Moved to speak

On Being With Krista Tippet is one of our favorite podcasts — and it is one of the ways Alene starts her day on the bus. There’s also a blog which we look at every now and then — and today we found a post which was really helpful for Alene — Rediscovering Sacred Silence, by Heather McRae-Woolf. It described the Quaker practice of worshipping in silence — but also the experience of being “moved to speak” by a trembling in the belly and hands — the “quaking” that gave name to the denomination.

Alene knows the feeling — of being “moved to speak” — even when there’s every reason to believe that the message might not be willingly received. It’s especially difficult when you find yourself being “moved to speak” in a forum with strict rules of engagement — because sometimes you are accused of “speaking out of turn”, or “cutting someone off”, or trying to redirect the conversation. But you just know that what you have to say has to be said right now — and that you have to insist on saying it all at one go — because once the moment has passed, it may never come your way again. And it’s hard to disguise the trembling of your voice. You have to avoid all eye contact and not worry about how people are reacting. You just keep talking until you’re done — and the quaking may take hours to subside — after which you may wish you’d just stayed silent — but that was never going to happen.

Her belly is nice and calm right now!

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Leaning in hard

Alene has a way of leaning into things that bother/upset/frighten her.

In the late 1990s, it was the Y2K thing. After being alarmed by the Newsweek article in late 1998, she spent a lot of time researching it on the internet. At first, she immersed herself in the TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) culture to get herself truly freaked out. Then when she was tired of sleepless nights she reached out to people she knew in the computer industry and business world and read every piece of information they forwarded to her. Her ex-husband, a software engineer, insisted it would be the non-event of the century — but Alene would not allow herself to be comforted. She considered the infrastructure of the small town where she lived — and read every piece of literature distributed by her bank, electric utility, the university she worked at. In the summer of 1999, she started receiving more sophisticated billing and banking statements as new systems were implemented. By the time I joined her life in September, she’d concluded that if the world was as prepared for Y2K as the backwater town she lived in, then there was probably little cause for alarm — although it would still be prudent to stock up with non-perishable foods and supplies and busy herself with the chain saw to build up the log pile.

At the same time, she’d been leaning into religion of one kind or another — from the Mormons at one end to the Hare Krishnas at the other — and watching the Trinity Broadcast Network on TV. Alene was basically agnostic and occasionally verging on atheist — but still open to the question – what if any of these people are right? When the Mormons knocked on her door, she asked them in. And when they declined on account of there being no man in the house, she let them talk on the doorstep. She read The Bhagavadgita As It Is (which lived on her end table for over a year) and corresponded with a mature Hare Krishna devotee. And she went to church for a while. That ended as soon as I came along. We are both very happy to believe in God now — although our manifestation of God might seem a bit too funny to most people — but we’re not afraid to laugh at His jokes.

Alene’s latest thing to be leaning into is the whole issue of racism and white privilege. We are both white — and not only that — we are English white — so we are probably even more fragile than your typical white American. Her workplace has an anti-racist component in its overall mission encourages discussion of race and facilitates it with monthly meetings which she attends pretty religiously. She tries to balance the workplace discussions by listening to podcasts which more broadly address aspects of race — such as Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race, Another Round, and For Colored Nerds — or podcast about more general topics which are hosted by non-white people with lots of non-white guests, such as Neil deGrasse-Tyson’s Star-Talk Radio. And then there was the Octavia’s Brood forum discussion at the library last week!

Anyway, Alene went to today’s meeting with a whole load of thoughts and ideas swimming around her head — and was unable to contain them all. It was partly my fault. I egged her on to tell the story about the sun and the wind competing to get a man to take off his coat — and a whole lot of other stuff came out with it.

Sometimes you can lean into something so hard that you just fall on your face!

– Mark

Daydream believer

Alene rode out yet another stinking hot day in Seattle in the relative cool of her bedroom — listening to back episodes of Mysterious Universe podcast — totally digging accounts of UFO sightings by airline pilots, tinny computer voices heard on the phone, and dangerous meditation practices. We have our own theories on what’s behind many strange experiences — and Alene is thinking of making it the subject of her NaNoWriMo project in November.

Something which really interested her was a segment about maladaptive daydreaming — a condition which has people caught up in fantasies inside their head. I knew Alene would be worried, so I had to keep reassuring her.

“This is not what you’re experiencing,” I reminded her. “I’m a real person keeping you company in a rather strange way — but you’re not having fantasies.”

There’s no psychosis associated with maladaptive daydreaming. People living with it know that the stories in their head are not reality. The main problem seems to be the addictive nature of indulging the practice — which can interfere with studying, work performance and personal relationships. One subject confessed that the characters in her fantasies were just more fascinating than the people in the real world around her.

