Listening for the Silence

I slipped on black ice over two weeks ago now. It’s been alternately frightening and boring. It’s frustrating when you can’t move around. Something to remember when you see someone limping, or not fully abled. Nothing broken as it turns out, but while I am beginning to walk again, it’s clear it will be a while longer before I’m back to full speed. This is obviously nothing compared to the suffering of the people in Ukraine, or the victims of the massive earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Nothing. Please give to them.

The enforced hibernation is like lockdown again. The warmth of the cocoon; the cave; the last place where we are safe. You can’t walk far on crutches, and you can’t go down stairs. So I haven’t been outside. Until yesterday. My new boss – that’s another story, dear reader. Perhaps for another time. They (gender neutral just as matter of why does it matter) are very nice. Really. But I was astonished to realized they didn’t understand that I hadn’t been out of my house for two weeks. I guess barely walking on crutches – barely – doesn’t extend in the imagination to – I can’t get down the stairs and out.

I thought of old people who are house bound, anyone sick, but that’s another thread. Suffice to say, as with lockdown, where I was blessed with an interesting view – and mice – who came to see how I was, I’m sure – you need a view. I have been able to see the neighbor’s dog come out to sit in his garden. The acrobatic squirrel who hangs by his hind legs to eat bird seed.

My friend who broke her knee confirmed this. Looking out the window is your activity. Knitting. Reading.

But now I am feeling that pressure to return to work. I’m really not sure how. What seems straightforward suddenly is less so. Stairs, particularly. But maybe there will be great improvements this weekend. I don’t really fancy going to another doctor who will say – well keep it to elevators. Do exercises. Yes.

But pressure. Cultural pressure. Societal pressure. Pressure in general. Many people hear their own drum and let it fade out as the lure of being loved and accepted is so much louder. There are so many ways to be part of the group now. Advertisements for clothes, books, kitchenware, vacations, – anything. What to buy to eat. Super Bowl Sunday is now today – that vast piece of BS devoted to nationalism, and buffalo chicken wings.

If one can remove themselves from that, it’s a short path to giving up all pressure, one would think. Or not.

I look at all the clothes. When did plain coats start to cost 400 dollars? Do I need a big screen TV? Or spring sandals? My pets (not that I have any, but I think about it. Just kidding current landlords) they are advertised to as well. Spring kerchiefs. The newest food.

Blogs start to have product placement. Cats posing with manufactured diamonds. Making money makes content.

That’s another “shared” day – Valentine’s Day. But now, you’re just thinking – well no surprise there – too grumpy to be worthy of manufactured diamonds or chocolates.

It’s all pressure.

In a class I am taking, a student said something astonishing. At least to me. We were discussing philosophy, abstract concepts, nothing useful or formulaic. And the student interrupted – I work in publishing, we are there to make money. Subtext – move on. This isn’t helping me.

I ran this by my friend in publishing who felt slightly shocked but admitted that probably 50% of people in publishing would agree.

Polls now shape public opinion, the chase after money shapes artistic endeavor. It’s like looking at the lists of films available to watch. A million ideas, then fleshed out with a few stars, and disposed of – because tried and true and already purchased won’t pay the bills.

More pressure.

It’s a little like being bulled in school or at work. They tell you to stand up for yourself, as though putting it back on the person with the complaint…as if that would solve the problem. I’ve been shocked to see tenured professors who refused to act because they are afraid of retribution.

What a poor group.

But isn’t that the lure of nationalism as well? You are in a crowd of people shouting, and you know you belong. You just have to follow. Absorbed.

Fashion, nationalism, fascism – all these group activities. Clickbait. Twitter showing me right wing pundits. Billions thrown away – doesn’t that show at least how meaningless money is?

But I look at the students in the class, and it’s hard to know what they want. At the beginning of something that could be called their lives – yet they remain silent, and only seem to perk up when details about assignments and grades are discussed. Sometimes it seems all discussion is meaningless or competitive. Or functional. Tell me how to get through this and get the reward at the end. Next.

Maybe the real issue is people and their unwillingness to engage or fear of real connection. We are all so used to online interactions – limited, small, at a distance – that anything face to face or that involves risk seems perilous. Which, of course, it is.  People will see the real person. Or make judgements. It’s always been a take your shot kind of culture here, but the fear of being seen and heard brings up another question. How is the permission to speak allotted and to whom? Some people have no problem saying whatever they are thinking. Others are more reluctant. When is the permission to speak granted? And is it necessarily a good thing? I saw a pile up online the other day – people taking issue, again mostly men, with the idea that time used up in the meeting, dominating the discussion with a quantity of words was not necessarily what was wanted. Perhaps not surprisingly, the pile on came in a very wordy fashion from men who felt attacked for their minutes ratcheting up in meetings, as others were quiet.

And it was a man who presented this theory. God knows what would have happened if it had been a woman. On the other hand, I saw a very famous woman pundit claim that she had invented the word “mansplaining.” And maybe she did…or maybe she was the first to claim it, like a flag on the moon.

Is it a matter of feeling comfortable and at home? Which no one seems to feel anymore. If you take a Yin/Yang view of things, the obsession with containers and sparking joy, pasta in different glass cylinders, matching this and that, neatness, tidiness – would indicate a vast internal cataclysm, a disarray and uncertainty that only both the twins of wasting time with advertised objects and the meaninglessness of organization could begin to cure. The calm that online shopping catalogs induce, the relaxing feeling of knowing the most exacting interior maestro could turn up and your linguine and capellini would not be mixed together or in a cardboard box, quel horreur. But no one comes anyway, because they are looking at their screens, or finding things to do that will be admired once the curated photo makes its way to Instagram, or the short video on TikTok. Prayerfully, fame and followers will ensue, and a life that previously seemed to have reached its apogee in the parking lot of an upscale mall or waiting on line for the newest restaurant, will soar ever higher. When the Tory politician says to get a better job if you need more money, they are speaking from a world where they have a very high-profile, high-income job, and if they or someone they know needs another one, they pick up the phone. How hard is that? The next time you see an article about someone who made a million doing something seemingly accessible to all, wonder why that’s the narrative.

Maybe teaching should now involve short TikTok responses. Would that even do the trick? Responses meant to be judged – and in order to do that properly, the utterance must be of a higher caliber than the last student. Wanting approval, dismissing your peers – thank goodness I’m in the publishing business whose purpose is to make money. What a relief. Accounts are de facto easy to add up and compare. Not so your 4am feeling.

I listened to someone talking about judgement and being the best version of yourself. But that involves an internal conversation in the silence, with something much quieter than a commercial for chicken wings or dog food (aren’t they the same?) Tune out the best of list, the week of discussing commercials (how much paid per minute?), the article on how the Super Bowl is a national pastime that “we” all take part in.

Into the silence. And so it turns out, I’m grateful for this time away from everything, faced with necessary limitations. I will limp slowly back to full speed, and try not to forget what I’ve learned in this mid-winter space.

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