Wow. Feels even better than last year. I’m all teary, but it’s probably the unaccustomed indulgence in red wine and chocolate.
Archive for November, 2003
Why do I do this to myself? 48000 words, of which 18000 were written yesterday and today.
My shoulders hurt. And as for my brain…
You know what friendship is? Friendship is when you call someone and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry that I exposed you and your husband to this stomach flu that’s going around and I’m really, really sorry he got so sick from it, but all three of us have it now and I was wondering if you could come and take Claire for a bit?”
And she says, “I’ll be there right away.”
The people cry out for pictures; I am powerless to resist. Here she is with a loaded banana.
One of the most fantastic, endlessly delightful things about living in San Francisco is that if you get interested in a particular thing – genetically modified tomatoes, say, or alternative forms of rocket propulsion, or the massive advances in our knowledge of child psychology over the last 30 years, or how difficult it is to forgive someone who has hurt you – chances are the world expert in the field is living and working within a 40-mile radius, and sooner or later you’ll get to hear him or her speak.
Fred Luskin was just great. I’m writing it down here so I don’t forget.
“It’s been a mixed blessing, I have to tell you. The work we’ve done has helped a lot of people, but at the same time I hear an endless succession of horror stories. I hear so many that I don’t even react the same way any more. Talk to enough people about what hurts them and you’ll learn two things: how difficult life can be, and how downright shitty people can be. I see an inexhastibly supply of people who have been hurt. There is so much unkindness, ineptitude and selfishness in the world. We all struggle. Life is so much harder than we thought it would be.
“But the fact is, we over-dramatize our own stuff. This life is meant for us to figure out how to survive it. If we have $100 in the bank, we’re among the top 1-2% of wealthiest people who have ever lived. If we can have some relationships where we experience kindness, we’re truly blessed. How often, when your car starts, do you stop and think, ‘Thank you’? How often are you genuinely grateful for a meal?
“We have a biological imperative to scan the world to find out if we are safe, and we have a biological imperative to suffer from loss. To counterbalance those imperatives, we have to scan the world for its blessings, too. Our biology dictates that negative experiences register in our whole body, while positive experiences can stay on the surface. We have to offer thanks, and welcome goodness into our very cellular being. When we come home to somebody who loves us, to a child who holds up its hands to be hugged, we have to breathe in that blessing.
“As human beings we are built vulnerable. We are subject to physical decay. All the people we love will die. That sucks. When you go out into the world you underestimate the enormous risks you take. You have to find food, shelter, love, meaningful work, friendship. It’s incredibly hard. And every single thing that hurts us reminds us how vulnerable we are. We can win the game of Monopoly, but when the game is over, it goes back in its box, and so do we.
“When we get angry or upset we invoke the stress response. Blood drains from our prefrontal cortex and into our limbic system. We literally can’t think straight. At the same time, our livers release cholesterol to gummy up the blood in our hearts, just in case we get bitten by a lion and might bleed to death. Getting angry is like throwing Drano through your circulatory and immune systems, that’s how much damage it does.
“Forgiveness means you give the same attention to the things that do work for you as you do to the things that don’t, and talk about them with the same gusto. Life doesn’t owe you more than it gave you. It’s up to you to find goodness in what it gave you. It just takes practice.
“Count your blessings.”
Claire is hooting mournfully. It’s not like her at all.
Kiki: What have you done with the real Claire? This child is an imposter!
R (to the tune of Rubber Ducky): Doppelganger, you’re the one, who makes bath time so much fun…
J: At least, you’re one of them.
I had to cook two dinners last night, because I made a mistake on the first one. The beef stew made with our own chicken glaze was filling the house with delicious savory smells, when I remembered to my chagrin that I had browned the steak in seasoned flour and butter, meaning that if I fed it to Shannon and Cian, both violently lactose-intolerant, I would poison them.
Luckily Shannon had brought another chicken, brined with kosher salt. I sliced up some carrots and Yukon Gold potatoes and threw them in the roasting pan with olive oil and ground pepper. There were vine-ripened tomatoes and avocadoes and baby spinach for the salad, and the very last bottle of the celestial 1999 Adastra chardonnay to drink. I threw the gold-and-blue Provencal tablecloth on the kitchen table, and the six of us had a proper Sunday roast. The bird was juicy and tender and delicious and the schmaltzy vegetables disappeared in nanoseconds.
We sent the boys out for a couple of bottles of cheap red, and peeled five overripe pears. They went into a pot with an entire bottle of wine, a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves and a dash of vanilla essence. The pears simmered for an hour while we finished off the chardonnay, and then we ate them, poached to a nicety.
Claire ate her pieces of pear, and her face filled with wonder.
The woman had had some kind of appalling car accident. If you looked at her right profile, she looked almost unharmed. Her face was still stretched over the front of her skull, and there was enough activity in her brain stem to give her a semblance of normal function.
