Archive for the 'women are human' Category

difficult women, by roxane gay

I wasn’t much popular, either. I was too smart and that made people uncomfortable—most folks where we’ve lived our whole lives don’t trust too much intelligence in a woman. There is also the problem of my eyes—they don’t hide anything. If I don’t care for a person, my eyes make it plain. I don’t care for most. Folks are generally comfortable with the small lies they tell each other. They don’t know what to do with someone like me, who mostly doesn’t bother with small lies.

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 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.

happy birthday mum

I miss you every day.

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.

one life, by kate grenville

One night she watched the tram light coming towards her, the rails gleaming, the road slick with rain. The trams had been a little adventure in the beginning but now they were the emblem of the hard machine of her days. I could step out in front of it, she thought. That would put an end to the misery and the loneliness and the feeling that every day would be like this forever. It would hurt, she supposed. But if she was lucky it would all be over in a second. In the moment she stood with that choice, she was free of everyone else in the world…

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.

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.”

the dead ladies project, by jessa crispin

Let’s say, for a moment, that the character of a city has an effect on its inhabitants, and that it sets the frequency on which it calls out to the migratory. People who are tuned a certain way will heed the call almost without knowing why. Thinking they’ve chosen this city, they’ll never know that the city chose them.

It’s a favorite myth in our culture that hardship makes you a better person, that it is merely the grindstone on which your essence is refined and polished. But the truth is that scarcity, depression, thwarted ambition, and suffering most often leave the person a little twisted.

We all occupy space on top of one atrocity or another, blood has coated every square inch of this earth.

My childhood was one of deprivation. Not deprivation in a material sense but a deprivation of beauty. Which might not sound like much, unless you live on beauty, unless it is your air and water and religion.

The south of France of today is what happens to a place when all the artists, the queers, and the misfits have been driven out by rising prices and improving “quality of life.” The rich are attracted to the places built by the freaks, the heat and the noise of places like Berlin, New York, San Francisco, and then they strip the cities down to their stumps like an insect swarm, driving off any biodiversity until all that is left is people with money.

You are not standing in the London of today but in the London of forever, its pasts and its futures, real and imagined.

What saves you is a new story to tell yourself about how things could be.

what works for women at work, by joan c williams and rachel dempsey

…organizations that think of themselves as highly meritocratic tend to have more gender bias than organizations that do not.

“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

Over time, she learned that there were certain adaptations she just couldn’t make if she wanted to stay true to herself. “I needed to be the same person at work and outside of work,” she said. “It was too stressful to try to be two different people.”

five things because i’ll probably forget again on friday

1. There is a much longer story about the horse show that I will doubtless tell each of you over a bottle of wine some time, which begins with Nick-the-horse dumping me onto a fence at our Friday lesson, such that his bridle came off and I still have a spectacular bruise on my right butt cheek, moves through a 2-hour drive to get a delightful Dutch breeder named Constanza from the showgrounds to the airport (we are fast friends now and I am invited to her farm outside Utrecht), and ends with me enjoying myself in a show ring for the first time, riding the kind of blissed-out, fluid round we can do at home but never before in front of a judge. “Shit,” Casey reports the trainer standing next to her saying of our performance: “they are laying down some good trips.” We were.

2. Once again I have been puzzlingly overlooked for a Macarthur – perhaps something to do with the fact that I haven’t actually written anything – but I was completely goddamn delighted with two of this year’s picks: my longstanding beloved Ta-Nehisi Coates (have you read his new book yet, why haven’t you read his new book yet), and my new fling Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’ve listened to the cast soundtrack of Miranda’s musical Hamilton approximately one gajillion times since it was released last week. It’s a masterpiece. There’s fine-grained, scintillating brilliance in the detail work, a pattern not so much sequential as unfolding ever outwards, revisiting themes to add nuance and complexity and shadow. But there’s also the straight-up shot to the heart of a staggering story, fiercely told. God, just listen. Trust.

3. Three audiobooks by dudes, of varying quality but interconnecting themes: the Oliver Sacks memoir, and then Laszlo Bock’s book about people ops at Google, and then Vaillant’s account of the Harvard Grant Study. You always think you can’t love Oliver Sacks any more, and then you do. People are so real and present and urgent to him. I wanted to be scathing about Bock but his sincerity and curiosity were hard to resist. (Like Maciej Ceglowski and Sebastian Stan, he grew up a communist; maybe that’s why all three seem to have an inner core of diamond-hard idealism. Easy enough to sneer at freedom when you’ve never been unfree.) Bock’s description of evidence-based everything has the distinction of being the first thing I’ve ever read that gave me the slightest interest in working at Google. Still slight, though. Weirdly, Vaillant’s book has made me yell at the car stereo a lot more than Bock’s did. The Grant study is an extraordinary, 75-year-and-counting longitudinal study of a bunch of college men. With this astonishing wealth of material at his disposal, Vaillant’s mistakes are both egregious (autism, for example, is not a “genetic lack of empathy” and fuck you George for saying that it is) and pervasive. The case studies are quite glorious, almost worthy of Sacks, but the conclusions I draw from them are very different from Vaillant’s. A delicious takedown in the Atlantic paints him as a deeply flawed man.

