London and The Story

It’s amazing how only two suitcases can explode over a hotel room in stratigraphic layers of gadgets, papers, cords, chargers, cookies, postcards, tshirts, teacups, leg braces, books, and handkerchiefs-and-underwear washed in the sink hung out to dry. I have a fabulous view out the window of beautiful brick rooftops and the dome of the British Museum, which is lucky since I’m spending a lot of this trip to London lying in bed with my feet up on pillows!

I really enjoyed The Story. Eighteen of us told 20-minute stories one after the other, and it was never boring! It was like being inside a real-life anthology carefully edited by Matt Locke. As the day went on the bigger and somewhat inchoate Story began to emerge from the selection of individual stories told. I’m not sure what that big story is. It had the feeling of a thing that’s too new to be named, something diffuse that’s popping up rhizomatically in many different gardens, or something invisible and huge that we’re all trying to harness and ride. It felt like a story about the possible future.

I’m sure it’s unfashionable to be earnest about something so pomo. But that’s how I respond to anthologies. They’re about an unnameable shape and their pleasure for me is in trying to wrap my mind around that emerging shape.

My talk, “Fake Lesbians All the Way Down” was on last year’s blogging hoaxes (Gay Girl in Damascus and Paula Brooks/LezGetReal) and while I tried to make it a personal story about the process of doubting and then investigating particular identities, being lost in a labyrinth of identities and sources and histories, what I wanted to convey was not my personal experience or drama or a homily about Syrian activists in danger (which does trump the rest of the story). I wanted to convey an instance of what it means to read a story actively, to engage with a “difficult text”. Whatever people got out of it, the gossipy pleasure of Internet Drama and so on, I think I represented a good piece of the puzzle, one with swirly doubts, complexities and difficulty, that you can’t read without being drawn in to be part of it.

Other stories: Jeremy Deller‘s historical re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave, part of the miners’ strike in 1984; Matthew Herbert‘s experiments with sound as story (I was overcome with sudden nostalgic desire to hear the sounds of a city street in 1982); Ellie Harrison‘s playful, scarily and wonderfully OCD manifestations of enormous personal and political data sets; Tom Chatfield and Phil Stuart on the narrative tricks of their video game for children on philosophy and death; Tom Watson and Emily Bell on the story of sticking with the unfolding phone hacking scandal; and Danny‘s wrap-up story about Anarchy, the Universe, Occupy, Hackerspaces, Open Source, the Internet, and Everything — and too many other talks to go into in one blog post.


I loved how interested the audience was, how everyone was listening very hard, and talking about it all on the breaks and afterwards, with more than idle curiosity — a bit more like being at a science fiction convention where you know you are among other people who really love Whatever It Is, than like being at a tech conference where half of it is necessarily about networking and pushing your startup or getting a job. Maybe that view is because as an outsider to this scene, the networking bit was invisible to me. Still, it felt like most of the people there were story-lovers and creators who had the capacity to listen with complexity.

Also, how awesome was it that the conference schedule was printed IN CHOCOLATE?

The Story program in chocolate

The night before the conference there was a dinner for the speakers, and for me the highlight was talking with Matt Sheret not just about our own upcoming talks but also in depth about zines, anthologies, books, stories and games including role playing games and MUDs. We had something of a shared experience of the ways role playing games, especially as collaborative stories extended over months or years, pull people together socially and the depth of community & friendships they can create.

