March 20, 2004

Writing (Or, The Serious Side Of The Cactus)

I hesitate to put this here today. Why? Because I'm usually not very serious. Perhaps I short-change myself because, in real life, there's more to me than just the funny story about the time I got chased by cows down the Potomac River or long strings of haikus. Don't get me wrong. I'm very much that guy as well. I do, however, sit down and write a bit about stuff that's not all that funny, sometimes to figure out what's on my mind, sometimes just to play with words. So today? An example. If you want funny, come back soon.

In this silent house you can hear the mundane. You can hear the silence’s verbosity, viscosity. You can hear the traffic from the road a hundred yards away, differentiate the economy cars from the SUVs, the Harleys from the little Japanese sport bikes. You can hear that kid crying next door. She’s two and you think that she probably shouldn’t be wailing like that anymore. What does that say about her parents? Is there something wrong with the kid?

In this silent house you can hear the click then whoosh of the furnace. If you pay attention and concentrate, you’ll know that 38 seconds elapse between the time you hear that whoosh and the point at which the heat flares into life, dulling the other mundane sounds. Drowning out the sounds of the maple tree branches striking the side of the house when the wind kicks up. You keep meaning to prune that tree but it never seems to get done. Its always supplanted by something else, something that takes precedent. And the sound is comforting. It’s a constant reminder that some things don’t change.

In this silent house you become aware of the sounds you make. Of those mundane noises you populate your world with. Biting your fingernails becomes some bizarre symphony of bodily noise. The chair that creaks underneath your weight takes on sonic properties of Hollywood proportion. The tapping of your left foot to the unheard beat of a long-forgotten song becomes a dance club-worthy thump as shoe meets carpet.

In this silent house, you wonder if you’ve suddenly gone deaf. At that point at which the mundane noises subside momentarily, the foot stops tapping, the traffic ceases, the baby stops her crying, you wonder – rightly so – if that whole sense has suddenly failed you. But then the heat flares into life again and you can rest easy.

In this silent house, as darkness falls, the traffic slows. Tires crunch against the hardened pavement, children are expelled from their parents’ cars, televisions are sparked into life to report the news and sell us the latest cure for whatever it is we happen to have today, and the baby next door finds something else to cry about. What is it with this kid?

The displaced silence finds a dark corner and hides until daily life subsides and invites it back. It lurks, occasionally sticking a quiet finger into the noise to test its resolve. When the noise no longer puts up a fight, when its momentum is exhausted and its will defeated, it surrenders to the returning silence.

And it is this silence in which the imagination runs wild, unrestrained by any of those conscious fences, those noises, those jolts that call the mind immediately, haltingly into the present tense. Back to today’s worries, today’s hopes, today’s dreams.

In this silent house, I often feel that there’s something I’m supposed to be saying, something I’m supposed to be shouting at the world. Listen to me, damnit. There’s something important I’ve got to say, world. I’m making sense here. How can none of you recognize that? Something that feels so profound to me the very thought of expressing it causes a mixture of panic and relief and excitement and fury to well up within the pit of my stomach. And then I realize that

In our silent houses
We all have the need to scream
The need to expose our thoughts
To the world
The sound of our voices
Enabled by the solitude surrounding us
The knowledge that our voices
May be heard
Over the crying children
Over the SUVs hurrying to grocery stores
Over salt and the sand left over
From snows now passed
And someone out there
May finally hear another voice
With the same mix of panic
Relief, excitement and fury
And feel a little less…

Posted by Chris at March 20, 2004 10:49 AM

This is another beautiful side of mister Cactus. It's really well writen. Besides, if I. or any other reader like it or not, it's your weblog, you should write whatever you feel like.

First I thought it wasn't your own - silent house - experience (I imagine lots of happy sounds in your house, cats playing, maybe Beth singing?). But then in stead of "you" you used "I". Why? :)

Posted by: Sweety at March 20, 2004 1:12 PM

Lovely post. Everything after the second paragraph is first-rate. But I gotta go with Amber on this one. Two year olds are just getting started. When are they too old to be wailing like that? Well, I promise to let you know when I find out. My oldest is only 5, and it still comes streaming out of him now and then. The parents have probably tried whatever they could try, but you put an overtired toddler in a room with a frazzled parent, and ain't nobody knows nuthin' from silence...

Posted by: Mindy at March 20, 2004 7:16 PM

A man with many wonderful sides.

If I wasn't totally and happily attached... I think I'd be in love...

Posted by: Tjej at March 20, 2004 8:43 PM

A welcomed change of pace. That's one reason I come back everyday. I enjoy seeing where life is taking you and how you deal with it, good or bad. I agree, you should post what ever you want. So, keep it coming!

Posted by: Myllissa at March 20, 2004 9:54 PM

I haven't known a silent house for nearly eight years.

Posted by: Joe at March 20, 2004 10:36 PM

Personally? I have a husband, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 1 child of my owns, and several other here constantly - yet I still know what you mean - because I still need to scream.

Posted by: Zoot at March 21, 2004 4:18 PM

Wow, are you reading my mind? I know EXACTLY what you mean. You're not alone.

Posted by: Burnt Fuse at March 21, 2004 5:32 PM

Funny, my favorite sentence was the one that everyone seems to take issue with. For those of us without kids (or maybe to me) it seems like two-year olds shouldn't still be screeching. I thought it really gave the narrator character. Also, it was the first thing that made me feel he/she was sort of miserly.

Posted by: Del at March 21, 2004 9:40 PM

Thank you. When you read something and you get a visual in your head, you know it's speaking to you, painting pictures. It's slightly hazy, everything with slightly blurred edges. The room has an early evening blue shade, quiet, calm and peaceful. There's a wooden floor with a long Tibeatan runner hugging a tall sofa table that holds odds and ends and an old fashion clock, tick-tocking. A window at the far end of the table casts the blue light, open just a few inches. And the breeze blows the curtains just a bit and on the tail of the curtain rides the screeching baby sound.

Posted by: wlfldy at March 23, 2004 8:31 AM

This. Was. Awesome. I love funny blogs as much as anyone, but it really comes down to the writing. If the writing is good, then EVERYTHING is good.

Posted by: Amalah at March 23, 2004 10:13 AM