(Some of) What I Was Reading So Far in 2019

Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.

New books I did read though:

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!

Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.

Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.

Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.

Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.

The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.

Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.

Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.

The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.

Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.

The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.

The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.

And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.

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Notes On My Top Tube — Women’s 100 Berlin

Because I always need and desire reminders to myself of how and why I do this.

  • drink & eat every 15–20 min
  • stretch back & neck
  • change saddle & hand position
  • stand up on the regular
  • over / under-gearing
  • breathing
  • serve calm realness
  • do it for the my sistahs
  • KIA KAHA [-o-]

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Serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin

And repping my trans and non-binary sisters & femmes.

Earlier in the week, I did a 60km ride. Unintentionally. I’d planned for 40–50km, to see how I would feel in the ride and after, and whether physically I could handle a few hours on the bike and 100km, having not done a long ride since before Ramadan. More importantly, whether post-surgery recovery had progressed far enough that the duration and intensity wouldn’t throw up weirdness, either during or after. Three months, or thirteen weeks, felt long enough to get away with it, even while I still can’t really push hard or do fun stuff like headstands. But having my face peeled off has been and is all a very unknown healing process.

I’d pretty much committed in July to doing the annual Women’s 100 ride, and it would have taken some pretty gruesome post-ride post-surgery fuckery to have kept me away. My other anxiety though. That kept me occupied.

I’ve seen and lived for decades how trans and intersex women get treated in the world and in sport. Most recently like Kate Weatherly, who’s smashing it in downhill mountain biking, but took so much shit for doing so. Or gender non-conforming people, including cisgender women who get judged as ‘not feminine enough’, like Caster Semenya, who had the rules changed on her to prevent her competing. And non-binary feminine people, who are pretty much entirely absent. This is my lived reality, my truth, my selfhood — along with everything else, along with my endless love of movement.

And I’ve been in Berlin long enough to know it (and Germany) is 10 to 20 years behind on this shit. So, y’know, ‘Women’. But not all women. And not all feminine people either. Cycling is also frankly bourgie. It’s a leisure activity that hoovers up thousands of euros — and yes, cyclocross is the working class Belgian national sport, it’s still mad expensive. It has a certain aesthetic, which in turn denotes who’s going to feel comfortable and see themselves in the imagery — and in skintight lycra, whose body type, whose skin colour, whose history, all this. Who’s going to feel like they can roll up on a Saturday morning and fit right in, and who’s taking a risk.

I was at least going to roll up, carrying all that not as a burden, but as something I’m coming to understand (’cos I’m a slow cunt and it takes me decades) as an honour. The people in my life, closest to me, I would not have them without this, I would not be invited into their worlds without this, I would not see and experience the world as I do without this.

And it was pretty fucking good. Sunny late summer, a very leisurely ride through parts around Potsdam and Brandenburg I’ve never been to before, and skimming along parts I know from my Berliner Mauerweg rides, ice cream at the ferry stop, doing it all in the slow, social group, plenty of very tasty bikes, plenty of very friendly women. A couple of odd moments, but y’know cis people, they don’t have much range.

And for the slow people up the back, this isn’t a criticism of Rapha (the very expensive cycling clothing brand that organised this worldwide event), who seem to genuinely be taking cycling advocacy and outreach seriously and turned on a fun day. What I’m talking about here is simply beyond the scope of what this kind of event (or straightland generally) is familiar or has experience with, which is nonetheless vital, fundamental, critical, if the intent is meaningful enfranchisement. If the intent is to sell expensive, event-themed gear, well shit, I biked home with a Women’s 100 cycling jersey. It’s dope as fuck.

Which brings it all around to me again. Who am I in this situation? Who do I want to be? How much of myself do I want seen, and how much am I prepared to compartmentalise myself? A corollary, existing before and simultaneously with this, is, what are my obligations?

I want my trans sisters and femme siblings to feel — to know — this is something they can do, that they’re not going to be the only one in straightland, to see themselves in this. Just like I want this. And I’m already there and doing it, and have been doing it for years, and I while I might have anxiety about what potential shittery cis women are going to bring, I have absolutely no fear. I’ve been doing ridiculous physicality for decades. This is who I am. Literally embodied in the word, ‘professional’. So I have an obligation to step the fuck up and be seen, and rep this.

And when I say trans sisters and femme siblings, it’s always on my mind, not only this. I’m the secret multiple immigrant multiethnic Muslim (crappy Muslim, but) with neurofuckery, who’s also trans (whatever that means and whatever else I don’t know), who uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ knowing those pronouns only make sense to me outside a binary, cis-heteronormative space, and defo not a young bitch anymore. If I’m going to do this kind of ride, put myself into that space, and fuck it’s taken a long time to feel like it could be possible, if I’m going to be in an event that says it’s for women, I need to be very damn clear about what kind of woman I am, and what kinds of women and feminine people I expect to to see there, to not only be encouraged to be there but to be actively enabled to turn up. This shit is political, and it is entirely about representation, about intersectional feminism, and about all those lived realities, all those people who do not have an easy place in the world.

Yes, I am serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin, and my bike’s top tube notes said, “kia kaha [-o-]”.

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Giro Rosa 2019

Last of my favourite races until the cyclocross starts again. Giro Rosa, 10 days of riding in northern Italy, and Our Girls smashed it. Annamiek van Vleuten winning the GC, points, and mountains classifications as well as 2 stages; Amanda Spratt 3rd overall, Lucy Kennedy almost winning stage 3, and Mitchelton-SCOTT all-round the most enjoyable team to watch. Elsewhere Marianne Vos utterly shredding it with 4 stage wins and showing mad cyclocross skills, Kasia Niewiadoma almost on the podium at the end (and team with best-looking bikes), Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and others just showing brilliant riding. More of this, please and thanks.

