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A Pile of Books I Read in Early-2022

I’ve been feeling enthusiastic again about writing about books I’m reading. It became a chore rather than something I did for pleasure and fun a few years ago. But it feels like it’s a special time for the kind of writers I care about: trans and queer, Indigenous, Black, Brown, migrant … I want to say us who are not white and straight, but defining via a negative is apparently not how we do it even if it’s felt for a while like ‘straight, white, cis’ is a genre and a small one at that. Like how there’s serious literature and then manky sci-fi and all the weirdos doing unserious, b-grade, cult, trash ‘genre’.

And I’ve been feeling more enthusiastic about reading. I was stuck for a while, reading but not feeling the thrill of it, not getting lost with an author and their words. Part of that has been pandemic-attenuated focus; a long, dragging-on burnout (chronic fatigue, fuck knows what), and just heaps of stress, anxiety, the sads caused by way too much bullshit. Bullshit as in what gets called discrimination, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hate, and full-blown settler colonialism white supremacy which is very comfortable with doing genocide on us while white neoliberal centrists ‘both sides’ the fuck out of it all.

One of the reasons I stopped writing about reading was that I got too tied up in wanting to say everything and be intelligible, coherent, and all, like a good reviewer. I’m not that. I’m quite a bit of a bogan who uses fuck like nice people use commas. I’m looking at all these books and trying to remember them; it’s been a whole season since I read some.

Some I straight up didn’t like, or I did right up till they disappointed me. Cis women and queers (and some trans women) seem to love some 2nd Wave feminists and are all fingers in their ears when the copious evidence of their faves being TERFs and SWERFs is pointed out. So I was loving Kamilah Aisha Moon’s She Has a Name right up till she gave a whole page to Adrienne Rich. I don’t think it’s too much to say I can’t move beyond that knowing those same 2nd Wavers are still alive and as committed as ever to erasing trans people — especially and with particular violence trans girls, women, and femmes — from existence.

Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Coming of Age in the War on Terror reminded me of sitting in my flat in Charnwood Rd, East St. Kilda, having stayed up late for some reason, maybe to come down from doing an evening call centre shift and watching those planes missile into the World Trade Centre towers. And dreading knowing it was going to be Muslims who were blamed, and that gut-churn when the American news reporters started saying that so quickly. It felt like barely seven minutes had passed and no way they could have really known either way, but once that word had been uttered for the first time, with Bush as fraudulent President, with the last decade of Al-Qaeda, it was so clear what was coming. And I was a few years off then from finding out I myself was the child of a Muslim and grandchild of a Hijabi. Twenty War on Terror years later and it’s global open season on Muslim genocide, the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan doing the same genocide on any Muslims not the right type. I just have this profound sadness.

Also in so-called Australia: Claire G. Coleman’s Lies, Damned Lies: A personal exploration of the impact of colonisation. I will always read her. That’s all. Except to say, if you’re a white person living on colonised Indigenous land, and you haven’t read her, it’s your job to. And everyone else should too.

Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice is specifically about trans people in Britain, and me spending way too much of decades of my life on this stuff, I think I’m not the intended reader. That audience would be you cis people who seriously need to educate yourselves. My main criticism is it struggles when talking about trans women who aren’t white. I often wonder about how whiteness recreates hierarchies of representation, visibility, inclusion and exclusion in trans women’s and femmes’ writing (and culture, community, and all). I see a lot of writing, fiction and non-fiction, and white trans women are the majority. I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I’m aware I’m white and …” as though that’s enough of a response in the structural, systemic, institutional racism in publishing — especially when writing about transphobia. And yes, trans women are an incredibly small segment of writers, and often just doing whatever to survive. So I read this with a constant internal reminder that yes, some of this is about me, but there’s a lot that’s missing.

Completely opposite, Akwake Emezi’s Pet. I’m saving for a separate post. They can write about trans femmes and women and girls any fucking time they want. I love them and they could eat my heart and take my soul and I’d be like, “Scary but worth it.”

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Tempelhofer Feld, March 16 2022

Another afternoon wandering Tempelhofer Feld with my camera. After yesterday’s messing around, I did some reading the fucking manual to remind myself how to use an expensive camera and lens. And I learned the 16-80mm F4 lens can also do passable macro at the zoomed end. Which obviously I like, especially if I ever go back to a museum and shoot art.

