craft for a dry lake, by kim mahood

There was a time when the notion of beauty would not have entered my head, when it was simply my place. I did not know it was beautiful

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.

and a cormorant, not shown

I miss Port Jackson a lot; people who say that the Bay is like it don’t seem to know either of them very well.

Last year we went to Cockatoo Island. This year we decided to keep going, as far as we possibly could, all the way to Parramatta. It was very hot and we all got sunburned and this is the cover of our next album.

I expected something vaguely industrial from the Parramatta River. Instead I got mangroves and casuarinas, pelicans and ibis.

Sydney is so enormously full of surprises that I do not think I will ever come to the end of it.

halfway across the world

I wrapped up a mighty four weeks at work before skiving off on (previously-scheduled) hols. My signature achievement so far is having matched names to faces for my boss’s eighteen direct reports. If you think I’ll retain that mapping after a fortnight sitting on Sydney beaches eating mangos, I have several bridges you might like to purchase.

This was my first time flying with my brand new cyborg leg. Despite what my doctors told me, it does indeed set off the metal detectors. I was frisked around the scar tissue, which was very interesting. Otherwise our flights were uneventful. You walk out of the Sydney international terminal into a wall of southern hemisphere summer and if you are me, it brings tears to your eyes.

i’m afraid of men, by vivek shraya

I’m afraid of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag.

the incendiaries, by r.o. kwon

This has been the cardinal fiction of my life, its ruling principle: if I work hard enough, I’ll get what I want.

any old diamonds, by kj charles

He took a moment to work out the best possible phrasing, knowing it was futile because she’d find something to be insulted by…

the green flash

Almost a year after I thought it might, my accidental sabbatical has come to a definitive end. This morning, Laura and I rode Gemini and Bentley around a Horse Park almost violently green from the winter rains. I went to therapy for my weekly ugly-cry, spent the afternoon folding laundry, then dragged J and J to the beach to watch the sunset.

The sea had carved the sand into a cliff three or four stories high. We stood at the brink, inadequately dressed against an Alaskan wind. Just as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, its light turned a pale celadon. I’ve never seen the green flash before! Conditions have to be perfect. Julia was blinking and missed it. I told her she is young and will have lots more chances.

It’s hard to sum up this long career hiatus in any narratively pleasing way. I wrote less than I thought I would, and did a lot more political organizing than I’d ever imagined. One business venture has yet to bear fruit, but the other two are the most beautiful and gifted startups ever to occupy San Francisco office space. I made some amazing new friends and grew closer to some old ones. I think my kids are doing pretty okay? I continue to love my mister more than I love sunbeams, or meadows, or tea.

Tomorrow’s big adventure is to get up early and take BART to work!

not that bad, by roxane gay

…in the long run, diminishing my experience hurt me far more than it helped.

the proposal, by jasmine guillory

He’d spent almost five years trying to beat back his grief; the idea of welcoming it in felt obscene.

the high cost of living, by marge piercy

…she could not imagine that there could be on the screens anyplace images that would speak to her pain, her need, her loneliness, images that would make her feel good.


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.

20gayteen in books

20gayteen was a good year for reading if nothing else. I read 180 books, mostly in the second, more broken-ankley half of the year. Of the 180, 142 were by women, 38 by POC, 24 by queer authors, and 8 by trans folk. I wasn’t consciously trying to diversify what I read, and that lack of effort shows. I read fewer writers of color and fewer queer writers this year than I did in 2017, even though I read more books overall. In 2019 I will reprioritize other voices.

Some standouts from the second half of the year: Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, an irresistibly Northern Californian road trip novel for mothers of toddlers and those who love them; Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Small Fry, also brilliantly evocative of the Bay Area and its terrible hollow men; The Line Becomes a RiverFrancisco Cantú’s haunting memoir about the militarized borders inside us; The Far Away Brothers, Oakland schoolteacher Lauren Markham’s frightening and hopeful book about two of her immigrant students; and Barbara Comyn’s one-of-a-kind cosy post-apocalypse, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead.

I also hunted down and re-read two extraordinarily good books that I first encountered in my teens or early twenties: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes and Marge Piercy’s The High Cost of Living. The characters in the Piercy novel seemed unattainably adult to me the first time I read it. Now, it’s like reading Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, in that I clearly used it to define what adulthood would mean to me. Lolly Willowes, about an elderly English spinster who sells her soul to the devil (she is exactly my age) is even stranger. I didn’t understand it at all the first time around, and I wouldn’t say that I understand it now; only that it touches a deep, sympathetic resonance in my heart.

the king of attolia, by megan whalen turner

Fields can be reseeded every year, but there is little point in planting trees that will be cut down before they grow old enough to bear fruit. So, where there is no peace, there are no trees.

the queen of attolia, by megan whalen turner

Steal peace, Eugenides. Steal me some time.

my year of rest and relaxation, by ottessa moshfegh

I can’t say it didn’t hurt me that she held herself at such a distance. But to confront her about it would have been cruel. I had no right to make any demands.

proposed staycation-jaunts

ETA: success!

back in the saddle

A big week round these parts: Claire got her braces off. I got out of the moon boot, retrieved my car from the barn, got a job, and rode Bentley for the first time in two and a half months. We saw a heron and an eagle mantled over its prey. Bentley, as whorled in his winter coat as a bear, arched his neck and stepped prettily through the mud. If I never jump again, if I never even trot, I will be so happy just to be able to sit on a horse, walking around the park like Queen Elizabeth, looking at the world more charitably through a pair of pricked ears.

red clocks, by leni zumas

And at this point, what else can she do? You could stop trying so hard. You could love your life as it is.

heartland, by sarah smarsh

The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was.