Month: January 2009

01.31.09 aitch

Happy, happy, happy birthday wishes Iain Aitch!

The last time he showed up to visit he handed me a present and I pushed him at a room full of about one hundred strangers brandishing it and shouting Hey everyone! Look! Iain just published a new book! You should definitely buy it!

We’re always laughing too much to actually take a good picture, but I’m absolutely delighted he is my friend:


1.30.2009 cursed

Yesterday started with a stroppy teenager screaming that I had ruined his life by moving here. I mildly replied It wasn’t my idea but of course, that response was not appreciated.

Then I urgently needed to print a draft but found that I could not do so from Word.

Q: When has Word ever worked for me?

A: Never.

Too bad my career is in, oh, publishing, huh? It is just so frivolous that I need to be able to handle and produce, well, documents…..

I did not repudiate January this year but I am extremely thankful the cursed month is almost over.


1.29.2009 quality

Oh, and, btw, guess what I miss most today in the Something I Never Appreciated category?

Free weekly alternative newspapers.

Of whatever varying quality.


1.25.2009 biopsy

I bruise easily – the slightest jolt leaves weltering marks – and I am also quite clumsy. This means that I generally look like I have been mixin’ it up even when I have mostly been sitting around reading books.

One of my local charming companions finds this hilarious and likes to grab whatever piece of flesh that can be reached and take a big bite chomp chomp chomp because it is apparently amusing to watch me trudge through annoying social situations with visible bite marks.

Um, thanks.

However, after a recent encounter, I realized that one of my scars had fallen prey to the attack. Not too surprising, since I have approximately three hundred between my waist and chin. However, the ‘normal’ behavior of scars more than twenty years old is just to, well, hang out. They sit there, flat and flaccid, without reproach or any other message to deliver.

This one turned red, then swelled up, and remained inflamed. For about ten days. Given that it is an area that has been hacked away three times because a malignant tumor persists in returning…. well.

I’m kind of passive aggressive about the whole skin cancer thing, but this reminded me that if it has been four and a half years since the last positive biopsy, it has been exactly that amount of time since my last check-up.

Shhh! Don’t tell! I’m supposed to go in every six months….

I just really, really hate visiting hospitals. And while I heart the NHS most sincerely, they provide an institutional aesthetic that I have trouble enduring since I was a sick kid in the 1970’s.

Wanna see visual evidence? Hallway, cancer ward, leading teaching hospital in the UK, 2008:


1.24.2009 nature

The first time I went back to Seattle as an adult I was riding around with Ariel and Inga before a reading at some bookstore or other and I was overwhelmed with sadness to be back in the scene of so many youthful misadventures.

Inga offered sexual favors to cheer me up, but I just closed my eyes and said I don’t think that would help.

Ten years later, I can’t imagine that anything else would have, but hey – I know both more and less now, compared to when I was twenty-eight.

Eventually of course I moved to Seattle, because I wanted to win the tormented game I have always played with my past. For the most part, it worked – though I would sometimes find myself on particular roads and have to pull over because it was hard to drive while sobbing.

Various Seattle friends are privy to the information that I’ll be in the states this spring and keep asking if I will visit, and the answer is: I don’t know.

During my brief residence in that city I was responsible for two houses, two cars, and three young children. I was entrenched in an intricate and vast community stretching between Portland, Olympia, and Seattle, and the complications of an extended family six miles away across the Sound. There was too much work to deal with, too many invitations, too much noise. I had a whole lot to accomplish and only a little bit of time available.

Now I live on the other side of the world. I have a boat, a bicycle, and half-share in one adolescent boy. I have no discernible ambitions, aspirations, goals, plans for the future, or even interest in any of the concepts implied. I haven’t been on a stage in years.

One of my more maniacal friends, hearing these stories, just shrugs and says At least you got a book out of it. True, but possibly more significant than he might think.

