December 12th, 2013


Interesting Links for 12-12-2013


State of the Andy

I went out last night and saw some friends - mountainkiss, danieldwilliam and his lovely wife. It was a good evening - relaxing conversation which was just what I wanted.

And I left it at 9:30 vibrating quietly on the inside, headed home, and ended up having a long conversation with Julie about that, about how we're both doing mentally, and why it is that even though I've not really been doing much recently, I still feel exhausted all of the time, and my social skills are not up to their usual standard.

Then I spent an hour lying awake feeling horribly stressed in the middle of the night (I think, it felt more like three hours, but I only feel tired enough for it to have actually been about an hour). And this morning I thought of the perfect metaphor for where I am.

You know that feeling you get when you're waiting for someone who's in surgery[1] - where you're sitting there in a waiting room, trying to do anything you can possibly do to distract yourself, to ignore the huge thing that's going on that you're completely powerless to do anything about? Where you can mostly distract yourself on a surface level, but every so often the worst possibilities pop up in your head, so you pace back and forth for a bit until the nervous energy passes, and then you can sit down for a bit and read something light[2], and even make some conversation[3] for a while, before the possibilities bubble back to the surface for a while.

That's where I am. I'm sitting there, waiting for the doctor to come out and give me the news.

And I have been for a few years now. Because this at least partially predates the cancer diagnosis. It goes back all the way to Julie's illness that started six months before the wedding, when the PhD went from "Almost over, and it's been delayed, but at least it's nearly done now." to an indefinite path fading into the horizon, with the life we'd been looking forward to starting receding at the other end of it, vanishing slowly into a grey fog.

So when people speak to me, I answer. And I have conversations. And I still do well at work. And I see people. And sometimes I even have a good time. But I never really feel like I'm quite actually _there_. I'm there for brief moments of distraction, and then I turn away from the bright lights, and I'm back in the room. Waiting. Slowly vibrating, and intermittently pacing back and forth[4].

Some day my waiting will be over. I look forward to leaving the room then. Until then, I'm sorry if I'm distracted, or short, or less organised than I could be, and if I see you less than I would have done a few years ago. I miss it too.

[1]Or in seeing their doctor, or otherwise off elsewhere going through something while you wait for them.
[2]Although it usually has to be read four times before it goes in.
[3]Even though, in the back of your head, is a feeling that whatever the conversation is about is much less important than what's going on in the operating theatre right now.
[4]I'm not convinced there's a lot I can do about this. I've had some counselling around it, which helped me deal with some issues that were getting in the way of Julie and me communicating well, and me looking after myself. But unless I walk away from the waiting room (which I am not doing, because my wife is in there) there's no way of getting rid of the stress, and the feeling that everything else in the world is less important than what is going on in there, outside of my control. I lay there last night for ages, thinking how lucky I was to have her, and how she'd transformed so much of my life, and how, if I lost her, I'd almost certainly have missed my chance to have the kind of life I now wanted, particularly to have children, and that she had all these amazing attributes that I'd never find all at once in someone else - her approach to life, her way of thinking, the things we both love doing together, and the thought of starting again with someone else, and building all of that up again just made me feel nauseous. I'd do anything not to lose her - and I know it's not actually that likely, but that doesn't help at three in the morning in the dark.

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A book recommendation, kind-of

Last week, Julie had a headache when we went to bed, and so couldn't face reading her own book, or watching something on TV, as is our usual winding-down method.

So instead she asked me to tell her about my book (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), and then to read a bit to her.

Which then turned into a fun tradition, in which I read her a bit more from wherever I was in the book at the time. Except that after four days of this I decided that I was enjoying reading to her so much (particularly doing all the voices), that it would be even better if I stopped reading it myself on the bus to work, and switched to reading something else, so that we could have the remainder of the book (and Deathly Hallows) as "our thing".

This meant that I needed a new book, and top of the list was Blindsight, by Peter Watts. I'd seen several recommendations from people describing it as a book about alien contact that felt actually alien. And I'd heard the ending was very good. And I really enjoyed his short story The Things, which is The Thing, seen from the other side.

So I wandered off to see where I could get it online. Google Play had it - but for £8.61. Which seemed like quite a lot (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,to pick one of my favourite books of last year, is £4.35). I tried a couple of other sites, but either it was unavailable, or equally expensive.

And then I discovered that it was also available directly from the author's website, where his backlist is freely downloadable in a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (the same one my journal is under, in fact!)

Oh, and there's a tip jar too, in which you can pay what you like in order to feed his cat. Who can resist an offer like that?

Which only made it better when I got an email this evening from Peter, saying thank you (and clearly a personally written one too).

The book's rather good, at least so far. It has the right level of tech-speak for me, producing a real feeling of alienness from the future society it's based in, with plenty of strangeness and mystery that I'm looking forward to uncovering as I go along.

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