Archive for the 'the empty space' Category

celebrating pride month 20gayteen

Janelle Monáe
Angels in America
God’s Own Country
Ocean’s 8

(Turns out my sister and I watched Nanette on the same night.)

self-medicating with art

The world is on fire, and everything seems to be about death right now, but some things have dealt with death in a way that makes me feel less terrible.

Nights are endless because you wake at the softest cough or sob, then lie awake listening to her breathe so softly, like a child. – A Manual for Cleaning Women

This book encouraged me to go back to the stories I’ve already told that still haunt me.

I took the kids to see an all-woman production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was fabulous, all Resistance and bisexual lighting. Jesus was so good she almost upstaged Judas. Between my parents loving the Sydney production and the Spiral Oasis staging at Burning Man in 99, I have such an odd relationship with this play. It’s puzzling that Lloyd Webber could have written this one decent thing, in a career otherwise so very full of crap. Maybe Judas is his Mary Sue, as Doctor Horrible is Whedon’s.

He rubs his fingers over old scars. – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Michelle McNamara and death fought one another to a draw.

five things because i’ll probably forget again on friday

1. There is a much longer story about the horse show that I will doubtless tell each of you over a bottle of wine some time, which begins with Nick-the-horse dumping me onto a fence at our Friday lesson, such that his bridle came off and I still have a spectacular bruise on my right butt cheek, moves through a 2-hour drive to get a delightful Dutch breeder named Constanza from the showgrounds to the airport (we are fast friends now and I am invited to her farm outside Utrecht), and ends with me enjoying myself in a show ring for the first time, riding the kind of blissed-out, fluid round we can do at home but never before in front of a judge. “Shit,” Casey reports the trainer standing next to her saying of our performance: “they are laying down some good trips.” We were.

2. Once again I have been puzzlingly overlooked for a Macarthur – perhaps something to do with the fact that I haven’t actually written anything – but I was completely goddamn delighted with two of this year’s picks: my longstanding beloved Ta-Nehisi Coates (have you read his new book yet, why haven’t you read his new book yet), and my new fling Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’ve listened to the cast soundtrack of Miranda’s musical Hamilton approximately one gajillion times since it was released last week. It’s a masterpiece. There’s fine-grained, scintillating brilliance in the detail work, a pattern not so much sequential as unfolding ever outwards, revisiting themes to add nuance and complexity and shadow. But there’s also the straight-up shot to the heart of a staggering story, fiercely told. God, just listen. Trust.

3. Three audiobooks by dudes, of varying quality but interconnecting themes: the Oliver Sacks memoir, and then Laszlo Bock’s book about people ops at Google, and then Vaillant’s account of the Harvard Grant Study. You always think you can’t love Oliver Sacks any more, and then you do. People are so real and present and urgent to him. I wanted to be scathing about Bock but his sincerity and curiosity were hard to resist. (Like Maciej Ceglowski and Sebastian Stan, he grew up a communist; maybe that’s why all three seem to have an inner core of diamond-hard idealism. Easy enough to sneer at freedom when you’ve never been unfree.) Bock’s description of evidence-based everything has the distinction of being the first thing I’ve ever read that gave me the slightest interest in working at Google. Still slight, though. Weirdly, Vaillant’s book has made me yell at the car stereo a lot more than Bock’s did. The Grant study is an extraordinary, 75-year-and-counting longitudinal study of a bunch of college men. With this astonishing wealth of material at his disposal, Vaillant’s mistakes are both egregious (autism, for example, is not a “genetic lack of empathy” and fuck you George for saying that it is) and pervasive. The case studies are quite glorious, almost worthy of Sacks, but the conclusions I draw from them are very different from Vaillant’s. A delicious takedown in the Atlantic paints him as a deeply flawed man.

4. Three books by ladies, of uniformly high excellence: Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up is just as life-changing as advertised. Sparking joy is good but the part that clicked for me is the act of thanking your no-longer-needed belongings for their service. My medicine cabinet has never looked so spare. I put off reading What Works for Women at Work for months, afraid that it would make me feel (more) guilty, but in fact it’s one of the most validating books I’ve read in ages. Jessa Crispin’s Dead Ladies Project documents a sojourn in Europe in search of reasons to live. I am devouring it.

5. How is it even possible that I haven’t blogged about Steven Universe yet? There’s probably a German word for the first time your kid recommends something to you and you pay attention to the thing and you realize, Holy shit, this thing is really good. My kid found a good thing. SU is, for me and Claire, that thing. It’s a love letter from maker Rebecca Sugar to her younger brother, and from both of them to the beach towns where they spent holidays growing up, and to the anime they adore, and it’s also a fully realized world with compassionately drawn, three-dimensional characters. It is beautiful and wise and sane and also hilarious and adorable. It’s a love letter to all of us, and so’s Ta-Nehisi’s book and Lin-Manuel’s show and Oliver’s memoir, and I needed all of them, I needed all the reasons I could possibly find to get out of bed, I literally needed reasons to get back on the horse, and they came when I needed them and I’m so grateful.

impro, by keith johnstone

I kinda wanna copy out the whole first chapter, but will restrain myself somehow –

As I grew up, everything started getting grey and dull. I could still remember the amazing intensity of the world I’d lived in as a child, but I thought the dulling of perception was an inevitable consequence of age – just as the lens of the eye is bound gradually to dim. I didn’t understand that clarity is in the mind.

On Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) as the gateway drug to being a massive douche:

I tried to resist my schooling, but I accepted the idea that my intelligence was the most important part of me. I tried to be clever in everything I did.

On school as trauma:

My ‘failure’ was a survival tactic, and without it I would probably never have worked my way out of the trap that my education had set for me. I would have ended up with a lot more of my consciousness blocked off from me than now.

On the importance of writing about something other than what one has read – ironically, the exact opposite of what I am doing here:

I had expected that there’d be a very gentle gradation from awful to excellent, and that I’d be involved in a lot of heart-searching. Almost all were total failures – they couldn’t have been put on in the village hall for the author’s friends. It wasn’t a matter of lack of talent, but of miseducation. The authors of the pseudo-plays assumed that writing should be based on other writing, not on life.

On aging disgracefully:

I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.

Reminds me of something – what was it – oh right –

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy…

claire dancing

She’s the turquoise blob in the middle :)

ready to go home

It’s been an amazing trip, basically a very good Patrick White novel come to life. I won’t forget having coffee with Aly at the Brisbane port cafe, watching container trucks plough through the wetlands like a Jeffrey Smart painting in reverse. I won’t forget seeing Barbie and Ron again, or saying goodbye to David. Egg tarts, David Malin, Rushcutter’s Bay, Pymble, Redfern, Summer Hill, Bronte, Glebe, Gleebooks, Ariel and Berkelouw.

Three and a half weeks seems about the right length of time. For three weeks I get completely immersed. Then one morning the kids and I wake up and in spite of the fact that there are mangos and rainbow lorikeets here, in spite of the fact that my love for my Australian friends and family gets more intense with every passing year, in spite of summer, we all suddenly miss shabby old San Francisco and our micropartment and our American family and even our wholly reprehensible cat. That time is now.

This morning we went to see a Festival show based on Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s about people who run away, and what they find, and the stories they share when they get there. I cried, of course, but for the beauty and sorrow of it and not because I was feeling sorry for myself. How novel! Australia always used to hurt me and make me feel angry and guilty but this year, for whatever reason, it didn’t. Skud told me it wasn’t Australia I disliked so much as Sydney, and when I got here I realized it wasn’t all of Sydney but only a tiny and unrepresentative sample. The rest is vanilla milkshakes and bats in the Moreton Bay figs.

And all kinds of things that have made me crazy for years and years are suddenly okay. I can’t put it any more precisely than that. Sydney hasn’t changed – well, it has, enormously, but it’s also exactly the same. And I haven’t changed either. I’m just as groundlessly opinionated and bitchy and well-meaning and tactless and incompetent and embarrassingly fond of you as ever, don’t worry. But Sydney and I are okay now, like childhood friends who had a massive falling out and made up and can’t remember, now, what any of it was about. The past isn’t sticking its knives into me any more. It probably won’t last but while I feel like this, while I sit in the house Richard built and listen to the cicadas and breathe the humidity, I am more grateful than I can say.


Fish tacos. Lemos Farm. Spork. Don Reed’s East 14th. A nice day.

unhappy love stories, mostly

Kamikaze Heart

Longtime readers (there will be a test) may recall my delight in Sweet Can Productions’ marvellous show Habitat; Kamikaze Heart, from the performance arm of local urban circus school Acrosports, draws on many of the same traditions, including the brilliant and eye-popping art of aerial silks.

The plot of Kamikaze Heart is pretty much a wry tall tale on which to string a bunch of feats. My favourite bit was where the swan-who-was-the-ghost-of-the-beautiful-grantwriter was flying over the b-boy competition on her way back from Iraq (long story) and the performer did a dance with two bungees fixed to her hips from opposite sides above the stage.

As she bounced and swung the rhythm of the elastics really did seem like great wings, beating: a primal archetype for the harbingers of death, or birth. It reminded me of Grant’s description of the first production he saw of Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches, where the Angel came down from on a wire above the heads of the audience, screaming.

Where Acrosports won my heart for ever and always, though, was as we came out into the lobby. The whole cast was there, and the instant that Nancy Kate “Fancy Legs” Siefker, in full costume and makeup, laid her eyes on my Claire, she recognized her from Acrosports spring camp, went down on one knee and held out her arms: Claire flew into her embrace.

The Girlfriend Experience

I enjoyed this film as I was watching it. I like Steven Soderbergh’s laconic, respectful direction, his subdued palette and his attention to his actors, and his films have, for the most part, treated women as human – Sex, Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, even the completely unnecessary remake of Solaris. I never bothered with the Oceans films because with few expections I find celebrities boring and the prospect of watching them have a circle-jerk is deeply unappealling.