First stop, the skate park, for some boyz and lads doing ollies and kickflips. And took probably the photo of the day: someone doing a 360. Bit of a walk, bit of a sitdown to work out what buttons I’d pushed and why camera was being weird (accidentally nudged the dial to HDR), shot some cyclists in full aero TT mode. More walking and almost stomped on spring flowers being highly ostentatious, which is where I tested out exactly how macro can I go? Actually very, and the detail is mad.

More walking and got told to smile by some gormless wanker. Joke’s on you, dickhead, I already was.

More walking and these Skylarks were getting well rowdy. And fully not afraid of people, so I just stood there while one came right up scratching for a feed. Photo wasn’t so good though, but once again, yay zoom. And then took a photo of the almost full moon, which I looked at when I got home, and insane detail zooming in in the raw image, the mare are clearly visible, as are the bright craters and rays of Tycho, Copernicus, Kepler, and even Aristarchus. That’s hand-held auto-focus, in daylight with a heap of haze and high cloud, and the moon about 25° above the horizon.

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Tempelhofer Feld, March 15 2022

Getting my arse back to Tempelhofer Feld for an arvo stroll. Haven’t been there since mid-December apparently. This time with my still-new FujiFilm X-T4 camera, despite the absence of sun and blue sky. Training my fingers and brain for where everything is amidst all the dials and buttons, and learning what kind of photos it takes.

Besides changing the auto-focus, I’m still shooting very default at the moment. Having a proper zoom lens is by far the one thing I’ve been missing, as well as the combo of substantial slabs of glass and sensor allowing me to shoot zoomed in with low light and still get sharp images at an acceptable exposure time. Actually playing around with ISO, aperture, exposure, and all, as in actually using an expensive camera properly, is somewhere in the future.

As for the photos, all but the last are the jpg versions of the raw photos the camera creates. I find them a little over-exposed (not so much the dim ones here) and flat compared to the raw originals, but I can’t be arsed spending time making them pretty. Except the last one, which I needed to rotate a little and the jpg really looked average. I also need to learn Affinity Photo, which I started using when I ditched Photoshop. The photo is far from great, but it is movement and one of the reasons I bought this camera was to shoot movement – dance, cycling, sport, motorsport, people moving.

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Württembergishe Str.

Ten-year plan comes to fail.

Dasniya and I have had, separately and together, a plan for years to go to the Thaipark street food market. For which, we made firm plans to go on Sunday. Good to know we checked it was open on Sunday. Might have helped if we checked what months it was open. April to October for youse who want to turn up and eat. A couple of hours later, we ate pizza at Mastro Pizza, over the other side of Schöneberg as we lazily lost our way walking east back to Kreuzberg.

I bought my camera ’cos I am still learning it and now it’s sunny I have no excuse.

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MacBook Pro!

😱😭😍

Currently writing this on old MacBook Pro which has done 8 hard years under my fingers, and had the entire top case, keyboard, and battery replaced. And is running a tiny bash script which keeps the CPUs ticking over at a minimum of 5% so they don’t decide they’re asleep and randomly shut down.

New MacBook Pro is currently updating itself.

New MacBook Pro is a 16” M1 Pro with 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD. Which is kinda insane.

I took a few weeks last year to make a decision. More RAM? M1 Max? Bigger SSD? What combo of what? And most importantly, what colour? Which was Taner’s call. “You sure you want Space Grey?” Turns out I wasn’t. Silver it is.

I picked it up from Katrin and Taner a week ago, left it unboxed until yesterday when I had some calm, and now doing the massive migration.

Things I really like: Return of MagSafe! Which is Apple’s best invention. Braided power adaptor cable with plugs at both ends! I love braided cables (not sure how dirty it will get though), and hopefully it solves one of Apple’s biggest downers — the frayed cable at the MagSafe or adaptor ends — with a replaceable cable instead of trashing the whole thing. Return of the original TiBook blocky style. Tasty.

Obvious things I really like: Fuck me that’s a big, bright screen. Very different keyboard not requiring me to retrain my finger habits. Massive trackpad (requiring … finger habits). Touch ID. Which I don’t use for critical things like logging in but there’s plenty of other situations where it’s useful as fuck.

Things I have no idea about yet: How fast is it, actually? I went for 32GB of RAM over M1 Max because my current laptop was almost top of the line back in late-2013, and 16GB of RAM has held up well (even with terribly coded ‘modern’ websites and browsers). The 500GB SSD always felt kinda tight when my previous, 2008 MacBook Pro had a 1TB spinny drive. Battery life is supposed to be ‘up to 21 hours’, but realistically getting a day’s work out of it without a recharge, or an evening’s series binge, would be awesome.