4. Three books by ladies, of uniformly high excellence: Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up is just as life-changing as advertised. Sparking joy is good but the part that clicked for me is the act of thanking your no-longer-needed belongings for their service. My medicine cabinet has never looked so spare. I put off reading What Works for Women at Work for months, afraid that it would make me feel (more) guilty, but in fact it’s one of the most validating books I’ve read in ages. Jessa Crispin’s Dead Ladies Project documents a sojourn in Europe in search of reasons to live. I am devouring it.

5. How is it even possible that I haven’t blogged about Steven Universe yet? There’s probably a German word for the first time your kid recommends something to you and you pay attention to the thing and you realize, Holy shit, this thing is really good. My kid found a good thing. SU is, for me and Claire, that thing. It’s a love letter from maker Rebecca Sugar to her younger brother, and from both of them to the beach towns where they spent holidays growing up, and to the anime they adore, and it’s also a fully realized world with compassionately drawn, three-dimensional characters. It is beautiful and wise and sane and also hilarious and adorable. It’s a love letter to all of us, and so’s Ta-Nehisi’s book and Lin-Manuel’s show and Oliver’s memoir, and I needed all of them, I needed all the reasons I could possibly find to get out of bed, I literally needed reasons to get back on the horse, and they came when I needed them and I’m so grateful.

five things for a friday blog

1. I spent most of the week in Chicago, a city I love for no reason other than that J and I once spent a very happy weekend there. The light over the lake and the severely beautiful architecture always bring back how giddy I felt then, gazing at the Chagall stained glass in the Art Institute, laughing because we had both noticed that the lake sounds like the sea but doesn’t smell right.

2. Despite which, I barely slept the two nights I spent in my (stunning, lake-view) hotel room. By the second night, with my throat raw and my dreams shallow and repetitive, I realized I had caught J’s cold, which he in turn picked up from Julia. I sat through a presentation on Thursday morning with cerebrospinal fluid leaking out of my nose. The plane landing in SFO almost made the left side of my face collapse into a neutron star.

3. This morning when Claire made her customary plea to be allowed to stay home from school, for some reason I agreed, and I’m glad I did. By ten she was feverish. It was a gorgeous dry sunny San Francisco spring day, with all the nasturtiums and roses already in bloom, but the loveliness was largely wasted on us. We ventured out only briefly, for coffee and soup and cold medicine. Claire has spent most of the day asleep on the couch, I on my bed, attended by our faithful kitten doctors.

4. I tried several times to expand on my winter soldier post with a description of how 1980s Australian patriarchy worked, but remembering the microaggressions is painful, and trying to convey their emotional weight is difficult. Pinned down in words, they are dry and seem manageable. It is only the accumulation of hundreds and thousands of them over the years that buries and suffocates you in the end.

5. Turns out I would rather remember the micro-non-aggressions, the people who startled me by saying exactly the opposite of what I had come to expect them to say. Gregan saying Well you are a nice person, why wouldn’t I like you. Professor Brown saying You were one of the most highly qualified candidates, we are glad to have you. Alex saying That must have been difficult. Grant, most of all, saying lots of things I still cherish, but mostly just scooping me up into the sunshine of his solar system, showing me a way to be happy that I had never thought of before. Four cheers for non-toxic masculinity.

Moments, too, where I cried because the pain stopped; like the first time I heard Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” and read that Mary is an out lesbian Christian. Well, why not? This one is fresh in my mind because Skud mentioned the other day that she’d met a member of the Sydney Anglican liberal resistance, and I thought, what a glorious thing to be. But then I realized that I was always a member of the resistance, even when I didn’t know it.

I want so many things back that I can’t ever have, not only Mum and Dad but being young again and in a world so full of possibilities (the twilight sky above Dublin such a rich and light-filled blue, Bjork in her own before-time singing “I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to.”) Most of all I wish I could have been in less distress so that I could have been kinder and more kickass. But I did make it out alive and here I am, with my cats and my children and my J, our sunny little village in the city, our found family, perspective, time to read and think and make sense of what happened so that maybe one day I can write about it without jumping all over the place like this, without having to glance quickly into it and then just as quickly look away.

the winter soldier

So I did a podcast! I can’t bear the sound of my own voice but if you can, you may endure it here. I hasten to add that Sumana and Brendan are delightful and so are their voices. Like most of the people I know, they were bewildered by how completely I succumbed to Captain America fandom last summer, and wished to inquire further.