I have to add a few ill mannered words though, because it is part of my role as an imported American to stomp around, braying gracelessly. And it’s not like, when I see the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen and the most ripe for mockery, I can keep my mouth shut about it! One talk made my head explode with rage so much that I was glad it was there as a bad example, as the utterly wrong kind of story and story telling. So while I don’t want to be mean to the perfectly nice person exemplifying this, I must slam the subject of her talk. /end disclaimer

Fiona Raby gave a sort of “multimedia presentation” (and I mean that in all the ways one might itch all over at a badly “interactive” museum exhibit) of a vision of the future in 2050 of humans as “Foragers“. Without any apparent knowledge of the enormous amount of science fiction and futurist thought of actually creative and visionary people on this subject, some design consultancy in South Africa poured out buttloads of money to come up with the Art Concept of how in 2050 the Earth’s 9 billion people will need to be fed. Oh, no one has ever pushed the boundaries of thought about THAT before, for fuck’s sake! Anyway, the Foragers will be genetically engineered with handwavium to have external stomachs around their necks like inner tubes and will have prosthetic arm extensions to vacuum up and digest common weeds and the leaves of trees (in order to preserve biodiversity rather than having nothing but soy crops) whilst wearing Nikes and fashionable track suits because globally industrialized consumer capitalism is still going strong and nothing else about the world has changed other than “9 billion people” and “we still have brand name sneakers”. This, presented as radical conceptualization of the future rather than as just freaking lazy. Swoopy drawings of the foragers and then some people cosplaying foragers with long green sleeves, masks, and inner tubes around their necks in a skanky vacant lot under some pylons (with the people playing frisbee in the background hailed as more radical conceptualization of the normal human activity taking place as foragers forage, and the snapshot-level quality of the photos lauded as brilliant camera work. Interspersed with “science” bits about how (news flash!) Scientists have discovered (recently!) that there are certain plants… (peas… fancy that!) that “put Nitrate” into the soil and useful crops could be genetically engineered to splice that capability in.


THEN… as if that were not enough crime… they hired a hack writer to drivel on about the last butterfly being accidentally Foraged off an oak leaf, and then printed a few paragraphs of that drivel in 5 inch high plastic three dimensional letters (in a special font) which were artily placed on an art gallery floor so that they (radical concept!) were only readable in a linear fashion from a particular perspective. There is also a video or three and some computer animation. I could almost forgive the whole Foragers thing as a clumsy, naive, beginner’s attempt at science fiction, if not for the obviously obscene amount of money an enormous amount of useless people sucked off some governmental/NGO tit to produce this 5th-rate bullshit. I have to be harsh, because to me this is exactly the most horrifying process of producing and telling a story, as well as being a bad story.


On Sunday I went to the London Hackspace to have a tour. It was amazingly like Noisebridge in San Francisco, but somewhat quieter and with less people trooping in and out.


I loved how familiar it was, I loved the clutter and mess (which to me is richness and depth), the 3D printers, computer equipment and half-finished projects everywhere, cables hanging down from the walls and ceiling, murals of robots, enormous wood shop full of tools and scraps, and most of all the little flyers and bits of tape everywhere exhorting people to clean up, put your stuff away, put tea cups here, how to use this particular machine without cutting your hands off, organizational systems carefully created for the screwdrivers, and NO SLEEPING signs, because they are common to co-ops and collectives everywhere and their evident frustration is so touching an attempt to believe in human virtue.

screwdrivers big

Did you clean up?

With amusing naivete I had made the mistake of, while crippled and in theory “resting”, trying to keep up with Coryand Alice for an entire day. I have been in bed ever since. I really enjoyed Shoreditch House, the office with all those fascinating things and the astroturf balcony and back issues of Punch and the Whole Earth Catalog and lots of great science fiction, the hackspace, that awesome Vietnamese restaurant, both levels of Forbidden Planet, and that one store with the fancy leather coats.

