Where I am sitting right now a motorcycle just revved its engine and an inquisitive squirrel stopped its descent mid-trunk out of fear. The engine has vanished down a curvy road but the squirrel remains still, afraid to shift position. It watches me through the porch screen, wary of the sounds, the vibrations, the rhythm of a life force not quite natural, and when only the wind is left in the wake of the vehicle, the squirrel ripples its tail, as if testing the air for danger, and then dashes down the tree to a patch of lawn, careful to avoid the concrete road.
When I see squirrels, I am reminded I am the newborn of a thousand distant relatives, and even earlier still stardust. Their spirited sounds spiral round trees whose roots run deep as the divides between continents and I see spirits – of squirrel, of tree – pirouetting in the space where inquisitiveness merges with understanding. I see in their eyes my eyes, a place where ancient secrets reside, secrets that have to do with a million burning suns, cascading vines ripe with flowers, and the musings of a girl who loved a boy when such love was forbidden. These are the echoes I hear when I put my ear close to the conch shell. In fact, when I am by the sea I simply hear better, that salty smell fills my sense of longing right up so that all I crave is the upturn of my normally cautious lips. I kiss better when raindrops are washing over me like a pregnant waterfall and my skin is soaked with desire. I love better when I am covered in daffodil rooted soil, my hands full of bulbs, and night is bright with bioluminescence. I see better when fireflies light my way. I envy the slug its silent slowness. No ticking of the clock, no watch at all except my watchful eyes on this planetary vista we call home, that is how I prefer to tell time, letting the moon and the sun guide me, if they so desire.
The natural world is hardly silent. The wind knows that, the cackling hyena, a flock of wild flamingos, but the sounds that come from nature are softer, more voluptuous and nurturing than those of the human world. Humans have the tendency to bark and bellow, demanding to be heard, and now we have machines to do our talking, forcing our sterility. There is nothing sterile about a windy day, seeds tossed around for germination, nothing barking about a tamarin monkey leaping for a berry. The symphony that is life seems to work best in harmony, the wind as understanding that it needs the sea as the clouds the impish mantis.
To my ears, human sounds are sharp, too often mechanically directed. A plate falls, a cell phone rings, a television hollers for attention. A car honks, a man sneers, a couple screams obscenities at each other in a crowded square. Guns patter where tapping feet once danced. Machines blink to life at every corner. Wailing alarms beckon us good day, while cars and trains and planes hurry us to and fro, whisking us from birth to death, without so much as a glance backwards to see how we are doing as we try to get our footing. A computer at sleep is hardly at rest, subtle ticks and whirls bustling inside the mechanism as it chirps in offense at being shut, and even the hum of the refrigerator in a darkened room is noisy.
Busy, rushed, loud, exhaustive, harsh. You have to really strain to hear laughter, or a tender ode. Shared words of congratulations are rarer words than those of disappointment, of rejected proposals, even a plane spiraling down in protest of the ground is a sound heard more often than the rainbow that crossed the sky so as to smile at strangers. My body mutinies against these sounds I dread and I feel I am not the only one. But rather than avoid entirely the droning chatter that so often has assaulted my senses, I escape into it. I give up squirrels for screens, like so many of us do, as we screen our sorrows with televisions, computers, phones, now books and pads. We trade our stories for fiction, real dimension for 3D glasses. Perhaps it is because it is all too much to allow in the sound of our heart as it screams – this is not right.
Machines buffer our traumas, they screen us – how we perceive, what we perceive, who we relate to, the sacred lost somehow in translation between what is natural and what is not. Stripped of what is real – our time true relationships, our honest dreams, our connection to nature, we tap and scroll for answers to a long forgotten question, bitterly defending our decision to withdraw behind false windows, when all around us is whispering beauty. In the din of modernity where are the birds? The billowing branches? What becomes of love in the cacophony we call life?
It has taken me an unusually long time to write this piece and I think my struggle to capture this moment of inspiration is related to my ambivalence regarding technology. I prefer nature. I do. I love her sounds the best. But I also love the piano concertos I am right now listening to on my CD player, the fact that I have the ability to type as fast as I can think on this computer, the sound of my fingers fusing with the keys is one of my favorite interludes. Most of my family and friends are geographically distant from me and I love that Skype connects us, that Empire Records, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Offspring, and Beth Nielsen Chapman carried me through adolescence on the wings of televisions and discmen. When parts of me have been dying, it is machines that have assisted my resuscitation. Heat circulates with noisy determination when I am cold, a whizzing mixer whips up a treasured family recipe that comforts, and a plane serves as an audible platform as I tumble into flight.
I am uncertain whether there is a right or a wrong way to experience life but I think regardless of individual circumstance, the sounds we love and the sounds we hate, there is an inherent balance that must be heard and met. To revere technology too much is to admit in addiction, a phone in constant use no different from a bottle of alcohol or a dirty syringe, but to deny it is to limit possibility. I might prefer the printed page but without my humming, tapping computer to screen my inspirations and the internet to deliver them, I would be without a home for my writing.
A little over five years ago I lost my equilibrium. I was in a pool, I was holding my breath, and the pressure in my left ear gave way. I am familiar with dis-ease and the accompanying diseases that squat and breed where it exists, but I was unprepared to have sound permanently distorted, balance a wistful memory I only allow myself to think of on days I am feeling especially strong. The pressure in my head at all times made me question when else I have felt pressured – not to be myself, not to listen to what feels real, and it became a kind of quest for me to at least decipher clearly what matters to me, who matters to me, the eternal Why, How, and If. I have questioned during this long span of years what sounds resonate most with my soul, if there is a single right sound or many, and though I am still working to figure it out, on days like today I realize that my apparent disability has provided me with gradual but sound understanding of who I am.
Whether there is a happy medium between humans and nature, between a machine and a scurrying squirrel, I am unsure, but I think if we are to be happy we have to allow room for any sound that heals our spirits. What do you think? What sounds make your spirit happiest?
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