Exposition, Rising Action, Epiphany, Resolution


I: Exposition

As I woke up, I looked forward to my morning ritual: continuing my fruitless search for a free wireless hotspot. I was about to call a number which would find me patched through from one person to the next, repeating my name and my query, my plaint and the last four digits of ‘my social’ (not media–security) in an increasingly querulous tone, a voice raising itself by degrees, raising itself to the pitch of madness, as one person after another, each one more helpless than the last, chased after my online identity, which sped around, changed costumes, refused to brush its teeth or tie its shoes, failed to get dressed in time for anything, and insisted that it be called by ever more complicated sobriquets that included pound signs, numbers, ampersands, and asterisks, demanding that at random intervals, letters in its name be capitalized, that, when spoken, these capitalized letters should be shouted – just the letter, mind you, separately from the other letters, somehow. A new accentuation, a new language, the language of passwords, which are meant to be difficult to remember, difficult to crack, impossibly nonsensical, that’s the language of entry, to the plane of immanence which I would pretend to try to enter, the internet. I kept my distance from its storied cofounders, whose invention confounds us all, but they lived not far from me when the thing took off, and I never trusted them. Their altruism, their utopianism, best laid plans, look where we are now, but I refuse to be confounded, I’ll be, instead, confounding, if not a cofounder, at least a confounder, floundering on the shoals of the visible world. It’s my morning ritual, or part of it. Get up, brush teeth, wash face, take vitamins, exercise, make tea, sit down, and try to pretend to get onto the internet foundering on its shores. I have my reasons.

That it would always end in the same way was part of it, necessary to it, with me giving up, having gotten nowhere (it was essential that I got nowhere) saying variations on the theme of “I can’t take this anymore” or “Please, just take me out of your system completely” or “I give up.” Things had heated up recently because every morning when I set out on my endlessly fruitless quest (it was essential that it be fruitless, that I get nowhere, as I’ve said) there was the additional frisson of another actor in the system, someone who was using my identity to get their own account it seemed, so that they too could go online, a double whose opaque presence was most dangerous not because it might access my so-called accounts (there was no there there) but because they, in their competence, in their fluency, in their bone deep kenning of how to manipulate the system to the nth degree, threatened to undo my spasmodic collaboration with those who I called every day, chatted with in hectored fragments and frustrated dullness, in pursuit of getting nowhere at the speed of light (that there should be a speed limit for the universe is a sign indeed).

We all, my interlocutors and I, relied upon each other’s haplessness to get nowhere fast. But now that there was this hacker, someone using my identity, a double who could easily work out exactly how to get what they were looking for, who had no trouble, in the first place, of course, getting online (my project entailed never being able to actually get online), let alone all of the other things they do, the nameless specters who haunt the internet waiting for opportunities, looking for chances to impersonate other people who fully intend to be online, (unlike me, who intends never to be able to get properly online, but only to be able to get online just enough to have extended, confusing interactions with people trying to help me to get online).

This double of mine had no clue that their intended victim, me, was unlike the other virtual selves out there. If they bit me, they would break their teeth, for I was more nothing than they could ever be. However, the trouble was they had succeeded, it seems, in creating an account online in my name. My rage this time was deep and genuine. By their competence they were undoing my project. They were ‘succeeding’ where I had ‘failed’ all this time. Of course, their real success was inadvertent and silly – there can be nothing simpler than getting online. But my project was centered on making all this impossible, for myself and for my interlocutors who, along with me, would be increasingly befuddled and hampered by numerous dead-ends, mixed messages, run-arounds, forgotten usernames, account numbers, forgotten passwords, and so on. Together we would fall between invisible cracks, and I would have their company as I airily bludgeoned myself on abstract limits with real consequences. But now what I had been working towards all this time (getting disconnected mid-sentence, being transferred to another operator, then disconnected, having already been on hold for an hour, etc. etc. etc.) was being sabotaged by my double.

But if they were going to succeed in becoming me online, let them, I thought. My only option was to become somebody else.

II: Rising Action

Her grey hair wiry and stiff, layered like filtered light, like light through a stone, the weariness of a work life – including the sensation she has more and more of being a sort of reaper herself although she is a traveling salesperson – but for what; what does she sell, really? She asks herself, in despair. What am I selling, really. She carries a thick black binder in a thick black briefcase.