Meanwhile — my beautiful view of rooftops from the hotel window led me to a small ridiculous epiphany. As I grew up reading everything including a ridiculous amount of British literature the word “chimneypots” meant something completely abstract to me. An architectureal feature of some sort that is part of a chimney or maybe just a weird old word for chimneys themselves. Of course looking out this window there are actual pottery things that look like flowerpots sitting on top of brick chimneys. Mindblowing! And they’re so lovely! I wish I could convey how smug I feel at this realization of how imaginary these objects were to me and how mundane they obviously must be to people here. Now I have a thing to the name, have read the Wikipedia entry for chimney pots (theory and history of) and have found 52 page pdf parody history of the fine old sport of Chimney Pot Spotting; I believe I’m looking at a Tadcaster Stoat and a Manly Bovington right now!

out the window

Oh! And! Two people (at least) drew cartoons of the speakers at The Story: sketch by Francois Jordan and another by Drawnalism. And… I wanted to mention that it was all a fundraiser for the Ministry of Stories which runs writing workshops for kids and has a storefront — The Monster Shop — run on the same sort of model as 826 Valencia and The Pirate Store.

Voyage to the End of the Block

Today I read Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), read a lot on Wikipedia and elsewhere about the Ainu and their history, and got about halfway through Finding Fernanda which I read about on Racialicious. It’s awesome investigative journalism, a good expose of the politics of international adoption and child trafficking.

In the morning I tried out the scooter. The battery heated up while charging to scary-hot and didn’t charge fully. I took the scooter for a spin anyway.

Voyage of Exploration to the End of the Block

At the end of the block I came back up the hill feeling very doubtful that the battery was going to behave itself. Sadly I was correct as the scooter didn’t have the power to get me up the slope of a driveway that cut across the sidewalk much less the rest of the way up hill. I texted a couple of people and then realized there was still a charge but the steepness of the hill lowered the battery gauge to 0. So I serpentined my way up. About 4 houses away (at the steepest bit of the hill) Danny came out to rescue me and started laughing. “Are you TACKING?”

So I will try a new battery tomorrow. I called 6 wheelchair and medical supply stores and they didn’t stock this kind of battery. They all special order it and it takes 3 or 4 weeks. Weeks!!! Then I called someplace called Battery Plus, which had it and for much cheaper than the wheelchair stores. I hope it works. I’m counting on it to get around! But if it doesn’t I’ll find a more powerful powerchair.

After a rest and icing my ankles I tried going down the hill in my manual chair. It wasn’t too hard with gloves on to help me brake. So, that’s fabulous! That means I can get on the #24 bus. I hopped on and was on my way to physical therapy in the Castro.

On the bus I watched a very very old lady with a quad cane and a funny hat getting on the bus using the lift and walking with extreme difficulty. Obviously a regular. There was some fuss and rearranging as the driver made some people get up for her. Another very old lady said hello to her very happily. I eavesdropped on their conversation about shopping and then the lady with the cane said, “Now that I can go out of the house again I only go as far as 18th because I’m just afraid of getting tangle up with that Occupy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with them 100% but I’m scared I’ll get caught in one of those crowds.” They agreed about liking Occupy but being scared. That was so sad….

Then it was my stop. I realized I had backed my chair into the claw thing that grabs and locks your chair down to the floor. I usually try to avoid those and just hang on tight. The lever was stuck and would not release my chair. This snowballed embarrassingly until 2 people plus the driver plus some sort of transit cop were trying to tug my chair free and not listening to my protests that they were going to pop the tire right off the rim. Finally I stood up (mostly because people’s armpits and crotches were in my face, very annoying, and i was being jostled way too much) There was a collective gasp from half the bus. SHE CAN WALK!!!!! The driver turned around and went “Girl, what are you doing standing up! Sit back down!” “Look… that’s what the boots are for, standing up!” The chair was freed, I thanked them all and then got out of there as fast as possible feeling angry and embarrassed.

Then it was very lovely to be in the parklet in the sun at Market and Castro. I had a cookie and wrote in my notebook and looked at people. I wonder if people still say “basket days” about days like this when it’s amazingly warm and everyone’s in tight shorts? NOT EVERYONE THOUGH since there was a completely naked dude wandering around all leathery and hippietastic, holding a sort of wizard staff walking stick. Okay then!

