Gwen works at the Institute, the source of all knowledge production in the world. The Institute’s rectilinear stone columns and thin white cutstone steps fill her imagination, and her work fills her days. Slowly her orderly, linear world begins to crack at the edges. In the oldest part of the Institute, a woman in white stands in a room no one else sees, staring down in yearning over a stone balcony ledge into an open place far below, at the back of the world where nothing could possibly exist. At the market where Gwen eats lunch, dark-haired girls on wooden push scooters flash by in peripheral vision, gone the second Gwen turns her head. Seen a second too late, the image is always the same: a lush bundle of greens in a cornucopia nodding over a girl’s narrow shoulder, dark hair flying, a strange quality of light.
Under the dangerous watch of Institute bureaucrats, Gwen slips back again and again to the room at the back of the Institute, to stand next to the woman in white and look down into the open, impossible place beyond the edge of the world. With the help of her trusted friend Doran who soon joins her at this task, she begins to make out more and more detail of the open green world below. Slowly, Gwen puzzles out the secrets of her world until she finds she can no longer be part of it. The unexpected death of a rogue colleague, and an ensuing chase, bring Gwen and Doran tumbling over the balcony’s edge into the green world, where in a new, whole form, Gwen heals her spirit and body, learns the work of the green world girls, and discovers what her part can be in the world that is to come.
Why ‘Cipher’? A cipher is a secret or disguised way of writing; it is a text with encoded meaning that calls to be deciphered. ‘Cipher’ can also mean a stand-in, a person or image standing in for something greater, the way a zero stands in as a place holder in arithmetic, or the way the woman in white stands in for the green world. Cipher invites the reader to unfold levels of meaning that are not predetermined or ever fully known. In this way, Cipher mirrors the ways we must struggle to see beyond the edges of naturalized systems of power that cause dissociation and are rendered unthinkable. Bringing together analyses informed by radical mental health, antiracist, feminist, anarchist, and antiauthoritarian impulses in a creative, intuitive form, Cipher sings the love and wholeness that is growing on the planet, a cellular reorganization of life that is slowly emerging right in the belly of our time of chaos and fear.
Those of us inculcated into roles of dominance are being called to heal our own cultures in ways that are accountable to those directly affected by structural violence. Inspired by the Octavia’s Brood project’s articulation of “visionary fiction,” Cipher seeks to dream another world in order to call it into being. However, Cipher echoes this call for change back from inside the citadel. It explores the ways people situated as oppressors within systems of dominance that cut us off from resonant parts of our humanity can heal ourselves and our communities, building our capacity to act in receptive and accountable ways. How would a world feel in which white people fundamentally gave up the culture of domination?
The novella is complete at 25,000 words (103 pages). I have an existing and growing community of readers; my globally viral blog is read in 186 countries worldwide, and regularly enjoys 30 000 – 85 000 readers a month. Several posts, including “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture” and “Own, Apologize Repair: Coming Back to Integrity” have been translated into multiple languages, and are currently being used in discussion groups, university classrooms, and counseling centres around the world. Please see attached an excerpt from the novella. I would be happy to send a full manuscript or answer any questions, and look forward to discussing possibilities with you.
(cover illustration by Aleks Besan)
Cipher is currently open to an agent, publisher, illustrators, and other unforeseen forms of magic. Do you know things about how a book like this gets out into the world?