- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
With the rain after the drought, the hills are exuding mad chlorophyll with everything they’ve got. It’s wall to wall wildflowers around here. It rained again this afternoon and as I drove up 280 after riding Sam, the clouds and the fog in the valleys made the vivid green hills of Woodside look like Irish countryside.
The red-tailed hawks are very fat and happy.
Manhattan maintained its tradition of being an exceedingly nice place for us to visit. A few of the lovely things that happened:
– Liz loaned us longjohns so we wouldn’t all die of cold
– Delta gave us all cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, and I got a bottle of pink champagne too
– our hotel randomly upgraded us to a suite
– it snowed the perfect amount, and then the rain washed the slush away
– Leonard gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the NYPL and made sure to point out the Gutenberg Bible, which I would otherwise have missed
– on Monday night, the cast of Hamilton performed at the Grammys and won a Grammy, so that on Tuesday night when we saw the show, everyone was obviously both hungover and super jazzed
– Daveed Diggs signed a $10 bill for Claire at the stage door
A perfect trip, and an ideal birthday present to myself.
…our deepest wants can never be fulfilled: our wants for youth, for a halt to aging, for the return of vanished ones, for eternal love, protection, significance, for immortality itself.
One night she watched the tram light coming towards her, the rails gleaming, the road slick with rain. The trams had been a little adventure in the beginning but now they were the emblem of the hard machine of her days. I could step out in front of it, she thought. That would put an end to the misery and the loneliness and the feeling that every day would be like this forever. It would hurt, she supposed. But if she was lucky it would all be over in a second. In the moment she stood with that choice, she was free of everyone else in the world…
The Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The Museum of Modern Art, including my favorite works of art:
The New York Public Library:
Some show or other:
What an unbelievably great and awesome trip; we are so lucky.
Haven’t brought the kids to NYC since they were well smol. I remembered this meteorite with great fondness.
After an extremely pleasant lunch…
…we rugged up to face the elements.
Central Park had turned into Narnia.
In a rare concession, the teen allowed as to how this was actually pretty fun.
The Week of All the Deathiversaries, which I have taken to calling Shark Week for short, ended with some kind of football game which I resolved to go to the far end of our metropolitan area in order to avoid.
Pretty safe to say that we have, as a family, grown fond of kayaking. Among the floating homes of Sausalito we discovered this round, glassy lagoon. Venice has nothin’ on us.
I would also like to call out this colony of harbor seals for some really fine achievements in lolling.
I like it here.
My mother was a genius
My father commanded respect
When they died they left no instructions, just a legacy to protect
Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When everyone who loves me has died
I’m willing to wait for it
I’m willing to wait for it
…active listening was hard work.
We don’t need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy. The reason the Uncanny Valley exists is because humans created it to put other people into. It’s how we justify killing each other.
It’s not unlike colony collapse disorder, but for humans.
How difficult it was to find one’s way, how difficult it was not to violate any of the incredibly detailed male regulations.
Merit was not enough, something else was required, and I didn’t have it nor did I know how to learn it.
Maybe there’s something mistaken in this desire men have to instruct us; I was young at the time, and I didn’t realize that in his wish to transform me was the proof that he didn’t like me as I was, he wanted me to be different, or, rather, he didn’t want just a woman, he wanted the woman he imagined he himself would be if he were a woman.
Naples was the great European metropolis where faith in technology, in science, in economic development, in the kindness of nature, in history that leads of necessity to improvement, in democracy, was revealed, most clearly and far in advance, to be completely without foundation.
I had a meeting Friday morning with a man who does Silicon Valley liaison for Australian startups.
“I first came here to visit SGI when I was working at a manufacturing company called Wormald,” he said.
“Wormald, huh?” I said. “Did you know Robin Chalmers?”
“Of course I knew Robin!” He said that Dad was the first management theorist he’d met, and described Dad’s model of companies plateauing when their products were commoditized, and needing to find new products their factories could make in order to achieve new growth. The Innovator’s Dilemma, in other words, but worked out from scratch five years before that book was first published.
I remember having the same conversation with Dad myself. It was in the early 1990s, which was probably Peak Dad. I was at uni, flailing around, trying to figure out who I was and what I was going to be. He was running the factory, building the fire systems for the Collins Class submarines and thinking deeply about Australian manufacturing and competitiveness. We talked endlessly about everything: astronomy, Cantor’s diagonal argument, Christianity, geopolitics, John Donne, Martin Gardner, maths. He was unbelievably patient with me, and loving and funny and thoughtful and silly and wise.
I’m very grateful for the reminder of what he was like then, even if it did hit me like a bullet in the chest. I miss him so much.
This is Jen and her daughter Reese heading out for Halloween in 2009.
You can almost see how long-awaited Reese was, what a fantastic and amazing turn of events she turned out to be. She had just learned to say her cousin Maggie’s name when this picture was taken. Look at Jen slinging the weight of that love and hope, all wrapped up in sparkles, casually onto one hip.
She was a big sister to me when I was a very small and anxious person. I miss her a lot.
…in my head, everything is always so tangled. I am such a damaged thing.
“Do you have a better idea?” she demanded. “Maybe we can hurl some stuff into the underbrush! Or hit something! That solves everything! Maybe we can be really manly and break things!”