So I’m out late, pitching my latest project to my agent, Steve.

He brings us double Suntoris from the bar. We clink cheers, and I swig fast. Shit, too much. Cough hard. Fuck. That whisky is… something.



Whoa. Not as smooth as you promised!

Steve smiles like Shere Khan, that liquid panther from the Jungle Book.

I clear my throat.


(reading from her phone)

Working title: The Five.

Genre: Dystopian fantasy. Well, not fantasy, exactly. More like magical realism. And, Gothic horror! Just for good measure.


Be honest. Post-apocalyptic feminist screed. Once again. Know your audience.


But this one’s going to be way more fun. There’s a swashbuckling heroine.


(arching an eyebrow)

I’m listening. Continue.

(puts on his schoolmarm voice)

This time, with feeling.



Setting: Near-future San Francisco.

Pitch: The Five are a men’s collective. Friends, neighbors, fathers. Pillars of the community. Protectors.

Main character: Daphne is one of The Protected. Until the night she stumbles into a gathering of The Five and learns what’s really going on.

The Five are ringleaders. Together they assault women, children, and weaker men. They use incels (involuntary celibates) to carry out their orders.

The number of dead from suicidal gun sprees increase daily. The Five promise the incel army everlasting, um…

(starting to lose composure)


hard-ons … ?


…an eternal afterlife…


fucking compliant bitches?



Yes, exactly. How did you guess??


You need me. Don’t deny it.



Setup: Control is wielded so subtly by The Five, and obeying them is so embedded in her culture that Daphne’s spent her entire 27 years barely noticing a thing. To be frank, she benefits from it.

Her world has been perfectly comfortable and secure, until the night the truth is revealed.


Dum dum DUM—


(scrolls up and down on her phone)

Oh, wait. Bee-tee-double-you, I’ve got some exposition I want to run past you. Not sure how I’m gonna work this in yet.


Hit me.



(in a serious voice)

As one of The Protected, Daphne is well-versed with The Rules. In fact, she views them as perfectly reasonable. Why would she? She has nothing to fear, nothing to hide.


Right. I mean, I’m sure The Rules are only there for her own good.


Again, you are so prescient.


If only your readers knew how much I contribute.


I’m not increasing your percentage. You are more than well-compensated.


Another whisky?


On your tab? Yes. But make it a single this time. And I want one of those, you know, those square ice cubes.


So demanding. I hope your swashbuckling heroine is a closet submissive.


Keep your kinks to yourself, this is my fantasy.


Will there be mass castrations again?


There have never been mass castrations. Just that one accidental one. Shut up and get me my drink.

He goes, clearly aroused by his own ridiculous imaginings.

I sit there, trying to figure out how I’m going to get this book past them. The publishing company already considers me an increasingly risky play.

This is going to be interesting.

Job one, I know I have to zhuzsh up Daphne’s sex appeal. Get the powers that be to want her. To underestimate her.

And me. To think that all this is just a little game.

My readers are waiting. They’re learning the code. They know that our day will come. We will rise again.

Ha. Good thing Steve’s so conveniently bisexual. I can work him, and make him sell this shit to the suits. I got dirt on them all.


More Than Enough

My freshman year at UC Santa Barbara was one of complete culture shock. In high school, I was part of the goody-two-shoes gang, know-it-all four-eyes who always raised her hand, always had the right answer. So I felt like a brand new person moving into my double room at Santa Cruz residence hall.

With early admission, I lucked into the very best on-campus dorm — the one right next to the beach volleyball pits. I saw college as my opportunity to create an entirely new image. Looks-wise, I fit in well with my long beach-y, bleach-y hair, aqua contact lenses, and cute figure. But inside, I was still very shy and nerdy. I drank a lot, so as not to stand out.

Goal number one: find a boyfriend. Since I never dated anyone at my own high school, I hadn’t learned the rules of playing the field in a closed, gossip-filled environment like the on-campus dorms. So it didn’t take long for me to start making rookie mistakes. I set my sights on the cutest guy, flirted with him at a party, went back to his room and slept with him. There was no date, and no second time. Soon after that, he hooked up with another girl who lived on our floor, and they ended up dating the rest of the year. So I drank some more.

The guys in room 204, Jake and Tim, were epic hosts. Most weekends were an all-day/all-night open house party in their room, starting about 3pm on Thursday afternoon. They kept the Beastie Boys on repeat, bongos at the ready, and the cheap beer flowing. They convinced us drunker girls to dance topless one time. I never did that again; I felt way too insecure about my flat chest.

Everyone knew my roommate, Stacey, was a virgin. She studied opera, but we had some things in common: She was valedictorian of her senior class in high school, and I had the highest SAT scores at mine. We both loved Depeche Mode and would plink out the song, “Just Can’t Get Enough” on her little electronic keyboard. Every Saturday morning, though, she would wake up at 8am and start practicing her arias. So I started sleeping over at room 204 from time to time.

One morning I woke up naked in Jake’s bed. He wasn’t in it. I scrambled to find my bra, underwear, shorts, and crop top. Reaching down to the floor from his top bunk made my head spin. I took a breath, and the previous night’s events came flooding back.

I’d drunk way too much the night before. The last thing I remember was taking a little nap in the room next door from 204. The guys who lived there were friends of Jake and Tim. People came in and out, smoked pot, chatted, and laughed at me all passed out. At one point, Jake came in and told the guy whose bed I was in, “Make sure she doesn’t leave. She’s mine tonight.”

My reaction to this was very odd. I felt simultaneously terrified and honored. I knew I was in no state to consent; but of course, that concept was not widely discussed in 1987. I honestly just felt like I owed Jake something, for all the kegs he bought and all the times he let me sleep over.

So although I could have gotten up and walked down the hall back to my own room, I waited obediently. I didn’t tell whoever that guy was, who was watching over me: “No way. I’m not staying here.” So, yeah. I woke up in Jake’s bed the next morning, and thought, “This is all my fault. I’m the slut of Santa Cruz dorm.” My internal narrative echoed in the whispers I heard in the corridors and dining hall, for the rest of the year.

As spring quarter of our freshman year came to a close, the dorm’s social committee organized an impromptu little awards ceremony. Everyone got a song dedicated to them, representing something funny or memorable about them. My roommate Stacey got the “Like A Virgin” award. The one they gave me was, “Just Can’t Get Enough.” I pretended not to be insulted, and held my head high as I carried my award to the edge of the beach, where I sat alone.



Twenty-five years ago, I got my first apartment in the city. It was a ground floor studio, perched above the intersection of Union and Van Ness. Despite the constant hum of traffic, I loved the neighborhood, its mournful foghorns, and the quiet that descended every Sunday evening. I would sleep undisturbed until around midnight, when I’d be jolted awake by the sound of shaking, crashing, jingling.

After three months, I stuck my head out the window to see what was causing this weekly disturbance. I spotted a man in dirty clothes with long hair and a matted beard. He was wrestling with the newspaper vending machine, trying to shake the coins free. I opened the window and yelled, “Hey! Stop that! Some of us have work tomorrow morning!” Unconcerned, he continued. “Hey!” I repeated, feeling brave.

Continue reading “Breathe”