Two Rambles

Ramble #24 (January 7th, 2021): The 7th anniversary of my arrival on Patreon! Reflections on my first solo Christmas, good quotes about solitude, writing down nice things, thinking about early internet communities, trying out anonymous audio-based support groups, picking a word for the year, stuff about birds. There’s also a bonus recording attached to the original post on Patreon from Tim Dee’s The Running Sky, which is just gorgeous.

January 7th, 2021
Ramble #24

Ramble #25 (January 21st, 2021): much shorter. Took a walk. Petted a cat. Tried to figure out how I’ve changed my relationship to being online and whether I could distill that process into replicable steps. (Also, thanks to a truly mystical service Robin turned me onto called Descript, this is the first Ramble with a proper transcript.)

January 21st, 2021
Ramble #25

(If you’re universally hot for RSS feeds—and if you’re here, let’s be real, you probably are—you can always subscribe to these directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.)

[Complete Ramble Archive]

Delights

This morning I woke suddenly in the dark, startled by something toppling in a gust of wind, and decided to get up. I very rarely regret being up before the sun. It’s something my dad taught me to love, waking early to wash the previous night’s dishes or listen to Satie at the kitchen table. Sometimes we’d go to the park and hit tennis balls back and forth on the empty courts, or walk around the block in the pitch black till my legs itched unbearably from the cold. Whatever we did, it always felt like secret, stolen time. A pocket of temporal spaciousness.

So, this morning, I got up and made tea and decided to curl into the armchair in the corner of the living room and use this particular pocket to read.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay came very highly recommended. This is sometimes a deterrent because I’m the sort of nightmare person who stubbornly avoids things the more often I’m told to consume them, but in this case I’m glad I persevered. 

The premise is very simple: a year’s worth of daily essayettes on various sources of delight. The collection glows precisely because it isn’t some kind of Pollyannaish litany. Instead, it captures the complexity of finding joy in a flawed world, and the particular necessity of claiming joy as a Black man in America. Gay’s entries are full of digressions and caveats. He’s constantly gesturing toward vast, complicated power structures with one hand while using the other to point at tiny, captivating miracles poking their heads out of the soil.

I love any piece of work that wrestles with the paradox of “and yet” and “even still,” and this book is no exception. I love it because it doesn’t demand that we wait to be pure enough for joy. It doesn’t position a sense of a wonder as a commodity to be bought or earned. It doesn’t disqualify people. Delight is simply there, in spite of it all.1

Two years ago I sat in Mother Foucault’s Bookshop on a Saturday morning with the sun streaming through the windows and listened to my friend Anis perform his poem Today’s Love Is Brought to You by the Letter Jon Sands. (You can probably hear me laughing in the background of this video. You can certainly see me crying in the background of another in the series from that morning.)

Hearing the way Anis says “I fucking love Black people” echoes the many celebrations that run throughout The Book of Delights.2 These two half-Black poets share a tender ear for the sublime and an irreverent sense of humor—the kind of sharing that makes me wonder if they’ve met.3 Their words flow into each other and elicit snorts and grins and also pangs of truthful recognition. Neither of them eschew the paradox of what it means to embrace delight in the world we live in—in the skin they live in—and I am so deeply grateful for it.

I stayed curled in the armchair for an hour or so, and when I was done reading the acknowledgements (one of my favorite parts of any book) and had breathed one of those happy, book-finishing sighs, I looked out the window and realized there was white frost sparkling on all the neighborhood rooftops, and that the sunrise had snuck up on me, and that it was January 20th.

A laptop resting on a pillow in front of a window. There's a luminous pink sunrise glowing on the horizon.

Happy new presidency, America.

1. “Wanna hear something terrible? Even here, at the end of everything, I still love it.”

2. Which echoes the “black abundance” of Kiese Laymon’s Heavy. And so on, and so on.

3. Yes, part of me also wonders if there’s the sort of inexplicable friction we sometimes recognize as envy in this comparison. Occasionally people will refer to me alongside other creators whose work I admire and rather than feeling like a compliment it elicits a jab of petty resentment. But my friend Mara taught me that often what we envy in the other is an aspect of the self we haven’t fully claimed yet, and you know what? I believe that. It checks out. Things have gotten better since I started noticing those tiny jabs and thinking “Yeah, okay, that’s me too. I have that. Wouldn’t notice it if I didn’t.”

