Archive for the 'mindfulness' Category

by the sea shore

We spent the weekend in Point Reyes, which is so beautiful it almost defies photography. The California Field Atlas describes it as an authentic Pleistocene-era prairie by the sea. Philip K. Dick was also moved by:

this wild moor-like plateau that dropped off at the ocean’s edge, one of the most desolate parts of the United States, with weather unlike that of any other part of California.

The giant camels and mastodon that roamed here in the Ice Age are gone, but if you look closely, there’s a herd of not-quite-extinct tule elk grazing out on this headland.

Jeremy was enchanted by the Marconi RCA wireless station, the first and last of its kind. Now that we are home, he’s in his office playing with software-defined radios and emitting atmospheric bursts and Morse code. For my part, I loved the dairy ranches, and imagined myself quitting tech to become a simple farmer, a man of the people, at one with the land.

Of course I am not the first to indulge this fantasy. It forms the substance of Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist, Daniel Gumbiner’s The Boatbuilder, and even Summer Brennan’s The Oyster War. All three are at pains to point out that no matter how lovely the place is, it can’t help you escape who you are.

West Marin has dangled before the white mind like a lure for almost five hundred years. In 1579, the pirate Francis Drake in his galleon full of stolen Spanish treasure christened it Nova Albion and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I. The visitor center on Drakes Beach notes that people in South America used his name to frighten their children, so that’s nice.

The Coast Miwok survive and now form part of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Still, anthropologist Betty Goerke calculates that between genocide, epidemic, and aggressive zoning laws designed to maintain high property values, there are fewer people living in Point Reyes today than there were in Drake’s time. It’s a pretend wilderness, like Yosemite and Kur-ring-gai. I’m indebted to its original custodians for how it heals my sore heart.

on bitterness

When I was pregnant I craved bitter greens, and this craving has never entirely left me. Last night I ate, with great focus, a plate of shaved brussels sprouts. Last week I told a colleague the story of how I broke my leg. I left part of it out; nevertheless, he said: “You sound bitter.” I am.

The evangelical church in which I spent my teens is highly critical of bitterness. So is society at large. I’m beginning to understand the ways in which this serves political ends. Bitterness is the perception of injustice. God knows we are treated unfairly, but God forbid we should be angry about it.

Burnout is cumulative, like concussion. After I was fired, I never wanted to work in the tech industry again. Now that I have returned (as if there were any other industry; as if academia, journalism, publishing, teaching weren’t equally soul-destructive) I can feel the limits of my capacity to endure, just as I feel the limited range of motion in my ankle. There are leaps of faith I could make in the past I won’t be able to make again, and not only because I am ageing. I have lost the faith that made such leaps possible.

In its place I have my bitterness: the astringency of medicinal herbs, that can heal, or poison. Knowledge that exists beyond the imagination of the church and society at large. Witchcraft.

california in the spring

Can a place be too pretty?

Our experts weigh in.

flow

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought about Frenchs Forest, where I grew up, and the tiny pieces of bush that I knew so well: the undeveloped block adjoining the high school, which is now the Northern Beaches Hospital; the little steep park around the corner from our house, called Blue Gum Reserve; and the steeper gully leading into Bantry Bay, which is now part of Garigal National Park, named for the traditional custodians of the land.

Liz has been talking about BART stations through time, and for a minute I could see all those little remnants joined up into one vast sea of dry sclerophyll woodland fading into the blue distance. There were sandstone boulders and shady overhangs. Banksias and grevilleas grew brilliant and spidery in the understory. It smelled like eucalyptus trees under the hot sun and sounded like cicadas singing. This was my home country for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, before the houses were built, even before special constable and crown lands ranger James Ffrench clear-felled the forest that now, in ghost form, bears his name.

I realized that the high sandstone flats, in Allambie and Narraweena and Beacon Hill, are carved and were likely ceremonial. People would live closer to fresh water, I thought. As I traced in my mind the clear cool creeks (Frenchs, Carroll, Bates) that run down into Middle Harbour, I realized that the rill that ran across the bottom of the high school oval and into Rabbett Reserve (willow trees and golden sand, frogs and tadpoles) ran the other way, into the confusingly-named Middle Creek. My home was high on the watershed itself.

Middle Creek flows not into Middle Harbour but into Narrabeen Lagoon. According to the Dictionary of Sydney:

The camp site at Narrabeen Lagoon was the last community Aboriginal town camp to survive in the northern Sydney suburbs. Probably, before the British invasion, Narrabeen Lagoon was one of the many coastal occupation sites offering seasonal shelter, fish and wetland resources… higher and less accessible country was used for ceremonial and educational purposes by the Gai-mariagal. Dennis Foley, a Gai-mariagal (Camaraigal) descendant, describes the area as ‘the heart of our world’.

