Eric P Griffith, 1925 – 2019

My father died this morning. He was 93. We had the same hair, the same hands, the same temper. The same love of beer. The same competitiveness. In many other ways—most ways—we were quite different.

I’ll be going to the UK as soon as I can get a flight, which means that two of my upcoming appearances—at Elliott Bay Books with Sarah Schulman, and all the events at Orcas Island Book Festival—are cancelled. I’m hoping to get back in time for IONA in Vancouver but I’ll know more about that in a couple of days.

For now, here are two photos of me and Dad. One taken when I was nine or ten (a snapshot of a snapshot, so a little distorted), the other 7 years ago.

Black and white photo of father and daughter circa 1970. A white man with glasses and dark hair stands behind a girl with fair hair who is sitting on a tree stump. She is chewing a piece of hay.

Me and Dad circa 1970.

Colour photo of father and daughter circa 2012. They stand side by side. The man has white hair the woman's short hair is pale brown. They are the same height.

Me and Dad in 2012

I am not anyone’s metaphor

Today in A&U magazine there’s a new interview of me by Raymond Luczak:

More and more I’m seeing the same military metaphors used in the treatment of MS as those long in use for cancer and AIDS—fighting the disease, aggressive marshalling of forces, immune defense, etc.—but MS is not metaphorized to anything like the extent of HIV/AIDS. I’ve never seen MS characterized as a plague, for example, or invasion, probably because it’s not generally regarded as infectious. The metaphors of AIDS, it seems to me, are largely built on fear and disgust—with a vast moral dimension—whereas those for MS are based on pity. Both are distancing and Othering; both are dangerous.

I enjoyed this one. Thanks to Raymond for asking interesting questions.

Upcoming events

  • 3/27, 7:00 pm. Seattle, WAElliott Bay Book Company. In conversation with Sarah Schulman about her wonderful new novel, Maggie Terry. Here’s what I said about it:

    Set in 2017 Manhattan, Schulman’s latest is day-after noir: the party is over, the neon burnt out, and there’s nothing to drink but cold-pressed kale juice. While you were doing lines and knocking back shots, your wife took your child and left, your partner got himself killed, and you lost your badge. So now you have nothing but 12 steps. And while you weren’t looking, or at least not seeing, someone slowly strangled your community. It’s all gone: the gays have left, the bodegas are shut, and rat-infested tenements all replaced by condos overrun with man-buns.

    This is classic Schulman: crime fiction, yes, but the murder that matters is of the urban neighbourhood. Schulman flenses and dissects the human condition, weighs every organ—how we connect, what forms the beating heart of a community—then magically breathes life back into the husk and helps it rise, reborn. Schulman asks, Who are you when you have nothing left? What can you do when you can do nothing? You go on. You learn to see, or see clearly, to tell yourself the truth and accept that truth, and shoulder the responsibility. Maggie Terry is a light shining in the waste, offering hope: Where there are people, there is the possibility of connection, and together we can make it. You should read this.

  • 4/5 – 4/7. Orcas Island, WAOrcas Island Literary Festival. Schedule here. I’m doing three public events, all on Saturday 4/6:
    • Panel, “When bad things happen to good people.” Black Box, Orcas Center; 9:30 – 10:35 am.
    • Staged interview, with Jule Treneer; Black Box, Orcas Center; 2:00 – 2:30 pm.
    • Reading, Main Stage, Orcas Center, 7:15 – 9:15 pm.
  • 4/11- 4/13. Vancouver, BC, CanadaIONA: Early Medieval Studies on the Islands of the North Atlantic, transformative networks, skills, theories, and methods for the future of the field. Simon Fraser University. Schedule here.
    • My main event will be at 4:00 pm on Friday 12th April, when I give the plenary speech, “The personal is political—and scholarly, and creative.” In which I talk about embodiment, and how Hild deconstructs the historical discourse on gender, sexuality, and race.

 

Brandi Carlile made me cry

Black and white photo of teenage girl sitting on the grass and rolling a cigarette. She has long hair, tied back, gold-rimmed glasses, and there's a can of Long Life beer beside her.

Image description: Black and white photo of the author’s sister, Helena Griffith, sitting on the grass and rolling a cigarette. She is about 17, with long hair and glasses. A can of Long Life beer is by  her knee.


I was reading the paper this morning and was reminded that tonight Seattle musician, Brandi Carlile, is up for 6 Grammy Awards. I’ve only seen her perform once, at a private event nine years ago, but the memory of that night is strong and visceral so I thought I’d repost my thought from that event.

Enjoy. And, Brandi, if you’re reading this: Thank you for that, and good luck!


Last night I went to a private event for the Women’s Funding Alliance. We were feasted by Seattle celebrity chefs (including Becky Selengut—who created the insanely fabulous food for our 20th anniversary celebration three years ago). The food was superb. The wine flowed freely.

