Friday, February 1, 2013

In a Culture of Loud: Or, One Angry Introvert

For once, there was no sound when I opened my eyes into the darkness of our bedroom. No hum of the air conditioner or heater, no raspy vibration of the ceiling fan, no pitter patter of little feet, no neighborhood dogs barking in dark backyards nearby. Not even the rhythmic growl of my husband’s snore. As many times as I’ve woken in the dead of night in this house, I don’t think I’ve ever woken to complete silence before.

I lay still and listened, waiting for something to break the spell, waited so long I didn’t even realize I had fallen back asleep until I was jarred awake by the sudden interjection of the alarm.

I woke thinking of that silence, remembering how it seemed prophetic somehow, at the time.

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Some days it seems we’re always of thinking of the next thing we’re going to say. We are updating our statuses and commenting on the pictures we see and the articles we read. We are liking and favorite-ing and tweeting links and keeping an eye on our updates in case anything comes in that needs a response.

I think we do, most of us at least, try to remember to listen instead of just waiting for our own turn to speak. But our own turn to speak is increasingly a wide and rushing thing, a full submersion in the constant current of sharing, the never-ending tide of voices all talking at each other. Does every new outlet we get to share our voices just make us try a little harder to bellow the loudest?

Doesn’t it sometimes seem we are all just shouting into a void, trying not to be drowned out, hoping our voices don’t get lost in all the noise?

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Or may this is just an introvert’s cry, the wordless sigh of one who watches this stream of information whiz past and feels she could drown in it. Maybe this is the throwing up of the hands of one who knows she can never keep up with all of this keeping up with each other. I can’t do it. I give up.

I won’t ever win at social media, I won’t ever talk to every person at the party, and I won’t ever feel anything but angst over ice breaker games designed to force me to act more like the extroverted person we are (apparently) all supposed to be deep down inside. I will always cringe during the forced meet and greet period at church, counting the seconds until I can sit down and listen to the announcements in peace. If you are a stranger, I probably won’t engage you in witty banter. If I invite you to a party, I will likely start the evening out in the kitchen pretending to rearrange the food rather than greeting you at the door and trying to conjure up some small talk that doesn’t sound entirely memorized for the occasion.

And no, I’m not a timid person, not a shy little wallflower of a girl. Many times, I am the loudest voice in the room. When I am engaged, when I am enraged, when I am concerned, when I am giddy, well then my tongue loosens right up. When I am curious, the questions come tumbling out like scrambling tumbleweeds caught by my imagination. When I have something to say, I can hardly be shut up.

It’s just that I was made in a way that means I cannot compel myself to speak when the weight of silence has come over me. I mean, of course, I can open my mouth and make sounds come out, but it will always be fumbling, always be awkward and forced. For ill or for good, I speak when I have something to say, and the rest of the time I am silent.

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I’ve been thinking about how I laid in bed this morning, listening past the silence. Listening for something to shatter it because I knew, eventually, something would. Silence is a fragile waif of a thing in these loud times. Even wind can blow it away, charge right through it and rattle the windows. Silence stands no chance in a place where we spend every waking second trying to fill the silence, as if it’s a void to be stuffed with our nonstop chirping.

If it seems I am angry, maybe it is because I am.  Maybe it is because being an introvert feels like a handicap in this culture of loud.  Maybe it is because I wish I were better at small talk and banter and soundbites and updates.  Maybe it is because when I was lying there in the middle of the night, even I couldn't enjoy the silence.  Even I found myself waiting for the thing that would break it.

So yes, maybe there is a part of me that's angry I've come to think of silence as something to be broken.  Not something to be courted or cultivated.  Just something to be ripped apart by the first noise on the scene. 

Because some of us are built on wells of silence, deep pools of wordless resonance that don't need to be rooted out and filled with chatter.  And those of us who are built like that don't need to be fixed by becoming like the ones who aren't built like that.  There's nothing wrong with our silence, see, and we will speak when we have something to say.  And not one moment sooner.

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