I’ve changed. I’m not the sick kid dying in the cold public hospital, or the reckless teenager stripping and dancing around in the fountains at the Science Center. I’m not the resolute youngster who refused to go back, or the adult who felt she had conquered the world by purchasing a house on top of Beacon Hill.

Since leaving I have spent about a month of each year in the city. Stupid, shitty things have happened alongside the wondrous and weird; that is the nature of the place.

I feel that I should go back this spring, and that I want to, but that does not mean that I can. It might be healthier to go somewhere new, or at least, somewhere I am less likely to meet ghosts.


1.23.2009 special

Yesterday I received a letter notifying me that my kid has been selected to participate in an advanced reading group operating outside of school hours.

I was so furious I nearly tossed the letter on the fire. Then I remembered that I am a good mother and dutifully passed it on, asking what he wanted to do.

He read it with an expression close to my own, for roughly the same reasons.

Children are perfectly capable of understanding the dangers of elitism in a classroom, and the practice of breaking out achievement groups is just plain nasty.

Maybe people judged to be right in the middle have a fine time, but dwelling on either end of the spectrum is not fun. Even in a posh English school, there is social stigma associated with both under and over achieving.

Beyond that, the trend in education (here at least, can’t comment on elsewhere as my kids never attended proper stateside schools) is to use faddish popular literature rather than the canon.

Amongst various other texts, this means my son has been assigned The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

I have no opinion at all about the quality of the book, since my grown-up child told me that I was too sensitive to read tit. She was shocked that her (then eleven year old) sibling was given the book, because he, like me, is… sensitive.

The fact that a child has the cognitive ability to read at a high level does not mean that they can or should consume everything on offer.

I’m not proposing that books should be rejected because of controversial content – I am instead suggesting that quality should be the main criteria in selecting textbooks.

In principle teachers choose recent books to spark an interest. In practice, these works are often inferior to the favorites of earlier generations.

My kid is independently working his way through Alcott, Montgomery, Twain, Dickens, and Dumas. When he needs a little light entertainment he switches to Wilde or Wodehouse. Every single one of those authors offers challenging ideas. The opportunities to discuss the mechanics of literature, and debate social and cultural context, is tremendous.

Or how about going right back to basics, and teaching Shakespeare? Particularly in this town, there are abundant opportunities to attend performances and even hang out in the exact courtyard where the man staged his plays.

I could go on. Wanna visit the mill Chaucer was talking about? It is just past the Orchard in Grantchester. You know, that place where the Bloomsbury kids hung out. We’d have to cross the field where Augustus John pretended to live like a gypsy. On the way we would pass Byron’s Pool, so called because, you know, Lord Byron used to swim there.

Though all of that would involve walking twenty minutes or so through idyllic countryside. Without leaving town, we could see rooms once occupied by E. M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, Laurence Stern, Samuel Coleridge, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, heck, even C.S. Lewis. Not to mention Douglas Adams. If you’re not careful you might literally get run over by Stephen Hawking.

This town offers, if nothing else, an abundance of history.

Yet the school entrusted with the intellectual development of my child is picking books off the Amazon bestseller lists. The predictable consequence? He has developed a sincere hatred of his English class.

So, no, he will not be attending the ‘special’ reading group. He has elected to go to science club instead.


1.22.2009 tautology

My daughter showed me a website about so-called American Vagabonds.

I squinted at the pictures and replied Eh, I only know…. a couple of em.

She was shocked – whyever did I know such people?

I was shocked – has she forgotten her childhood?

It is true that I took her away from her homeland at age thirteen, so it must be hard to retain more than vague impressions of what it was like to be a kid. Certainly, neither child was aware that we were poor, because while we lived far below the poverty level, our life was rich with music and art and literature and friendship.

I refrained from pointing that out, or even delivering a lecture about the tautology of placing punks – who have access to a vast array of resources, including but not limited to community houses, infoshops, radio shows, zines, bartered medical care – in the same category as people who are homeless without choice.

See, sometimes I can curtail my caustic opinions!

