this is a thing that salome and i do sometimes

Me: trying to find the perfect version of o holy night, so far it’s a tie between sufjan stevens and tracy chapman
story of my life

Her: Oh no it’s not! It’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I listen twice a day. I sit quietly and cry. It’s sublime. Truly.

Me: fall on your knees, o hear the angel voices
is pretty much everything right now

Her: It’s funny you’d be listening to that. I mean, I’ve seriously been listening in silent meditation twice a day for about two weeks. And in my head I hear that line all day.
What are the odds, really?

being mortal, by atul gawande

Your competence gives you a secure sense of identity.

By age eighty-five, working memory and judgment are sufficiently impaired that 40 percent of us have textbook dementia.

More than half of the very old now live without a spouse and we have fewer children than ever before, yet we give virtually no thought to how we will live out our later years alone.

People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete.

…those who saw a palliative care specialist stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives—and they lived 25 percent longer. In other words, our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality. If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve…

The patient and the family opted for hospice. They had more than a month together before he died. Later, the father thanked the doctor. That last month, he said, the family simply focused on being together, and it proved to be the most meaningful time they’d ever spent.

No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines.

the empathy exams, by leslie jamison

I needed something from the world I didn’t know how to ask for. I needed people—Dave, a doctor, anyone—to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible.

The insistence upon an external agent of damage implies an imagining of the self as a unified entity, a collection of physical, mental, spiritual components all serving the good of some Gestalt whole—the being itself. When really, the self—at least, as I’ve experienced mine—is much more discordant and self-sabotaging, neither fully integrated nor consistently serving its own good.

“That’s so generous,” she said to me when I gave it to her—and of course I’d been hoping she would say that. I wanted to do nice things for everyone out of a sense of preemptive guilt

The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time. The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return. It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.

A cry for attention is positioned as the ultimate crime, clutching or trivial—as if “attention” were inherently a selfish thing to want.

the unsayable, by annie g. rogers, ph.d.

Trauma is bigger than expertise of any sort – it’s in our midst, in our language, our wars, even the ways we try to love, repeating, repeating. No one is an expert on trauma.

To read is to be drawn away from the confines of the body and the present moment into another time and place.

The poet Audre Lorde tells us that “poetry is the way we give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.”

the forest of faces

Just south of the Lions Park out of Manilla, NSW, someone has painted a bearded face on a tree.


It’s the first of eight such faces (that we know of), all taking advantage of the contours of the burls. The second one, named Toby by my nephew though it looks more like Gromit, is my favorite.


Before this trip to Barraba I tried to describe to myself the difference between my father’s town of a thousand souls and my own beloved city of San Francisco, population 800k but arguably way fewer souls. There are the giveaway jokes: Barraba used to have an asbestos mine, and just missed out on a new abattoir. In New York, everyone’s writing a novel; in LA, they’re working on a screenplay; in SF, they’re building an app.

That second joke gave me a clue. I love the density of narrative in cities, the plaques on London’s Georgian houses, the ghost of the railroad through the Mission, the undergrounded waterways. I thought for a while that Barraba is relatively empty of stories, until I remembered with a stab of sorrow that it used to be full of them, but that my ancestors tried to kill all the people that knew them.

Barraba is in Gamilaraay country. One story I do know is that of the Myall Creek Massacre.


I’ve spent enough time in Barraba to have made good friends and learned a little of their stories. Pam has a great one about her husband Ted riding across a flooded creek to be with her when she had a baby; she remembers the sight of him galloping up to the house, surrounded by a halo of flies. Jane’s family owns a property called Wiry, which I had assumed was an Aboriginal name. Turns out it was part of the land grants to returned soliders, and because it’s a relatively hilly and inaccessible property, the recipient grumbled “Wouldn’t it root ya.” More giveaway jokes.


Jane asked me flat out what all seven of you remaining blog readers have probably been wondering: “Are you neglecting the blog because the stuff you’re thinking about is too intense and sad?” Yup. But something really terrific has happened. A researcher has become interested in Dad’s blog, which was critical to his diagnosis of semantic dementia. We have 17 years’ worth of his written records as his condition developed – more than five times the length of the next longest case study. Joanna believes we can extract psycholinguistic markers of the changes to his vocabulary that may help scientists to develop more sensitive diagnostic tests.

