably don’t bring your phone in with you.
Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series made me feel like I could breathe underwater. Butler’s sharp and thorough descriptions of characters’ supernatural abilities, their telepathies, their reincarnation processes and systems of psychic interconnection, feel contagious, like they could be transmitted simply through the act of reading about them. Through the process of reading the four Patternist books I felt as though I was developing presentience; I knew what would happen just before it did, like, my housemate is about to switch off the kitchen light, that guy in front of me is about to slip on slushy ice, I’m about to get a text message. I knew it. Butler wrote systems in the late 1970s and early 1980s that feel like the digital structures we are now enmeshed in. Conversations conducted over The Pattern, in Patternmaster (1976)—the first book Butler wrote in the Patternist series but the final book chronologically— a psychic mesh maintained across a specially bred group of telepathic humans, feels suspiciously like how much of the world currently use networked computing. Or, if the apps you habitually use don’t feel like they’re inside you yet, how they might feel once interfaces go fully in-ear, in-mouth, underskin.
I love the poem ‘Disillusion’ by Eileen Myles, and especially how they read it. How Eileen’s perfect delivery in text and in speech is both controlled and chaotic, assertive but very relaxed about it. The first two lines zoom from the planetary ‘sometimes I forget what country I’m in’ to the personal ‘I could write poems in bed’, to later on, the damp colouring book left outside:
it outside now you want to save
Eileen’s voice leans across multiple ages and time zones, like listening to the Times Square (1980) soundtrack while wearing Heattech, but probably in a country you haven’t been to yet.
I read The Three-Body Problem (2008) by Cixin Liu alongside ‘Something that has Nothing to do with Nature’ (2016) by Nina Kock on Worm Hole, and dreamt about strange suns. Recommended. Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) made me feel so tired I dropped my Kindle, dead asleep, at 11 a.m. on the sofa.
I read Lucy Ives’ Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World (2019). It’s a campus novel set in 2003, a story about writing, for writers, for sure. Loudermilk and his sidekick Harry Rego have effectively faked their way into a prestigious postgraduate writing program similar to Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The story feels like a refix of some of Bret Easton Ellis’ early work, including campus novel The Rules of Attraction (1987) or Glamorama (1997), but written by someone who still gets how the world works. Some of the characters in Loudermilk are big and cartoony. Loudermilk himself has orgies and wears a neon pink trucker hat, and lives with Harry in a house with a toilet, unwalled, in the centre of the living area. Unbeknownst to Loudermilk his adversary, Anton Beans, is a pumped-up winner outraged at Loudermilk’s in-class success. The poems and stories by characters written into Loudermilk create a hypnotic, looping effect that permeates the storytelling. Ives crafts fictional just-post-9/11 poetry, ghostwritten by one character for another, replete with cynically militaristic terminology, titles like ‘Natural Bush’, and shallowly-deeply resonant lines such as ‘Military leaders lead themselves’ and ‘The person was a civilian status’. The stories of Loudermilk’s secondary characters—such as Harry’s difficult childhood memories, and Clare Elwil’s struggle to follow up on her early literary success, suspended by the unexpected death of her father—contrast with Ives’ construction of a clown-ish Loudermilk, creating depth and drama in what could have otherwise been a cheesy Bush-era period piece.
During an intense Skype call I absent-mindedly coloured the bezel of my Kindle in a rainbow gradient, and then didn’t use it again for three weeks. When I pulled it out again I was shocked by this new toddler style for my Kindle. I’d used Muji pencils that are so waxy they make paper shine almost reflective when you press them hard into the page, and they did the same to the edges of my Kindle; my baby-toy parody of an Ereader. I try to select OpenDyslexic font for most things I read. I haven’t been diagnosed with dyslexia, but the grounded, fat bottoms on each letter allow me to read faster and not skip lines. It looks sweet, like groovy flares mixed with an Art Nouveau—almost Arnold Böcklin—typeface style.
I got another clue to my hotel/crab/VJ dream watching Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), in which an elderly physician, Professor Isak Borg, travels to be awarded a Doctor Jubilaris for 50 years of post-doctorate practice. Borg drives across Sweden with his daughter-in-law, stops at his childhood summer home, picks up hitchhikers, has a minor accident, and takes naps along the way, having vivid dreams and hallucinations about his most tender moments and his deepest failings, while his daughter-in-law drives. In one dream, he sees his long dead wife’s disappointment that Borg did not demonstrate a passionate response to her confession that she has been with another man. In another, he must pass a test in front of an audience, and when he isn’t able to, he is found by a dream examiner ‘guilty of guilt’. Isak is forced by his nightmares to rethink his life, and his relationships, leading to a Dickens’ A Christmas Carol-esque cluster of heart-to-heart discussions with those closest to him, in which he attempts to repair the damage that his life-long closed off nature has inflicted on his family, though unseen by his wider community.
Sometimes dreams give you what you need to move on, to bring into your life what has previously only existed, abstracted, in feelings. And sometimes dreams tell you to eat crab and block your vaporwave responsibilities, while reminding you that the etymological root of vaporwave is vaporware, technological products that have been announced to the public but that the developer will never produce. Like the opposite of the ‘cyberspace’ that William Gibson envisioned in 1982 in a piece of short fiction, expanded in Neuromancer (1984), that has come to populate our lived realities so deeply: ‘Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation’.
In Mind of My Mind (1977), the second book in Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series, a character refines her skills in psychometry—the reading of the history of an object by touching it—to the extent that non-psychometric telepaths can also read the history of the objects she has touched. Another character describes the power of this invention: ‘A new art. A new form of education and entertainment—better than the movies because you really live it, and you absorb it quicker and more completely than you do books. Maybe.’
Isn’t all fiction vaporware? The ultimate design tool? A crude form of psychometry? If dreams are like writing in pencil, then writing stories is like making lives flow forever, kind of suspended, in fewer than three dimensions.
Holly Childs is a writer and artist exploring how computation and technology play with memory and emotion, and vice versa. Her research centres on geography, poetry, feeling, and scale. Her most recent work, an evolving performance series for greenhouses made with J. G. Biberkopf, is Hydrangea, a myth about myths, in which every flower is a story in a forest containing never-ending branching narratives. Other recent works include writing for Angela Goh’s Uncanny Valley Girl, and the co-creation of Patternist, an augmented reality sci-fi urban exploration game. She was a postgraduate research fellow in The New Normal 2017 programme at Strelka Institute, Moscow; and holds a Masters of Fine Art and Design from Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam. She is the author of two novels: Danklands (Arcadia Missa) and No Limit (Hologram).
 Vaporwave is a micro-genre of electronic music from the early 2010s, typified by its nostalgic ‘chill’ sound and pixelated Greco-Roman/katakana aesthetics. The name ‘vaporwave’ is one letter away from ‘vaporware’, which is a product announced to be released, that is neither released or officially cancelled. Things that exist in concept alone. Like fiction.
 Video Jockey, like a DJ (disc jockey) but using visuals instead of sound.
 on the New Yorker poetry podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/uy/podcast/eileen-myles-reads-james-schuyler/id784600888?i=1000375610308
 Yes, Ant on Beans.