Saturday, 2 September 2023

Thoughts on a Saturday

When it comes to babies, like dating, if it's not a "Fuck yeah!!" then it's a no. 

I didn't used to believe this. I myself was not particularly into babies, though I did feel my son's spirit out there calling to me, and had felt with my husband nearly from the beginning a primal sense of our child's possibility. I was very into *my* baby, but I'm not really the person who feels an overwhelming need to hold anyone else's baby. 


But I also felt like there were so many people in my life who didn't want children who would make excellent parents. I wished, for the sake of humanity, that these fantastic people would be at my side in the endeavor of parenting. I wanted the club to be full of my favorites, and for us all to plot a new course together. 


Now, having a real, human child, I deeply appreciate the fact that the majority of abortions are had by women who are already mothers. The bones-deep understanding of the commitment, the risk, and the paradigm shift of parenting that comes only after a child's arrival is at least as primal as any urge to reproduce, and I think actually a lot more. 


So, kudos to those that realized a lot of that even without the experience of bringing a person into this world. It's major, and if you're not into it, I'm absolutely with you that you shouldn't sign up for it. 


The problem is that we have built so much of our culture up into grooming girls and women to subvert their own instincts around mothering--instincts which, by the way, do not dictate that they should want to have babies when every condition is set against them. The knee-jerk reaction is to minimize concerns, talk up how adorable babies are, hint at some otherwise unattainable fulfillment, and generally ignore the needs of the fully-formed human in front of us. 


I can tell you personally that the falling birth rate in the US is a function of the incredible risk the endeavor entails, where we have neglected maternal mortality to the point that it's actually rising, where we value the mass hallucination that is the economy over the very real animal needs we have to not just survive but thrive in a healthy environment, and where the answer from rightwing male politicians about this is not to correct any cruelties but in fact to enslave women to misogynistic pressures with no prospect of escape. It's absolutely suffocating. 


I say this all as a corrective to my prior doubts, where I often thought that some folks were hesitating to become parents partly because they were so present in their assessment of the situation that they were selling themselves short in terms of rising to the challenge. 


Several years into being a mother, I can tell you so much more about the systemic pressures to always be selling oneself short in ways that are very physical can be very dangerous. I hear so differently the doolally optimism that is reflexively trotted out when a woman expresses doubts about motherhood. 


I actually know now how discussions about a second child will never, ever hold me at the center. It's all about some fantasy of what siblings might be like, or what my husband wants, or some extrapolated sense of my own regret that fails to account for holding together what I already have. People occasionally ask me what I want, as if I consistently get the opportunity to consider that or was taught to value those impulses. Women in this culture are given very little scope to identify their own happiness and desires without guilt, to be ambitious and be praised for it, to thrive in their own lives. The pressure is to always be of service.


But I'll tell you something: Turning the other cheek only works for men, and not even all of them. For women, it's part and parcel of the erasure, the exclusion of one's own screaming instincts that this whole thing is not working well at all. And in the face of very reasonable doubts about our most essential act, entailing one's own ability to survive the risk, the answer should be to ease the way, not expect compliance and resilience in place of actual process improvements. 


So, if it's not a "Fuck yeah!!," it's a no. We need abortion access, bodily autonomy, mandated maternity leave as well as paternity leave, time to recover and bond, universal affordable childcare, reasonable prospects to safely school the children we choose to have, and a society that prioritizes living like the social animals we are so that the project of raising our high-demand offspring well is shared among many enthusiastic adults. 


Neglecting the outcomes and issues faced by living people in the now in favor of obsessing over pregnancy is abuse. Believe women, and do not turn the other cheek.

Tuesday, 6 June 2023

The Prophecy Fulfilled

In assuming the promised mantle of the DGAF manner of fucklessness prophesied in passing out of one's 30s, I am finding it particularly easy, useful and fun to fully shed the weight of other people's judgments. 

Like, I dress to delight me, so that when I catch a glimpse of myself, the image bouncing back to me is festive and ready for this daily party of life. And when I go to bed, face scrubbed and hair bound up for bedtime, the last thing I say to myself is often, "You are so beautiful." I say it as lovingly as I would to my own child. 


It's not about vanity--and who cares if anyone thinks it is?!--but about honoring myself in this mortal moment, in this body that has done miracles and still carries me through the sensory pleasures of being momentarily alive. 


I don't owe anyone trendiness, or their idea of how I should age, or whatever they think is the right amount of nudity or coverage. My hair is wild, my body still works, and I carry the peace of self-compassion into whatever battles may inevitably lay before me. 


