grounding devices

Dark times etc. Here’s what’s working right now to keep the panic attacks at bay (note effectiveness may cease at any time without warning):

  1. Following beloved institutions on Booky McBookface: Cal Academy, Marine Mammal Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, SF MOMA
  2. (Making plans out past election day like there’s going to be a future)
  3. I know you think your cats are cute but my cats are super cute okay, I’ve given the matter a lot of thought
  4. The new Mexican place around the corner is full of natural light and delicious food that everyone in our family will eat
  5. I’m still starry-eyed as fuck about this city, man it’s beautiful

alive, alive oh, by diana athill

…the only way individuals can become sane about race is by plodding stubbornly on through the insanities.

hope in the dark, by rebecca solnit

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

alice has foots

Also, her belly is floof. Consider:

o negative

I have rare blood, O neg, the universal donor. After Orlando I went to give blood and was turned away because my heart was racing (it was the day Jo Cox died; I wanted to say “Haven’t you read the news?” but the poor nurse was just looking out for me.) I’ve since had an EKG and everything’s fine with the ol’ ticker except, of course, that it’s broken. It was broken before Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas; it’s shattered now. God in whom I can’t believe, please help this suffering country.

At the same time, I’ve been flattened by a vicious cold. All I can read is Helen Garner and Joan Didion and Diana Athill and this NYer piece on hospice, and all I can watch is Angels in America. It feels like 2005, when the black water drowned New Orleans, or 2003, when Baghdad burned. Baghdad’s still burning. I cling to these words of Roxane’s:

We have to do better than all this “the world is coming to an end.” The world is not coming to an end. The world is changing.

In whatever small way I can work towards justice and peace, let me work.

friday five, but on a monday

  1. Have I really not blogged in three weeks? Oh well it’s not like anything of local or world-historical importance has happened HAHAHAHA dear god
  2. I can’t really bring myself to say anything about Orlando or the assassination of Jo Cox except that AR-15s and high-capacity magazines should have been banned years ago, and all the lobbyists and politicians who have prevented this are little better than murderers themselves.
  3. While I was trying to have a Saturday afternoon nap, much interrupted by sirens, a fire took out most of a block in the heart of our neighborhood, including our beloved local hardware store. We used to shop there even before we moved to Bernal. Several times a day I look at something that needs fixing around the house and have a muscle-memory of buying its replacement at Cole Hardware. All our neighbors got out in time, which is a great mercy.
  4. I had an almost-perfect day at work on Thursday, then came home only to grow increasingly distressed over Brexit, which broke my Judtist heart. David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum now replaces Bush’s invasion of Iraq as the most appalling error of judgment committed by any English-speaking politician in the course of my adult life. Europe is important. Bureaucracies may seem boring and idiotic but they are inexpressibly less boring and idiotic and catastrophic than the world wars that they occasionally, through the great efforts of many kind people and with considerable good luck, replace.
  5. All of this and a lot of other stories that are not mine to tell have made the last few months very difficult, but there have been fierce joys as well: Hillary and Warren campaigning together; the enduring wonderfulness of Ginsberg and Sotomayor; the memory of my mother pouring out all her tremendous capacity for love in her last days, and the knowledge that her example will be with me for the rest of my life.

adventure time: mountain climbing

As a fan of sunbeams and meadows, I am very much in favor of Mt Tam.

Some of our short roommates share my enthusiasm for these landscapes.

Others find the whole California thing kind of tacky and overdone.

big dead place, by nicholas johnson

…the primary national interest is physical occupation, and science is the loophole through which the necessary infrastructure can emerge.

forgotten war, by henry reynolds

If there was no war then thousands of Aborigines were murdered in a centurylong, continent-wide crime wave tolerated by government. There seems to be no other option. It must be one or the other.

reckoning: a memoir, by magda szubanski

This is the double burden that those who are traumatised must carry. First the trauma, and then the inability of language to describe it.

everywhere i look, by helen garner

Her ghost is in my body.

the raven king, by maggie stiefvater

Ronan already knew he was a weapon; but he was trying to make up for it.

ancestors

A fresh new irony in my life is that I have become fascinated with Aboriginal rock engravings, 20 years after leaving Sydney where they are present in magnificent abundance, 25 years after graduating from the Department of Archaeology where John Clegg taught and a year after John Clegg’s death. I never could see the precious things that were right in front of my face.

This one’s a little hard to make out, but it’s a whale shark, its nose pointing to the left, two eyes on the white patch of rock, and a fish inside it, its nose pointing down. It’s on the cliffs above Tamarama, on the spectacular walking path from Bondi to Coogee. We walked up there one late afternoon as the sun set behind the city and set the sky on fire.

The next two turned out beautifully – we found them at blazing high noon – but the shaming part is, they are part of an incredibly rich field that is walking distance from my childhood home, on a track I regularly wandered down, but I didn’t even notice that they were there until shortly before I left the country for good. They weren’t signposted as they are now, but also, I just wasn’t paying attention.

