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Gwen works at the Institute, the source of all knowledge production in the world. Its great stone columns and white cutstone steps fill her imagination, and her work fills her days.

Slowly her orderly, linear world begins to crack at the edges. Between cement buildings at the market, dark-haired girls on wooden push scooters flash by in peripheral vision, gone when she turns her head. She slowly makes out the image, always the same: a lush bundle of greens in a cornucopia nodding over a girl’s shoulder, an impression of speed, and a strange quality of light that clings to these visions.

In the oldest part of the Institute building, a woman in white stands on a wide stone balcony in a room no one else seems to see, staring down with intense yearning over the balcony ledge into a green, sunlit land far below, an open place at the back of the world where nothing could possibly exist.

Under the dangerous gaze of her superiors and with the help of friends, Gwen comes back again and again to stand next to the woman in white, to stare with her over the balcony ledge, into the impossible place beyond the edge of the world. Bit by bit, she puzzles out the secrets of her world until she finds she can no longer be part of it.

Cataclysmic changes bring her tumbling over the balcony’s edge into the green world, where in a new, whole form, she heals her spirit and body, learns the work of the green girls, and discovers what her part will be in the world that is to come.

Why ‘cipher’? A cipher is a secret or disguised way of writing; it is a code, something mysterious that calls to be decoded. It 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. Cipher is a code, a story that calls for understanding and learning but insists that the reader struggle to find the answers that are not predetermined or ever fully known.

The Octavia’s Brood project tells us that speculative fiction is visionary fiction. The ability to dream other worlds, to step out of time, to envision the world as it could be, to recuperate what is lost, is part of the work of organizing for justice. Our world today is the mass dreaming of oppressors, the mass dreaming of distorted souls. It is time to dream a better dream. The new technology reemerging as a force on this earth is love. It will reshape culture and human relationships, in ways fiction is just imagining.

In looking outward from inside the world of the Institute and its linear time, Gwen – who has found some success and privilege within that narrow world – is struggling to answer questions about her world, which is not as she believed it was. The Institute can stand in for systems that contain and limit our capacity to perceive, remember, imagine reality.

In flashes she encounters those who exist outside linear time, those who have refused the Institute entirely. But she is so divorced from her own ancestors, from a connection to her body and to the land, that she cannot at first even understand what she sees.

She knows that an old strange song keeps arising within her, and that a deep yearning is changing her from the inside out, leaving her unable to participate in a world that insists parts of her be cut off.

She must become still, move through crisis and freefall, discover her own wholeness and her relationship to other whole people, in order to be able to be part of the change that is coming.

This fiction piece is part of a larger project of healing and radical change, learning how to act in relationship and in an emergent way. The planet is undergoing an incredible shift; those sensitive to these changes can feel it emerging on many fronts.

Even as crisis intensifies, love, interdependence, and radical embodied wholeness are reemerging as forces of resistance. Indigenous resurgenceis happening in our time; migrant justice movements are strong; themovement for Black lives is rising and insisting that all Black lives matter, respectability politics be damned.

People who operate within systems of dominance – whether in class, gender, whiteness – are being called to heal our own broken cultures and to do so in respectful relationship to today’s social movements and their people, to stand up alongside, to listen and learn, and fundamentally to give up the culture of domination.

Meanwhile, healing work is beginning to take place that reconnects human beings who live in systems of dominance to our fundamental humanity, transforming the barriers of shame and guilt so we can move out of domination.

However, many people feel isolated and powerless, and even those with a modicum of power in this system sometimes feel afraid and confused, or get lost in day to day concerns, not recognizing their own strength and tuning in to collective struggles.

Doing the work that fiction does – immersing the reader directly in a world and bringing them through an experience – Cipher hopes to ask how, in a receptive, accountable way, people with various forms of privilege can work internally in their communities to build the wholeness and receptivity needed to heal this culture.

Cipher uses a narrative structure from the author’s own ancestral cultural tradition to listen to a yearning speaking from the earth through many of us, if only we will listen. A yearning to heal our bodies, the land, and human relations on this earth. Largely, becoming whole for those who operate within systems of privilege is a process of listening, of observing, of supporting, and of coming to stillness. This work of fiction asks us to learn to open ourselves to hearing and acting on what respectful and receptive relationships look like across lines of power.

Cipher is about dissociation, written by an author with a dissociative disorder caused by trauma and structural violence. It is not, however, about the individual experience of dissociation, but is instead about how dominant institutional and cultural ideologies actively fragment the human soul.

Daily life’s many violences fragment us in various ways from the time we arrive on this earth. We lose parts of ourselves with each further inculcation into systems of domination: masculinity, whiteness and settler identity, class privilege. In order to participate in institutional knowledge production, many people are asked to further dissociate, to separate from our selves, to leave parts of ourselves behind.

Rising out of a consciousness fragmented by structural violence, and bringing together analyses informed by radical mental health, antiracist, 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..


Cipher is the dream emerging as part of a global project that also includes the blog at

Cipher has two parts:

Part One is a speculative fiction novella, 100 pages, 25,000 words

Part Two is (tentatively – to be explored with community) an online set of resources for challenging whiteness and opening the hearts of people positioned within whiteness in this culture: art, poetry, comics, short critical pieces by racialized and Indigenous organizers, and a call for discussion and growth work. (along these lines:

Cipher: A Wholeness Project is currently open to collaborators, advisors, and a publisher.

If you’d like to read a copy of Cipher and see how we can dream together, contact the author at or just reply here.

(illustration by Aleks Besan)