When my mother died, it was just as the dot com bubble was bursting. I was between jobs. Tech was pivoting to spyware and I felt burned out by Silicon Valley. I decided to move to music full time. I applied for Masters programmes and started playing in a flute-fronted rock band.

My dad died in June and I’ve realised how burned out I feel from my teaching job. Years of Tory cuts are hitting British higher education hard. Kent decided to stop offering music and I decided not to participate in the teach out. My other university Goldsmiths, is also doing major cuts. I haven’t asked if my job there will exist next year, but I’d bet that it won’t. I saw an advert for a band and answered it. They’re a flute-fronted rock band.

(Honestly not sure how I feel about that.)

What’s next? I don’t know. I went back to uni to get better at writing music and instead I threw all my energy at teaching. I want to write music.

A friend of mine, only a few years older than me, just died of cancer. Her funeral is the day after tomorrow.

And I keep thinking of the composer of my favourite string quartet. Ruth Crawford Seeger got diverted into musicology for several years, due to her association with Charles Seeger. And at some point, she had enough of it and decided to return to composing. She felt her best music was still ahead of her. Then she got cancer and died. No music was ahead of her.

I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff into an unknown, with death nipping at my heels. Will I survive this change? Probably. Probably. Probably.

Book me for a gig. I need to stay busy.

Obituary for Edward Hutchins

Edward Hutchins passed away on June 19th at the age of 83 in McKinney, TX, after a short illness.

Ed was born to Esther and Bert in St Louis, MO, in 1939, but the family soon relocated to Phoenix, AZ. After a brief stint at Arizona State, Ed joined the Army and was stationed in Alaska and then San Francisco. After being discharged, he earned a Bachelor and Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Santa Clara University. In 1974, he married Eileen Forge and they raised two children in Cupertino, CA.

Ed worked as a chip designer at several Silicon Valley companies, including AMI, Chips and Technologies, IDT and SST. After retiring, he travelled the country on a motorcycle for two years with his tour ending in Vancouver, WA, where he became an avid square dancer with partner Elsie Bartling. He moved to Texas during the pandemic to be closer to his son and grandson.

Ed is predeceased by his parents and his wife Eileen. He is survived by his sons Charles and Edward Paul Jr and grandson William.

Funeral services were be held at St Joseph of Cupertino on August 14 at 1pm. Interment was the following day at Gate of Heaven Cemetery at 10am.

Teen Idols

Once upon a time, 33 years ago, I was clearly a troubled youth. I was 14. My parents wanted to help. Could I just tell them what was going on?

In a terrible miscalculation, I told them. I came out as questioning.

My mum panicked and sought out advice. She turned to her mother’s Catholic friends who suggested a hard line approach. My mum could push me towards heterosexuality by the strategic use of homophobic harassment. Her contacts further urged her to use “tough love” and throw me out of the house.

She tended to agree with the bigots, but she balked at making me homeless. I look back and know now that it’s possible to love and hate at the same time, in the same breath, as the same gesture. I spent four years in a perfect synthesis of maternal Catholic love and hate.

Things improved dramatically after I left home. My mother eventually, mostly came around. And then, with little warning, in 2002, she died.

My dad, who had virtually no speaking part in this drama, never talked about this. I don’t even know if he knew what was going on. I’ll never know. He died in June.

According to Kiddushin 17b, there is a Rabbinic law that allows a Jewish convert to inherit from his gentile father. He splits the inheritance with his brother so that the gentile gets the religious items and the convert gets money.

We delayed my dad’s funeral for a few weeks due to travel difficulties. My brother proposed stretching this out to at least five months. Instead, I took over planning. I booked a Catholic church, a priest, an organist, a florist, and a caterer and made arrangements with the cemetery. The priest asked which readings to use. The organist asked what hymns to play. My brother did not respond to these questions, so I did. I listened to hymns on YouTube and read gospel verses, searching for something at least inoffensive.

My dad was Catholic. His friends were Catholic. I stayed close to the community norms of what he would have expected and presumably wanted.

