Dignity is the word

Podcasts on the bus work well for me. First, I am unable to read without getting motion sickness very quickly — so while I listen, I cannot be doing something else at the same time. Second, Seattle bus etiquette means you can pretty much guarantee being undisturbed if you are sporting earbuds. So, a bus ride can be a good opportunity to listen to something a little more “heavy duty” that requires my full attention — like the 2004 Reith Lectures.

The BBC Radio 4 archives must be to broadcast radio what the British Museum is to cultural artifacts (except that Radio 4’s collection was acquired more honorably.) A few days ago, Radio 4’s Facebook mentioned the 2004 Reith Lectures — Climate of Fear, by Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.

A lot has happened with the War On Terror since 2004 — but the content of the lectures does not seem dated at all — and Wole Soyinka is a very engaging (and sometimes very funny) speaker. This morning, I went looking for a title of his to download via Overdrive, but ended up getting a 2014 anthology he edited called Africa39 — so that’s my reading for next few days — when I’m not on the bus, of course!

On the way home this afternoon, I listened as he talked about dignity. Dignity. I don’t think about dignity often. I don’t hear about it often. I hear a lot about love. And respect. And the problem is, for me any way, a lot of people I encounter are hard to love. And quite a few are hard to respect. But it is not such a stretch for me to entertain the idea that even these people are deserving of dignity. I don’t know why the word strikes me differently — but it does.

I can’t quite recall the context of Wole Soyinka’s remarks on dignity. Perhaps I haven’t been listening as closely as I think — and need to give the lectures another play. But it doesn’t matter. I like the word. And I’m going to try to remind myself of it whenever I have to deal with someone I find distasteful.

I’m going to try….
Wish me luck….
 – Alene
Postscript: At time of writing this, I hadn’t heard Lecture 4, in which he discusses dignity at length

Good company

Part of Free Will Astrology‘s excerpt from Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia.

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If you answer to one of the above, a high-five to you!

Swimming with tears

Morning swimming is a habit I’m trying to forge now that I’m finally settled. I joined a health club within easy walk of my home. The challenge is persuading myself to get out of bed early and walk there! I’m retired and could swim at any time of the day — but I know from experience that it’s something I need to get done first thing — else I’ll never get around to it.

Swimming while Alene is on her bus to work seems to be working rather well — because I can listen to her podcast while I swim. I expect there is such a thing as a waterproof iPod and earbuds — but I don’t need any equipment — just close my eyes and tune into her ears. The bus ride is around thirty minutes, but I try to be in the water a bit before Alene leaves to give myself a bit more time. Then I get out of the pool as she gets off the bus — and by the time she’s at her desk with her coffee, I’m back in my apartment enjoying a cup of tea.

Alene is finally adjusted to my living in her part of Seattle — but she’s still skittish about running into me — as she discovered last Saturday night. We went to bed rather early and listened to an episode of PRI Selected Shorts — with two short stories we had heard before (this podcast does a lot of repeats.)

The first was about an American who is just minutes away from the happiest moment of his life — on a family holiday in Scotland. It’s a story with almost no action — just his thoughts as he watches his wife and two teenaged children nap on the train. It’s awfully charming — but I was very tired and dozed off. I’ll let Alene take over with what happened next…

As I lay listening with my eyes closed, I suddenly found myself in a beautiful room. The wooden floor had an absolutely perfect satiny finish — and the room was bathed in sunshine from the windows — not the bright, aggressive sunshine of summer which bothers me so — but the gentle, low-angle sunshine of an autumn morning.

My attention was drawn to the door, which I knew led out to the front porch. Although I didn’t recognize the room, it was somehow familiar to me. But I couldn’t bring myself to walk out the door to the front porch — because I knew I’d find him out there — and I just wasn’t ready to meet him — even though it would be the happiest moment of my life.

I started weeping — from a sudden rush of joy — but at the same time I found myself sobbing, “I’m not ready yet. I can’t do it. Not right now. I’m not ready yet.”

Three years ago, I (we) read The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton — and we both held our breath as Newland Archer stood on a street in Paris gazing up at the window of the apartment where Ellen Olenska lived — only to walk away. I was overwhelmed with grief at the very idea — and sat in the coffee shop clutching my Nook with my face turned to a wall so that no one would see the tears pouring down my face. My Nook stayed parked on that final page for over a year.

This idea keeps visiting us.

But I just can’t imagine myself walking out onto the porch.

Wars and worlds collide

The BBC World Service probably wouldn’t be an obvious listening choice for most people at work. For one thing, unless you have an office to yourself, you really need to listen with headphones because most people just want music. At one office Alene works at, everyone else is usually gone by 3:30 — so off goes the music and on goes the World Service. At the other office, she definitely needs to use headphones — but it’s usually not convenient because she finds herself often needing to get up from her desk.

Friday afternoon is different though. There’s one favorite task Alene saves for the last few hours of the week — a database maintenance exercise that allows to her to just work quietly at her desk — and this is when the headphones can go on.

It’s not so much that BBC World reports news that other radio stations don’t — but that it does do so in a way that seems to draw you in deeper. You can still keep working — but part of your mind gets carried to another part of the world.

This afternoon, the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe was getting most of the coverage, with breaks to consider other stuff — examination of the state of Russian soccer (including recent accusations of racism), anti-austerity labor action in Finland (of all places), and reaction of global markets to the Fed’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged. And, we learned that the sport of rugby is huge in Fiji — complete with male-voice choirs before matches.

