Archive for the 'first world problems' Category

beautiful world, where are you? by sally rooney

When I try to picture for myself what a happy life might look like, the picture hasn’t changed very much since I was a child—a house with flowers and trees around it, and a river nearby, and a room full of books, and someone there to love me, that’s all.

hashtag funemployed hashtag summer of love

In May, the tech industry and I parted ways under circumstances I am contractually obligated to describe as mutual. Ever since, I’ve been having the greatest summer of my life. The bestie and I drove out to the eastern Sierras to see the wild mustang herds that live up around the Montgomery Pass. The high desert was hock-deep in wildflowers, and we spent three hours one sunny afternoon sitting on a hillside watching the wild horses fight and fuck. Mono Lake looks like the surface of another, possibly better planet, and asks to be further explored.

Then I won a residency at a writer’s center down in Santa Cruz and spent a week alone in a cabin on the edge of the redwoods. There were hummingbirds and mule deer and quail. I’d wake at 6 or 7 as usual, then read for a couple of hours, then have coffee and maybe go for a hike. Then, with only short breaks for meals, I’d draft scenes or type them up until late in the evening. When I got stuck, I’d copy out poems by hand.

I realized that, for longer than I can remember, I have been in an antagonistic relationship with time: late for work, behind on deadlines, scrambling to make as many memories with my kids and parents as I possibly could. Suddenly the days roll out before me, not as ordeals to be endured, but as hours for creative work, hours to hang around with the girls and Jeremy (without whom none of this would be possible), hours to spend at the barn, hours to binge on books.

I always regretted not taking real bereavement leave after Mum and then Dad died. I guess I’m doing it now, just a couple of years late. A friend said: “Your voice sounds lighter.” Idleness becomes me.

mourning in america

After a hot spell that seemed to last at least a couple of years, San Francisco finally woke up in late autumn the other day. All the women wore their knee high boots and sweaters and scarves, and everyone looked relieved and cozy. I remembered a moment in ’99 or 2000 when, unlocking the front door of our apartment building on Alabama Street, I felt a breath of chill in the twilight and for the first time ever, got excited for Halloween and the Day of the Dead and Thanksgiving, for pumpkin pie and hot apple cider. For winter in America.

Smells, like music, short-circuit the rational mind. Today I stood over a tray of cheap romance novels outside a thrift store on Valencia and breathed their binding glue and ached to be with Mum. I walked under the Moreton Bay fig in the grounds of St Lukes, and trod on the figs crushed into the pavement just as I always did on the way to Rick’s house. In Rainbow Grocery, I caught the scent of a just-opened tin of Cadbury’s Roses, and what it meant: the family Christmas.

It was hard enough to write about Mum’s death, which seemed to reduce me to a mental age of 12. Dad’s death seems to have left me almost pre-verbal. My appetite is picky and fugitive and my sleep fitful and unsatisfying. I am at most 5. I dreamed I was a mad old cat lady in France, and that I ended up spending my days rambling through the vineyards with the twin sons of the coke-snorting couple in the party chateau next door.

“Most of my dreams are obvious, but that one wasn’t,” I said to Jeremy, who rolled his eyes.

The parents were asleep on the job, but I sat by the river while the wild-haired, speechless little boys played in the dark water, and I made sure they didn’t drown.

hashtag humblebrag

Re-entry has been tough, because apparently all I really want in life is sunshiney France, steak frites, gelato and endless hours with my kids to swim and read frivolous novels.

Now I am back to my mundane life of sunshiney Northern California, high-stakes venture finance and show-jumping.

getting a friday five in early

1. A recycled Twitter joke: I posted this last Tuesday and my friend Matthew asked whether the Kaiju were under water, so I said that they were, and that this picture was taken from Jeremy’s and my Jaeger, the Frock Advisory. Seriously, though, look at my beautiful city.

2. My big brother Alain arrived on Thursday and is now an essential member of the household and may not leave. We went out for margaritas with a bunch of folks on Saturday and all got thoroughly roaring and ordered Pizzahacker on the way home. Danny converted Al to the cult of Ingress and now he is part of the Resistance, firing energy weapons into interdimensional portals as he walks around the Mission. (It cracks me up that every technolibertarian and privacy activist I know is in thrall to this sinister surveillance weapon of a game.)

3. Nick-the-horse and I had a lesson with Colin in the Grand Prix arena and, in between very embarrassing refusals, jumped up to a meter ten. It’s the very lowest level of jumping that anyone takes remotely seriously, it’s my goal height and it scared the living crap out of me. But we jumped it. It turns out that my snuggly goober Nicky Boo Bear is an imported Dutch Warmblood from a stallion line that has produced (notoriously badly-behaved) Grand Prix horses in both jumping and dressage. A frog prince.

4. Jeremy and I went to NASA Ames to wait for the New Horizons spacecraft to phone home. That’s us in front of the beautiful Hangar One.

I love NASA as I love national parks and missile silos converted into marine mammal rescue centers, which is to say, immoderately. They kept describing the spacecraft as the size of a grand piano, so now that is how I picture it, a golden Steinway hurtling through the dwarf planet system, exploring strange new worlds, boldly going. A scientific instrument.

5. Ta-Nehisi’s new book is amazing.


a day in the life

One of the nicer uses of this blog is to capture Interesting Moments in Time for later perusal. My late-summer, Winter-Soldier-induced psychotic episode more or less resolved itself the week after Labor Day, and I’ve been feeling better ever since. It’s been a staggeringly beautiful few weeks in the Bay Area (when isn’t it) and I’ve been wondering how to take a snapshot.

Part of the problem, though, is that the days are extremely different from one another: days in Seattle, days at incubators and accelerators, days of meetings and days of working on documents, alone in my office or at home with the kittens.

What I noticed this week, though, is that though the days vary wildly, the weeks follow the same outline. Monday morning partner meeting. Tuesday, wushu in the afternoon and Salome and I drinking sake at the sushi place. Wednesday, Claire’s chorus rehearsal. Every other Wednesday, therapy with Naomi, who is hilarious. Thursday, Spanish tutoring with Meghan the brilliant law student. Friday, a riding lesson, two piano lessons and then maybe movie night. Saturday, wushu, meet Jack and Najah at the Greenhouse Cafe, order a BLT and Hong Kong milk tea, go to the farmer’s market and Julia’s swimming lesson. Sunday, a riding lesson and another chorus rehearsal.

It’s far too much driving (but my new car, Hedy Lamarr, the kittenbus, is a joy.) We are all overcommitted as hell – Jeremy and I sportsing 2x/week and the girls with three overlapping but nonidentical activities each. But it’s okay. It’s better than okay.

new plan

“I want to surround myself with younger, smarter people, and bask in their company, like X. does. And I want to use everything that’s happened to me to inform me, to make me a more compassionate person, like Y. does.”

“Sounds like you have some pretty decent role models there.”

“Yeah you know what, I think I do.”

american canyon

There was a house on the headland south of Dee Why beach. It looked out through Norfolk Island pines to the grey and silver sea. It was your typical San Francisco Victorian, 3br/2ba, and being in Bernal Heights… near Dee Why beach… it was priced at $1.6m. I worked out that if we put $200k down, our mortgage would come to a little over $7000/month, and I was trying to calculate that as a percentage of my salary, to see if it was over a third…

I woke up drenched in sweat and twisted up in the duvet. The cats were nowhere to be seen. I took deep breaths and waited for my heart rate to drop below 100. I pushed off all the covers but the top sheet and lay on my back staring up. It was as dark as it ever gets in our room with the plantation shutters closed: purple-orange with light pollution.