The sages say, in the case of ‘a convert and a gentile who inherited the property of their father, a gentile: the convert can say to his gentile brother: “You take the idols and I will take the money.”’ But I took the idols and placed them for the funeral. I wrote a check to the Catholic church, whose schools educated but harmed me. Whose followers tormented me and loved me. Whose hospitals are allegedly right now gambling that they can safely but illegally deny every kind of healthcare to trans people, because they have deep pockets and trans people don’t.

I didn’t want the idols, but I couldn’t escape them while also doing right by my dad. I tried to pass them off to my brother, but didn’t. Kiddushin says, ‘Once idols have come into the convert’s possession, it is prohibited for him to exchange these objects with his brother, as he would thereby be benefiting from idolatry.’ They’re mine now, but any benefit is counterbalanced by harm. I could atone for this on Yom Kippur, but I feel I shouldn’t have to. This is the opposite of what I felt when actually doing the planning. It had to be done, so I did it.

The end of a difficult relationship brings intense focus to the difficulty. Here is a murky not-knowing. But the missed conversation about my teen years feels like a relief. It’s better not to know. There were no good answers. I took only those idols that I had to take.

Ten Years

I mentioned on twitter recently that my blog was ten years old last month. What I didn’t mention is that I started it because my mom had brain cancer and I was sending out mass emailing of status updates on this and my overwhelmed friends urged me to start a blog instead of fill up their inboxes.
This week is another ten year anniversary in that thursday marks ten years since my mom died. She was only sick for about four months. I knew her death was imminent, but was still shocked when it came. Well, not shocked. I’m not sure what I felt aside from overwhelmed.
The anniversary is making me feel kind of fragile this week and I know I’ve heard other people say the same thing happens to them with anniversaries. But, I mean, I don’t get it really. It’s been ten years and it’s hardly fresh or new and she’s not more dead this week than she was last week or will be next week. I guess it’s not important why this date matters, since it clearly does.
So I think I should mark it somehow but am not sure what to do. Saint Candles are the obvious choice, but they seem to be an American (read:the continent) thing. I don’t know if I could find any in the UK and I don’t want to ship them from North America if they will arrive next week or later and have to deal with all of this over again.
A few friends have suggested that I go into a church and light a votive candle there. They’re right in that my mom certainly would have appreciated the gesture and my presence in a Catholic church. I think this would just make me angry. Everyone called my mother’s mother a saint when she died. She was a larger than life figure in many ways and had admirable principles that she held to. I doubt she saw herself as a saint. My mom was in her mother’s shadow for a long time and only outlived her mother by about ten years. I don’t know if anyone called my mom a saint. And my mom certainly didn’t believe in her own saintedness. She was entirely convinced she was going to hell. During the brief period where she understood she was dying, she was terrified and upset that she would shortly be burning in hell. This is not a way to spend the last few weeks of your life.
The church’s actual teaching is that if you’re very sorry and repent, you don’t have to go to hell. She didn’t remember that part. She just remembered the part where she felt horrendously guilty for minor sins and would certainly be punished for eternity. The church did not give my mom peace in her last days. Nor in the days before that.
There was some volunteer who came around for a while to read the bible to her. I don’t know who organised this. My mom had trouble speaking because of the cancer but one day managed a ‘shut the hell up’ and got the volunteer to actually talk to her like a human. That made her feel better.
So I don’t want to go into a church, since that will just make me angry. Making people terrified of hell is abusive. That they have an escape cause doesn’t help. If it did, it would have helped my mom. All she remembered was the part they went on and on about which was eternal torment.
In any case, I’m not wholly sure that offering eternal bliss is better. Maybe it makes the dying person feel better. I don’t know, as it’s all so conditional. Why would you offer conditional love to a dying person? What does it cost to assert that they’re actually loved?
Priests tell mourners at funerals that it’s all temporary and soon we’ll all being hanging out together again, so I guess the best they have to offer is denial. I know exactly where my mom is right now and where she’s been the last ten years. It’s a small plot marked with an ugly headstone.
Which I can’t get to because I am thousands of miles away and the UK Border agency still has my passport.
So I’ll burn a non-saint candle and wonder why I’m doing mini-grieving this week, feeling sad and angry over again, wondering why round numbers matter. If we used hexadecimal as our standard counting system, it would be another six years. It’s all so arbitrary. Every part of it – who gets cancer, who dies, what dates seem important and on what years. And maybe the arbitrariness: from top to bottom, from every angle is what makes it all seem so futile and extra sad. An arbitrary milestone. An arbitrary existence. An arbitrary end.

