fierce attachments: a memoir, by vivian gornick

She had spoken such words often but, always before, the harshness had been cut by an exasperation in her voice that betrayed affection. Now the tone, like the words, was only hard.

That failure of the sympathetic imagination, when it occurs between two people who have been intimate, is like natural disaster to me. It fills me with dread and amazement.

We thought because we were always talking we were connecting.

adventure time: landscaping crew

Because this is San Francisco, a person can rent goats from her local non-profit to clear out her overgrown back garden.

Meet Bic, aka White Lightning, a gentle and friendly fellow.

Bic’s eyeliner game is strong.

His daughter Precious has but a single, dire nemesis: the goat glaring at back her from her reflection.

To all others she is the smilingest of goats.

Mama goat Emma was slow to warm up, but now leans against me and demands scritches.

Emma is topologically unfeasible.

I love them with every particle of my being.

revelations of divine love, by julian of norwich

He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made.

adventure time: neighborhood walks

Everyone’s adventures are appropriately downscaled right now, but our neighborhood is a half mile south-east of where it used to be, and we’re exploring fresh walks. We are now only a couple of blocks away from the beautiful Alemany Farm, with its orchards and running brook and frog pond:

Just up the hill to the west of us are the Harry Street Stairs:

Which lead through fairy meadows:

To the Miguel Street Mural.

Grocery shopping right now feels stressful and unhappy, but walking around the neighborhood at Golden Hour feels like a treat. Everyone is respectful and keeps their distance. We smile and nod at one another, and say: “Stay safe.”

in the dream house, by carmen maria machado

Afterward, I would mourn her as if she’d died, because something had: someone we had created together

How to read her coldness: She is preoccupied. She is unhappy. She is unhappy with you. You did something and now she’s unhappy, and you need to find out what it is so she will stop being unhappy. You talk to her. You are clear. You think you are clear. You say what you are thinking and you say it after thinking a lot, and yet when she repeats what you’ve said back to you nothing makes sense. Did you say that? Really? You can’t remember saying that or even thinking it, and yet she is letting you know that it was said, and you definitely meant it that way.

Your body is brilliant, even when you are not. It doesn’t just heal—it learns. It remembers. (All of this, of course, if the virus doesn’t kill you first.)

well, that escalated quickly

Last Thursday, Jeremy asked what it would take for us to decide to cancel or postpone our planned trip to Australia. On Monday, we rescheduled our flights. Yesterday, the public schools and our kids’ school all closed. In grocery stores, people are calm and brave, Londoners during the blitz. Online, we take turns being scared and comforting one another.

I’m sitting on my back deck drinking coffee with Jeremy. The gardens are full of birdsong. Hummingbirds are having fierce air battles over the shrubbery. And now I know why the pair of crows I’ve been trying to befriend have been so preoccupied. They’re building a nest.

that feeling when you live in an house

It feels like all four of us have let out a collective breath. The kids were champions during the long wait to move in, and instantly happier after the move. They assembled their own IKEA beds. We have dinner at the dinner table, like dinner-having people. During a brief spat earlier, the big kid said: “Fine. I’ll go to my room,” and she did, and it was glorious.

Children can have little a personal space, as a treat.

sixteen years and one month

…is how long we lived in the apartment on Eugenia Avenue. On Monday we moved again, into a house half a mile up the road. The neighborhood is called College Hill. No one has ever heard of it. I say it’s still part of Bernal Heights, but the kids insist it’s Glen Park.

It’s two years since we bought this place. It was a very sweet Queen Anne with just a little deferred maintenance (termites, wood-boring beetles, asbestos, a mummified cat in the walls), waiting for a naive tech couple to come along and pour their life savings into it. There are a lotta construction photos, if that’s your jam. Our architect and general contractor are both local, women-owned businesses, and they did such a good job, I can’t even tell you, you would fall off your horse. My Fireclay tiles, let me show you them.

Tonight’s our second night here. I’m hoping to make friends with the crows, but they were distracted today with yelling at a redtail hawk. There’s a toyon full of hummingbirds. Our neighbor Lucinda brought around a basket of Meyer lemons from her tree with a note that said: “Welcome home.”

paladin’s grace, by t. kingfisher

“You were an orphan?” Stephen frowned. “I’m so sorry.” “Almost everyone is, eventually,” said Grace. “It’s not a big deal.”

farm city, by novella carpenter

I had my first existential crisis when I realized that it was not possible to have a pony in the city.

the outlaw ocean, by ian urbina

Such is the inconvenient truth of globalization: it is based more on market sleight of hand than on Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

how to do nothing, by jenny odell

…the real disaster is everyday life, which alienates us from each other and from the protective impulse that we harbor.

initiated, by amanda yates garcia

…there is no escape and nowhere to run. There is no outside capitalism anymore. Capitalism has contacted all of our tribes.