The girl persisted with questions about riding the rails and was thrilled to realize that I know more than might be presumed about the topic. I ruthlessly squashed any hopes in that direction by pointing that an acquaintance had both legs chopped off pursuing such adventures. Not exactly romantic.

Of course her attention span does not sustain lengthy discussions (she says her brain feels like a LocoRoco game) so the next question was What is the creepiest example of someone flirting with you?

I replied Nobody flirts with me.

She stamped her foot and hollered SHUT UP! People flirt with you all day long!

I blinked in bewilderment. Not true! Give me an example!

She said I never hang out with you, so I don’t know! But you are just stupid to claim otherwise!

Shrug. So I’m still oblivious, even after advanced research and training. I really don’t notice much until people declare they are in love with me, a claim that can generally be analyzed as a passing fancy since they get over it within a year or two. Any other subtleties are beyond my comprehension.

This is certainly easier than getting tangled up with the misplaced desires of other people. Particularly in this town.


1.20.2009 heckling

I went out to buy new music but purchased Jim Croce instead cause I’m a sap.

Then I dragged a recalcitrant young man to visit Carmelo, The Gentlemen’s Hairdresser, where I ordered a cut for my kid described as Y’know, like Brideshead Revisited, 30’s aristocrat crossed with 80’s pop star…. which amused the barber. Though not, it must be admitted, my son.

I was planning to read a newspaper, but the receptionist was quite unexpectedly watching the inauguration. We sat entranced, half listening to the heckling of the Italian hairdressers.

It was quite a thrilling way to experience the whole thing, actually!


1.19.2009 dirges

I’m not feeling especially gloomy but my more obsessive traits pop up like a wack-a-mole game on days like this.

Right now that means I am listening to music that makes my kid act like his ears are bleeding, but hey, he is off recording his radio show! I can listen to whatever I like!

Too bad I can’t find what I really wanna hear: an early, unreleased, and presumably contraband copy of [band name suppressed to protect the guilty] without all the studio mixing that fixes the rough and charming bits.

Unfortunately I used to listen to it back in the days before I had my music on a computer (ooh, archaic!) so I guess it is an actual tactile possession lost in one of the moves.

Oh well.

I have lots of other dismal dirges to play!


1.19.2009 fit

Now that I’ve posted about my rather silly set of illnesses, I just feel mildly annoyed with myself for whining.

I have very little patience for “normal” problems, however you define the term. One of the larger societal obsessions is, of course, weight loss.

When I find myself trapped in some hideous situation where people talk about such things I tend to say in a bright shiny voice Have you heard of the best diet ever? I lost one third of my body weight in just under five weeks! The plan is easy. It is called cancer.

Of course, I was then hospitalized with malnutrition and force-fed before ending up back on the operating table undergoing surgeries that left me with massively debilitating internal scarring – but hey – I was thin!

Barely able to walk, mutilated beyond understanding, horrified by what I had just lived through, facing a lifetime of potential pain, I then had to endure “compliments” about my appearance.

Let us be clear: I looked awful.

Did anyone seriously believe Jobs when he claimed to be ok? We’ll ignore the ADA and ethical implications of the disclosure of health care status to prop up shares for now. I’m more interested in the fact that he just looks very ill, in a way that some people persist in describing as ‘fit.’


1.18.2009 life

First my tummy rebelled in a way consistent with previous episodes of ulcers/gallbladder/adhesions/choose-your-own-adventure and I could no longer eat or drink much of anything. Then I caught a head cold, which of course I cannot treat because all available meds interfere with the set keeping me alive. That turned into a sinus infection, morphing into a complete loss of my voice for ten days. By the end of a month of dreary illness I was mainly existing on a steady diet of Tums and Ricola, and drifted into anemia. By then I mainly just wanted to curl up on a chaise lounge, fainting, one handed pressed to a weary brow.

Except I don’t own one. Plus the insomnia is never mitigated by anything so I was still creeping around twenty hours out of every day, albeit in a slightly cranky and loopy fashion.