But the left side of her head was just… gone. All the way through. Her skull was hollow. The bone at the back was completely exposed, with a few bits of meat and hair still clinging to the spurs. In the middle of her head, where her brain should have been, there was nothing, just the healing surface of the brain stem open to the air, and the back of her face, and the terrible jagged edges of her skull.
R: I dreamed we had family nukes. I thought, cool, that’ll teach our enemies to fuck with us.
J: It’s probably a reasonable insight into the Bush administration’s foreign policy. But still.
There is prior art for That’s Our Nader.
Also, some corrections. Yatima wishes to remain your reliable news source.
1. Sumana notes the provenance of the gingery ginger snaps: the Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Civic Center.
2. My brother Bif La (now employed! Woot, and again I say woot!) says that when the taxi broke his femur, tibia and fibula, the noise it made was “more cracky than meaty.”
I don’t actually remember there being a sound when I snapped the ends off my tib & fib; I suspect I couldn’t hear it over Hawkeye’s galloping hooves. What I do remember is knowing immediately that I’d broken my ankle. This seems odd. Maybe I did hear the crack and have forgotten it? Or maybe you just know?
We brainstorm ideas for a sitcom featuring Ralph Nader as the wacky neighbour.
“Oh no! George W Bush has succeeded in rigging the election! Naa… der!”
“The Supreme Court’s decision is unsafe at ANY speed!”
Okay, I’ll stop now, I promise.
“Now she’s hitting the Ryvita with a spoon! This baby’s breakfast is going to blow. You. Away.”
Sumana came over last night for risotto and a new episode of The West Wing. It was the first time I’d watched the show since ER veteran John Wells took over from Sorkin. Many changes: Jeremy from Sports Night is now working for the VP; Chandler Bing is a lawyer; the First Lady has a wicked haircut that makes her look more awesome than ever (when I grow up, I want to be Stockard Channing – I’m too short to be Allison Janney, unfortunately); and Toby’s complex and rounded character has been excised and replaced with a tendency to an upward inflection at the end of each impassioned speech.
The show will be hereinafter referred to as The West Emergency Wing Room. There’s still great pleasure in the way CJ’s suits hang from her designer clavicles, and the episode’s moral ambiguity was acceptably morally ambiguous. But the old seasons, now in syndication, routinely choke me up in a way John Wells can never do. Sorkin may be a sentimental, manipulative, sappy git, but by God the man can write.
Anyway. There were interesting historical parallels between the cliffhanger and the shocking and unconstitutional sacking of the Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam twenty-eight years ago last Tuesday (yes, in case anyone was wondering, rage is being fully maintained over here). The risotto was perfection, and Sumana’s ginger snaps were so gingery that they burned, they burned. We made plans to do it again next week.
“I can’t wait to see how the budget crisis turns out!” I said. “Oh my God, I really just said that, didn’t I?”
“It’s okay,” said Sumana, patting my shoulder reassuringly, “all West Wing fans say something like that sooner or later.”
I can’t face my novel. I can’t face the J2EE application management company I’m supposed to be writing up. I can’t face my weary babysitter or the sink full of unwashed dishes or the dishwasher full of washed dishes that still have bits of chicken on them. I am the shrivelled hulk of a human being.
It’s an addiction, I tell you.
She can stand for ten or twenty seconds at a time, but only if she has a toy in each hand to make her believe she’s holding onto something. This usually ends with her banging the toys together and toppling back into a sit. At which point she glances around with mild surprise.
She’s ready to walk, but on the whole she prefers to swarm. If she’s in someone else’s arms and I happen to walk past, she’ll defy gravity, wiggle into my arms and beat me triumphantly on the breast. She’s a swarm of one.
She’s tiny and dense, in that she weighs one million kilograms. Our little neutron star.
Paul Allen’s yacht was in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, so on an impulse he offered to have it steam up to San Francisco so he could throw a cocktail party for Jeremy’s company on Thursday. We were instructed to dress up a little, but wear flat shoes.
“You be Randolph Hearst and I’ll be Marion Davies,” I said.
“It’s The Cat’s Meow,” said Jeremy.
At the gate of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Gina offered to send us up to the yacht in a golf cart. “It’s a fair walk,” she said. It was about two hundred metres. Lesson one about the rich; they’re lazier even than I am.
At the gangplank we were given bunny-slippers to go over our shoes, to protect the teak decks. And so trippingly up onto Tatoosh, which is about the size of the Manly Ferry. The ship herself is a stunner, sleek-ass lines and beautiful open decks like verandahs at the rear and a helipad for the jetcopter and a bridge that makes you itch to take the big chair and intone: “Make it so.” All the frou-frou decoration, meh, not so much, although there was a quite handsome Pollock over the fire.
