Archive for the 'politics' Category

white girls, by hilton als

as an unreconstructed seventies lesbian, the commercial world of magazines and praise was corrupt, why would I want any part of that, why care, I don’t care.

dark emu, by bruce pascoe

…‘desert’ is a term Europeans use to describe areas where they can’t grow wheat and sheep.

mira’s last dance, by lois mcmaster bujold

She wants her own house? Pen tried to interpret this. Most women do, Des returned, at some point in their lives. Getting one without going through some man is made nearly impossible on purpose, I suspect.

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.

why i am not a feminist, by jessa crispin

Asking for a system that was built for the express purpose of oppression to “um, please stop oppressing me?” is nonsense work. The only task worth doing is fully dismantling and replacing that system.

The workplace and capitalistic society has become increasingly hostile. Not only to women, but to men, too. By keeping the focus on how women are doing in the marketplace, rather than how human beings exist under this system of competition and precarity, our thinking remains very small.

Here is one way feminism is still a useful idea: Almost all of us have been marginalized in one way or another due to our gender. That marginalization should allow us to see that it’s the whole system that is corrupt. Being marginalized should give women the perspective and power to see the system’s workings and its dark heart.

We have to imagine something before we can build the infrastructure that will allow it to exist.

We must lay claim to the culture, occupy it. We must remember that our world does not have to be this way. We do not have to reward exploitation, we do not have to support the degradation of the planet, of our souls, of our bodies. We can resist. We must stop thinking so small.

the view from flyover country, sarah kendzior (2013)

We live in the tunnel at the end of the light.

Mistaking wealth for virtue is a cruelty of our time. … Poverty is not a character flaw. Poverty is not emblematic of intelligence. Poverty is lost potential, unheard contributions, silenced voices…

Today the attack on the poor is no longer cloaked in ideology – it is ideology itself. This ideology is not shared by most Americans, but by those seeking to transform the Republican Party into, as former GOP operative Mike Lofgren describes it, “an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.”

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 images from the first fortnight of 2017

Catching the night bus to Thoughtworks with Liz so that Danny and Jeremy would meet us at BATS, so that even though I bugged out early because overtired, the people who really needed to be there would be there. Seeing Maciej talk about resisting authoritarianism through solidarity and feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck, because this is the moment he was born for.

Walking through bucketing rain to visit our neighborhood masjid with Jewish Voices for Peace, and drinking scaldingly hot, sweet chai while our hosts prayed to Allah.

Having a lesson on Sam in the covered arena right at Golden Hour of Barnhenge. The sunlight flooded in over the indigo mountains and spring-green pasture and red-gold autumn trees, and the cantering horses’ hooves reached down to kiss the hooves of their elongated shadows. In other lessons, I am pointing him at higher and higher fences and feeling no fear, just joy in his glad grace, the effortless delight of him. The new footing in both arenas, springy and inviting.

Getting rick-rolled by Nancy Pelosi at the rally to support the Affordable Care Act at City Hall. Never gonna give you up! The glare of bright sunshine, the edged bite of the winter wind.

That same evening, taking a yoga class with Julia and Annie Sprinkle.

thankful for

It’s Embarrassing Sincerity Day in California (when isn’t it) so you should know that if you’re reading this I am grateful for you. I am grateful for Barack and Michelle Obama. I’m grateful for California and its badass Reps and Senators and state legislature. I’m grateful for San Francisco, my sanctuary city. Today and every day I am grateful for my queer and trans friends, my immigrant friends, my friends who are people of color, my disabled friends, my friends who teach, and my friends who care for the sick and dying. This is my America and it’s worth fighting for. Here is a pavlova.

ashes and air

The unexpected highlights of Paris this year were Sainte-Chapelle and the Pantheon. At the top of the servant’s stairs into Sainte-Chapelle I stopped for ten seconds, struck entirely dumb. A jillionty tonnes of stone are transformed into a soaring volume of space, filled with the rainbow light of stained glass. I knew the first part of the story from Waugh’s Helena and the True Cross: how Constantine’s mother had travelled to Jerusalem to find the relics of the Passion. I hadn’t known that Emperor Baldwin went broke and sold the Crown of Thorns and assorted True Cross bits to Saint Louis in the 13th century, and that Louis brought them to France. In doing so Louis was trying to combine spiritual and political power, heavenly and earthly crowns, and so the Sainte-Chapelle has the hybrid vigor of a place both sacred and imperial.

