Archive for the 'meta' Category

happy birthday to this blog

I have been blogging for twenty years. How about that.

the green flash

Almost a year after I thought it might, my accidental sabbatical has come to a definitive end. This morning, Laura and I rode Gemini and Bentley around a Horse Park almost violently green from the winter rains. I went to therapy for my weekly ugly-cry, spent the afternoon folding laundry, then dragged J and J to the beach to watch the sunset.

The sea had carved the sand into a cliff three or four stories high. We stood at the brink, inadequately dressed against an Alaskan wind. Just as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, its light turned a pale celadon. I’ve never seen the green flash before! Conditions have to be perfect. Julia was blinking and missed it. I told her she is young and will have lots more chances.

It’s hard to sum up this long career hiatus in any narratively pleasing way. I wrote less than I thought I would, and did a lot more political organizing than I’d ever imagined. One business venture has yet to bear fruit, but the other two are the most beautiful and gifted startups ever to occupy San Francisco office space. I made some amazing new friends and grew closer to some old ones. I think my kids are doing pretty okay? I continue to love my mister more than I love sunbeams, or meadows, or tea.

Tomorrow’s big adventure is to get up early and take BART to work!

city of light meals

A cool change blew through on our first night, thank the gods. The jetlagged girls couldn’t sleep, so I went out and lay on the sofa bed with them until the “Mama Bear is here” signal overwhelmed the “STRANGE ROOM” alarm in their reptile brains. Then I couldn’t sleep, so I climbed back in with Jeremy and his “Papa Bear” signal overwhelmed mine.

Saturday we found Kirsty outside the Louvre Pyramid, exchanged many kisses and saw the Nike of Samothrace (better than I ever dreamed), the Venus de Milo (quite lovely) and the Mona Lisa (whatevs.) I adored the Roman Egyptian mummy portraits and we all loved the Islamic art. I decided that Christian art is mostly sentimental rubbish. Jeremy says I’m going through a phase.

We had an insanely delicious lunch at the Bistro Richelieu. I had the confit de canard. It was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.

We only see Kirsty every few years but on each occasion it is as though no time has passed.

Dinner at Vin et Terroir with Kirsty’s friends Justin and Peter. I had the lentil soup, which was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. Sunday we did a little more Louvre, swung by the Musee d’Orsay and the Orangerie (Monet is amazing) and crossed paths several times with the end of the Tour de France. Hurrah for the sportspokes! Dinner at a City Crepes, where the grownups became perhaps too merry upon cider.

Today we walked across Ile St Louis to the Centre Pompidou.

Jeremy first went there when he was Claire’s age, and last time we visited, pre-kids, he said that if he ever did have children, he wanted to take them there.

They loved it. Renzo Piano also built the Cal Academy, their favorite place in SF, and Jan and Richard’s house was always full of bent wood furniture and Matisse prints, so it must have felt like home. Jeremy went into a full-on Art Dad fugue state and we stormed around for hours. (Matisse is amazing.)

Then we went to Au Petit Versailles du Marais for Kirsty’s farewell meal, which, wah. I wish London was closer to San Francisco. Saying goodbye is boring.

Julia ordered, and I finished, the Pyramid, a structure of passionfruit mousse with an apricot center and a macaroon base. It was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.

flashes back

Ten years ago this month:

amazing and tragic

she grew gills

infinitely gracious

Five years ago:

don’t like pickles

so perfect

five things for a friday blog

1. I spent most of the week in Chicago, a city I love for no reason other than that J and I once spent a very happy weekend there. The light over the lake and the severely beautiful architecture always bring back how giddy I felt then, gazing at the Chagall stained glass in the Art Institute, laughing because we had both noticed that the lake sounds like the sea but doesn’t smell right.

2. Despite which, I barely slept the two nights I spent in my (stunning, lake-view) hotel room. By the second night, with my throat raw and my dreams shallow and repetitive, I realized I had caught J’s cold, which he in turn picked up from Julia. I sat through a presentation on Thursday morning with cerebrospinal fluid leaking out of my nose. The plane landing in SFO almost made the left side of my face collapse into a neutron star.

3. This morning when Claire made her customary plea to be allowed to stay home from school, for some reason I agreed, and I’m glad I did. By ten she was feverish. It was a gorgeous dry sunny San Francisco spring day, with all the nasturtiums and roses already in bloom, but the loveliness was largely wasted on us. We ventured out only briefly, for coffee and soup and cold medicine. Claire has spent most of the day asleep on the couch, I on my bed, attended by our faithful kitten doctors.

4. I tried several times to expand on my winter soldier post with a description of how 1980s Australian patriarchy worked, but remembering the microaggressions is painful, and trying to convey their emotional weight is difficult. Pinned down in words, they are dry and seem manageable. It is only the accumulation of hundreds and thousands of them over the years that buries and suffocates you in the end.

