Archive for the 'grief' Category

perspective

Alain’s going home next week and this distresses me, so we climbed Mount Tam about it.

I love that mountain. It’s a magical island above a sea of Karl the Fog. From up there you can see San Francisco as it really is: a city made of dreams.

We also took in the usual suspects: the Japanese Tea Gardens, Cal Academy, De Young, Japantown Mall and SF MOMA. Al had seen most (all?) of these before but it’s always nice to look at things from a different point of view.

The city is a spaceship, and a time machine.

socal road trip

Alain wanted to visit Legoland, so I plotted a route to Carlsbad that took in La Brea on the way. I was about 13 when Dad came home from a business trip to LA, overflowing with excitement about the tar pits, the dire wolves and the saber tooths, the bison, the sloths and oh my God, the mastodons.

I went looking for that Dad, of course. Young Dad, enthusiastic Dad, the Dad who brought the world to life for me. He isn’t there, what with being dead and all, but he was less not-there than usual. Having Alain with me was part of it. Another part was seeing Oscar Isaac in Hamlet a couple of weeks ago, sitting at his dead father’s feet with his head bowed. I cried for his grief as I’ve been unable to cry for my own.

It’s hard to make fossils, but in the tar pits, the conditions are just right. This display includes less than a tenth of the dire wolf skulls alone. La Brea’s full yield is in the hundreds of thousands. My own tar pits, the darknesses that pull me under, are likewise rich in ice age bone jumbles. My job is to uncover them with care, and to document the shit out of them.

bad indians, by deborah miranda

The original acts of colonization and violence broke the world, broke our hearts, broke the connection between soul and flesh. For many of us, this trauma happens again in each generation

hashtag funemployed hashtag summer of love

In May, the tech industry and I parted ways under circumstances I am contractually obligated to describe as mutual. Ever since, I’ve been having the greatest summer of my life. The bestie and I drove out to the eastern Sierras to see the wild mustang herds that live up around the Montgomery Pass. The high desert was hock-deep in wildflowers, and we spent three hours one sunny afternoon sitting on a hillside watching the wild horses fight and fuck. Mono Lake looks like the surface of another, possibly better planet, and asks to be further explored.

Then I won a residency at a writer’s center down in Santa Cruz and spent a week alone in a cabin on the edge of the redwoods. There were hummingbirds and mule deer and quail. I’d wake at 6 or 7 as usual, then read for a couple of hours, then have coffee and maybe go for a hike. Then, with only short breaks for meals, I’d draft scenes or type them up until late in the evening. When I got stuck, I’d copy out poems by hand.

I realized that, for longer than I can remember, I have been in an antagonistic relationship with time: late for work, behind on deadlines, scrambling to make as many memories with my kids and parents as I possibly could. Suddenly the days roll out before me, not as ordeals to be endured, but as hours for creative work, hours to hang around with the girls and Jeremy (without whom none of this would be possible), hours to spend at the barn, hours to binge on books.

I always regretted not taking real bereavement leave after Mum and then Dad died. I guess I’m doing it now, just a couple of years late. A friend said: “Your voice sounds lighter.” Idleness becomes me.

my friends, man

“It’s the people being unexpectedly kind to me that make me cry.”

“They’re all just returning kindnesses you’ve shown them.”

“Shut up. I’m a surly nerd amnesiac super-soldier assassin. We’ve been OVER this.”

“Yes, and Bucky Barnes doesn’t get a wobbly chin looking at the pictures in the museum.”

“Listen, I didn’t come here to be SEEN and ACCEPTED UNCONDITIONALLY, what is this, SAN FRANCISCO?”

maps out of hell

If Feather’s Your Blue Eyed Boys got me through the brutal aftermath of Mum’s death in the summer of ’14, sassbandit and were_duck’s Draculoids Will Never Hurt You is shaping up to be the essential text for this spring under Fascism. The irony is that I first read it in June of 2011 without losing myself in it. It took six more years of working for Better Living Industries to get to the point where I know I’ll die if I don’t art-bomb the Man and write punk love songs to all my friends. (Ironic twist: gonna die anyway!)

For the full immersion experience, I’ve spent the last week listening to Danger Days on endless repeat and reading The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. In the back matter, Gerard Way, who turned 40 this week (thank you, good sir, for surviving your descent into Hell), describes “looking inward, to that inner 16-year-old girl.” As a former 16yo girl myself, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those rare moments when the culture at large stops shitting on 16yo girls even for a nanosecond, let alone acknowledges them as something strong and important and worth protecting.

But Way also identifies the Man as… himself. His drive, his ambition, his ego, his death wish. I don’t know why I am even a little surprised. Every text that speaks to me on that deep level is somehow about complicity.

the likeness, by tana french

I used to believe, bless my naive little heart, that I had something to offer the robbed dead. Not revenge—there’s no revenge in the world that could return the tiniest fraction of what they’ve lost—and not justice, whatever that means, but the one thing left to give them: the truth.

the lost daughter, by elena ferrante

In fact, despite my breaking away, I haven’t gone very far.

The world in the meantime had not improved; in fact it had become crueler for women.

five images/second fortnight

Marching in the cold rain, my END WHITE SUPREMACY sign sagging, my husband and children festooned with glowstick necklaces, my city jammed with peaceful protestors from Civic Center to the Ferry Building: Market Street one river of loving souls.

The next day, beyond exhausted, crashed out on the couch; shy Alice making her way up onto my chest, quietly as if I might not notice, then crashing out there with me for most of the afternoon. Her fur from which no light escapes. The soft floof that grows out between her toe beans.

Driving up Bernal Hill with Liz to enjoy the raggedy clouds and dramatic light and rainbows. Stopping in silence at Alex Nieto’s memorial, a landslide of flowers.

An emergency drill at NERT to teach us how to self-organize and keep records. Head down counting people in and out of Logistics as incident after incident came in to Planning and Operations; adrenaline and worry and focus and exhilaration. When we got through it, high-fives all round.

At the exquisitely restored Curran Theatre to see Fun Home with my wife and our kids (it’s great; you should go.) The audience filled with lesbians a generation older than us; the ones who cared for men dying of AIDS; my angels, the saints of our city. May I walk in their sacred footsteps.

five small, good things (at a time like this)

1. Slow-dancing with Captain Calkins to White Christmas this afternoon, in a sunbeam, under the mistletoe

2. Taking a Lyft home from Erik’s memorial last night, weeping, and then talking heart-to-heart to my driver about his friend who died of cancer in El Salvador on Wednesday

3. Jeremy’s birthday dinner at Gary Danko on Wednesday, the highlights of which were the cheese cart, and the fact that we were so obviously enjoying one another’s company that when a cake with a candle appeared it read not “Happy Birthday” but “Happy Anniversary”

4. Hearing Mae Jemison talk about space: “I wasn’t scared. I loved it. If I could’ve stayed out there in a glass bubble with my cat, I’d still be there”

5. Learning how to use the indirect rein with Sam Horse, and feeling his movement flow into a more consistent contact and his pleased response: Huh. You’re leveling up.

more from chronicle of a plague, by andrew holleran

“I keep thinking there’s a beach at the end of this,” a friend said. “An island, and we’ll be happy again.”

His mother left yesterday after his cremation and when I walked her to the cab, she said to me: ‘I think the reason I was put on earth was for these last two months.’”

One cannot expect people to live in a state of perpetual horror and outrage. Eventually they subside. Fatigue sets in, burnout, boredom, acceptance—and the attention span turns to something else. How could it be otherwise? Yet all of this is strange.

last watch of the night, by paul monette

But what has it all got to do with the dog, exactly? My friend Victor stayed with me for the first week of Widowhood II. When at last he went off to juggle the shards of his own dwindling immunity, and I woke to a smudged October morning, my first thought wasn’t Oh poor me, about which I had already written the book, but rather: Who’s going to take care of Puck?

chronicle of a plague, by andrew holleran

…we have lost a whole generation of gay men, who might otherwise have been valuable mentors to their successors.

I began to read books about other epochs in history when people had been subjected to cruel and unusual catastrophes. The Black Death was the most obvious…

It appears in the midst of the most ordinary circumstances—like the man on that same beach, who, in the middle of a cloudless summer afternoon, turned to my friend and said, “What is the point of going on?” (“To bear witness,” my friend responded.) The Fear is there all the time, but it comes in surges, like electricity—

hospital time, by amy hoffman

Our family commitment to each other is not forced, but desired; our marriages are not arranged for economic benefit or social duty; our children are chosen and beloved, not incidental and taken for granted.

