Unknown Me: In Silence There is Sound || Russia Files, Week 1
There was none of the usual rapid-fire anxiety that I am used to hearing. There was no ‘what if’ and ‘what about this’ and ‘how will i’ and ‘where is this’ and ‘how can they’ and ‘when will it’ nonsense that usually rolls around in the cavity of my head. And yes, I’d like to use the word cavity because it is usually exactly that; the space in my head rendered totally useless .. a non-stop chatter that never seems to go away.
Instead, there was the sound of my voice.
Quiet, calm and steady.
That is the Sound in the Silence.
Have a Plan, and then Let It Go.
I had a plan. I would arrive to Sheremetyevo Airport at 11am on Friday, September 21st. This was on the backend of an extremely busy 3 1/2 days in New York. Two IN THE UNKNOWN Workshops. Both coed. One in partnership with THEORY as a gift to all the Unknowners who’ve done the work and keep on doing. The second, my first at a SOHO House. I recorded four new podcasts that week. Saw some friends. But in short, I was tired. I have been tired, hence the trip.
At exactly 1pm Moscow time, I hopped into my Uncle’s car on the way to Kaluga Oblast, some three hours outside of the city in order to spend a week in nature. The goal was to be alone. To sleep. To rest. To read. To write. To eat. To walk about the garden and the circumference of this particular property. That was the plan. On Saturday morning I began sneezing. By Saturday night, I slept in a bed of sweat. And by Sunday morning, I awoke to a pang of guilt inside my head. One part wanted to leave to be closer to the city where urgent cares and pharmacies were minutes away, instead of hours. The other part was slicing away at my weakness. The voice came up strong lashing at my inability to withstand a bit of fever and sickness, portraying these symptoms as false realities in order to weasel my way out of staying in the discomfort.
This is the way my old brain works. The new brain took this to paper and wrote out all feelings without an ounce of judgement. Then sat in silence for some time and came to the conclusion that this resistance wasn’t real. That I in fact was looking to leave in order to take care of myself. There was this much anxiety over the matter because I HAD MADE A PLAN. But, sometimes, our plans - even the greatest ones - are not the plans that we’re meant to take on.
So I surrendered and left Kaluga and went to another of my Uncle’s homes in the outskirts of Moscow, an hour and some change outside of the city’s center.
an excerpt for context
SEPT. 23, 2018
In the exploration of force vs. surrender i did have a thought that perhaps this cold came in for a reason -- perhaps it’s to move me from one place to another. Here is where the wretched indecisiveness kicks in. Oh, Alyonka. What is the better move to make? Stay within the confines of this summer dacha - a lone girl in this world, three hours removed from society, comfort, safety, and medicine? Or, listen to body and take care of what it needs. It is not weakness to remove oneself from a situation which presents itself to be more difficult, especially when it coincides with health. But it’s the word difficult that irks me the most -- since when am I in fear of difficulties? I am not -- it doesn’t really even feel like it here.
A part of me feels that it’s just a message that I am to hear, one i’m meant to surrender into instead of force. The force would be my overriding this cold and my body’s need for care, and to stay here without connection to other just because that is what I had decided for myself. It goes against this idea of ‘have a plan and then release it’. Perhaps the plans I had in mind are different than the plans the Universe has laid out for me. Perhaps the Universe is saying, Alyonka, go with what I’m showing you. Follow this road -- it is much easier, in the healthiest ways. You need not self-sabotage anymore. But old habits die hard and for me it’s difficult to understand the undercurrent of this situation.
It feels, like it’s always felt, a cop-out of sorts. A way to not sit with the discomfort...but like I said, I do not feel that I am afraid of being alone, and I would remain alone in both places, only the amenities would change. I can still implement a sense of rigidity to my schedule of non-doing -- i can still remove myself from the outside world. It doesn’t have to be one or the other -- it can be both. Perhaps that’s the lesson here. The ability to learn a medium.
The flu is a wicked experience.
By the time I arrived at my new location it was Sunday evening and I was thick in the flu. It was on this day that I shut down all of my social media and wrote a post of silence, asking friends and family to refrain from reaching out. I shut down my emails and my texts. And began my week of silence as planned.
On Monday morning, I woke to an even deeper well in the flu, and decided that on Tuesday, I would head to a local Doctor. This meant that I would have to engage in conversation. Another part of my plan that wasn’t going according to my plan. However, I do understand that it isn’t wise to play with one’s health, so I obliged.
an excerpt for context
SEPT. 24, 2018
I’ve moved places. I woke up today thinking the same thing: coward, weak, but the truth of the matter is that I sweat through my sheets again. I awoke with my hand slipping off of my chest from the thickness of the water that was drenching me. All mine. Bodily fluids. Clearly i’m purging something. My throat feels thicker -- it feels like there is a ball of mucus somewhere deep within me. I keep coughing like a monster, my voice changing with each exhale. It’s deeper. As is the depth of this sickness. I’m purging something.
