Category: Books

Reading about "sensory storms" today

The book at right is very good so far. I bought it curled up in bed that second night in Palo Alto, after my Stanford doc told me that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, not Fibromyalgia. We went back to our lodgings to rest (I’d walked 12k steps that day, a huge mistake I would pay for later), and I figured I ought to download a book and start reading about this new thing-that-isn’t-Fibro.

It’s well-written, chock full of research and studies, but it doesn’t bog you down. Topics are tightly organized and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for (the editors obviously recognize that their audience could be suffering from brain fog and general fatigue).

Today I choked on my granola when I read this description of a “sensory storm”:

Dr. Luis Leon-Sotomayor, the cardiologist who documented the 1965 CFS/ME epidemic in Galveston, Texas, described a type of neurological dysfunction that he called a “sensory storm.” These storms affect the autonomic nervous system, which is regulated by the hypothalamus.

A person experiencing a storm may first see an aura, or sense that something very bad is about to happen. Sensory storms produce sweating, pallor or flushing, elevated blood pressure, slowed respiratory rate, tachycardia, dizziness, and the feeling that one is about to lose consciousness. These storms are terrifying, but the effects generally pass within an hour. After such an experience, a person may feel lingering tiredness or malaise.

I’ve been having these for years. Exactly as described. They are really scary. Mine have gone on for closer to two hours, rarely edging into three. When I try to explain to them to ER doctors, they say it’s just a weird sort of panic attack and just call the nurse to stick more Ativan in my IV line. It was shocking to read this and to suddenly have a name for what I experience as “those other attacks” or “those shaky episodes”. People have actually studied this! This experience is actually visible to someone as a real thing that is happening. So much of what I experience in my body is invisible, everyone just says it’s from being tired, or it’s some panic attack variation.

Knowing that what I have is actually Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is helping me a lot to make sense of the last decade.

An evening with Margaret Willson, author of Seawomen of Iceland


On the Nordic Heritage Museum website, I saw an event with an irresistible description:

The plaque said this was the winter fishing hut of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, one of Iceland’s greatest fishing captains, and that she lived from 1777 to 1863.

“Wait,” anthropologist and former seawoman Margaret Willson said. “She??”

So began a quest. Were there more Icelandic seawomen? Most Icelanders said no, and, after all, in most parts of the world fishing is considered a male profession. What could she expect in Iceland?

She found a surprise. This book is a glimpse into the lives of vibrant women who have braved the sea for centuries. Their accounts include the excitement, accidents, trials, and tribulations of fishing in Iceland from the historic times of small open rowboats to today’s high-tech fisheries. Based on extensive historical and field research,Seawomen of Iceland allows the seawomen’s voices to speak directly with strength, intelligence, and, above all, knowledge on how to survive.

Margaret Willson is affiliate associate professor of anthropology and Canadian studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of Dance Lest We All Fall Down: Breaking Cycles of Poverty in Brazil and Beyond.

“I have to go!” I thought. “I had to meet this woman! I had to get her book!”

And so I DID!


I’ve lived blocks away from the Nordic Heritage Museum for five years – our neighborhood, Ballard, has a long history as a fishing community with nordic roots. Personally though, I know very little about it. We’ve gone to Viking Days, which the whole family loved, and we ran into the gift shop once to pick up a horned helmet for the Syttende Mai parade. But we’ve never actually viewed the museum! Hardly a patron of the local arts, are we!

Then I met my friend in Norway, and I’ve been trying to learn Norwegian. I’m doing rather terribly, and I finally figured out why: I’m trying to learn from podcasts and apps, which are all audio. I need to write what I’m learning, not just listen and repeat. I need to see the word in my head. I checked out the museum’s website in the hopes they had some classes in Norwegian. They did! Turns out they also have lots of other events that I wish I’d checked out earlier. I think my nordic education has begun.

