Me looking at the pond

A birthday message

Been around the sun 53 times! Is that an accomplishment? Yes absolutely. Accomplishment for my parents too, and testament to all the nurturing and caring that friends, community, and the earth have provided. If staying alive is the principal goal, I’m doing good so far. The basics are there. I am so grateful.

I’ve had a year. This time last year I was getting a biopsy for the possibility of endometrial cancer. It never occurred to me that it would be positive. Honestly. I barely contemplated that option. So when I got the call from the doctor, I had no mind rehearsals to fall back on. I went blank. Maybe I would have gone blank anyway. It’s possible. When reality suddenly shifts like that, it may be almost impossible not to blink in paralysed disbelief.

From there it was appointments, scans, blood tests, surgery, chemo, radiation. It was a big change. But it also had a quality of being completely ordinary, part of the human experience. I stayed curious throughout and there were interesting moments, lonely moments, despairing moments, delightful moments.

I’m enjoying being done with treatment. It’s a rebirth of sorts. And like any birth, it’s terrifyingly exhilarating. I am emerging from this intense period of my life with less fear and more love.

One of the first things I noticed about my rapidly changing mind after the diagnosis was that there were two voices that became louder. One was saying: “Well, we’ve had a good life, dying is ok.” And the other saying “NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” These two voices had always been there, but now they were duking it out. What would you do to stay alive? Every treatment decision was a tussle between those two voices with a large supply of statistics mixed in.

For years I’ve pondered the will to live. Where does it come from? What makes life want to stay alive? In the end I came to the conclusion that though love is not the mechanism, it is definitely the manifestation of it in our bodies. We stay alive by going towards life-giving things, that’s love. And we are all of us hopelessly in love with the world. Those two voices are both lovers. One feels the sadness of impermanence, losing the things we love. One wants to drink in every possible moment of love that can be had. They are a good pair.

Right now, 3.5 months after the last treatment, I feel strange. Not in a bad way. Deconstructed in a way that I’m not sure I want to reconstruct or at least not as solidly.

And we’re in such a strange moment anyway, aren’t we? I think that might be a shared experience? Much stability lost, and a lack of shared vision at practically any scale. A legacy of decades of individualism. It’s weird to say this as an introvert but man I gotta join some groups! Or form one! Or both!

A couple weeks ago I finished reading Naomi Klein’s Doppelgänger (highly recommend). She urges imagination, to collectively come up with something different and then just go for it, adjusting as we go. As much as our doppelgänger wants to destroy, we can want to build. Creation will always have an edge over destruction. It’s the nature of life. But we do need to pick up the pace…lots of destruction happening. I read in one of the newsletters I follow that instead of “resilient” in the face of climate change we should use the word “courageous”. The thinking is that it changes it from a defensive stance to a creative one and might help us keep our eye on the ball. Not a bad idea.

Less fear more love – my wish is for more of that. And more strangeness, and more oddballs, and more laughter. A commitment to enacting some great personas. There are some ideas percolating and I’ll write about them soon. Meanwhile, I thank the oddballs in my life for all the sparkles. I love what we create together. Let’s team up more.

With love and oddball courage,

From the last year, here are some books and concepts that made me go aah.

– Doppelgänger by Naomi Klein
– Moonbound by Robin Sloan
– Not Too Late – essays edited by Solnit, Young, and Lutunatabua
– Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
– Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
– The First Rule of Mastery by Michael Gervais
– Tuesdays with Morrie
– Markov Blankets
– Any talk by Joscha Bach
– Many many articles and podcasts about AI and experiences with AI.
– The many conversations I had with the trees.
– The many hours I spent observing the ducks, crows, chickadees, wrens, sparrows, etc etc
– The generous sky

No doubt I’m forgetting a lot but it’s a good sampling. I feel well nourished and ready for whatever.

The photo is from early April, about two weeks after the last treatment. Taken by Steve McGinty.


Thoughts on a pandemic

So much has been written. What could I possibly add? I could point to the things I have repeated over and over to myself, to others. To the similarities. To the contrasts.

The shame of pandemic nostalgia. The privilege of living through this and feeling there was ground under my feet. Being able to reflect on a silver lining. The contrasts were stark — the suffering elsewhere so immense as I sat beside a pond recording birds and appreciating the slow quiet.

Shame because I know I don’t deserve this position. I have been incredibly lucky. Responsibility too. Given this oddly shaped bubble of retreat, how do I emerge with even more resolve for the good? How do I resist the undertow of recreating the old?

How did I lose the “we”? Is this what social distancing does? We are all living through this but in many different ways. Is there a stream, a song, that might connect us all at the exit? Is it BLM? Social Justice?

But it’s not over, I hear again and again. Yet I can feel the acceleration. Now it’s both. The virus and the machine.

I desperately want us to make wise choices. I want us to emerge with a sense that if we could do this, we can do anything. We can restructure for a slower world that includes the songs of birds as treasure.