There are two takeaways from two of my conversations
on the one day i let the house:
ONE. A woman in her 60’s. Her name: Lyubov Alexandrovna. Slightly heavy. Hair cut short around the face. Blushed cheeks. Eyeglasses. Firm grip. I know because she put her hands on my throat when checking the swelling of my lymph nodes (she was my Doctor).
We spoke about weight. She struggled with hers ever since she was a little girl. “I’ve always been on the heavier side but it never really crossed my mind. I didn’t know that I was heavy until I started becoming a woman and couldn’t find clothing in my size. It was back then, during the days of the Soviet Union, where different kinds of clothing were hard to find." I listened. “I had no choice but to lose weight. So I’d lose it and buy new clothes and then I’d gain it back in double. At around 30 years old, I gave up. I let go. And as soon as I let go, I stopped gaining. I’ve been the same weight ever since.” She’s in her 60’s and she looks great. “I envy you,” I said. She laughed at my confession. “Your confidence is something I am striving towards.” He laugh turned into a smile
I briefly explained the work that I do and she said this, “it is interesting to see how this world is changing. I never see kids playing outdoors anymore. It’s a sudden change if we look at history. This never used to be and suddenly they’re gone. Everyone’s playing on their phones.” She continued, “and don’t be fooled. It’s no easier for the young people here in the world of dating. I don’t know what it is but I am continuously perplexed at their lack of desire for touch, for warmth, for family.”
TWO. A young man. Early to mid 30’s. Misha. Steady job. Lives in Moscow. Drove out to pick me up to take me to the Doctor’s. Fit. Handsome. Someone I’ve known since childhood.
“Are you in a relationship?” I asked. “I am,” he answered. “Tell me about it!” He smirked, “it’s not the most romantic story but we met on Tinder. I had been going on dates but no one was clicking. Then I saw her and we met. We’ve been together for three years.” I reassured him, “that’s still romantic. Who cares if it’s on tinder or in person. The point is that you clicked. You connected. That’s not easy these days. Is she someone you’re going to propose to?” He smiled, “Yes, but it’s not something that’s a surprise. We’ve talked about it. Looked at rings. She knows it’s coming. It’s the next step.” I took this in for a minute. “Why the next step?” He answered, “Well, you know, it’s something she wants and I’m happy to give her; a family.” I listened to his answer as he continued, and then I thought aloud “do you feel that women are looking for this ‘final step’ as you put more than men?” He said, “yes, I do. You’re the ones with the clock. It doesn’t affect us as much.” From there I asked her age, to which he answered “25” and then I sort of sat in a daze. Why is it that at 25 there is a sense of urgency to begin a family, but at 31, for someone like me, the thought hasn’t crossed my mind? And how much of this is biological vs. a social construct? I do not yet have an answer to this.
The rest of the days I spent alone.
here’s how they played out.
Wake up. Walk downstairs. Make coffee. Sit at table and write. Write whatever comes up. Do not have a direction. Do not have a plan. Do not have a motive. Just write. I’d write until I was empty and then I’d make breakfast. I’d sit and eat breakfast in silence just looking around the house. I’d then sit to write in my notebook. Around noon I’d make lunch. Then I would read a book. Before dinner, I would walk in the neighborhood around the house. No headphones. No music. No podcasts. Just me and my thoughts. Usually I’d come back home with something else to write in my writings. I’d make food. I’d eat. Here is when I’d indulge in a film. I finished my book in one day and didn’t have any others on me. Then I would take a shower or a bath, and I’d climb into bed at 9:30pm. I’d fall asleep without any of my usual tossing and turning, and wake up at 6:45am on the dot. And start again.
I do have to say that this began on Thursday, so, a full four days of this occurred. Monday-Wednesday, I spent majority of my days sleeping because of the flu.
There was only one day where I felt anxiety creep up. It was Saturday, September 29th, the last full day of my silence. It began in the morning and it conjured up a feeling so strong that initially I had a refusal to write. Instead of avoiding the discomfort, I went in deep. I sat in front of my computer and began writing the things that would come up, each paragraph dedicated to whatever it was that was bothering me. By the end of these two hours of writing, the anxiety had completely dissipated and I was back on track.
an excerpt for context
SEPT. 29, 2018
It’s semi-funny. Not an actual funny thing because there’s nothing funny about reaching this point, but it’s funny in the sense that I knew it was coming and it comes every time. It’s the day when you wake up and everything’s aching. Not the body but the insides. You’re over it, plain and simple. You’re just over it and you want to go outside, back into the world. This is the discomfort that raises up -- the reason we do this, because if one pushes through this, then they’ll be able to come out on the other side. If we get there, then there was point to all of it. Because here, in this moment, lies an opportunity to ask a very important question: what’s this discomfort all about?
A LIST OF TAKEAWAYS
Here are some of the things that I learned and/or accomplished.
I wrote a letter to someone I had hurt a long time ago. It was on my conscious for sometime now. It felt good to get it out in words.
