I've been away from my computer, my blog, and my inbox a tremendous amount this summer, which is both good and bad; my physical body relishes in it, as do parts of my soul that have been starved for in-person contact for much of the past school year. The downside: it turns out I'm terrible at being in more than one place at once.
This seems like an odd thing to say for someone who's spent plenty of time managing multiple distributed projects while globe-hopping across conferences. I didn't believe it at first either. But the thing is, for me, "the internet" is a place. I often joke during speaker introductions that it's where I'm from. I can handle plenty of complexity when it's all in front of me; as soon as it isn't, I forget.
When I'm immersed in FOSS participation, "the internet" actually extends to physical reality; the events I attend, the people I hang out with, we all live lives that weave online and offline reality into one gigantic metaspace that I am fucking brilliant at navigating. Not the best, not a master; I've plateaued and not yet done the deliberate practice to break out of my current limitations, but I've certainly had some promising beginnings, and I feel like I'm a ninja, running parkour through a space I'm acutely aware of. A far cry from what I was used to growing up; struggling to hear, straining for information, devouring text in reams as compensation. Scrawny and awkward and slow, with a skinny body I never learned to use, a scarred ribcage that didn't fully inhale for more than 20 years. I did what I could in the world, and I did well, but there wasn't much to do; expectations of schoolchildren are (unfortunately) rather low.
But in this other world strung together by electric hums and bits and keys and protocols, I'm a full person, because "full person" means that you can type, that you can read. (Well, almost a full person. We'll ignore online audio and video for now, as well as the lack of attention to accessibility in nearly all hacker gatherings; I cope with my usual workarounds and the help of many friends.) And as a full person in a space, I explode, and it's fantastic, and I own it, and I own myself. And I "multitask," but it's really one giant task of Being In This Space. And I "am in more than one place at once," but they're all the same space.
But that space is limiting. It stretches to so much, but there is so much of the world that's not the internet, not touched by it, not folded into it. And outside of that home, I can't multitask, I can't do these things. And I can't multitask or multiplace between the internet and the real world unless I'm in that portion of the world that's folded into the internet, places with hackers. We carry our world with us in our pockets and bags, bearing phones and laptops and wifi cards like little vials of dust from a homeland we recreate in temporary bubbles with our means of connectivity.
(Holy crap, I'm writing again. I haven't done this in a while. It feels good; I'm in my medium. Katrina was right; I do a lot of things, but written words are actually my native language, not English.)
And so I have dropped so many things on the floor because of this other life in a far less fluent world that I'm exploring, and I am beating myself over the head with guilt from it, and generally feeling like a terrible and inadequate person. This happens every once in a while, at least once a year (and often during finals).
Ingrid Michaelson is singing in the background of my computer. We have fallen down again tonight, In this world it's hard to get it right. But it's hard to believe that just "letting the love, love, love begin" will fix things, unless by "love" you mean this tremendous, difficult, embracing, encompassing, painful, awe-inspiring thing that is a crucible that burns and heals; it's very close to what I think the word "God" means to me. And I want -- desperately want! -- to keep becoming the best version of myself, and I'm also an exhausted chickenwimp. (I hereby declare "chickenwimp" to be an Actual Word.)
And I'm learning that the phrase "fix things" isn't quite right, not in the sense I usually think of it with. My association for "fix things" is "do it once and it is done forever," but it's actually about changing what a default state is, rewiring habits, keeping them up; you can't exercise really hard today and be done forever, you need to run tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and I know it's possible to transform things (I've done it to myself consciously, twice: once as a child with things surrounding my hearing, and once as a teenager with things surrounding computers/tech/electronics/engineering/FOSS) but good grief it's hard. And sometimes when you transform, you lose that old self, that old world; you can't think or be the way you were before any more than a butterfly can lop off its wings to become a caterpillar again. It literally feels like a metamorphosis, and it costs a tremendous amount, and it seems endless, and it hurts all through you when you're doing it, and that persists for years without you knowing when it'll end.
(Oh. And it's also lonely. I stumbled across that blog post and it captures the sentiments I'm torn between quite well. To that I'd like to add: it's easier to push forward when you think you'll never get to have "this" anyway, and the opening-up of that possibility also opens up a massive can of worms because now you see you have a choice.)
So I'm not sure what's happening now, or whether I'm actually brave enough to keep going through whatever it is I'm supposed to be learning now. Maybe it's being in the world. It's a different way of expanding my universe. I'm certainly learning a ton; I see how quickly I dream up things and how quickly I fail at them, how easy it is for me to get crushed, grow inconsistent, grow distracted, and forget. I cook up schemes to do awesome things:
- if I train on n-back software, I can improve my working memory, which might help with ADHD! (Note, by the way, that freely available n-back software relies on hearing. It seems like commercial variants do as well. Hrm. Something to poke at, perhaps.)
- if I go rock-climbing, my RSI-susceptible forearms and shoulders will be strengthened!
- If I read the past 10 years of JEE, I'll have a good overview of my chosen scholarly field!
And so forth. And then I shy away from committing to them because I've learned that the fastest way to drive me away from something is to make a commitment to it; I'm afraid I'll set up an expectation that I then won't fulfill. Typically, when I disappoint, it's because I've gotten distracted; a big project is "not-now" and "not-here," until it suddenly becomes such. I'm reminded of Cecilia's description of why squirrels get hit by cars; they don't understand that the thing-without-legs is actually moving towards them, and then when it's on top of them, they panic and scramble. When I try to hop between contexts and projects and worlds without a team, I become squirrel roadkill. I can be the leader of this team, actually; it's mostly the other-people-moving that creates constant "shiny" activity to keep my distractobrain interested.