If there is a song of reinvention, is it dissonant? I realize I have lost faith in universality. And yet, a part of me resists. There is an objectivity in what nurtures, what connects, what heals. Surely, a stance of courage and love for the world is universally desirable. I need to believe this. I listened to a podcast once that asked the question “What belief do you hold that, if proven wrong, would fundamentally destabilize you?”. At the time, I couldn’t answer. Now I could.

I know the rest of this year will be both unbearably hard to watch, and arrestingly beautiful. The contrasts will continue and with them a call for expansive and acute awareness.

September 2 Detail of gathered materials

Epic Walk Diaries (September 2)

fruity prequel
   apples pears and guests

[ there is nothing like an apple right off the tree ]

    brambly webs of striped predators
 to fenced greens and rocky shores
    later for this final reckoning of riches

   to the wrong riches
  not quel
 schloss is our gain
   a veiled secret to an entrance
     [why us?]
  glad to escape the colonial 
      mud says more

monoculture park
   an invitation to trespass
 ganesh welcomes this begin
     [ remover of obstacles! ]
   sacred care
      ruby before stones

low tide
   [ can a river have low tide? ]
 grasses muddy to a martha stewart hue
    show the waves of time
      hide chasms of mud
      [ only the feet know ]
  a hinted salamander
   small like a mouse
     scurries like a squirrel

sprinkles of violet [asters]
     white (joined by pink juniors this time)
  magenta strands of invasion
    the old browns standing tall
       rosehips (the colonial kind)
   hawthorn reds
       deadly ones too

you take the low road
     [ the logs captured enslaved corpses ]
   i take the high road
        [ hugging brambles ]
  feasting on unseen blackberries
           watching the shore one
     on muddy ganesh-approved tracks

merging for the stony feast
      brambles finally give
    we have earned this resolve
[ how many before we pay later? ]

rock steps of uncertain balance
   a dance with slippery partners
     [ how would the japanese do this? ]
  grace to the finish

surer returning steps
    a fall bouquet forming
      [ you look timeless
               with this wild beauty in your hands]

  Start 1:30
  End 4:00
  False start at McCleery Golf Course,
  to the schloss at the Marine Drive Golf Club,
  given permission for early morning with a hint
  to an easier way, to the Fraser River Park full
  of hawthorns, past a NO TRESPASSING sign,
  past a Hindu shrine on the river shore,
  scramble through flattened grasses, logs, rocks,
  mud, wild flowers, brambles, to the edge of McCleery,
  and back, past the shrine now joined by sunbather,
  blocked by a sunstroked seashore-cleaning kayaker,
  and to Lola (and water).

Do I really need to look at this? Yes, you do.

After a few people asked me what I thought about the Google memo, I realized that I didn’t know. I hadn’t wanted to give it any thought at all. I decided to put my mind to the question, and maybe even to the meta question of why I hadn’t wanted to look at the question.

What I saw there was annoyance, hurt, embarrassment. Annoyance that I even had to contemplate this kind of justification for the unequal environment in the tech field. Hurt that it was worth so much air time on social media, news sites, radio, podcasts, etc. I really wanted to be in a world where issuing a memo like that would be treated like a memo saying the earth is indeed flat. Embarrassment that a part of me still believes what he’s saying.

Because yes there is a part of me that feels abnormal. I have loved math, science, computer programming from the moment they entered my awareness. I don’t want kids. I don’t want to be married. What does that make me? A kind of genetic anomaly? Early on, I decided to let the question hang and just continue. It would periodically hit me in the face like a glass ceiling. Then I would think about the weird situation I was in, pick myself up and keep going. This has been the method and, well, so far so good. I honestly thought things were getting better and maybe they are, but this person at Google decided to say, not only that women are not as well suited to engineering, but that the women that are, are somehow the abnormal ones. It was like a double blow, throwing both groups under the bus. It felt like a step backward and brought an unwelcome realization that we still need to talk about this.

I am in Vancouver and yesterday there was a planned anti-immigration and anti-muslim protest. I attended the counter-protest, what I call the gathering of hearts, which took up so much space that there was no room for the hatred. I felt it was my civic duty to show up, to have my presence added to all who value the strength and generosity of this place. When I heard Tina Fey end her brilliant sheet caking skit by saying we should ignore the white supremacists, I understood what she was saying. She wants that world where their view is so marginal that it can be just a blip in an otherwise generous and welcoming society. She wants the same world I want. Can’t we just be and make stuff? Why do I need to pause and say hatred has no place? Part of me absolutely resents it. But a much bigger part knows that the reality I want requires my unrelenting gaze at the truth. And the truth is we’re not there yet. So I show up. I think about the memo. I look at my own biases. And above all, I keep on making stuff.



After a deep freeze
I asked the ground
What does it feel like?
To be porous again
To feel the thawing water
Flow in
To be mushy and smelly
To hear things as other
Than muffled knocks

During the freeze
They say worms survive
By burrowing deep
In their own slime

I like to think about this