Getting used to all the silence

October 7, 2022 Comments Off on Getting used to all the silence

After getting divorced and moving away from Los Angeles to a small town in the southern Sierras, things got really quiet. I deleted Facebook a couple of years before leaving LA, and deleted Instagram after one of my bike tours; I don’t remember which one.

The only social media I had left were the comments on my blog, and I finally turned those off, too.

Once I’d left the center of the fake world I’d created, of course people stopped calling, texting, emailing. A couple of fishermen pinged me now and again, not because they liked me but because they were hoping I might provide some entertainment/gossip, or simply so that they could tell people they were “still in touch.”

Even the tiny cadre of people I’d considered friends never called or reached out, which made sense because they weren’t friends. I woke up one day not too long ago and realized that I’m almost completely alone. Over the course of a day I talk to one person, and on a very busy day I speak with two, that’s if you don’t count the brief exchanges at the store or the odd work-related phone call.

They say that being lonely is incredibly bad for you, but I don’t think that’s true for being alone. You can be lonely in the middle of a city of ten million people, but being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely, at least not for me, and at least not when it’s by choice.

The biggest benefit to being alone is not having any responsibility for how people react to what I say and do. At first it was a shock, the withdrawal of reactions. But now it is completely normal and relaxing. There was a time when I would have moved to a new place and immediately made friends, tried to be part of the community. Though I’m no recluse, I now avoid any unnecessary contact or communication. People are so noisy. Why would I want more noise?

Because I already have plenty. The scrub-jays, acorn woodpeckers, titmice, ravens, quail, doves, hummingbirds, honeybees, and house finches make a racket all day long, but unlike human racket, it’s very pleasing. The wind blows or soughs, and that’s pleasing, too. Even the ugly barn next door makes odd creaking and groaning noises when the aluminum joints expand in the heat, and the raucous barking of dogs at odd times, the high-pitched calls of coyotes, or the crackle of logs in the fireplace mixed with the purr of the cat, all these noises are noises enough.

I don’t need to hear much else.

What’s more to the point, I’ve become maladjusted to social environments. We went to a brewery last week and it was very uncomfortable simply being around people. No matter how much I tried not to listen, snippets of their conversations wafted in, annoying, empty, vain, vapid exchanges fueled by booze and the kind of loneliness no one wants a slice of. We left quickly.

As someone who has written in this format for more than a decade and been addicted to the chatter generated by his writing, the biggest silence is the silence of readers. Once in a great rare while someone will email me but other than that the biggest payback of writing, which is to hear the praise and the criticism, has vanished. This is of course its own topic, the idea that you can write publicly with little or no feedback from your audience and still maintain interest in it without the dopamine, but after a while I can tell you that the withdrawal goes away and I find myself wondering how I ever survived all that distraction in the first place?

There is still some feedback in the form of viewing stats but that’s optional and it’s anonymous and it’s machine-generated. It’s not noisy and it doesn’t scream “You’re awesome!” or “You suck!”.

When you pull away from the noise you realize that you’re not that important, and that the only people who really care about you can be counted on a few fingers. That your life isn’t the architecture of the 0’s and 1’s you’ve curated online, and that opinions, including your own, are like armpits and assholes: Everybody has ’em.

And of course the less you speak the more you think before you speak. Scarcity creates value. Silence makes you understand why people once spoke so little and why words once had so much heft, why the right word moved armies to peace and the wrong word to war.

Silence also has a way of reflecting back the enormity of the universe and its central message of utter coldness, utter randomness, and its unblinking stare of pitiless infinity. It’s not for the religious, the certain, or the faint of heart.

There was a time when I would have tried to tie this in with cycling first and the South Bay second. There. I just did.


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