5. Turns out I would rather remember the micro-non-aggressions, the people who startled me by saying exactly the opposite of what I had come to expect them to say. Gregan saying Well you are a nice person, why wouldn’t I like you. Professor Brown saying You were one of the most highly qualified candidates, we are glad to have you. Alex saying That must have been difficult. Grant, most of all, saying lots of things I still cherish, but mostly just scooping me up into the sunshine of his solar system, showing me a way to be happy that I had never thought of before. Four cheers for non-toxic masculinity.

Moments, too, where I cried because the pain stopped; like the first time I heard Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” and read that Mary is an out lesbian Christian. Well, why not? This one is fresh in my mind because Skud mentioned the other day that she’d met a member of the Sydney Anglican liberal resistance, and I thought, what a glorious thing to be. But then I realized that I was always a member of the resistance, even when I didn’t know it.

I want so many things back that I can’t ever have, not only Mum and Dad but being young again and in a world so full of possibilities (the twilight sky above Dublin such a rich and light-filled blue, Bjork in her own before-time singing “I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to.”) Most of all I wish I could have been in less distress so that I could have been kinder and more kickass. But I did make it out alive and here I am, with my cats and my children and my J, our sunny little village in the city, our found family, perspective, time to read and think and make sense of what happened so that maybe one day I can write about it without jumping all over the place like this, without having to glance quickly into it and then just as quickly look away.

five things to force-reboot the blog

1. I don’t know what to tell you about my father. I’m very sad.

2. I took Boo Bear the horse to a show – the same show Gunther and I prevailed at last year. Boo Bear and I did not prevail. He refused many, many times. I was mortified. The next day, with another, much better rider, he was even naughtier and ended up galloping around the ring with no rider and no bridle on. Eventually he remembered that he is lazy and walked over to Toni, asking to be taken home. Shaming as this all was, it makes a significantly funnier story than my uneventful outing with Gunther, and I have been dining out on it ever since.

3. In reflecting on this it occurred to me that Gunther is Gryffindor (bravery, daring, nerve and chivalry) and Boo Bear is Slytherin (ambitious, cunning and resourcefulness.) I ended up putting all the horses I have ever loved into their houses. Bellboy, Alfie, Noah and Rhun: Gryffindors. Bella and Ruah, Slytherin. Roland, Ravenclaw. Dear old Jackson, Hufflepuff.

4. Julia aced her first piano audition and Claire is setting up her Etsy store. I love my nerdy, awesome kids.

5. There is no fifth thing.

falling into the fire, by christine montross

“Sometimes holding all the blackness they feel is the only thing you can do. That’s not nothing. And sometimes it is enough.”

I question my intuition rigorously and routinely, but I rely upon it nonetheless.

Don’t just do something, stand there.

If I am to abide with these patients, then I must accompany them to that place among the rocks, to the sweating wall. I must face with them the uncertainty of what lies beyond. I must stand at the edge with them and peer over into the fathomless depths. If I tell my patients, as I do, that this life can be a tolerable one, that they can face their fears and their traumas, their visions and voices, their misery, then I must look at what I am asking them to endure and I must look at it full in the face.

How do we do it? How do we bear the unbearable realities of our human lives? Someday I will die and leave Deborah, and our son, and our daughter. Or someday each of them will die and leave me. How do we reckon with this inconceivable a loss?

that was the year that was

You look beautiful

Sometimes the ghosts open the door and let themselves in

It gets better, right?

Thought I might take Gunther to a show

Thought we might go hawking

start calling her every day just to check in

as dark as it ever gets in our room

a meadow and some rocks and stuff

Wouldn’t it root ya

What are the odds, really?

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.

adventure time 5: ai weiwei on alcatraz

We chose the most beautiful morning imaginable.

Even @karlthefog had come out to Alcatraz.

The flock of kites in prison made me think of my Dad.

The Lego portraits made me think of playing with my brother as children.

Each portrait is of a prisoner of conscience.

I was ashamed at how few of the names I knew.

It’s a powerfully angry and compassionate body of work.

We are all one family.

ancillary justice, by ann leckie

…luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience…

It seems very straightforward when I say “I.”

…when I look closer I seem to see cracks everywhere. Did the singing contribute, the thing that made One Esk different from all other units on the ship, indeed in the fleets? Perhaps. Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?

I spent six months trying to understand how to do anything—not just how to get my message to the Lord of the Radch, but how to walk and breathe and sleep and eat as myself. As a myself that was only a fragment of what I had been, with no conceivable future beyond eternally wishing for what was gone.

It’s hard for me to know how much of myself I remember. How much I might have known, that I had hidden from myself all my life.

