Archive for August, 2003

…I want to write you a letter. I mean, I’ll understand you’re there

when I reach you in writing.

from The Grove, by Jean Lieske

i am this book’s target audience

“If Charles Darwin had spent the first half of his life in the world of Jane Austen, he now stepped forward into the pages of Anthony Trollope.”

First sentence of Charles Darwin vol 2: The Power of Place, by Janet Browne


I camped in the woods with the Romany. Jeremy and I, both aged six, hollowed out child-sized tracks under the lantana to cross the merry rivers and make our way secretly into the town. But agents of the Vichy government followed us back to the woods, and the Romany were taken away by the Nazis.

I woke in tears, and ran through the Woolworths supermarket in Frenchs Forest. I found two people I used to think I was close to, leaning their heads together over a shopping trolley, having a private conversation. They both stared at me with utter loathing.

I woke in tears, remembered with relief that it was all a dream, then remembered that it was true.

buyers’ remorse nightmare

I dreamed I was trying to buy a gift for my father. Salome and Jeremy and I went to 826 Valencia. It wasn’t the pirate store we have come to know and love, but a huge SF-MoMA-ish emporium on three floors, with mezzanines and shiny fittings and bleached blond wood floors and cabinets full of tiny expensive things.

Unfortunately they’d decided to pack the whole thing up and move it to New York. The workers were following us around emptying the store behind us, meaning that I had to decide instantly whether to buy a thing or not. I was deeply flustered.

“Why New York?” asked Salome.

“No one in San Francisco buys things like these,” said a staff member.

“Oh well,” I said, “at least we still have Cliff’s Hardware.”

We ended up at one of those pottery-painting stores, but the only white mugs they had were too girly and frilly for my Dad, with some tacky silver logo. They did have solid, well-formed mugs, but only in yellow and blue.

“How am I supposed to paint these?” I asked crossly.

Jeremy was looking out the window.

“Let’s go and sit in the garden,” he said. “There’s hummingbirds.”

regularly scheduled programming

But enough about Kiki.

Have I mentioned my daughter Claire? She’ll be eight months old on Monday. When she’s clean, she smells like vanilla and soap; when filthy, she smells vaguely of yogurt, as toe-jam-like substances accumulate in her many folds. Her cap of hair is strawberry blonde and finer than spider silk. She has freckles underneath it, for no apparent reason other than to exceed internationally agreed levels of cuteness. Her cheekbones are, yes, up the proverbial wazoo.

Claire is fat, in the best possible sense of that word. Her belly is a sphere like a peach with an @ sign for a navel. Her butt has myriad dimples. Her thighs and calves fill up your hand in a pleasing, weighty way. Parts of the body that on conventional people are bony, on her are deliciously fat. She has bracelets of fat around her wrists and ankles. She has fat elbows. She has fat feet.

Her eyes attract much comment. You know how in the movie Men In Black, the cat Orion has a little jewel on his collar, and inside that jewel there’s an entire galaxy? Or you know how in the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, where they wanted to capture Tolkien’s description of the depth of Galadriel’s expression, they hung Christmas lights to reflect constellations in Cate Blanchett’s eyes? You get the idea.

So, yeah, she’s beyond beautiful, et cetera, but what I really like about her is that she Knows Her Rights. She’s a fully paid-up member of the Babies’ Union; all smiles all the time, until you contravene her immutable will and the air raid siren goes up. I love her stubbornness and sense of herself, her funny friendliness and her ravenous curiosity. She has no baggage. She is all hug. I think she may be the single coolest human being I have ever met.

kiki content

The chic and adorable Kiki Chung points out that there’s too much Claire material on Yatima, and not enough about Kiki.

This is probably true. But I don’t see Kiki sprouting new teeth.


You know that seal-bark laugh I do when I’m particularly amused: “Ha!”? Claire did it to me the other day. I melted. I felt like a proud papa taking his son to the ball game. She’s going to be sardonic!

Later she crawled over to the bookshelf and inspected Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and The Diamond Age before picking out a slim volume for herself

R: Looks like… is it Civilization and its Discontents?

Jeremy held it up: Strunk & White, The Elements of Style.


She lurks beneath:


From her gum there sprouts a gemstone, sharp as ground glass:


atheists in foxholes

Katz Bagels was full of foxes today. There was a drop-dead-pretty punk-ass kid, a ringer for John Mayer in the clip for “Your body is a wonderland”, cheekbones up the proverbial wazoo, drinking Diet Coke and grinning adorably at his girlfriend. Then this lovely Japanese girl came in with her boyfriend, who would have been memorable in any other company but who just kinda paled into insignificance beside her.