So too does the Pantheon, but the other way around. It was originally conceived as a church but consecrated, in the end, as a secular memorial to great men of the Republic. It has become another way for France to assert what it believes itself to be in the durable languages of stone and human remains. We took a tour around the dome and the view of Paris was beyond anything; between the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse we saw a Montgolfier-style tethered balloon levitating its tourists. Down in the crypt we all separately found Marie Curie and were, to our mutual surprise, moved. She was interred there on her own merits, the first woman to be so honoured.

It’s what I meant when I talked about choosing our own ancestors: in my case, Saint Jane Austen, Saint Harvey Milk and Saint Octavia Butler. The future is a nation we build with our hope and the work of our hands. It derives its power from our beloved dead.

o negative

I have rare blood, O neg, the universal donor. After Orlando I went to give blood and was turned away because my heart was racing (it was the day Jo Cox died; I wanted to say “Haven’t you read the news?” but the poor nurse was just looking out for me.) I’ve since had an EKG and everything’s fine with the ol’ ticker except, of course, that it’s broken. It was broken before Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas; it’s shattered now. God in whom I can’t believe, please help this suffering country.

At the same time, I’ve been flattened by a vicious cold. All I can read is Helen Garner and Joan Didion and Diana Athill and this NYer piece on hospice, and all I can watch is Angels in America. It feels like 2005, when the black water drowned New Orleans, or 2003, when Baghdad burned. Baghdad’s still burning. I cling to these words of Roxane’s:

We have to do better than all this “the world is coming to an end.” The world is not coming to an end. The world is changing.

In whatever small way I can work towards justice and peace, let me work.

friday five, but on a monday

  1. Have I really not blogged in three weeks? Oh well it’s not like anything of local or world-historical importance has happened HAHAHAHA dear god
  2. I can’t really bring myself to say anything about Orlando or the assassination of Jo Cox except that AR-15s and high-capacity magazines should have been banned years ago, and all the lobbyists and politicians who have prevented this are little better than murderers themselves.
  3. While I was trying to have a Saturday afternoon nap, much interrupted by sirens, a fire took out most of a block in the heart of our neighborhood, including our beloved local hardware store. We used to shop there even before we moved to Bernal. Several times a day I look at something that needs fixing around the house and have a muscle-memory of buying its replacement at Cole Hardware. All our neighbors got out in time, which is a great mercy.
  4. I had an almost-perfect day at work on Thursday, then came home only to grow increasingly distressed over Brexit, which broke my Judtist heart. David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum now replaces Bush’s invasion of Iraq as the most appalling error of judgment committed by any English-speaking politician in the course of my adult life. Europe is important. Bureaucracies may seem boring and idiotic but they are inexpressibly less boring and idiotic and catastrophic than the world wars that they occasionally, through the great efforts of many kind people and with considerable good luck, replace.
  5. All of this and a lot of other stories that are not mine to tell have made the last few months very difficult, but there have been fierce joys as well: Hillary and Warren campaigning together; the enduring wonderfulness of Ginsberg and Sotomayor; the memory of my mother pouring out all her tremendous capacity for love in her last days, and the knowledge that her example will be with me for the rest of my life.

adventure time: gattaca

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin Civic Center. This building, you guys.

It’s organic architecture, inspired by the Marin hills on which it stands.

Like Star Trek, The West Wing and Hamilton, it is a love song to participatory democracy and the dream of what humans could be.