I’ve complained often, most recently in the context of Pym, about how never I or characters resembling me show up in fiction. This was a feature, not a bug, for many years. Books were windows, not mirrors. But representation is important, and eventually the lack of representation of genderqueer financiers who grew up on mining asteroids started to get to me.

Of course, when I eventually encountered myself in fiction, it was as a traumatized amnesiac supersoldier, so go figure. I mean that literally: I had to go and figure this out. It took me months to unpack why it was Bucky – and not even really MCU Bucky (lovely and brilliant as Seb Stan is) but the Bucky of chapter 2 of part 2 of Feather’s epic novel Your Blue Eyed Boys, Bucky sitting on a roof panicking because something good has happened, because he has made a human connection. (I misremembered in the podcast: this scene takes place after he hooks up with Steve.) What, exactly, about this did I recognize?

The full answer is beyond the scope of this blog but the short answer is trauma. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, a period that future rachaeologists may term my Nightmare Phase, I ran away all the time: I panicked, I fled, I lost my fucking shit. I did not know why. I thought I was just broken. Spoiler! I was, but not innately. I was a product of a society that had no better use for me than to try (and fail) to wipe my personality and shape me into a weapon.

Back then I did not have the names I have now for my child-abusing church or my rape factory of an undergraduate university. I fell for the cover story, which was that Australia was egalitarian and a worker’s paradise. It took me a long time to notice the blindingly fucking obvious, which is that Australia is ruled by cruel and complacent old money undertaking wholesale environmental destruction, and that every institution depends on the unpaid labor if not outright exploitation of women and people of colour.

This is the point at which Liz always likes to jump in and say, that’s not just Australia. Which is true. But my metal arm has the Southern Cross where Bucky’s has just one red star.

Anyway so, I have spent the last nine months or so reading up on why some people (Spoiler! Me.) have crippling anxiety and are hypervigilant and kind of agoraphobic and don’t know when they are hungry or tired or whether things hurt. Trauma is not the defining fact of my life by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a model with explanatory power, like how for example people lying to children about important things makes me feel dead inside.

Still, as Salome always reminds me, mine is a very mild case and even the things that happened to people I love were not the worst things, and have proved to be largely survivable. The only real gift of suffering is compassion, and I hope that the fucked-up things that happened will make me more patient, more empathetic, less apt to judge, more able and willing to listen.

The name winter soldier comes first from Thomas Paine’s These are the times that try men’s souls, and second from the investigations into war crimes in Vietnam, instigated by the veterans themselves. To be a winter soldier is to own the shitty things that you have done and to believe in a better world even when that seems impossible. In this sense, Steve is a winter soldier too. He’s the America I want to believe in: the supersoldier who remembers how it felt to be skinny, the superpower that remembers what it meant to be a colony. I am the mining asteroid and I am the weapon. But that’s not all I am.

happy birthday, sarah

I still can’t really write about Dad (although as Mary wonderfully pointed out, he’s been a hero of this blog all along.) So I will write about my sister instead, shown here adoring ponehs.

She and I weren’t especially close growing up, which I get. There are six years between us, I was irksomely hero-worshippy and she had her own complex shit going on. I do still remember a note she wrote me when I was 19 and went to Tasmania for six weeks on an archaeological dig, saying: “I always knew you were going to have great adventures.” When I got accepted to Trinity she gave me a blue plaid Onkaparinga blanket to keep me warm in the Irish winters. It’s still my go-to for snuggling on the couch in San Francisco. I bought another like it to keep me warm in Barraba, and she has it on her bed when I’m not there.

But our timing was sort of perpetually off. Our lives diverged. She was pregnant when I came home from Dublin, and she had her babies while I got my first job, my first apartment and my first car. She moved to Brisbane around the time I moved to San Francisco and our parents set off in their Winnebago to live the nomad life. Our brother Alain shared her house and helped raise her kids while our brother Iain and I made the annual schlep to Burning Man.

When Mum and Dad settled in Barraba, Sarah packed up her whole family and moved there, with the tacit understanding that she would become their caregiver as they aged. Dad was diagnosed in January of 2013; Mum in August of 2013; Mum died in February 2014 and Dad, of course, four weeks ago. It’s been a brutal couple of years for all of us, but the burden fell disproportionately on her. She and I reverted, hard, to stereotype. I was the out-of-town career woman who flew in to deal with bureaucracy and demand answers from doctors. She was the one who dealt with everything else, day after day after long, crushing day.