long live the tribe of fatherless girls, by t kira madden

When I think of my father, I think of my heart breaking in stages.

say nothing, by patrick radden keefe

Doctors found, paradoxically, that the people most prone to this type of anxiety were not the active combatants, who were out on the street and had a sense of agency, but the women and children stuck sheltering behind closed doors.

know my name, by chanel miller

You cannot write out of someone else’s dark place; you can only write out of your own.

wild horse country, by david philipps

The hills of Montgomery Pass had seven permanent springs. Though the region comprises more than 100,000 acres, the springs, when combined, would maybe cover only a single acre. Nearly all of the region’s wildlife had to pass through this tiny bottleneck. That is where the lions waited.

catch and kill, by ronan farrow

“Is this the way the world works?” she wondered. “That men get away with this?”

o happy day

A lazy morning in bed with cups of tea and books and Alice cat, followed by Rebels Within and lattes at Craftsman & Wolves. (Two dogs came in: “Wolves! Truth in advertising.”)

To the house, where Jeremy expressed glee over the extremely solarpunk radiant floor and hot water heating system, while I sat on the stairs daydreaming, only for our starchitect Bonnie to show up unexpectedly for a look around. We all agreed that it is turning out to be a very cute house indeed.

To the barn, for a lazy amble on Bentley. Freya my war mare has a new family, and family photos were being taken in the golden hour. Freya, fat and happy, was striking warlike poses. “This is my person. This is my dog.” God bless the war mares and starchitects and wolves and craftsmen and rebels, every one.

an annotated bibliography of the inside of my head

You know those books that you can’t stop thinking about, won’t shut up about, and wish everyone around you would read? The ones that, if taken in aggregate, would tell people more about you than your resume?” Yeah, I do. Here are some of mine. (I’m going with the obscure ones. If you haven’t already read Dark Emu and The Body Keeps the Score, go, do.)

Nuclear Rites (1996) – Hugh Gusterson embedded himself as an anthropologist at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. He talks about bomb tests as rites of passage for the weapons scientists, and I find myself thinking about this whenever I think about douchebag VCs investing in horrorshows like Uber. A Cold War kid, I saw The Day After on TV and followed the news trickling out of the Chernobyl disaster. I couldn’t conceive of why anyone would build such fucking appalling weapons. This book helped me understand, at least a little.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1998) – I constantly quote Michael Frayn’s “In a good play, everyone is right.” This is a book-length version of the same idea. Her doctors had one framework for understanding Lia Lee’s epilepsy, and her Hmong family had another. However kind and well-intentioned Westerners think we are, when we tacitly assume the superiority of our version of the truth, children die.

Depression: A Public Feeling (2000) – This book introduced me to “political depression”, the idea that anxiety and grief are a wholly reasonable reaction to the destructive and hypercompetitive economies in which we are forced to live. The first chapters are a poetic memoir of one of the author’s depressive episodes, and I find myself reading them over and over. I’ll always be grateful that Ann Cvetkovich gave me a way of thinking about my relationship with my landscape of origin as a settler seeking to right the wrongs of the past.

The Language of Blood (2003) – A wrenching memoir that changed the way I think about transracial adoption and motherhood. If you like it, see also All You Can Ever Know.

Mother Nature (2005) – An anthropologist and primatologist considers the evidence for how best to raise children. A book of radical kindness. If you like it, see also A Primate’s Memoir.

Postwar (2006) I’ve called this the missing manual for Generation X. It provides the context for the political climate in which we were born – the fading of the postwar consensus and peace dividend, setting the stage for the attack on social institutions by Thatcher and Reagan, and the collapse of the social contract that brought us to where we are. You’re not going to like this book, exactly. It’s hard work and heartbreaking. Judt died before seeing his worst fears fulfilled, but if you want more, his student Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is basically the prequel.

This House of Grief (2014) – Another dumb joke of mine is that Mad Max: Fury Road is a keenly observed documentary of my childhood. This book is, however, a keenly observed documentary of the middle-class Australia in which I grew up, its lonely and angry men, its frightened and angry women, and the horrors it inflicts on its children. In some ways it’s the distillation of everything I’ve talked about here: the slaughterhouse of empire, and ways in which it drains our private lives of meaning.

Horses in Company (2017) – Lucy Rees, who wrote some of my favorite pony books when I was a child, has spent the intervening thirty years catching up on new science around equine ethology. Much as alpha wolves and cocaine-addicted rats illustrate the stress of being an experimental subject rather than authentic wild animal behavior, the received wisdom about dominant and submissive horses reflects domestic animals under resource constraint. Rees argues that wild horses, who can eat the grass beneath their feet, live in the real-world version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and that in this state of nature they’re feminist matriarchal gestalt entities. I jest, but only a little. If we could take violence out of the way we interact with animals and children, maybe we could take it out of the way we interact with one another.