Author Archive

as usual, everything is being a metaphor for something else

We have the contractors back in to rip out the Mamie Eisenhower pink bathroom (I know, what barbarians, but it was leaking) and replace it with Fireclay tile and a shower under the skylight. Opening the walls revealed, as expected, eldritch horrors, most notably that the upper staircase was supported by an angled 2×6 resting on its narrowest edge.

I’m no expert but that ain’t right. While the house undergoes what’s essentially a heart transplant, the main level is a carnival maze of plastic walls with zippered doors. We’re still working from home, camping in the kitchen, on the deck and in the garden.

Luckily it’s spring and the garden is a little ridiculous, unphotographable. The box elders and grapevine are back with a vengeance, velvet green leaves casting dappled shade. The sticky monkey flower, purple and hummingbird sages are in full bloom and the meadow is a riot of poppy, tidy tips, Chinese houses, flax, globe gilia, bird’s eye gilia, the last of the five spot and baby blue eyes, Douglas iris and mountain garland. Fluffy black bees as big as your thumb buzz from poppy to poppy with panniers full of emergency-orange pollen. It’s gaudy, excessive.

Because we’re further up the hill than the Mission, closer to the edge of the fog-tide, it’s often windy back here, and I’m aware of the atmosphere as a restless, oceanic thing, always in motion. The bathroom will be tiled in celadon and silver-blue, with a terracotta sink. Earth, meadow and air. Opening the walls of my own heart reveals, as expected, eldritch horrors, but what a privilege it is to rebuild this lovely old home, make it sound and safe for the next fifty years.

the quickening, by elizabeth rush

I know what it feels like to fear that there might not be many meaningful strategies left.

monsters, by claire dederer

We act like our preferences matter, because that is the job late capitalism has given us.

the liberal imagination, by lionel trilling

Hyacinth recognizes what very few people wish to admit, that civilization has a price, and a high one.

the princess casamassima, by henry james

In such hours the great roaring, indifferent world of London seemed to him a huge organization for mocking at his poverty

splinters, by leslie jamison

Everything you hold onto too tightly will die in your hands.

the witching year, by diana helmuth

…you have to stop working from a place that is about making some invisible teacher happy.

the last fire season, by manjula martin

…nothing humans do is real, and the trees don’t care, and we are all here together in dirt. This feels to me somehow like the opposite of despair.

a city on mars, by kelly and zach weinersmith

So. Space settlements. Have we really thought this through?

you dreamed of empires, by álvaro enrique

Tenoxtitlan is unshakable, she said, but we are only passing through.

structural violence and little museums

In current traffic conditions, a taxi from JFK takes about seven years to get to Lower Manhattan. It gave me a lot of time to think. The phrase I thought about was structural violence. The soaring new condos with their empty billionaire penthouses are panopticon eyes glaring at the property values below. While as a queer theatre kid I am contractually obligated to love New York, Succession and the art of Diamanda Galas and Basquiat and the memoirs of ballerinas and the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton have always kept its icy, Gothic nature in sharp focus.

That’s incomplete, as anything about the city must necessarily be. We visited the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. It’s extraordinary, an entire subway station filled with buses and old carriages, their period advertisements intact. The surveyors and engineers and miners who built the subway challenge your gaze in exquisite photographs taken during construction. The contributions of immigrant and Black workers, and the way the political machines divided and exploited them, are carefully described.

It’s a terrific museum and I love museums, even the bad ones. I’m still thinking about an hour I spent last year at the museum of Las Vegas, New Mexico. It dwelt on Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, cowboys he recruited as cavalry whose exceedingly brief (and horseless) campaign in Cuba formed the mythos for his presidential bid. The Rough Riders took their name from Buffalo Bill Cody’s stage show, and included Ivy League athletes and glee club singers as well as frontiersmen. The white version of the Wild West is a PR campaign designed to erase the Black and indigenous history of these lands.

The Rough Riders met to celebrate their weeks-long active service every year for the next seventy years. In her book The White Possessive, Aileen Moreton-Robinson writes:

It takes a great deal of work to maintain Canada, the United States, Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Australia as white possessions.

Since I read that I haven’t been able to stop seeing the work, in everything from high-end residential architecture to little museums. What if we just… stopped?

getting lost, by annie ernaux

A sense of my own mediocrity, a general lack of courage, particularly when it comes to writing.

who does that bitch think she is? by craig seligman

…in the years 1985 and 1986 the City of San Francisco’s AIDS budget exceeded the federal government’s.

the woman in me, by britney spears

“If someone took my baby away from me, I would have done a lot more than get a haircut. I would have burned the city to the ground.”

wifedom, by anna funder

The horror is so persistent, it’s almost banal.

twenty years ago

i lunch with a mover and a shaker

saving time, by jenny odell

Cynicism and nihilism will make you dry up, like soil compacted by neglect and abuse. But soil holds the memory of life, and with some water and a garden fork, you might be able to bring it back. It helps to remember that you’re not alone. Look around. Is it really true that everyone sees time as money?

how to suppress women’s writing, by joanna russ

To act in a way that is both sexist and racist, to maintain one’s class privilege, it is only necessary to act in the customary, ordinary, usual, even polite manner.

we who are about to, by joanna russ

The old monks: “Sit in thy cell and thy cell will teach thee all things.” Helps if you’ve got a cell in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

visiting the mining asteroid where i grew up

After a brutal flight (migraine all the way across the Pacific) I walked off the jetbridge into a familiar wall of humidity, stepping around a giant crushed cockroach in the arrivals hall. Our AirBnB is a tiny cottage with five bedrooms, a miracle of small-space design. We are sitting in the carport-turned-patio. Above us are rainbow lorikeets and sulfur-crested cockatoos and the rain falling on the corrugated polycarbonate roof.

I need to set myself small side quests. I’d like to find a copy of Shady Acres: Power and Vested Interests in the Government of New South Wales and the Shaping of Sydney. I’d like to eat a really good sausage roll. I’d like to eat a really good vanilla slice.