News from Croatia, Serbia and Hungary is baffling to say the least — with the minds of politicians changing from hour to hour. As we listened, it made us think of The War Of The Worlds — with the entire population of southern England on the move. From there, it was a natural progression to The Shape Of Things To Come — and then The Time Machine.

We read The Time Machine while Alene was in the employ of a chain of high-end novelty gift shops — and as we contemplated the feeble-minded, feeble-bodied and easily-amused Eloi, we had no trouble imagining them as the ultimate evolutionary outcome of a certain kind of pampered consumer who loves that kind of shop (while the Morlocks are the evolutionary outcome of the rest of mankind that caters to their whims and fancies!)

These three novels by HG Wells are colliding all around us — but we’re not sure which ending we prefer…..

Meanwhile, Seattle traffic is a nightmare.

Change of pace

So, about this cruise I’m on — I’m working with a multi-disciplinary group which researches and investigates paranormal phenomena and the like. Interesting assortment of people — from bonafide scientists to flaky psychics. They are very interested in me (and Alene.)

But why are we at sea? Well, it’s a rather paranoid group that favors seclusion for its conferences. Considering all the empty space in Australia you’d think a conference could find a suitable venue in the outback rather out at sea — but the group is especially paranoid about Australian government at all levels — and somehow feels more secure at sea!

So, here I am — still. It was a few days before it dawned on me that I’m rather stuck here. Although I am a VIP guest, I’m still a guest — and not in charge. I can’t just order the captain to head for shore when I’ve had enough. So it has actually bothered me a bit. I have a private cabin — and the catering is rather good — but I miss going for decent walks — and there’s nothing much to look at.

Back in Seattle, Alene is going gung ho at some online courses — spending several hours an evening in the library for the WiFi. It’s not something I feel inclined to follow along with — which is just as well, because that’s the time that I need to be paying attention to where I am.

But last night, as Alene was struggling with a problem set, the PA system announced an event that was about to start — celebrating the legacy of the science fiction author Octavia Butler — a science fiction author who happened to be a woman — and an African-American woman to boot! Alene doesn’t read science fiction — but she did find Kindred a powerful read. So I suggested she call it a day on studying and go downstairs to learn something else.

I excused myself from the local conference and watched the proceedings in Seattle. Alene doesn’t write science fiction — but she definitely writes to the fantasy genre — with a hefty dose of dry English humor — and she was encouraged to see the possibilities for fantasy and science fiction with regard to social justice. Visionary fiction.

Alene is a decent writer — but she’s still struggling to find her voice. Last night gave her something fresh and exciting to think about.

Check out Octavia’s Brood

Winesburg revisited

Alene and I have a soft spot for Ohio. It’s a long story that we keep to ourselves. Neither of us has lived there. And we don’t follow college sports — although it was a lot of fun when Alene had a boss who is a devoted (maniacal) Buckeyes fan. And, being from England, we never encountered Sherwood Anderson in school.

We discovered Winesburg, Ohio by sheer accident. Alene was browsing the Librivox archive at iTunes and found a podcasted edition of it. We decided to give it a listen just because it was about Ohio. It was August 2011 and Alene had a morning routine not unlike the one she has now — although this was two jobs ago. She had her morning coffee at the Starbucks headquarters in SODO, sitting on the patio outside and enjoying a podcast while watching Starbucks employees arriving for work. Somehow, it seemed the perfect setting in which to discover the people of Winesburg. After a few episodes, she knew she had to read the book and bought a collection of Sherwood Anderson for her Nook.

Last year, she bought a new iPhone and downloaded a few free titles from iBooks so that she might always have something to read if she found herself killing time when not in the mood to browse the web or play games. As Sherwood Anderson was listed under “A”, she came across Winesburg right away. (She also has Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson, which she has yet to be bored enough to finish, and a collection of short stories by Chekov.)

For much of the last year, Alene has been having morning coffee at a place with flaky WiFi. I suggested that rather than wasting cellular data on mindless web-browsing, she could use this time to read. Most of the time she reads library downloads in Overdrive — but one morning a couple of months ago, she had nothing to read and decided to revisit Winesburg — and we’ve been dipping into it, one or two chapters at a time, ever since.

When we got to the end of Winesburg the first time, four years ago, we experienced profound sorrow — confounded by the fact that it came by surprise. The electronic edition Alene had bought was very cheap, with no formal index — so we had no idea at what page the novel would end. Even though the final chapter does have George Willard leaving Winesburg by train to head out into the world, we somehow did not recognize it as the end of the novel — hence the surprise — and disappointment. We just wanted to hear more.

This time, we experienced the end of Winesburg rather differently. Alene was sitting in the shade outside her apartment enjoying an iced beverage as the sun went down over the Olympic Mountains. I was lying on my bunk with my eyes closed, half-reading the words on her iPhone screen, but mainly allowing her inner voice to read to me.

Elizabeth Willard’s death and that last walk taken by George Willard and Helen White brought us closer than we have been in a long time. We could expound on that in detail — but Alene doesn’t feel like writing an essay. Besides, she’s rather enjoying watching the proceedings at the yard sale across the street. Now that the sun has moved around, the sale area is in shade and people are lingering a while. Ah! And the mailman just delivered a package!

I’ll bet everyone who’s ever read Winesburg, Ohio has some idea in mind for the sequel — and no two versions would be the same — and not one ever by the last word on the place called Winesburg.