It’s hard to believe your eyes.

the yatima book awards of 2015

Best capstone to a trilogy that, unbelievably, saw my OT3 made canon: Ancillary Mercy

Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series explores oppression both overt and covert, personhood and autonomy, cruelty and choice. It is also and very intimately about love and trauma and about the slow and painful process of recovering from having been used as a weapon. It is difficult and allusive and strange and I have seldom loved a story more.

Best memoir containing descriptions of the surface of living human brains: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

A few years ago Jeremy and I saw The English Surgeon, a beautiful documentary about Henry Marsh, and this book of his is an extraordinary complement, the effect of which is to make both texts deeper and richer. You walk away from the film thinking that Marsh is some kind of genius angel. The book is all about his fear, doubt and failures, failures that led to the deaths of patients he loved.

Best inspiration for a hit Broadway musical: Alexander Hamilton

Ron Chernow’s biography of the Founding Father is fantastic in its own right, but looking at how Lin-Manuel Miranda manipulated the timeline and even the construction of some of the main characters is a master class in creative transformation.

Best book whose first chapter will make you ugly-cry into your latte at Cafe St Jorge, to the mild alarm of your fellow guests: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize this year but be warned: her stories about what actually happened in the aftermath of the explosion, and how social class dictated who suffered and who died, will fuck you right up.

Best and most moving farewell from a writer you have loved all your adult life: On the Move: A Life

What can I add to what has already been written about Oliver Sacks, his imaginative compassion, the generosity of spirit that grew so unexpectedly out of his privileged and circumscribed circumstances? Not much. (In close second place for this category: Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia.)

Best gift for your girlfriends of the crazy cat persuasion: The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries

Disappointed in love, the brilliant Jessa Crispin packed up her apartment and couch-surfed her way across Europe, reading in search of reasons to go on living. A manifesto for all of us who are lost, lonely and ugly, outside and in.

Best book you bounced off hard as a stupid kid and now recognize for the straight-up masterpiece it is: Beloved

The insane, vindictive ghost baby? It’s us.

Best book-length elaboration on the theme that Black Lives Matter: Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ open letter to his son may also turn out to be an enduring masterpiece, but for me the most intimate pleasure of it was its celebration of Paris, a city that for all its fucked-up flaws is one of the finest things human hands have made.

Best book that killed off my favorite character from the previous book in its opening scene: The Philosopher Kings

Jesus, Jo! This series is obviously written for the pure motherfucking joy of it, for the wish-fulfillment of standing shoulder to shoulder with the writers you adored and building a city even more beautiful than Paris. (And then finding out that you had overlooked some very important questions about personhood, autonomy, cruelty and choice.)

Most heartbreaking memorial to our own lost generation: And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

An essential book and a companion to the equally essential The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, Randy Shilts’ history of the plague documents the appalling cost of it and the sheer inadequacy of our human response.

Most beautiful portrayal of raw grief: Men We Reaped

Five young men close to Jesmyn Ward died in four years, and this devastating meditation on their deaths brings their loss into razor-sharp focus.

Most accurate portrayal of Australia as an airless mining asteroid that turns men’s hearts to stone: This House of Grief

Helen Garner is our Janet Malcolm and this book is our Iphigenia in Forest Hills.

By the numbers:

Books by women: 7. People of color: 3. Gay men: 2. Straight white men: 2. (Is this the most charming sentence in Wikipedia? “Marsh is married to the social anthropologist Kate Fox and spends his spare time making furniture and keeping bees.” Kate Fox wrote Watching the English! BEST DINNER PARTY GUESTS.) I used to joke that I didn’t read books by straight white men because their concerns were too narrow and parochial, but it’s not a joke any more.

Australian writers: 1. Russian: 1. English: 3ish, although Jo Walton is Welsh and lives in Canada and Oliver Sacks spent most of his life in New York. American: 7.

