Archive for June, 2007

helplessly, head-over-heels

Any morning that starts with conjugal duties and a cup of hot tea brought to you in bed is a better morning than all the ones that don’t.

This evening J and I went to see Once, an art house musical starring (a) the love child of Alex Johnston and Jimmy Fay, and (b) the Czech version of Ioanna. Every time there was an establishing shot I caught my breath and was transported back to 1993/94, the year I lived in Dublin and fell helplessly, head-over-heels in love, let’s see, at least six times. Yet the movie was so good it actually transcended my personal attachment(s) to the material.

That’s a good movie.

Right now J is reading Claire’s library books to her and attempting to sing “Miss Mary Mack.” Glen Hansard, in Once, has one of those soaring aching perfect pop voices (he’s in the band The Frames); J, by contrast, cannot hold the simplest tune. But you oughtta hear him singing to his kid. It’s the most beautiful song in the world.

the end of a long week, month

The last day is always the worst, but today wasn’t so bad as last days go. Sure, I didn’t get anything done, except answering a few neglected emails, but the children were breakfasted and dressed at a reasonable hour and Claire came willingly to school.

I’m enjoying Billy Collins’ Best American Poetry of 2006. Full of cracking lines, lovely villanelles, crisp sestinas, an accomplished double abecedarian. From Krista Benjamin:

“Letter From My Ancestors

“We wouldn’t write this,
wouldn’t even think of it. We are working
people without time on our hands.”

From Amy Gerstler’s “For My Niece Sydney, Age Six”:

“Dear girl, your jolly blond one-year-old
brother, who adults adore, fits into
the happy category of souls mostly at home
in the world. He tosses a fully clothed doll
into the inflatable wading pool in your
backyard (splash!) and laughs maniacally
at his own comic genius. You sit alone,
twenty feet from everyone else, on a stone
bench under a commodious oak, reading aloud,
gripping your book like a steering wheel
of a race car you’re learning to drive.
Complaints about you are already filtering

The best thing I’ve read in the last day, though, was the note from my Dad reminding me that his best friend Ivor Wong worked at Arup for many years. Indeed I remember this story from when I was a kid:

“Durham University needed a pedestrian bridge to connect the student residential estate to the main campus because there was a small river between them and the students had to walk down a very high, steep river bank and up the other side. The technical problem was the construction of the bridge on such a restricted site. The story showed that Ove had been thinking about this bridge on an airline flight and had drawn a sketch of a bridge based on an elephant and had shown how the bridge could be built along the river bank on a rotating base and then rotated 90 degrees to its final location.”

Little bit of poking around reveals that the bridge was actually built in two halves, each of which pivoted on its foundation until together they spanned the gorge. As if my Dad and I stretched out our arms and touched fingertips across the Pacific Ocean and 35 years.

let’s try that again

Okay, so besides being responsible for some of my favourite structures on earth (the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Center, the De Young, the Angel of the North), Arup seems to be pretty much the ideal lifestyle company, a privately held trust the operates on behalf of employees. You have to admire any entity that includes “humane organization”, “straight and honourable dealings” and “social usefulness” as three of its six main aims. Indeed the whole text of Ove Arup’s key speech is as remarkable a mission statement as I have ever read.

New Yorker writer David Owen does a beautiful job of tying Arup’s ideals back into Balmond’s observation on engineering:

Terry Hill, Arup’s chairman, told me that he thinks of engineering as more than a profession: “It’s a way of thinking about the world.” Ove’s concept of the “model fraternity” is really an engineering scheme – a way of routing gravity through a professional organization, and through a life.

Good, insightful writing about engineering is a rare and, to me, very precious thing; in which context I should point out this piece by Joshua Davis. It’s so good I almost wish I’d written it; the downside is that it’s about how Jeremy’s former colleague may have murdered his wife.

Back to the blockbuster New Yorker. There were cute pieces on Tina Brown’s Diana book and a forthcoming Edith Piaf film, the usual quite forgettable fiction (I think it was called “Overprivileged, Upper Middle Class White East Coaster Experiences Microscopic Epiphany”, unless that was the poem) and then a long piece by Seymour Hersh, which like all his stories has to be read even though you know it’s going to make you want to tear out your own heart. This one is about how Major General Antonio Taguba, assigned to investigate Abu Ghraib, was scapegoated by the administration. The whole thing is a nightmare, but what left the deepest stab wound was this:

“The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects – ‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’ – is an oxymoron,” Taguba said. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them.”