I remember a visitor from England saying very snottily that he couldn’t live in Australia because there wasn’t enough history here, compared with where he grew up. I wish I’d known enough to drag him to this place and point out that the people who made this art lived peacefully on this land for 40,000 years before there even was an England.

Murri stockman Herb Wharton wrote:

The old tribal elder who had spoken before said that he did not trust people who could leave the place where they had been born, to go to another country. For him, for all of them, their land was their mother, a sacred place. No matter what injustices they had suffered, nothing could ever break that tie with their own land and with the Dreamtime. Yet every one of this boat mob had left his own land.

I am boat mob twice over – my English mother, my exile self.

This site was the hardest to find and the most beautiful. Again, it was a few metres off a bush track I knew well, where I used to let my Arab horse Alfie stretch out and gallop; almost exactly halfway between my godmother’s house and that of Jeremy’s Aunty Jan. The kids were incredibly patient as I searched and searched for the obscured beginning of the footpath, and uncomplaining about the spiky grass and prickles they endured along its length. When we finally found the site it was as obviously holy a place as any church.

It’s believed to celebrate a successful hunt; that’s a spear between the kangaroo’s shoulder blades. I think your family of choice includes ancestors of choice as well. You choose which writers and painters and musicians and activists you want to emulate, and which you don’t. I recognize the people who made these images and the people who work to protect them. I acknowledge them as parts of myself, debts to ancestors I never knew, a motherland that will not leave me no matter how often I leave it.

the artist is present

We’ve been talking a lot about presence and absence this week, hardly surprising with Mum and Dad’s ashes in boxes under the TV. Last year when I was tying myself in knots trying to figure out how to organize this trip, I ended up sending mail to my brothers and sister saying look, all I really want is a beach holiday somewhere so that we can drink Bailey’s and play mah jongg and scatter Mum at sea like she wanted. My brother suggested this place and so here we are.

The pictures do not do it justice. On the land side the garden is thoroughly overexcited with hibiscus flowers and rainbow lorikeets and needs to take a calming breath. Climb over the dunes and Diamond Beach is a long wild golden crescent of sand with perfect emerald rollers. The sea is indigo near the horizon and the palest, clearest green where it covers the sand like mercury across glass to make a mirror for the sky. At night the Milky Way is a river of light.

It doesn’t matter that we never came here with our parents. It is every beach holiday we ever had with them and each other. We are all trying to show up and be in the moment for one another and although I was joking when I tweeted a shadow-selfie with the caption “the artist is present,” I am noticing for the first time Abramovic’s double meaning: being present is the art. Don’t just do something, stand there.

Our parents were flawed humans but they left us in no doubt that we were loved. They dragged us to kite festivals and hot air ballooning weekends and zoos and observatories and science museums and Indian and Thai restaurants (pretty exotic in the 1980s). Even though we’re atheists, even though the ashes are not even really the last of them, just more of what they left behind like clothes, even though there isn’t really any such thing as closure, it feels okay to be together here in this beautiful place. At sunset we’ll let them go into the sea, and we’ll build a big fire on the sand, and we’ll sit around it and laugh a bit and cry a bit while the Southern stars come out.

five things dad would have liked about the ceremony of appreciation

  1. It was held in a little garden attached to the University of New England’s School of Rural Medicine. The campus is all rolling hills and autumnal trees like a huge park. Upshot: parts of the ceremony, especially the introduction by softly-spoken Professor Geetha Ranmuthugala, were drowned out by a mob of cockatoos who were having a bloody good time in some nearby trees.
  2. There were lots of family members there. That surprised me. Grief is so lonely and our predicament seems so peculiar that I forget there are a lot of people in situations just like ours. I loved all these mourning strangers very much.
  3. The speakers included quite a lot of the medical students who had taken the anatomy course and dissected our loved ones’ donor bodies. The students talked about how the work informed their medical practice and, in many cases, drew them towards surgery. They were all women and/or people of color and I don’t think the university did that intentionally; I think it just happened. It was also a completely non-religious ceremony, thank Christ.
  4. We got to speak to one of the students, who told us she had assisted with a dissection aimed at developing a new neurosurgical technique, keyhole surgery via the nose. She probably worked on Dad’s brain, Dad’s nose. She was being careful not to say anything to upset me! I told her that Dad would have been delighted to know that his gift helped train new surgeons and discover new techniques.
  5. There were lots of us there, surviving members of my own decimated family: my husband and our kids and my brother and my sister and her kids. We all loved our wonderful, impossible Dad, and we all still love each other, and somehow we are piecing together some meaning out of all of this.

have you no sense of decency

This is what the Stanford campus looks like in spring and it is completely unacceptable.

Look at this. It’s outrageous.

