My favourite moments from the preview of SELFIES

I read the preview of SELFIES that is readable online. The bit that made me laugh out loud hardest:

I take a black krink pen out of the inside pocket of my denim jacket and make my mark on the bathroom wall. I write SHE SHE. That’s been my tag ever since I moved back to the city. Fuck. I hate people who call it the city. I watch the ink dry and wonder why I do this. I used to know, or at least pretend to know, but now  it’s just a habit. I take out my cell phone and snap a photo of my  tag. Another dumb habit.

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU DOING IN THERE, JERKING OFF?!”

I am alarmed to realize that the crappy shoe dude never left the
room. He’s standing outside the stall. I am confused.

“I know what you just did, man. I can smell the ink,” he says,  quieter this time.

“I’m jerking off,” I say and suddenly he hoists himself up and
peeks over the wall.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” I stutter. I’m not very good at being aggressive. Also, it’s difficult to sound tough with your pants  around your ankles. He lets himself fall back down.

“You don’t even have a boner, you flaccid fucking liar. Who the  fuck pretends to jerk off at the library?”

This is so weird.

“This is so weird,” I say, “Please go away.”

“No.”

I’m kind of freaking out. This dude is pretty young. I don’t think he’s really mad about the tag, but I guess he might snitch if he’s an asshole. I would rather not get into trouble for tagging again. I am old now. That would be pathetic.

I’ve read this passage several times over now, and each time I have giggled at the pure perfection of telling a strangely aggressive person in the library bathroom to “Please go away”. I suspect it’s entirely a coincidence, but the line is the same as the tag from the fantastic Sexpigeon tumblr that Steve Swift introduced me to a long time ago now. The same aesthetic is present in both, though. Something strange and weirdly confected but in a way that is kind of true to life. Or truer to life, like a Werner Herzog film full of all its little invented lies that collectively add up to more truth than capital-T truth would ever tell.

Anyway, this little anecdote is exactly the kind of thing that is so fucked up and perfect (which happens to be a running theme of the stories in SELFIES) that it either actually happened, or was an amalgamation of several real things that happened. Whatever the case, it has the ring of truth – and hilarity – about it. Even if it were entirely invented  by the author, Robert Duncan Gray, it remains just really good vignetting (which is another feature of the short stories in the preview).

Another excerpt, from the short story ‘HAZEL’ by Hazel Cummings:

in the blink of an eye you are twenty-four and you’re working temp jobs, answering phones, inputting data, and no one is fucking you, and the emptiness you feel in your vagina seems to stretch up into your stomach and then into your chest and you feel like a shell of a person, like a mannequin or a scarecrow or a deflated fuck doll left out by the dumpster.

you start writing again after a year and a half of ignoring the urge, fiction this time, but you show no one, convinced that you never had a lick of talent to begin with, writing just for you.

you meet a guy, but when he takes you home his dick doesn’t
work and he blames you and you agree with him.
one of the offices that you’ve been temping at offers to hire you on as an actual employee, and you accept the gig even though you’d rather jump off a bridge.
you work five days a week, 9 to 6, with a forty-five minute
commute on the bart each way.

you drink a lot, alone, and watch things on the internet, and take quizzes (omg you fucking love quizzes, love knowing which muppet you are and which mad man and which simpson character and which types of men you should avoid and which sex and the city girl you are most like in the bedroom). you get a facebook, and a tumblr, and almost instantly you find a whole network of people who claim to be poets and authors, except just like you they are talentless, but unlike you they don’t seem to know it, or they pretend not to know it, an entire community of naked people claiming to be dressed in the finest of fabrics, all of them pretending that posting things on facebook is the same thing as being published. there is a part of you that sees how empty it all is, a part that recognizes the futility of this thing they call “alt lit”, but you find that you like the lies that the kids tell each other, and you decide that you want to be a part of it.

The spectre of autobiography hangs over the whole collection – how much of an autobiography are each of these stories, really? How much is actual (the emotion described by each is utterly felt, at least by me, the reader and I suspect also by the authors) and how much is an idealised what if? The stories inter-relate in (so far) slight ways, but it seems like something of a fairly massive undertaking to line up seven authors to co-create something like this, which makes the project seem more speculative – what if this online community wasn’t just a Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter thing, and what if we all did live in the same city (i actually haven’t checked but I would bet the authors do not all live in SF) – would anything be different? It seems to speak to a yearning for community and connection in the (quote-unquote) real world… while also (at least in the case of HAZEL presenting as an explicit critique of the practises of ALT.LIT (which I have also made here on this blog and in MEAT CONFETTI vol1).  There is also no gesture to the political dimension to cohabitation and proximity, as in the #occupy movement and the direct democracy struggles of 2011-12. But ALT.LIT is rarely, if ever, explicitly political and the refusal to acknowledge the politics of their own refusal to be political seems to be the cause of a lot of grief within and without the community (HAZEL gets towards some of this; expresses the aimlessness of directing critique at the ungrateful – what is a critic but one who truly cares enough to criticize?). HAZEL gets real pointed right as it switches from second person to first, in the kind of stylistic gymnastics that most writers could never dream of pulling off mid-article:

except, of course, this isn’t you. this desperate person, this failed poet, this unloved daughter, this woman filled with hate. there is no you, only me. i was the one who was 18 and then 22 and then 24, and now i’m even older, like 25 and a half or something, and my whole existence takes place on the internet, because as much as i hate it i just can’t look away

Apparently it’s going to be a proper novel. This teaser is kinda good, though certainly a few of the authors are stronger and their voice stands out more than others. Some of the other stories have the feeling of trying a little too hard to find meaning in ennui, which is slightly safer, less interesting. But even these tend not to wear out their welcome, whether the format and collaboration can survive book-length treatment will be interesting to see.

SELFIES the pdf preview is free and NSFW for both images and words.