She did it with such patience and strength, I can’t even tell you. Sarah was Mum’s best friend and constant companion. She maintained Dad safely in his home and independent long after anyone else thought it was possible to do so. Small wonder that even when he had forgotten the rest of us, Dad’s eyes still lit up whenever she walked into the room. It was her stubborn advocacy that earned them both a merciful death in palliative care with their pain humanely managed. Sarah alone was with both our parents when they took their last breaths.

I couldn’t have done it. I am awed by her unstinting love and grace throughout. Fortunately there are compensatory upsides to going through Hell side by side with another person. I was on the phone the other day laughing my head off, and afterwards Jeremy said: “Was that your sister? I thought you were talking to Salome.” Funnily enough I had said to Salome a few days earlier: “I used to call her because she was my sister. Now I call her because I want to talk to her.” And then I started to cry, but from happiness for a change (as well as because I cry at the drop of a hat these days.) It has all been a fucking ordeal, but Sarah has been magnificent. I’m so proud of her and grateful to know her.

And, as it happens, she is turning 50 today. Why don’t you all go do something awesome that she would do: tolerate a pesky little sibling, lift some weights, swim a kilometre, snorgle a kitteh, devour a book, teach a child to read, manage an art festival, play the ukulele, be an amazing friend, donate to cancer or dementia research. As for me I will raise a glass to the greatest woman I know. Happy birthday, Sarah.

this house of grief, by helen garner

The water in the glass he sipped from trembled; but still he gave off that little buzz of glamour peculiar to the Australian tradie

Crop-haired and wiry in her dark blue uniform, a huge diver’s watch on her wrist, Senior Constable Rebecca Caskey of the Search and Rescue Squad stood in the witness stand with her hands clasped loosely behind her. Something in her easy posture reminded me of nurses I had seen at work: women of few words, unflappable, alert and calm.

His responses were so inadequate to the gravity of the situation that it hurt to look at him.

Oh, how bleak and windswept it seems to women, the landscape of what some men call friendship.

falling into the fire, by christine montross

“Sometimes holding all the blackness they feel is the only thing you can do. That’s not nothing. And sometimes it is enough.”

I question my intuition rigorously and routinely, but I rely upon it nonetheless.

Don’t just do something, stand there.

If I am to abide with these patients, then I must accompany them to that place among the rocks, to the sweating wall. I must face with them the uncertainty of what lies beyond. I must stand at the edge with them and peer over into the fathomless depths. If I tell my patients, as I do, that this life can be a tolerable one, that they can face their fears and their traumas, their visions and voices, their misery, then I must look at what I am asking them to endure and I must look at it full in the face.

How do we do it? How do we bear the unbearable realities of our human lives? Someday I will die and leave Deborah, and our son, and our daughter. Or someday each of them will die and leave me. How do we reckon with this inconceivable a loss?

complicity

The brilliant Sumana made this exact point to me two weeks ago:

Butler creates woman protagonists (such as Lilith in the Xenogenesis trilogy) who are seen as traitors for consorting with their enemies or oppressors. Her stories have the capacity to make the so-called traitor’s motivations understandable, often showing a willingness to negotiate as the product of a stubborn sense of hope for the future that can take the form of a commitment to nurturing a new mixed race.

From the book I cannot put down, Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling. Cvetkovich has also introduced me to Jacqui Alexander’s phrase “radical self-possession,” an idea that instantly caught fire and ran down every blood vessel and nerve in my body like music or healing grace. I asked myself what radical self-possession would look like, and Future Rach (who drops by occasionally to give me hints) said:

“Like me.”

why be happy / are you my mother

Yes, they are both meditative middle-aged memoirs by great lesbian writers. Both dramatize the writer’s complicated relationship with her mother and both name-drop Woolf and Winnicott all over the damn place. And YES YOU HAVE TO READ THEM BOTH. I don’t care. Cancel your calls.

Henry James did no good when he said that Jane Austen wrote on four inches of ivory – i.e. tiny observant minutiae. Much the same was said of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. These things made me angry.

I love them at least in part because the NY Times gave Bechdel a shitty review that boils down to “These women! How dare they think their inner lives are interesting?” Therefore reading these books is exactly the same as jabbing a burnt stick into the eyes of the Four Boresmen of the Aborecalypse (Mailer, Bellow, Roth and Updike. Could those guys HAVE more cockish names?) And if that doesn’t make you want to read them I don’t know what will.

I was very often full of rage and despair. I was always lonely. In spite of all that I was and am in love with life.

I remember curling up in Books Upstairs in Dublin, right outside the gates of Trinity College, and reading Dykes to Watch Out For like it was going to save my life. I can’t have been in Ireland for more than a week. And I never connected with Winterson in the same way; I’ve never even seen Oranges. But this book! This book. It took me apart.

I know these are ways of surviving, but maybe a refusal, any refusal, to be broken lets in enough light and air to keep believing in the world – a dream of escape.

happy mother’s day!