Alene often worries about the time she spends with me — pretty much all weekend and every evening. But right from the beginning (back in 1999) I have made sure to leave her alone when she has work to do. And she has no trouble focusing on tasks, at work and elsewhere. On Wednesday night, she went to a meetup with a load of computer geeks to get a hands-on demo of an open access data platform. As she followed along on her own laptop, she completely tuned me out — and I read The Economist. When it was done, she got my attention and told me she was getting a ride partway home with a woman at her table. I tuned in for part of the ride — but they were talking Excel and R — nothing I was interested in — so I went back to reading. However, once Alene was alone, and walking home, I put down my magazine and fully tuned in with her to keep her company as she walked — and I enjoyed the West Seattle sunset! Basically, we check in with each other the way most couples check in on their phones.

Despite my assurances, Alene felt compelled to Google maladaptive daydreaming to learn more. It has some similarities with ADHD and so sometimes responds to ADHD medications. But Alene wonders why people with the disorder don’t write. When you make up fantasies as you pace around your home, then it’s maladaptive daydreaming. But when you make up fantasies and type them into your laptop — then you’re a writer! And if you’ve been indulging maladaptive daydreaming for hours a day, then writing 50,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo should be a piece of cake!

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.

She’s not alone

Another hot day for Alene in Seattle. So she was surprised to find her bedroom quite comfortable — and lay down after dinner to listen to a few recent episodes of The Truth podcast.

The episode titled You’re Not Alone was preceded by a warning that it gets intense in places — and that someone suffering from schizophrenia or who has suicidal inclinations might want to give it a miss.

I felt Alene doubting herself and told her to go ahead and listen. You don’t hear voices, I reminded her — you just hear me — and we just have normal conversations — often about really mundane stuff — like what to buy at the grocery store — or which podcast to listen to. A few nights ago, I reminded her of the movie Bagdad Cafe, which we still have never watched together — and I suggested she look it up in the library catalog and request it (she’s now in fifth place on three copies.) I never tell her to harm herself or others — or that she doesn’t deserve to live — and my voice sounds normal in her head — no echoes or sound effects — and sometimes to amuse her, I exaggerate my Essex accent. We’re just like a couple that has been together for sixteen years and is still in love. It’s rather cute. Besides — she had a neuropsychological assessment and plenty of follow-up counseling that concluded she was not psychotic in any way.

As it happened, she rather enjoyed the podcast — although she never allows herself to be fully reassured. Allen thinks it’s amazing she hasn’t gone mad for real with my conversation going on inside her head. Cheeky sod. He’s also been razzing me about the England ladies losing to Japan after putting the ball into their own net. I have only myself to blame for that — if I hadn’t have told him, he’d have never known!

Kick some ass!

Podcasts on the bus have been a bit of a mix this week — no running theme.

Sometimes we get into a groove with something for a few weeks, as we did recently with Ernest Shackleton’s South. A couple of summers ago, we discovered Welcome To Night Vale and listened to the entire archive. And five years ago, just after Alene bought an iPod Touch (her first modern gadget), we found A History Of The World In One Hundred Objects from BBC Radio 4 — the series that would turn us into confirmed podcast junkies and have us pretty much quit TV-watching for good. Alene has bus podcasts on her latest iPhone, while her decommissioned iPhone 3GS is the storage for her at-home and in-bed podcasts.

On the bus, Alene enjoys hearing personal stories from podcasts such as The Moth, TED Radio Hour, Wiretap, and On Being. Today, she has been hearing stories that have awakened a restlessness in her. She wants to break out from the “blah” she’s been immersed in — and do something new — or even ridiculous — like walking the entire length of Chile from north to south. Hmm. I wonder why she has the urge to do that…..

I just wish she would stop hiding herself. Everything she loves and cares about she feels she has to keep hidden from the world — especially at work. She’s a wonderful little worker bee — but that’s all most people ever see of her — and it’s sad, because that is such a minor part of who she is.

I’m hoping that as she continues to type my thoughts and observations for this blog, that she will find the courage to let the world see the person I know and love. She could kick some serious ass one day!

Coffee together

We have coffee together most mornings — but Alene isn’t always paying enough attention to notice. I decided to ger her attention this morning.

Before she went out, I had her check the weather and time at Puerto Williams. It’s a nice chilly morning with a real touch of autumn in the air. No worries or hurries at our end. Even Allen, a lifelong early riser, allowed himself a lazy start. We decided to try to pass the mood on to Alene.

Her morning bus didn’t show on OneBusAway, so she worried it wasn’t coming — as is often the way. But it did come — and perhaps a little early too! (Oh she of little faith!, was Allen’s reaction.) We enjoyed a couple of podcasts of a new BBC Radio 4 series called Incarnations, which tells the history of India through the lives of fifty people — from the Buddha to the present day. Today we heard about Ashoka, who began his reign in a heavy handed matter, but learned over time the importance of respecting the diversity of beliefs amongst ones people. 

Traffic was light and the bus got downtown early. So Alene has a little longer than usual to dally in the coffee shop before work  — and I brewed up some at our end — so that the three of us could enjoy it together.

This will be a fun day for me. Alene has a meeting later on. I hope it won’t be cancelled. I wish she could just hang out in the coffee shop until then — thinking of me:)