I’m barely functional but accumulated chores dictate I will now proceed with a massive cleaning purge. In a country where it takes four hours to wash one load of clothes.

What a glamorous life I lead.


1.17.2009 bells

The church bells will start ringing at 7:15 tonight to celebrate the fact that Cambridge is 800 years old.


1.16.2009 empty

When the Farm Store opened two years ago, they had literally no choice of properties – everything was fully booked.

Now? According to the local paper, 35 Shops Stand Empty in City.

To give those who do not live here some context, the commercial district is about the size of an American city block, maybe smaller. When they talk about ‘Peas Hill’ and ‘Rose Crescent’ those are just names for few dozen buildings that once made a street in 1345 or so – practically on top of each other. Not separate outlying neighborhoods.

For those traitors who moved away, check it – we’re talking about what looks to my untrained eye like half the stores have closed, and the Grand Arcade is still mostly vacant.

Add to that the bailiffs shutting at least eight pubs, and one of the main musical venues, and it is…. eerie.


1.16.2009 scar

Recently Byron looked at me and commented enthusiastically Hey, that scar has vanished!

You know, the vicious slash I acquired a few weeks after moving here, when the experts noticed a cancerous lesion.

In the middle of my face. Requiring immediate removal.

Resulting, of course, in a mark that aged me by at least five years – I’d certainly always without fail been carded before, even in a country that has a drinking age of eighteen.

In the states I would have been referred to a plastic surgeon (even when I was poor) to remove a tumor in this location. Not in Cambridge; nope, they just go with mutilation. Though everyone was very polite about it at the time.

I blinked and reviewed my mental files, then said So for the last four and a half years you have been lying about the fact that it was visible at all, let alone a disfiguring feature?

He replied Well… yeah.

Not surprising at all coming from someone proud to be known as the Lindsay Lohan of Logic.

Still. I knew it was there, and the fact that everyone (except, of course, the resident teenager) rushed to reassure me did not help.


1.15.2009 stalkers

I make a determined effort not to read too much on social networking sites, mainly because I need to preserve my bad eyesight for “work” – or whatever.

Every so often I succumb to the temptation to wander over and look at something, and that just never goes well.

The reasons are rather obvious when it comes to facebook – as Mash asked me recently X [edited to protect the guilty] is a bad guy, right?

We are required to share that kind of check-in, because our heads were bashed in The Accident. There are a few murky episodes that nobody really wants to talk about.

But, yes, there are a few bad guys in our collective past. Perhaps compelling, or sexy, but not safe to hang out with. Ever.

Though I’m not especially concerned that the serial rapist is two clicks away, since there is still a contract on his life. Nothing to do with me! I can look after myself! I broke his nose the last time he tried to hurt me, and he only smacked my elbow. No, his mistake was messing around with people who could not defend themselves, though they had a great talent for attracting the patronage of the criminal underclass.

My contribution to the debacle has been to routinely, for twenty years, show up at hometown social events (weddings, funerals, reunions, you know, the usual) and refer to the incidents openly, then laugh maniacally. This has not helped my reputation, but hey, what do I care?

All of that is beside the point and the thoughts only wandered through my brain this week because I thought of whats-his-face, that hilarious first husband of mine who made off with the Hunter S. Thompson poster. If he had been the sort to stay in touch with his kid, we might still be the best of friends. But he didn’t, so we aren’t. Once again: boring.

The more interesting point is that growing up with a certain set of values and experiences determines how you interact with the world later, whether in sympathy or opposition. That has certainly been true for me. I have a high tolerance for liars, tricksters, all manner of public and private malfeasance.

Because I grew up in a bifurcation of managing cancer treatments (proper, procedural, bureaucratic), and dealing with the junkie behavior of my family (chaotic, intense, psychotic), I am exquisitely sensitive to subtle dangers.

Often a heartbeat too late.

It took a very long time to understand that leaving and making a new life did not mean that I had escaped.

