five images from the first fortnight of 2017

Catching the night bus to Thoughtworks with Liz so that Danny and Jeremy would meet us at BATS, so that even though I bugged out early because overtired, the people who really needed to be there would be there. Seeing Maciej talk about resisting authoritarianism through solidarity and feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck, because this is the moment he was born for.

Walking through bucketing rain to visit our neighborhood masjid with Jewish Voices for Peace, and drinking scaldingly hot, sweet chai while our hosts prayed to Allah.

Having a lesson on Sam in the covered arena right at Golden Hour of Barnhenge. The sunlight flooded in over the indigo mountains and spring-green pasture and red-gold autumn trees, and the cantering horses’ hooves reached down to kiss the hooves of their elongated shadows. In other lessons, I am pointing him at higher and higher fences and feeling no fear, just joy in his glad grace, the effortless delight of him. The new footing in both arenas, springy and inviting.

Getting rick-rolled by Nancy Pelosi at the rally to support the Affordable Care Act at City Hall. Never gonna give you up! The glare of bright sunshine, the edged bite of the winter wind.

That same evening, taking a yoga class with Julia and Annie Sprinkle.

there have been good moments

Lots of them, in fact. Snow in Central Park. Laughing, giddy, with Leonard and Sumana and Brendan and Kat and Claire and Julia, saying “What do you wanna do now? Shall we go see that show, what’s it called, the one about Hamilton? Yeah, let’s go see Hamilton!” Sitting around the evening campfires on Diamond Beach, toasting Mum and Dad with gin and tonic and love. Walking into La Sagrada Familia and feeling my knees buckle. Christmas Eve, when we saw the Bernal coyote, her golden eyes, her wild face. And every single moment with Sam Horse, my wisest, kindest teacher since last January 1.

When I went back to church in November, I chose an Episcopalian (Anglican) church because of a dark wave of rage and grief and protest that rose inside me, to the effect that it was my mother’s church and her mother’s church before her, and terrible men tried to take it from me, and they can’t have it, because it’s mine. So too this year. So, too, my life.

five highlights of my year in reading

1. Gorgeous memoirs of appalling events

2. Rich, thinky SF by women

3. Excellent narrative history on audiobook

4. My own sundered history, restored to me in various ways

5. In spite of everyone who says how good they are, really very, very good

five small, good things (at a time like this)

1. Slow-dancing with Captain Calkins to White Christmas this afternoon, in a sunbeam, under the mistletoe

2. Taking a Lyft home from Erik’s memorial last night, weeping, and then talking heart-to-heart to my driver about his friend who died of cancer in El Salvador on Wednesday

3. Jeremy’s birthday dinner at Gary Danko on Wednesday, the highlights of which were the cheese cart, and the fact that we were so obviously enjoying one another’s company that when a cake with a candle appeared it read not “Happy Birthday” but “Happy Anniversary”

4. Hearing Mae Jemison talk about space: “I wasn’t scared. I loved it. If I could’ve stayed out there in a glass bubble with my cat, I’d still be there”

5. Learning how to use the indirect rein with Sam Horse, and feeling his movement flow into a more consistent contact and his pleased response: Huh. You’re leveling up.

more from chronicle of a plague, by andrew holleran

“I keep thinking there’s a beach at the end of this,” a friend said. “An island, and we’ll be happy again.”

His mother left yesterday after his cremation and when I walked her to the cab, she said to me: ‘I think the reason I was put on earth was for these last two months.’”

One cannot expect people to live in a state of perpetual horror and outrage. Eventually they subside. Fatigue sets in, burnout, boredom, acceptance—and the attention span turns to something else. How could it be otherwise? Yet all of this is strange.

penric’s mission, by lois mcmaster bujold

You’re worse than evil. You’re inefficient.

last watch of the night, by paul monette

But what has it all got to do with the dog, exactly? My friend Victor stayed with me for the first week of Widowhood II. When at last he went off to juggle the shards of his own dwindling immunity, and I woke to a smudged October morning, my first thought wasn’t Oh poor me, about which I had already written the book, but rather: Who’s going to take care of Puck?

chronicle of a plague, by andrew holleran

…we have lost a whole generation of gay men, who might otherwise have been valuable mentors to their successors.