Stumbling

“If everyone’s social media experience looked like your social media experience I think people would want to be on social media a lot more.”

I’m in therapy. I mean, I’m in my house, same as every other day, but I’m looking at the particular video call window that corresponds to “being in therapy” and my therapist is saying these nice things to me and I’m laughing because my feeds are full of just as much chaos and anxiety as anyone else’s, but she presses on.

“Every time you tell me about some new community or project you found or someone you met online, it sounds fascinating and beautiful and hopeful. That’s…well. That’s not my experience of being online. I had to quit.”

I stop laughing and try to hear what she’s saying—turning it over, weighing it against my experience. Is it true? So many days I feel like I’m purposefully recoiling from the internet at large, erecting sandcastle barricades against an inrushing tide. 

But it is true.

I’ve been changing my relationship to being online.

Some of it is keeping in touch with friends who are fascinated by the same sorts of hybrid creations I am. Friends who build things. Friends in different professional communities. Paying attention when they mention some new discovery or avenue of interest.

Some of it is using an RSS reader to change the cadence and depth of my consumption—pulling away from the quick-hit likes of social media in favor of a space where I can run my thoughts to their logical conclusion (and then sit on them long enough to consider whether or not they’re true).

Some of it is joining small communities who meet regularly to write letters or discuss abolition or cheer each other on throughout the work day.

Some of it is just letting myself wander, link to link, through people’s personal websites and passion projects, seeing what comes up.1

Most people (myself included) stopped using the internet this way years ago. Our footpaths converged around the same 5-10 platforms, each with its own particular manner of communication. I have learned, unintentionally, to code switch every time I craft a new post. It’s exhausting, trying to keep track of all those unspoken rules shaped by years of use.

But I don’t have rules like that on my blog. I turned off stats. There are no comments. No likes. It’s been long enough since I wrote regularly here that I’m not bringing any tonal baggage with me.

Hell, the last time I had a regular personal writing practice online I was eighteen.

A theme of the past year has been trying to disengage from my attachment to what I think other people want or need from me, and to rekindle my working relationship with myself. Changing my relationship to being online hasn’t been linear. I still go on social media. It’s not like it’s become obsolete in my world overnight. But my therapist (as usual) is right. 

Something’s on the move.

1. I spent an afternoon last week dredging up memories of StumbleUpon, a service that flung users around to random sites with the click of a button between 2002 and 2018. It was great! The closest thing I’ve experienced recently was Jenny Odell asking folks on Twitter to share their favorite single serving websites. (LEAF.COM!!!) Not a full replacement for the service, but a delight nonetheless.

A Nice Carpet

No trip to Juneau for Comics Camp in 2020 (and, from the looks of it, none in 2021 either), but we did gather in April and January for two truly lovely online…hangouts? Digital-councils? Un-tele-conferences? Whatever they were I liked them.

During the most recent one I tried leading a Creative Wayfinding Workshop based on my recent talk for Jolabokaflod PDX. At one point I had folks in the room populate a spreadsheet with the faces of people they admire.

A nine by seven grid full of tiny headshots. There are authors like Lynda Barry, Ryan North, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Adrienne Maree Brown. Politicians like Alexandra Occasio Cortez and Rashida Talib. Cartoonists like Blue Delliquanti, Spike Trotman, and Ray Behr. Even a photo of Kermit the Frog.

Sitting alone in my room watching these little cells fill up filled my heart up, too. Hearing people talk about who they’d chosen and why, doubly so. Seeing people include the faces of their peers and fellow campers alongside Nobel laureates and pop stars and politicians?

Well.

It pays to remember that people aren’t just looking up to people they’ve never met—people who are famous or dead or both. Chances are good they’re looking up to their friends, too. The ones who are kind. The ones who fight for what they believe in. The ones who know how to say no and make it feel like a gift.

It pays to remember to tell those people we look up to them, when we can.

Scarcity/Support

Photographer Joshua Kissi articulated something I relate to very deeply about the idea of “success” for creators in the current age in this interview:

“There’s less of a binary now. It’s not a clear ‘you made it,’ or ‘you didn’t.’ For a long time, people romanticized this idea of the starving artist because there were so few that make it to the top. Now people are finding spaces that make sense for them, and it’s not because it’s being forced upon them. They’ve had way more control and autonomy over building a space they feel comfortable creating from. They’re not making things from a scarcity mindset anymore.”