Sally quoted Maude from Harold & Maude the other day: “Of course I like people. They’re my species.”

Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Lately I’ve been reading hundreds and hundreds of pages about the war to end all peace, which seems to have started some time around 1914 and continued with only brief breaks to this day. It’s disturbing, to say the least, to turn from Buruma’s visit to Auschwitz to Joe Sacco’s visit to Gaza. I think of my friend Eben describing the girls on the beach at Tel Aviv, and I think of the Sydney University dig at Pella in Jordan, and I think of the trip I’d like to make in the footsteps of Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt’s first expedition to buy horses from the Negev tribes, except that their tracks lie across Syria and Northern Iraq. Um. Maybe next year.

Try and make sense of any of this and your brain will bend. Sharon’s fence, for example: I’m not the first (and won’t be the last) to note its striking resemblance to the Berlin Wall, but beyond that purely superficial point, where does the analogy get you? The East Germans built a wall to keep defectors in; the Israelis have built theirs to keep bombers out. Stratfor gloomily wonders whether cutting the Territories off economically will put pressure on Jordan’s government and cause the Hashemites to fall, giving Israel a far more powerful and unfriendly neighbour on its Eastern border. What a joyous prospect that would be, eh?

The best I can do, and it’s pitiful, is to think of the Wall and the Fence as mismatched bookends framing the dangerous illusion of peace I indulged in the 1990s. Learning more about Croatia and Bosnia and Rwanda and the African World War and East Timor and Iraq and Afghanistan puts the lie even to that naive dream. Wired Magazine’s Long Boom never reached far beyond the limits of the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston’s Route 128. People, like wild dogs and rats, apparently need walls and razor-wire and UN-mandated safe areas backed by NATO bombs to prevent them from slaughtering each other en masse. They may be my species, but apparently we’ve got problems.

It’s weird and scary reading this stuff with Claire gurgling and playing with blocks beside me, but I think it’s Claire who gives me the courage to tackle it. More than that, I think being Claire’s mother gives me an obligation to look these things in the face, to think deeply about the world and how fucked-up it is, and to figure out some kind of provisional response, some way of tackling a future that’s clearly going to be much stranger and more frightening than I can at present imagine.

To step back a bit, critical consensus is that Wartime isn’t quite as good as Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. That’s not to disparage Wartime so much, because The Great War is a modern masterpiece. Wartime is still a knockout. This time around it made me incredibly, viscerally angry (What doesn’t? inquires the peanut gallery), to the point where instead of writing the short story I was reading it to try to research, I went and wrote a completely different short story about growing up Christian and the misuse of language and the perversion of the imagination.

This, it seems to me, is close to the root of the problem: the ongoing effort to persuade members of my tribe that we alone possess the divinely mandated secret of eternal life, while your tribes are all hell-bound infidels hell-bent on persecuting us and therefore worthy only of death. Having believed this once, I do appreciate what a comforting fantasy it is. But I no longer subscribe.

So when I was walking back to the office with Katz bagels in hand, thinking these and other thoughts, and a clean-cut Chinese boy thrust a pamphlet at me, saying

“Jesus loves you!”

…I regret to say that I laughed out loud in his face.


Calmly and without fuss, Claire cut her first tooth.

This afternoon after work we headed down to the new park at Treat and 23rd. It could hardly be any closer to us – two short blocks west, one block south. Used to be a Superfund site, toxic, a paint factory I think. They pulled up the contaminated earth and trucked it away and built this in its place.

It’s a great park. There’s a playground for pre-schoolers and another one for grade-schoolers and a gazebo and a community garden and a greensward for playing ball. It’s only been open a week or two and it’s already swarming with children, almost all Hispanic but with a smattering of white and mixed-race folks too. People are friendly, though mostly in Spanish and to my shame, no habla Espanol.

Claire and I stretched out on the grass. I listened to the kids laughing and smelled the steamy loam and felt the wet grass soaking through my jeans and watched white clouds scudding across the sky. Claire pulled up blades of grass and inspected them minutely. I’m snowed under at work and vaguely worried about money and where we’ll live next and how to make time to write fiction, but even so, lying there in the park with my best girl by my side, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

waking life

The CTO was speaking what sounded like English, but now that I come to read over my notes, I realize it was the language of dreams.

“I like to joke that it’s a dessert wax and a floor topping,” he explained. “The landscape is changing anyhow. The big players are clearly in tune with the value prop. We’re not looking to boil the ocean and replace the moon, by any means.”