quiet person day

Today (i.e. whatever day you’re reading this) is the day when we celebrate the quiet person. The quiet person among us is often overlooked and even scorned. This occurs for many reasons, all of which are rooted in the very nature of being quiet. Quietness can be interpreted as a supernatural state. This has caused problems for certain quiet people. Back in the day, the quiet person was often suspected of witchcraft and either burned or crushed to death under large boulders. Throughout history, quiet people have been perceived as oracles, goddesses, world-creators, world-destroyers, saints, sinners, aliens, demons, angels, lunatics, et cetera. An urge to fear the quiet person presents itself. The quiet person rarely speaks unless spoken to. What is going on in their heads. How menacing. Some people think this means the quiet person is a snob. In fact, often a quiet person will open up like a rare flower (e.g., an orchid) when spoken to. Or the quiet person will simply wilt into a pile of rotting organic matter. You’ll never know which unless you try.

Some people think the quiet person has no opinions, but get that person alone and look out! You will not believe the endless stream of words flowing forth from the quiet person. You may wish you had never engaged the quiet person in conversation. At times during this ‘conversation’, it may seem like the quiet person has been possessed by some manic force. When will this person ever shut up, you may find yourself wondering, I can’t get a word in edgewise. However, the quiet person is usually smart and insightful (if you have the right decoder ring), leading you instead to wish you’d not previously overlooked this person. In fact, you may wish you could bottle the quiet person’s wisdom and keep it with you at all times, so that you could take it out when needed and breathe deeply of its essence. Too bad for you that is not possible (yet). Besides, that’s just being greedy! It’s not your place to package the quiet person into a commodity to be bought and sold on the open marketplace, you capitalist bastard. The quiet person will resist the tyranny of your economic systems!

Unfortunately, the quiet person can be perceived as ‘creepy’ or ‘weird’ due to an inherent tendency to hang back and observe instead of participate in whatever inane activity the non-quiet people are currently engaged in. This is blatant discrimination. Quiet people are not all serial killers. It’s unfortunate that the description ‘seemed nice, kind of quiet, kept to her/himself‘ can apply to both sociopaths and non-murderous quiet people. Being quiet carries a heavy stigma, whether the loudmouths among us realize it or not. So step off, fools.

To help celebrate this important day, here are a few helpful suggestions on how to honor the quiet people in your life:

1. Leave them alone. (Can’t go wrong with this one, folks.)

2. Smile and nod at them in tacit approval of their right to remain silent.

3. Refrain from ‘volunteering’ them for public speaking.

4. Do not suggest that they ‘mingle’. They’re leaning against that wall for a reason.

5. Excuse them from any ‘icebreakers’  or other forms of forced socializing (see #4 above).

6. Learn to read minds so that they are not forced to articulate their thoughts.

7. Stop asking them to speak up all the time. Instead consider buying yourself hearing aids.

8. Engage in a ‘not-talking’ contest with them. (And don’t be a sore loser, chatterbox.)

9. Invite them to a mime performance.

10. Do not assume their quietness equates to a dislike for you.

to disarm with silence

the woman on the radio said this other woman could be disarming in her silence and i can’t stop thinking about it. the idea of silence being disarming and what that means. i don’t think i have ever heard a person’s silence being described this way. of course, i am familiar with the “disarming smile,” a not uncommon phrase. but never silence, at least not that i have heard. silence from another person is often interpreted in a negative way, as a discomforting or even menacing response. or silence implies apathy, or it only raises more questions in the other person’s mind. the 3rd edition of the american heritage dictionary offers this definition of disarming: “tending to allay suspicion or hostility; winning favor or confidence.”  the one comes to the other bearing arms, full of rage, and the other responds with silence, which then disarms the one, strips them of their rage, perhaps even draws them in close as a new ally. but why. what is the mechanism at work. that is what i want to know. is this somehow related to the idea of “a quiet confidence.” perhaps we all need to learn to disarm with silence. the world might then be a much more pleasant place.

digging in the shade of the vowel tree

Sylvia Plath wrote of
intolerable vowels
entering her heart
but what of ruthless
consonants headed
to our brains.