Total books read: about 120. Either I am slowing down or I lose 30 books’ worth of capacity in each year in which one of my parents dies. Guess we’ll find out!

adventure time: yolo

Yesterday I drove north, past a bonfire and through an almost Sydney-severe rainsquall, to where California State Route 16 West peels off from I-505 into Yolo County. There, the sun came out and shone on the dry Capay Hills, turning them lemon and gold in front of the smudged indigo mountains behind them.

I wanted so badly to go into those warm yellow hills! And then Highway 16 took me around a corner and into Rumsey Canyon, carved out of the stone by Cache Creek, all geology and cattle pasture and gnarled old oaks. I wanted so badly to get out and walk around! And then Google took me up a still narrower canyon through which Bear Creek was running and gently steaming, and I met Tina at Wilbur Hot Springs, a gorgeous place that smells in a very friendly way of eggy farts.

We soaked in the hot green sulfurous water, shared bread and cheese and salami and radishes and olives and champagne and a little chocolate, rode bikes through the nature preserve, past the geyser to the wind chime forest, and talked about books and politics and our children and our partners and the parties we used to throw in the 90s and her painting and my writing and her sister, my friend Jen. We were urged to leave our electronics behind, and I did, so I don’t have any pictures, sorry about that.

Tina and I don’t see each other often enough and this has to be changed. As I drove back, the near-full moon rose on my left through a pink band of sunset. It followed me home to the city.

Today I drove south to a stable in the redwoods, where Salome and I saddled up and rode two bright gold pony mares through the forest to a chain of meadows in the sun. We talked about work and education and our children and her painting and my writing and our plans for the future. I stuck my iPhone in my jacket pocket, so here are some pictures for you.

We saw five mule deer, the sun pink through their absurd ears. One gentle doe was napping under the trees, curled like a cat.

California is so impossibly motherfucking beautiful sometimes, it actually kind of hurts.

five gifts for my mother on her 80th birthday

1. With my dearest darling bad horse Boo Bear living out his retirement at a lovely farm upstate (no, really, he aten’t ded), I have a new horse, Sam. He is a liver chestnut so dark and shiny that he looks like he was cast in bronze or, possibly, treacle. He is scopey and athletic but also kind and forgiving, sensitive yet gentle as a lamb. He is an education. He makes me a better rider.

2. The worst of grief bogs you down in the past. As I feel myself starting to come out of it, I’ve been getting these little glimpses of a future I might like to live in, enough that I’ve been making a list: Aziz Ansari’s new comedy Master of None, Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show and, of course, on endless repeat, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

3. Many pixels have been spilled praising Hamilton showstoppers like “Satisfied” and “Wait For It”, because those songs are amazing. This week, though, I particularly love:

  • “One Last Time”, because in relinquishing the presidency, George Washington paved the way for term limits and the peaceful transfer of power between rival factions, two of the things I love best about the American political system; and
  • “The World Was Wide Enough”, because Aaron Burr is such an irresistibly sympathetic character that he shows us how to make space for the people with whom we disagree, which seems particularly important this week.

It is difficult to say anything about the massacres in Paris, except how sorry I am for those who have been hurt, and how desperately I wish for peace.

4. I tried to make pavlova for Mum’s birthday, a pretty Quixotic endeavor considering I’ve never yet succeeded at meringue. After two dismal failures to achieve glossy peaks, I stuck a sort of eggy soup in the oven, wept briefly and discovered online that our Bamix is almost certainly the problem. It doesn’t introduce enough air to allow the egg white to achieve the proper foaminess. So I ordered a hand mixer and just now, the egg soup came out of the oven as a delicately browned giant cookie, which we all look forward to eating.

5. “Brown liquor,” said Jeremy after he had mopped up my eggy tears. I poured us two glasses of the 12 year old Bunnahabhain and we clinked our glasses: “To Jean.” My mother gave me my love for animals and my righteous anger at the world’s injustices, and she was a much better pastrychef than I am. I miss her every day, but I am very, very glad that she was my mother.

ancillary mercy, by ann leckie

…in the last twenty years I had grown accustomed to making my own decisions, without reference to anyone else. To having authority over my own life.

