Jun 18, 2017

My Bookshop and Ice Cream Tour of the Pacific Northwest

Lighthouse by the Pacific
Hello, friends. Once again I went silent on here for much longer than I had intended. 2017 has been eventful to say the least, in ways I didn’t always have the right words for. I didn’t stop writing over the past few months; not exactly. But as I said last time, most of what I wrote took the form of long, meandering letters to friends, as I tried to make sense of myself and the world around me in dialogue with others. Part of what I’ve always loved about blogging is that it’s essentially an extension of that process — I’m starting to feel ready to carry on doing it in a more public fashion again. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.

I’ve recently returned from what amounted to an ice cream and bookshop tour of the West Coast of the United States, all the way from Seattle to LA. This trip did a lot to restore my sense of hope, a process no doubt greatly aided by hearing the UK election results come in as I drove down California from Santa Cruz to LA. Things are still in a pretty dire state — I have no illusions about that. But just a few days ago, on the anniversary of Jo Cox’s assassination, I was thinking that this is the most political hope I’ve had all year. Nothing is inevitable. I needed to be reminded of that, both when it comes to my life and to the world at large.

Anyway, I’m hoping to tell you more about my trip in the coming weeks, particularly about all the excellent bookshops I visited (Powell’s is real, it turns out, and even better than I was led to believe). Travel posts have always been among my favourites to put together, and I thought that might be a nice way to ease myself back into regular blogging. Also, I’ve missed you all. When I was in Seattle I had the chance to met my old blogging friends Kristen, Robin and Lena; I only wish I hadn’t missed Amy and all the other West Coast friends I didn’t have the chance to get in touch with. I’ll do my very best to make sure there is a next time.

Other trip highlights include getting my first glimpse of the open Pacific during a perfectly timed but entirely accidental musical moment; Earl Grey ice cream at Bi-Rite; Land’s End in San Francisco, the highlight of a perfect sunset tour; hiking on Mount Rainer National Park; getting to see sea lions; buying a copy of Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer for a friend; finally getting to try Ethiopian food; wandering around the Castro the year I came out as a queer woman to most people in my life, surrounded by friends I feel seen by; having a picnic by the sea on my last full day; apple fritter donuts from Blue Star; all the road trip singalongs; City Lights; and of course all the books I got:

In case you can’t read the titles, they are:

  • Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin (because I couldn’t leave Portland without a Le Guin book)
  • The Girls of Peculiar by Catherine Pierce (because my friend Ronni sent me this tweet)
  • The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
  • My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet (my City Lights acquisition; the Angela Davis blurb sealed the deal)
  • The Moon Is Always Female by Marge Piercy (because of course)
  • Crush by Richard Siken
  • The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde (finally!)
  • Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors by Susan Sontag (likewise; these two have been hard to find)
  • Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
  • Everfair by Nisi Shawl (signed!)
  • Princess, Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill (also signed!)

    Everfair and Crush were presents from the lovely Lena; the Cashore trilogy was long overdue (I don’t like the UK covers, so I really wanted to get the US editions); and most of the rest came from Powell’s – I was doing so well until I got there.

    More soon, I hope! How have you all been doing?

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    Apr 3, 2017


    London on a spring day
    Hello, friends. I didn’t intend to be silent on here for over two months. It’s been an eventful year — not only in the sense of reeling from current events, much like so many of you, but also in the sense of having a lot happen in my personal life. I hesitate even as I draw this distinction, and think, as I have so often lately, of Adrienne Rich: “But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged / into our personal weather”.

    In short, there has been some space for defiant living, despite everything — I’m just sorry that I haven’t written here more. I’m still reading, even if at a slower pace. This year, so far, it was especially important to me to revisit The Dream of a Common Language (I can’t think of another book that I read three times in the space of eight months) and to read Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans, which Cass very kindly sent to me. There’s a lot more I could say about both of them, and hopefully I will.