I have always been reasonably careful because, while inherently hedonistic, I also had a good mother. I was destined to place the safety of my kids ahead of any inclination toward annihilation. If you take that job seriously, you might be able to fuck around some, but only within defined limits.

I can wander through any party scene, ghetto, or similar marginal adventures, because I can feel trouble.

That is not the same thing as knowing what I am looking at.

The one thing I have always lacked is the relevant sensors to parse middle-class mainstream existence.

The other day on facebook I randomly stumbled across the only truly evil person I have ever known in my entire adult life.

Please note that I have met thousands upon thousands of people, befriended hundreds. I have had all manner of sketchy and hugely entertaining escapades. I hold no grudges, not against abandoned lovers, nor treacherous friends, nor even the people who have stolen my money. Heck, not even against the person who held a gun to my temple and informed me that his life would be easier if I were dead.

So, then, evil – what a concept – especially for a confirmed atheist to espouse.

Evil – why?

Our friendship started in the early days of the internet, before many people figured out that this form of communication is a great way to distort truth and reality. Fine – I got it, even back then.

What I had never encountered in my daily life was a person who worked so hard to create an intricate screen of distractions, opinions, decorations, music, finery, schools (but only the best, private, progressive sort). To hide what exactly, I do not know, though it obfuscated the fact that the person was secretly, viciously, verbally abusing children.

Perhaps more. Or rather, I suspect that more happened, but I had no actionable evidence to take to the police.

I wasn’t that close – not a teacher, trusted confidante, priest or in any way privy to the internal workings of this family. I just had a hunch. That creepy, raised hair on the back of your neck, something is wrong here intuition.

For this – expressed in nothing more than a raised eyebrow and inquiry about why the elder child was so … angry… around… kittens, I was exiled.

Then the person in question started a very long siege attack in the form of a whisper campaign. Presumably the goal was to trash my reputation, and I have certainly noticed a rippling impact in certain quarters.

Vicious rumors fans of the magazine might have heard? They can be directly attributed to this former friend, by way of a former volunteer, via a semi-delusional disenchanted fan, dribbling down in a noxious thin stream.

None of which has even merited comment for the last decade.

I honestly do not care – I find the whole thing really sad, and just hope that the people in question get sorted out eventually.

My only complaint is that I would like to use facebook in the obvious way, reading funny/racy updates, looking at hilarious high school pictures, and otherwise taking a break from real life, without encountering stalkers.

Oh well! I should probably be working anyway!


1.14.2009 predicted

My son is growing, on average, an inch every other week. This means he needs a new school uniform for the third time in two months.

Twelve years old, exactly my height, predicted to shoot up to six foot eight or so (I’m not exaggerating), and fighting a mighty battle not to acquire a British accent, he has nonetheless taken to saying hilarious things like Run along and fetch me some buttered toast, dear.


I am finished with this sceptred isle!


1.13.2009 posturing

When my first husband wandered off into the sunset he took his uniforms, the ironing board, and my original Hunter S. Thompson for Sheriff poster.

He left everything else: guns, knives, household goods, the baby.

Fair enough – although I never did manage to shift most of the stuff, some of the guns had street value. The rest of the weapons are scattered in storage units across the world. I still use the mixing bowls. And the baby, of course, is all grown-up. It happens.

I only owned the poster because I know people in Woody Creek, a trend that has continued throughout my life. The mountains of Colorado exert an eerie appeal, and the kids who grew up shooting shit in those canyons are amongst my favorite people, encountered routinely in Portland, Seattle, SF, NYC, London, Rome.

Last night I went to see Gonzo and it was fascinating. In large part, of course, because it illustrated the way that a truly iconoclastic and talented man squandered his early promise on bullshit macho posturing. Or drugs, depending on how you want to write the story.

Not that I have any particular problem with bullshit macho posturing – I am a pioneer descendent, my uncles were variously Hell’s Angels, union enforcers, or other flavors of criminal genius. I like guns. Heck, I’m probably a better shot than many people reading these words. I have made a lifelong habit of dating thugs and killers, because I like the aesthetic.

