Archive for April, 2008


I’m in Vegas again. It sometimes feels like the entire ten years in America (ten years today!) has consisted of interstices between sojourns in Vegas.

It is impossible to say anything original about this place, the single most indefensible city on earth. I have a sneaking fondness for its excesses, the ship at Treasure Island that sinks every hour, the fountains at the Bellagio. Then I walk across a casino floor and see the ringwraiths chained to their slot machines. Everything here is paid for via punitive taxes on the very poor.

I’m staying in the Venetian, which is exactly like Venice if Venice were in Hell.

I miss the Fitzhusband and the little Fitzhardlinges.

because it’s anzac day in sydney

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

not so much

Not actually a joke but honest confusion. And anosognosia, which I hadn’t realized there’s a word for. Ric’s in a steady state for now, so Jeremy is coming home.

It’s a bit hard to wrench Yatima back into its usual grooves, but I’ll try. Elizabeth Moon’s lovely, Le Guin-ish Remnant Population posits an alien society where the highest status is accorded to the nannies. A wonderful, stubborn, defiant, angry old woman of a book. When I finished it I got on the floor with the kids and we played crazy games until bedtime.

ric makes a topical joke

From Jeremy: “Better today. He spent the day sitting up in his chair. I arrived after lunch, and he asked if I was there to give my thoughts on Australia’s future.”

wuthering depths

Even though the sun is shining, there’s a freezing cold wind blowing and rattling the house. YES, THANKS NATURE, I GET IT. Could you STOP NOW?

The girls are at their most splendid. In our wanderings around Baja Noe today I got stopped by three separate sets of strangers today to be told how completely lovely they are. Jules in a little pink dress with her shock of white candy-cotton hair, and those unsettling blue eyes. Claire in a hummingbird t-shirt and cords with a kicky new bob and indomitable scowl. They’re both being extra well behaved, and showering me with random affection. You’d think they were empathic.

Hard to read or write – can’t summon the attention span. Easier to attack long-procrastinated chores. The cat litter has never been cleaner, and the last hardy tomatoes on the terrace have been ruthlessly watered.

pathetic fallacy

It is a rhetorical figure and a form of personification. In the strictest sense, delivering this fallacy should be done to render analogy.

…or as we learned it in my undergrad English classes, the pathetic fallacy occurs when the hero is sad and so it starts to rain. Or more accurately, it’s raining, so you know that the hero is sad. We had English in the Woolley building, not in the Main Quad; Archaeology was in the Quad and that’s why I love jacaranda trees. I was ambivalent about English, my forte, and passionately in love with Archaeology, which at times I barely passed. Nothing changes.

The only piece of actual Sydney Uni culture I ever picked up was that by the time the jacaranda is blooming, it’s too late to study. I didn’t study much, which may be why Archaeology gave me such a thrashing. I would sit underneath the jacaranda gazing at Danielle and her Mycenean golden hair, waiting for Alexander Cambitoglou to enlighten us on the techniques behind red figure vases, or Jean-Paul Descoeudres to blow my mind with his readings of the floor plans of Pompeiian villas.

I was a bit surprised to learn that jacarandas aren’t Australian natives (its placement in the Quad, of course, should have been a clue. Once you’re in the Quad you’re not supposed to be in Australia any more, you’re in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Oxford!) Anyway, I was pleased to find, on the day we moved in to our San Francisco home, that the street tree outside was a jac. With yellow-and-red roses growing at the foot of it, like the ones I carried at my wedding. I’ve been gazing into its upper branches for four years.

And for the last week or two I’ve been watching its leaves fade and fall.

Well, it’s a tough spot for any tree, on a slope with not a lot of direct light in the winter, and our jac got rootbound and has died. And it’s probably not worth trying to save the roses either. So I’m going to pull everything out and rebuild the tree well and replant something that might be able to cope with the rough conditions, and I am going to ignore the symbolism of it all because it’s just tacky and overdone, like how Nature has absolutely no taste when it comes to sunsets.

Ric’s not doing very well. Jeremy’s leaving in a few hours.

richard’s not well


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens

Jeremy’s flying back to Australia tomorrow.

death and taxes

I’ve been having insanely great book luck of late, thanks to comments threads tenderly farmed by very good writers and editors. The first important find was Sarah Caudwell, who is one of those impossibly overdetermined Brits: her brothers are the journalists Alexander and Patrick Cockburn and her mother was the inspiration for Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Sarah Caudwell died in 2000 of stupid cancer. Cancer and I are not friends.

Caudwell wrote four novels. Thus Was Adonis Murdered tackles murder and tax avoidance in Venice; The Shortest Way to Hades examines the legal and tax implications of an inheritance, and a couple of consequent murders, in the Greek Isles. In The Sirens Sang of Murder a homicide investigation moves among several offshore tax havens, including the Channel Islands and the Bahamas, and The Sibyl in Her Grave… well, you get the idea. Caudwell was herself a tax lawyer and has the remarkable gift of making tax law seem almost as cozy and amusing as English murder mysteries.

