Camille Roy


One of the forms of narrative I write is software. Itís lucrative. About four years ago I used stock options to buy a house right around the corner plus one block from one of the worst housing projects in San Francisco. A couple thousand people live there. It gives my neighborhood the highest child hunger rate in the city. Our first night in the house someone got murdered, just before midnight . It was a block a way but the shot sounded like it was in our back yard. One shot, a pause, then another. Purposeful. Somehow I knew it was intended to kill, and not just a couple of kids shooting at the moon. Plus the neighbor told us heíd had his car stolen 3 times.

Impenetrable poverty plus dumb fuck rules, class and race segregation: Iíd moved into the only San Francisco neighborhood that duplicated on a smaller scale what I grew up with. It annoyed me.

Locality, forever. Skewed. Something huge gets mutilated as it slides through a stuffy tube. Weíre on the beach very far to the west, watching what pops out. It contains all of American culture. I came here so tightly wound. Born on 43rd street south side Chicago & havenít been back since I left the hospital.

From my dining room window, at the rear of the house, the project looks strangely vacant. There just never seem to be many people around. The buildings proceed down the hill towards the old industrial port like giant shabby steps, but there is never anyone on the racks of balconies. Iíve rarely driven through it. Structurally, itís sort of a dead-end place, the way itís laid out, like a suburban subdivision: streets point into it, then twist up like spaghetti. The few drive-through streets are dotted with dealers scoping out the passing cars. Iím just talking about the roads.

When I first moved in I often found myself dreamily staring out the dining room window. I wanted to check out one of those balconies. The view would be amazing, they practically hang over the bay. Developers have been salivating over that piece of land for years. Nowadaze they are nibbling at the edges of the project, building expensive live work lofts for software designers on adjoining vacant industrial land. Itís weird. Different economic classes get spliced together via crimes. The mode of interaction being criminal. So one day I mentioned to a friend of mine that I didnít get it, how did dealers get kids to work for them—playing courier, or delivery boy. What would a dealer have on a kid? Why get involved with some jacked-up, scary asshole? I felt like an idiot as soon as the words left my mouth. Patiently, step by step, my friend explained how it was done, until I could have done it myself, as obviously he had. All I had to do was ask. Knowledge. The getting & taking and the tearing up. Did I want to go there?

Of course I did. One day I walked in, took a place on the balcony next to all of my friends & drank their salty water. I listened to the radio. I watched as a crack lady ran down the street behind a white dog. Then the dog was scratching at the door. When I woke up that sound was the shade, bumping against the window frame. And I was thinking, as I am always doing and my thinking told me this: This is what I want. Itís inside my system of attractions. Iím penetrated by the present and itís always the same: chronic anger. Awful but refreshing.

From up here, it is all visible. From down below, also. Radiant contradiction. Eyeballs: the severely vivid mechanism. Finally what is seen is not a target but just circumference, expanding. Highlights scatter across the field.

I walked into the projects a couple of weeks ago. Itís right around the corner, why not just walk? It was a friendís birthday. She told me where she lived, but it wasnít easy to find. The apartments didnít have numbers on them, you had to just know. I asked a bunch of people. Kids were running everywhere. How come I hadnít seen them from my back window? I look whiter than usual, I thought, looking at my hand. Up here and not even shopping, that made me odd. People looked at me skeptically. I felt skeptical about myself, but slick, as in greased. I wanted to fall off my little ledge. Bored with what had gotten dished up as myself. The backwash of swallowing it. That nausea.

The balcony was great. I hung with my friends and listened to the radio. They played that song I like, the one about money. Later we went out to eat birthday steaks.

California is shallow. Thatís true. Though it thrills me that I can walk across the city without getting beat up for crossing some invisible dividing line of racial turf. Of course I could get beat up for something else. Iím so easy to please. Itís the instability at the heart which is to say the heartlessness of just washing away faster.

Iím supposed to write about narrativity but these problems of locality are where I get started. For me writing grinds itself into whatís familiar yet unbearable. Add mobility to that and, voila, narrative. Disjunction is the formal consequence of this ripping and tearing, and itís packed with information, almost to the point of being insensible.

The streets I walk measure me. They measure you too, through mechanisms both criminal and friendly. Including that knowledge is a kind of spectacular innocence---the moment of saturation feels dazzling, but there is probably no point. Still I love it, formally and erotically and intimately. Itís all about nested structures. I entrust my twisted little pieces to the warm nest of the sick social body, and I feel our bond. It nourishes me.

To theorize my point of view, to pursue critical formalism as a ritual and as a grasp for power, let me put it this way. Narrative provides context so that the rupturing of identity is recognizable. I think we are impossible beings. We ruthlessly evade scrutiny, yet recognition is the beginning of transformative emotion. Itís a feeding process. You donít know if youíre creating a monster.

As a narrative writer I improvise recognition. Itís like a location from which mutant beings emerge. This feels true, in life they never stop emerging. Look---they even swarm through this text. I allow it because Iím terrified and seduced. To encounter them via narrative is to formalize a moment of surrender.

(An earlier version of this piece was presented at the Portable Talk Series, SUNY Buffalo.)

Issue One
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