Image by Ivy Sanders Schneider

“The Stare”

Gabriel Smith

A friend, a physicist and schizophrenic, told me recently about how she knows a break is coming. 

“How I see the world completely changes,” she said. “It’s called ‘The Stare.’ Everything takes on a total hyperreality. Like reality is only what it is, and nothing else. It’s the scariest part. More scary than the break. Because you feel you’re seeing the true nature of things for the first time. And there’s nothing beyond their surfaces.”

Asked to write about this, I can barely bring myself to type the word “autofiction,” it’s so cringe. It would feel like typing about “masks” and “Zoom calls” and “filters.” 

I guess they share something: the self as performance. So cringe. But I can only speak for myself!

Instead, a Tweet I saw recently. It said something like, “I love how it’s impossible to take a good picture of the moon, so mysterious, so romantic!”

After seeing that, I texted my physicist friend asking what the moon looked like in The Stare. 

“No idea,” she texted back. “I’m always preoccupied with everything down here.”

Gun to my head, I’m with Fredric Jameson. I’m no essayist, but I can try to paraphrase clumsy: autofiction was a symptom of a couple of generations being told they could not imagine alternatives to the present. I’m sure it all felt very necessary at the time. I don’t know — I’m too young to remember, really. 

But after having two years of my twenties taken — having been screened and masked and banned from dancefloors — I’m not terribly interested in performing reality, and I doubt you’re terribly interested in reading about it, either. 

I just want to get right in your face and lick it. I want you to feel me in your chest. 

Something another friend told me, about writing, long before the pandemic: in our losses lie our talents. What’s taken from us — that’s our gift. 

So, yes, fuck it. You want to know about the future? 

My same-age writer friends and I, in London and New York and Naples, who have had so much taken from us: we will fight like animals cornered. We will imagine and imagine and imagine. We will kill the boring now and dance all sexy til polluted dawn. We will spew your plastics from our gut. We will burn down your bookstores grinning, and sing-speak in new and hopeless tongues. We will take pictures of the moon. There will be no performance. Enjoy the show. 

Everything that came before: that was The Stare. 

Here comes the break. 

Gabriel Smith is 26 and from London. His first novel, In It, was to be published by Tyrant Books.

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