I began to read books about other epochs in history when people had been subjected to cruel and unusual catastrophes. The Black Death was the most obvious…

It appears in the midst of the most ordinary circumstances—like the man on that same beach, who, in the middle of a cloudless summer afternoon, turned to my friend and said, “What is the point of going on?” (“To bear witness,” my friend responded.) The Fear is there all the time, but it comes in surges, like electricity—

hospital time, by amy hoffman

Our family commitment to each other is not forced, but desired; our marriages are not arranged for economic benefit or social duty; our children are chosen and beloved, not incidental and taken for granted.

I was overwhelmed, it was all too much for me, how could it not have been? I wanted to run away, I wanted it to be over. I’m sorry. I wish, I wish, I wish every single day that I had been more genuinely kind, more open and loving and freely generous. Although if it happened again, someone I know having AIDS —and it has, it will —I’d do it again and feel the same, because that’s what AIDS does, the fucker.

You have to call him, you have to be persistent and annoying. He doesn’t have to like you. I finally learned life’s lesson: They don’t have to like you.

shirley jackson: a rather haunted life, by ruth franklin

One of the ironies of Jackson’s fiction is the essential role that women play in enforcing the standards of the community—standards that hurt them most.

take this bread: a radical conversion, by sara miles

“It’s about giving up,” she told me. “You get to a point where you just have to give up. And then you learn to be honest.”

Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?

“How do you pray?” I asked Lynn. “Well,” she said, “usually I start off, ‘Okay, what the hell is going on here, God?'”

thankful for

It’s Embarrassing Sincerity Day in California (when isn’t it) so you should know that if you’re reading this I am grateful for you. I am grateful for Barack and Michelle Obama. I’m grateful for California and its badass Reps and Senators and state legislature. I’m grateful for San Francisco, my sanctuary city. Today and every day I am grateful for my queer and trans friends, my immigrant friends, my friends who are people of color, my disabled friends, my friends who teach, and my friends who care for the sick and dying. This is my America and it’s worth fighting for. Here is a pavlova.

five fragments i have shored against my ruins

1. Neighbor Naomi had us over to sing Leonard Cohen songs. The pot-bellied stove makes her whole cottage toasty. She made roast chicken and we sang Suzanne and Dance Me to the End of Love. I love her so much.

2. Neighbor Michael made this.

3. I check in on people, and people check in on me. Text messages and phone calls, back and forth, sharing coping strategies and bewildered sorrow. I love them all so much.

4. I’m reading Paul Monette and Andrew Holleran and Amy Hoffman. I used to read WW2 histories and tell myself “at least it’s not WW2.” At least it’s not AIDS?

5. My mister, our daughters: we four.

happy birthday mum

I miss you every day.

so: that happened

Here’s what I’ve been reading and rereading this whole awful week:

‘These women walked directly into the fire and through it, and they did not have to. And that they did it even as some of the gay men they took care of treated them with bitchiness, scorn, and contempt.

‘It was, at the time, not at all unusual for gay men to snicker as the bull dyke walked into the bar with her overalls and flannels and fades. Much of the time, it was casual ribbing which they took in stride. But it could also be laced with acid, especially when lesbians began gravitating toward a bar that had until then catered largely to men.

‘When the AIDS crisis struck, it would be many of these same women who would go straight from their jobs during the day to acting as caregivers at night. Because most of them lacked medical degrees, they were generally relegated to the most unpleasant tasks: wiping up puke and shit, cleaning up houses and apartments neglected for weeks and months. But not being directly responsible for medical care also made them the most convenient targets for the devastating anger and rage these men felt – many who’d been abandoned by their own family and friends.

‘These women walked directly into the fire. They came to the aid of gay men even when it was unclear how easily the virus could be transmitted. Transmission via needlestick was still a concern, so they often wore two or three layers of latex gloves to protect themselves, but more than once I saw them, in their haste and frustration, dispense with the gloves so that they could check for fevers, or hold a hand that hung listlessly from the edge of a bed whose sheets they had just laundered.

‘They provided aid, comfort, and medical care to men withering away in hospices, men who’d already lost their lovers and friends to the disease and spent their last months in agony. They’d been abandoned by their own families, and were it not for lesbians – many if not most of them volunteers – they would have suffered alone. And when there was nothing more medicine could do for them and their lungs began to fill with fluid, it was often these same women who’d be left to administer enough morphine to release them, given to them by the doctor who had left the room and would return 15 minutes later to sign the certificate (a common practice at the time).

‘I knew a woman around that time who’d had at one point been making bank in construction. But at the outset of the AIDS crisis she had abandoned her career to pursue nursing instead, and was close to her degree when we were hanging out. She was a big, hearty drinker, and fortunately so was I. We’d been utterly thrashed at a bar once when someone whispered a fairly benign but nonetheless unwelcoming comment about her. Middle fingers were exchanged, and afterwards, furious and indignant, I asked her, Why do you do it? Why did you abandon a career to take care of these assholes who still won’t pay you any respect?

