Julia: “Mama, are rainbows really real?”
Me: “Yes, Julia, rainbows are real.”
Julia: “OH MY!”
Julia: “Mama, are rainbows really real?”
Me: “Yes, Julia, rainbows are real.”
Julia: “OH MY!”
Whatever nice things happen, a week with a bullying suicide is always a crap week. I am nearly forty and I am a proper grownup now, with a green card and a 401k and a personal style (yes I do, it’s cowgirl-librarian, shut up) and Optimal Husband and the Sproglets and the sorts of achingly, awesomely sympatico friends I only dreamed about and read about in books when I was growing up. I can drive stick shift and cook a delicious meal for an impromptu dinner party of 12 and write a publishable short story or eight, and I jump Thoroughbred horses over fences for fun.
Back in the day, though, I was the weird nerd, with stupid glasses and horrible pimples and bad hair. I was hilarious. I stank of fear the way roadkill stinks of carrion, and like roadkill, I was irresistible to the grosser sorts of vulture. It was side-splittingly funny to point out that my skirt length was incorrect, that my shoes were not approved, that I had said something that I had apparently read in a book. The fact that I read books was just beyond funny. I was frigid, and a slut. I was uglier than shit. How about a little kiss?
This was at high school; at university, I realize now, it actually got worse, because it was subtler and more barbed. It was howlingly funny that I said “mankind”; Glenn, obviously a far better feminist than I would ever be, corrected me to “humanity” with an indulgent chuckle. I was, hilariously, “the most pretentious person” Julian had “ever met.” “I knew there had to be something I liked about you,” said Alistair, and the entire cast of the play fell about laughing. Twenty years on, the memory of these exchanges, preserved in far more vivid detail than anything nice anyone ever said, can still make me angry and ashamed.
If the bully culture I grew up in was meant to make me want to conform, it failed: all I wanted to do was get away, or failing that, set fire to the entire city, and I’m still awkward and uncomfortable whenever I go back to Sydney. I am on the defensive there, and constantly surprised when people treat me with ordinary courtesy. But I don’t think it was meant to change me. I think it was just meant to hurt. I think hurting me made the bullies and their hangers-on feel safe and included. A nice little bonding ritual for them. Bless.
I think it’s how privilege works, and that’s why it was worse at Sydney Uni. They were Grammar boys and college boys. They knew exactly how to shut people out, and why.
And even that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was how desperately I craved their attention and approval: how badly I wanted Glenn and Julian and Alistair and others like them, many others like them, to be my friends. That’s why I didn’t walk away. They couldn’t hate me any more than I hated myself. It’s still hard to forgive myself for that.
Anyway, my point is, Tyler Clementi was actually way too cool to have been friends with then-me; he could play violin fantastically well, and he got into Rutgers. And the thought of him closing his computer and his cellphone and stepping off the George Washington Bridge, the thought that there will be no more violin solos, the thought that he won’t move out to San Francisco after he graduates, and get his heart broken by some asshole he met at Center Camp, and cry into his mimosas at Mission Beach, and then meet a nicer guy on OKCupid and settle down and adopt a couple of kids and join the PTA… Well, fuck you, bullies. Fuck you. You have no idea.
And to the people I bullied myself: I am beyond sorry.
All I had to do was take the farmer’s market spoils home and put them away, rescue the cream pan for Jeremy, find the girls’ swimming costumes and towels and pack everything for their swim lesson, change into a non-coffee besmirched sundress and find the matching cardigan so as to look kicky at the first New York-San Francisco International Childrens’ Film Festival. Matters were complicated somewhat by the breakfast things being left out, but this wasn’t insuperable. I shouldn’t have been so late and flustered by the time I got to the car that I slammed the car door into my face.
I really recommend not doing this.
The topology’s tricky, I admit. Imagine I am drawing diagrams for this bit: it only happened because Hedwig was parked on the steep hilly part of the next block of Eugenia, and because I was distractedly reading a chalk sign in front of some chairs out on a stoop (NOT FREE! PLEASE DO NOT TAKE!) Our neighbour kids must have been planning a sit out in the lovely sunshine, they sure do love their pavement chalk, their handwriting is improving every day: this all passed through my mind as I was glancing at the chairs and simultaneously pulling the car door open. It was as I glanced back that I saw the top corner of the door from VERY CLOSE UP, and then it hit me in my right nostril.
I didn’t see stars, as it turns out: everything just went white. Did I mention this is something you should not do? There was a lot of blood, and more pain. This all took place just after 11am, and it’s nearly 9pm and the whole lower right quadrant of my face still feels like, well, like I slammed a car door into it and got steel up my nose.
I had a lovely day otherwise.