The Last Days of Dog

When Xena was first diagnosed, I started trying to think of nice things to do with her. We did some of them. I stuffed her into my bike trailer and took her through the canals into Vicky Park. The thing is that she was still seriously unwell, even if she was functional with pain killers. Her favourite activities almost all involved physical activity, which she had trouble with.

We went on some nice walks, but not long ones. Her favourite low impact activity was always going to parties, so we went to parties. Sonia’s going away party was large and crowded, with densely packed people, all merrily drinking. Xena weaved among them, charming people and nicking unguarded food. She was a social butterfly. As it got very late, I got worried about her getting tired or trampled, so I took her upstairs to chill out. I was exhausted and wanted to go to sleep, in fact. A lost party guest opened the room door and she darted out and rejoined the stragglers, happy to be in the midst of things.
That was probably her happiest night after being diagnosed and I’m glad she got it.
I found a new flat in time for my eviction. Sonia left the country for the year. Xena slowly, but surely kept declining, with brief rallies. Meanwhile, all the pills she was taking meant she needed frequent walks, during the day. And during the middle of the night. She often seemed at her perkiest, happiest and most mobile at 3 AM.
When I finally moved to a ground floor flat, it seemed to greatly increase her mobility. This week, on Tuesday morning, I took her to the park and she actually ran a bit. Wendyl, my new housemate, took her out for a walk, and Xena excitedly tugged on her lead the whole way.
Wednesday, maybe from overdoing it, maybe from just reaching a threshold, she was much more stiff and limped to the park. On previous days, she would often limber up as she walked, even if she got off to a rough start, but that day her limp just got worse and worse. I gave her pain killers and they didn’t help. I accidentally left treats within reach and she left them alone, preferring to lie on the floor. So I called the vet to make an appointment.
Then I fed her every treat in the house whilst waiting for the cab. I knew this would eventually upset her stomach, but I thought she would not actually experience the ill effects of this. But then the vet was running behind and we waited over an hour. She looked miserable from being in the vets’ office, from the pain in her leg, and presumably from an upset stomach.
Because the euphemism is “putting her to sleep,” I assumed it would resemble sleep in some way, but it did not. She did not tire and relax as much as she crumpled.
Vets say these drugs are humane and painless and kind. Anti-death penalty activists say they’re painful and cruel. Somebody here is wrong.
I wish they had sedated her first.
I’ve never seen anyone die before. The dog I had as a kid apparently got into rat poison and died 10 minutes before I arrived to see him. I was not at the bedside of either of my grandmothers or my cousins. My uncle died in his sleep without warning. When my mum died, I was at opera, seeing Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi, feeling unhappy about how the hugging of the leper was treated. My experience of death is funerals and loss and digging my first dog’s grave and fetching my neighbour’s drowned cat from the pond. Xena won’t have grave, won’t have a funeral. The only thing left is to give away all her things.
The vet said I did the right thing. I tried to explain I hadn’t just let it go until she was staggering. That she got suddenly worse. That I hadn’t carried her because I knew that also hurt her shoulder.
Today, I woke up extremely early and got on a train to Birmingham to sound check for a gig I played in this evening. Because my life goes on, at least, even if hers doesn’t.
And when we finished earlier than I expected, I got a train tonight back to London instead of waiting for the morning, as that’s easier, so I was feeling kind of good about it and thought I should send a text to … nobody. There’s nobody waiting for me. There’s nobody who cares if I go back today or tomorrow. I have no particular responsibilities. No job. I am uneeded. I can sleep through the night without having to wake up for a walk. If I reach to my side while I sleep, my bed will be empty and my floor bare. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want. And if what I want is a walk to the park, I’ll go alone.

I killed my dog today

A while ago, I posted that Xena had cancer. The vet sent me home with steroids and tramadol, a pain killer. Gradually, she needed more and more pain killer until today, when something got much worse overnight and she could barely walk at all.