The ethos of rugged individualism, the values of the frontier, are simply part of me. It is only when those habits turn into caricature or farce that I shrug and walk away.

Drug addiction and the ensuing moody drama? Boring.

Thompson is rightfully revered for his earlier work, whether you like it personally or not, and the movie does a fantastic job of showing that era, including interesting archival footage and new interviews with McGovern, Carter, Wolfe, and even (gasp) Pat Buchanan.

The saddest part of the documentary is not the suicide – it is the fifteen or so years when he didn’t manage to write anything much at all. Let alone anything interesting.


1.9.2009 impervious

Loot this year included all manner of treats, from a painting of me on safari by my elder child, family portraits of squirrels ordered from faraway SF, a new speaker to play the iphone, a shiny teapot, a huge bag of cinnamon jellybeans, a carved wooden owl that hoots, and an inflatable moosehead trophy (cause I wasn’t allowed to bring my taxidermy to this country).

The best however was a glass eye pendant, to replace the creepy necklace I’ve grown weary of, though unfortunately the chain did not fit the new trinket.

Lli was the only friend who consistently turned up to celebrate the doleful birthday, traversing snowstorm and bad public transit so our infants could crawl around poking dangerous things in my series of eccentric, semi-derelict houses back in Portland.

One year she gave me the most genius gift of my entire adult life – a human glass eye still in a presentation case – and it resides in a place of honor with my collection of antique medical gadgets and false teeth. The same shelf also holds the bits of jewelry collected during my travels, and today I went rummaging in the scientific cabinet to find a chain for the new eye.

The only one that fit was originally used to suspend a loteria card featuring a pierced heart, one of the visual elements that later became the tattoo, forcing retirement of the necklace it referred to. Later I used the chain to hold milagros from a pilgrimage to Chimayo, then medallions from Paris, Rome, and Tallinn.

Before I learned to flirt (or rather, realized that I already knew how, in my own vicious and marauding manner) these talismans were mainly just a private comfort, a way to mark and organize and remember chaotic events.

They were also the only thing anyone ever dared comment on, and the only breach in my defense systems, with Inga or Moe or Sasha or a dozen others feeling free to rummage around to get a better look at my cleavage as I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

Straight boys correctly sense they would swiftly have their fingers broken if they tried the same, but eventually I noticed that the necklaces implied permission for menfolk to look.

How tiresome, and how unfortunate that I noticed – it was so much more pleasant to drift around, oblivious and impervious.


1.7.2009 birthday

On January 7 1983 I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and granted an estimated survival of six months.

That was my twelfth birthday, and today I turned thirty-eight.

Happy birthday to me!

Happy giving-birthday to my mother!

Huge, impossible, endless thanks to all of you who have stuck with me through these mad years!



1.5.2009 shine

You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and your family. –Robert Darwin to his son Charles

There were several years I refused to acknowledge January 7 (or by extension the entire month) whatsoever, and it became my Not Birthday, recognized only by demand of friends and relations, but always with a certain level of fury.

I was really angry and sad – about everything, nothing, whatever. This sort of thing tends to happen when you are diagnosed with terminal cancer as you turn twelve… adolescent anxiety gets all mixed up with survival, and who needs that kind of anniversary looming in the darkest part of the winter?

Not me. However, now? This year?

For whatever reason, I honestly don’t care!

Though this means that there will be no party, in case you are one of the friends who would normally expect an invitation.

Instead, Saturday started at the British Library, where a display about Darwin helpfully included the fact that his father was strenuously opposed to him joining the Beagle expedition, and also thought he was something of a loser in general.

Oh, families!

The main attraction though was an excellent exhibit called Taking Liberties. Highly recommended (even for kids, though they should be over age ten and/or twitchy eccentrics like the fruit of my loins), and not just because they have an original Magna Carta on display.

