Aug 14, 2017

San Francisco

Pride flag
I didn’t mean for over a month to go by before I carried on telling you about my trip. I came back from the West Coast full of joy and energy and hope, and then proceeded to have a very busy month. There was more travelling (home to see my family, and then to Paris for a long weekend, which I’d love to eventually post about), plus the start of summer reading at my library, plus some overtime and shift swaps resulting in ten-day long work marathons. When I finally got the chance to stop for a deep breath, I found that I was anxious and despondent again — that the world seemed scarier than ever, that I didn’t necessarily have any more answers than I did before, that many of the things that have always brought me joy seemed pointless and hollow.

But then I came back to my favourite lines from Adrienne Rich’s “From a Survivor”, which remain among the most powerful I have read this year: “…which I live now / not as a leap / but a succession of brief, amazing movements / each one making possible the next”. These few lines alone have done so much to sustain me. They get at something I need reminding of; that I need to come back to from time to time. I don’t need a once and for all solution regarding how to be alive in this world, how to be okay, how to make things better or at the very least not worst. I just need to get through the morning, the afternoon, the day, always doing my best to live by my values. Change is always incremental, and all those brief movements of surviving will add up to a lifetime.

This isn’t much of an answer, but it’s made me feel more grounded. And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the process of unfucking my life will have to involve coming back here, to this place of communion with writing, to the self-discovery and expression and community that putting my words out into the world has allowed me to enjoy for the past decade. I need to write regularly again; I feel out of kilter otherwise. The good news is that I’ve been reading, which strikes me as step one even if I never go back to reviewing in the way I used to: I’m currently in the middle of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, I finally read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and I finished No is Not Enough the other day. Even just telling you this makes me feel a little more like myself.

This brings me to San Francisco in a very roundabout sort of way: whatever my strategy will be, I know it will also involve dwelling on joy. The few days I spent in the city were full of joy and community, and I’m so glad I got to have this experience this year of all years:
Read More

Read More......

Jul 2, 2017

Powell’s (and Oregon)

I finally made it to Powell’s, and the city of books lived up to its description: it’s without a doubt the best bookshop I’ve ever been to. I think very fondly of my visits to, say, the Strand or Barter Books, but nowhere is quite like Powell’s. At most bookshops I’m excited if I find one or two books by my go-to authors, but Powell’s had pretty much everything. There was a whole shelf worth of Angela Davis, and the Ursula Le Guin section in SFF was three shelves long. Most bookshops have their strong areas; at Powell’s every single section I was interested in — children’s books, comics, poetry, queer literature, feminism, you name it — was amazingly well stocked. Also, as pretty much everyone who visits Powell’s tends to say, I loved that new and used books were kept together, and that I had a choice of prices and editions for whatever I was looking for.

I spent three hours there and didn’t see half of it. Let me give you a glimpse of my visit:

Read More

Read More......

Jun 25, 2017

Seattle in Libraries and Bookshops

Seattle was the first stop of my West Coast trip, and the place where I stayed the longest. I was very lucky: in a notoriously rainy city, I got blue cloudless skies for all but one day, and also the warmest Memorial Day Weekend in over forty years. I got to see and do a lot: I hiked on Mount Rainer, had amazing food, wandered around Capitol Hill and took photos of the many protest posters and stickers, visit Ballard and Freemont, climbed many hills with stunning views of the city, walked along the waterfront, spent time with people I love — and of course, visited many libraries and bookshops.

You might be unsurprised to hear that my very first stop was the Seattle Central Library. I knew it was housed in an amazing building, and it didn’t disappoint in person:

Read More

Read More......

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?

  • Read More......

    Apr 3, 2017

    Ten

    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.

    Read More......