The staff were lovely, all Australians and New Zealanders and one big red-headed ex-British Army officer who’d only been on board for two weeks, and who showed us around the immaculate engine room with frank glee. I talked to him a little later and discovered that his last gig was building schools in Kosovo. He told us about a little girl who had offered to sell him her baby sister, and had to stop the story because he was choking up.
Gallons of champagne and vast trays of beluga caviar later, the rich dude himself upped Fender Strat and gigged mightily for us (he’s a huge Hendrix fan). So what’s he like? Well, imagine if Stephen Fry and Linus Torvalds had a love-child who dreamed of playing in the band Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted. It was kind of endearing, in a way.
Tatoosh is his old yacht; he’s having a new one built, the size of a frigate, which will have its own submersible. One of Jeremy’s coworkers offered to take Tatoosh off his hands, and Mr Allen said: “You’re welcome, but the maintenance’d kill you.”
A strange and melancholy dream. I was in a beautiful bookshop in Miller’s Point in Sydney, all dense burgundy carpets and parquety. As I checked out, the clerk accused me of trying to claim some frequent-buyers’ benefit unfairly, and I protested in the most bitter terms: I was Phineas Finn, more outraged at being accused of murder than at the prospect of being hanged. Even as I made my fuss I was saddened at the thought of refusing to shop there anymore.
Adorable teenage activists grabbed my hands and we skipped en masse over the Harbour Bridge, protesting something vaguely Bush-related. Another mass of protestors marched towards us from the south. Near the vanguard was Phil McAloon, in a Superman costume several sizes too big for him. We nodded civilly to one another.
It’s a wise child that knows its own father.
R: I can’t wait until she starts talking.
J: Dada! Da?
C (pointing casually at J): Da.
Well, I finished the story about Novell. To my surprise, it was as sparky and provocative as my novel isn’t.
A horde is descending on my house tonight. We’re going out for tamales. Mmm, tamales.
Other things I’m hoping to make time for: a Triad gig at Cafe Claude on 11/14, featuring nj on keys, and the revived Crimson Club at the Plush Room, featuring the delicious Spencer Day. As Jeremy says, he is the Day everyone wants to seize.
I should be writing about Novell, but I am not. I remember having a long argument with Grant in about 1996, at one of the big Blanche summer picnics in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney. Sunshine, jacarandas, ibises. I affirmed that Novell was a dead company walking, and he said that it was not. These days people pay me to be wrong about such things, while he’s an international DJ. So it goes.
Last night Sumana reminded me that I haven’t seen Rabbit Proof Fence yet, making me a traitor to my people.
At the Day of the Dead, Jeremy said: “Claire stared down Death! She had a staring competition with one of the Deaths, and he blinked first. It is not her time!”
She has a cold and her nose is blocked, which she hates. When thus distressed, she likes to make what I like to call the Worst Noise In The World (WNITW). It’s not as loud as you might think, but it’s beyond unbearable nonetheless. It’s an irritable, keening “EEEEeee,” with the clear implication that wrongness has taken root and that I am to blame. It makes your flesh creep; in fact, what your flesh would like to do, ideally, is creep away out of earshot and huddle under a soundproof bunker somewhere. Then there will be a pause, for breath, in which you hope against hope that she’s fallen peacefully asleep, but know in your sinking heart that this is not the case. Then the WNITW continues, slightly higher and louder. It’s a bit like listening to a giant mosquito that is also kicking you energetically in the ribs.
The WNITW annoyed the cat so much that she bit me on the elbow, clearly agreeing with Claire that I should be held responsible. The cat is especially peeved about the weather. The unseasonably hot October meant she hasn’t grown a winter coat yet, so she has to fluff out her summer silk in a doomed effort to keep warm. She looks like one of the soot-creatures in My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away, but with teeth and malevolent green eyes. When she sits on me crossly, I can feel the cold pads of her paws through my jeans.
And then of course the cat starts to purr and the snot-nosed brat grins at me gap-toothily, and my woes are washed away.
I am having no end of trouble with my Nanowrimo novel, which I thought would be easy, more fool me. It’s set from 1877-1917, and I don’t want to introduce any of the verbal anachronisms that set my teeth on edge in, say, the cheesy sub-Georgette Heyer Regency romances that I never read on the sly in second-hand bookstores, why are you looking at me like that? Ahem. But the effort to remain authentic to the period seems to have squashed any spark of life out of my characters; they are dull and flat. I know it’s possible to write vibrantly about the past: the Aubrey-Maturin books and A Suitable Boy are two of my references for this project. I think I’m insecure about the quality of my research, and that in trying too hard not to do anything wrong, I’m preventing myself from doing anything right.
Well. Here is the grindstone, and here is my nose. What a strange phrase that is. Why would anyone want to grind their own nose?