    Although I’ve been quiet on here, the past two months haven’t been a time of silence. I’ve been writing a lot of long letters, making sense of myself and of the world around me in the context of dialogue. I was thinking recently that when I was younger, I used to feel anguished if I wasn’t writing privately — journaling, I guess, which is what I did the most at the time. I felt that I was being subsumed by the self I was with others, that I would drown without that very private space where it’s just me and my words. I still care about that space, but I really don’t feel that way anymore — don’t believe in the primacy of my private self as opposed to my relational self; have become more interested in who I am and can be in collaboration, in dialogue. This interest is personal, but it has, I find, political implications. Again, the distinction feels arbitrary.

    All this to say that this blog’s tenth anniversary, which came and went last week, feels like as good a time as any to dust off the cobwebs and jump back in. I like how writing here balances the personal and the conversational. This, by the wonderful Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, expresses why I keep doing it:
    I write in order to stay alive. I write because it’s the way that I can understand myself and express all the contradictions, hope, tragedy. It’s how I think. I’ve been writing so long. It’s how I engage with the world. It’s how I find my place in the world. It’s one way I’m able not to feel hopeless all the time. Because, I feel hopeless a lot. I’m able to write about it, which makes me feel less hopeless. And, it’s my creative expression. People I may not know choose to connect with it. I search for connection or possibility. So, in a way, I write not to give up. Also, things that mean something to me, that do not exist generally in the world, especially in media.
    My life would be very different today if a decade ago I hadn’t started doing this, alongside all of you. Thank you so much for reading.

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    Jan 22, 2017


    Pro-Choice, Pro-Feminism, Pro-Unicorns
    Yesterday I took the train to London to march in solidarity with my American friends, as well as with — to borrow the perfect wording from Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants — all those affected by the global rise of the far right. A march is of course only the first step in what is sure to be a long, hard, and often dispiriting fight; nevertheless, yesterday gave me more political hope than I’d felt since the 24th June. And that, too, is why we march — so we’re surrounded by fellow humans who remind us with their presence, with their bodies and with their voices, that we’re here to fight together, to prop each other up; that we cannot and mustn’t do this alone.

    (The sign above: it kind of sums up my life.)

    It meant a lot to me to be a part of this — to be marching in spirit with my close friends in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and upstate New York; with blogging friends all the world over; with none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sir Gandalf himself in London; with my beloved Angela Davis in DC. It mattered to me that people were gentle with each other and deliberately kind. It mattered to feel the opposite of the wariness, of the exhausting suspicion of my fellow citizens, that I felt after the Brexit vote. That feeling alone won’t rid us of the threat of fascism, but it’s a fundamental starting point. As they say, “rebellions are built on hope”.

    A few photos:

    Proud to be a girl
    This sign ensured I started crying before I event left the train station.

    Hope in the Dark

    Okay ladies now let's get in formation

    Queer power
    My heart.

    This is not normal

    Lesbian librarians for books, not crooks

    Love cats, hate Trump

    I'm scared

    I am not free while any woman is unfree - Audre Lorde

    Trump: just say Knope
    Oh my god.

    Black Lives Matter UK

    Trump: fuck off
    Simple but to the point.

    We Stand Together: Hope, Not Hate

    Trump: Nope


    Love and Hope, Not Hate

    Rebellions are built on hope

    Rainbow flag

    Love, not hate

    Princess Leia: We Are the Resistance

    Angry feminist immigrant
    It me.

    Your silence will not protect you - Audre Lorde

    Build bridges, not walls


    Immigrants: we get the job done
    You all bring me hope, too. Thank you for being here with me.

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    Jan 15, 2017

    Sunday Links: “A succession of brief, amazing movements”

    Me petting a cat
    Good morning, friends. I thought I’d open with an entirely gratuitous cat photo, because why not? (In case you’re wondering, that’s a farm cat I petted during my Hope Valley hike — she was very friendly.)