Physical therapy was reassuringly fine and was half massage, my favorite kind, not like the boot camp kind of PT. I took a taxi home. End of story! At least I mentioned books a little in the beginning of the post.

Here is how I watch livestreams and twitter events as they are happening, btw:

big monitor setup

And in other news, this article ticked me off because of the framing: Activists and Anarchists Speak For Themselves at Occupy Oakland. The title says it. It is activists and anarchists speaking for themselves. Yet claiming to be speaking for “voiceless” people in an “empty” city and a battlezone, a riot, a war zone. I am deeply suspicious of framing events and places and histories in this way. It in fact goes with occupying to describe a place as empty and its (non)inhabitants as voiceless (a clear Denial of Agency attack) and thus making that place suitable for a battleground. This audio clip from an activist named Soul is more like it. Work with the people doing effective work rather than writing stuff about how great it is to have a battle with riot cops.

Ankle-bustin' in the wild west

A little bit more about ankles before I move on and talk about all the books I’ve been reading!

After a couple of weird and frustrating visits with a new doctor I switched doctors again and hit the jackpot, with a kind, earnest, detective-like internal medicine dude who sent me off to the UCSF Orthopedic and Rheumatology clinics and then saw me afterwards to mull things over. The upshot of that is I have tendinitis in both Achilles tendons, some messed up other ankle tendons plus bursitis on both sides. My theory (and everyone seems to agree) is that I got too enthusiastic about walking and stair climbing and was treating pain as something to make me pause slightly and then “push through” so as not to be lazy or malingering. Tendons don’t play that way… They would like three to five months of ridiculous attention in order to recover. This is depressing though it is nice to hear the word “recover”. It means I can’t really go home to my boat. I am homesick and sad. I miss driving. It is daunting to get around in my wheelchair while in this much pain (and with giant boots on). I am on leave from work and I don’t have energy to do anything much.

night boots

I now have some clever heel wedge things that peel off in layers, big old space boot thingies to walk in, some lighter and comfier night braces for being in bed, lovely velcro ice packs that go around my ankles, and NSAID topical gel (voltaren) since I can’t tolerate regular NSAIDs. I was begging for prednisone but it looks like prednisone is exactly wrong and makes your Achilles tendons rupture. I do have some emergency Vicodin and now this Cymbalta stuff which seems promising but which is putting me through side effects… dizziness, nausea, jaw-clenching, and all that (but it did help me immediately not to feel so upset).

velcro ice pack wraps

In Phase One of my conquest of space, we calm everything down, singing gentle lullabies to my ankles, avoid walking (while magically somehow achieving aerobic exercise) and wear these boot things with the wedges in them. I sit around distracting myself from pain and side-effects. Three or four times a day, I Voltaren up my ankles, do some PT exercises, wear the ice packs, and then it’s back into the boots. Through the magic of Amazon I got a shower bench (there is no bathtub.) At first I had a kitchen chair in there and then faced up to the reality that I needed a real bench with good stability and rubber feet and all the works. (Plus we only have 2 kitchen chairs and there are 2-4 of us in the apartment.) I get up and make my coffee or Danny makes it for me. Then I switch between reading books, reading stuff on the net, and doing my exercises and ice. At around 3pm, if it’s sunny out, the sun hits the sidewalk in front of the house, so I go outside to sit in a lawn chair (classily, on the sidewalk in my pajamas).

I went scouting to the local indoor pool and had a nice swim at the Disabled Water Exercise hour with a lot of fabulous women in bathing caps and some very friendly lifeguards who DJed for us and took requests. I used a lift to get in and out of the pool for the first time in my life. A confession here. I am not really able enough to push myself around in the manual chair to get there and back on 2 buses. The ramp up to the pool building just about does me in as my right hand and arm don’t cooperate and hurt a lot. But I can just barely do it. As of today (thanks to my fabulous boss at BlogHer and his wife’s late dad’s scooter which has been in the garage for a year) I have a little Zipr 3 travel scooter with a 12 Ah 24 V battery so I am hoping that will hold enough charge to get me to the pool (on the bus) and back. (I think I have to buy it new batteries tomorrow.) Otherwise it is around $30 in taxis plus $7 to get into the pool. I would prefer the bus at least one way since it’s cheaper and more fun. The pool was cold… I haven’t gone again yet because it’s been cold and rainy. I went to a day spa instead and saunaed myself for 3 hours.

