Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ode to Silence

One of the reasons I love Portland, OR, well, other than it being home to the best bookstore I have seen in North America, Powell’s, is how quiet it is.

The people have a certain placid quietude about them that I have yet to observe anywhere else. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall seeing anyone speak loudly on their cell phones or to actual people. Soft speech is musical and Portland has long been on my top 5 for a multitude of years thanks to its ‘vibe of silence,’ as I tend to call it.

There is nothing like the sounds of silence. And for someone who likes to listen to a lot of Verdi and a lot of punk that is quite a statement. In the company of almost utter silence is where the true gems of creativity are found. At least, that’s where my gems are to be located. I have the utmost respect for silence because it is very kind to my creative process. And I know better than not to pay homage to those things that shower me with creativity.

There is nothing like noise. Nothing like the aggressive noise that is determined to penetrate the realm of one's creative space. I do think that noise needs to be contained most actively as it can be a truly vexing distraction. Let me note a couple of things here.

Cell phone conversations in public.

Now, I understand the phone needs to be used. It can’t all be like Portland, OR. Some emotions might translate to louder speech, I suppose. However, why is it that one needs to raise the voice so much when on the phone? Especially when one is in public? Granted, I find myself raising my voice when switching to a language I have not used in a few days. For some reason, speakers do that at times, especially when Code Switching. But that is why, I would submit, one needs to divorce one’s self from a crowded space and go in search of more privacy so that the conversation can ensue.

What is the appeal of conducting private conversations while waiting in line for one’s grande soy latte? Now, it can be entertaining to learn that some people out there are distraught over the new plot developments of this TV series on ABC called Lost.

And it might even be educational to some to learn that the Dharma Initiative is featured profusely in the new season. If these references mean nothing to you too, do not worry. They will make sense to you if you are forced to participate in a stranger’s phone conversation who over the course of three little minutes has managed to edify you extensively about their nature. You know that they like to order the grande soy latte, they really love TV, and their colorist is semi decent. You also know that they resort to the kind of flowery detail that would make the most prolific of Baroque writers blush.

Yet, the [forced] gazers/listeners/audience members (whose consent to participate in the ‘conversation’ was not obtained), are perfect strangers to the phone speaker. Being forced into linguistic participation is the worst kind of noise, I find. Manners are a good thing. Respect for the private domain is a very good thing. And just because we occupy public spaces at times, doesn’t mean that we can forget the rules of decency and respect for others’ privacy.

Remember the phone booths? That notion might be too hard for us to masticate at this point in the year 2009 since there aren’t any around.
Modernity doth come with a price, after all.
But they are featured in old films from, uhm, the 80’s. A phone booth is an alternative space that oozes privacy. It says, it’s ok to place your call now. It’s appropriate to verbally relate to the other party and inform them of such private things as why you thought the party you all went to was a royal waste of time or that you, as much you don’t want to, dislike a few people. Or that you think so-and-so’s book is overrated and your in-laws get on your nerves. You may do so because the only audience you have is your chosen party on the other end.

So, today, today I give a tip of the hat to comprehensive silence. Not just a lack of sounds, mind you. I’m, after all, an ardent fan of my kinds of micromanaged, uber-controlled sounds. I’m referring to the kind of silence that’s applicable to each of our unique spaces of thinking, creating, working, living, that very special space where idiosyncratic creativity can be actualized.

And another tip of the hat goes to those who get its importance and follow the good instinct to respect the space of other people.

Good thinking resides in quietude. Let us all strive for the latter and, in the meantime, earphones and, at times, ear plugs are a godsend. As is texting.

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Anonymous said...

"You know that they like to order the grande soy latte, they really love TV, and their colorist is semi decent. You also know that they resort to the kind of flowery detail that would make the most prolific of Baroque writers blush."

What's behind this need to confess as you have before referred to it?

Sra said...

Amen! I loved this. Especially the part Sean quoted and the description of the phone booth conversation.

Maybe Portland will be a good fit for me. I'll make sure to check out this legendary bookstore when I visit Portland in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this.
My feelings exactly.
I was shopping one day and this lady kept following around as she was on her phone. Almost as if she demanded my attention to her conversation.
What is this?
Do we need to shower strangers with attention too?

Unknown said...

"And I know better than not to pay homage to those things that shower me with creativity."

Homage to that.
Agreed on the premise.

Unknown said...

And yes. We should have phone booths.

Anonymous said...

I liked this a bunch as I have often wondered about the sanctity of silent space myself....
What is this week's podcast on? And does BR stop when she's sick? ;)

Anonymous said...

I am starved for silence. Truly. I got this. And the Lost references. I laughed so hard I had to explain..... :)

B.R. said...

-Ah, thanks.
I often use this phrase, i.e., the need to confess because it's, at its very core, a gendered notion. Foucault talks about this in his History of Sexuality, Vol 1.

-Thanks. I liked the finished bit too which might sounds odd as, well, I created it. I do feel like some active mentioning of things past is the least we can do to honor privacy and our our histories of privacy.

-Good question. It's impossible to shower strangers with attention when, apparently, the known entities are having a hard time with this concept as well.

-This week's podcast has yet to be recorded. It should be broadcast on Friday.

Thanks, all.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more than I already do.
Amen, bri, amen!!

Unknown said...

I have been thinking about this, 'Good thinking resides in quietude.'
And maybe that's why some of my thinking has been oh-so-lacking lately.... I need some quietude!