The best thing about Girlfriend, by far, is Sasha Grey’s performance as the expensive escort. Grey’s a porn star looking to diversify, and she’s brilliant at showing how an escort needs to be a sort of social chameleon, giving every client what he thinks he needs, while keeping her important part locked away where no one can get at it. (She’s also rapturously, implausibly beautiful.)

But Girlfriend left a bad taste in my mouth. The script is from the same team that brought us the Oceans films and while it tries to satirize that clubby, rich-men atmosphere of Hollywood and Wall Street pre-crash and the kinds of people who use wildly expensive escort services, it’s a bit inescapably of that world itself.

Most damningly, the only sympathetic male character, David, a client who actually listens to the escort and who of course she falls for, is played by one of the writers. His name is, guess what, David. The character is a Mary Sue, a Mary Sue of a rich john, and that makes me feel ill.

As another character points out, the only reason anyone is shelling out thousands for the girlfriend experience is because this woman is so improbably gorgeous. No one would care about her inner life if she weren’t so radiant, and by the same token, it’s not really her inner life, her thoughts and feelings and desires and hopes, that everyone is trying to drag out of her. What her greedy clients (and by implication we as the voyeuristic audience) really want is to break down her defenses and possess her.

Yuck. And what if she were just ordinary-looking? I was teaching Julia Marxist chess the other day. “These are the pawns. The point of this game is that the pawns all die, and nobody cares.”

Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst is adorable. I have a new theory about anachronistic period films like this one and A Knight’s Tale; the music is of our youth, and as we age it all gets wound up in generic yardage of Pastness imported fresh from the Past fields of darkest Past-landia. Our high school dances are so long ago now we might as well have been wearing corsets and bustles and have had absurd beehive hair. Winona is Spock’s mother! We are old.


I’m seriously annoyed with President My Boyfriend for perpetuating the Bush Administrations self-serving position on state secrets. It’s bumming me out. Our first real fight. C’mon, big O, why you even got to do a thing?

I jumped Cassie on Sunday! It was like an eighteen inch crossbar, sure, but a Taste of Things to Come!

Claire’s been all up on stage lately. Last week it was her first wushu demonstration. I would be very surprised if there is anything on earth cuter than my six-year-old’s kicks and punches, except possibly the expression on her face while she’s doing them. “WE R SRS NNJAS.” In January she and her classmates sang “Chickadee” at the school music recital. That was beyond hilarious: crowded cafeteria; tuneless kindergarteners; doting parents; phone cameras aloft.

Speaking of that cafeteria I am pursuing funding for a new school building that would include a proper auditorium. Ideally we’d like solar energy, grey water reclamation, the whole shebang. I am having a ridiculous amount of fun finding clues on the Internet and brazenly calling people at their places of work with naive questions. Last Friday I discovered $3.6m earmarked for it in the SFUSD facilities budget and tonight I talked to the head of facilities. The plot thickens! It’s not going to be easy by any means, but it is actually possible! I bounced into Kappy’s office and said:

“I love research!”

“I’ve heard that about you,” she said.

More: I’m off Zoloft; everything seems a bit colder and brighter. I loved Thrumpton Hall, The Arrival, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The First Part Last and Stories of Your Life. Frost/Nixon was pretty good too. Claire wanted to come with us, but when I said “Great idea! It’s the story of the confrontation of two huge mediated egos over foreign policy at the cusp of the electronic age!” she decided she’d rather hang with McKenze instead. Julia, and now this is going to astonish you, remains delightful.

circling back

Seth points out that the dances-on-fabric are an established circus art called aerial tissu, or silks.

Lilysea and her partner have two daughters through domestic adoption. Not surprisingly, her perspective on Juno is a lot deeper than mine.


We scrambled the kids and the Moores and Rose and Byron to the Mission Dance Theatre to see the last night of Habitat, a show by a new circus company called Sweet Can Productions. It has been getting amazing word of mouth, most recently from Seth, but nothing prepared me for how terrific it actually was. There are six performers, three men and three women, all acrobat-dancer-actors; but their wowsome feats were in the service of a very sweet, funny and earnest story of life in the big city. One of my favourite scenes was of all six waiting for a train, making and avoiding eye contact, falling into the unconscious echoes and rhythms of urbanity.

My absolute favourite scenes were sort of rope dances up and down bolts of fabric suspended from the ceiling, and representing sheets. One dance was a woman thrashing around in bed, unable to sleep, absolutely evocative of that particular yearning misery. The other was two new lovers, and without being at all explicit the scene had the exact joyous intensity of the first time you go to bed with someone with whom you are head-over-heels (haha!) in love.

And there was an adorable juggler who used his *elbows*, and a completely incredible slack-rope walk, and a huge wheel, and and and… So yeah, this is an entirely pointless review because the run is over, but next time Sweet Can puts on a show? You must obtain tickets. By any means necessary.