Archive for August, 2012

cheerful money, by tad friend

Hugely enjoying this tale of growing up among Mitfords-manque in America.

Life is a scavenger hunt run backward as well as forward, a race to comprehend. But with Wasps, the caretakers lock the explanatory sorrows away, then swallow the key.

It is unkind of me to consider the embarrassment of the aristocracy my own private soap opera, but Goddess forgive me, I do.

When Donny lived in Manhattan he’d often walk by the Ralph Lauren store on Madison and glower at the windows’ horsy homages to the world the Robinsons once bestrode. “If Ralph really wants to get to the heart of Waspdom,” Donny says, “he should do a whole window full of beakers of lithium and patients in white gowns.”

what the living do, by marie howe

I picked this up because one of the Rumpus bloggers read it in the Australian coffee shop in Brooklyn that Matt took me to – what? That’s cromulent! – but no one told me it was an AIDS memoir.

The Last Time

The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant
with white tablecloths, he leaned forward

and took my two hands in his hands and said,
I’m going to die soon. I want you to know that.

And I said, I think I do know.
And he said, What surprises me is that you don’t.

And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you’re going to die.

And he said, No, I mean know that you are.

Oh, and also a love letter to her brother, two things which separately and together are bound to make me verklempt. I miss them, the AIDS dead. I imagine another mentor or two, acid-tongued, politically astute, fond of my children. The other books Paul Monette would have written, Kenny Everett’s late night talk show, Freddie Mercury’s kickass performance at the Olympic opening ceremony in London, the rest of Derek Jarman’s films. Fuck.

Nothing for it but my best Zen life hack: pretend you are travelling back from the future to see that person you loved one last time.

adventurous morning

1. I work in SF’s tourist central, two blocks from the cable car turnaround, which is usually just infuriating but today, also inexplicable. I’m not sure how a person loses an 11-year-old page from his or her diary, but here it is, made weirdly poignant in spite of its shitty politics by its date.

2. I was still holding the page when I joined the line at Peet’s. The lady in front of me insisted that my favourite barista had short-changed her. “I gave you a twenty and you only gave me five!” “I’m sure I gave you another ten,” said my barista, flustered. “Is that it there hidden in your hand?” I asked the lady helpfully. She scowled at me. When I was a checkout girl in the eighties I was handsomely ripped off by a woman pulling that scam.

3. An update from my work-best-friend on the friend of hers who adopted a baby from Kazakhstan and bought a BMW and paid cash for a half-million-dollar house, all on a comfortable middle class salary: “she’s in Camp Cupcake!” I look blank. “Where Martha Stewart was?” Nothing. “She’s in the federal prison in Alderson. She embezzled $800,000 from her job.”

My mornings are not usually this entertaining.

the gathering, by anne enright

This made me swoon:

But it is not just the sex, or remembered sex, that makes me think I love Michael Weiss from Brooklyn, now, seventeen years too late. It is the way he refused to own me, no matter how much I tried to be owned. It was the way he would not take me, he would only meet me, and that only ever halfway.

Stopping now, I promise! I only just figured out where Amazon keeps my Kindle highlights, so I worked through a little backlog there :)

panic, by david marr

Marr is Australia’s best journalist right now, as far as I can gather. He is acute on both what makes us different…

David Malouf has a wonderful theory that it’s the English we carried in our baggage that makes America and Australia such different places. In the early seventeenth century, settlers took to America a language of abstractions: “Passionately evangelical and utopian, deeply imbued with the religious fanaticism and radical violence of the time, this was the language of … dissenters … who left England to found a new society that would be free, as they saw it, of authoritarian government by Church and Crown.” Malouf argues that by the time Australia was colonised, the language had changed. What the First Fleet brought here “was the language of the English and Scottish Enlightenment: sober, unemphatic, good-humoured; a very sociable and moderate language; modern in a way that even we would recognise, and supremely rational and down to earth”.

…and what makes us boringly the same as everyone else.