I called the vet to ask how much it would cost to get a housecall and then I started calling for cabs that would take a dog. I wish I could say something nice or reassuring about her death. I showed up at the vet’s office and they were running more than an hour behind, so Xena lay in the middle of the waiting room floor and looked around nervously. Then she limped around with me to a back room, where she was frightened and hurting. She lay down on a blanket they put out. The vet shaved a section of her leg to give her a shot. She sniffed my eyes where I was crying as he pushed in the injection and just collapsed her head down and had stopped breathing within a moment.

He said she felt no pain, but how would he know that?

I took her collar off and her head flopped easily in my hands. Her body was still warm, her ears still soft, her eyes still open.

I wish I had done it before she got that bad. I wish I hadn’t had to do it at all. It doesn’t matter what I wish.

Ian Mackey Newman

My friend Ian died, very recently. I’ve known him for about 10 years, since he was 16.
When I met him, he was a student at UC Berkeley. I just read that he got admitted at age 14. Obviously, he was incredibly smart. His mom moved to Berkeley with him and lived a few doors down from me in the same building as me.
I’m not sure what to write about him. During his years at Berkeley, I hung around with him and his mom a lot. We went to parties at each other’s houses. We had them around for brunch. We went there for dinner. They were the neighbors we were closest with.
I want to talk about how outstanding he was. Brilliant, charming, witty, just a great guy. I had fallen out of contact with him after he and I both stopped living in Berkeley. A couple of years ago, I ran into him in Berkeley and it turned out he was back to study law. We connected on facebook. So last August, I had a pint with him at Saturn and we caught up.
When I had last seen him, he was still kind of a kid, but meeting him again, he was, of course, all grown up. Even more charming. Wearing a fabulous hat. We talked about this and that. Then I heard that he passed the bar.
He was going into disability rights law and he would have been such a fantastic lawyer. People have stereotypes about what disabled people are like and he was none of those things. When he was a kid, he drove his chair like it was a tank. Actually, he drove it at alarming speeds. Whenever I mentioned him to my father, my dad would say, “is that the guy who races down the sidewalk?” He used to bolt a stick on to the side and play street hockey. I was invited to play also, but after watching him and his friends smash into each other, I feared for my safety.
One time, I was talking to him and he was complaining about how, because of Stephen Hawking, everybody thought a really smart guy in a chair must be studying physics and this was really annoying, because he was majoring in the classics. And I felt really bad, because I had been under the impression that he was doing physics. Over the course of the conversation, it turned out that he had started with physics and then changed his major. It was too funny.
A few months before we both left, he rented out the café down the street and had a huge graduation party. It felt like a hundred people came. His mom asked my band to play, but had already booked other bands for the night, so we ended up playing to the cleaning crew. It was out first gig and I blogged about it, back in the day.
It’s hard to believe he’s gone. I’ve been trying to think how best to remember him and I don’t know, but it’s so easy to imagine what he would say in response to some things I’ve thought about doing. He was just such a great guy.

Uncle Chuck

My uncle died. He was 74. The last time I saw him, in December, he was recovering from a hernia operation and didn’t look well. But I’d heard he had made a full recovery and was up and around and doing fine. His death was totally unexpected.
I’ve been back in California a few days. I thought that I would be helping out with the arrangements, but they were all made by the time I landed. So I’ve been visiting with my friends. I did, however, email the priest to get in contact with the church pianist for the funeral.
The pianist explained that people usually want sort of upbeat music because they’re celebrating the life of the deceased instead of mourning their loss. I wonder if I’m the only person in America who thinks that’s insane. I mean, I know there are TV ads for zoloft and whatever that say that a passing blue mood should be medicated away, but have we so rejected sadness that grief is now banished from funerals?
I asked for something in a minor key. He said he would do reflective music.
Ok, I guess Four Walls by John Cage with it’s stark depression might be a bit too much. And anyway, I doubt he knows it. I’ve been thinking for a while, that I should write some funeral music for organ. It’s very unusual for a Catholic church to have a piano instead. So I would have been unprepared regardless.
. . .
I wanted to ask my uncle about my great aunt Tessie. All I know about her was that she was a musician and a piano teacher and she never married. Where did she live and who did she live with? There’s nobody left alive that knows. My mother’s entire side of the family is dead. On my dad’s side, there is only my dad. Everybody is gone.
I wanted to talk to my uncle about changing my name. My younger brother has my father’s name. I thought maybe my parents would have named a second son from my mother’s side. Charles was the first name of my great grandfather and the middle name of my grandfather and the first name of my uncle. And it’s better than Otis, which is the other name traversing generations on that side.
When I saw my uncle last time, I was going to bring this up. But he wasn’t much of a talker. There was a kind of awkwardness between him and I that started when I was a teenager. I didn’t know how to bring it up, so I asked him about the garage that he just built and his test equipment. He was an engineer for HP and had a bunch of old oscilloscopes and oscillators and other testing gear. Then he showed me all of his race cars and talked about how much work he had put into them and how much they were worth. He showed me my mother’s bike, which he had repaired and was riding around town for short trips.
then his friend came over and he introduced me as his niece. It was an awkward moment. I had met the friend before. He started at me hard. I did not look or sound like a niece. My dad told me that he had told Chuck about me changing gender, but I don’t know how my dad would explain that or what my uncle would have heard. And he was clearly unsteady from having had an operation and so I didn’t say anything that would have made him look confused to his friend, nor did I correct him, I just inwardly squirmed.
So I did not talk to my uncle about his name. Nor have I talked to my family about it. I just started using it. I’ve performed with it twice and I use it with my email account. When I emailed the priest, that’s the name he saw for me and when the church pianist called, that’s what he called me. I need to say something about this to at least my brother and father before the service.
I feel like I’m doing this wrong.
All of it. I feel like I’m doing the name thing wrong. And I feel like I’m doing the mourning thing wrong. Sad music at the funeral will bum everybody out, since they all want a party or something. And despite my strange demands for somberness, I’m off hanging out with my friends. I spent a couple of nights with Mitch and went to a farmer’s market and had coffee with other people and biked from Sunnyvale to Cupertino (twice) and through the Santa Cruz mountains to Saratoga and Los Gatos and back to Sunnyvale and then had a BBQ. And I was thinking I’m using my uncle’s death as an excuse for a BBQ, what the fuck is wrong with me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
And why the hell didn’t I know him better? When I sent to see him in December, I was full of dread because of gender stuff. My dad had to order me to go, because I was so caught up in myself. I didn’t want to tell him and I couldn’t not tell him. I went and it was ok, but it was awkward and I thought that I would just give it time.
My uncle wasn’t married and he never talked about his personal life. He talked about cars and computers. For a while, I thought he might be in the closet about something, because that’s what we do in the closet. But now I think he wasn’t. I think that’s just how he was. He made his life more about his activities and his friends than about his family. Which is also a bit like what being queer is about. Chosen family because blood family wouldn’t understand this stuff. We surround ourselves with friends who do get what we’re about and build stuff around them. And I do that too and that’s a good thing to do. I just wish he had reached out more to me and I wish I knew him more. And I wish I had reached out to him. And the obvious lesson from this is that I need tot talk to my family about my life and make sure they’re part of it.
I worshipped my uncle when I was a kid. He was a race car driver! And so smart and funny. And then, a distance. And then he’s gone.

On Feeling Angry

I walked through downtown Oakland yesterday and it began to rain again even as the sun was peeking through the clouds. I looked up into the sky and saw a triple rainbow, stretching across even the exposed patches of blue sky. It was obscenely lovely and I hated it’s beauty, which seemed so inappropriate. The rainbow is God’s promise not to drown the world again by flood and it seemed mocking. What’s worth saving in this ugly place? I looked at a dog shitting on the sidewalk ahead. A woman next to me noticed the weather and said loudly, “Uhoh, the Devil is whupping his wife again! I wonder what she did this time?” and then asked me for money. I told her she wasn’t funny. Not funny at all, but at least her mythology seemed a better fit. And laughing at this kind of misery, well, that has a place in this world. This ugly place, watched over by a worthless creator, simperingly promising not to wash us out, no matter how much we deserve it.

There is a war against women. Not just a metaphorical glass ceiling war, but a war fought with blood and violence. A war winked and nodded at, the subject of panhandling jokes and police inaction. Their is no single front. No tank to stand in front of. No easy target for counter-attack. No obvious action to take. So I simmer in rage and wish God dead.

