Archive for May, 2013
Today the sword of Not Trying To Fix Everything brought a wheelbarrow full of horse manure up from the back paddock, put it all around Mum’s roses, planted pansies between the roses, washed down the back deck and then oiled it with tung and linseed oil. So, you know. That happened.
I am in rural NSW. Tonight I went to a community meeting with Mum and Dad. I took my needles and yarn and got my Madame Defarge on, knitting and glaring at various scoundrels who have wronged my Dad. “Glad to see you getting into the spirit of small town life,” said Sarah’s awesome friend Jane: “I promised I’d take notes or I’d be putting some rows down too.”
The community meeting was to oppose the plan. The plan is to cut down all the London plane trees and close down three more store fronts along the main street. Poor little Barraba. Tamworth Regional Council might as well just nuke the site from orbit.
It is strange, strange, strange to be here without Jeremy and the children; strange how effortlessly I fall back into my childhood rapport with my brother Alain, twenty months older, my twin. When we do the washing up we are still one person with four hands. With him and Mum and Dad here I am at home but also not; I wake in the icy dark before dawn with my heart racing, not knowing whose house I am in, or in what town, or in what country. I’ve traveled too much this year. Among other things.
Here is the lede I have been burying for five months. My father has been diagnosed with a rare condition called semantic dementia. It is a malfunction in the language processing centres of his brain, which is difficult for him to understand because of the malfunction in the language processing centres of his brain. It is the Eater of Meaning. I used to joke that my father was a genius but I couldn’t prove it. Now I have proof: he has had this condition for months, if not years, and he is still himself, still putting the pieces together, still trying to solve puzzles, still trying to understand. Reaching out, as Ursula le Guin once put it, to be whole.
I have a bunch of mantras which are supposed to help me through this interesting time. Focus on his abilities, not his deficits, I say to myself, and that helps me to be grateful for his undimmed sweetness and affection, for his unaffected memory, to ask him about his childhood in Papua New Guinea, his memories of his mother. Attack this with the hammer of unconditional love and the sword of Not Trying To Fix Everything, I say to myself, as I am interrogating his gerontologist in case there’s a drug treatment we just happened to overlook, as I weed the living hell out of the flower bed in front of his and Mum’s house.
What can I possibly tell you about my father, who showed me the Galilean moons? Love is such a little word for a feeling so big. When I climbed to the top of the highest shell in the Opera House in January, I found a fire panel that had been made in his factory. It was a garden factory and in the garden was a deep pond, with frogs and herons; after watching it for years he realized that it was a spring. He is my source.
Posting mostly to try to keep myself awake. Local time is 4.43pm and I am not sure how I will make it to my goal bedtime of 9pm. We shall see!
I did sleep all the way from SF to Auckland, and the flight from Auckland to Brisbane went quickly because I was enchanted by Bear Grylls, especially in the Iceland episode in which he and Jake Gyllenhaal put the Bro in Brokeback Mountain. Alain winced when I mentioned this, because apparently Bear is a big ol’ hatey Tory Christian who spoke at Hillsong last time he was here. And it turns out he is also a big fakey faker!
Alain and I found each other at the airport and headed out into the greater Brisbane area for flats white. I had to get a SIM card for my phone, and this turned into an epic ordeal as there was already an angry mob of villagers in the store brandishing pitchforks at the Telstra staff, who were being sheepish. Ever since the Regrettable T-Mobile Incident of ’04, Jeremy has done all the talking to phone companies for me, so when they started explaining the details of my plan it was as if they were speaking the language of crows: “Caw! Caw! Caw!” Alain said my whole face glazed over.
Now we are at Alain’s flat and his Bourke’s parrot, Monty, is circling my head and from time to time landing on me and giving me kisses. His feet are cool and he is careful to keep his claws away from my skin.
