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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

entry arrow3:55 PM | A Quiet World

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”

I don’t know who it was who first told me that one sure way to calm yourself in the frenetic whirlwind of days is to stop and just look at a flower.

Imagine this. You command yourself to stare at the bloom, to feel all your undivided attention focus on the intricacies of its petals and the sure tuck of its sepals. See how it folds at some edges, and then how it flares just so at the others. See the creeping diffusion of hues. You soon feel its colors begin to pulsate, you feel the wonderful symmetry of its biology...

Almost always, perhaps because you will it so, the world begins to shrink away. And then there is only you and the flower, a quiet invisible cocoon shedding you from the cacophony of everything else. You. And a flower. And the bliss of a full flowing concentration.

Sometimes all we really want, in the best of days, is quiet.

In Muriel Barbery’s intelligent and deeply affecting novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is about a trio of geniuses “in hiding” in some rich Parisian apartment building, we find that the precocious child genius Paloma Josse is always in search of a hiding place, away from the bourgeois “barbarians” who are her family and neighbors. She wants to get away from everyday disturbances to nurture quiet, which breeds what she calls “profound thoughts” about the “movements of the world.” She rarely gets it, but in the end she finds it in the loge of Mme. Renée Michel, their squat concierge, who fiercely hides a formidable intelligence by embodying for everybody else in the building the stereotype of an unthinking blue-collar worker. But perhaps Adlai Stevenson said it best, when he once declared: “In quiet places, reason abounds.”

This is true.

Not everybody can appreciate that kind of quiet, of course. They often mistake it for boredom. Perhaps this is because we have grown so used to increasing decibels as an everyday thing in all our lives. It has almost become the new make-up of the world.

My music mentor, the radiant Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez, once told me that she believed most of the world has gone increasingly deaf over the years. She has found that what were once perfectly acceptable (and hearable) levels of sound—especially during concerts at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium—have fallen on increasingly unhearing ears.

“It’s not even about the acoustics anymore,” she said. “People are just becoming hard of hearing these days.” She knows why. The world has become a playground of noise.

And I know this for sure in my life. You see, it has become a bit harder for me to hear sound in “normal” levels—the music that I play in my apartment, for example, nears maximum volume, but I play the denial game by convincing myself that my stereo’s volume dial is calibrated for soft sound, even at maximum.

It is the same for the sound coming from my television. And it is perfectly reflective of how I have become inured to noise that I cannot fall asleep without the television turned on. I nod off to its disembodied sounds. That and the flickering blue that it emits into the walls of my darkened bedroom becomes my kind of lullaby. I sleep to the sound of CNN anchors, to the silly chatter of MTV veejays, to the chatter of unseen adventurers of Discovery Channel.

It is as if we have come to truly believe that all the universe is made of this fabric of sonance—honking cars horns and screaming children and blaring televisions and puffing politicians and screeching car wheels navigating the asphalt jungles of our lives.

And so, when suddenly we find ourselves in the green solitude of mountains or at some secluded beach, we take to the quiet that pervades like it was an alien thing, which we can amuse ourselves with. It is something decidedly different for us that it borders what we make for novelty. “Quiet,” for a lack of a better description, has become quaint.

Over the Holy Week, as Dumaguete dissolved into the doldrums and I surfed the Internet to distract myself from watching too much television, I found people begin to make noise online with the same whine: “I’m bored.”

Over and over—in Facebook status updates, in Twitter shoutouts, in Tumblr posts—it was essentially the same thing and the same concern: “It’s too quiet. I’m bored.” There were Boracay wishes and invitations to escape the sweltering heat to the cooler enclaves of the mall or Baguio or Valencia town—such fuss because there was none of that comforting din people were used to. Outside, there were no tricycles trolling the streets. There was no rush of people. There was only quiet.

And then, once again, that whine: “I’m bored. It’s too quiet.”

Even I, child of noise, had to react to this tiresome litany. And so I wrote in my Facebook and my Twitter pages: “That’s not boredom, people. That’s a chance for rare quiet in this noisy world, and a chance to listen to what the depths of your heart can tell you.” It was a corny note, but I felt it was calculated enough to make some of the whining stop.

And for the most part, it did. At least for a few hours, anyway. That note miraculously snowballed into a chance of reflection among some of my friends. One eventually wrote back: “That made me rethink what I am exactly doing now. Thanks for the perspective shift.”

Later on, I too began to believe in my own mantra. I turned off my television, closed the laptop to break away from the “chatter” of the unceasing online world. I settled for a book, and in low volume, I played “Thy hand, Belinda; darkness shades me” from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. This, according to the fictional Mme. Michel, the heroine of Barbery’s world, is “the most beautiful music for the human voice on earth...”

Barbery continues in Mme. Michel’s voice: “It is beyond beautiful, it is sublime, because of the incredibly dense succession of sounds, as if each were linked to the next by an invisible force and, while each one remains distinct, they all melt into one another, at the edge of the human voice, verging on an animal cry. But there is beauty in these sounds that no animal cry can ever attain, a beauty born of the subversion of phonetic articulation and the transgression of the careful verbal language that ordinarily creates distinct sounds. Broken steps, melting sounds. Art is life, playing to other rhythms.”

Melting sounds. Life in rhythm. Things you can hear only when all else is quiet and you are in tune with how the universe hums without the distraction of the noises we make.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich