Archive for September, 2016


I started listening to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History (having finished up Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which traces the American way of death back to the Civil War, and is excellent.) Mukherjee’s Emperor of Maladies made me cry buckets and also gave me an inkling of insight when it described “cancer pathways” – specific sequences of gene mutations that lead to specific conditions.

I couldn’t wait for The Gene to come out and so far it’s even better than Emperor. He talks about his paternal uncles, Rajesh and Jagu, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and how the trauma of Partition exacerbated their illnesses. This immediately after I read Timothy Knatchbull’s From a Clear Blue Sky about the Mountbatten bomb. The consequences of British imperialism run through both families like another inherited trait.

Mukherjee made me laugh out loud when he described Darwin resolutely ignoring the theological consequences of his research as the idea of evolution dawned on him, calling this “the separation of church and state of mind.”

I first encountered Darwin as a teenager in my Dad’s Stephen Jay Gould and Dawkins books, which sounded every bit as self-satisfied as the religious books I was reading at the same time. Darwin came back around later, long after I’d lost my faith, when I read Janet Browne’s wonderful biographies of him. She described how seriously he took his reading, and in response, I started keeping my own log of the books I had read.

As a devout Christian and then as an angry atheist, a lot of Darwin was lost on me. If you refuse to engage with the central struggle of his life, between his faith in meaning and what his observations taught him, you miss so much. I see in Darwin now what I saw in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona: that this world is more beautiful than it needs to be; that even when you understand its underlying principles, its glory can bring you to your knees.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

22 hours in new york

6pm: wheels down at JFK

6-8pm: stuck in UN traffic with an elderly bearded white taxi driver who plays country music and tells me the mileage on each vehicle he owns and exactly what happened last time he went to the DMV. When his credit card reader turns out to be offline, he locks all the doors and demands to know how I am going to pay. When I am released I go to an ATM, thrust the cash at him and flee.

8pm: I am an hour late for dinner but Leonard is still waiting for me, because he is delightful. We talk about technology for libraries and strategies for writing science fiction novels. I have the pork saltimbocca and a tiramisu of unusual size

10pm: stress about my talk

11pm-6am: wake every hour on the hour to make sure I haven’t overslept

7am: realize I have overslept

7:30am: rehearsal. Everyone is delightful. I am filled with terror

8am: in the speaker’s lounge. Too late to back out.

9:30-10am: I give my talk. I flub half the lines, but people say lovely things about it both to my face and on Twitter

11am: coffee with the lovely Fintan. We talk about containerization

12noon: lunch with the wonderful Francis and the amazing Gus. I have the moules marinieres and an excellent tarte tatin. We talk about word puzzles and technology for Doctors Without Borders and San Francisco high school choices and I have to tear myself away

1:30-2:30pm: taxi ride to JFK in which nothing goes wrong and I do not fear for my life. I leave an excessive tip

4pm: wheels up!

horse show

We did good.

death fugue

My friend Erik died of an antibiotic-resistant infection last month. I’ve been reading dispatches from his widow, the amazing Talor, as she rebuilds her life. She’s intuitive and attuned to her subconscious, which is probably why I noticed this morning that I was singing Björk’s “Black Lake” over and over in my head. It was the song I had on constant rotation after Dad died. Today was Dad’s birthday.

We went to SF Moma and I ended up sitting in front of Anselm Kiefer’s painting Margarete, a response to Paul Celan’s poem “Death Fugue”. To me, it’s about the suffering of complicity and of helplessness. Dad died and there was nothing I could do even to comfort him. I’ve barely cried for him. Even now, you’ll notice, I can’t talk about it. I can only point to Erik and Talor and Björk and Kiefer and Celan. My father’s death is the event horizon.


Sorry for the radio silence, but we landed and instantly started or restarted new jobs (me and J), new schools (smaller J) and/or searches for new schools (C). It’s been busy!

We sure did miss our various critters. (Taking this adorable goober to a horse show in a coupla weeks; stay tuned.)

Europe definitely gave me new eyes for the beauty and fun of our home.

Feeling a zillion times cheerier and more energized than when I left. Mark of a proper vacation.