I had in mind to begin this entry by saying “lately I have been thinking a lot about…” However, I know that that would be partial-truth. It would be more accurate to say “while this is nearly always on my mind, it seems to be more at the forefront as of late.”
The “it” in question is this idea that communication, and perhaps that could be broadened to encompass all existence (within a society), is a balance, or perhaps more cynically, a theatrical performance wherein the concepts of intention and perception clash.
I rarely sleep well these days. Truth be told, I’ve never slept well. I must be completely exhausted in order to fall asleep quickly. Otherwise, I lay on my bed for hours with my eyes closed, waiting, wishing for unconsciousness. While I wait, I try to focus on breathing. I count my breaths in hopes of distracting my own mind. Anything for some peace and quiet. Success is rare.
When I give in, I usually turn to my keyboard, my typewriter, or my phone. Whatever I need to get the thoughts out of my head. Not really out of my head, but at least stored somewhere else. I wouldn’t say it is a relief. It is more an exercise to keep myself awake and to be productive in the meantime. At least if some words have been recorded then something has been created, something has been produced. Below is a late night rambling, and I am posting this as a way to feel productive during another challenging night.
I just wish that I was the right kind of tired right now.
I want to talk less. I want to say less. There is an intimacy found in silence. Shared silence is something most westerners find uncomfortable. And when we speak it is like putting up shields. Our words are influenced by all the noise we hear throughout our days, from our phones, and various other screens. Where is our silence, the time when we are intimate with ourselves, where we hear our own thoughts? Where has our silence gone? And without it, how can we understand ourselves? And without that, how can we understand each other?
This is not a noble act. It is an act of desperation. I am desperate for safety. I desperately want to feel more secure. But words, like shields, grow weak over time with extended use. Under repeated pressure cracks form, and those cracks can be exploited. The art of exploitation is something humans excel at. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I think of it often. People frighten me. Real strength, it seems, real resilience comes from within, from the silence. Speak less, consider more. Fewer words form fewer cracks. Can you withdraw inside but still be amongst the world. Why is there this drive to contribute? I think of Robin William’s monologue from The Dead Poets Society. I need to watch that again. It’s the one where he recites Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life!
O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
But must we really contribute? And what determines contribution? Need there be an audience? Are our contributions given reality, given value, weight, form, function, validity only if and when there is an audience, another identity? Perhaps the better question is the inverse. Is it possible not to contribute?
I think of the words of Thich Nhat Hanh when he illustrated pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) using a table as an example.
So then, is there anything that is not a contribution? Is there any action that does not cause another action? Is there any equation without an answer, without a result? I suppose not. And so I suppose no matter what we are all always contributing. The audience doesn’t matter. Existence is the audience. It is the audience and it is the performance. They are one and the same. This is the essence of dependent origination, which goes by other names. That cause and effect are not to be seen as separate. I suppose. So why then do I so badly wish to become anonymous?* Does a name bestow us with expectations? Is a name inclusion? Inclusion in a group and all groups have motives, purposes, a current that flows in a general direction towards a goal to which all actions are judged?
Anonymity is as good as being invisible. Yet true anonymity is seemingly impossible these days. Anonymous – adjective1. having no known name or identity or known source.
And what about my friends? What about the joy of conversation? Of sharing tea or coffee in a quiet kitchen or on an outdoor patio? What would a life without those things be worth?
So what is it really that I am asking for? What is it? Or a different way. Where is it I am asking to end up? Where—not a place but a being— am I wanting to find myself. A slower, quieter place. A place within. A place where I wait more, consider more, and where I speak more slowly, and where I speak much more by saying much less.
I think there are elements of imposter syndrome, a multifaceted need to control, fear for sure, guilt and/or shame, certainly harsh judgement, dissatisfaction, … And there is, of course, and always, a desire to be accepted, and if I am lucky, understood.
*The irony that this is being posted on a blog, accessible to any and all who happen across it is not lost on me.
Earlier tonight I began reading Hisham Matar’s novel, In the Country of Men. In it, the narrator’s mother speaks of grief, a topic I have been reading about, experiencing, and thinking of quite a bit lately.
“Grief loves the hollow; all it wants is to hear its own echo.”
Spoken by the character Najwa in Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men
A thought occurred to me the other day. I had heard (or possibly read) the phrase “it’s what you do that matters” which is similar to the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” I thought about this for some time, and I began to wonder what if saying something took as much effort as doing something. What would the world look like if it took as much effort to speak as it did to perform an activity?