Archive for the 'fulishness' Category

happy birthday, sarah

I still can’t really write about Dad (although as Mary wonderfully pointed out, he’s been a hero of this blog all along.) So I will write about my sister instead, shown here adoring ponehs.

She and I weren’t especially close growing up, which I get. There are six years between us, I was irksomely hero-worshippy and she had her own complex shit going on. I do still remember a note she wrote me when I was 19 and went to Tasmania for six weeks on an archaeological dig, saying: “I always knew you were going to have great adventures.” When I got accepted to Trinity she gave me a blue plaid Onkaparinga blanket to keep me warm in the Irish winters. It’s still my go-to for snuggling on the couch in San Francisco. I bought another like it to keep me warm in Barraba, and she has it on her bed when I’m not there.

But our timing was sort of perpetually off. Our lives diverged. She was pregnant when I came home from Dublin, and she had her babies while I got my first job, my first apartment and my first car. She moved to Brisbane around the time I moved to San Francisco and our parents set off in their Winnebago to live the nomad life. Our brother Alain shared her house and helped raise her kids while our brother Iain and I made the annual schlep to Burning Man.

When Mum and Dad settled in Barraba, Sarah packed up her whole family and moved there, with the tacit understanding that she would become their caregiver as they aged. Dad was diagnosed in January of 2013; Mum in August of 2013; Mum died in February 2014 and Dad, of course, four weeks ago. It’s been a brutal couple of years for all of us, but the burden fell disproportionately on her. She and I reverted, hard, to stereotype. I was the out-of-town career woman who flew in to deal with bureaucracy and demand answers from doctors. She was the one who dealt with everything else, day after day after long, crushing day.

She did it with such patience and strength, I can’t even tell you. Sarah was Mum’s best friend and constant companion. She maintained Dad safely in his home and independent long after anyone else thought it was possible to do so. Small wonder that even when he had forgotten the rest of us, Dad’s eyes still lit up whenever she walked into the room. It was her stubborn advocacy that earned them both a merciful death in palliative care with their pain humanely managed. Sarah alone was with both our parents when they took their last breaths.

I couldn’t have done it. I am awed by her unstinting love and grace throughout. Fortunately there are compensatory upsides to going through Hell side by side with another person. I was on the phone the other day laughing my head off, and afterwards Jeremy said: “Was that your sister? I thought you were talking to Salome.” Funnily enough I had said to Salome a few days earlier: “I used to call her because she was my sister. Now I call her because I want to talk to her.” And then I started to cry, but from happiness for a change (as well as because I cry at the drop of a hat these days.) It has all been a fucking ordeal, but Sarah has been magnificent. I’m so proud of her and grateful to know her.

And, as it happens, she is turning 50 today. Why don’t you all go do something awesome that she would do: tolerate a pesky little sibling, lift some weights, swim a kilometre, snorgle a kitteh, devour a book, teach a child to read, manage an art festival, play the ukulele, be an amazing friend, donate to cancer or dementia research. As for me I will raise a glass to the greatest woman I know. Happy birthday, Sarah.


Here’s what I wrote when I turned 35:

I called Mum and said “Congratulations! I’m AWESOME!”

Only one tiny thing is needed to complete my happiness: a Swedish Warmblood mare, six years old, 16.2hh, bright bay with a white blaze and four white stockings, a trot that levitates, a huge jump and a kind and willing disposition.

Here’s me at lunchtime today:

He’s far from six and he’s no mare. And I sure do miss my mother, not to mention my Dad. But despite everything, it’s been a pretty okay birthday so far.

small good things

  • Not getting up till eleven this morning because trapped by the cuteness of the cats sprawled on the end of the bed
  • We still have most of a panettone and about a third of a box of peppermint bark left
  • Seeing Big Hero 6 again and loving it just as much the second time and then unanimously agreeing that we needed teriyaki for lunch
  • Ending the year as I began it, actually mansplaining things to the mister
  • This year I reconnected with a couple of old friends I had thought I’d lost for good

happy merry

Twelve years ago, I personally made this. It was one of my better days.

This year Julia giftwrapped herself for me, so now they are both my Christmas presents.

Then we went out for dim sum. Brand new old family tradition.

I’m very lucky.

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.

the long dark night

Twenty years ago, Mum and I went to Newgrange and saw the light shine in from the window box. Today, Dad moved into a nursing home. This year, the universe is seriously fuckin’ rubbing my face in the real meaning of Christmas.

