Quiet

23 Feb

quiet finger

Quiet and I have such a strange relationship. I came across an article recently – well, actually I came across Time Kreider’s NYT opinion piece on the original article’s topic – about how Amtrak will (eventually) be offering residencies to writers in their Quiet Car. For me, a lover of train riding because of the unique ability of railroad tracks to send creative thoughts through my brain, the prospective chance of a residency within the Amtrak Quiet Car was simultaneously incredibly appealing and absolutely terrifying.

There is a magic to quiet. You can finally feel your mind settle into the lump of flesh that carries around the rest of you. There’s an integration of your consciousness, as it sits there together, all in one place, no longer drawn in dozens of little fragments to the noise in front of you and behind you and to the side of you, to the flashing lights and motion blurs all about the full range of your peripheral, the beating and banging and humming and whirring and shouting that divides our thinking capacity into a million different focal points.

No, in the quiet, suddenly your soul can hear itself again. And it’s a beautiful thing, as the voices that have been bourn within you by the stories and novels and letters and daydreams of your past mingle and birth new ideas for your mind to mill over.

It’s also a terrifying thing, if your brain also happens to host certain voices like mine.

They’re a bit louder, a bit harsher than the rest. They may not always all-out scream at you, but the small persistent whispers are just as distracting.

They are the voices of a mind used to abusing itself. They are the voices of mental lashing developed over the course of a young life in order to keep a yet-developing brain one step ahead from every other one around it – because if you can anticipate doom, anticipate fault, anticipate anger and criticism – then you can prevent it. It’s an entirely useful set of voices, when you are stuck in an environment that will kill you if you do not either learn to dodge or strike back.

But if you are one of the so-called lucky ones who manages to escape that environment, the brain that kept you going now becomes the enemy itself.

It’s much more difficult to dodge something that makes all the same movements that you do. It’s incredibly difficult for a hand to strike itself. It becomes a bit of a paradox, you see. The answer is to get away from yourself.

But, in that all too horrid cliche, wherever you go, there you are.

And so noise becomes your new coping mechanism. You surround yourself with stimuli – if you can feel the pressure of the world on your skin then perhaps you will not notice the perpetual lump in your throat. If you can blind your eyes with a TV show on a screen, maybe your brain won’t have enough sight left to envision all the terrible future scenarios that used to actually be legitimate threats but are now only figments of an anxious anticipation. If you can occupy your ears with the blaring electronica or chatter of a Youtube reel or the friendlier-toned (usually, at least) sounds of conversations about you, perhaps the wailing in your mind will not start. Or at the very least, perhaps, in a relative position, it will no longer seem so loud.

But to put yourself in quiet – that is to invite your mind to hear itself. And while you know that dreams and worlds and heroes have been born from the quiet that happens just as you slip from consciousness right before you fall asleep, you also know that when you are instead in the full-frontal awareness of agitated midday, and silence falls…

Well, sometimes the mind doesn’t have very nice things to say when you’ve shut it up from the world for a while.

Quiet is where the best thinking happens, in the still of a place where you can hear again the merest exhale of the soul’s breath. But unfortunately, it’s also where you can hear every last gasp of a soul that’s been crying.

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