‘She cut me a surprisingly severe look, held it and said, “Honey, because no one else is going to do it.” I remember feeling ashamed after that, because my fury and indignation weren’t going to clean blood and puke off the floor; it wasn’t going to do the shit that needed to get done.

‘HIV killed my friends, took my lover from me, and tore up my life. During that time, I did what I could. But nothing I did then or have ever been called to do in my life puts me anywhere near the example set by the lesbians I knew in the 80s and 90s. I’ve felt obligated to remember what they did, and to make sure other people remember it too.’

adventure time: something to report

Our trainers organized a little jump club in our covered arena. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, with the cheery horse show atmosphere of special occasion but without the flop-sweat terror of serious competition. The light was spectacular for the early rounds:

I rode later, after the sun had set. Sam was in great form, keen and forward off my leg. We jumped a nice clear at 80cm and Toni asked me if I wanted to step up to the 1m class. I said that I did. The whole time I was waiting to ride my second round I second-guessed myself, but there hasn’t been a better horse than Sam or a friendlier setting in which to step up.

We jumped a nice clear in the 1m class. They start to look like proper fences at that height. I wasn’t scared. I was excited and happy.

not much to report

It’s been a long year. The kid and I went to a concert. That was pretty great.

I was in the lobby of an office building when these quilts caught my eye.

The sun shines out of this city, if you ask me.

darwinian

I started listening to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History (having finished up Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which traces the American way of death back to the Civil War, and is excellent.) Mukherjee’s Emperor of Maladies made me cry buckets and also gave me an inkling of insight when it described “cancer pathways” – specific sequences of gene mutations that lead to specific conditions.

I couldn’t wait for The Gene to come out and so far it’s even better than Emperor. He talks about his paternal uncles, Rajesh and Jagu, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and how the trauma of Partition exacerbated their illnesses. This immediately after I read Timothy Knatchbull’s From a Clear Blue Sky about the Mountbatten bomb. The consequences of British imperialism run through both families like another inherited trait.

Mukherjee made me laugh out loud when he described Darwin resolutely ignoring the theological consequences of his research as the idea of evolution dawned on him, calling this “the separation of church and state of mind.”

I first encountered Darwin as a teenager in my Dad’s Stephen Jay Gould and Dawkins books, which sounded every bit as self-satisfied as the religious books I was reading at the same time. Darwin came back around later, long after I’d lost my faith, when I read Janet Browne’s wonderful biographies of him. She described how seriously he took his reading, and in response, I started keeping my own log of the books I had read.

As a devout Christian and then as an angry atheist, a lot of Darwin was lost on me. If you refuse to engage with the central struggle of his life, between his faith in meaning and what his observations taught him, you miss so much. I see in Darwin now what I saw in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona: that this world is more beautiful than it needs to be; that even when you understand its underlying principles, its glory can bring you to your knees.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

22 hours in new york

6pm: wheels down at JFK

6-8pm: stuck in UN traffic with an elderly bearded white taxi driver who plays country music and tells me the mileage on each vehicle he owns and exactly what happened last time he went to the DMV. When his credit card reader turns out to be offline, he locks all the doors and demands to know how I am going to pay. When I am released I go to an ATM, thrust the cash at him and flee.

8pm: I am an hour late for dinner but Leonard is still waiting for me, because he is delightful. We talk about technology for libraries and strategies for writing science fiction novels. I have the pork saltimbocca and a tiramisu of unusual size

10pm: stress about my talk

11pm-6am: wake every hour on the hour to make sure I haven’t overslept

7am: realize I have overslept

7:30am: rehearsal. Everyone is delightful. I am filled with terror

8am: in the speaker’s lounge. Too late to back out.

9:30-10am: I give my talk. I flub half the lines, but people say lovely things about it both to my face and on Twitter

11am: coffee with the lovely Fintan. We talk about containerization

12noon: lunch with the wonderful Francis and the amazing Gus. I have the moules marinieres and an excellent tarte tatin. We talk about word puzzles and technology for Doctors Without Borders and San Francisco high school choices and I have to tear myself away

1:30-2:30pm: taxi ride to JFK in which nothing goes wrong and I do not fear for my life. I leave an excessive tip

4pm: wheels up!

horse show

We did good.