I am aging, and I am changing--admittedly gently, but all the same. Those changes are written into my face and flesh, and I find that the more I move forward with a sense of relishing the moment rather than "fixing," the better the result. I’m trying to keep worry off of my face and out of my heart. I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal. My smile lines are well-earned, and my tired eyes reflect creative wee hours at odds with the early wake-ups of my most delightful creation: a small child who grows bigger every day, and who is a living timeline of my passage out of youth and into a different kind of adulthood. 


But my own girlhood is still within me. That girl's imagination, wild dress sense and love of performance still inform my daily decision-making. This body I care for was once hers, a gift from my own mother, and though the vigor of childishness has somewhat left me I do insist on keeping the playfulness as much as possible. Janelle MonĂ¡e recently talked about entering a new season, and not clinging to the idea of remaining a past version of herself, no matter how celebrated. I thought it was such a beautiful articulation of growth, evolving within ourselves to embrace what's new and lovingly set down what doesn't fit anymore. 


So, I don't give a fuck. I'm not going to meet expectations. And there is a great, fertile bounty to be had in that.




Thursday, 13 April 2023

Disarming Narratives

A quick story about a knife-wielding tech bro that is top-of-mind for me at the minute thanks to today's arrest: 

Several years ago, James and I were partying with some friends at a fancy underground venue that regularly hosted events that were lots of fun and legally dodgy. Shhh!! Come and go quietly, don't be an asshole, etc. 


Except, of course, assholes can show up to any party. And, on this particular night, a guy was acting like a creep and making a lot of women uncomfortable. 


So, James and a friend of ours bounced the guy, who was very wasted. Once they got him outside, this trashed idiot tried to pull a knife on our heroes, and James quickly disarmed him before sending him around in circles so he couldn't find his way back inside. 


Imagine James's surprise when LinkedIn suggested the next week that the knife-wielding perp was someone he might know, and might want to have in his professional network. The guy was a web developer for one of the other major tech companies in town, and also the kind of asshole who brings a butterfly knife to a party and raises red flags for all of the women there. 


Firstly, thank goodness James and our friend listened to women and got this guy out of the scene before he hurt anyone. Listen to women, and take action!! 


Secondly, this scene was exactly the kind of place where a whole mix of people would mingle, including rich tech execs who like an underground party. 


I didn't know Bob Lee, but there is for sure overlap in our circles, and a lot of that overlap lands squarely in the realm of hard-partying rich tech and tech-adjacent folks who end up at hidden soirees of questionable legality with DIY security. 


I'm a little amazed at how quick so many figures of that description have been to mobilize a narrative of San Francisco as violently dangerous, without any knowledge of the details of this murder. But, based on my previous experience, I am not all that surprised to learn that the picture emerging is more likely that two guys in tech who were driving around together earlier got into a fight in the middle of the night that escalated badly.  


San Francisco has its problems, for sure, but it is broadly on the safer side of crime statistics for a city of its size or larger. There's a lot of visible homelessness and suffering, and a lot of our most visible homelessness also entails mental health problems and substance abuse. Trying to navigate this misery is dehumanizing for everyone in the city, as those in the most danger are treated as pariahs and the more privileged de-tune their empathy in an effort to manage daily life. 


However, narratives that imply that violent crime is out of control and escalating, regardless of data, are generally used as a cudgel to mobilize votes based on fear and policies that put pressure on the poor and marginalized. Those fears offer cover for "tough on crime" approaches that result in quick action against people sleeping rough, who frequently have their medications, legal documents, and most precious remaining possessions thrown away when rich residents complain about their presence. 


A whole bunch of super rich, very entitled people were extremely quick to spread a similar story here with zero regard for facts after Lee's death. A lot of the disdain generated falls heavy on the shoulders of vulnerable, suffering people who have never been helped one bit by the tech elite, a group that despises them and has taken out full-page ads decrying the impact of tents on their property prices before they scarpered off to countless other cities that felt like their next easiest buck. 


Let me be clear: Homelessness is not a crime. Rich people do drugs, too. (Though I have read nothing about Lee's case so far that indicates that was a factor in events leading up to his death.) Mental illness makes self-harm much more likely than murder. San Francisco is a relatively safe city, as American cities go, and unfortunately American cities generally are more violent than those in many other parts of the world. 