Brandi Carlile sat at the table next to ours. Later, when someone bid an astronomical sum (five figures) for a request, she played Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Just her and a piano, in touching distance. It’s a powerful piece—love, lust, longing, loss—and was a favourite of my little sister, Helena. Hearing it unexpectedly, live, by someone who really knew what she was doing, made me weep right there at the table.

There was a moment, as she figured out the range and first few chords (she normally does this song on the guitar), when I could have locked it all down and listened with a perfectly poised and pleasant expression. But then I remembered the point of the evening, which was to raise funds for women and girls who need help. And, oh, Helena had needed help. I had tried to give it, but she died anyway. So I let art do what it does, let it tear through the polite and careful curtain of my public persona, and wept.

At the end I was offered a tissue by an older woman who smiled and waved away my thanks. “When art moves you, what else can you do?” (Thanks, Carrie.)

But I’ll be giving to WFA and other organisations who help women and girls. And perhaps next time you see a woman or girl, homeless or hungry or otherwise in need, you will too.

Deep and crisp and even

It snowed. Again. The fence is buried, the van is buried, the road is buried. Everything is buried in 7-8″ of snow. Apparently there’s more on the way today. And tomorrow. And Monday. As for Tuesday, well, I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Van parked in a driveway next to a fence and surrounded by trees and shrubs. Everything is blanketed in snow. The van is just a vague hump of white and only the top of the fence shows. It's a colour photo but everything is eerie shades of blue, grey, and white.

A colour photo that looks monochrome. The front garden, driveway, and road with a neighbour's house. But all you can see is snow, no road surface at all. If you didn't know it was there you would say iti was a field.

The deck off the kitchen is very sheltered but now it's smothered in snow. Still, silent. All you can see of the planters are weird shapes. The table looks like a delicious deep frosted cake. Pine tree branches seem sprayed with foam and are hanging low and heavy with snow. Again, a colour photo but it looks monochrome.

Here’s what the local supermarket looked like Thursday—early Thursday (by Friday I’m guessing even the raddiccio was gone, and possibly those working checkout eaten):

empty shelves

The bread shelves and dairy cases were empty. The only meat you could get was bison. Today, of course, no one will be going anywhere, unless employees and intrepid customers have skis and/or snow shoes. There again, it is Seattle…

We, of course, are well-stocked, with a beef and marrowbone stew bubbling on the stove, the freezer stuffed and fridge groaning. We have many bottles of wine and two full cases of beer. We have books, and a fire, and each other. And it’s so deliciously quiet and still. In some ways, I’m quite looking forward to the next week—

—or two.

Here’s a map of Seattle’s snow-clearing plan:

Map of Seattle city neighbourhoods, criss-rossed by gold lines and green lines. Gold represents all road lanes clear of snow and ice. Green means one lane in each direction clear of snow and ice. There are two conspicious chunks of map with zero lines. One, in the upper right corner, is Broadview, where we live.

Bearing in mind that Seattle has very few snow ploughs this is an extremely optimistic map. But you see that red circle around the neighbourhood with zero snow-clearing plans? That’s where we live.

We are at the bottom of a very steep hill. With overnight temperatures predicted to be around 12˚F (-11.1˚C) it will turn into a sheet of ice. There’s no ski lift or funicular; I do not have skis or treads for my wheelchair. Even if there was no more snow, I suspect I’ll be marooned for a long time. And as the mother of all snowstorms is probably heading our way on Tuesday, I’m beginning—despite our supplies—to get just a little fretful.

This morning I read Clifford Mass’s weather blog. According to European climate models (which I tend to find more accurrate than most), it’s very possible Seattle will see 10-16″ of snow:

Graph of the European climate model showing 51 variations of weather predictions. But all show a startling change from light blue (4

Given that the forecasts for Friday were for about 4″ of snow, and here in our little pocket climate we had close to 7″, I’m feeling just a tad pessimistic. But, as with my political predictions, I’m very often wrong about weather. So at the same time—I really don’t have a problem with being paradoxical—I feel bizarrely cheerful and sure it will all work out just fine.

And, hey, wine, food, fire, books, and my sweetie… There are definitely worse things.

My new favourite interview

My first interview of 2019 is up: with Alexis M. Smith in Moss. It’s long and juicy and a firehose of opinion.

Smith

I’m curious about your aversion to “It Books” and whether you find literary-novels-of-the-moment depressing because they avoid the kind of tension and conflict we’re talking about here? Is that why they seem depressing? Because they don’t engage in the urgency of action and violence/vulnerability and fear?

Griffith

They make me impatient because they don’t engage in anything meaningful in a wider context. The big wide world and the people in it matters. Really, who apart from you gives a shit about the ethics of you having an adulterous affair? Or your inner conflict over whether or not you should feel bad about not having a baby? Or whether your dinner party will turn out well enough to be discussed positively in your social circle? No one will die one way or another. The world won’t change. You probably won’t even lose your job or home. It feels pointless. That kind of insipidity makes me want to reach into the book to, say, the privileged, self-absorbed drugged-up deliberately somnambulistic protagonist, pour cold water on her as she wallows in her own high-thread-count existential misery, and yell, Grow the fuck up!