As part of collating the material for Joanna, I read a few of Dad’s earliest blog entries. He had a decent line in giveaway jokes of his own:

Tue 10 Feb 1998

Got away late from Sydney. Lasted on the road until 6 o’clock at which time we found ourselves in Gunning, between Goulburn and Gundagai.

Gunning is a town of a thousand souls and very few outstanding features.


Death is the eater of meaning. It swallows up whole universes, erases stories from the landscape.


The work of grief is to make sense of loss. We have to make new narratives to mark the place of those that are gone.


We have to find the faces in the forest.

adventure time 6: yosemite valley

So we went to see what all the fuss was about.

The first night, we stayed at the Wawona.

The absolute highlight of which was this handsome fellow vogueing in the shrubbery.

Next morning, brunch at the Ahwahnee.

Then El Capitan, or as I like to call him, Steve.

We stormed around the Merced River for a bit, which was painfully scenic.

Then I don’t even know, a meadow and some rocks and stuff.

A waterfall of excruciating beauty.

Tea back at the Ahwahnee with a mama mule deer and her twin fawns.

Pinot grigio on our balcony at the Yosemite Lodge, with our own personal mountain.

And our own personal sunset.

Glacier Point on the way home, for one last overdose on grandeur.

Buh-bye rocks and stuff!

I guess I would characterize all the fuss as “not wholly unjustified”.

adventure time 5: ai weiwei on alcatraz

We chose the most beautiful morning imaginable.

Even @karlthefog had come out to Alcatraz.

The flock of kites in prison made me think of my Dad.

The Lego portraits made me think of playing with my brother as children.

Each portrait is of a prisoner of conscience.

I was ashamed at how few of the names I knew.

It’s a powerfully angry and compassionate body of work.

We are all one family.

heather made me a picture

I love it immoderately.

a day in the life

One of the nicer uses of this blog is to capture Interesting Moments in Time for later perusal. My late-summer, Winter-Soldier-induced psychotic episode more or less resolved itself the week after Labor Day, and I’ve been feeling better ever since. It’s been a staggeringly beautiful few weeks in the Bay Area (when isn’t it) and I’ve been wondering how to take a snapshot.

Part of the problem, though, is that the days are extremely different from one another: days in Seattle, days at incubators and accelerators, days of meetings and days of working on documents, alone in my office or at home with the kittens.

What I noticed this week, though, is that though the days vary wildly, the weeks follow the same outline. Monday morning partner meeting. Tuesday, wushu in the afternoon and Salome and I drinking sake at the sushi place. Wednesday, Claire’s chorus rehearsal. Every other Wednesday, therapy with Naomi, who is hilarious. Thursday, Spanish tutoring with Meghan the brilliant law student. Friday, a riding lesson, two piano lessons and then maybe movie night. Saturday, wushu, meet Jack and Najah at the Greenhouse Cafe, order a BLT and Hong Kong milk tea, go to the farmer’s market and Julia’s swimming lesson. Sunday, a riding lesson and another chorus rehearsal.

It’s far too much driving (but my new car, Hedy Lamarr, the kittenbus, is a joy.) We are all overcommitted as hell – Jeremy and I sportsing 2x/week and the girls with three overlapping but nonidentical activities each. But it’s okay. It’s better than okay.

happy birthday alain!

You are delightful and I am so lucky to have you as my brother.

happy birthday daddy

I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

new plan

“I want to surround myself with younger, smarter people, and bask in their company, like X. does. And I want to use everything that’s happened to me to inform me, to make me a more compassionate person, like Y. does.”

“Sounds like you have some pretty decent role models there.”

“Yeah you know what, I think I do.”

american canyon

There was a house on the headland south of Dee Why beach. It looked out through Norfolk Island pines to the grey and silver sea. It was your typical San Francisco Victorian, 3br/2ba, and being in Bernal Heights… near Dee Why beach… it was priced at $1.6m. I worked out that if we put $200k down, our mortgage would come to a little over $7000/month, and I was trying to calculate that as a percentage of my salary, to see if it was over a third…

I woke up drenched in sweat and twisted up in the duvet. The cats were nowhere to be seen. I took deep breaths and waited for my heart rate to drop below 100. I pushed off all the covers but the top sheet and lay on my back staring up. It was as dark as it ever gets in our room with the plantation shutters closed: purple-orange with light pollution.