The Fault in Our Stars is written by someone my age about teenagers dying of cancer. The teenagers are adorably articulate and wry, which is what happens when they are written by clever fortysomethings – see also Juno and The Gilmore Girls. But I cried and cried for Wendy, who was just that funny anyway at fourteen, and for Jen, who at forty-three knew exactly what she was leaving behind. Glioblastoma, leukaemia.
The Still Point of the Turning World is written by Emily Rapp, who lost her son Ronan in February. He was three. Tay-Sachs. I’ve become violently allergic to the notion of meritocracy because of its implication that there are people who are without merit. Jen never made much money. Wendy never finished high school. Ronan never learned to speak. What does that make them? Emily Rapp says:
If you love but the love is never known by the other person as the love you bear for them, is that love wasted? I eventually realized that this way of thinking was more about ego than anything else, and that no love is ever wasted; in fact, the most precious love is often the kind that isn’t returned, and that is given freely.
I’ve realized it is my most deeply held political conviction that all are created equal. A person’s performance as an economic agent under late capitalism is about as relevant as their performance in chess or dressage or sport aerobics to what they are actually worth. Every person is a planet with a diamond core, a Tardis, bigger on the inside. We can’t possibly love anyone enough, but we can try.
Rumpus: What did Ronan smell like?
Rapp: Rice and shampoo. Sleep.
Rumpus: I know what it felt like for me to hold Ronan. What did it feel like for you?
Rapp: It felt like holding the world.
There are only two in the USA: the other is in Tennessee. This one was founded by Pat Derby, an Englishwoman descended from Shelley who found herself in Hollywood training cats, bears and elephants for shows like Lassie and Daktari. She hated the violence and cruelty of the industry and exposed it in a pretty wonderful, if bleak, book cowritten by Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote The Last Unicorn. She died in February.
The sanctuary is only open twice a year and you have to buy tickets in advance. It’s up in the Sierra foothills and it was a scorchingly hot day. Six hundred people came. I grumbled about the heat and having to wait in line for a shuttle, and then the shuttle came and we were taken to a picnic area where there were two Asian elephants to the left of us and three African elephants to the right. Gypsy, Wanda, Mara, Maggie and Lulu.
There are massive steel fences around their enclosure but the enclosures are vast – acres upon acres. That they wanted to visit with us at all is astounding to me. We were kept at a safe distance, about twenty feet, but we were in the presence of elephants, and this is an ungainsayable thing. I’ve seen elephants before but I don’t think I’ve ever seen happy elephants before. We were there for their entertainment as much as the reverse. They made eye contact.
I believe of them now, as I believe of whales and octopus, that they are sentient. How they must suffer when they are caged or in chains.
Maggie, one of the African elephants, lived in an Alaskan zoo with only an Asian elephant for company. The two have different vocalizations, but Maggie speaks both languages. Gypsy and Wanda came to the sanctuary at different times from different places but are now inseparable. Archival footage of circuses revealed that they had been friends before and had remembered one another for decades. Lulu, rescued from the San Francisco zoo, was the most reticent of the females. She wanted to be near Maggie and Mara but she didn’t particularly care for us. Up on Bull Mountain we saw Nicholas and Prince; Prince also prefers to keep away from humans.
But Nicholas swam for us, and dug a log up from the bottom of his lake. Another animal again in water, his bony head like a hippo’s, the water pouring off his gleaming skin. Graceful and at peace.
It was everything I love most passionately about California: the dry hills, the circling raptors, the ridiculous mule deer, and the people who pour out their lives trying to fight injustice and make safe spaces and be kind.
I rode Jackson today. I’m trying to stay out of his face during warmup, so I trotted him in both directions on the buckle, reins looping down. I worked on my position instead of his: elbows in, shoulders back, hip angle open. Trying to make a square corner under the trees, I flexed my right ankle and sank into my seat.
Jacks lifted his back under me and came soft and round.
Not surprisingly, when we jumped I was tall in the saddle and he was forward and electric into my hand.