As everyone settles in, Jim makes a few introductory remarks, and then hands the floor over to me. I take a deep breath and make eye contact, smiling at Ken, the technical team, the Washington reps from the Department, Jim. Brian is at the back of the room, in a plain white shirt. I should hear his heartbeat over everyone's, should read it to find out if I need to invite him in. I can't separate his heart from the group. I look at him. He shakes his head.
I relegate my biofeedback to slow my heart to a presentation pace to the back of my mind but keep it thrumming like a mental metronome. I need to go over my material carefully and logically. Keep it to kaaataaakaaataa--a forced even beat.
I slowly lay out my explanation of the proposed cumulative effects analyses approaches. These analyses are complex and vague, but they define your action's place in the overall scheme of things. It is like choreographing a discordant symphony of heartbeats and then projecting what would happen if we added an entire new heart choir section to the existing tumult and projecting the symphonic dance outwards into an unknowable future. I once explained it like this in a public meeting and was dinned for presuming to predict the length of an individual heartbeat and how could a government representative be so cruel as to predict death? I have never used that analogy since, but other analogies do not seem to occur to me or to anyone else. Better to stick with the abstract.
I keep talking slowly, my heart punctuating the points I make, making a nice counterpoint to the boiling thrumble of the room katombakathumpa kattakatkKAswishtaKAta on different channels, as each of the people around the table continue their involuntary commentary. I keep waiting for someone to interrupt--I have spoken for ten minutes, far too long to go without a question. I try to filter the sounds, to see if I can hear a heartbeat of discord, of question, or even of inattention. Kathukatswiktak the thrums blur.
I have the senso-tapes Dr. Smits gave me to practice on for all these nuances of emotions: about 30 different heartbeats in the throes of lust, anger, despair, puzzlement, health and death. After about 6 months of intensive effort (I thrum with these for about an hour a night), I still have trouble, but I can now generally distinguish towering rage from mild impatience and fast walking from an incipient stroke. This unfortunately is like being able to ask for "la plume de mon oncle" in the middle of a French supermarket. Also, these are one at a time, not so many at once. I am lost in the sea of heartbeats, grasping for the one that will identify who has a question, who needs me to stop. My words become broken, confused as I try to channel the information.
I look around at the faces, but no one is moving. I have passed the moment of politeness, of sensing and responding. I have probably long since passed it. This thought travels unbidden to my own heartbeat and I am now a three-ring circus, reading my notes, keeping my face impassive, and wrestling with my heart. I look up from my notes and falter to a stop in the middle of explaining the rationale for limiting the geographic and temporal boundaries of the considered actions. My heartbeat is now a wild tiger swiping at the lion tamer, and not missing. kATAkATAkAT. Everyone can sense it.
Ken clears his throat and points his glasses at my board. "What I wanted to know, a while back, is how your criteria for considering actions will accommodate considering potential affects of urban development on downstream resources. But obviously you haven't given this effort enough thought or you would have been able to sense and answer my concerns." His KAtaaaKAtaaKAtaa is all too easy to interpret.
Brian stands up for me as much as he can, with my heartbeat now cowarding out a faster kTTkTTkTTkTT. He adroitly explains what I glossed over and matches Ken's points to the notes on the main viewer screen and his hydrographs. He covers the material well, but we can all sense his too-fast beat of embarrassment: KaTTAkaTTA. I see his blush first as the flush warming his cheeks, tinging them with a pale pink sunset before tipping into the darkness of incomprehensibility.
Ken just sits and glares at him, his heartbeat now a smoldering low kaaatakkaatakk which I painfully identify as implacable or worse. Then Ken glares at me, with the same heartbeat. Or maybe I'm wrong, maybe that is the beat willing to hear more. Or maybe he wants an apology? Or is he angry? I'm not sure, and my heartbeat collapses into further confusion KaTKTKaTK.
"Well, I will have to advise the state to sue over this action rather than participating as a partner in your analyses. I mean, how can we follow something you have proposed when your hearts are obviously not in it?" Ken walks out, and Brian and Jim sidle over to me, their eyes drawn and lips pursed thin