Read this via Aundre Larrow, who I followed after hearing him speak about Instinct, Luck + Preparation for In/Visible Talks. When I thanked him for his insights on Twitter, he immediately messaged me and asked “How can I support you?”

The question caught me off-guard. I can be cagey about this stuff when put on the spot, despite maintaining such an open demeanor online. Usually I’m the one doing the offering, the listening, the supporting. 

I get uncomfortable when people turn it back on me. 

And when it comes from a fellow creator at a similar stage in their career? Then it’s not as simple as just saying “Here’s my Patreon!” and moving on. There are things we need, but perhaps don’t know how to ask for—things other creators might understand better than anyone.

So even though I don’t think I gave a particularly profound answer at the time, I still think about that exchange whenever I interact with someone new. What happens when I open a conversation with an offer of assistance? And when (jumping back to that Interintellect conversation on authenticity) might it feel misaligned with the default level of intimacy that’s present between strangers? This is stuff I love thinking about, and behavior that I love seeing in my timeline.

As Kissi says elsewhere in the interview:

“I am most proud of the ability to impact people over time. […] Even if something is starting with me, it’s not ending with me.”

May we all start things that don’t end with us.

2020 in Reading: The Big List

The landing outside our bedrooms is tiny—barely big enough for one person to stand alongside the single floor vent that’s supposed to heat the entire upstairs. But! There’s enough wall space for two tall pieces of paper, so that’s where Zina and I have kept our reading lists since 2015.

I’ve never really gotten into tracking my reading online, so this practice has served as my visual archive of books devoured. It’s a lovely way to remind myself of when influential authors first appeared in my life, and to lend shape to the years. I used to keep the old ones pinned up in my room for easy access, but my impending move has meant getting rid of a lot of papery ephemera, so here they all are for posterity:

A collection of six tall, thin pieces of paper with lists of books written on them. They're dated from 2015 to 2020 and have the name Lucy at the top of each one.

Since I’m trying to keep more of myself on my own site, I figured I’d upload the whole catalogue from 2020 as a blog post. I’ll do a followup with a little more about my absolute favorites, but for now: here’s everything.

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Hell Yes
  1. 📖 The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern ❤︎
  2. 📓 All About Love – bell hooks
  3. 📓 Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino ❤︎❤︎
  4. 📓 Atomic Habits – James Clear
  5. 📓 The Way of Zen – Alan Watts
  6. 💬 Unversed – Ed. Jonathan Hill
  7. 💬 Uncomfortably Happily – Yeon-Sik Hong
  8. 💬 The Chancellor and The Citadel – Maria Frantz
  9. 💬 The Northwest Passage (Vol. 1) – Scott Chantler
  10. 💬 The Hunting Accident – David L. Carlson & Landis Blair ❤︎
  11. 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎❤︎
  12. 📓 Deviced – doreen dodgen-magee
  13. 📝/📓 Letters from Max – Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritvo ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📓 Van Gogh – Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith ❤︎
  15. 💬 Gaugin: The Other World – Fabrizio Dori
  16. 📖 The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow
  17. 📓 Madness, Rack, and Honey – Mary Ruefle ❤︎
  18. 📖 Axiomatic – Maria Turmakin
  19. 📓 The Crying Book – Heather Christle ❤︎❤︎
  20. 📖 Looking for Jake – China Miéville
  21. 🎭 Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  22. 📖 The Bird King – G. Willow Wilson ❤︎
  23. 📖 Steel Crow Saga – Paul Krueger
  24. 📖 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong ❤︎
  25. 📓 The Salt Path – Raynor Wynn
  26. 💬 Displacement – Kiku Hughes
  27. 📓 Time is a Thing the Body Moves Through – T. Fleischmann
  28. 📖 The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book – Kate Milford
  29. 📓 Pleasure Activism – adrienne maree brown ❤︎
  30. 📖 Tales from 1001 Nights – Trans. Malcolm & Ursula Lyons
  31. 📖 The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemesin
  32. 📖 The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea – Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  33. 📓 Constellations – Sinead Gleeson
  34. 📖 The Reapers are The Angels – Alden Bell
  35. 📓 The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis
  36. 📖 Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  37. 📖 You Are the Friction – Ed. Jez Burrows & Anna Hurley
  38. 💬 The Golden Age – Cyril Pedrosa & Roxanne Moreil ❤︎
  39. 📖 Flights – Olga Tokarczuk
  40. 📖 Annabel Scheme and The New Golden Gate – Robin Sloan ❤︎
  41. 📖 How to Be Both – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  42. 📖 A Burning – Megha Majumdar
  43. 📖 If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin
  44. 📖 Blandings Castle – P.G. Wodehouse
  45. 📖 Summer Lightning – P.G. Wodehouse
  46. 📖 Heavy Weather – P.G. Wodehouse
  47. 📓 Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency – Olivia Laing ❤︎❤︎
  48. 📝 Citizen: An Americal Lyric – Claudia Rankine
  49. 📖 A Room with A View – E.M. Forster ❤︎
  50. 📓 Close to the Machine – Ellen Ullman ❤︎
  51. 📓 The Power of Ritual – Casper ter Kuile
  52. 📖 Artful – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  53. 📓 Coming to Writing and Other Essays – Hélène Cixous ❤︎
  54. 📖 Attrib. – Eley Williams ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  55. 💬 Go With The Flow – Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann
  56. 💬 Knight and Beard (Vol. 1) – Tara Kurtzhals & Sarah Bollinger
  57. 📓 The Heroine’s Journey – Maureen Murdock
  58. 📖 Each of Us a Desert – Mark Oshiro ❤︎
  59. 📖 Self Care – Leigh Stein
  60. 💬 Syllabus – Lynda Barry ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  61. 💬 Grass – Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
  62. 📝 Handwriting – Michael Ondaatje
  63. 📓 Letters from Tove – Tove Jansson ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  64. 📝/📓 Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties – Trans. John J.L. Mood
  65. 🎭 The Tempest – William Shakespeare
  66. 💬 The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui ❤︎
  67. 📝 Beowulf – Maria Dahvana Headley ❤︎❤︎
  68. 📝 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  69. 📖 Piranesi – Susanna Clarke ❤︎❤︎
  70. 📓 A Reading Life – C.S. Lewis
  71. 📓 Better than IRL – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott ❤︎
  72. 📓 Split – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott
  73. 📖 The Waves – Virginia Woolf ❤︎❤︎