We all know about a-e-i-o-u and sometimes y. They may be intolerable but their numbers are small. And they are more easily made to do our bidding. The consonants, in contrast, are legion and their rigidity stifles. Perhaps the only way to harness their true power is to one-by-one start taking them away.

Anna Kavan wrote:

I had only learnt how to be friends with shadows; it might be too late to learn the way of friendship in the sun.

Friendship in the sun is a mirage. The way to it is false. The sun fades color and one day it will kill us all. Shadows make easy friends: we pass through them as they do through us. Few stay long. It is their nature. Sometimes it feels like it is in all our natures to expand and contract, pull away and grow close, like a squeezebox played by a jittery ghost.

Kafka wrote:

No one will want to lie in clouds of mist with me, and even if someone did, I couldn’t expel the mist from my head.

This gets at the heart of the problem, I think. One feels an isolation and maybe a desire to connect, sometimes even a desperate mania. But who can share a dreamy solitude? By definition, no one. And if it was at all even possible, the mist remains. How could we find each other. How could one’s dream self operate in reality? The pilot seat in your head is unlike the one outside of it. Out there, we cannot twist the knobs, adjust the instruments without consultation, without repercussions, without the sun blinding us. In the shadows, the mist, these difficulties melt away.

Jung wrote:

A man can hope for satisfaction and fulfillment only in what he does not yet possess; he cannot find pleasure in something of which he already had too much.

Yikes, Carl, that’s bleak, even by my admittedly generous standards. In fairness, on the next page of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung also states: “The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison.” So I guess one could argue that for some people overindulgence sets them free, although I don’t think that’s his point with the former quote. I think it is about anticipation. Jung is talking about this concept in the context of the development of analytical psychology, and yet it stands out in the text as such a sweeping statement. But I don’t think this aphorism or whatever you want to call it can be universally applied. Certainly competitive eaters don’t find pleasure in the 18th hot dog in a row that they’ve shoved down their throats. But can Jung honestly think that attaining the love of another person does not lead to satisfaction and fulfillment? I mean, I will grant him that unrequited love is an exquisite thing, and possibly more intense on the whole than many long-term relationships. But no satisfaction and fulfillment for those in love? I don’t know, maybe he is not including love or other emotions here. Maybe he is referring strictly to material things, in which case I willingly concede his point.

Édouard Levé wrote:

The full weight of depression comes on between 1-5 PM, particularly when I am home by myself. Mornings and night are more filled with promise.

Filled with promise. Is that what we are after? Moments filled with promise? Is it merely the anticipation we crave, what Jung says we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in? Anticipation can be tantalizing, I’ll admit. But how. How can we be satisfied with mere promise. Inherent in promise is a pledge to fulfill at some point in the future, not at the moment of the promise. Like an IOU. Is it the step we take to accept the promise that is meant to satisfy? Is it the mental and/or emotional trust fall we allow ourselves to take? If so, what of broken promises. Do those negate the previous gain in fulfillment? Well, do they, Jung? If he were here, I’d have more than a few questions for him.

Levé also wrote: “Above a certain height I like what I see. Below it I don’t.” I suppose we can read this on a literal or a metaphorical level. What is the certain height. And is it a chronological point, a philosophical one, a spiritual one. Who knows. I think we can safely say, though, that whatever the certain height represents, it changes between individuals. Remember how Jung said what sets one person free is another person’s prison.  Some people don’t like what they see above a certain height, while others crane their necks for a peek. Some spend their lives craning for that view, but some are content to not look. They don’t want to know…they look away in fear, shame, embarrassment, whatever.

So what is the conclusion. Is Kafka’s mist the same as Carson’s foam? Sometimes it’s a strain to make all the connections. Certainly reading and writing are key decoder rings. Endless battles, ceasefires, sneak attacks, and truces with the vowel and consonant armies. And maybe the ladder stretches high enough to see above the mist. I think others have ladders high enough, too. If we squint hard enough we can probably see each other, mouths flecked with foam, across the scorched battlefield strewn with bloody words and mangled sentences. Hello there! I do not have rabies. I am merely seeking the sublime. Perhaps you’d care to meet in the mist and discuss for a few moments. I’ll be waiting.

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