…went almost two weeks without being in the same time zone for more than three hours.
That kinda blew.
All better now. He does snore a blue streak. It’s very soothing.
J: If I reek of garlic it’s because I was making YOUR DINNER.
R: Slaving over a hot clove.
The Four Immigrants Manga is an amazing thing, a window into the lives of four Japanese men living in San Francisco at the turn of the century. Rediscovered in the nineties and intelligently translated, it’s really unlike anything else, and joins A Streetcar to Subduction and The Golden Gate on my shelf of marvellously eccentric books about my city.
So does Nuclear Rites, which will be remembered as the book that got me interested in anthropology-about-humans (as opposed to A Primate’s Memoir, Gorillas in the Mist, The Third Chimpanzee, Our Inner Ape, Mother Nature, Songs of the Gorilla Nation and Reason for Hope, which got me interested in anthropology-about-other-apes-and-also-baboons.) Hugh Gusterson was an anti-nuke campaigner straight out of the pages of The Golden Gate when he decided to live among the nuclear scientists in Livermore. Set in the early nineties, his book is a nuanced and complex appreciation of how those scientists came to their various ethical accommodations with the weapons work they undertook. The rites of the title are the scientific coming-of-age represented by a weapons test; a genuinely compelling analogy. I picked up Cultures@Silicon Valley hoping for some comparable insights into the tech industry, but so far it hasn’t dug deep enough under the skin.
I’ve been on a bit of a Big House kick this year (when am I not?) I Capture the Castle and We Have Always Lived in the Castle were middlingly-successful attempts to cash in on the breathless, stay-up-till-3am Gothic awfulness/awesomeness of The Little Stranger. I read the Dodie Smith in my Dalmations-completist phase when I was a kid, and oddly, or not, it is an entirely different book this time around, set in an entirely different place with different characters. The influence of Cold Comfort Farm is tangible. (Mashup idea of great brilliance: Cold Comfort Animal Farm. You’re welcome.) More successful at generating that elusive Gothic frisson were Anthony Blunt, Georgiana and Mad World. The British ton is genuinely creepy.
Jaran had my name written on it and should have worked for me – a romance, with kuhaylan Arabians, set in neo-Mongolia? Are you kidding me? WHERE DO I SIGN – but it was spoiled by its universally beloved, effortlessly polyglot Mary Sue. Actually the hero was kind of a douche as well. Whereas The Georges and the Jewels, despite Too Much Natural Horsemanship, had actual living horses and people in it, and I liked it a lot. Meanwhile My Dog Tulip had way, way too much detail on every kind of canine bodily excretion imaginable, and its notions of responsible animal husbandry are COUGH how shall I say VERY WRONG. And it is an awesome, awesome book.
Not surprisingly from the author of Hood, Inseparable is pretty much the hottest book of literary criticism I have ever read. I met Emma Donoghue in Dublin! She was very gracious. I was a babblin’ fule. I met Anne Enright too, and they have both been shortlisted for the Booker (Anne Enright won it, didn’t she?) and I haven’t. Never mind! With Country Driving Peter Hessler cements his position as the latest raven-haired, Oxbridge-educated sensitive world traveller to join Simon Schama and Rory Stewart among the ranks of my future imaginary husbands. Wait, Rory’s a Tory? Dude, what did I tell you? The British ton is genuinely creepy. I guess that makes him my future imaginary ex-husband. A girl’s got to have some standards.
Jeremy is in Australia so I am spending the week cross and sad. Which is a bit ridick, because Saturday night was an especially fine Balsa Man (I made a fortress of solitude on the cliffs, and all my friends came and hung out there to watch the burn), Sunday I had a fun ride on Omni and Monday was pretty much the awesomest Glen Park picnic evar, with all-optimal people and bejewelled sunshine.
On mornings when the timing works out – not all mornings, but definitely the best mornings – the whole family walks down Eugenia together, the girls in school uniforms and non-uniform tights and boots, their bright backpacks on their backs, and Jeremy and I in our serious grownup Linux hacker and industry analyst standard city equipment.
J and the girls take the bus south, I go north. The buses are frequent so there’s usually not enough time to wave, but one morning last week, Mission Street was empty for a while. I waved, the girls waved. I waved. They waved. I blew kisses, they blew kisses, I made heart shapes with my hands, they made strange squashy shapes with theirs.
Then we all paused. Still no bus. Awkward.
I made jazz hands. They made jazz hands.
All three of us started to dance.
We danced and danced. We boogied. We step-ball-changed. We twirled. Julia, especially, twirled.
For ten minutes, on two sides of Mission Street, we got our white girl funk on.
When my bus finally arrived I saw a woman on the other side of the street solemnly high-fiving Jeremy and the kids.