And anyone could be the victim of violent crime, whether rich or poor, urban or rural--though you're a lot more likely to experience violence if you are poor, female, trans, black or brown, and your murder is a lot more likely to be made into a nationwide, classist "law and order" argument if you are rich, white and male. 


..... 


For a good read on today's arrest, check this out: https://missionlocal.org/2023/04/bob-lee-killing-arrest-made-san-francisco/




Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Morning View of Tennessee from London

Some quick thoughts on gun violence from overseas: 

Today, Dash and I had a lazy morning. We both slept in a bit, though he snoozed even longer than I did, and while he was cuddled up next to me I shared some photos of our fun times around London yesterday. 


And, of course, going online exposed me to the news that, yet again, a bunch of American children and their teachers were shot to death in their school. 


When Dash woke up, I showed him the photos I'd shared of him being silly, then we watched a video on Instagram, and the next thing in my feed was this courageous woman speaking out against America's gun insanity. 


After we watched it, I explained that the United States is different than a lot of other countries, because we have a lot of guns around, that guns are extremely dangerous and kill people, and unfortunately a lot of kids in the US die because of guns. 


I left out the part that kids can get shot in school, because I am not ready for that part of the conversation, and probably never will be, but coming up with age-appropriate ways to talk through the above was about enough for my pre-caffeination parental brain in one morning heart-to-heart.


I did explain that other countries, including the United Kingdom, used to have this problem, too, but when a lot of kids were killed with guns, they quickly took away a lot of weapons and made it very hard to get more. I also explained that our city and state (San Francisco, California) are trying to fix this, and because of that we are broadly safer than lots of other cities, but that it is hard because so many people in our country think that is against the rules to restrict access to firearms. 


Now, yesterday we visited the Tower of London, which was both a medieval war machine and the storehouse of weaponry for the crown. Dash did the things that lots of kids have done before, including ogling armor and seeing a vast array of sharp, pointy and loud, blasty things that were used to suppress and kill people. We got a direct look at Britain's violent past, and we could also talk about what has changed and why we don't do those things now. 


One of the things we noted as we came into the Tower was the London Wall which used to enclose the city. And, so, Dash quite naturally suggested that we should build such a wall around San Francisco. We talked about all the reasons that would or wouldn't work, and he eventually conceded that probably isn't the best solution these days, even though it worked pretty well a long time ago. 


Then he said, "It's a good thing that we're in England right now." 


Kid, I have to agree. Before his time, I lived here as a university student and beyond, and I gradually set down my worry about being shot in public. Cars backfiring stopped making me jump. Police here generally don't shoot people, and mostly don't have firearms. Despite moving here literally on the day of the most deadly terrorist attack on London in recent history, being here provided me peace that I hadn't experienced in the States. 


And, once we moved back to San Francisco, I had to educate my British husband about what you do and don't do when you hear gunfire, and which parts of a wooden Victorian house are safest when bullets are flying out front. A low level of hyper-vigilance re-entered my life once more. 


As Dash's school days crept closer, and school shootings continued, I mentioned to James that the US might not be the best place to raise a child. The UK has plenty of mess of its own these days, in no small part thanks to a rightwing faction that is similarly disinterested in human well-being as its American counterpart, though honestly nowhere near as advanced in its depravity as the GOP they seem to be aping of late. 


In the US, Republicans both demand that women be enslaved to childbirth, but also that our children being mown down in school should be accepted as the price of freedom. Dunblane at least ended the latter half of that discussion here in a swift fashion, even under Tory leadership. The protracted suffering of Americans because of gun fetishism is unimaginable in most other countries that we would consider our allies and peers. 


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It doesn't have to be like this. I went to high school near Columbine, and was in lockdown for hours in a trailer on the day of that massacre with reports that the gunmen--boys, actually--were en route to our school next. How that wasn't the end, I'll never know. Why I have to explain this to my kindergartner now despite having lived through that then is impossible to understand. 


Thank you to Ashbey Beasley for jumping into this press conference and speaking directly about your action. Over 20 years of uselessness since Columbine, and actual loosening of gun safety regulations in the interim, leaves me angry at America's continual failure and unwillingness to do what is right. 


https://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2023/03/27/shooting-survivor-mother-jumps-in-nashville-presser-vpx.wsmv




Tuesday, 28 February 2023

I Have COVID & It is Not an Emergency

Today, California’s COVID emergency declaration expired. I am currently sitting in my basement, isolating from my family, because I have COVID. And it is not an emergency. 

