Hello, this is a first for me. I'm not sure what you're expecting. You're not sure what to expect from this. But today, you'll listen to my voice.
[ If you have issues listening to the recording on mobile, I apologise. It seems to be working fine on the laptop. ]
What’s that? Oh. Of course, a clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Sunrise. Sunset. It moves the day on until the afternoon and then, the first signs of the panic arrive. It starts with a discomfort in my chest, a tickling at first, almost unnoticeable. You would think that it’s a temporary feeling, it will soon go away but not for me. I have been familiar with this for far too long. Soon it mutates into something inside of me, sucking my life out. After that, it radiates into my brain. Feels like excess caffeine… then it sets in deeper.
I turn on my television. It’s the same old news. Propaganda in the too often used imagery of photos, videos, interviews comes in slow motion stirring up strong love for the children, family, community, and country—It’s quiet, unconcerning at first, you feel connected to them, you feel their pain and then all too quickly, too late for you to realise, the same love is weaponized. A love that grows so intensely and reshapes itself into hate as the “common enemy” is broadcasted on the screen. For when something on the news brings on one’s love in full passion, the “enemy” is perceived as inhumane, arrogant, and threatening, a circumstance for what is aptly known as pseudospeciation. An individual’s love quickly becomes hate for the “enemy.” The stronger the initial love invoked, the stronger the resulting hate. It’s news like this which becomes the norm. And everyday it’s getting harder to resist.
In another apartment not far away, on the 26th floor, you have your radio sitting on the carpet of your bedroom floor playing. It’s an old beat-up machine that you must have inherited from a relative, or you just happened to find it tucked away in a thrift shop. Either way, the radio volume still manages to level just above the traffic noise for it to compete with. You don’t know why you have it on either, part of a habit perhaps, perhaps it makes the apartment feel more ‘complete’. Because you can’t just sit in your room watching the walls no matter how pretty they have been painted.
Face it. You don’t care much for the songs that play either, I’m willing to bet you don’t even know if one song has transitioned to another. A few songs later, an advert chimes in. Just games of word associations you never signed up for. They have crafted their formula so well, taking normal words and saying their constructed phrases, over and over. These phrases echoed in your ear so often until you became something not much more than a biological automaton. Again, they are jocundly trying to convince you that their product can grant you happiness, they are luring you down a path that hurts the Earth. Why would you need protein shakes, and just how super did you have to be to sell toothpaste anyway? Are you so emotionally deficit you will buy their product just to elevate yourself?
Well, you see. My television, your radio—They both have something in common. Vehicles, for great drama, beautiful music or even redeeming words. But can you claim that for the vast majority of people, these devices are anything other than agents of noise? We are not listening to what they have to share; we are only hearing them to pass time.
Like the modern person I am, I begin my day being rudely awakened by the blaring of the alarm clock. I don’t suspect that my own body would be so uninspired performing the same tasks each morning. I just get up. Some days I don’t even bother to fold the blanket, it gets tiresome really fast. Then I brush my teeth. Check my cupboard. If I run out of coffee, simple, I just settle for tea but yet I can’t enjoy my breakfast because time is ticking away and my mind is constantly aware of it. I need to catch the cab so I don’t be late for work.
The noise follows me even as the cab speeds away. I’m stuck in a traffic jam. I look around to see angry people behind their wheels, their brows are furrowed, the traffic never gets any lighter here. It’s the age where everybody’s first move is to burst out of their apartment doors just to beat the next traffic wave. Funny. So much movement and yet the air has never been more stale and the roads have never been more congested. They’re pressing on their car horns again when the line becomes stagnant, fooling themselves that the movement of the traffic depends on the power of their horns.
This is the present noise.
Again, I am stuck in this traffic and even when I’m not the one driving, I loudly curse at the ones who cut the line. It creates a bond between me and the cab driver.
I imagine that while I am stuck among these metal boxes, you are watching down on us all in your apartment. I can picture your gaze down as you grimace at every blare of the car horn. Even all the way on the 26th floor, these noises are as strong as your radio. By then, you would have been ready, your neatly pressed clothes cling confidently on you, hair perfectly immaculate. You’ve already had breakfast and you turn off the radio before you leave. Like me, the noise still follows you.
See, we both continue moving about with piped-in music in the elevator and ‘on hold’ on the office telephone. But we don’t talk to each other at all, no. Just a couple of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, that’s it. I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about asking you out for coffee even though I see you quite often. But then again, you are always tied up with your phone, answering calls even after office hours. Whatever.