Authenticity: Interintellect Salon Notes

A good thing: I’ve started wandering into more and stranger corners of the internet in the past year. Weird legacy sites documenting English heirloom potatoes. Minimalist archives of Japanese woodworking techniques. A blog in the form of a text-based game. So it doesn’t surprise me that much (except it kind of does) to have stumbled onto The Interintellect (often rendered as “ii”) via something Brendan shared in relation to Hyperlink Academy a couple weeks ago.

I attended my first Salon of theirs this past weekend—a three-hour freeform discussion called “Just Be Yourself: Questioning the Value of Authenticity” facilitated by Linus Lu. Twenty-odd folks called in from around the globe to share perspectives on authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, and selfhood. I didn’t intend to share these notes, but by the time we’d finished talking I thought “What the hell, this could be blog fodder,” so here we are!

(A note on alt text: the gallery plugin I’m running on this site is behaving abominably, so for now I’ve just linked the alt text for all these images here.)

As always, I’m increasingly hung up on who has the privilege—time and money, mostly—to engage in these kinds of discussions. High-level overviews of culture and selfhood absolutely get me going, but I also know that I don’t have the bandwidth for them when I’m scrambling to put food on the table or make sure I can pay my rent.

How can we make more room for folks outside academia and well-paid industries (and the odd self-employed interloper like myself) to interrogate this stuff?

Strange, Familiar Seas

Not every night, but most nights, the English writer Philip Hoare gets into the sea.

I know this because he tweets about it. Not every night, but most nights. A brief, poetic, timestamped dispatch from the waves.

I read Hoare’s book Risingtidefallingstar toward the end of 2018 and fell hopelessly in love. It’s a sweeping voyage through various coastal regions, literary lives, and strange creatures of the sea. It defies categorization—feels tidal rather than textual. (Just describing the book makes me realize that it shares many qualities with Always Coming Home, which should hardly come as a surprise at this point.)

When I followed Hoare on Twitter, I started seeing these fleeting messages in my feed. The nature of the platform meant that it took me a while to realize how consistently they cropped up, but when I noticed, it shifted something.

In 2019, I made a pact with myself after a week by a lake on an island in Canada: if I find myself near a body of water and it is even remotely possible for me to get into it, I must get into it.1 I’ve since plunged into frigid waves on the Oregon coast, silky river waters of the Columbia Gorge, and the hidden shock of a creek in my hometown of Ojai, California.