“The universe tends towards justice” my friends say, but justice is so inadequate. Even vengeance seems empty. Ten of his lives are not worth this one of hers. There is nothing to take from him that comes near what he has taken from us. And to wait for divine retribution from the same gods that let this happen is too little. Everything is too little.

My anger is a single drop of rain in the downpour. A helpless tear. An empty gesture.

Timanna Bennett, R.I.P.

I know, in my life, there have been many people who loved me, but maybe two people who i feel like have ever really understood me. Yesterday was the funeral of one of those people. Timanna’s memorial service started with her family speaking, then her best friends and exes. People spoke about how accepting and understanding she was. She would accept one person and simultaneously accept her other friends being judgmental.
T was queer and genderqueer. She could grow a sparse moustache (better than mine), which she often did. For the inauguration, she decided to wear a wig and a muumuu to go to the Parkway Theatre and watch Obama get sworn in. She also would sometimes butch up in a suit or a tux, and cut quite a dashing figure. Several butch women spoke very movingly about how T helped show them that it was ok to be a masculine woman. Alex talked about how she and T used to go to thrift stores and buy old man clothes together.
Other people spoke about T being unconventional and flamboyant. Somebody mentioned getting thrown out of a movie theatre. Nicole told me about a road trip where they had been thrown out of a Denny’s (for playing Madonna on a boombox). When I was an undergrad, I had an overdeveloped sense of propriety and T liked to shout “penis!” at the top of her lungs in grocery stores and whatnot when I was with her, just to watch me squirm.
Sophie wrote a eulogy where she shared that when she was a freshwoman and new to Mills, a group of new students had decided to go skinny-dipping in the fountain in the middle of campus, during the night. Timanna grabbed all their clothes and ran off with them.
T was almost larger than life. She was the most creative person I’ve ever met. Frustratingly, she didn’t do that much concrete with it. Her senior art show was really cool and she did an awesome zine. I always hoped she’d have more frequent output. It seemed like she was always helping other people be more creative. When I was a youth and put out my first album with, a vanity label, T bought a copy. I think she’s the only one to have bought it. A couple of years ago, she commissioned me to write a short piece. She was one of two people who encouraged me to start blogging.
Somebody said how T seemed to have trouble figuring out her life path. Lately, she had some problems with drugs, but it seemed like she was really sorting herself out. She was trying to quit and was volunteering at a law center to help victims of domestic violence. She had just applied to do a MA program at Mills in public policy. T was an activist, always working for social justice and change. One of her professors from her undergrad days talked about how she had written a recommendation letter for T, how she was going to get into the grad program.
The professor wants to set up an institutional memorial for T at Mills. T has been around Mills for over a decade now, involved in the community. Her mother spoke about how T had never felt she fit in anywhere, until she got to Mills. There was a stirring of recognition in the mourners, many of whom were Mills women (and another Mills man aside from me). I started crying at that moment and haven’t stopped much since.
There’s so much I want to ask T, about herself and about gender issues – like what it means for me to have felt so strongly validated as a Mills woman then, but a man now? And I just want to talk about Madonna or whatever pop culture thing she was into at that moment.
The last time I saw her, I was home for Christmas and it was a stressful visit. I saw my family for the first time since starting transition and my ex girlfriend for the first time since breaking up and I almost didn’t want to be in California at all. Timanna came over and we went to the White Horse, her favorite gay bar, in Oakland. It was karaoke night. I’ve barely got any control of my voice since it started to change, but the overall quality of singing was on a par with what I could manage. We sang a duet of “I Touch Myself,” a song I hadn’t even heard in years. If we got any notes right at all, it was by happy accident. But we acted like “horndogs,” according to the MC. T didn’t even seem embarrassed, even as I was blushing.
I think all the queers and butches and femmes and transfolks and academics and activists and friends packed in the pews of the chapel and standing in the back could tell a story like that, about how T was a bright spot in their life. And at this dark hour in mine, I keep thinking that if I’m in the Bay Area and I’m so sad, I should call her up. It’s hard to even conceive of a world without her.