Ta-Nehisi Coates has a lovely post at The Atlantic on the Amtrak quiet car and the kind of people who make noise in a car reserved for quietness. I enjoyed the post and the long series of comments, which went through many kinds of rude public behavior. One of the commenters said that he or she believed many people — possibly most people — could not handle silence.
This instantly hit home with me. I have thought for years that people are afraid of being alone with their thoughts. Either their thoughts are painful or they have no thoughts, though Zen teachers tell us there is always some kind of crap floating through our minds.
I like silence. I plot stories while walking the track at the Y, and I appreciate the silence in the weight room. Once in a while a staff member plays music, but usually there is no sound except a bit of conversation. When there is music, I find its beat puts me off my own rhythm as I work out.
At home, I either have silence or classical music, played not too loudly. I especially like 17th and 18th century chamber music. This was music designed to be played while the nobility digested their dinners. It does not demand the same kind of attention as Beethoven, for example.
But having said I like silence, I remember the noises that don’t bother me. I have lived in cities my entire life, so the background noises of cities — cars, machinery, sirens — don’t usually bother me. I am able to shut them out. I hear them as silence, I think, though the true quietness of the country is more relaxing.
I like going out to write. A coffee house with a good collection of CDs is a wonderful place. Most of the time, people around me are fairly quiet. Many people sit alone with a computer or notebook. The staff is willing to sell me a cup of coffee plus refills and then leave me alone for hours.
This kind of noise — a good CD, people talking quietly — does not bother me. In fact, it seems to help me write.
Rude noise bothers me. Music played too loudly. Drunks yelling in the street. The TVs that run endlessly in public places. Why? Most of the time no one is watching. One makes a choice to go into a coffee house and listen to music, while writing. One does not make a choice to listen to drunks yelling. And if one is waiting in an airport, one is making a decision to fly, which is not the same as a decision to listen to Fox News.
I like to be alone with my thoughts. More silence, please.