The hat, also thick and black with an orange insignia, causes her head to sweat. The old blue work coat, worn from the decades, the tired sad eyes, the asides. It’s been thirty years and there’s ten more to go before retirement.

She speaks to a client of a family she’ll rejoin at the end of this most recent sales trip. They are all in Las Vegas.

But what does the word ‘family’ have to do with Las Vegas? It is not a place one associates with childhood. What does a casino, for example, have to do with being ‘raised’? Yet millions are raised there. Including her, whose weariness is so profound, whose frustration feels so unbearable and yet is all too ordinary. She speaks of a fish with eyes on its back, of moths, birds and squids, the grain of a table. The client will take Kronospine 4502984762# and they sign a contract for the work to begin in six weeks.

Back in her hotel room she draws the heavy curtains and collapses on the bed, curls up. The depressions are also ordinary, the wasted days, the squandered nights, the feeling of being stuck inside of a trap she can’t see, fight, or puzzle her way out of. The trap is ordinary, like repetition itself. No one put her there, except the entire world and the structure of her life which all of history led up to.

The planet was shattering, burning, everything falling apart. The only thing that didn’t fall apart was industry and its façades. She was a part of it. She didn’t know for the longest time. But now the façade was starting to slip. She knew the clients could tell. They looked at her with cautious sympathy. Her industry, clawing the last of the forests all into its mouth without pretense.

In private she began seeking a way out. The question was, how to escape the inescapable? Perhaps the thing to do was backtrack. How had she gotten here in the first place?

What was this trap made of? Was it so physical, after all, or was it metaphysical? Was it matter? Or was it a matter of perspective. Or was it objective?

Down the slot of the horizon goes the coin of the sun. And up it comes elsewhere, rising for the daily jackpot. Moved subtly forward by this celestial turning of the first countable thing, the promiser who keeps one promise, she, becalmed, at last, at least, can rest, and dream.

III: Epiphany

Desert sun; beach blue; no haze; no premonitions; this is not a rainy place, not an alleyway place, not an empty room with one chair place, not a staged place, not a single lightbulb could-be-an-interrogation-room could-be-a-break-room-in-a-train-station place. This is not a psyche waking up to itself waking up to itself waking up to itself, ad nauseam, not eternal recurrence, not a waiting room, not a repetitious place, not an epic, not an exhausted place, not a Bardo, nor is it a tragicomedy. If I were I to pause on these various negatives and assert what it is, what would happen? But I can’t do that because what this is . . . can’t be asserted. I can only assert what it is not.

For example, that it does not begin or end with one person, whose sentences don’t seem to begin or end, in which what is spoken aloud, or privately thought, are not always distinguished, which blurs the line between thought, speech, and exposition, the latter of which is considered important though what it is, I couldn’t tell you.

Here there are lots and lots of people (and now I am saying something I said I couldn’t say, I am asserting what this is, which I said in paragraph two that I couldn’t do, but of course I can, I can do whatever I want here!) sunning themselves on a beach, drinking wine coolers, and laughing with sunglasses on, flirting.

As I said, there are lots of them, and there is music, and people are kissing and dancing, and some people are talking intimately, while others are napping and still others are reading, though not this; not this.

Well, there’s one person, off in a corner by herself, looking a bit grim, she might be reading this . . . it’s hard to see what she’s reading, it’s an old red hardcover with no words on it, just tiny gold lettering on the spine, one of the old Knopf Everyman’s Library editions.

She’s not sitting on a towel, barefoot and bare skinned on the beach like everyone else, her black shoes are still on, probably full of sand.

She’s sitting on a bench right at the entrance of the beach, “bound to the bench”, as it were, her posture “stiff and set in the sharpness of its planes and angles, like that of the Colossus of Memnon, dearly loved son of Dawn.” She may be wishing she was at home, in a room, in a chair . . . she’s squinting, the sun is bright, she has no sunglasses, no hat, she might be getting too hot . . .