Dennis Foley has written of the destruction of the camp in the 1950s, when what became the Academy of Sport was built. When I was a child in the 1970s, it was whispered that there were still people living there. These were the survivors of the genocide of the Eora people. There is no sign or memorial.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gods and goddesses and the dead: la Calavera Catrina and Guadalupe and Epona, all psychopomps, all syncretist beings like me. I’ve been thinking about AORTA’s Theory of Change:

Decades of neoliberal policy have erased histories of enslavement and genocide, and the movements that fought and resisted along the way. Today’s social movements are often disconnected from local, regional, national, and global movement history, which can lead to a sense of isolation and alienation.

And about this essay, in which:

Derrida asked, ‘Is it possible that the antonym of “forgetting” is not “remembering”, but justice?’

Gods and goddesses move around outside time, where the dead are not gone, just elsewhere. Historical memory is a kind of augmented reality, a map drawn in the colors of love and grief and anger. May I honor the memory of my dead. May they seek justice through me. May I be a good ancestor in my turn.

messing about in boats

We enjoyed the Rivercat so much that we’ve taken two more ferries, one around Scotland Island from Church Point and one to the Basin from Palm Beach. Pittwater smells of salt and diesel, the smell of my childhood. There are cormorants and kookaburras, gulls and jellies.

I read this remarkable essay about Australian childrens’ books as well as a thoughtful article about the high country brumbies that I can’t share because it’s paywalled to hell. Like the mustangs in California, Australia’s feral horses wreck delicate ecosystems. Scientists and the traditional owners of country want them gone. But local cattlemen lost grazing land to the Snowy hydro scheme and to the National Parks well within living memory. To them, the brumby cull is the last straw. In the paywalled article, National Party MP Peter Cochran whines: “You don’t have to be black to feel a connection to this land.”

I grew up on stories about brumbies, by Mary Elwyn Patchett and Elyne Mitchell. In them, the wild horse is as much a part of the bush as the possum and the kangaroo. It took me decades to recognize this as a way for white people to lay claim to what wasn’t theirs. When I revisited Patchett hoping to read her books to the kids, I was appalled by her racism. Mitchell’s father was Harry Chauvel of the charge on Beersheba. Both writers are immersed and complicit in the white supremacist, militarized, settler-colonialist narrative that Evelyn Araluen describes in her essay.

Even my beloved Swallows and Amazons, with its naval officer father and its mother who grew up sailing on Sydney Harbour, instructs children in exploration, mapping and conquest. Maybe Westerners can’t have innocent pleasures. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth questioning as simply messing about in boats. Do you want empires? Because that’s how you get empires.

watershed

Honestly though this was a devastatingly hard year, politically, professionally, and personally; and it was the fifth such year in a row. Breaking my leg was the least of it.

It was too blustery to ride today, but too sunny to stay inside, so Jeremy and I went for a walk in Heron’s Head Park.

It’s the site of a never-completed shipping terminal, next to the decommissioned Hunter’s Point Power Station, not far from where Islais Creek, our local watershed, meets the Bay. Back in the 90s, citizen activists spearheaded wetlands restoration and now it’s a sparkling salt marsh, a magnet for pelicans and sandpipers. There’s an eco center with a living roof.

We walked and talked for a long time, and then dropped by Bay Natives nursery and bought some eggs still warm from the nest. Reclaimed Industrial Landscape is one of my top three aesthetics, and my hope for the new year is that the same transformation can happen in my cold dead heart.

impatient

As promised, Thanksgiving was the first day I left the crutches at home. I still wear the moon boot to clomp around, and I tire very easily. Breaking your leg at 47 is different from breaking it at 16. Medical technology is way better, for one thing. I had a spinal rather than a general anesthetic and I was up and about in a matter of hours. The two plates holding my tib and fib together were custom-milled in Fremont to match the curves of my bones. The moon boot is an infinite improvement over a plaster cast, and I can take it off for showers. You also get treated very differently, and much more respectfully, as a silver-haired, highly-educated captain of industry than you did as a clueless teen.

In lots of other ways of course it was worse, and I’m stir crazy and I’ve read too many library books and watched WAY too much TV. Hurry up healing factor you bastard, I gotta get outta here.

long overdue catchup

Goodness, it has been a while, hasn’t it? We had a pretty good summer. We went to Los Angeles and saw the Bladerunner building and a spaceship.

We went to Portland and saw some waterfalls.

Oz, obvs.

Then Alain and Ross came to visit, and I dragged them over half of Northern California. Santa Cruz, Monterey, Muir Woods, Yosemite, Calistoga. They were thoroughly good sports about it.


