My Life Is An ‘Ancient Chinese Curse’

Many years ago, I was summoned for jury duty in my native Manhattan. There were maybe sixty potential jurors in the courtroom being vetted by the defense and prosecution. The case involved a perp whose attorney was alleging police brutality. A question he asked every juror was, “Have you or anyone close to you experienced police brutality?” 

When my turn to answer came, I rattled off a litany of incidents: my childhood in Rome in the 70s, with the near-constant clashes with riot police that led to my being teargassed by accident; my father’s secretary’s husband being shot in the head by plain-clothes police, also by accident; being wrongfully detained by the equivalent of the FBI in Melbourne, Australia; my experiences in Kashmir in 1989-90, when civil unrest broke out and the Indian Army clamped down; being harassed as a young gay man by New York’s Finest — a rapid-fire, exotic list of experiences that had happened to me or those close to me.

The judge banged her gavel and said, “Mr. Killough! That’s quite enough. You clearly have the Ancient Chinese curse of having lived an interesting life. Everyone who has heard him speak is dismissed.” The defendant gave me a thumbs up; the rest of the pool treated me like a hero for getting them out of jury duty en mass. All I did was answer the question as honestly as I knew how.

“One refreshingly forthright reviewer.” — Kyle Smith, NY Post

But Don’t Trust Me…

Self-authored bios are always awkward. I’m more of a Pied Piper than someone who beats his own drum. I’ll hand it over to ChatGPT to tell you its impression of me prior to 2021, when it stopped being fed information from the internet:

Why Should You Read Q&S?

The broad strokes of my bio can be found on my website. But there’s a far more accurate way to picture my upbringing than any résumé can paint: It’s very likely that the novel and Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name were inspired by my teen romance in Rome in the late 70s with Gore Vidal’s godson, also named Oliver, like Armie Hammer’s character in the film. 

In June of 2022, I published a two-part exposé in which I applied my professional experience as a writer and filmmaker to deduce how author André Aciman might have heard our story, and fictionalized real people and dynamics to create Elio’s world. Even if you don’t agree with my claim, the film presents a perfect replica of my youth and the world I grew up in.

Rewriting fictions that drive the world

Creative partners James Killough and Rain Li on set at the Tate Britain in London.

Regardless of the medium or platform, storytelling is an art that doesn’t just imitate life, it reflects it back at us. How we process and interpret that reflection matters more than people think — is our viewpoint illusion, reality, or a hybrid of both?

Rephrasing that in storytelling terms: Is what we’re reading about or watching in the news — or hearing from friends, colleagues and family — fiction (illusion), nonfiction (reality), or fictionalization (a hybrid of both)?

That’s what the Quibbler part of this two-themed newsletter is about: examining those jigsaw pieces that construct the ever-shifting stories that we tell ourselves and each other about life, society, the world, and Existence itself. Wokeism, for instance, is a deliberately confusing tangle of illusions spun from real histories that, by and large, are no longer valid; or from aspects of human nature that are unchangeable, yet are presented as infinitely fluid.

In keeping with the spirit of our playful rhyming title, we’ll explain pressing matters in a lighthearted way that doesn’t diminish their seriousness. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong, especially about something they have supported so passionately, with good intentions. Sadly, as the ancient French saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That has never been truer than today.

Our second theme, the Scribbler, is much simpler: it’s about celebrating storytelling in all its forms and formats. Every week, we’ll riff on a TV show or film — filmmaking is our main storytelling format — or a book, a recipe, anything that inspires us as storytellers.

Hercules and Cerberus, by Antonio Tempesta

What’s in it for you?

Q&S kicked off with an inaugural intro post, Roasting Missionaries and Other Disruptions, that expands on much of what you’ve just read. It’s both a Quibble and a Scribble that will remain pinned to the top of our posts until it’s no longer needed. It will always be free to read.

Following that will be four likewise eternally free “Establishing Shots,” Quibble posts that serve as the four pillars of wisdom, so to speak, that make up the foundation of Killough’s approach to demystifying Wokeism:

  • The Three Heads of the Woke Cerberus will explain the basics of Critical Theory, the Marxism-based philosophy that supports Wokeism and its three branches: modern antiracism, MeToo feminism, and gender-queer activism.

  • The Comforting Addictiveness of Victimhood. As a survivor of PTSD from systematic abuse as a scapegoated child, Killough will deconstruct the politics of victimhood that are both the engine and fuel of Wokeism.

  • Orthodox Atheism and the Three Types of Religion explains Killough’s expanded view of atheism and religion, based on Israeli philosopher Yuval Harari’s position that all constructs and social contracts are a form of religion.

  • The Fragility of America’s ‘World Series Syndrome’ pinpoints the essential weakness of Wokeism: American parochial, unworldly assumptions that all of humanity shares its demographics, history and social anxieties.

For every Quibble, there will be an equal and opposite Scribble. We already have enough topics to write about for at least six months after the inaugural post.

We have a lot to say.

Let There Be Merch!

What’s With the Baby?

His name is Ernie, after ‘Ernest Scribbler,’ the Monty Python character who writes the funniest joke in the world, then dies laughing at it. An English cameraman gave Killough that nickname after watching him earnestly dashing off dialogue rewrites on set.

Ernie represents the Zen concept of “Beginner Mind,” approaching everything free from the illusory fictions that clutter daily life. He reminds us to let go of prejudices, received opinions, ideologies and political alliances, in order to reach as objective a viewpoint as we can.

His mouth is red from eating Woke tropes. Or maybe it’s raspberry jam. Is there a difference?

Paid Yearly Subscribers

Receive 20% off our Q&S shop. It’s still being set up, and we’ll be adding items gradually. But here are some examples:

Quibblers & Scribblers Merch The New Woke TimesQuibblers & Scribblers Merch The New Woke Times
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Founders’ Circle

Contribute $199 or more per year, and you’ll get a choice of one item from a selection of merch made just for you. Contribute $499 or more, and James Killough will created a bespoke identity portrait from your choice of subject. Below is an example of an identity portrait he made for his beloved niece Savannah’s birthday.

Quibblers & Scribblers MerchandiseQuibblers & Scribblers Merchandise
Quibblers & Scribblers MerchandiseQuibblers & Scribblers Merchandise
Unisex Baby Ernie hoodie; niece Savannah's identity portrait; tote bag front and back

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Spelunking the creative mind. Weaving memories into memoirs. Rewriting social fictions that drive the world.


James Killough

An Ameropean writer-filmmaker and polemicist working at the intersection of whatever's most effective in getting a story told and heard, as well as a passionate Indophile and polyglot who brings an uncommon worldview to the American conversation.