The others are dancing, drinking, dreaming of sex later, kind of already fucking in their minds, in their glances, whispering into each other’s ears, kissing, swimming, napping, slurping, taking a free cold shower in the concrete bunker where the public can get changed and rinse off, where, if there was a war, soldiers could retrieve armaments, or collapse, bloody and wounded, onto the hard grey cold floor. One young woman has a slight sunburn. She’s excited and not lonely. She wants to fall in love. She’s kind of in love with the idea of falling in love. Her hair has a purple stripe in it.

Later she’ll catch a ride, gossip in the drive back to her apartment, wave goodbye to her friends, run upstairs, collapse on the couch in a white sundress, masturbate, take a nap, a brief one, a disco nap, get ready to party tonight, meet her friends at the Palladium, have an espresso, she packs her pepper spray, she wears shoes that are sexy but not impossible to run in, she’s not naïve, she’s not getting raped or murdered tonight, not ever if she can avoid it, nor is she going to go on to solve crimes, be a detective in slacks and a polyester blue sportscoat, nor will she sit in an empty room, the empty room of frustration, of philosophical consciousness, observing her own mind waiting, waiting for something, waiting for someone, someone who never comes, because that’s just not true for her, someone comes, someone is coming, she herself comes, everyone at the beach comes, and she’s not waiting for that, she wants to fall in love and she’s not waiting for that, she’s looking for it, she’s going to find it.

The other one reading the old red hardcover, the one sitting off by herself with the black shoes on, she’s already in love, she’s in love with the girl with the purple stripe in her hair, who wants to fall in love. The one with the black shoes trudges to the bus stop, she doesn’t catch a ride, she doesn’t call a ride, she takes the bus, it’s a necessity, she has to economize, she rides the bus, reads on the bus, and thinks about the girl with the purple stripe in her hair. She knows they’ll all be at the Palladium tonight. She goes home and wonders what to do with herself. She’s not going to go to the Palladium. That would be uncomfortable for her, it’s noisy there, and crowded. But on the other hand, she feels pulled to go wherever the girl with the purple stripe in her hair is and it’s hard to think about anything else, though she tries. She has a premonition that she should go. With mixed feelings she sets out. She doesn’t want to spend money on the bus, but her bike has a flat tire. She starts walking. The street is full of puddles; it rained last night. One of her black shoes has a hole in it. Her right foot gets wet. A blister develops. She pauses and takes off her sock by a freeway exit. Cars rush by while she takes off her wet sock and puts it in the pocket of her greatcoat, her billowing trench coat. She thinks it will be better to walk without the sock, but it’s hard to say.

The girl with the purple stripe in her hair wants to fall in love, but she doesn’t know with whom. The person she is expecting to pick her up is here, they just rang the doorbell and texted. It’s time to party, so she checks her outfit in the mirror. She is really pleased, really very happy with how she looks, it’s hard to take her eyes off herself, it’s a pleasure to be beautiful, one of the joys of life, she makes a tiny adjustment to her eyeliner, and runs downstairs and hops into her friend’s car and off she goes.

Soon she’s dancing and drinking, and her friends are rubbing butts and pelvises dancing in a happy row, showing off, being ribald, being funny, but also being very serious about how pleasurable this is and how hot they are, this pleasure is not fleeting or elusive, it’s not momentary and disappointing, it’s not empty or cheap, it’s overflowing and profound, there is so much of it, it’s full of potential, it lasts all night, it fills everyone.

Dancing, drinking, singing, closed eyes, to take in the music better, feeling so alive as everyone converges together into the rhythm, bouncing, dancing all together, collective foreplay, bordering on orgy, she has another drink, she goes to the ladies’ room and pees rapturously listening to the boom, boom, boom through the walls.