And the big thing: How many years is it good for? 8 years on my current one and the main reason I bought a new one was I needed to get rid of some money. High on the list of other reasons were: it’s feeling old and a little creaky and slow, and it might decide to actually die at any time — or keep running for years. Dasniya has my 2008 laptop which still does occasional work and it’s still running slow but ok. Also high on the list was ditching of the Touch Bar, return of MagSafe, and arrival of M1. But I’ve spent on average 4–500€ a year across 4 laptops since 2002, and while they last a lot longer now, they’re also a lot more expensive. So, is 8 years realistic? Especially on the whole M1 hardware.

Somehow I’d like to not have to buy a new laptop again. I have no idea what my life might look like where I’m doing the work I enjoy and have no need for a laptop though. Being a poor who has very carefully balanced a shite household budget for decades means while I might be able to afford to pay for this, I never know if I’ll be able to afford having it. And yes, for anyone who thinks buying this does not equal poor: it’s a very large work expense, it’s one of a number of large expenses I had to choose between — including those trans expenses which I don’t know if I’ll ever fully cross off — and for most of the last decade I’ve been wearing the same clothes and cheap underwear. It’s beautiful and a little intimidating, and I’d love to enjoy it fully without worrying about how near-future me might be in a situation where I can’t afford the basics again.

Yah, so, obligatory unboxing photos, which are not especially aesthetic but I took as I was seeing it for the first time.

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A Pile of Books I Read in 2021

Some I didn’t finish, some I didn’t start, some I’m reading by proximity until I get on to turning pages, some keep getting started and left when something I want to read immediately comes along, some just take me forever to finish.

Semi-alphabetically and fiction first (and I’m very out of practice with writing about what I’m reading):

Ben Aaronovitch is the not-TERF white dude writing actually good magical fantasy set in London. Yah, the main character is a cop and my current rule is “don’t engage with new stories if they humanise the piggos,” but I’ve been reading the series since 2017 when Gala slipped me one. What Abigail Did Last Summer is more Young Adult or whatever it gets called but my reading level is, “This. This I can read.’ I have the upcoming one on order, and that’s how I am with Ben.

More sci-fi with Charlie Jane Anders, and Victories Greater the Death is her best ever? I think so. Not enjoying waiting for the sequel though. Am enjoying the thought of it turned into a live-action series (movie?) with Wakanda’s own Michael B. Jordan.

I have been thinking about how many white trans femme or trans women authors and writers are about at the moment, how much media attention they’re getting (good attention, especially in traditional media; not talking TERF attention here), and how on Twitter (’cos that’s where the writers congregate) there’s a heap of interaction and interlinking between white trans women. And I’m wondering where all the Indigenous, Black, Blak, Brown trans femme and trans women authors and writers are and why the ones I do know, Claire G. Coleman for example, don’t seem to be interacting or being spoken about in the same sentence much. I mean I think I know why, eh.

Akwaeke Emezi and Zeyn Joukhadar (both trans but not trans femme or trans woman) I somehow place in the same space as Claire. All three have had media attention, but I’m trying to be specific on the dissonance I notice. I see white trans femmes being grouped together, and interacting on Twit and other online media — and likely the algorithms amplifying this, and feel like all the others are somehow isolated or separate. Which is one part of it. The other part is these three write about and live in spirit worlds. I feel that’s very familiar to me, and part of why they appear to me solid, multi-dimensional, in full colour. Part of why I’m drawn to them — even when it’s scary, ’cos just reading of spirit worlds draws attention to me, wakes the spirit worlds I know.

I read Charlie Jane Anders because she’s writing sci-fi and I’ve read her for years since the early days of io9. There were a number of other very high-profile novels published by white trans femmes and trans women last year, which I have no desire to read. I don’t care for the stories being told (and in one case think the story is well dodgy), and don’t feel much affinity at all with the authors. And I’m actually concerned (though not surprised) that whiteness is playing a substantial factor in trans femmes and trans women having any kind of success as writers and authors.

That’s a whole fucking convo there, so I’ll move on.

Becky Chambers I have a relationship to I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m a huge fan, but there’s something about her novels I really enjoy reading. I don’t think too hard beyond that and I keep buying them.

