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

Small world

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Google Earth has been a godsend for Alene. Unlike me, she doesn’t travel well — and even if she did — when she has the time, she doesn’t have the money — and when she doesn’t have the time, she still doesn’t have the money. But she does have a PhD in geography — and Google Earth is the ultimate time waster for a geographer.

In Our Time History Archive listening today took us through the Byzantine Empire to the Silk Road. Ah, the very mention of the Silk Road makes us misty-eyed — even though neither of us has traveled in central Asia. The Google Earth screenshot captures the heart of the region crossed by the Silk Road and its branches — and also several little pieces of Alene’s life.

The mountains to the south of the Caspian Sea are home to Zanda, Alene’s most beloved fictional character of her own creation. To the northeast, lies the remnants of the Aral Sea. In the 1990s, as a graduate student and then a professor Alene learned and taught of the ecological disaster in the making — the disaster that has now been realized. Farther east, the Tian Shan Mountains were her favorite Google Earth destination about five years ago — and we were very disappointed that Almaty lost its bid (to Beijing!) to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. At the heart of it all is Samarkand — the very name of which suggests adventure.

“The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time” — so said James Hutton, as he contemplated the geologic formation at Siccar Point in Scotland. Alene felt it as she looked into the Grand Canyon. And we feel it as we look at maps.

Seattle was founded in 1851, when the first permanent white settlers landed at Alki. That was just yesterday. Yes, a lot as happened since then. But right now it feels like yesterday. Alene and I have spent the last few days absorbed in pre-Roman and Roman British history. And now the Silk Road beckons — and the world feels smaller in both time and space.

Yesterday evening, we each took a walk in the gale that blew into Seattle from the north. It was just after sunset. And perhaps we could have just turned in for the evening, but we were restless — and Alene had been sitting at a desk all day. And we thought of Patagonia — and all the windy walks I took with Allen. It’s spring there now. Meanwhile, Henry Worsley is crossing Antarctica alone. You can follow his progress at shackletonsolo.org

Help yourself

Onward with the In Our Time History Archive!  We continue with the unapologetically English theme — but the British Isles have a very old culture and a very long history — and you can’t understand the appalling modern history without some examination of how the English came by the mindset.

Alene was busy today with iPod-friendly work — so we heard about the dissolution of the monasteries, Hadrian’s Wall, Druids, the Divine Right of Kings, the enclosures of the commons, the Magna Carta, and the Roman Occupation — somewhat in that order.

The Hadrian’s Wall episode somehow collapsed time and space for us, as we contemplated Whin Sill in Northumberland, the dramatic fault escarpment on top of which part of the wall was built. Alene had to stop what she was doing briefly to look at pictures online. There was much confusion over who exactly built this wall, with the attribution going to Hadrian in modern times. In Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People, it would appear to be Severus, who came from northern Africa — and we found ourselves contemplating the Atlas Mountains, which were formed more than 200 million years ago by the same tectonic collision which built the Appalachians (rather dear to Alene), as well as the highlands of Scotland, which brought us back to Hadrian’s Wall again.

But the account of the dissolution of the monasteries spawned an idea that we kept revisiting all day long. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries following the split from Rome. Common belief is that he had them sacked and destroyed, but that is not necessarily the case. Rather, their occupants were forced to leave, and the buildings were made non-habitable, usually just via removal of the roof — to make sure no one returned. The serious sacking and looting was actually done by local people — not by Henry’s henchmen.

The Church lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the people. God had just stood by as the monasteries were dissolved. Then the people went in and helped themselves to anything they could carry away — and again God just stood by — there were no consequences. It is said that God helps those who helps themselves — and the English got rather good at helping themselves!

Another tragedy associated with the dissolution of the monasteries is that the contents of many of the libraries were destroyed. The cultures of pre-Roman Britain had an oral tradition, which is why we rely on archaeological evidence for want of written historical accounts — and why we know so little about our original religion, Druidism. The Anglo-Saxons did have a written tradition (both Latin and Old English) — but much of it was lost in the sixteenth century.

So at the same time that the English people were losing their conscience, they also lost some connection with their early history and culture — which is too bad — because that’s a deadly combination.

Get out of the way

I swim while Alene is on the bus to work. That way, I can listen to a podcast. This morning, we were in the mood to be unapologetically British and listen to something from the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: History archive — the episode about The Celts, of which Alene can probably claim to be one, as she’s from Cornwall. She’s finally starting to tune into my surroundings as I swim — smelling the chlorine of the pool water — AND, getting a sudden shiver of cold as I get out of the water. She’s formed a picture of the layout of my studio apartment too. I’ve been living there a month now — but she’s been very busy and very distracted.

She’s finishing up her third Coursera course, and I suggested she take a break for December — and perhaps January too. We have some fun projects of our own she needs to work on. And, I’d like us to spend some quality time together, in way we haven’t in a long time.

Alene has typed — and then deleted — five paragraphs so far. It’s not that we have writer’s block. We both have plenty to say — but then we think better of it. Perhaps that is writer’s block!!

Sting was blocked once. Yes the guy from The Police. After a couple of decades of creative inspiration, he couldn’t summon a new song if his life depended on it – until he started writing about shipbuilders in Wallsend — writing in the remarkable Geordie dialect of the far northeast of England. Poetry emerged out of nowhere — and Sting now performs spoken word in his native accent. Check out his TED talk.

We need to get out of our own way too – perhaps go back to our own roots.

The world is coming unglued. Everywhere you look you can feel it. Something big and powerful is coming up fast behind us — and we have to get out of its way — and let it do what it must.

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.

Harry Lime (The Third Man)

The Lives Of Harry Lime is one of our all-time favorite radio dramas. Alene just downloaded all 52 episodes from the Orson Welles On The Air podcast series (part of the Relic Radio stable) at iTunes. The episodes can also be heard here. We plan on a fall Harry Lime bus-riding marathon.

Give it a listen. It’s wonderfully ridiculous! A great way to start your day!

Comforting messages

My return to Seattle has rattled Alene more than I expected — so today I left her alone to work at her computer most of the day. At my suggestion, she gave Coursera homework a rest in favor of working on a rather fun project we have been talking about for months. Using her brain seems to be keeping her grounded and centered right now. It might have been better if I’d timed my return for a week she’d be busy at work instead of on vacation.

Anyway, last night we listened to the first three episodes of The Message, a podcast we only just found — and when the message was played for the first time, Alene was amused at how comforting she found it.

The original theme music to Welcome To Nightvale (which was changed recently) is something else she has found comforting at the end of the day — no matter how bizarre the subject matter of the episode. (It also helps that Nightvale is blisteringly funny!)

It summons something of the feelings you get when you stare out at the night sky. After a while, you feel the bigness — and the coldness — and the emptiness of what makes up most of the “out there” — and it doesn’t make you feel small — quite the opposite — you become part of the bigness and the coldness and the emptiness — and while the troubles of Earth don’t go away — they are put in perspective — and you sense that we are not alone.

But if you spend too much time “out there”, you can drive yourself a little crazy — and then it’s good to have Earthbound projects to take your mind off things — which is what Alene has been doing lately — and I need to let her.