I have an embarrassing secret.
I listen to podcasts on one-and-a-half speed.
To be honest, you don’t notice it after a while – your brain just switches into gear and it becomes the new normal. You only recognise how strange it all sounds when you accidentally leave the earphone plug halfway out and the tinny voices start jabbering into the no-mans-land of social etiquette that is the supermarket aisle.
Startled heads turn and you frantically paw at your coat pocket to put your thumb over the offending speaker which you know is 50% faster and more efficient at reaching something truly embarrassing and potentially reportable when heard out of context. Like the end of a Moth story, or an investigative news interview about ISIS practices, or – worst of all – a Joe Rogan rant.
It’s about efficiency. The 1 1/2 speed. Considering most of my podcasts of interest are about information transfer, it means I can be 1 1/2 times more informed and knowledgeable than I otherwise would. Or so the theory goes….
… which falls to pieces when I stumble across a good version of one of the ‘other’ types of podcasts, which I guiltily listen to for no other reason than because it is fun (“what a waste of time huh?” my frontal cortex says in a mock-ironic tone to my lizard brain, which doesn’t get the joke).
Listen to an emotional Moth podcast at 1.5 speed and you’ll get the info alright, and you’ll get the gist of the emotion. But try listening to 1.5 speed podcasts for weeks and then one memorable Moth at normal speed. What comes back? Inflection. Tone. The sound of the speaker’s breathing changing as their throat tightens. What you get back most of all is the understanding that the gaps between the words is the most important part, or the sound of a hesitation mid-sentence. Or the chill you share with the invisible audience when the ambient noise you had all but tuned out reduces and you take a collective breath to give the person at the microphone space to say that one… small…. comment, that you knew was coming but which hits you like an electric current. Because at that moment it was not about transfer of a packet of information from the speaker to the hearer. They were just being the moment, the moment crystalised again in front of you, lived again through that channel of an individual, and you all – speaker, audience, podcast listener, were all just along for the ride.
That is what you get from notebooks.
I proposed to my wife with a notebook – filled with recollections of the 8 1/2 years we had been together prior, and on the last page is one I left blank to write my proposal right there on the spot.
So after we had looked through the book together, and laughed a lot and cried a bit and she knew what was coming as I took the pen, wrote my piece and gave it back to her. After that, she wrote that one word. I still have it.
And looking at the word you get the inflection, the pause. The word is there. The word is the moment. On paper. The choice of spot on the blank page, the size of the letters, the speed of the writing, the pressure on the paper. That is the inflection, the pause, the moment of it.
They say the past is a foreign country and the way to get closer with people who lived before us is to read their writing. It’s more than that, so much more.
And there are the things you can write but you can’t say out loud. The pen – or keyboard – gives you that little barrier between yourself and your thought that the voice cannot do. And rather than making writing more guarded, it becomes the complete opposite – as long as you think of the blank space of the page, or the journal, as part of yourself.
Natural introverts will understand.
Here’s something I could never say out loud, but I can share because the moment passes through my fingers to the keys and then to the screen in front of me at 1.5 speed, and that way it wouldn’t get stuck in my throat.
My daughter turned six recently. The night before her birthday my wife and I were telling her how happy we were that she is such a big girl, and that if she goes to bed she will be six when she wakes up.
She was not so certain. Growing up is scary. Six is an unknown factor and she is so comfortable with five. She loves being five. She told us so, then hesitated a moment before saying,
“mummy, daddy, does that mean if I go to sleep tonight and never wake up, can I be five forever?”.
If you’re a parent – or maybe even if you’re not – you’ll know how we would have reacted. How every cell in your body is crying out for you to take that tiny, fragile creature in your arms and not let her go, for you to scream at the universe to cancel out even the thought of something like that, that completely innocent question that somehow cuts straight to your deepest fears as a parent.
And you’ll also know how important it is at that moment to do the complete opposite, to give her a big hug and say in a confident voice that something like that would never happen and it’s time for a story before bed, and to get back to the topic that growing up to be six will be amazing for her, and has she brushed her teeth and whatever the hell else you can think of to change the subject. And of course the next day she’s all about the presents and the party and the games and she hasn’t got a care in the world.
Can I transfer the information to you about that moment? Easily. Could I tell you that story without falling to pieces? I’m not so sure. Can I type it? I just did – in summary – and at 85wpm I don’t have to linger too long on the thought as I type. If I wrote it in a journal would my tone and handwriting, my hesitation, the shape of the words and the flow of the letters betray so much of myself?