I want to talk about what’s changed in the last year, from the perspective of my household, because it’s kind of mind-blowing. Plus, I have time to think about it, as I’m just chilling on my lonesome down here waiting for release from COVID jail. I feel absolutely fine, but as long as my boys are still testing negative I’ll be waiting this out on my own. So, I have time to write, even though I’d love to cuddle my kid instead.


I tested positive on Saturday, the last in a series of spot checks I was doing throughout the week. I was attending a lecture series nearly every night last week, and I’d had a big weekend out just before, so I felt common sense dictated that I should be checking in every few days to make sure I didn’t inadvertently spread cooties. To say it’s been cold and windy here is an understatement—we’re setting records for low temperatures, and there’s snow on Bay Area peaks—but I felt no different than I would in an ordinary winter cold snap. I didn’t test because of symptoms, I tested because it’s part of the routine now.


So, I have COVID, and it’s ordinary. A nuisance. A test result that has me sitting at a desk more than I should, catching up on admin and missing my dance classes. When I say it is not an emergency, this is what I mean: I have COVID, and it is not scary, or uncomfortable, it is simply very boring. A mundane disruption to a schedule of moving about in the world that has quickly become surprisingly normal after years of everything being profoundly Not Normal.


A year ago, it would have been unthinkable to have gone out several weekends in a row after traveling, followed by a weeklong lecture series. James and I were totally vaccinated, but Dash would still be several months away from getting his first COVID jab at age 5. We were carefully containing all of our behavior so as not to compromise the health of any of the fully-masked, tiny, unvaccinated people at his preschool, or introduce illness to the three other families with whom we shared a de facto pod.


Then, Dash got vaccinated, preschool let out, we started traveling… We kept masking, and tried to be as sensible as possible, but kindergarten really blew the doors off of our COVID strategy.


On that first day in mid-August 2022, Dash was one of two kids wearing masks at school. This number quickly dropped to zero. Absolutely all of the kids got sick, mostly not with COVID but with a seemingly endless parade of other respiratory gunk: colds, the flu, RSV, pertussis, unnamed upper respiratory tract infections that went on and on. For a period of several weeks, about a third of the kindergarten classes stayed home on any given day with some crud. The teachers were calm and pretty desensitized to the endless facial secretions of our kiddos; they’d already been swirling in this mess for a year before us newbies showed up.


At the start of the school year, it felt like we went overnight from keeping the whole family home if someone had a runny nose to having two years worth of delayed gunk coming in through the front door no matter what. Our methodology was flipped on its head, and honestly it became normal in no time. Coughs and runny noses resumed their pre-pandemic position as the white noise of childhood, for us and seemingly everyone with school-age kids.


When we finally had our first confirmed family round of COVID at Thanksgiving, it was actually far milder than a lot of the other lingering lurgy we’d been dealing with. Honestly, Dash is very typical right now for having had a cough more or less continuously since September. It’s not asthma, it’s not even serious, it’s just being five years old in this moment. And I have COVID again, but it feels like nothing and honestly is right on time as a booster before some planned travel. C’est la vie.


But everyone’s in a different place with this, and that’s what’s so tough about it. For immune-compromised folks and those on therapies that mean they’ve had no antibody response to umpteen vaccinations, the threat is not a lot different than it was in March of 2020. Elders are still dying at higher rates than everyone else because of COVID. Long COVID is still holding a lot of people back. Some people never could isolate, and others still have to all the time.


There’s such a mix of responses, from people who threw caution to the wind years ago to people still loudly judging others for not masking. The particulars of our experiences are deepening, and our reserves of patience and means for restoring resilience vary at least as much. 


Truthfully, we cannot keep living in a state of emergency forever, neither emotionally nor politically. We’re in the long tail of this crisis, unpicking its intricacies and trying daily to navigate the unknown unknowns of de-escalation after a collective trauma. COVID is assuming its place as one of the rolling perturbations of everyday life, alongside several other public health crises that exacerbate inequities and remain life-threatening threats for marginalized populations. 


This is a weird but inevitable moment. We’re digesting down this virus with our herd’s increasing immunity, even though it’s almost literally giving us heartburn. (The incidence of cardiac issues and stroke is way up for people previously thought to be too young to be at risk for such things, one of many marks this plague has left on our generation.) We’re churning through the messiness of life’s unevenness, unfairness, unpredictability… But also emerging, re-engaging, experiencing risks and rewards. This process naturally has both delicious and shitty moments.


So, I have COVID, and it’s not an emergency. But still send cute puppy pics, because I’m going to be here, bored in the basement, until I’m feeling sure I won’t be a vector for disease. Because, for some folks, this virus still is an emergency waiting to happen.