When I had nothing to do and it wasn’t yet time for a movie, I’d take a walk, or just lay down to pass the time. It’s interesting how the usual anxiety doesn’t come up when you reframe the activity. Meaning, when you decide that laying down IS enough, there are no thoughts of any other kind. What this allows is a clear pathway for things to come up that need clearing, instead of continuously regurgitating the same old anxieties that we’re used to hearing.
Sleep comes so easily when there exists no screen-time.
Social Media is totally unnecessary. It only complicates life. And I am leaning towards the opinion that we do not need it in order to be a company, or a brand, or somebody, period. I do believe that good work can survive on it’s own without constantly flaunting it those who probably don’t even understand.
I hate dm’s and so i’m deleting them. I do not want them in my life. They only keep me on the app longer than I need to and because instagram is designed to keep us on there for as long as humanly possible, I would like to outsmart this system and to walk away from it entirely.
We are forgettable and replaceable, and one of billions. Those who truly care about me, and those for whom I truly care about, have a mutual excitement to reconnect once I power back up. That’s all we need. The rest of the ‘followers’ I refuse to try to keep. Or to grow. Or to market to love me. Good God it’s so much work. This constant wheel of thinking “how should I post this” and “what should I write” and “does this story work seamlessly” and whatever else comes to mind. I am not as attached to this application as many of you are, and I say this with a loving heart because I’ve heard you speak about your addiction in Workshop. If you can — cut it out. It simply eats up the seconds in our lives. I know where my connections stand and the strong ones — the ones that truly matter — are not constructed via social media. Those are the FaceTimes, and the calls, and the emails, and sometimes when necessary, the texts.
“If it didn’t happen on instagram, it didn’t happen.” this phrase needs to be banished from existence. I will argue that it happened twice as vivid because you weren’t focusing on instagram. I keep coming back to this particular platform because it is the most prevalent in all of our lives and even those who use it recreationally, would be surprised by their level of addiction if they were to take an entire week disconnected from it’s pull. I used my camera while I was off the gadgets — i even filmed myself on my camera for something i’ll discuss at a later time — but the use of my iPhone camera was done to capture moments for nobody but myself. There wasn’t an additional thought to why I was capturing, or how I was going to showcase it, or filter it, or caption, or how it was going to do once posted. I cannot emphasize how much this cycle ROBS us of what we already have. Don’t believe? Disconnect for a week and then talk to me. Seriously - email me once you’re done: email@example.com
As much as being sick was not fun, it was a welcome example of how fragile our bodies are and how important it is that we take care of ourselves. Things change in the ordinary instant. For some reason we forget this too easily.
I remembered a girl. A girl from my elementary and middle school days. She tormented me and I wrote about it at length. The curious case of taking it - all of it - and still desiring deeply to be her friend.
I thought about myself as a Mother. This is a first. it’s never happened to me. I am not ready to expand further.
moments of awe
A small list of things that left me visibly joyful:
biting into a cucumber
biting into a tomato
biting into a persimmon
every spoonful of one particular yogurt // which reminds me, if one more person makes a comment about my dairy consumption … save me your “ban dairy campaign’ for someone whose consumption levels quadruple the amount of mine. That goes for your “ban meat campaign” too. I assure you that my level of consumption is causing minor affects to the environment, and to my own health, and that the alternative would be a potential road to relapse. My goal right now is to LEARN HOW TO EAT and TO ENJOY WHILE DOING SO. So focus your campaigns elsewhere
taking a bath with a book. not an ibook or kindle book, or any other kind of book that isn’t a real book, but an actual book with pages and a bind
seeing the sunrise / watching the sunset / the colors of the skies
smelling the making of a shashlik at the neighbors
putting on a damn facemask and not broadcasting it to the world // this includes my bath and everything else I did that so many of us would choose to share, instead of be
Can’t seem to wait for what’s next, eh? Good. Me too. Just sprinkle in a bit of patience. Also, I’d like to say i’m proud of you for reading this far — most have given up 1/4 of the way. Oy - this world.
Next I move into my Grandfather’s apartment for four days.
It will be in Moscow. I have but a few plans. Seeing my cousin and her baby. Drinking tea with my Grandfather. Taking the Metro. Going to a Museum. Writing. Engaging in Conversations with random passerby. After which, I will leave for Germany for a 10-day stay at the very same klinik from last year. My thought is that I will disconnect once more as 7 days were not nearly enough.
I WILL CONTINUE PONDERING THIS:
the cultural differences on all the topics discussed in Workshop
my relationship to social media and how i’d like to proceed with it
tinkering with YouTube and stimulating my creativity
my relationship to Russia and whether I am Russian, American, or a healthy mixture of both, and what that means
Russians thoughts on Americans
the concept of Mirrors and Mirroring
…and whatever else should arise
You can follow along on my website, YouTube, and occasionally on instagram as I figure out my relationship with it — I will say that I’m bored of seeing the same old. Everyone is the same. The format is the same. The posting is the same. The story is the same. And I do not want to be the same. What that means, I do not know and do not care to explain without more time to properly analyze.
an excerpt for context
SEPT. 23. 2018