It is, of course, difficult for anyone to understand exactly why the neocons have done what they have done (by which I mean ignoring the August 6 2001 PDB, a dereliction of duty that led to 9/11, botching the aftermath of the Afghanistan war, botching everything about the Iraq war, warrantless domestic surveillance, failure of the federal levees in the aftermath of Katrina, failure of FEMA to respond in any useful way to the Katrina disaster, politically motivated exposure of CIA operatives, politically motivated firing of attorneys, endless, nauseating petty corruption and sexual scandals – what have I missed?)

But this observation really made me think. It’s too easy, and not helpful, to dismiss the members of the Bush administration as stupid or evil. What if Taguba is right? What if people like Rumsfeld just do not know that there is a larger world, in which science seeks objective truth, in which bipartisanship and diplomacy are necessary and expected? What if they were just extremely badly brought up? What if what we’re seeing is the incapacity for human compassion – indeed, ignorance that there is such a thing? They hack the structure, all right, but they fail to apprehend the gravity.

Makes me think that maybe raising children right is important work after all.

why mothers eventually let go of their intellectual lives

The new New Yorker is here almost before I’d had the chance to absorb the unusual chewiness of the last one. A long piece profiling structural engineer Cecil Balmond contains the irresistible observation that the job of an engineer is “to route gravity through structure.”

Writing this much has taken me an hour, counting interruptions. I wish Jeremy would come home and stay home. He’s been gone three of the last five weeks. I’m very tired.

Balmond works for what sounds like a fascinating company, called Arup.

Now Julia is crying, and Claire has come out of bed to demand fresh pajamas. It’s ten to ten. I give up.

ETA: Claire put on her own pajamas and Julia has fallen asleep, but my brain is still a thin gruel.

the diana chronicles

I am typing this from the new laptop Jeremy bought me, a machine I have not yet praised to the heavens. Her name is Diana, for Villiers and Wynne Jones. She replaces Jane (Austen) and Iris (Murdoch). She is schmick and zhuzhy in every way, from her glassy, serene screen to the I-will-write-a-novel-now feel of her keyboard, but she really came into her own last night. I came home to find a blackout – serious news for single parents – but I made dinner on the gas rings and we watched the Doctor Who finale in QuickTime on my battery-powered emergency TV. Did I mention she came with a remote control?

“it’s not naff! it’s nerdcore!”

My brother Al thinks Frontalot’s Mountain Kind “sounds like a granny rapping.” Oh, the cultural disconnect!

Adds: “Liked the lyrics though.”

I thought he would.

extreme treat

Jamey took us to see Ratatouille at Pixar. Paris, haute cuisine, CGI rodents: this film was made for Demographic Rach.

The emotional heart of the film may be the best such scene in the entire Pixar portfolio. How I blubbed.


I’ve done fuck-all for Pride this year except listen to Frontalot’s “I Love Fags” on my iPod while running.

That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of y’all. I think about you all the time. I think about what you’ve meant to me and how blighted my world would be without you, sure, but that’s not the half of it. I also think about your literary awesomeness, your dirty jackin’ house, those shirts you picked out, the determined look you get on your face, your courage, your kiss, the way you still crack me up after all these years.

Pride’s a pretty lame word for it. What I feel for you is an eleven-dimensional respect vortex of which mere pride is this world’s pale shadow.

Y’all know who you are.

i love the smell of nerdcore marriage in the morning

R: God spoke to me as I ran.


R: Yes. And do you know what he said?

J: What did he say.

R: Miss Ollie’s Fried Chicken.

J: Did he.

R: And grits.

buddhist tech analyst

“John Maynard Keynes said that in the long run, we are all dead. Everyone has the same exit strategy. It’s a coffin…”

vanishing point

We wait for the J-Church at Dolores Park. I gesture crossly.

R: See? That’s One Rincon, the high-rise I’m feeling really pissy about. It wrecks my view of the Bay Bridge.

J: Looks all right from here.