And then the whole house shook, exactly like the quake simulator at the Cal Academy. I could feel Bernal’s bedrock moving like the pistons of a giant machine. The house moved easily with it, a good rider on a disobedient horse.

My first instinct was to throw my body over Jeremy’s.

“In case the chandelier came down on us,” he said, amused, over coffee at St Jorge this morning. The chandelier is a IKEA Christmas wreath made of LEDs. It wouldn’t have hurt.

“The dream was scarier than the earthquake,” I said.

“Of course,” he said. “But did you hear that noise that went along with the quake?”


“It was property prices starting to come down.”

jackson the horse and me, a love story: the end

Things I will miss about Jackson the horse as he enters his well-deserved retirement, a non-exhaustive list:

That he likes to shake his head when I take the headcollar off, and if I let him do that, he will stand quietly while I put his bridle on.

That he likes to stand for a moment when coming out of the shed row to let his eyes adjust to the sunlight.

The way he showed me how to sit in the saddle.

The way he talked to me through the reins.

The way he would reach forward with his outside hind to step forward in a perfect canter depart.

The way he would swagger when he’d jumped a perfect round, swinging his back and showing off. “I’m a good horse!”

The way he grew another four inches at the show, so proud and happy to be there.

The way he would turn around and put his nose on my boot when he needed reassurance.

The way he would neigh crossly if I stopped to pat Zelda the barn cat before paying attention to him.

The way he would press his nose into my back when I gave him cuddles, cuddling me back.

my year of letting go has turned out to be no joke

Oh blog forgive me for neglecting you. There are so many stories I have wanted to tell you, like when I was driving back from Salome’s horse show and asked Najah not to eat his hot dog with his mouth wide open, and he said through a mouthful of hot dog: “MY PAPI SAID I COULD.” (Jack: is this true?)

And the time I realized we had left Claire’s wushu sword at Front Porch, so I went down to collect it and one of the servers was out on the sidewalk with it, getting his Errol Flynn on. (Later as Claire and I were walking home, a police officer called me over, asking grimly: “Is that a real sword?” It’s not, it bends, so I held it up and wiggled it in the air for him.)

But the other lede I have been burying lo these many months is that I just left my job of thirteen years, a job I loved at a company I still adore. I don’t blog about work here because I don’t want any of my employers scarred by my anarchism and poo jokes, but that was a hell of a gig and a huge episode in my life. Leaving it was, in the end, very melancholy.

Here’s to the next thing, which has the potential to be just as amazing.

depression, a public feeling, by ann cvetkocich

Passages I could have written myself:

Although it was very inconvenient, the most disturbing aspect of the whole episode was the fact that I had been able to ignore the initial pain. By ignoring it, I had made it worse. I was able to recognize this as a warning sign – a notice about my inability to pay attention to the sensations of being in my own body – but I didn’t really have any idea what it would mean to live differently.

Dental care is something of a metaphor for the state of other affairs in my life. Taking care of the tooth disasters involves an act of faith that when something is wrong it can be fixed and that it’s possible to move on… Health maintenance has become for me a sign of self-love, although it also gives rise to some nagging questions about class. Regular dental care seems to be part of the secret life of middle-class domesticity that passes as normal – one of those things that no one talks about but everyone is supposed to do…

When you’re depressed, and all you want to do is sit still or curl up in a ball in bed and never get up, putting the body in motion is a major struggle and a major accomplishment.

I sometimes feel the need to touch the land of my childhood in order to remember myself to myself. I’m not recalling a lost paradise; I’m acknowledging the troubled history that led to my departure as a part of figuring out what it means to go back. My own history of dislocation connects to the histories of immigration and displacement… My “ancestral home” is the site of many histories, both happy and sad, both my own and those belonging to others.

(Note that I am not depressed right now and have not been for years. This book is giving me an opportunity to reflect.)

i’ve gone judi dench

Back in SF. Jetlagged as hell. Someone said not to make any big decisions but I cut off all my hair.

