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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Quiet

My old car had a lot of issues. It wasn't the transmission dying or the passenger door not closing all the way or gas making it to four dollars a gallon that finally made me get rid of it. It was the radio failing. With no radio, I was alone with my thoughts on long drives to and from gigs at night. You ever try to crunch the miles between San Francisco and Modesto with nothing to listen to but the inside of your own head on a Tuesday night? I would much prefer water-boarding instead.
It's not that I am crazy or evil or suffer from a major mental defect, it's just that no one these days has to listen to themselves if they don't want to. Internet, TV, Cellphone- you name it, we are doing anything but hearing ourselves.
The radio went out in my car along with the CD player. Suddenly, I had to negotiate my way through traffic and hours of darkness without my steady Novocaine drip of shouting voices from talk stations, and loud music when I need to yell. I noticed a sharp increase in my irritability. I realized that my frustration with other drivers was on the rise.
I bought a new car. A 2002 Honda Civic si. I know, I could join an Asian gang in the Richmond district if I just get a spoiler on the back. I guess I bought a sound system surrounded by a car. A sporty car too! A car I no longer have to apologize for when I give people a lift. But all that alone time with me got me thinking that maybe I need to be willing to go down that rabbit hole of thoughts and see what's down there. Could be interesting.
I have a friend who has a cabin up north in a place that sounds strong and gay; Timbercove. It takes about 3 hours to get up there. Last weekend I made the drive in the old car. One last time together! I am lucky I have such a generous and busy friend to loan me her cabin for a weekend. It sits in the woods about a mile from the ocean. The first night, after the sun poetically dropped bellow the horizon, I thought someone had hung lights in the trees outside. It was the stars. I was not use to seeing them so clear and so bright. Years of squinting through the fog, pollution and obscuring lights of the city had stolen any sense of wonder about them. Then there was the sense of stillness. There was no wind that weekend, not even a breeze. The trees stood motionless, the sun and stars became real to my sense again and I hiked during the days.
When ever I go on a hike, I encounter two types of people.
1. A German couple on vacation.
2. A very white and very fat American family.
The German couple are always polite. I find them on trails far up in the hills. I think they are surprised to see an American make it so far up. They are also a little scared of me too. I think they know about us from all our crime TV shows and the statistics; there is a good chance I might be armed.
The American family is pasty white, blotchy with sun burns and stuffed into shorts. The kid, girl or boy, always displays an attitude best described as, Verruca Salt-ish. They are all winded, barely taking in the view around them and seem completely uncomfortable without the smell of the food court near by.
If I have learned anything from these outings, it is that the more beautiful the country, the more Red Necky the people who live there. Case in point. I am walking down a twisting back hill road. It's barely even that. It's not paved, there are sections that fall off to a creek bellow and it is remote. As I walk down it looking for a trail I have been told is around here, a giant pick-up truck with a dog in the back, a riffle across the rear window and a shirtless driver move past me at a speed I would not have thought possible on this"road." If deliverance had a float, this would of been it!
Those were about the extent of my interactions with fellow humans. The rest of the time, either on trails or down at the seas edge, I was alone. It was the first time in a long time that I felt alone and not lonely. It's not an awful place to be in. My experiment to hear my thoughts clearly was a success. Sort of. It was the thoughts themselves that concern me a bit. Again, nothing crazy or evil, just petty random thoughts about nothing. I realized that when you separate your head from all the ways you can distract yourself, those petty thoughts don't just go away. Instead of the usual, "I wonder if Law & Order is on tonight? I should get a new shirt for that gig this weekend. I think that girl is cute, but I am trying to stay single for a while. What the hell is this song about? That joke near the end of my set is too long. Why didn't she come up to me and say, nice show? I really want to drink less coffee. "
You hear this;
"WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?"
So that's why I turn the TV on first thing when I enter my bedroom. That's why I am depressed if I don't have e-mail to check. That's why I would rather remain transfixed by adult swims stoner programing than do anything like sincere self examination. Even though I want direction and need to figure some things out about why I do what I do and why I get involved with the same type of woman over and over again, it is easier to just sit in front of the TV and feel smart for making myself watch CNN. I might understand the refugee crisis in Iraq better than a lot of people, but I have been fleeing from myself for a long time now. The biggest mystery in my life is me.
When I sat in quiet for three days and allowed any thought to enter my head, it was like an avalanche. That first night, it felt like bee's had entered my head. There was nothing spiritual or deep going on in my gray matter, it was just a loud circus of mostly random mostly selfish worries about the future. The second day was a little better, but I got the feeling my mind was doing anything it could to not let me see beneath the steady stream of emotional static. But there, ever present in the back ground was that steady drum beat; WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?
You ever really try and be in the now? I know there were moments as a kid when I would be outside playing in the fading twilight of a summers day when my Mother called me in. I looked up and felt as if hours had gone by in a moment. Being in the now isn't really about knowing your in the now. Being in the woods is about finding out what's in the way of being in the now. Being in my head is about anything but being in the world as it really is now.
OK. Lots of deep thoughts there. The point is, I am probably not all that different from anyone else. I crave some better understanding of who I am and my relationship to the world, but as long as porn is practically beamed into my cerebellum, the sort of zen contemplation required to figure such things out is not going to happen easily.
That's just one distraction. The other stuff, the day to day tasks that seem oh so important are routines designed to keep me from myself. I know, it sounds like the sort of bullshit I should be rolling my eyes at and making fun of, but all I want is a little more calm. That's all. I am not asking for the secret to life or what my purpose is, just a little more inner calm. So far, this is what I have learned; if you want something different in life, you have to do something different. You have to be willing to look in the dark places.
I end this blog with an old joke about just that.
Outside a bar, a man sees another man looking for something under the lone street light. He goes over to him and asks, "Did you loose something?"
"Yes. My car keys." The other man says.
He agrees to help look for the missing car keys with him. After 10 minuets of walking around the area, the man stops and asks, "Are you sure you lost them here?"
The man pauses and says, "I didn't loose them here. I lost them in the alley back there." He says as he points to a darkened alley behind him.
"Why are you looking for them here then?"
"The light is better."

4 comments:

Sandy said...

First, let me say… I like how you write! :)

Car and radio… I was just having an inner dialogue with myself, today while driving in my car on lunch, about the magical music/car combination. I’m not one of those cars you see thumping bass so loud that all the other cars in the vicinity vibrate as well… at least not while I’m driving in town. On the freeway though, it’s another story. I like my music loud and I find it to be a surreal and calming experience. Though, true… I live in Ukiah and I’m not dealing with traffic AND I’ve got plenty-o-space between me and any other car… so I feel at liberty to have my surreal, loud music, the world is my music video type of moment.


As for walking and quiet… I know it well. I have NEVER been able to meditate. Not in the traditional, sit down, cross your legs, and “OOOmmmme”. Walking is another story. Walking IS my meditation. I think best when I’m walking. I used to always listen to music or an audio book, but lately I find that I just tend to walk, think, and talk to my dogs.
Timbercove is a beautiful place to walk, you’re right… it is in the middle of nowhere. I stayed up there once. That is a very twisty road!!!

Joe said...

Thanks. sitting cross leg on the floor is hard enough, I just wanted to be able to sit at a table and focus on reading before I try that.

sandy said...

Yeah, me too...

I think it's too much coffee...
or energy. It just feels better to think and move. When I've tried to sit and meditate, one of two things happen... I totally get distracted, or I fall asleep! :D

Dean said...

S'matta? Belting out showtunes not good enough for ya?