All this and we saw Ray of Light’s Jesus Christ Superstar, the Berkeley Rep’s Angels in America, Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy in concert. I’m so lucky I did all those trips and went to all those shows, because the Monday after the boys went home, I had to do an emergency dismount from this gorgeous and wholly blameless fellow:

Suffice to say that for once I did not stick the landing. Now I have an ankle full of titanium and I’m on crutches till Thanksgiving. Still, though. Worth it.

celebrating pride month 20gayteen

Janelle Monáe
Angels in America
God’s Own Country
Nanette
Ocean’s 8

(Turns out my sister and I watched Nanette on the same night.)

farewell to the horse: a cultural history, by ulrich raulff

Against its nature, the terrified prey animal is turned into an incarnation of terror which drives the predator, man, to flee

The horse was born not in Troy, but in Alexandria: it is a phantom of the library

The connections forged between humans and horses nowadays are relationships based on love, communities of interest and sporting camaraderie.

the native language of equine history is Arabic.

Nobody would have noticed the waif-like boy who hung around the Paris horse market for days on end, in 1851 and the following year. Confident that he was unobserved, he scribbled away on the notepad he took everywhere with him, like a painter on his travels. Nobody recognized him as a young woman dressed as a man, pursuing her ambitious plan.

girls and horses are islands in the flowing river of time.

Somewhat like a precursor to cybernetics, only more direct: a neuro-navigation between interrelated natures. Two moving, loosely coupled systems, circumnavigating the lengthy route of thought, exchanging information directly via the short cut of touching nerves and tendons, thermal and metabolic systems. The act of riding means that command data is transferred in the form of physical data, in a direct exchange of sensory messages. Riding is the connection of two warm, breathing, pulsating bodies, mediated only by a saddle, a blanket or mere bare skin. Humans enter into similar informational connections when they dance together, wrestle or embrace.

funemployment funtensifies

It turns out that if you let me mooch off Mister Jeremy and spend my time however the hell I like for most of a year, it’ll be one quarter community organizing to resist the Trump agenda (weekly visits to local members of Congress plus get out the vote canvassing in our nearest GOP-held district), one quarter supporting under-represented minorities in the tech industry, one quarter writing gay science fiction, and one quarter snoogling horses. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I doubt anyone else is.

It’s possible my surprise Sabbatical is coming to an end, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Can I even express my gratitude to my mister of eighteen years and one day for his fabulous awesometude and generosity, signs point to no. My advice for a happy marriage is to marry the kindest, smartest, most curious and emotionally intelligent person you have ever met, and then try to deserve them.

galahs

We walked out of the airport terminal into a wall of humidity and cicada song. I had forgotten how good Australian summer smells. I see it now in a way I never could before I left. The ferry ride to Cockatoo Island through a working harbour surrounded by old-money waterfront property. (My family’s steadfast refusal to laugh as I called it Cockapoo Island and claimed that it was made entirely of cockapoos.) Inner western suburbs with their beautiful brick terrace houses and bullnose verandahs and tall and spreading trees. Oyster leases on the Hawkesbury. I can feel my own settler-colonial culture as a shallow, temporary film over this weirdly ancient place. My family has been here for nearly 250 years. The Aboriginal people have been here for 250 times as long.

In Barraba now, I am haunted by my parents. Here’s my mother’s craft studio. There’s where Dad had his market stall. In front of the doctor’s office is where I broke down when Dad said he was sure Mum’s cancer was cured. Last night I sat on their front porch while galahs and lorikeets threw a sunset dance party. Petrichor, all around. Behind me a sun shower and in front of me, rainbow’s end. Today, my brother and I took two cars and a whole expedition party out to Horton Falls. We surprised mobs of kangaroos. We had both forgotten to check if we had full tanks. It’s alarming to drive on a single-width bush track with the fuel light on. We glided back into town as smoothly as we could, running on fumes. But here we are.

what a weird day

Our mayor Ed Lee died very early this morning. He was shopping at the Safeway on Monterey last night when he had a heart attack. The doctors at SF General were unable to save him. He was a complicated, good man.

We rode out at the Horse Park, bright green after the winter rains. “Where’d all the geese come from?” asked Kristen. “Canada,” I said. A coyote swaggered across our path. The sun shone pinkly through its ears. It had a wise and pointed face.

I’d steeled myself for a loss in the Alabama special election. More fool me. The NAACP robo-called Black voters, and Black pastors set up voter registration booths at church events. America is so deeply in their debt, I even can’t speak of it.

war mare

I ride Chione, the bright golden Haflinger dressage pony of my heart. I’m holding my arms in a round O now, like first position in ballet, an innovation from the great New Zealand coach Greg Best, apparently. It stops me bracing with my hands and gives me a whole other dimension of range of motion in my arms.

Chione flows forward into my softer contact. I sit to her trot, with my lower leg relaxed and my inner thigh engaged. I shift my inside hipbone forward. She steps forward with her outside hind leg into a perfect canter depart.

Everything is warm and light and nothing hurts.

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.

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.