Wherever the Tampa tactics lead Australia in the years to come, those of us in the City Recital Hall yesterday will remember the sight and the sound of a white, prosperous audience baying for border protection. They know it’s the winning ticket and John Howard has found it for them. He is a genius of sorts: he looks this country in the face and sees us not as we wish we were, not as one day we might be, but exactly as we are. The political assessment is ruthlessly realistic. Only the language is coy. But who has ever admitted to playing the race card?

at last, by edward st aubyn

So great, I had to go back and read the whole series in one go.

…the psychological impact of inherited wealth, the raging desire to get rid of it and the raging desire to hang on to it; the demoralizing effect of already having what almost everyone else was sacrificing their precious lives to acquire; the more or less secret superiority and the more or less secret shame of being rich, generating their characteristic disguises: the philanthropy solution, the alcoholic solution, the mask of eccentricity, the search for salvation in perfect taste; the defeated, the idle, and the frivolous, and their opponents, the standard-bearers, all living in a world that the dense glitter of alternatives made it hard for love and work to penetrate. If these values were in themselves sterile, they looked all the more ridiculous after two generations of disinheritance.

Right now I am reading Tad Friend’s Cheerful Money, which is At Last’s transatlantic twin.

young men and fire, by norman maclean

You can see tragedy coming from a considerable distance when you are older, but when you are young tragedy does not pertain to you and certainly never catches up to you.

The best book I have ever read about death.

When the blowup rose out of Mann Gulch and its smoke merged with the jet stream, it looked much like an atomic explosion in Nevada on its cancerous way to Utah.

if only all lessons could be like this

I’ve had some discouraging rides lately, feeling like I will never not suck, etc. Remember how Colin asked us to rethink cadence, and I forgot how to ride, and then I realized that Bella just needs a bigger canter to get over bigger fences? What I elide with a neat little narrative like that one is that the epiphany itself is almost beside the point. The stories I tell in my blog, like the running commentary in my head, are post-facto rationalizations of choices my body had already made. And muscle memory doesn’t have epiphanies, not really. You get a feeling, then you lose it, then you struggle to get it again, and you get a little worse, and you beat yourself up for sucking and being lame (which are sexist and ableist slurs, so… don’t do that, anyway.)

But you keep trying, if you’re me, in your half-arsed, forty-something, adult amateur way, as if riding ever so slightly better, not hanging on the reins, not squashing the movement with your stiffness, not blocking on one side – as if those things had some kind of moral weight, or any meaning beyond just exactly what they are. More rationalization, I guess. The truth is I want to ride because I just, I just want to ride, I always have. It’s beyond wanting to jump classes or overcome obstacles or transcend my earthbound whatever, although it is all those things as well. What it fundamentally is is having glimpsed something very good – that feeling, very occasionally, that I am moving with Bella, helping not hindering, that the two of us together are something more than the sum of its parts. And being unable to forget, or to effectively reproduce that singing moment, that plain canter with the horse moving straight under me, outside hind to inside fore, and nothing in me stopping that, my body like water, like light, like part of her body.

I had that, in glimmers, last week, and on Friday. Today we rode with Colin again and the thing about Colin is that he puts the jumps higher for us than any of the other trainers do: that’s his privilege, because it’s his name above the door. He was actually pulling them down because Toni had been jumping Coneli at a solid 4’6″, but even taken down they were 3′ or so, and the oxers were wide, and there was a hogsback.

I looked at them and knew that I could be afraid and let the fear stop me, but I could feel Bells sound as a bell underneath me, and I knew that Colin wouldn’t overface me, so I did that thing where I pretend to be the rider they think I am, and I felt the tension ebb away. That “chill the fuck out, I got this” feeling. We jumped the massive course and all I thought about was Bella’s rhythm and my line. I made mistakes but I fixed them. There was a huge oxer I thought would be a problem but when we rounded the corner to it I saw my distance and showed it to Bella and she jumped it. And then there was a white vertical five strides before the hogsback, and I turned her to it and saw the five and we jumped through it all forward, on the lightest possible contact; and it was very good.

“She goes well for you,” said Colin. “Cranky old mare.”


We stayed up to watch the landing. Claire crashed out but Jules was with us when we jumped up and down and screamed and cried a little bit. I hope she remembers this for ever: the helpless fear, the perfect landing, the grainy pictures beamed back from another world.