Received wisdom on Caudwell is that she depends too much on letters and that her central characters are thin. I spit on received wisdom with more vehemence even than usual. Caudwell is a literary writer, as her elaborately classical titles might suggest; intertextual knowledge plays a key role in practically all of the books; and she revels in the epistolatory form almost as much as she loves a good last will and testament. As for her central characters, beautiful Ragwort, scatty Julia, honey-voiced Selena and trickster Cantrip who through no fault of his own attended Cambridge, it’s true that they do not Grow and Change and Have Epiphanies over the course of the novel in the approved American/MFA/Raymond Carver mode; in fact the women especially have lots of hot and inconsequential sex, and everyone drinks and smokes and gossips and skives off work and is just as delightful and irreverent at the end of the book as at the beginning.

The point is that they’re Greek gods, not people as such, a point underscored by the fact that the narrator Hilary Tamar, an Oxford don, is of indeterminate sex. Caudwell is perfectly capable of writing fully human characters. In fact the resolution of each of her quite fiercely difficult mysteries depends on people behaving in absolutely credible, bloody-minded and self-defeating human ways. Now not to brag or anything but I have read a lot of Golden Age detective fiction. I cut my teeth on Conan Doyle and was bored with Agatha Christie at thirteen. I didn’t stop with Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey but read all of Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh and their heirs, people like PD James and Kerry Greenwood. It’s very rare for me to get to the last third of a mystery – at least one that’s fair, with no Deus ex Machina, and Caudwell is scrupulously fair – without having solved the crime. Caudwell beat me, four for four; my best showing in the last two books was to get to her penultimate red herring. Yet she always gets there in a plausible way. It is a feat!

There’s such pleasure in being in skilled and confident hands. There’s the subversive thrill of Caudwell’s unabashed snobbery – Hilary can barely understand Cantrip, because of his impenetrable Cambridge dialect. There’s the light yet beautifully sustained humour. Yet the books never become vengeful or sadistic, as it’s so easy for even a great practitioner like Sayers to do, because Caudwell is a humanist to the bone. She is interested in people: what they do, how they behave. There’s a letter at the end of Sibyl that I won’t spoil for you, because of course you’re all going to rush out and read all four, but it is at once a complete surprise and yet absolutely right, the only possible denouement; and almost unbearably sad.

These books are perfect of their kind. I wish very much that there were more.

I was expecting a very bad time of it after Caudwell – there is not much worse than going cold turkey after the death of a beloved author – but I was lucky enough to follow her up with Bridge of Birds, Ha’penny and Bad Magic. None quite reached Caudwell’s heights – I had figured out the end of Bridge half way through – but all gave great character, especially Ha’penny with its host of crypto-Mitfords. And so to bed.

spring mechanism

[10:27] skud11111: morning!
[10:27] mizchalmers: mmm
[10:27] mizchalmers: i sneezy
[10:27] skud11111: oh noes
[10:27] skud11111: i itchy
[10:29] skud11111: can’t figure out if it’s allergies, just dry skin, or whether i’m imagining it.
[10:29] mizchalmers: i think it’s allergies
[10:29] mizchalmers: i get nosebleeds
[10:29] mizchalmers: and this feeling like an el alamein fountain of pain in my sinuses
[10:30] mizchalmers: sinii?
[10:30] skud11111: ow
[10:30] skud11111: sinupodes
[10:30] mizchalmers: stupid sexy pollen
[10:30] skud11111: arboreal bukkake
[10:30] skud11111: i had to explain arboreal bukkake to chris at the gym the other day
[10:30] skud11111: or more to the point, i had to explain bukkake
[10:30] skud11111: had to.
[10:30] skud11111: in the middle of a set of squats
[10:30] skud11111: you know how it is.
[10:31] mizchalmers: permission to blog?
[10:31] skud11111: go ahead.

julia, charming fitzhardling

Ja: Mummy what’s that?

R: A big nasty pimple.

Ja: Mummy got owie?

R: Yes, it does hurt.

Ja: Owie?

R: Yup.

Ja: Julia kiss.

She takes my face in her hands and kisses my zit as if it were a dimple.

nerdcore marriage ’08

J: I read Overclocked.

R: Mmm?

J: Really liked it except for one story.

R: “When Sysadmins.”

J: Exactly.

R: I had to stop reading it after the baby died.

In unison: I wonder if he could write it now?

LATER. In a tacqueria. There are TACOS. R beats J for no apparent reason.

J: Ow.

R: My ovaries hurt.

J: And?

R: It’s your fault.

J: How?

R: You are the patriarchy. If it weren’t for you we’d all be living in the woods in a big happy lesbian commune, and my ovaries wouldn’t hurt. Isn’t that right, Jamey?

Jamey: Your ovaries would still hurt, but we’d have a drum circle about it.

