turn your back on mother nature: my cyborg year

I read about 120 books this year, down from 150 in a normal year, which is not to say that I got less solace from reading. What did happen is that I read in different, maybe more intense ways. There were a few books I read over and over, until I had them almost by heart (Feather’s Your Blue Eyed Boys, Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch, which I read and reread and then listened to on audiobook.) There were a few books, and I’m sure this is difficult to believe but it’s the truth, that I found so physically exhausting to confront that I would read a page or two and then have to sleep for a while (The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Achilles in Vietnam and Trauma and Recovery.) I got through those mostly on Saturday afternoons. Boy do I know how to party.

There were other things as well that meant as much to me as books, which is rare. In the days and weeks immediately after Mum died, Cabin Pressure and Brooklyn Nine Nine were pretty much the only things that could make me laugh. I had The National’s album High Violet and Vienna Teng’s Aims on constant rotation all year. Lorde’s cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was everything, including the source of this post’s title. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the best film I saw this year but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the one that meant most to me, even if it only meant it perversely, as mere backdrop to Feather’s universe.

In general I would say that everything in my reading life got a lot more complicated, including the question of what, exactly, a book is. If I listen to it, is it still a book? Sure. What about if it’s Pema Chodron or Amy Poehler, and she’s reading it to me herself? Still a book. What about if I’m listening to Cabin Pressure or Serial? Not books. Why? Because they use multiple voices. Uhh, but Amy Poehler has Patrick Stewart and her parents read parts of her book. Huh. Well, if I read it on my Kindle it’s definitely a book, right? Sure, unless it’s fanfic. Which is the case with the best book I read all year. Now available as a podcast.

That technically-mediated fucking-up of formerly orderly shit could not be more thematically appropriate, as it happens. This was my cyborg year. I acknowledged a debt of gratitude to Mum’s kindly machines. I realized with something of a cold shock just how rapidly my career accelerated after I got an IUD and stopped losing a week a month to the pain and debility of having a period. I nicknamed the Teng album “Soundtracks for Space Operas” and, crucially, I saw myself in Feather’s Bucky and Leckie’s Breq.

None of this should have been as surprising to me as it was. This blog was named for another very Breq-like character, the protagonist of Greg Egan’s Diaspora. When I named it, though, I thought I was naming something other than myself; a software person, not me. Liz was the first friend to call me Yatima. Lots of people call me that now. It means orphan, and it’s something I am becoming (something we all become.) I’m part flesh and part metal, with an outboard memory humming on a distant box. I’m exiled from the past (which in my case is literally another country.) Damned if I can explain the mechanism, but Yatima, the software orphan, is now the means by which I call my future self into being.

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