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VNS Matrix / Merchants of Slime

Live on June 30th, a digital archive for Australian cyberfeminist collective, VNS Matrix / Merchants of Slime.

’90s-period CRT phosphor colours, monospace fonts, highly structured and interlinked data, emerging from over a year of conversations and work with the Merchants of Slime. Deep adoration for Web 1.0 aesthetics, sliding into contemporary possibilities for accessibility, interaction, responsiveness, and clarity.

By far the largest project I’ve undertaken, handling archival data management, utterly masses of PHP, JS, and CSS, and teasing out over months the design, aesthetic, and movement through hundreds of pages and thousands of media files – all while trying to keep it properly accessible, semantic, responsive, logical, even simple, while the phosphor burns the screen.

Heaps big thanks to Virginia Barratt and VNS Matrix for going, “Yeah, Frances is what we want.” And hectic reps to research assistant Clare Bartholomaeus for all the scanning and cataloguing.

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Slime is Live, Cunt

Phosphor burn digital archaeology slime archive for the 21st century, cunt.

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The Lost Arabs in Berlin

Omar Sakr in Berlin! Total score! In my long-standing fave (as in only) bookshop in Berlz, Saint George’s. And shoutout to Paul (the owner) who fed me a mini-donut when I rolled up in the midst of a sugar crash. Friends don’t let friends skip post-training feeds (unless it’s Ramadan, and then we’re all super-powered anyway).

And yeah, I’m reading poetry. Sci-fi has been a bit of a disappointment for a while, so I’m branching out along my infirmly followed guideline of, “Be the audience for people you care about,” wherever that takes me. If the people I care about are writing poetry, I am dead serious here for reading poetry. Omar’s Twit is heaps full of bangers, I’ve got half a dozen on order directly from his repping other writers, legit sorted for post-facial peel (cheers to Onyx for that delightful literal appellation of my near future) recovery reading.

Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2nd Attempt)

I started reading this a couple of years ago, which might have already been my second attempt. It’s been giving me disappointed looks from my ‘currently reading’ pile ever since. But, having successfully reminded myself how to read dense theory again, while spending months on Edward Said’s Orientalism earlier this year, I thought it was time to suck it up and get back into Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. The problem is, she’s so fucking brilliant, I’ll read a sentence and spend half an hour just thinking it through.

On that, then, I decided to just quote some of these bangers. Ending the Preface, on page xvi:

Gender is the last word. Figure out the double binds there, simple and forbidding.

Starting the Introduction, page 1:

Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control.

Next on page 2:

The most pernicious presupposition today is that globalization has happily happened in every aspect of our lives. Globalization can never happen to the sensory equipment of the experiencing being, except insofar as it always was implicit in its vanishing outlines. Only an aesthetic education can continue to prepare us for this […]

Quoting Hanna Arendt on page 3:

“The general future of mankind has nothing to offer individual life, whose only certain future is death.”

Page 4:

We want the public sphere gains and the private sphere constraints of the Enlightenment; yet we must also find something relating to “our own history” to counteract the fact that the Enlightenment came, to colonizer and colonized alike, through colonialism, to support a destructive “free trade,” and that top-down policy breaches of Enlightenment principles are more the rule than exception.

I spent most of breakfast on that page 1 Introduction quote, swearing at its magnificence, meme-ing Where is the lie? tru dat, and that’s the T, and realising it’s gonna take me about 2 years to read this at this pace.

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People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what…

People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it is. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped.

Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks
I was going to quote from the same novel, “Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” I haven't had words these last days. I've had too many words. Too much grief. Too much anger. Too much frustration. I'm not shocked. I'm not “How could this happen here,” or “This is not us,” or any of the others. We all know the truth of those apologies, they're not for us and we all know how this goes. And knowing that, doesn't stop me crying like I have since Friday, doesn't take away the pain. Alhamdulillah. Kia kaha.

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“Fucking banger, you little cunt!”

There was this downhill in Narrm, High St in Glen Iris, a long dogleg leading down to the train crossing where, if the traffic was right, I’d hit 70km/h. Apparently the speed limit now is 60. Kinda sketchy, as the road leading in already gave some speed, and the first right bend had a weird camber that pushed towards the gutter. The only way to ride it fast was to apex across both lanes. That’s the easy way to get fast.

I’ve been doing a particular training lately, that I enjoy in that obviously “I’m suffering here” kinda way. Every time I pass a person walking, it’s out of the saddle for 10 revolutions. If I pass another person while I’m up, another 10. A maximum of 20, but there’s a couple of sections around the airport where I might only get a few seconds sat back down before I’m up again. The randomness of it appeals to me, much more than the strict “20 seconds on, 2 minutes off, repeat” kind of thing of intervals. I have Emma Pooley to thank for this. Today I decided to add in one all out sprint per lap, about 250 metres of locked in, high cadence, heart-fucking pain. I like high cadence work, but it’s only been very recently I’ve been doing it, and in the context of high speed it’s very new to me — as much as I love fast.

’Cos I’m a slightly drama bitch about keeping details, I wrote this in my notes:

I hit 50.8km/h at 00:57:48, HR 187; HR peaks at 191 at 00:57:53, 5 seconds later and remains at this until 00:58:02, a duration of 9 seconds, 13 seconds after my speed ended its peak, and has dropped to 41km/h. I definitely felt those ten seconds, gasping for air and all. Anyway, fun times.

When I got home and saw I’d finally got over 50km/h, and no downhill assistance, I announced rather loudly, “Fucking banger, you little cunt!”