I was overwhelmed, it was all too much for me, how could it not have been? I wanted to run away, I wanted it to be over. I’m sorry. I wish, I wish, I wish every single day that I had been more genuinely kind, more open and loving and freely generous. Although if it happened again, someone I know having AIDS —and it has, it will —I’d do it again and feel the same, because that’s what AIDS does, the fucker.

You have to call him, you have to be persistent and annoying. He doesn’t have to like you. I finally learned life’s lesson: They don’t have to like you.

shirley jackson: a rather haunted life, by ruth franklin

One of the ironies of Jackson’s fiction is the essential role that women play in enforcing the standards of the community—standards that hurt them most.

take this bread: a radical conversion, by sara miles

“It’s about giving up,” she told me. “You get to a point where you just have to give up. And then you learn to be honest.”

Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?

“How do you pray?” I asked Lynn. “Well,” she said, “usually I start off, ‘Okay, what the hell is going on here, God?'”

five fragments i have shored against my ruins

1. Neighbor Naomi had us over to sing Leonard Cohen songs. The pot-bellied stove makes her whole cottage toasty. She made roast chicken and we sang Suzanne and Dance Me to the End of Love. I love her so much.

2. Neighbor Michael made this.

3. I check in on people, and people check in on me. Text messages and phone calls, back and forth, sharing coping strategies and bewildered sorrow. I love them all so much.

4. I’m reading Paul Monette and Andrew Holleran and Amy Hoffman. I used to read WW2 histories and tell myself “at least it’s not WW2.” At least it’s not AIDS?

5. My mister, our daughters: we four.

happy birthday mum

I miss you every day.

so: that happened

Here’s what I’ve been reading and rereading this whole awful week:

‘These women walked directly into the fire and through it, and they did not have to. And that they did it even as some of the gay men they took care of treated them with bitchiness, scorn, and contempt.

‘It was, at the time, not at all unusual for gay men to snicker as the bull dyke walked into the bar with her overalls and flannels and fades. Much of the time, it was casual ribbing which they took in stride. But it could also be laced with acid, especially when lesbians began gravitating toward a bar that had until then catered largely to men.

‘When the AIDS crisis struck, it would be many of these same women who would go straight from their jobs during the day to acting as caregivers at night. Because most of them lacked medical degrees, they were generally relegated to the most unpleasant tasks: wiping up puke and shit, cleaning up houses and apartments neglected for weeks and months. But not being directly responsible for medical care also made them the most convenient targets for the devastating anger and rage these men felt – many who’d been abandoned by their own family and friends.

‘These women walked directly into the fire. They came to the aid of gay men even when it was unclear how easily the virus could be transmitted. Transmission via needlestick was still a concern, so they often wore two or three layers of latex gloves to protect themselves, but more than once I saw them, in their haste and frustration, dispense with the gloves so that they could check for fevers, or hold a hand that hung listlessly from the edge of a bed whose sheets they had just laundered.

‘They provided aid, comfort, and medical care to men withering away in hospices, men who’d already lost their lovers and friends to the disease and spent their last months in agony. They’d been abandoned by their own families, and were it not for lesbians – many if not most of them volunteers – they would have suffered alone. And when there was nothing more medicine could do for them and their lungs began to fill with fluid, it was often these same women who’d be left to administer enough morphine to release them, given to them by the doctor who had left the room and would return 15 minutes later to sign the certificate (a common practice at the time).

‘I knew a woman around that time who’d had at one point been making bank in construction. But at the outset of the AIDS crisis she had abandoned her career to pursue nursing instead, and was close to her degree when we were hanging out. She was a big, hearty drinker, and fortunately so was I. We’d been utterly thrashed at a bar once when someone whispered a fairly benign but nonetheless unwelcoming comment about her. Middle fingers were exchanged, and afterwards, furious and indignant, I asked her, Why do you do it? Why did you abandon a career to take care of these assholes who still won’t pay you any respect?

‘She cut me a surprisingly severe look, held it and said, “Honey, because no one else is going to do it.” I remember feeling ashamed after that, because my fury and indignation weren’t going to clean blood and puke off the floor; it wasn’t going to do the shit that needed to get done.

‘HIV killed my friends, took my lover from me, and tore up my life. During that time, I did what I could. But nothing I did then or have ever been called to do in my life puts me anywhere near the example set by the lesbians I knew in the 80s and 90s. I’ve felt obligated to remember what they did, and to make sure other people remember it too.’

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.