Archive for December, 2012
I always forget how big and generous the sky is over Barraba. The town is surrounded with rolling hills and beyond it to the west is an extinct volcano, Mount Kaputar, that marks the edge of the Northern Tablelands and stands above an escarpment to the Western Plains.
Since we’ve been here the escarpment has been pushing magnificent cumulous clouds into the air above us. Yesterday a cold front came over, iron-gray and purple. We timed our swim perfectly to finish before the storm broke over the town. Thunder and lightning and the dumping of five inches of rain into Dad’s rainwater tank and the putting out of power. My poor brother-in-law and niece were at the supermarket trying and failing to get the generator up and running when the lights came on again. Let us now give thanks for refrigerators full of unspoiled food.
Barraba after the rain smells like hope.
In April next year I will be eligible for American citizenship, and it will be fifteen years since I left Australia. If love of family is as this beautiful essay says the act of bearing witness – and I think it is – then I have not done very well either by my family of birth or by my families of choice. I am an intermittent presence in everyone’s lives. I suspect now that going voluntarily into exile is unforgivable, but I suspect, too, that I wallow in how unforgivable it is, as a way to avoid the hard work of doing the best I can under the circumstances.
In Sydney. The flight over was great, because the girls are big now and self-entertaining, and because J gave me noise-canceling headphones so I slept nearly all the way to Auckland. A puddle jump to Sydney and then roast lamb and summer pudding and presents with the Fitzhardinges. Jan gave me a new piece by Rachel Honnery, to my delight. In the evening I looked over what Claire had packed for the trip, and as a result this morning we caught a taxi to Bondi Junction to stock up on clothes for her.
I’m chagrined to say that shopping in the Boxing Day sales has been one of the best parts of Christmas so far. We got Claire a super cute new wardrobe for basically no money. She bought a present for Jules. J and I got shorts and J got a new pair of shoes. We had flat whites and babycinos and talked about the likelihood of Cory Booker running for president in 2016. Bourgie enough for you?
It’s overcast and rainy but still way warmer than San Francisco. I am deeply, deeply tired, still shaking off the long tail of my cold and the end-of-year push at work, let alone the jetlag.
I didn’t have a fantastic year in reading, to be honest – I think the Kindle threw me off and that my patterns of acquisition and consumption have yet to rebalance. Here are some books I read that I liked very much:
- Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
- Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
- How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
- The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care
- Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
- Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
- Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia
- Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son
- Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor
- The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
- Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power
- Stones for Ibarra
- What We Talk About When We Talk about Anne Frank: Stories
- The Bishop’s Man
- So Much for That
- By Blood
- The Patrick Melrose novels
- The Gathering
- The Ways of White Folks: Stories – WOW
I guess it wasn’t such a terrible year in reading at that. There are two books, though, that I want to push into your hands in an overbearing yet adorkable bookseller-or-librarian-ish way: Constellation Games and Fair Play. Please read these books. They are very great.
It feels like cheating to recommend Leonard’s book when I have known and loved Leonard for ten years, but I must have read Constellation Games four times this year and gotten something more out of it each time. It’s a first contact novel and an existential love story and it did more than any other single argument to make me believe games are an important art form, but it’s also incredibly funny and moving and Curic the two-souled purple otter is my new favourite fictional character. For its part, Fair Play is about two seventysomething women living at opposite ends of an attic having conversations about pictures and books. Yes, Tove Jansson is the Moomin person. This book is based in part on her life with her wife.
Why these two? Because I am 41 years old. Because I love animals and nature and am living through a mass extinction I helped cause. Because I am a pacifist living in America, and a progressive anarchist who spent my teens as an evangelical Christian assuming I would die in a nuclear holocaust. Because for my first quarter-century I was much troubled by despair. It’s only in the last decade or two that I have had the luxury of time to tinker with my diet and my neurochemistry and my cognitive behavior to try to make a habit of hope and not horror. Because it’s the Northern winter solstice and that means all the festivals of lights, all the songs and candles in the long darkness, and what all the festivals mean is that physics is real: this will be the longest night of the year, and that tomorrow at dawn one shaft of sun will light up the corbel-vaulted room inside Newgrange [or insert your neolithic solar calendar of choice]. And then everything will start to feel a little bit better. It doesn’t stay dark. As Bill Bryson says, life wants to be. Life doesn’t want to be much. From time to time, life goes extinct. Life goes on.
Constellation Games and Fair Play are quite literally stories of friendship and hope, not in the movie trailer way that makes you wince but in a clear-eyed, fearless way that is able to talk about betrayal and jealousy and irreconcilable differences and the cold empty vastness of space. They are both, in fact, books about how to be a friend, and how to be hopeful. We are chimpanzees with doomsday weapons, adrift on a rock in an immense dark void. We have to take care of each other and we have to believe that things can change for the better. So, you know. RTFM.
Claire said: “I had my first dream in Spanish. I was at Maestra Lisa’s house and I said to her: ‘I don’t know how I got here! What am I doing here?'”
She knew I’d been waiting for this moment for years.
I dreamed I was in a medieval courtyard-tavern attending a spontaneous Adacamp. As I was telling people about how the movement had started as a gleam in Val’s and Mary’s eyes, more and more women arrived, hundreds of women from all over the world: some sat at tables hacking on laptops plastered with stickers, some built huge Carnival masks covered in LEDs and held a parade, some played guitars and jammed. I wandered out onto a dock on a lake, and saw Danny and Emily Candy sitting on a sand dune waiting for a concert to begin. A hopey-changey dream.
My phone fell out of my jeans pocket and into the toilet yesterday, which is kinda tragic as they just don’t make decent hardware-keyboard smartphones any more. I’d known this for a while, and the phone was on its lastish legs anyway, so I felt rueful every time I looked at it. (“I love you, neti pot. Too bad you’re already broken.”) After its brief immersion it turned on valiantly twice before starting to light up in wrong places. Now I am charging Jeremy’s old phone, which he bought at the same time as mine, so it has a comforting familiarity that feels illegitimate, like making out with your boyfriend’s fraternal twin.
I haven’t been writing because I’ve been obsessing about horses, obviously. I had this stretch of weeks in the late fall where I was riding Bella and Jackson and spending time at Salome’s barn with the girls, and it was excellent. The weather held on fine much longer than anyone could have hoped. I had a ride where Jackson stopped at almost everything, and it turned out that he had a giant stone in his hoof, and upon reflection I realized that he had jumped around most of the course for me even though the stone bruised him every time he landed. That changed our relationship in two ways: I trusted him more, and he found out he could stop. We worked on the stopping problem for weeks before we finally had a ride where we flew every fence.
He’s lovely. The whole three months of riding him and learning his quirks and ironing them out one at a time, and getting to the point where we can do beautiful forward soft round flat work, and then jump a 3′ course without breaking a sweat (he enjoys the bigger fences much more) has been one of the greatest treats of my life. Christi keeps rolling her eyes at me because he doesn’t have his flying changes, but he’s my big rawboned Thoroughbred snuggly bear and I love him. Christi: “YOU’RE SO EASILY PLEASED.” Guilty as charged.