    Last time I said I’d be back soon to talk about my reading, but I’m afraid that in the past week I only made progress in the sense that I’m now in the middle of even more books. Still, I wanted to share the first lines of the year to stop me in my tracks: they’re the closing verses of Adrienne Rich’s “From a Survivor”, from Diving Into the Wreck:
    Next year it would have been 20 years
    and you are wastefully dead
    who might have made the leap
    we talked, too late, of making
    which I live now
    not as a leap
    but a succession of brief, amazing movements
    each one making possible the next
    This idea of moving forward incrementally, of being patient, of closing the gap between the life you have and the life you long for step by step, is of course not new to me. Still, reading these verses had the force of revelation. This is what good writing does: it can tell you something new, but it can also reconfigure what you already know in a way that deepens your understanding of it. I needed this the day I read “From a Survivor”, without really knowing it was what I needed. I’ll need this patience, I think, both when it comes to my own life and to the world at large — which is of course still the stuff of my life.

    I nearly forgot I had promised to show you the books I got for Christmas and my birthday. This year’s theme was, in part, “get nice editions of books I already love but don’t own”, which at least meant I wasn’t adding to my TBR pile as much:

    Earthsea: The First Four Books omnibus edition, Sorrow's Know and Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Jem and the Holograms volumes 2 and 3Unstoppable Octabia May by Sharon Flake, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich, Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe


  • As I said, I’ve been reading slowly, but at least I’m also listening to a lot of music. I don’t seem to fall for new-to-me artists quite as often as I did when I was younger, probably for no reason other than that I haven’t been making the time for it. But when I read this Julia Byrne interview last year, I knew she was someone I wanted to invest time in. Her new album, “Not Even Happiness”, has just come out; I’ve only just started listening to it, but it strikes me as something I could really grow to love:
    For so much of my adult life, in great secrecy, I’ve felt a deep concern that part of me would always feel alone, misinterpreted, or unreachable. That feeling of aloneness was more familiar and constant to me than any romance had ever been, so much that I drew strength from it. The fear we experience, when despite all we try to give in love, we still emerge feeling that we may never truly be seen — this can have a bewildering effect that causes us to act in ways that aren’t true to who we are. In this case, to remain territorial even after the relationship ran its course, to assert our positions and entitlements, to find fault, the refusal to wish someone well when they no longer meet your personal needs. The song is an expression of faith in complete, unmotivated responsiveness in love and that our own capacity to love extends so far beyond the boundaries of what we’ve been told and lead to believe.
    It matters to me too, this idea.

  • Speaking of new-to-me artists I fell for hard, here’s a new Julien Baker song.

  • Two book lists, because presumably I won’t read this slowly forever: The Best Human Rights Books of 2016 and The Stop Trump Reading List from Haymarket Books.

  • Get Ready to Fight for What Matters: on libraries and resistance.

  • Here’s Dawn Foster on Labour pandering to anti-immigration sentiment. I’m honestly too upset about this to discuss it at length — it fills me with despair in a way that the right being the right no longer can — but Foster’s piece is good:
    But the argument that politicians have no choice but to submit to vague notions of public opinion ignores one crucial fact. Public opinion isn’t formed independently, but driven by narratives from the political class and the media. Decades of anti-migrant rhetoric in parliament and the press has resulted in few voters having realistic ideas of the genuine level of migration, on both a national level and in their local community.
    Be kind to yourselves and each other this coming week. I think we’re all going to need it.
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    Jan 8, 2017

    Hope Valley

    Good morning, friends. My 2017 reading is off to a slow start, though the one book I did finish — Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck — was important to me. I normally read a lot in January, especially during the first few days when I’m still on holiday. Part of the reason why that didn’t happen this year is that I went to the Peak District with M and a friend of ours, for New Year’s day and my birthday. On the second day of the year we went on a pre-dawn hike up the mountains, so we could watch the sun rise over a place called (I promise I’m not making this up) Hope Valley. I’d been to the area before, but I loved visiting again at a different time of year, when it looks completely different. I always forget how much I enjoy being outdoors in winter — or at least the relatively mild version of it we get here — especially when it’s sunny and cold.

    As I said a few days ago, I’m under no illusion that the year ahead will be anything but challenging, but I think remembering this trip is going to sustain me. A few photos:

    The weather wasn’t as nice the following day, but walking the hills in the mist was still beautiful:

    I’ll be back soon with reading news, I hope. Also, I need to show you the books I go for Christmas and my birthday. How’s 2017 treating you so far? I hope you’re all well and taking good care of yourselves.

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