Oh no – there is way more – including real recognition of radical history and the long bloody fight to achieve what nominal rights we currently have. Particularly the NHS, seen appropriately as a redistribution of wealth and a basic human right. One of the main people behind it said, essentially, private insurance is a scam, and there is no room for notions of profit in health care. Yes!

I don’t even need to remind you that childhood mortality improved by some startling statistic like thirty percent in the first ten years of the program, right?

Then onward to find lunch in a city partially closed for the holiday season Рone awesome if frustrating thing about the UK in winter Рand off to the Southbank Centre, because I asked for a BFI membership for my Sad Winter Birthday (TM).

We were there to watch Casablanca on a big grand screen, and gee whiz, the movie really does shine when viewed as it was meant to be seen.

On the way out we stopped to ride a carousel on the banks of the Thames with a view of Big Ben, the Shell Tower, and the Eye of London. My horse was named Kevin.

As the hours passed my evening plans unraveled, as they always do, so I dragged my kid across town to eat pho and salad rolls before grabbing an early train back to Cambridge.

The putative birthday does not strike until later in the week, but I’ve already had a fantastic time!


1.3.2009 thankful

On my thirtieth birthday I had a sense of foreboding because, as I commented to anyone willing to listen (and hardly anyone listens to me around this time of year) This will be the deadly decade.

Not because I had any fears for my own health; such concerns are void until the next round of tests, then quickly forgotten. I was instead stricken with an awareness that, while I’d always been sickly, now my friends were going to start experiencing protracted ill health.

This has proved true.

People close to me have been diagnosed with all manner of ravaging diseases, a few will die, a few already have. Wherever possible I offer support in practical ways, or just an understanding ear, and if the individual allows it, a fair dose of gallows humor.

I have always been indignant when people read my work and claim it puts their problems in perspective. Life doesn’t work like that; a broken bone really fucking hurts whether or not the person next to you has just experienced an amputation. Pain and illness are individual, private experiences, no matter how publicly paraded.

If you are the sort of person who feels grateful for your good fortune because others are suffering, I don’t want to know you.

Yes, feel thankful for what you have – just avoid making specious comparisons. My life, while raw and painful and bloody, has always been wildly entertaining. I refuse to let anyone claim otherwise.

This holiday I’ve been feeling rather ill and suspect that I have worked my way back into another stupid sickness (the first time I was diagnosed with bleeding ulcers I was nine years old, so I can reasonably predict what is wrong right now). No, I don’t want to talk about it – leave me alone with my antacids and mushy plain food and I will be fine and dandy.

But while feeling doleful and queasy I’ve been reading narratives from many people here on the internet who are much more ill than me. Elsewhere other friends are dealing with painful invasive treatments. One ended up in hospital over the holiday – crossing fingers she gets out today.

I have an idiosyncratic inclination to protect the privacy of my sick friends, whether they are shy or exhibitionists. Yeah, I will donate to a medical or funeral fund when I have the money, or run a free ad campaign, or spend countless hours advocating for friends in emergency rooms and clinics, but it is rare for me to comment publicly or privately about the health of another person.

In this way I am often a failure as a friend, because some people want acknowledgment and validation of their troubles. If I’d ever consented to therapy I might even understand this urge, though I doubt I would share it. I’m still stuck in the lower gears of survivor guilt and would prefer to take all the pain myself. I’m pretty good at being stoic, after all.

This was really just a long way to say – I hope the new year brings solace and relief to those of you who are feeling awful.


1.2.2009 technology

I missed a phone call before setting up the voice mail, and then received a text that did not have a signature…. so, um, hiya to whoever it was!

The best thing about the iphone so far is the fact that I can stream recommendations. They were absolutely correct to play me some Merle Haggard and Barry Manilow first thing on Boxing Day…. but man, I’ve always hated Leonard Cohen songs. Even more so now that Hallelujah has taken both first and second in the UK pop charts.

Earlier today I was poking around trying to figure out other phone options. My pal David in Silicon Valley sent a message telling me how to set up KEXP, and now I’m sitting here in England listening to my friend DJ El Toro faraway in Seattle.