And then the whole house shook, exactly like the quake simulator at the Cal Academy. I could feel Bernal’s bedrock moving like the pistons of a giant machine. The house moved easily with it, a good rider on a disobedient horse.

My first instinct was to throw my body over Jeremy’s.

“In case the chandelier came down on us,” he said, amused, over coffee at St Jorge this morning. The chandelier is a IKEA Christmas wreath made of LEDs. It wouldn’t have hurt.

“The dream was scarier than the earthquake,” I said.

“Of course,” he said. “But did you hear that noise that went along with the quake?”


“It was property prices starting to come down.”


So how’s your year been? Mine’s been pretty harsh. To be honest, I just wanted to bump that last post out of the top of the blog.


I gotta say, these here shiny kittenses helped a lot.



best* practices for when your mother dies

  1. As soon as she gets sick, start calling her every day just to check in. Be grateful for the years of therapy and the births of your own children that it required for the two of you to get close. (Unfortunately this is also a worst practice, since after she has died you will miss her daily at the time you used to call (as well as at all the other times.))
  2. Be privileged enough that you can take ungodly amounts of time off work to spend just sitting with her. Watch documentaries about the Queen. Knit. Do needlework. Talk at length about the extreme cuteness of her cat.
  3. When you get The Call, purchase boxes of Kleenex in many sizes and distribute them around your office, car and home. Future self will thank you, through streaming snot.
  4. Although it may feel like tearing off your own limbs, go to the funeral director before your mother has died and make arrangements. Be grateful, again, that she is a person who has made her wishes as to the disposal of her remains known for the last thirty years. If you are lucky, the funeral director will be hilarious and kind, and it will not be as excruciating as you had feared (although still plenty awful.)
  5. Immediately afterwards, go straight back to your job and immerse yourself in hard, complicated work. Or lie in bed in the fetal position for three months. Either way, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
  6. Remember that book you read once that said that most people are psychologically resilient, and recover from grief faster than they imagine they will. Wish you could put your hands on that book so you could throw it across the room. Notice, eventually, that the only books you can read without skimming impatiently are hurt/comfort slashfic or narratives of surviving PTSD. Call your therapist.
  7. Finally, finally have a dream about her that is not a nightmare, a dream in which you are shopping for a camping trip and mutually decide to it is necessary to have Magnum ice creams, and the treehouse in the shopping center has a swing rope and you dare her to swing on it and so she does.

*more like least worst

always safe to assume

…when I haven’t blogged for a while that I have been miserable. Couldn’t sleep, had headaches and gastric distress. Tweaking my thyroid and crazy meds didn’t cut it. Finally dragged my sorry arse to therapy and am the better for it.

Good things: July 4th at Oz Farm, a red woodpecker, three mule deer, snakes and frogs; Claire working as a junior counsellor at Heather Hill’s summer camp; picking Claire up today and getting to go on a trail ride, her on Gemini and me on Bethan. Out riding after work with my kid, no big deal.

machines of loving grace

I keep forgetting to blog my gratitude for the technology of palliative care: the bed that breathed, so that Mum didn’t get bedsores; the syringe driver that kept her on a constant dose of morphine; the lift sling. I can almost kid myself that her ghost is still in the machine.

adventure time 4: a walk in the woods

California is so crazy beautiful.

It really, really is.

i was in denver international airport today

My driver said they rarely get tornados. “People see the tornado shelter signs in the airport, they think we get ‘em all the time, but we don’t. Big thunderstorm coming though.”

It was big. People were lined up against the glass windows of Terminal B, looking south and east at the huge, slowly revolving storm cell. Its curtain clouds dropped fringed fingers towards the ground.


The tornado sirens started to go off.

I found a front row seat near the tornado shelter, next to an old man who determinedly read the paper through the whole event. The storm cell moved east across the prairie. Lightning lit it from the inside, giving it an eerie green glow.

It started to hail. The smell of ozone flooded into the terminal.

Compared to a good Sydney storm it was not all that. But it did spawn eight tornados and delay my flight by three hours. I was late to Salome’s birthday party.

adventure time 3: on the wing

Thought we might go hawking.

His name is Don Diego Alejandro Inigo Montoya del Gato.

We like him very much.