I cried a bit today, because of everything but specifically, I realized, over missing Alain. We spent two weeks together 24/7, including eight hour car trips and reasonably heavy physical labor, and we didn’t so much as get annoyed with each other. I love him so much. To me, he is perfect. Really not kidding about the twin thing.

there was something about anarchy, i remember that much

Kirsty is a force of nature. I’ve been meaning to go up to Edinburgh since Alex and Ioanna moved there from Ireland years ago, but the details eluded me. When I mentioned it in passing to Kirsty the whole thing was organized in what seemed like sixty seconds. I flew in early for the London conference I come to every April, and Kirsty and I caught the train to Edinburgh.

The journey was gorgeous and fascinating. “Green and pleasant land,” I tweeted as we left London, then “dark Satanic Mills!” as we crossed the midlands and I saw four huge power stations (Eggborough and friends maybe?) belching steam into an otherwise cloudless sky. As we sped to Scotland we saw Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North (which I have loved since first seeing pictures of it and which came as a completely unexpected treat), beautiful steampunk Newcastle, Lindisfarne like something from a Miyazaki film or happy dream, the sun sparkling on the mouth of the Tweed at Berwick, and the looming bulk of the Torness Nuclear Plant.

Motion sickness got to me after a while. (The hangover from the night before probably didn’t help. That was Grant’s fault.) I thought I was going to hurl all over Waverley Station. I took my first steps in Scotland trying not to puke and telling myself “Don’t mention their accents don’t mention their accents,” so of course when I called Alex I blurted out “you sound very Irish.” I guess at least I didn’t vomit?

When I had recovered myself somewhat Kirsty and I had fun storming Edinburgh castle, and when we finally did make it to Alex’s house the awkwardness of nine years’ separation did not survive its first encounter with a pretty decent Sangiovese I’d brought out from California. Alex made osso buco. It was delicious. Ioanna is delightful and their daughter Lena is so best. We figured out how to fix capitalism but I didn’t write it down, so that’s a pity.


In April next year I will be eligible for American citizenship, and it will be fifteen years since I left Australia. If love of family is as this beautiful essay says the act of bearing witness – and I think it is – then I have not done very well either by my family of birth or by my families of choice. I am an intermittent presence in everyone’s lives. I suspect now that going voluntarily into exile is unforgivable, but I suspect, too, that I wallow in how unforgivable it is, as a way to avoid the hard work of doing the best I can under the circumstances.

it’s complicated

Yeah, so I kind of dropped the ball there in terms of updates. A lot happened. A lot happened, most of which I will have to gloss over here. Combots was super awesome, and my mother-in-law revealed a hitherto unsuspected bloodlust in rooting for the giant killer robots. I harvested tomatos from our garden and I snuggled with Tiger Lily the pony at the school fundraiser. I got an extremely welcome phone call out of the blue. I ran a party for a dozen seven year olds, and I even baked a cake, and it was delicious, but seriously: giving a major keynote is a lot less stressful. Also incredibly stressful: a fundraising deadline for my beloved nonprofit, the Ada Initiative. Once again we hit our goal, but once again we were saved at the last possible minute by extraordinary acts of kindness.

Sunday night I called Kay and Kelso to make sure they knew where their nearest hurricane evacuation shelter was (they didn’t) and that they had a go bag packed (nope.) Kay and I were laughing our heads off over the phone: “This is a matter of life and death, missy!” Then when Sandy fell on lower Manhattan like an asteroid, a building around the corner from their apartment collapsed, and it didn’t seem so funny any more. They’re fine but have no power or cell service.