I should also mention I started this trip with one ankle bandage brace that was moldering under the bathroom sink. Then got a second one. I felt that maybe people would see my ankle brace usage as some sort of Hysteria. Then I realized that part of why it hurt when I tried to leave the house was because my shoes touching my ankles hurt like fury. Then I got out the giant space boot that I used last July when my left ankle went all strange. The space boot was AWESOME. Then I mail-ordered a second boot from Amazon ($50, when the first one from the orthotics clinic cost me like $200…) The boots were slightly different from each other. So by the time I showed up at the orthopedist I had these embarrassingly unprescribed boots on. (No one minded or threw me out of the clinic for self-medicating myself with space boots.) I got the awesome Night Boots from their orthotics people, and the heel wedges to put in them. Over the last couple of weeks I realized I could do with a smaller size of matching walking boots. So I ordered them and a 2nd set of heel wedges so that I don’t have to switch the wedges from night to walking boots every time I switch which is like 10 times a day. Amazon Prime is very, very, useful if you are disabled, as is cold hard cash to buy things off it with.

walking boots

In Phase Two about a month from now assuming my tendons have achieved a calm and stable orbit and the rest of me has not completely atrophied, I will progress to Strengthening which sounds difficult and scary. I resolve to swim Every Day Possible until I am amazingly healthy. I will pretend to be a polar bear. Physical therapy will happen three times a week instead of once. I will do amazing things with Thera-bands.

I think there is a Phase Three where I reach Mars but I’ve forgotten what happens then.

ankle rehab junk

The pain has gone from being intolerable and maddening, to being just all-over stabby and achy ankle pain, to several separate kinds of pain behaving differently in different bits of my ankle depending on what I’m doing. I assume that means it is getting better!!! The sciatica-nerve pain I live with a lot of the time anyway. It’s very familiar. Also, numb/buzzing in both feet (and hands) aka peripheral neuropathy. The sharp splintery scary pain like million icicles is the Achilles tendons. The dull horrible pain at the base of my heels is the bursitis which makes it hurt to stand up at all (boots or no boots). The wobbly wrongnesses on either side of my right ankle are the posterial tibial tendons and, um, some other ones on the outside. That is the bit that makes me afraid to stand up in the shower. It’s important to get to know what’s going on with pain and what it means. If you’ve been in a lot of pain it’s still a surprise when it comes back or when you find out there are whole new kinds of pain and places to hurt. But once I can break it down into different things, I feel a little more in control of things (even if I’m not). It is getting to name it and knowing what it is, partly.

While it is scary and annoying and depressing to be dealing with this I have to say it is as good as it could be. I have tons of support, I have short term state disability while I’m not working, a warm and cozy place to live, and my partner and our kids are just great. I don’t feel like the most stellar parent (as usual while in lots of pain) but we get by. My parents also helped me out so that I can do things like do my errands with TaskRabbit, take taxis around instead of going through paratransit (though I am going to sign up for it anyway) and order books and space boots and Thera-bands galore off Amazon. I have a zillion beautiful friends who talk with me on IM and IRC throughout the day and night, recommend books for me, and say “there there” in comments when I complain and cry all over my not-very-secret-secret diaries. So I’m very grateful for all that and am also glad I have decent medical care and advice. I look forward hugely to scootering once I get a new battery for this little scooter beast.