Now you get a little of what fucked-up theology remains after a decade of intense Church damage and almost two decades of hard living in San Francisco; the tattered remnants of the beloved songs and stories of my childhood with as much of their cruelty and colonialism and cruft ripped out as is humanly possible. It took my having a child of my own twelve years ago on Christmas Day to knock it into my thick head, but the point of the tradition I was raised in is not that my people are specially special and should get to be in charge, hell to the no, fuck that shit: it is that every child is holy. Every child is a child of (for want of a better word for it) God. Every child has a star blazing over the place where she was born. Wise people follow that star to bring gifts for the child: gold, frankincense and myrrh; the gift of the world, the gift of the spirit and the gift of a mindful death.

Fall on your knees; o hear the angel voices. Because: follow that thought through to its logical conclusion. People, all people, yes, all of them, the annoying hipster dude ahead of you in line painfully screwing up his breakfast order, the pedestrians crossing the street in front of your car, your beloved, your boss, your work nemesis, your Burning Man nemesis, all your exes including THAT one, your past, present and future crushes, your kids, everyone in Syria, everyone in Tuvalu, everyone in Antarctica, everyone in Arkansas, Putin, Merkel, Cory Booker, Amy Poehler, Rachel Maddow, even Dick motherfucking Cheney, much as it pains me to admit it: they’re all holy. All sacred. All children of God. All doomed. The people you love so much you can’t bear to think about it are going to die, maybe of esophageal cancer, maybe of frontotemporal dementia. The people you’ve never met, they’re going to die too. You’re going to die.

The real meaning of Christmas? Sure, the sun’s at its lowest excursion, the molten Arctic is deep in gloom, sure, 2014 contained a metric shit-ton of absolute garbage even BEYOND the fact that my brilliant, adorable mother died during it, seriously, fuck you, year; I mean, 2014 was just an absurd load of crap, civilian planes vanishing and being shot down, incomprehensibly brutal foreign wars and bloody domestic horrors, rape and murder, the Torture Report (Cheney may be a child of God but he is nonetheless a war criminal) – what was my point? Oh, right; sure, it is the long dark night, and then some.

So why do we even bother? I think a lot of the time we don’t actually know why. We either don’t think about it at all, if we are sane and well-adjusted (I’ve heard tell of such), or if we’re the kind of weirdo that does think about it (I know I am but what are you) we puzzle away at it for year after weary year and never really get any closer to an answer. We just do, bother that is, and terrible as it seems sometimes, unbearable, unfeasible; gradually over time, more is revealed; tiny pleasures, like cups of tea and naps, or huge, terrifying joys, like having a baby, or like the courage with which my mother faced her death.

The point is that for the most part, and with unbearable exceptions like Robin Williams and Aaron Swartz, we do keep plugging away at it, raising children, starting startups, picking up Bebe’s ashes from the vet and adopting new kittens from the shelter, saying goodbye, saying hello, going to work, trying to do a good job, trying not to yell, trying to be the institutional memory, trying to rewrite the codebase. Tidying up in an endless, hopeless cycle, trusting that the arc of history does bend towards something better than this, something more like justice. Paying the bills, karmic and otherwise.

The point is that it’s so clear to me that my grief for my mother is another, merely time-shifted expression of my love for her. Time is an arrow that flies in only one direction, straight to your heart. Without there being frail, old cats, how would you know to revel in the shiny sproinginess of the kittens? Without the dark of the tomb, how would you even perceive that shaft of the sun’s light? Angels are messengers, horrifying and incomprehensible. I don’t really understand what they’re saying to me but I know that it’s important, and I am trying to hear.

always safe to assume

…when I haven’t blogged for a while that I have been miserable. Couldn’t sleep, had headaches and gastric distress. Tweaking my thyroid and crazy meds didn’t cut it. Finally dragged my sorry arse to therapy and am the better for it.

Good things: July 4th at Oz Farm, a red woodpecker, three mule deer, snakes and frogs; Claire working as a junior counsellor at Heather Hill’s summer camp; picking Claire up today and getting to go on a trail ride, her on Gemini and me on Bethan. Out riding after work with my kid, no big deal.

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.

so far from home

Going through security in Auckland International for the, what, twentysomethingth time this year? I thought, plaintively: I want to go home. But I could not work out what I meant by the word home.

Sydney is very much itself: glary and humid with a gusty breeze; the loud billboards and cheap furniture importers all along O’Riordon Street, and beyond them glimpses of tree-lined streets with nineteenth-century terraces; the lorikeets screaming; the coffee delectable.

Mum has responded well to her treatment and is eating better. Sarah has been a brilliant caregiver. But they are both sick to death of being so far from home. On Friday we will all pack up and go back to Barraba.

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.