All this and two tragic, heart-hollowing, impossible-to-make-sense-of deaths in our extended circle, and I volunteered for another nonprofit because look at all this free time I have, and something about our metropolitan area sportsball team, and Jackson and Bella are shiny ponies and I had a big breakthrough with Jackson on Sunday, finding my balance so I could sit his bucks and send him forward again as soon as his hoofs hit the ground, and he was perplexed into obedience, and I am haunted by images of the evacuation of the medical center in New York, and Claire started a new swimming class and her glossy head looked like a seal’s in the pool, both awesomely fierce and terrifyingly fragile, and if anything is the message of the tumultuous last ten days, ten days that were like a roller coaster that has been swept out to sea, it is this: that in the end there is only love, nothing else, only love.

adorable wrangling

This weekend, Jeremy’s mother is arriving but Jeremy will be spending the entire weekend wrangling adorable killer robots. That’s okay; I will take Jan with me to the girls’ piano, wushu, riding and swimming lessons, and to Najah’s birthday party. That’s assuming I finish the huge work deadline I am currently avoiding by writing this. Next weekend is not so bad – just a garden work day, school Fall Fun Festival and Julia’s birthday party, plus all the usual lessons, but at least I will have Jeremy around to help.

Sigh! I do love my wildly busy life. The girls and I have been doing a lot of cooking and drawing and reading. Julia has hugely enjoyed the beginning of piano and practices every day. Fourth grade at school comes with a choice of flute, violin or something else and Claire chose violin, which in practice means that she is trying to reproduce Zoe Keating songs at one-quarter scale. I am more than fine with that.

I am reading the Jenny Linsky stories with Jules and the Swallows and Amazon series with Claire. Jules is enormous fun to read with: every plot twist is a total shock to her. Claire likes to crochet or cross-stitch while I read, but will occasionally nudge me to ask a question or make an observation that makes it clear she has been hanging on every word. Curling up with them to read, usually with the cat walking over the mountain range of our knees, is the best part of every day.

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.”

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.”

more nightmares

…these ones gun- and bomb- and massacre-related, and resulting in me waking up and staring at the ceiling thinking “What am I doing having kids in a world like this?”

And then today, a music festival in a local park, beautiful bands and perfect weather and duck and mango tacos and iced chai.

Impossible to reconcile all the different Americas. Love and fear and love.

why i call her the wife

The mister is off building a robot thunderdome with the downstairs neighbor, so I called the wife and invited her and our boys over for dinner. While she was here her phone rang and the ringtone was Weezer’s “My Best Friend.”

Me: sharp intake of breath. “That’s MY ringtone. You have ANOTHER best friend???”

Salome: “I am totally busted. It’s my default ringtone.”


We had BBQ chicken from a place on 24th Street with arugula and avocado salad and broccolini and brown rice. I made a compote out of leftover strawberries and we had that with cream for dessert. Salome and I got a little tipsy on limoncello from Lucca’s deli.

This is what my life is like now. Yesterday I was weeding our little front flowerbed and Colin the carpenter stopped by and we chatted about the shelf he is making for Claire’s yarn, because Claire took up crochet after Rose taught her how. Then Kathy came by on her way to pick up Julia and Martha from the math circle Vali runs in the place on the corner. It’s been difficult to blog these past few months because happiness writes white and I have never been so happy before in my life.

I showed the wife pictures of the house I grew up in.

“But it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I see that now. It’s a jewel of mid-century modern, and it was full of teak and Hans Wegner originals. My mother had flawless taste.”

“I pictured you growing up in a place with no light! Like, a dungeon!”

“But that’s what it felt like. I look at it now and all I can think about is how miserable I was back then. When I was a teenager I could not put together a simple declarative sentence about my internal state to save my life.”

“You were a bit like that when I met you.”

One of my catchphrases nowadays is that closure is bullshit. Scar tissue is what it is. I still feel the cold where the broken bones in my ankle fused back together. But the other California cliche, validation, is not so much bullshit. Having a third party acknowledge the you that has spent the last umpty years tunneling out from underneath all your own garbage: well, that’s not nothing, as we say. It’s a thing, as we say.

It’s even possible I will forgive her for her lies about the ringtone.