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Aloneness or Loneliness?

Perhaps it is a fine line, but as a very sparsely populated, expansive-- and moving into winter-- dark place, Iceland can offer you plenty of time, space for reflective alone time... or toss you into an abyss of isolation.


My measure seems to fluctuate with the ins and outs of my internet connection.


This month in Iceland was an opportunity I could not refuse and am glad I have not done so. It is quite different living in a different culture versus visiting as a tourist or a parachuting presenter. My free time for getting out an exploring fit in around the fact (or my own compulsion) that I have to work as well.


Fortunately, the nature of our work at the NMC is that we can work where-ever we are if there is internet. And all the stars were aligned when I was doing my bits from here for the Rock the Academy conference we ran in Second Life.


It has taken time shifts; some of driven by local conditions; there is not even any hint of daylight until after 9:00am, so unless I am wakened by the dog (which she has gotten into a 7:00am, sometimes 6am, and once, damnit 4:30am habit), I sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, do my web hounding for weird stuff and blogging, post flickr photos. I start my NMC work maybe by 2:00PM and it is not really until 5PM that the “work day” has started for everyone in our office. So I ened up eating at 9PM, and working until midnight, sometimes 1, 2am.


The snow that came yesterday morning (into afternoon) was a lovely sight, but the howling winds, and unsureness of local road conditions, made me dawdle about heading out for some sightseeing (it was Saturday, after all). Even equipped with my magical Goretex clothing (best investment ever), trying to photograph waterfalls in near gale force winds did not sound like fun.


Then there was a knock at the door.


Which has happened about 2 times since I have been here.


There was a white haired gent holding out an item wrapped in plastic. He gestured to it, pushing it gently my way. It looked like a combo brush / ice scraper, but it was all written in Icelandic. I said, “Sorry I don’t understand”.


He said a sentence full of consonants, and gestured again at the label.


“I am sorry, I don’t speak the language.” I shrugged.


Ge got the message and left. Maybe I met the Icelandic Fuller Brush Salesman. But given he arrived in a car similar to mine, I knew it was okay to head out.


Social contact!


The other form of that is turning on the GPS so at least someone speaks to me, even if she is a Brit and telling me “Turn right in 300 meters”. She is not much of a conversationalist.


This was not much of an adventure, since at 3:00PM there was not a whole lot of daylight left, so I went to Selfoss to stock up on food (was out of bread, milk, and butter, so I got that and about 25 other things!).


It is still pretty solitary. People pretty much ignore/leave me alone. I am guess it is obvious I am an “outlander”. At least someone spoke my way on check out when I did not realize I had to tell her how many plastic sacks I would use (they charge you for them).


One more stop at the VinBud, the state run liquor stores for some more beer adventures.


But I am not hear to be clubbing or carousing. I did, in many ways, come for the sheer aspect of being able to say, “I lived a month in Iceland”– how many times might that come your way.


And I came to reflect.


On what?


That is the thing about reflection, at least for me. There are no big light bulbs, no shouting “Eureka!”, no obvious “ahas!”. The ideas come slowly, more like settling over your soul like a layer of ash, or subtly like a warming glow form within. And often, they are not even things I can type out on Remember the Milk.


It seems more to just build and flow from within, and then emerges at other times, maybe months after I leave here. So even if I don’t come to any Profound Revelations or Big Ideas, the time, space, of being here I consider as part of the chaotic mixture that is me.


So to keep some external stimulation, I listen to music on my laptop. To get voices, I use iTunes to tune into radio, mostly WAMU public radio from American University, where I get a great mix of NPR and BBC stories, plus in the mornings (which is wee hours there), some funky music.


When I can time it, I try to tune into KJZZ in Phoenix for the Sunday Lowdown Blues with Bob Corritore (the best blues show in the universe).


A challenge is that my internet connect here, while extremely fast (> 2 MBs download and even more upload speed), has some external issue where it drops the connection for about 2 minutes several times an hour. So sometimes I lose a chunk of a story.


And it was appropriate this morning when I tuned into This American Life for a series of stories on Home Alone:


A 79-year-old woman, Mary Ann, dies in Los Angeles. She’s lived alone for decades. No one knows her—or her next of kin. There’s a body to be buried, a house full of stuff to get rid of. It so happens there’s a county bureaucracy for just this type of problem. In this show, we follow around the person charged with figuring out what to do with the remains of Mary Ann’s life. This and other stories about what happens when people are left alone.


Besides the mystery of Mary Ann (and the description of the mass grave for people who die lacking kin is extremely moving), we hear from Yvonne who likes being doing Thanksgiving alone, how a teen in the projects survived alone for 5 months while his Mom was in the hospital (he feared being removed by Child Protective Services), and a woman’s experience as a child of how her mom cleverly dealt with being held hostage by a gunman seeking her drug dealing father.


I am far from being the only who who relishes TAL, and their web site has a vast archive going back to 1995. But again and again, while listening to their stories, I am so amazed at how well they are crafted and presented in one (old form) medium, an are so engaging. There is no video, no interactivity, no images, yes they are linear, just a story. A well written, crafted, artistic story. You can never go wrong with good writing.


So here I sit, in Iceland, looking at an expanse of brown grass hills draped with snow, stretching into the oblivion of grey fog - a rather narrow muted histogram of tones. and okay being alone… for a while longer. I would not make this a habit or habitat.


And I thinking back to the opposite sensation from a few weeks ago, being literally pressed by too many people in the human density of Japan. There, I was consoled that when I got home, to my quiet place in the mountains of Arizona, I’d have space and quiet.


There is no saying one is better than another, and where-ever we plant ourselves, people adapt (like 2 months form now here where daylight will be a dim memory). I am so fortunate to be able to sample it all, and am letting all these experiences swirl among my psyche.


And once I finish clicking the “publish” button, me and the dog are going to have a heated deep discussion on the philosophical underpinnings of conversation dynamics ;-)


Yeah right.


I may just head outside and take photos…


See the longer post that started with this pic...

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Taken on November 16, 2008