The wonders of modern technology!

Oh, and someone made a documentary about the Red House.

And also…. if you pick up the current stateside edition of Vogue and flick through to page 140, you can read about the secret project Byron and Tauba have been working on.


1.1.2009 resolution

Lots of people have been posting reflective New Year thoughts, and I have nothing to offer, except the mild point that this is the first winter I have not been depressed.

Who knows why, or if it will last, but the (literal) fog of the season has had almost no influence on my mood this time round.

The tricky thing with me is that when I feel great, I always make big instant changes – go to grad school? Ditch a husband? Quit a whole career? Have a kid? Move to a new continent? Hey! No problem!

So what new big thing is around the corner for me? Well, you may notice that I have acquired the first contract phone of my entire life. This means that I have decided, for better or worse, to stick it out here in the UK for awhile.

However: I really do not like this town, and it eschews me right back. Four and a half years have not endeared us one to the other, and the few friends I’ve made have all moved away. Except Jean, who is busy working.

Many people might have predicted this would be a difficult place for me to live, but I have never once in my entire life had any problem cracking a social scene. I float, I’m a chameleon, perhaps controversial and demented – but also curious and excited.

This attitude worked to some extent here – I know everyone I could possibly want to know, I’ve caused more than my share of scandals, I hang out with famous scholars, people who have been knighted, the beggars and junkies on the corner. Pretty average for me. But something is intangibly different, hard to explain, impossible to deal with if you want more than just a surface connection, air kiss relationship.

Within six hours I knew this was not my home. Within six months I had deliberately fixed the immediate problems by scrabbling together a loose network of colleagues and companions. But, by the end of the first year, I still felt like my brain was cracking down fault lines, and I just didn’t understand.

It doesn’t make sense, but this is not my place, no matter how hard I try to make it work.

Until recently the best cure was just going back to the states to see friends, spend time with the water and mountains. Lately though that solution has been taken away, because for immigration purposes I need to remain resident within the UK for proscribed amounts of time.

Here in Cambridge, people squint at me and rather begrudgingly have conversations that go something like what you might remember from unpleasant parent-teacher conferences in junior high. Why? Because I’m not connected to the university, I have a peculiar job, and I dwell on a boat.

In other words, I’m a freak. Big surprise!

The only cred I have is the fact that I publish and by academic standards I am “famous” (I disagree, but you have to remember, these are people who judge according to obscure journal publications, and I have produced…. books) but for every person who is impressed there are a dozen who are dismissive or, worse, jealous.

Whatever! I don’t think like that, so leave me alone!

The comparison: recently I went to a literary party in London, where I tried to hide behind the poinsettias, but my agent dragged me out and introduced me to a screenwriter. I told him I did not know how to mix, and he offered to be my Mingling Mentor.

We ventured forth into the room and he thrust me at various people, explaining the experiment, and within about four minutes I met the film critic from the Daily Mail! I jumped up and down and squealed!

Several new movie-tv-and-book-writing friends later I was chatting with a fellow who had a good haircut and western shirt about his job in the financial world. His wife, as it turns out, knows the meaning of the word ‘zine.‘ Instant connection!

They invited me to a party in Bethnal Green the next night. On the way I heard from three other London friends, and, mysteriously, Rachel stopping by on her way from Canada to elsewhere.

I proceeded to the party, where I met at least a dozen new highly entertaining people, then dashed out in time to catch the last tube with a charming new companion.

The lesson?

As predicted from infancy, I really do need to live in a big city. Lucky me, I’m moored about an hour distant from one of the best in the world.

My big New Year decision is therefore: spend at least a portion of each week in London.


1.1.2009 better

Previous years have found me suffering various existential crises at academic parties, then feeling fretful as I plucked famous drunken scientists out of shrubbery in the wee morning hours.

Last night I had a much better time:

Playing a rousing game of Monopoly, then going outside for a misty midnight sing-a-long with my kid, while we tried to light sparklers from damp matches!

Happy 2009 to all of you!