Genevieve Cogman though. I did get a kick out of her Invisible Library series, but The Dark Archive is where I’m stepping off. It was the ending, where the previous Big Bad turned out to be a diminutive bad who might actually be on the good side (I dunno, it was months ago now), and the true(?) Big Bad was revealed. Bait and switch is not a narrative device I enjoy unless there’s a huge amount of prior work to make me care, and six novels in feels way too late for such a plot twist.

Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase wrapped up that massive universe (for the moment). He’s one of the two or three white cis dudes writing sci-fi I’ll read. It’s mainly because his space opera is so fucking epic. This one has a heap of his delicious weirdness he let loose in the Revenger trilogy, and being Reynolds, of course any celebration is swept away by the whole galaxy getting shafted a few hundred years after the end of this story.

Zeyn Joukhadar. If I was in my old days where I’d write a post per book and spew out hundreds of words, Zeyn would get extra. The Thirty Days of Night and The Map of Salt and Stars are my favourites of the year — and would be Books of the Year if I still did that — for personal reasons as well as he simply writes beautiful stories. And he’s queer and trans and Muslim and Arab, so duh highly unlikely I wouldn’t rate him.

Sliding from fiction to non-fiction, Massoud Hayoun’s When We Were Arabs covers some of the same ground as Zeyn Joukhadar, and reminded me of my father’s family, as well as a couple of moments which caused me to look very side eye at them and what ‘Turkish’ really means. Which is another stitch in the long, slow unravelling of family from that single sentence uttered over a decade ago, “That’s why your grandmother couldn’t stay, because the kitchen was not halal.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done comes from near the land I was born on and is probably the single most important book I read last year or last several years. Unlike a lot of the heavy politics I read, in books, in articles, on social networks, Simpson also describes ways out of the shithole mess colonialism and white supremacy have caused. I raved to everyone (pandemic everyone, that’s about 5 people) about this book more than once. That kind of book.

Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus, slightly further east from the other Simpson, I’m still reading. It’s one that got — haw haw — interrupted by other books. It’s one that I need to have the right attention for. Reading this together with the other Simpson is good, strong words.

Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages is another I’ve raved to everyone about. And I was reading it in 2020, slow reader, me. I’m including it here again because … because it’s probably my non-fiction Book of the Year, over As We Have Always Done, which is a tough call. Settlers and Europeans need to know the history which led to colonialism, white supremacy, invasion, genocide, ongoing occupation of stolen land (as well as cisgender heteronormative supremacy as both a tool of those above systems and actions, and conversely a separate system and action which used those above as tools, a kind of reciprocal system of shit, but that’s not so much a topic for this book). They need to know the long, deep roots of these systems which go back most of the last two thousand years — not as ‘proto-racism’ or ‘not really racism, more like xenophobia’ or whatever, but as actual, recognisable, functioning racism. Racism at encompassing and conscious institutional, political, religious, community levels, and at individual levels. Knowing better how this emerged and evolved in the European Middle Ages makes it possible to understand more clearly Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial, and 20th / 21st century colonialism and racism. And that in turn makes it possible for non-Indigenous people to read Simpson and understand deeply what she’s saying and what’s required.

A bit of astronomy and space science now. And racism. Shit’s inescapable like that.

Ray and Cilla Norris’ Emu Dreaming: An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy is really an intro, more of a pamphlet I was reading to educate myself on Indigenous astronomy which turns up a lot in my novels. And you’d be surprised at how much has been written on the subject. And by ‘surprised’ I mean not at all, and by ‘much’ I mean really fuck all, and the stuff that has is either paywalled academic papers or insanely expensive academic books.

Ronald Greeley’s Introduction to Planetary Geomorphology turned out also to be very Intro and missing all the fun of the 2015 New Horizons Pluto flyby. I love me all things space science though, so I keep buying these books.

Chanda Prescod Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, is the one speaking about racism. Growing up Black and Jewish in East LA, going to Harvard, being queer and agender, these oppressions and marginalisations are inextricable. In my early-teens, I wanted to be an astronomer. Being a young, queer multiethnic trans femme back then — and so many of those words, their meanings, and how they were lived were not available back then — meant I failed out and dropped out of school way before that desire had a chance to bloom. Still love the stars though; still sad fuckall has changed in all the decades since.

What else?