I go to where he’s standing; a light pole blocks out the entire skyscraper, leaving only the Bay Bridge.


ask me about my date with boutros boutros-ghali

“We saw the mola mola! I went gaga!”

dinner at range

My ahi sashimi came as small ruby cubes.

R: It’s the future! I’m eating food cubes!

Jeremy had roast chicken, Leonard had steak with horseradish, I had halibut with tiny savory morels. Strawberry shortcake for dessert, mmm. Then they brought us chocolate licorice truffles.

Leonard: More food cubes! Yay!

i’m glad i spent it with you

Julia woke up joyful at dawn – it’s the only thing about her I find hard to live with – and I succeeded in getting Jeremy to get up with her so I could sleep two more hours, even though it’s Father’s Day and even though he had forgotten I had a race.

It’s been a day full of small happy victories like that. I only had to walk three times over the three-mile course, and I beat my best time by a full minute. Golden Gate Park was outrageously beautiful and every lovely thing I saw had some intense personal meaning: the Conservatory and Stow Lake where Quinn took our family portraits; my De Young; the giant pink head from Burning Man. When I got home from the race the parking spot outside our house was still there for me. We met Colin and Naomi and their friends at the bus stop, and they moved on just before the J-Church arrived to take us to Dolores Park. At Dolores Park Cafe, I finished reading an article at the exact moment our sandwiches were ready; and so on.

Dolores Park was also ridiculously nice, the perfect mixture of families and pretty gay men sunbathing. Heather Lee and her friend Jane came to sit beside us. We saw a cat on a leash and a boy with a t-shirt that said “Define ‘boyfriend.'” On the way home we picked up sausages at Drewe’s. At home, J’s Major and Minor napped while Claire and I watched Spider-Man. Leonard is coming to stay for a couple of nights; RESTful Web Services is artfully strewn across the dinner table. I do think my boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. Happy Father’s day, Big Daddy J.

on im

“That’s magical thinking.”

“I realize that’s magical thinking…”




“There’s NO WAY it could be a coincidence…”

did i take my meds today?

I sort of suspect not.

have you hugged your independent book store today?

Cashier, ringing up The Dangerous Book for Boys: This looks great. We just got a new shipment in.

Me (pointedly): It’s for my daughters.

Cashier: Oh good! It’s dangerous for boys, but it’s fine for girls.

the measuring cup

“I’ll get you some medicine,” said Jeremy, and a minute later handed an earachey Claire a third of a measuring-cup-worth of acetaminophen (or paracetamol as they call it in the English-speaking world).

That’s when I realized I’d accidentally overdosed her the night before. This despite the dangers of doing so being tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

Without timely treatment, paracetamol overdose can lead to liver failure and death within days.

By the time we saw our pediatrician, he (the pediatrician), Jeremy and I had all independently worked out that based on her weight and the concentration of the liquid I had actually only given her a double dose, whereas it takes ten times the recommended dose to cause toxicity.

Claire is perfectly fine.

And Wikipedia goes on to describe:

…children having relatively larger kidneys and livers than adults and hence being more tolerant of paracetamol overdose than adults. Acute paracetamol overdose in children rarely causes illness or death with chronic supratherapeutic doses being the major cause of toxicity in children.

All of which said, acetaminophen (or paracetamol) is a very potent drug with a frighteningly inadequate buffer zone between a safe dose and tragedy. Which tragedy I rehearsed, over and over, on the drive to the pediatrician, trying to answer Claire’s questions brightly and not burst into tears.

I fully expected the pediatrician to yell at me, and I fully deserved it, but instead he told me about a time a kid drank turpentine on his watch. The kid was fine. The doctor is a very kind man. And he’s right about one thing: I won’t make that mistake again.

“Mum, can you carry my backpack?” Claire asked as we left.

“Sure,” I said, thinking ‘Girl, if it comes to it, you can have my liver.’

caution, posting while drunk

Jamey: Gilbert just cracks me up with the mail slot action.

Carole: He just flops it open?

Jamey: Yeah, so you have to bend down and look right in.

Rachel: Oh, MAIL SLOT action. I thought you said MALE SLUT action…

i miss my in-laws

“It’s a good thing Australians don’t give their kids place-names when they’re trying to be pretentious. Imagine the swarms of Brookvales.”

“Kill-ARA! Come here RIGHT NOW!”

“I’m warning you, Wollstonecraft.”