In the bathroom she’s checking her lipstick and there in the mirror she sees someone seriously fucking hot who she’s always been attracted to, the one with the black shoes, haven’t seen them around in a while, they look you up and down, and then you make out, you take them home and fuck, because this is the 90s in San Francisco, it’s not a Beckett novel, where someone is trapped in the room of their mind, on the rainy streets of a cold, traumatized neighborhood, right after a world war, wandering loose in a cratered city, with a cratered psyche, unsung and alone, having no cheese, chasing no cheese, maybe having a cold black coffee, maybe not eating at all, maybe having a sip of water, and then trying to find a bike with a flat tire, or a bike that’s missing, and then finding a bike, and riding it around in a flapping trench coats, or greatcoat, or overcoat, or cover-me-down, whatever it’s called, “it covers the body all over, with the exception obviously of the head which emerges, lofty and impassive, clear of its embrace.” Alone, biking around unsteadily, but the bike is emblematic of something, it has plans of its own, that intersect with the plans of a bird of prey somewhere, or just a cormorant, perhaps a crow, on the bike, with no plans to meet anyone, and in fact not knowing anyone, it’s not clear where to go, maybe mother is around here, in a room somewhere nearby dying, might stop in, and sit next to her, is there anything different about that, but only if you can find out where she is, not possible, no this way and not that, no this way is not different, it’s not where she is, no, or anyone, no, yet, today, a year later, its summer again and there is a beach party, bathing suits are colorful, dolphins leap, this is California, a nude beach, people are naked, playing volleyball, their parts swaying, voluptuous rumps, the ball getting hit over the net, people running after it and laughing, the satisfaction of getting it over the net, the ball is desire, they are tossing it around, hitting it back and forth, chasing it, ass cracked open to the sun when someone bends over to pick it up, the sun shines right in, warming the whole centerpiece of the body, right from crack to smiling mouth, the sun shines through that mouth, gleaming, desire is right there, stoked, caught right in the hands, played, gamed, people half-drunk, maybe high, many people there are planning to go and fuck after this, and eat well-crafted tarts, swim, dive, fall down in the warm sand happily tired, but maybe there is one person on the sidelines, how did she wind up here, she’s not naked, she’s wearing a long coat and smoking, it seems dangerous to smoke in that coat, “for the sleeves of this vast rag are of a piece with its other parts”, in some way it seems like she might be about to set herself on fire with that cigarette, with the careless way she is flicking ashes onto the fringes of her coat, her own threadbare coat, and she looks strained, with a posture “completely lacking in abandon”, almost like a statue, she worries that fucking isn’t going to be in the picture for her, not any time soon, she might be stuck in the Beckett place, maybe she’ll never have sex, never, though she has fucked before, it’s been . . . an age . . . does she care, even? Of course, she does, in a way, or does she? She fucked the girl with the purple stripe in her hair last summer, a one night stand. She tried to keep it going but within three days it was over. Her bones were too sharp, it seemed, and her silences too discomfiting for the girl with the purple stripe in her hair. Also, when they went out for brunch the next day she got a rash, and a stomach ache from the food, staying up all night fucking made her feel so good, but then all the food they ate together the next day made her sick, the girl asked her, what are you allergic to? But it was harder to name the ones that didn’t make her sick, dairy, meat, grains, legumes, all of these make her sick, what’s left? Vegetables, fruits, not so easy somehow to eat, or find, she couldn’t find them, usually, or they were covered in slime . . .she would like to be at home, in a chair . . . she needed to rest, she left abruptly, she staggered home, later, next summer, at the beach, the girl with the purple stripe in her hair came up to her to say hello, what’s that book you’re reading she asked, that book . . .with the red cover and the gold embossed lettering on the spine . . . it’s the trilogy, the one that ends with The Unnamable, begins with Molloy, and has in the middle Malone Dies, what the fuck is she doing bringing that book to a naked volleyball game on the beach on a hot day with a perfectly blue sky surrounded by coolers of booze and lunch meat, baguettes and brie, brownies and grapes . . . she didn’t bring the trilogy to the naked volleyball game, she’s not even here for that, she said, it’s just a coincidence, she wasn’t invited to the game, she’s here because she thought maybe if she went to the beach she’d feel better, and she brought her book, she took the bus, it’s a long bus ride from her part of town, from the alleyway she lives on, but she took the bus, she couldn’t find her bike, her bike wobbled off to see about a bird, now she’s here, sans bike, it’s so fucking crowded, surprisingly noisy, she can barely hear herself think or even the waves above all the shouting, laughing, talking, music, joyful and sensual murmurs, it’s impossible to read, I can’t go on reading, she thinks, I’ll go on reading, she’s been on the same page since she got here, page 259 in the 1997 edition of the Samuel Beckett Trilogy with an introduction by Gabriel Josipovici who, without compunction, she thinks, described Malone as a “strange man”, which is in keeping, she supposes, with the Biblical exegetical tradition that critics are after all inheritors of, that is, the tradition of treating imaginary beings as if they are real, as if their word is, so to speak, law, she can’t seem to progress to page 260, I can’t go on, she thinks, maybe I’d better go home, she reads on, “ . . . though clothes don’t matter, I know, I know, but he’ll never have any others . . .”. The girl with the purple stripe in her hair sits down next to her, she’s a bit interested again, she offers the one in the black shoes an orange, surely that will be safe to eat, yes it is, it’s safe, and they start to kiss, like they did last summer in the bathroom at the Palladium, only this time the girl with the purple stripe in her hair doesn’t find the bones of the girl with black shoes too sharp or her silences discomfiting and things can continue for a while, for quite a while.