Something ought to be done.

proof

Horse, brown, smol:

In fact he only looks little because I am such a sturdy bruiser these days, marvel at my hypertrophied quadriceps. I can’t see over Sam’s wither when I am standing next to him, which I guess makes him at least sixteen hands? A very respectable size. (It’s funny that I can possibly think 16hh is little! I grew up among wee ponies and was grateful for even a galloway. I only think it now because Nick-the-horse, a Dutch Warmblood, and Jackson, a Thoroughbred, were both immensely tall. Hedonic treadmill!)

The pictures helped a lot. I’ve been focused on keeping my heels down and sitting square in the saddle, and as a result we’ve had a series of excellent rides. Salome is the bestest ever.

this is true love; you think this happens every day?

I had a pretty Gothically terrible week for various reasons beyond anyone’s particular control, mostly to do with generational inequity and centuries of systemic oppression. The least of it was that my trainer Facebooked a picture of me jumping Sam in which I’d lost my balance and caught him in the mouth. Salome insisted it was just a bad moment. I argued that I have learned nothing in all these years and am wasting my trainers’ time and ruining my good horse.

Salome got up an hour early this morning so she could bring her camera to my riding lesson and get better pictures of us. I love her so much right now I can hardly stand it. From such small kindnesses to one another we will build a less sucky world.

(Apparently my blog is just 24/7 schmaltz these days. I’m not sorry.)

the mister, a love story

Last month marked twenty years since I hooked up with himself and I meant to write about it, but the longer I am with him the harder it gets to write about us. Honestly, it feels like tempting fate; like every smug newspaper columnist and relationship coach in America who gives insufferable lectures on How To Keep The Spark Alive and you loathe them so much you just assume that their significant other is planning to elope with their dance instructor and you hope the two of them will be happy.

This morning, flying home from Seattle and listening to Panic! at the Disco’s “Casual Affair” approximately one billion times while reading a particularly devastating chapter of the epic Steve/Bucky love story, I realized one reason why it feels so risky to write about it: it was staggeringly dumb luck on my part. Obviously I was cute as a button at 25 but I was also, in Grant’s memorable phrase, an emotional basket case. And he was being diplomatic as hell when he said it.

Stupid, infinitely improbable dumb luck. Really. What were the chances that anyone would want to take me on, all of me, me and my intensity and my endless garbage-pile of trauma? What were the chances that a person would not only be able to cope with all of that, would sign up for my total lack of self-knowledge or emotional intelligence, but would be able follow me as I ran, as I zig-zagged across the Anglosphere, as I fucked up and bottomed out and rebuilt everything every few years? Would sit with me in the middle of the giant messes I made and coax me to laugh?

I know everyone thinks their boo is the one in a zillion but I also know, I know in my bones, how broken I was and how hard I made things for myself and everyone around me. And to wake up here in middle age with him, with the universe of shared jokes and shorthand so enormous that it makes Claire furious that she will never learn all the stories, never know all the references, with the still-unbelievable truth that however difficult it has been, however difficult I have been and still am, he still wants me, he still misses me when I’m away… eh. Words fail me. I hope he and his tennis coach will be very happy together.

little brown horse, a love letter

Despite my best efforts, I will probably never be much good at riding. The numbers are against me. For something like equitation, the ten thousand hours thing is legit, and though I’ve ridden as much as I possibly can for the last seven years, “as much as I possibly can” is at best three times a week. I’ve added maybe a thousand hours to my childhood total of maybe another thousand and a half. If I maintain the same course and speed I’ll clock up ten thousand in fifty years, when I am 95. If I retire at 65 and spend ten years riding ten hours a week, I’ll get there by 75. So, longshot.

Also working against me is my conformation, long-bodied and short-legged, which had the significant advantage of being effortlessly good at birthing a couple of ferociously healthy little girls, but is entirely the wrong way round for looking elegant on a horse. My trademark seat is my torso swaying like a poplar even as I struggle to get my meaty peasant calves around Sam’s ribs.

And still. And still. I’ve been riding Sam for a quarter of a year, and I’ve learned how he likes to be asked to come round, and how sensitive he can be to the pressure of my leg. Sit on him holding the buckle of the reins and flex one ankle down; he steps away. I’ve learned to love the softness in his poll, the sparkle and flow of his impulsion. I’ve learned to ask more of him and of myself, because he is far and away the best-trained and best-natured horse I’ve ever had. I’ve learned to see our distance and sit on the saddle and wait and count our strides into the fence and tuck in my elbows as we go over, just as he tucks his knees.

Today in the indoor, Laura raised the fences, and a man on a big bay went around, the bay horse snorting and blowing. And Laura said, “Now you, Rachel.” And I knew how the jumps would ride, and I knew Sam was engaged and in front of my leg and cheerful and willing and game. And around we went, pop, pop, pop, as if it were easy. These are the only compliments on my riding that really matter: the trainer putting up the fences, and my little brown horse being happy.