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.

a thing a month

As part of ongoing efforts to live a more makerly, human life, I resolved to make a thing a month this year. Not a vasty thing; something small and manageable. In January, I cross-stitched a little constellation embroidery for each of the girls. In February I hand-wrote a letter to a dear friend.

This month I will try out the Kintsugi repair kit that J gave me for my birthday. It repairs ceramics with a mixture of glue and gold dust. I will test it on some of our table china, and when my technique is alright, I will fix a chip in the beloved bowl I brought home from Avanos, in Turkey.

When I first read about Kintsugi, I cried. The chance to be more beautiful in the broken places feels like a gift, like grace.

books of the year: stories of friendship and hope

I didn’t have a fantastic year in reading, to be honest – I think the Kindle threw me off and that my patterns of acquisition and consumption have yet to rebalance. Here are some books I read that I liked very much:



I guess it wasn’t such a terrible year in reading at that. There are two books, though, that I want to push into your hands in an overbearing yet adorkable bookseller-or-librarian-ish way: Constellation Games and Fair Play. Please read these books. They are very great.

It feels like cheating to recommend Leonard’s book when I have known and loved Leonard for ten years, but I must have read Constellation Games four times this year and gotten something more out of it each time. It’s a first contact novel and an existential love story and it did more than any other single argument to make me believe games are an important art form, but it’s also incredibly funny and moving and Curic the two-souled purple otter is my new favourite fictional character. For its part, Fair Play is about two seventysomething women living at opposite ends of an attic having conversations about pictures and books. Yes, Tove Jansson is the Moomin person. This book is based in part on her life with her wife.

Why these two? Because I am 41 years old. Because I love animals and nature and am living through a mass extinction I helped cause. Because I am a pacifist living in America, and a progressive anarchist who spent my teens as an evangelical Christian assuming I would die in a nuclear holocaust. Because for my first quarter-century I was much troubled by despair. It’s only in the last decade or two that I have had the luxury of time to tinker with my diet and my neurochemistry and my cognitive behavior to try to make a habit of hope and not horror. Because it’s the Northern winter solstice and that means all the festivals of lights, all the songs and candles in the long darkness, and what all the festivals mean is that physics is real: this will be the longest night of the year, and that tomorrow at dawn one shaft of sun will light up the corbel-vaulted room inside Newgrange [or insert your neolithic solar calendar of choice]. And then everything will start to feel a little bit better. It doesn’t stay dark. As Bill Bryson says, life wants to be. Life doesn’t want to be much. From time to time, life goes extinct. Life goes on.

Constellation Games and Fair Play are quite literally stories of friendship and hope, not in the movie trailer way that makes you wince but in a clear-eyed, fearless way that is able to talk about betrayal and jealousy and irreconcilable differences and the cold empty vastness of space. They are both, in fact, books about how to be a friend, and how to be hopeful. We are chimpanzees with doomsday weapons, adrift on a rock in an immense dark void. We have to take care of each other and we have to believe that things can change for the better. So, you know. RTFM.

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.”

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.

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.


“Why isn’t this soup spoon design fashionable any more?”

“Don’t ask me. I was raised by wolves.”

“Seems like wolves would have rules about that kind of thing.”

“Oh we weren’t allowed to eat the liver before the alpha. There was a strict hierarchy. We weren’t ANIMALS.”

changing planes

Me: Oh my God. Oh my God!

Jeremy: Mmm?

Me: My travelling companion! Is nine years old! She’s the child of my first marriage!

Claire: What?

Me: It’s a song I’ve been singing for about twenty years, and today, for the first time, IT IS TRUE.

J: We’re going to Auckland, Auckland…

EVERYONE ELSE IN THE SECURITY QUEUE smiles and shakes their head.

(In other news: New Zealanders. SO NICE. And the quality of showjumping instruction is excellent. I WANT TO GO TO HERE.)

our son the snake

Me: I dreamed I was giving birth again and was very annoyed with my substandard care. “Where’s my doula? I can’t work under these conditions!” Then the baby was born and it was a boy and I was ambivalent. We argued about whether to call it William or Gabriel. You said Gabriel would get him teased at school. I said “Of coure he’s going to get teased at school. He’s a snake.” Have you ever breastfed a snake?

J: No.

Me: I have. He was a colicky little snake too, always writhing if I put him down. And I was all, we’re not going to be celebrating your first steps now are we? Then he tried to slither into the new shelves, and the inevitable happened. My dream actually had captions at this point: “The inevitable happened.” Julia trod on him.

Julia, round-eyed: I did?

Me: And that was the end of our son the snake.