“Reality is in the details.”
—Chris Kraus, I Love Dick

“Attention is the sincerest form of generosity.”
—Simone Weil

I knew something was wrong when I fucked numb. The lover’s name was French, and he is beautiful. I knew him first onscreen, from his role as a queer teen in a seventies-set 2005 film. Eight years later, he started followed me on social media. He kept liking my Instas and Tweets. I thought, “he’s beautiful.”

We met in a basement restaurant, red lit. We drank sake. We talked. On a second cigarette break, he leaned in and said, “While you were in the bathroom, you won’t believe this but, this guy at the table, you know the one with the girl who kept looking our way? He came over and whispered, ‘just kiss her already.’” We kissed. Applause. The table stood behind us.

We slept together twice. “You’re bigger than I thought,” he remarked, the echo from my pussy bouncing back and hitting him in the face—no, he meant my overall presence. “You look so small on—”. I didn’t spend the night.

Next month, I visited his city on a whim; a friend happened to be driving that way. His home had three floors, one near-empty save for four skateboards. We had sex, but I wasn’t there. I saw from afar like in that love scene from Annie Hall. Annie to Alvy (Woody): “Oh, you have my body,” her out-of-it spirit insists from across the bedroom. I watched our moves: porno basic, photogenic.

The numbness followed me home. I watched myself watching myself. Thinking he’d get it, I told one of my crazier friends, “I feel like I’m living in a movie.” He suggested I seek psychiatric help, or run laps.

What helped eventually was a strip club, Pumps, one of the few bill bars in New York. There, I found presence. The present of two girls, two songs, two dances, one round of tips, repeat. I’d sit at the bar with a lapful of dollars and a beer and watch dancers multiply in mirrors. My presence was commanded at Pumps; I couldn’t take pictures, dared not Tweet.

To live in a big city and/or online is to live in a space which promotes the near real time. Instagram isn’t really instantaneous. On it and Twitter etc., I may feel like I’m connecting with the moment, but the moment is always at least a couple seconds off. In New York, I watch the touristic (they could live here) archiving their present, like snapping selfies in front of MoMA’s monuments. When I really lived this city, participating in its calendars (the fashion weeks, film festivals, comic cons, book and art fairs), I rarely felt right here, right now; seemed like everyone was always coming from or going somewhere better, working towards or recouping from some goal.

“Anxiety,” Kathy Acker wrote, “is time gone wrong.”  It is an “expectation emotion” (Ernst Bloch’s term), generally future-oriented, though the past can fold in. Anxiety—the worry of what may be, usually in a multiplicity (anxiety spins)—is not sexy. I, at least, have felt neutered by its strangle. Breath is cut short in anxiety. Breath: the body’s natural clock (and a synonym for “life,” look it up). Breath is essential to the female orgasm. “Conscious rhythmic breathing,” as per orgasmaguru Annie Sprinkle. “The single most important key to sex.”

Reblogged again and again on Tumblr are gifs designed to guide your breath out of an anxiety attack. In one, a dot stretches to become a horizontal line, which unfolds to become a triangle, from which a square is sprung, followed by a pentagram, a hexagram, and a septagram, each shape snug within a final octagram. The motion then reverses, back down to the dot. It takes 150 frames and 9 seconds to rise and fall, a slow lung-full in and out.

I skim symbols. That’s much of my online. 369 unread e-mails in one of three inboxes, 181 pages saved to-read in OneTab. I wonder how many miles of content I scroll through on an average day, between Tumblr, Twitter, Democracy Now, Instagram, Etsy, and the rest… Endlessly curious, I take in in in in. (I’ve always wanted to be in other people’s heads.) The Internet suggests the infinite. There’s always more; that’s a reason to live. I’m seduced to this illusion of immortality (my avatars may outlive me). I do “connect.” But sometimes, increasingly, lately, after time online, I feel cut off—from my body, it’s senseless, except around my skull: there there’s sound, motion, ghosts thereof, streaming in hyperdrive. I notice: I’m holding my breath.

I think it was the motion of the dancers. Their rhythmic grind.

Frequenting Pumps I started thinking about “In Real Time” (IRT) as an alternative to the then-common phrase “In Real Life” (IRL). IRL is a misnomer. It’s meant to mean not online but online is as real as off, and what is life? IRT—the acronym, I’d repeat—brought my awareness to my awareness. I noticed my stresses stream through me. I noticed my impulse to e-mail in lulls. I aimed rather to experience the immediate. From Pumps, I can still remember: a tongue ring, a hair line, a scowl; my broken chair back, my Budweiser’s sweaty neck, which girls made me sweat; who at the bar didn’t tip, who drank how much, and how the corpulent bouncer ate his fries—slick with ketchup, a few at a time. Contrast this with my memories of French’s home—they come in flashes, cross-cut, images like a bidet, a wine cooler; they’re loaded with affect, like panic, and thoughts like, how did I get here… there. 

I think it was the motion of the dancers. Their rhythmic grind, sometimes awkward, rarely fast. It hypnotized, like a lava lamp. Like the ritual of rolling and smoking a joint, or the nesting shapes gif, it decelerated me from the warp of anxiety. I reboot, cache cleared.

Good fucking beats on real time, body time—it’s a coming together of inner rhythms. My affair with the French actor failed not for lack of attraction or shared interests, but because I couldn’t manage to be present with him. I let my attention be limited by ego, anxiety, and fantasy, by my personal hang-ups, aspirational speed, and the media we used to connect—films I’d seen him in, tweets of mine he liked, our few texts. I imagined him as “the French actor,” and me as a goofy fan, rather than us as real people, near-strangers, sharing some real time.

As the pop spiritualist Alan Watts wrote, the two things that govern what we choose to notice are: “First, whatever seems advantageous or disadvantageous for our survival, our social status, and the security of our egos. The second, again working simultaneously with the first, is the pattern and the logic of all the notation symbols which we have learned from others, from our society and our culture.” To connect, we use socio-cultural tools, like language. Increasingly, we communicate via technology. The delay between sexts can be damn erotic, so is a synced flesh fuck. Lurking a crush’s favorites on Twitter is revealing, as is eye contact. Offline isn’t more “real” or better than on, but they do differ. 

Image credits, from top to bottom: 

Cover image by Mike Rinaldi.

Table of contents image by Kristie Muller.

Photographs of sculptures by Casja Von Zeipel.

All images reproduced with permission from the artist.

Supervised by ADULT Magazine.

Part 3:
The Real Thing