A lot of It novels are depressing. They’re depressing because they focus not on horror (or terror or lust or joy or hunger) but on angst, anxiety, and self-worthlessness. Anxiety and angst are not major, free-flowing emotions; they are a sign of internal dithering.

Think of a novel’s premise as an analogue of a self-defense situation. Fear sends a message as clear as a bell: This situation is dangerous; get out now! Anxiety is about second-guessing yourself: It’s not really dangerous, is it? Surely not. I know him; he’s my husband’s friend. I must be wrong… When a character is constantly in that self-questioning mode, it makes me as a reader impatient and irritated. Why don’t they believe themselves and just fucking get out?

There are all kinds of rants in there, as well as some serious stuff about Aud and Hild and what makes a novel good. But I admit, I like the unleashed stuff best.

We know so little of Hild’s time […] the role of women in the so-called Dark Ages could not remotely resemble the bullshit we’ve been fed in which we were merely rape toys and/or brood mares and/or warty old wise women of the wood. Because otherwise how could Hild—born the second daughter of a murdered father, with zero power and influence in the regime of petty warlords styling themselves kings of a feuding, bloody, aliterate, heathen culture—end up counselor to kings of proto-states with a literate, Christian bureaucracy; a teacher and leader of bishops; head of a religious foundation famous for its influence and hosting of the Synod which changed the course of British history; and still known fourteen hundred years (nearly a millennium and half!) later for her power, wisdom, and learning?

So if you fancy a diversion on this cold Monday here’s 5,000 words of unexpurgated book talk.

Enjoy!

Passport to a perilous future

Image description: The front of a maroon UK passport, with writing and the UK version of the royal coat of arms in gold. The writing reads: European Union. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


At the end of last year I realised that my UK passport would expire in seven months. I thought about where we could all be by then—in the UK, crashed out of Brexit with serious civil unrest; in the US, consitutional crisis and deeper divisions—and concluded, Fuck that, I’m renewing right now while at least some government is functioning.

I got the new passport yesterday. I am still, on paper at least, a citizen of the European Union. And for the next ten years I’ll be able to gaze at my passport and remember fondly the Good Old Days when Kelley and I could have lived and worked in 29 different countries. After Brexit, it will only be only three: US, UK, and Éire/the Republic of Ireland (the UK has a very long-standing arrangement—outside the Good Friday agreement, beyond the EU—that its citizens may live and work in Ireland).

So, after Prime Minister Theresa May’s historic Brexit deal defeat in the Commons—the worst government defeat since, well, maybe ever—what happens next?

First of all, from my perspective the current leadership of both Labour and the Conservative parties appear to be incompetent, and the Lib-Dems haven’t a hope of forming a government. So let’s set aside for now the question of who will be in power later this year (or even if there will be a United Kingdom to take control of).

What should happen now, in my opinion, is a year-long extension of Article 50 with a second referendum planned for late summer—this time with formal debates that are publicly fact-checked in real time. The preponderence of evidence in favour of remaining in the European Union would, naturally, be so overwhelming that the good citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would, of course, vote to unilaterally withdraw Article 50, and no one in the UK will ever talk about withdrawing from the EU again, The end.

Why, yes, that is a fairy story! Not only would a years’s delay fuck up EU parliamentary elections in May, and so be very unlikely to be endorsed by European lawmakers, but British politicians are a venal bunch, not really interested in the public good. And UK citizens, on the whole, are an easily manipulated mob who believe what’s most convenient—with a particular fondness for tall tales of Great Britain’s mighty world stature.

So what will happen? Anything from the dissolution of the United Kingdom, to a return to rationing; from the collapse of civilisation as we know it, to a deep economic recession; from serious civil unrest, to a new Golden Age; and from aliens intervening for the sake of the planet, to…nothing much at all.

If I had to bet, though, perhaps a brief (and because of those EU parliamentary elections it would have to be brief—60 days?) postponement of Article 50 implementation, vicious Parliamentary squabbling, a UK Commons vote on a very slightly softened UK-EU divorce settlement, and a bitter, seething citizenry aware of challenging times ahead. But in fairness you should know I’m almost always wrong about this stuff. So, yeah, no clue.

One thing I do know with bedrock certainty is that people in the UK, especially those already leading a marginalised existence (the ill, un- and underemployed, old, and disabled), are suffering.1 This suffering will only worsen in the face of political tumult.

So, all those who voted to Take Our Country Back to some mythical, magical era of magnificent superpower autonomy, are you having fun yet?


1 Some are dying. Late last year a disabled man, who had been refused his benefits, died due to refeeding syndrome—which is what happens when someone has starved so severely for so long that, when given food, their metabolic system collapses in chaos. To set this in context, it’s the kind of thing that happened when Americans liberated Nazi death camps at the end of the second world war and handed rich rations to the starving prisoners. And then there are all those pensioners who die in cold weather because they can’t afford to keep their flats warm.