There’s a place for the black-shoed one in this multiverse after all, she who wandered between literature as silence, and a naked, laughing, orgiastic volleyball game, this is not entirely one or the other, this sometimes-sensuous, sometimes happy world in which desires are sometimes fulfilled and one is not always stuck in the lonely trap of one’s mind, or the helpless frustration of illness, only sometimes. This place that does not single out solitaries in great coats, traversing existential caverns of space by means of black wings and bikes, who address their own minds, “Dear incomprehension, it’s thanks to you I’ll be myself in the end” and then leave them there, waiting for Godot forever, not because there is no incomprehension here, there’s total incomprehension here, but incomprehension doesn’t rule out a naked volleyball game, there’s going to be fucking later, there’s a little bit happening already, there’s also wine coolers and quesadillas, there’s a goodly number of hot dogs, pretzels, and some oranges to be peeled, the peels to be tossed by carefree, supple arms, left to curve sinuously on the beach, bright, surprisingly bright, half-spirals in the sand.

IV: Resolution

Don’t think of yourself as happy when you are happy, rather think of yourself as making happy materials. Happy is inseparable from happy. As an act, happy making is moving towards happy materials and the happy, they are happy producers, happy making happiness into existence. No happy, no happiness; no happy maker, no happy materials. Sadly, it is not necessary to be happy to make happy materials or to be a happy maker. The sad clown exemplifies this strange fact: that happy makers are sometimes martyrs. Sometimes unwilling martyrs, as in factory workers who make balloons, other times willing martyrs as in the parents of small children.

Which is to say, happiness is at all moments inseparable from happy frequencies which can be moods, feelings, and sensations while happiness materials, such as balloons, fizzy beverages, and desserts are intended to be happy producing, although they are not always. As happiness always happens for the happy during happiness as well as, often, after happiness (in the remembering of happiness), so the happy can really be considered knowers of happiness whose happiness produces, however imperceptibly, what can be called original happiness material.

But what, you may ask, if I am happy not to produce happy materials but just to be happy for the sake of happiness? Even if you are only happy for the sake of happiness, in the act of happiness, even if you are happy in solitude, with no thought of making happiness materials, you are still producing happy materials in the act of happiness. Even if you never go back to recollect the happy materials you produced, in the act of happiness, you’ve in fact been happy, which is to say organizing your thinking, shaping, enacting, formulating, and rendering, in the real time of happiness, and causing happiness frequencies to arise.

You can’t be happy without happy materials, be they ever so immaterial, so you’ve produced happy materials whether you have happy materials in mind or not. But then, what is happiness, and what are happy materials? In the act of happiness, happy materials are one thing. In the act of happiness production, happy materials are another. Happy materials are what haps when the happy are uplifted, comprehending or uncomprehending, sense making or nonsensically, skipping, skidding, sliding, dipping, flying, dropping, gliding, diving, swooping, submerging, and so on in the happiness frequency. All these things happen and more when we are happy, for happiness is a more commodious realm that is generally thought to be. Happiness is common.