Often, as I’m sprinting, screaming across the wide expanse of sand toward the breakers, or furtively scrambling out of my clothes in the underbrush, I think of Hoare’s constant devotion to being where he feels most alive. Most held.

It’s not even about whether or not he swims every night, or what time he goes (does the man ever sleep? Unclear), or what the sky is doing on that particular Tuesday. It’s just a reminder that there is a person who embodies his affection for the sea so fully and faithfully that he’s out there, in the water, baptized night after night.

Whatever Hoare writes next, I’ll probably love it. But my primary interest isn’t his creative output. The thing I want to know is whether he is still himself, and as far as I can tell plunging bodily into the ocean on a near-nightly basis is the backbone of his existence.

I’ve chewed on the idea of object permanence a lot this year—dug into my mistrust of fleeting social media feedback, questioned how online creators can feel secure in taking leaves of absence, and wondered at what it is about our work that truly endures. Hoare makes me consider relocating the idea of permanence from deliverables like books and art and films to the substrates of our creative practices; these undercurrents of selfhood.

That is the thing I want to celebrate and support.

1. Even having trod on a stingray and endured unimaginable agony two months after taking said vow, I still believe it to be sound.

The Infinite Carrier Bag

What’s the thought you think all your life long? It must be a great one, a solemn one, to make you gaze through the world at it, all your life long. When you have to look aside from it your eyes roll, you bellow in anger, anxious to return to it, steadily to gaze at it, think it all your life long.

— To The Bullock Roseroot, an improvisation spoken during the Second Day of the World ceremonies by Kulkunna of Chukulmas

I’ve been making my way, very slowly and over the course of many loans from the Multnomah County Library, through Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin’s unclassifiable, meandering, pseudo-anthropological record of a fictional future people called the Kesh. I’m not even a third of the way into the thing, but as the above quote from the book suggests, I’m thinking about it all the time.

There are so many things I love about this collection, particularly its place-specific-ness. The Kesh live in a far-future, post-societal-collapse Northern California. Even with the ravages of climate change, they describe the local flora and fauna in a way that taps straight into the landscape of my childhood—what Cassie Marketos calls “our good earth to grow in”. It brings me back to hot, dusty hikes through the Sespe wilderness in grade school, shifting my weight side to side as a leathery naturalist lectured us on different varieties of manzanita. It roots me in a place I think about even when I am not thinking about it.

If we are friends in any capacity, chances are high that I’ve pressed Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” into your hands at one point or another. It explores a hypothetical world where stories are about the things they gather and contain, rather than the bodies they pierce and conquer, and I want to talk about it with everyone. It took me years to bother looking up where it had originally been published, which led me to Always Coming Home. Now that I’m a third of the way into this massive, discursive, lovely collection, it makes perfect sense. Theory in practice.

I like a book that forces me to take my time.

I’m a fast reader, and the first to admit that I can get a little breathless with my consumption. I spin out over ideas, get caught up in the excitement of newness. A book like this resists every opportunity to rush. The chapters and sections are all relatively small, but they loop and meander and digress. They build in layers over hundreds of pages to give an impression rather than a narrative. The experience feels very similar to reading oral traditions of cultures other than my own—an abruptness as one’s expectations of narrative symmetry and pacing are undermined in real time. The lack of them speaks louder than anything; makes me more aware of what I’ve been raised with, and of how things could be different.

Despite their distance from our current world of technology, the Kesh still interface with certain vestiges of present-day culture. These moments are some of my favorite in the book so far.

The City mind thinks that sense has been made if a writing is read, if a message is transmitted, but we don’t think that way. In any case, to learn a great deal about those people would be to cry in the ocean; whereas using their bricks in one of our buildings is satisfying to the mind. […] What does it mean to cry in the ocean? Oh, well, you know, to add something where nothing’s needed, or where so much is needed that it’s no use even trying, so you just sit down and cry.

If that isn’t social media in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. The desire to know everything, consume everything, document everything butting up against Marge Piercy’s recognition:

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

When I retweet or double tap on a post by a friend to express my approval, I’m not using their bricks in one of my buildings. But when I write? That’s when we’re in conversation—occupying the same room across space and time, building it together.

This is what Le Guin manages, in this layered, looping collection of stories and ideas: she writes a re-envisioned world into being, and then writes herself—writes all of us who create—into that world. “What do they do,” she asks, “the singers, tale-writers, dancers, painters, shapers, makers?”

They go there with empty hands, into the gap between. They come back with things in their hands. They go silent and come back with words, with tunes. They go into confusion and come back with patterns. […] The ordinary artists use patience, passion, skill, work and returning to work, judgment, proportion, intellect, purpose, indifference, obstinacy, delight in tools, delight, and with these as their way they approach the gap, the hub, approaching in circles, in gyres, like the buzzard, looking down, watching, like the coyote, watching. They look to the center, they turn on the center, they describe the center, though they cannot live there.

It’s the doubled items in this list that I love the most: “work and returning to work,” “delight in tools, delight”. I love that Le Guin understands these as separate, yet interlocking elements. I love that she has thought, so deeply and with so much lenience and also so much slantwise clarity, about the purposes we might serve in remaking the fabric of society.

She was a writer with a thought to think her whole life long. And the beautiful thing about writing is that the thought didn’t end when she did—now I’m thinking it, too.

Mind the Gap

This morning I opened Twitter and saw that John le Carré had died.

I don’t know how to talk about this.

He wasn’t John in our house, but David—his given name. I grew up alongside his grandchildren in California, fellow offspring of English parents who had come to LA to work in film and stayed to raise families. Those eight children formed a counterpoint to my existence as an only child; a reassurance that I’m not the only person who pronounces certain words with a different vowel emphasis, or who feels like she needs to have a foot in two countries at once to make any kind of sense.

They’ve also become external sources against which I can confirm my experience of my parents. As dementia alters the way my father moves through the world, I’m more and more attached to the people who knew him as he was before. I don’t believe I’m capable of fully expressing the kind of remarkable and loving man he is and was. I need witnesses.

At 81, the majority of updates my father receives from friends and family are about death.

He and David were eight years apart in age, two patrician Englishmen dual-wielding charm and intellect. They delighted in each other’s company whenever they crossed paths at parties and family gatherings. We’d receive Christmas cards from David’s house in Cornwall and my father would send cheeky handmade bookmarks in return (although, to be fair, he was exceptionally generous with his bookmark-gifting. This week alone I’ve talked to three people who have them sitting visibly on shelves in their homes or offices).

I’ve always had a hard time bridging the generational and international gap between my parents’ worlds and mine. So often, when I go to try and explain my family to my peers, they don’t know the first thing about the people I’m referencing. It feels alienating and strange. Whenever a friend or relative in the UK passes, it feels like losing a fragment of an impossible world I got to be part of as a child.

I remember David taking us to a Chinese restaurant in London where I ate crispy duck with plum sauce for the first time. There was a fountain running down an indoor staircase and everything felt glamorous and grown-up. I’ve never had duck that good since.

I feel strained and strange because the public grief sits at odds with my own experience of this man. It’s not the intimacy of family, nor is it the distanced attraction of fandom. It’s something tangled around the fact that David and my father were of a type, and his death points at something looming in the mist of my future.

The loss of creative people is complex. If we have nothing to do with a creator in person, then our grief is often more to do with the loss of potential future output—the books unwritten and songs unsung. But we are not our work. It is a part of us, but not the whole of us. Certainly no substitute for the love we give—or are unable to give—to our children. No shortcut to understanding our innermost selves, or what we meant to the people who loved us.

The one cult hit my father played a hand in writing is so far from what I want him to be remembered for—but sometimes it’s the only thing I can point to that might help a stranger understand what he means to me.

There is so much about his life that is improbable, delightful, complex. I can’t recount his escapades without feeling like I’m trying to brag. He came of age in the midst of Britain’s satire boom, bucked familial expectation to travel halfway around the world, and ended up touring America as a stage actor and writing movies in Hollywood. Each time I think I know every celebrity anecdote in his arsenal, he surprises me with another.

I can’t tell so many of the jokes he told because my Yorkshire accent is abominable.

How am I going to tell anyone about who he was if I can’t tell his jokes?

The news of David’s passing shakes me because I realize there will be no pageantry of this scale when my father goes, but there will still be some kind of reckoning between what he represented to other people and who he was to me. I’m grieving for my friends, who have lost a father and grandfather, but I’m also grieving this dwindling thread to a place that made me; to something I cannot hold.