Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fortress of Quietude

I live in a very quiet environment. I realized this today, which was my first whole day back in Kansas City after my trip. I made a call to friends of mine to try to get together, but our laughably-awful timing of schedules continues. Perhaps next week?

When I sent the number on my phone and brought it up to my ear, the first ring sent me scrambling for the VOLUME DOWN button. Where did I make my last call? In my car? Why would it be set up so loud?

This "world of silence" is related to something that happened a few weeks ago when I drove up to campus to be fitted for my doctoral robes. I got there a little before lunch time, parked my car, and walked into the bookstore. The clerk came over and asked if he could assist me. I tried to say, "Yes, I'm here for doctoral robes," but all that came out at first was "HGKF!"

After I cleared my throat, I was able to communicate without further problems. In retrospect, my difficulties were symptomatic of those being my first spoken words of the day! I couldn't even address when I might have spoken the day before.

Remember that I do live alone, so there's no one here for me to speak to when I wake up in the morning. That doesn't always stop me, especially if I manage to forget that the hot water is HOT. That mistake usually brings several choice words to the tip of my tongue and beyond.

After spending a few days with my family in St. Louis, I get into the habit of talking to people. Even if the only person around is my youngest brother, who's not particularly chatty, we still end up exchanging words here and there.

Currently, there's a very short list of sounds I can hear in my place. The smallest fan in my laptop is running, barely audible over the clicking of my typing fingers. Further away, I hear the ticking of my Russian submarine clock, which is rather subtle (as clocks go). Thanks to fate, the refrigerator is still for the moment; the cooling fan is often the loudest noise in my place. Beyond my walls, I hear the faint and indistinguishable sounds of generic night traffic on the surrounding roads. And sometime within the next hour or two, there'll be a train horn that sounds off in the distance. It never fails to remind me of growing up next to the train tracks.

A few weeks ago, a good friend came back through the KC area. She'd long since graduated and moved on to the next chapter (and city) in her life, but she had enough friends still in KC to come visit. She and I sat down for an extended lunch in a nice Mediterranean cafe in KC's "bohemian district". Over a delicious and leisurely meal filled with cous cous and baklava, we hashed out what it means to be alone.

She's living on her own for the first time in her life. No roommates, no significant other; just herself and the silence when she comes home at night. In the beginning, it was a welcome change for her. She's been in time-consuming relationships (her term) almost continuously, so the quiet was a welcome respite. But as the months tick by, she's decided that she's uncomfortable, in part because she has nothing to do but think about herself.

She asked my thoughts on living alone. I rolled into the standard package, which has been partially unpacked over a dozen blog entries before this one. The short version: I like living alone, but only because I know who I am and have (at long last) come to peace with who I want to be. Moving that chess piece into the position for acceptance/epiphany/self-confidence or whatever you like to call it makes the difference. For me, it does; others have different goals and markers.

She was somewhat mollified and took comfort in the fact that if I didn't figure it out until I started my doctorate, then she may actually be right on schedule. I tried to impress upon her the idea that I wasn't some sort of "live alone and like it" guru. Hopefully, she'll have a ton of her own experiences that lead her towards whatever level of stillness she prefers.

As nice as that lunch was, we made no headway trying to resolve the greatest issue that exists between she and I: she doesn't like to use her turn signals when driving. Argh, that makes me frustrated, which may well have been the point. Joke's on her, though: I'm planning to withold any further revalations about harmony and life until she starts using her blinkers.

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