The difference between the happy and the happy materials producer is that the latter may easily be unhappy trying to anticipate and read the minds, and produce the happiness, of others; they are like the people who move the sets around between acts of happiness; the ones who run the lights, who clean the floors of the stage. They are the caterers in their black shirts, the hostesses, sweepers and the tent raisers, the waiters and the deliverers, whose own happiness in a given moment may hold more intensity and glow than any occasion to which they are given to lend their time as laborers in the fictive fields of happiness, where the real and the imaginary do not separate for even a moment. They are the workers who produce happiness materials by attending to and imagining how the happy might be induced to have happy feelings. They try to read the future and the past. They try to understand people’s happiness. In this manner the happy materials producer, producing materials for happiness, may or may not be happy, and may or may not produce happiness in the world. What is more certain is that the happy are certainly happy, including them, and the happiness materials they produce in their moments of happiness within the happiness frequency is an epiphenomenon of their happiness, rather than the intended outcome of any happiness production process.

There is an intimate anonymity between the happy and happiness materials: it can be hard to know whence happiness materials, the highest frequency happiness materials are as ethereal as a breath, as ephemeral as a droplet.

In other happiness frequencies, the most intimate things may be said, intensities may be felt and known, recognitions, revelations, reverberations, transformations in the common, quotidian experience of public joy, and happiness can make ordinary talking, interacting, social experiences shimmer, while the absence of happiness can make even occasions intended for happiness, in which happy makers do their utmost to make happiness, wan in comparison. That is to say a moment of happiness arising as if from nowhere in the most ordinary of moments like a fragrance of a plant that flowers once only in your presence in a transitory manifestation like an incommensurably lovely verse sung only once transmitting more joy in a single second than any plotted scheme of happy-making, grim with the effort of happiness production, which, as this essay tries to point out again and again, is altogether incommensurable with happiness in fact, as an arising that may or may not have anything to do with happiness production.

We try to increase the odds of happiness by seeking out happiness materials and happiness production areas. We may spend money in search of happiness, and we may find only unhappiness, whereas we may find happiness at random somewhere, free for the taking, as un bespoken as a stick on the ground or a dried leaf, as common a matter of general unnoticing and indifference as a speck of dust. We may pick it up, this common, unnoticed, and unsung happiness and have our lives changed—for a moment or forever.

Before mass happiness, happiness frequencies were thought to be the property of very few whose class categories were arcane, their titles forms of suspicious magic, their entitlement to happiness was a conjury of inheritances. Possibly these titles were a problem, distracting from happiness more essential, happiness that came from friendly knowledge of plants and animals, seasons and skies, water, and ground. These titles were a problem too when people who could find happiness without them unknowingly waved their happiness in the face of the happiness entitled and revealed the fact that happiness qua happiness superseded titles, be they genealogical, political, religious, or legal. Such free happiness was seen by the entitled to be expropriating them of their happiness, which relied, so they thought, upon others being unhappy, such was their misunderstanding of happiness. Quite understandably a violent hatred of the free nature of happiness took hold of the entitled classes, who denounced the happiness of the unentitled feeling that it ruined the point of entitlement. Just like a volcano, a hurricane, a tidal wave, or an earthquake, common and spontaneous happiness of any creature at all could come along and destroy everything for those who hoped to own happiness. Therefore, they did everything they could to make it impossible for others to be happy, mystifying happiness and going to great and relentless lengths to produce conditions for the greatest unhappiness, cutting off access to the places where the conditions of possibility for happiness flowed and flowered at every bend and turn of the river. Bitter was the mood then, and so it still is. To live happily ever after was all that was left, a deferred happiness in which it is only the blank pages coming after the phrase ‘lived happily ever after’ followed by ‘the end’ that happiness is written, invisibly.

Miranda Mellis is the author of Crocosmia (forthcoming, Nightboat Books), The Revolutionary (Albion Books, 2023), Demystifications (Solid Objects, 2021), and The Instead, a book-length dialogue with Emily Abendroth (Carville Annex, 2016) as well as The Quarry, The Spokes, None of This Is Real, Materialisms, and The Revisionist. Her honors include an NEH fellowship, the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction, the Michael S. Harper prize, and residencies at the Millay Colony, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. She was a co-founding editor of The Encyclopedia Project with Tisa Bryant and Kate Schatz. She was trained as an interfaith Buddhist chaplain at Upaya Zen Center. Originally from San Francisco, she now lives in the woods in Olympia where she teaches literary arts and ecological humanities at The Evergreen State College.