I miss my boat, being on the boat with my son, seeing him during the week and helping with his homework, all our boat neighbors, the birds outside my window, the water and light in the harbor, the tide, kayaking, my bike, walking casually into stores and looking at things, grocery shopping at Chavez Market in Deadwood City, the nice people at the wash and fold laundrette next to Chavez, watching my son’s rehearsals at his hip hop dance studio and all the people there, picking him up from school, the library, driving alone with loud music on, randomly deciding to drive down interesting looking streets or going a new place on the map just to see what’s there, all my stuff and books and clothes, housecleaning (weird, i know…), bustling around a lot, doing Projects, my cooking stuff especially my toaster oven, and being able to drive people places and do them favors.

I have been to Noisebridge twice this month (and printed things on the 3D printer, finally!), went to lunch and the fabulous day spa with yarnivore and yatima, and another time with queershoulder; to physical therapy; and to half a day of She’s Geeky where I ran a discussion that was basically “What Would Black Hat Feminist Hackers Do?”. I also went to a cafe with my sister and to another cafe with my friend hazelbroom. That isn’t too bad for outings. I go kind of stir crazy in here staring out the window and at my screen and feel that life sucks if i have to be in bed for days and days and days. So any time I get to go out (even to the doctor) the world looks especially shiny and I love everyone and I come back all charged up with extrovert energy.

I’m about to go to London by the way because, fuck, free trip to London, I am dying to go to (and speak at) this conference, and I’ll be damned if my ankles not working is going to stop me. (See below for photo with airport gate tags hanging off my wheelchair.) I will have to spend a lot of time in bed in the hotel, but it’s a nice hotel, it’s accessible, there is room service and internet, and it’s near a lot of cafes and bookstores and the British Museum and the Central London YMCA, which I will pay 50 pounds to join for a week so I can swim. The bad part will be the plane ride but I have pain meds for that and will also bring my ice packs. I think the flight attendants might refreeze them for me if I ask nicely.

The sauna place deserves particular mention in being a bright spot in my month. It is fairly accessible, with a lift to get up a couple of entrance steps (they leave the key in it!) and no stairs anywhere else. In the entry hall, there is an accessible bathroom. There’s a smaller toilet once you’re in the locker rooms which would not be accessible to most wheelchairs (though I managed). I did okay with my manual chair in the bath house area which is a big open room with benches and showers (seated showers), wet sauna and dry sauna rooms, and a cold and a hot pool which are on a raised area i.e. not as accessible. I got into the hot pool by hitching myself up the side of it, hanging onto a pillar, and then sliding in like a seal. If you need help transferring then there is probably no way. There is tea and ice water and lemons and little cups of salt to scrub yourself with, which if you are foolish like me you think is an unusually un-hippie-ish nice touch of providing sugar to make lemonade with. No! it is not sugar. Perish the thought. Do not attempt to sugar your herb tea (like I did!). The other funny thing about this spa is that it is hipstertastically solemn and full of fake Zen. So there are buddha statues and lotus flower things all over and there is a gong you can bang on if people are having a good gossip or giggling in a way that perturbs your Meditative experience. I wish they had Loud Hour because I would far prefer, when naked in a sauna scrubbing myself with a slice of lemon and some salt, to be surrounded by gossiping laughing women rather than solemn culturally-appropriating church ladies with a lot of tattoos. While reclining in an Adirondack chair panting from the hot tub and sipping my iced lemon-cucumber water I was idly looking around and saw in the locker room window a strange paper cutout decoration that … that looked exactly like Jokey Smurf holding a present. Then the universe shifted and I realized it was the lotus flower logo of the day spa. I started laughing as I shifted the lotus flower to Jokey Smurf and back again and imagined the sort of sauna that would have an exploding terrorist smurf as its logo. I couldn’t TELL my friend my thought since we would be GONGED so I hitched myself into my chair, went back to the locker room, got my notebook, and settled back down in the lounging chair to write down all my silly observations for posterity.