I’m grouping these together: Tiffany M. Florvil’s Mobilizing Black Germany, Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire, Johny Pitts’s Afropean, Asim Qureshi’s (ed.) I Refuse To Condemn. I haven’t finished any of these and at least one I’m unlikely to finish. They’re all important books. I really want to be enthusiastic about reading them. I’m just struggling with reading heavy shit (and there’s no way this stuff is not heavy) after two years of a fucking appallingly politicised and mismanaged pandemic response.

I’d almost put Adonia Lugo’s Bicycle / Race in with those. Maybe because I’ve been involved with racism and transphobia in professional / competitive cycling, as well a being very opinionated about bikes, walking, and public transport as the primary method of getting around in cities, and the need to massively reduce if not outright ban private cars and vehicles (yeah, I’m a devout hoon who loves the smell of hot engines and the sound of a redlining engine and I said that), I read this with hope and a bit of joy. I would absolutely do lazy laps of a city with Adonia.

And then there’s a few others I’m not going to mention, but the covers are below. All kinds of feelings and thoughts about all of them. This is already 2000 words and I needed to stop long before now.

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Volkspark Rehburg Plötzensee

I planned to bike along Saatwinklerdamm like I used to do before cyclocross fun in Flughafen Wald. But, realistically, two days after getting booster vacced, 16km of riding and 2 hours of walking felt a little ambitious. So I biked 15 minutes to Plötzensee, walked the east side of that, through the park to Schwarzer Graben and along to the NFL field and Hall of Fame Wedding, back the way I came alongside the canal, back the other way again between the Kolonie Plötzensee, with its garden houses bigger than the places I grew up in on one side and the cemetary on the other, back along Schwarzer Graben and did some random loops of actual Volkspark Rehburg where I got myself lost / turned around and got to walk both of the “I really want to go that way,” paths, which was pretty clever of me, and got back to Uferhallen just as the sunset was lighting up the chimney. Blue sky and sun too, everyone standing around pointing their faces at it like they’d forgotten what it was.

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Tempelhofer Feld Plant Life

Really not blogging much since the utterly brilliant pandemic response murdered all the fun and way too many good people. Everyone I know has been experiencing highly abstracted perceptions of time. Did we talk last week? Last week was last year.

Tempelhofer Feld has been giving me some low energy pleasure. The resident kestrels even took a perch near me for long enough I could photograph one the other day.

The only thing not giving me energy are the white cishet couples where the woman does the “Oooh it’s a tranny!” to her man. Big sucking the dick of your oppressor energy there, hun. I was wondering if they do this because if I respond to the woman, she can use the “It’s a man!” defence to have her man do the physical violence. All fun, no consequences for these cishet women.

Yallah, a month ago, when it was still autumn-ish, I enjoyed the plant life around the southern perimeter road, just up the rise by the trees. I was going to prettify them a bit, but a month later obviously that’s not happening.

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24 Hour Nürburgring

The best sound is after the sharp right at Aremberg, under the bridge at the start of Fuchsröhre and all the way down to the bottom of the Nordschleife at Breidscheid, engines and turbos spooled up and redlining. Better than the long straight of Döttinger-Höhe. That corner is where the Nürburgring starts for me, into the forest and a tight, narrow winding road with no runoff that goes on and on. I feel the velocity and get buffeted by braking and acceleration just watching laps. And the racing. All that plus terrifying high-speed passes, weather that changes in five minutes and across the 24 kilometre track. My safe space is 250 km/h down the fox hole at 24 Hour Nürburgring.

I would have watched it all night, but like last year it got red-flagged. Fog and rain and not the kind of visibility for maximum hoonage. 24 hours turned into a 3–hour sprint. And the two commentators living their best bogan uncle selves. Something about Scandinavian Flick, keto diet, taking the apex with the shopping trolley, beer bottles at the back balancing out the weight, I don’t believe you were going to the fruit and veggies, it’s beer and chips for you, broken struts, broken steering racks, making the straight race line between spun–out Audi and Armco on slippery wet grass, cutting and shaving tread into slicks to make one last set of tires.

I love the sound and noise and velocity and can smell the engines and brake pads and metal and fluids and hear the ratchets and air guns and feel the crew lying on their backs contorting themselves into the machinery and the whole process of attrition, people and engineering being worn down over those long high-speed hours, this is art.

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We Are Lady Parts

Strong Riz Ahmed Phenomenally Muslim t-shirt, Strong Taqwacore Call to Prayer: We Are Lady Parts.