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.

five things make a thing made up of five things

1. It turns out that the reason it’s taken me this long to try to download audio books to my phone is because libraries have been tragically afflicted with an evil crippleware proprietary standard! Luckily there is also MP3, but establishing the extreme wrongness of WMA took a couple of hours of my life I will never see again. REVENGE.

2. Finally got off my ass and gave blood this morning. There’s a center right near Montgomery Station, and this morning I was the only donor there. They’ll disqualify you if you’ve ever so much as given the stinkeye to a British cow, which is ridic, but if you are as un-tattooed and monogamous and straight-acting and only-travelling-in-the-First-World, that is to say, if you are as BORING as me, go bleed into a bag. They give you muffins.

3. Last Friday morning I got to have a look at Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s offices, preserved exactly as they were when H and P retired, all Mad Men with wood panelling and windows onto a Japanese garden. Then I drove back to the city, where Liz gave me a guided tour of the Noisebridge hackerspace and I examined a Makerbot that was busy making new Makerbots. San Francisco is amazing.

4. The photos of Queen Elizabeth in Ireland are very strange to me for lots of reasons. The Queen looks more and more like my mother as she ages, to the point that the picture of her speaking in Dublin Castle actually raises recognition-hackles on the back of my neck; I have my own very vivid memories of the Book of Kells and Croke Park and the National Stud, and I don’t think I have ever seen the Queen in a place where I have been before; and I know enough history that my entire sympathies are with the protestors, with the security guards and the police, and with the Queen.

5. This week I like this Janelle Monae song, this Janelle Monae song (with a surprise cameo by Claude Debussy), this Olof Arnalds song (with a surprise cameo by Bjork), The Comic Book Guide to the Mission, Inside Wikileaks and, always, the great Ta-Nehisi Coates.

pg tips and lindt intense orange

Do I sound miserable here? Someone asked me today if I was going through a hard time! I’m ashamed to say I laughed. Oh, my heart is breaking for the all kids who committed suicide this month, and I just sobbed my way through several relevant bits (ETA Milo’s is the best), but the reason the It Gets Better project slays me dead, every time, is precisely because I was bullied and it did get better, so much better, better than I could possibly have dreamed. Not only do I live in a city that, if it were human, I would have a helpless girlcrush on and want to make out with all the time, just look at this place, I mean, damn, I’ve had at least two occasions in the last twelve months – Jeremy’s last birthday party and the Labor Day picnic – where about five hours flowed past in real bliss. Didn’t even know that was possible. I’ve been worried my blog is getting too sappy, because I am just nauseatingly cheerful and fulfilled right now.

Anyway! Just felt I should clear that up. Today was really great. Claire, Julia and I Internationally Walked to School for cute keyrings and stickers. The webinar I gave in the morning went exceptionally well. I had a vat of Blue Bottle coffee and a very delicious bit of salmon at the reliably nommy Boulette’s Larder, right on the Bay, with several of my favourite people. In the afternoon I fooled around a little with amusing work, and then I came home to run the first math circle session for Fall. All the math parents just lovely, and even better, half of them already knew each other and were overjoyed to catch up. The new space is pretty much ideal, and it’s about sixty feet from my front door. I was able to sneak away during the third session, have a sit-down dinner with Jeremy and the kids at home, and be back in time to lock up. Now I am blogging with the MacBook on my left hip and the Beeblebooble curled up on my right. Oh look, and there’s a new MythBusters, and Jeremy just brought me tea and chocolate.

Riding lesson tomorrow! Oz Farm this weekend! Tickets to Zoe Keating next week!

i have a new theory

…concerning the multiverse, in which other Rachels elsewhere are engaged in feats of world-saving derring-do, while I have been given the job of quietly raising my children and reading good books and learning to ride well.

It follows from this theory that all the other Rachels are as consumed with envy of me as I am of them.

well look at us all fancy-like

If you’re reading this in your RSS feed you have NO IDEA! It’s a new era, WordPress replacing clunky old MT, and that is Bellboy’s perfect flank in the banner in case you were wondering. And we’re all cloud-hosted and it is POSH. The end.


I wonder sometimes where Counting My Blessings shades into outright confabulation. There’s a whole other version of this morning, where Claire had a full-blown tantrum when I turned off the TV to take the girls to the park. I was furious and undercaffeinated and hungry and headachey, so I handled it as badly as you can possibly handle an angry five-year-old. Claire’s tantrum and my fury lasted all the way down the street, until I threw everyone onto an opportunistic number 7 bus into the middle of Cambridge, which is how we came to have coffee at my favourite cafe.

On the bus I held Claire’s hand and we apologized to each other, and then the morning turned into the one described below. All I’m saying is, that first comma there is glossing over rather a lot.