You relax by the jukebox at the bar and conclude your day with televised chatter. I can’t sleep here. I can’t sleep in the silence that descends when my TV is shut off. So I resort to machines that produce “white noise”. I open my window and the world of the night invites itself in, the rustle of the wind against the leaves or when it blows into my apartment, tinkering the loose glasswares, the distant sound of moving rubber against gravel, the muffled voices of the nightlife. They all calm me.
Silence has become a vacuum in which both you and I abhor. It is no longer normal or good in itself. It is only understood as the absence of noise. Before noise there were sounds, distinguishable from noise, because sounds came from the silence. Silence was the background for sounds.
Maybe it’s because we are city dwellers. Awash in constant noise, we become nervous in the country because sounds of the country—from crickets, birds and animals—are made against the background silence. There is also less talk in the country, because to interrupt the silence, one must have something to say. Here in the city, words are part of the general noise—one can say anything in order not to stop talking—and silence is always interpreted as awkwardness. There seems to be a fear that if the noise stops, the city will collapse in the silence.
Before the days of widespread TV, there was a notion that people would play the radio to make sure they are still really there. This proposition neatly reverses the old conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? This question presumes man exists and asks if sound can exist without man’s hearing it. Hold that thought. I’m going to reverse that presumptions and ask you this:
If there is no noise, how do you know—I know—that I am really here?
How would you know if I’m on the other side?
Solitude and silence are the crucibles of serious thought. To flee them is to flee the conditions necessary for the self-examination that makes life worth living. It is to flee as well the peace that can come only from the orientation of one’s life to the ultimate realities—realities that can intrude only when one is still and quiet and open to them.
What’s that you’re saying?
Oh. You’re telling me that you turn on the radio because you are lonely? Don’t worry, It’s the same for me. I just needed something to fill the loneliness, not necessarily something close to the physical. Noise somehow comforts me, it just tells me that the silence will not get me, it’s my shield against the enveloping silence. Are they just noise that we are both using as an atonic for loneliness? But the city’s rich, we have skyscrapers… and loneliness is a longing for something which should not be drowned in noise. Maybe if we started to quietly search for our own loneliness, we can begin to ask ourselves why we are lonely and for what. Maybe loneliness was supposed to let us know that we really have nothing adequate to our deepest longings—not in our friends, not in our family, nor in our worldly goods or pleasures.
In what then or in whom are we to find the object of our deepest desire? This is perhaps the important question we can ask, and maybe it can only be answered in the silence. Let’s hear it for the silence—would you join me?
I turn my head to gaze at you. You meet my look and you nod your head at me.
You’re smiling at me.
Is that a “yes”?
Now? Is it now? You have a really beautiful smile. Has anyone ever told you that? It is enchanting, in ways my imagination had not begun to dream of. Here, take my hand. Your fingers are soft, like wisps of cloud. Now I am noticing how your rhythms and gestures are reminding me of my own. It’s like we are linked by unconscious mysteries and benignly watched by the environment. It is almost as if we are walking at the unfurled edges of great waves. I am inviting you into my personal space, my bedroom, my mind. Something is different. The lamp has been shifted, the bed’s been angled in a specific way, the light streaming in through the window is not the same light I glimpsed last time I stepped in. I think we have just been welcomed into a world of softer sound, of stuttering laughter and sunlight… We are both giddy and uncertain now, we left the noise for the first time in years.
There is no superficiality to this—perhaps because there is no label to what we are feeling now. Right here, we only have us, stripped to our very bones, at our most vulnerable even, lyricizing the constancy of loneliness, of love, of light, attempting to negotiate relationships, memories and feelings, all of which forms us. This is our true nature. And it’s also right here, right now, our faces appear in the windows of each of our own hearts. I see your face. You see mine. We’ve been staring at each for a while now. You know what this reminds me? That even in the most glaring isolation, we aren’t really alone… you are here with me in this city.
Loneliness is a universal emotion, one that is deeply and sometimes painfully felt. Each of us feels lonely at one time or another. It is part of the human condition. More often than not too, we let the loneliness to be filled by artificial solutions. I believe that almost everyone one has cried out of loneliness before. And I hope that you do not take umbrage when I say you are not alone in this. It's not your fault that you feel like this. I am still breathing, and walking along my own forged path. It gets quiet sometimes, and—as bizarre as it sounds, I've realized that my experience with someone else's story is a lot like my own, and it might be a lot like yours. Not entirely, but you feel me, don't you? Some parts of our stories are starting to make sense, some parts have always made sense, and some... they still don't make sense. Maybe they never will, or will they? Just promise me you would never let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.