WE ALL start to DRUM on the tacqueria table. JULIA stares for a moment, then DANCES.

sumerian literature for fun and profit

I just learned that the first writer in recorded history was a woman who wrote political poetry: her name is Enheduanna. I thought her hymn to Inana seemed very fresh, so I had a go at translating it into the vernacular:

The good ole boy, the maverick, holding his own in the Beltway set and a world leader, son of 41, darling of the Grand Old Party, the consummate politician who has transformed the executive branch in ways even Reagan would admire, is President, and the buck stops with him. Congress grovels at his feet. He does whatever he wants. He’s got political capital and he intends to spend it. He’s got the country on a leash.

He is the War on Terror and he is the Terror. We’re all scared shitless down here, I can tell you. Everything he says frightens the crap out of us. There’s no accountability, and God knows what’s going to happen. Who can stand up to him? Meanwhile fire and death rain on New York, and New Orleans drowns in a sewer.

Something about him makes the Democrats unable to tie their own shoes. Pratfalls galore, but it isn’t funny. People burn and drown and he arrives in a very nice suit with spin doctors and cameras and a crack security detail, for a press conference. Wherever he holds a press conference, there is despair. He believes in his own virtue, which makes him more evil than we could ever have imagined. Compassionate conservatism! Remember that? Anyone, Bueller?

He has been the single worst catastrophe of this last tormented decade. Yet to oppose him is to invite censure! Those who speak up for the suffering and the dead are scorned as vicious fools. He does not lack for toadies.

In his mouth language turns to lies. When he speaks of life he means death. When he promises tax cuts he means that the poor will pay for the greed and stupidity of the rich. In the face of defeat he says, Mission Accomplished. He baptises the nation’s children with blood, and looks at what he has done, and says that it is good.

Across the wide and bewildered nation, his deeds blot out the sun. He turns midday into darkness. Brothers turn on their sisters, and parents attack their children. His words frighten not only his own people, but everyone on earth. This man rules the only superpower in a unipolar world! People from every nation look at Iraq and think: Are we next? He leaves no bad deed undone. The Grand Old Party is filled with pride.

and while we’re on the subject…

Can we impeach Cheney now? Please? What’s it going to take?

kicking ass / getting ass kicked

I wore high heels two days in a row. I ran from Glen Park BART to the YMCA in them yesterday to pick Claire up in time for her martial arts class; this was unwise. I have huge blisters on my arches. So today was fun.

What society expects of women! We have to do everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels.

Luckily it looks like Claire’s going to be good at martial arts. Forgive me intertubes for I have sinned: I had impure thoughts about her teacher. He’s very anime-hero in looks, but much more attractive: he treats the children like people. A man who doesn’t infantilize kids probably doesn’t infantilize women either.

I’m down on the patriarchy today, what?

green card

Approved on April Fool’s Day. We started the process when Claire was six weeks old. She’s five and a half. For those of you keeping score, yes, this does mean I got European citizenship, US residency and a good public school for my daughter, all in the space of about six months. I know what you’re thinking: bitch. And fair enough.

(I’d been waiting till I got my green card to unleash hell’s fury on the DHS, but now it’s here I find myself thinking warmly of the hardworking individuals who approved it.)

In other news, Julia found my secret stash of Lindor truffles this morning. There were two. She gave me one.


And held up the other, saying shyly:


So we started the day with chocolate. Why not? It’s cold and Mr Jeremy is away; we need to indulge ourselves a little.

The children are being delightful, suggesting that Jeremy is in fact a bad influence. (Joke.) I read Horton Hears a Who to Julia, who heard me out and then asked politely to be put in bed, curled up and went to sleep. Claire carefully washed her toothbrush:

“If you don’t wash it properly the bristles get stiff. That’s what Ada told me.”

I dreamed last night that I got pregnant again, not that I really want to, I think, but that the bewildering vastness of my love for my daughters remains almost impossible to believe. Dreaming about pregnancy is like running my hands through heaps of gold. Mine!

constituent elements of happy day

A cup of hot tea next to me when I woke up. The same tea, cooler, when I woke up again after a peaceful doze. The cat snuggling into me. The children behaving delightfully. Our Spanish class, always excellent fun. Milo’s third birthday party. A pinata in the park. A visit from Jamey, Rowan and Cian. A run on the hill, where the California poppies are rioting. A hot shower. A cup of hot tea next to me as I write this. Being three-quarters of the way through an excellent book (Bridge of Birds.) My lovely Mr Jeremy sitting in one of our handsome new, thriftily Craigsourced armchairs. Plans for a sushi dinner.

where my kiva partners are

View Larger Map

My best investments, let me show you them.

spring sprung

Great newses! First up, massive man-love between my Viable Paradise crushees Cory and Leonard. Second, much-wanted and hoped-for twins, born on April Fool’s! Small siblings to big sister born on Halloween! It is all very cheering.


come on, spring

Well, that was a crappy day at the end of a rough week at the end of a challenging and exhausting three months.

So I got home from work and changed and went running up on the hill. Haven’t run in ages but I figured I couldn’t feel much worse, and sure enough the sun and the music and the California poppies did their job, and soon I felt a little bit better.

And we just watched an old episode of Spaced that made me cry with happiness.

And that is how I will choose to remember this day.