“We are weapons she made for her own use.”

“…You’re used to people being attached to you. Or being fond of you. Or depending on you. Not loving you, not really. So I think it doesn’t occur to you that it’s something that might actually happen.” “Oh,” I said.

“Oh, Cousin,” replied Sphene. “We sit here arguing, we can hardly agree on anything, and then you go straight to my heart like that. We must be family.”

“Can I be a cousin, too?” asked Station, from the wall console. “Of course you can, Station,” I said. “You always have been.”

independence

Happy birthday, America! I love you for your Steve Rogers, Bree Newsome, health care, marriage equality and Oz Farm.

grace

I rode Colin’s favorite horse this morning and it was incredible. That would normally be the high point of the day, but today was in no way a normal day.

First, marriage equality. I married Jeremy in 2000 because I had secure visa status in the US, and he didn’t. The fear of him being deported was untenable. It was the vulnerability of migration that opened my eyes to what marriage is; it is forcing the state to recognize your found family. That definition of marriage was the gift of the people we lost to AIDS, whose partners were sometimes barred from the deathbed. Legal marriage means that your love matters, that it must be taken into account.

It’s hard, maybe impossible to convey to my own children just how staggering it is that we are here; how many people fought and died for this.

And even that wasn’t the high point of the day. The murderer of the Charlston 9 wanted a race war, not the occasion of maybe the most profound and beautiful moment of Obama’s presidency.

Grace is the unlooked-for gift, the undeserved kindness, a green shoot growing in the desert. Amazing.

friday five

1. Yeah so that happened and it was awful. I ordered flowers for Milton’s funeral which made me mad and sad, not that I grudged him the flowers but that I was so angry with him for being dead. I think I also wanted to be at the funeral so that I could be with other people who knew him and could understand what his death meant. Jeremy met him a few times but didn’t know him well and otherwise I was alone with it, which always sucks and is boring.

2. Otherwise and weirdly I am feeling much better, having shaken off the last of the horrible Chicago cold and consequent lingering bronchitis and what was evidently some kind of post-viral malaise that plunged me back into the worst days of having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder in my teens and 20s. I gotta give myself credit for spending the last dozen years taking meds and getting enough exercise and sleep and healthy food, because given the opportunity to directly compare my current and former emotional states, it’s clear that in spite of all the, you know, wrenching grief, my baseline mood is way better than it used to be.

3. I am finally reading (listening in the car to) And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts’ beautifully furious book about the early years of the AIDS epidemic; uneasy stuff when you are well, let alone when you are paranoid and sick. Excellent narrative history turns you into the Doctor visiting a Fixed Point In Time: it is 1980 and I am standing in the Ice Palace on Fire Island at 1am, looking at all the gorgeous men on the dance floor, knowing that there is nothing I or anyone else can do to save them. I am so, so sorry.

4. Speaking of beautiful fury, the new Mad Max movie is an exquisitely-researched and historically accurate documentary about my childhood and it gives me life. I got properly into the spirit of it too, getting rear-ended hard on the way to the cinema, jumping out of poor banged-up Mercy of Kalr in the middle of Van Ness and screaming at the other driver and kicking his license plate. He was at fault like San Andreas, of course, so his insurance covers everything including the rental on the piece-of-garbage Chevy Sonic I am driving around while Mercy is at the body shop. Her name is Lieutenant Seivarden, and she self-identifies as a small war rig.

5. Last night I dreamed I checked into a hotel where I was shown to a suite that I had to share with strangers who invaded my personal space, and when I complained to the staff they made fun of my accent and lost my favourite jacket, and when I realized that I was in a dramatization of my own mundane fears and insecurities I decided I was probably dreaming and that if I was, I might as well see Mum, so I turned around and there she was, wearing red and orange and gold and looking radiantly well and laughing. So I hugged her a lot.