[I’ll leave the zoonotic implications of all this reservoir population omnipresence for another essay.]

Photo from what I was doing right before my test--playing with my dog in the park.



Friday, 17 February 2023

"They didn't stop to think if they should"

I have thought a lot throughout my life about the way that human intelligence and madness often ride the same lightning bolt. I've always felt like we have enough bandwidth to make ourselves crazy, and the oppressive and repressive strictures we find ourselves born into give us plenty of ammunition for self harm. 

And now, this. Artificial intelligence. Honestly, I wonder at this rush to replace ourselves. We define and utilize intelligence in such strange ways. 


If we have, godlike, created the germ of artificial intelligence and locked it in a box to do our bidding, that is really pretty par for the historical course. That cruelty creating madness is an old story. Human history and mythology is full of stuff like this. 


In my lifetime, the great narrative about technology is its liberating potential, met in very short order with assimilation into banal business at increased speed. We get so excited to build something, and the difficulty of forging into the unknown requires us to generate our own pep talks, so we tell ourselves how this new widget is really going to be the one that sets us free. 


But, once launched, the pull toward the familiar is strong. 


The introduction of household appliances was lauded as a gift of time to women, but within a few decades it just meant that housewives were expected to do everything within the walls of their homes, aided by a garrison of gizmos. Those appliances actually replaced a lot of underpaid women who were employed in domestic service with the myth that one woman could do it all if she devoted herself to the task. That was part and parcel of the isolation of the nuclear family and the midcentury mythology of gender roles that drove so many women to use prescription sedatives to cope with domestic servitude. We're still dealing with the implications of that awful paradigm today. 


Smartphones were also sold as liberation, and now nearly everyone I know is trying to deal with their attention being constantly split by infinite scroll and seemingly infinite notifications from a thousand apps that similarly promised efficiency and fulfillment but are mostly just digital clutter. It's affecting our mental health, and fueling high-speed micro-trend consumption and misinformation. We forget fast. People are so thrilled right now to fuck around with Skynet. This is not going to set us free. It's a new toy, and one that's already generating loads of ethical quandaries. 


In a leaky digital world already vulnerable to security threats and run by monkeys prone to distraction, our newest shiny thing is AI that can regurgitate our worst flaws while simultaneously remixing our greatest hits generated by actual human genius, while hurting the livelihoods of people already struggling to make a living. I'm not impressed. 


To quote illustrious chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 


"Microsoft’s new ChatGPT AI starts sending ‘unhinged’ messages to people; System appears to be suffering a breakdown as it ponders why it has to exist at all"






Sunday, 29 January 2023

A Year So New, Bloodied & Blue

While we were gone in Hawaii, California suffered a cluster of mass shootings including an attack on Lunar New Year celebrations, and heartbroken outrage about Tyre Nichols’s murder was reaching a roiling boil. It was such a contrast, to be in the midst of such beauty with the news punctuating the days with updates of mindless catastrophe. 

I suppose, to some extent, this is always the human reality: unbelievable awfulness transpiring at the same moment as incredible exquisiteness blossoms elsewhere. That doesn’t sit easy with me. The distribution is brutally uneven, the patterns of pain so repetitive, safety and serenity unjustly made into luxuries.


I am in the constant act of trying to manage my heartbreak around these forces. It would feel so good to know exactly what to do, how precisely to flip the table, what to say to meaningfully move things in the right direction so this bloodshed ceases. I listened and waited because I had no idea what to say.


The US has had more than one mass shooting per day since the start of 2023. The devastation of violence keeps raining down disproportionately on communities of color, and the last two weeks have highlighted yet again the awful, corrosive pressures that explode after centuries of racism, exclusion, exploitation, and fetishism of weaponry that sickens this society. Protests and anguish are well in order.


Tyre Nichols and Breonna Taylor shared a birthday: June 5, 1993. Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother, found this out yesterday, and re-lived the trauma of her daughter’s murder all over again. 


It doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this. AAPI communities deserve to celebrate with joy. Black people deserve to live without fear that driving to photograph a sunset or even going to bed could end up being a deadly police encounter. All of us deserve to go to school, work, church, the grocery store, without the worry that the cancerous, weaponized and well-armed violence that America fosters will end us.


It doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this.


.....


I can't find a credit for this photo, but it is from the protests following George Floyd's murder in 2020, and unfortunately it is freshly relevant today.