Margaret started her talk by noting how different she looked from her author’s photo on in the back of the book. It turns out she became very ill at the start of 2015, with a rare blood disease that is often deadly. She thanked the great folks at Fred Hutch for their amazing work in treating her, and <knock on wood>, she’s now doing very well. She expressed how grateful she was just to be here. We gave her some big applause! I thought about my friend passing long before her time, and how we really don’t have forever. It’s so easy to forget that in your twenties and thirties, but geez, the forties really wallop you with that new reality. I imagine the next few decades wallop you even harder. Watching this interesting woman talk about her work, I was so inspired! I need to work on the things I want to accomplish in life, now. I’m so glad I’m going back to school.

I’d love to talk more about the book, but I haven’t read it yet! Her presentation delved into her research, which involved digging into archives in Iceland (oh, heaven!) and talking to present-day seawomen. Funny sidenote – the woman who introduced Margaret to the group joked about how she’d been writing to friends and colleagues about this upcoming event at the museum, and every time she wrote “seawoman”, her computer complained that it wasn’t a word. Mine is doing that, as well.

Her research led to a re-discovery of a long and well-preserved history of women in Iceland who fished and went to sea, often with the men, but also on their own – sometimes with women-only crew. None of this was considered strange in the time period it happened in, although later, much of the awareness of these women was lost to the archives.

Her research has inspired a museum exhibit in Reykjavik, which has a great description you should go read. Here’s a snippet:

The exhibition is based on Dr. Willson´s findings; her research overthrows previous ideas about women’s participation at sea in Iceland, which is higher than ever imagined. The working title “Hidden from history” refers to women being made invisible in the realm of Icelandic fishing, both in the past and in modern times. The reality is that their presence was so common and accepted that they were seldom even mentioned unless they did something else considered remarkable. Dr. Willson has written a book on her research, to be published in 2015, written in a style to be of interest to a wide audience of scholars and laymen alike.

And from a news article:

Dr. Willson’s research focuses on women who have worked in commercial fishing in Iceland, covering all kinds of fisheries. This research is based on rich historical material and also on interviews and discussions with almost two hundred Icelandic women who have worked at sea in the last several decades. A presentation of this research through an exhibit at the Reykjavík City Museum, will bring new and exciting perspectives for both Icelanders and for visitors in Iceland. A book on the subject comes out in the fall of 2015.k

When the presentation was over, a line formed to say hello to her and get our books signed. I told her that I sailed, and had a small boat that I’d named Elska. “It’s Icelandic,” I said… “……for love!” she finished. We talked a little bit, and I told her I was a late-blooming student with an interest in history and anthropology. I was about to ask what she thought of doing this work later in life, but she was a few steps ahead of me and read my mind, and said I should email her! What a kind offer! I really enjoyed the talk, and I loved hearing about her time in Iceland. I can’t wait to read her book. What an amazing life!

The incredible access to art books from the Met

Liechtenstein_The_Princely_Collections_pdf__page_1_of_402_The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website lists an incredible 100+ pages of FREE BOOKS. Did your eyes gloss over that? Let me repeat: free books of art. Free! Free! Have you ever gone into a bookstore’s art section full of those beautiful coffee table books, and found yourself standing there for an hour, lost in one? Wishing you could buy them all? Side note: If you’re in Seattle, a fantastic place to get very reasonably priced coffee table art books in stellar condition (worthy of gift-giving), is the small but excellently curated Mercer Street Books. Tell Debbie that Date Night Indian-Food-Eating Hollie and Greg say hi!

The_Renaissance_Sackbut_and_Its_Use_Today___MetPublications___The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_ArtBut if you don’t live in Seattle and you love looking at your art books on your iPad while you’re drifting off to sleep, GO SEE THE LIST. For the last ten days or so, I’ve just left the window open, and every day when I’m at my desk, I make it a habit to go from page to page, downloading anything that looks interesting. Then I move those to my Google Drive, where I can open them on my iPad at any time, and bask in the glory of beautiful things. You’ll find the familiar greats that everyone knows, and hundreds more that you’ve never heard of, including many obscure and out-of-print titles that specialize in a very narrow slice of art history. I love it!