"Excerpt from my Novel Screenburn" by Lance Wakeling


I start by looking for images of parking lots. I’m thinking about finding the perfect image, or making one. I have to see an image of a parking lot with over-layed text that reads “Social Network.”

Then I move on to looking at images under the term crash. There are cartoon characters, crash dummies, airplanes in pieces, bodies, stills from the movie, cymbals, explosions. I open a new tab: Wikipedia – Crash. I’m redirected to collision.

A collision is an isolated event in which two or more moving bodies exert relatively strong forces on each other for a relatively short time. ¶ Collisions can be elastic, meaning they conserve energy and momentum, inelastic, meaning they conserve momentum but not energy, or totally inelastic (or plastic), meaning they conserve momentum and the two objects stick together.

It’s this last type of collision that interests me most, the totally inelastic one—when the two colliding objects merge into one and conserve momentum.

While cruising through the images I’m collecting, I think of Jean Baudrillard and then J.G. Ballard, retracing steps that I took three years ago, all in perfect recall. I make a new folder called parking-lots and drop in images with filenames like 5781586-aerial-view-of-an-empty-parking-lot, grantham-parking-lot-0951, Lot, Tel_Aviv_parking_lot, and zoo_lot2-750149.

It’s getting dark outside and my terminal is bathing this corner of the room and the front side of my knuckles in bluish light. My fingernails dimly reflect the screen. All the tiny parallel ridges reflect light in opposing directions, causing the reflection to appear matte.

I get up from my desk, look out the window, decide not to close the drapes, turn around and glance at the cat, then sit back down. My fingernails are long and hit the keys before the pads of my fingers. I touch my face and the oils from my fingers leave rings of pimples almost immediately. If I could only get my face close enough to the screen to burn away the oils. I open a window with large images of carbon arch searchlights. That gets the screen hot enough finally. I can feel the pimples receding into my face. I dry my hands by the light, making sure not to stare directly at the screen. I could go blind. I still can’t believe you can get these things online.

Two days from now there will be a full lunar eclipse. Amateur astronomer bloggers will line up in lawn chairs in the parking lots I just downloaded. They’ll be wrapped in parkas and wool blankets with their keyboards tuned in, looking like TB convalescents. Lying supine under the blue light-polluted sky they’ll send dispatches to remote servers. Their banal communiqués will travel across oceans along underwater cables, while others are beamed up to satellites and echoed back to earth. One of the reclined bloggers imagines launching a coordinated DDoS attack at the moon in order to keep it in total eclipse.

A gunshot rings out and shatters my attention.

# # #