I don't want to call all this "deafness and ADHD," because that's an oversimplification. But as I grow up and out into the world, I learn that I've done well because of specific adaptations to a certain sort of environment; so much of my success has been hard work, but so much of it has also been sheer blessed luck. And I would rather push forward with more difficulty into a bigger world than have it easy in a smaller one.
There's a lot more I wanted (and still want) to write about; what I've been learning during this stay with my aunt's family (including what to do when your 8-year-old cousin asks you what the word "puberty" means), about our trip to New York, about more of what happened in Kentucky and in Nashville which includes more moments where music exploded for me with my hearing aids.
(I like writing while listening to classically trained musicians play non-classical music, or inventively rearranged classical. Time for Three is incredible, and the Piano Guys, and Anderson & Roe, and a few 2cellos arrangements. Today at lunch Audrey was talking about choosing an instrument for band in a few years when she's in 4th grade and was curious about string instruments, so we pulled my old cello out of the basement, and I removed the snapped D string and gently tuned the others into place, and had her sit in my lap while I pulled the cello around us, and fit her hand into the bow and held both the bow and her small (but growing) hand in mine and showed her how to pull it across the strings, between the bridge and fingerboard, until the sound rang. It's been about 9 years since I played cello; I do miss those times, but am unsure if I shall ever choose to go back and work with that instrument again. Not getting into commitments or hopes that I might break, you know.)
Maybe I'll write about some of these now, while I'm blowing off steam and getting my sea legs back. Okay. More moments? More moments.
(Falling onto the futon mattress on Matt and Carrie's living room floor after picking up Sebastian from the Lexington airport the day before I drove up to Chicago. He sprawled out beside me; the weather was blazingly hot and we both needed a nap badly. Matthew toddled up: "What you doing?" "Nap." "I take one too?" "Sure," I mumbled groggily, and a little 3.5-year-old body snuggled into the 18-inch gap between us. Then it wiggled and placed a Lego figure on my stomach. Then the Lego figure was removed. Then the Lego figure went back on again. And then -- oof -- an elbow in my stomach as Matthew tried to climb over me to place the Lego figure on the sofa. And then he took it off and put it on my stomach again. Through half-closed eyes, I saw Sebastian defending his solar plexus against similar toddler-Lego assaults while using as few muscle movements as possible. And all the while, a tiny voice: "Are we napping? We napping! I napping. Be quiet, daddy! I napping!" And that is how I fell asleep and woke up several hours later just in time to hear a small voice piping from the dining room, and then silence, and then Sebastian and Matt's explanation that Matthew had just eaten raw carrots and thrown up at the foot of the stairs.)
(Buttercow. It's a butter dish shaped like a cow. Apparently one does not need to refrigerate salted butter.)
(Wow, farm-fresh eggs.)
(Melanie grows more confident and fluent with each college visit and each debrief; we filmed them and she's starting to transcribe them, and it's fascinating to watch the idea of college and engineering studies form in her mind; today she used the phrase "it's your standard engineering program" for the first time, and I pointed this out: "you've developed a generalization -- you didn't have this idea a week ago." And I am once again reminded how scary it is to step into an unfamiliar world you haven't really seen, a world your parents didn't grow up in; I remember being 16, 17, and how frightening so much of what I now take for granted was when I first encountered it -- and I wonder how much more difficult it might be for first-generation college students, international students, students from far more sheltered backgrounds than ours, students with other kinds of markings that give or deny them privileges of various kinds.)
(Homemade pickles and jams.)
(How good it always is to see Sumana, and how much I look forward to our hike in August.)
(Finally getting to actually meet and talk with Ari today, and my silent revelation that I could understand what she was saying in a crowded Starbucks; thank you, hearing aids.)
(On the virtues of just Getting Started and Doing Things. Which I beat myself up with when I am a slacker, which is often.)
(I've been typing now for over an hour. I feel the muscles of my neck and back and hands tense and fatigue in a familiar way that isn't good for them; I can do this, but I also need to do physical maintenance.)
(How grateful I am for friends and family and people who pull me out of myself when I run away inside. What it feels like to gradually come to the realization that you now really don't know what you would do without somebody that you care a lot about.)
(Writing things inside parentheses feels safer somehow.)
(How I have been thinking that maybe I could write for a living and that blogging and information products could be part of that, but how I worry that the blessing of this blog, which is just for me and has been for over a decade now, will vanish if I do that; how I worry that would be selling out, how I think that's a fear to be met head-on and tackled through regardless of whether I do end up writing for a living in some way, because the things that scare you are the ones that often have the most to teach you.)
(I will leave the music moments for a later post.)
It's nearly 2am. I said "goodnight" and "soon" over 2 hours ago. I ought to go to bed, but... this has been good. It's like daily training, like a runner hitting the road in the morning; it's not for speed or competition, it's just... because what you do is get up in the morning and you run.
I know what it is I need to do tomorrow. For that, I will need to sleep tonight. Off to that, then.
Holy cow. I feel better. This writing thing, it doesn't fix the world, but it helps me deal with it. I'll remember that.