Wednesday, July 3, 2019

In which I get yelled at.

For more than a quarter of a century, I have taken a walk once-a-week back in time to a Mitteleuropean enclave on New York's Upper East Side. I ring the buzzer and enter the 15x20-foot work space of my psychiatrist and assume my position.

The office itself feels like what I imagine Vienna felt like in 1904. The lighting is dim. The carpets, Oriental. And the furniture is rich, soft leather with a patina of wear that would make Ralph Lauren jealous.

While most people are focused on what the future holds, there's much of the past that I don't think should be so quickly shoved aside.

First among those things our modern world has forgotten or abnegated is a sense of quietude. Quietude, for me, is a state of calm, of intentional speaking, not speaking merely to fill a void. It is a confident sense of being in a placid, welcoming place. A place where you belong. Quietude has essentially vanished in our world today.

The incessant jabbering of everything is always with us. There are TV screens everywhere with know-nothing know-it-alls telling you what you should know. And think.

Once, in an airport at 7AM, I tried to turn down the volume on one of these screens. The volume might have been ok when the airport was at peak human capacity, but in the early morning it was blaring. 

I reached up to the set and felt around for the volume control. In short order, 92% of New York's entire police force had been visited upon me. 

"What are you doing," they bullhorned.

"I am only trying to turn down the volume."

"Leave the set alone," they threatened.

"It's too loud."

"DO NOT TOUCH THE SET," they threatened again.

I left it at that, not wanting my loose lips to lead to prison trips.

Arthur Schopenhauer, the late 18th and 19th Century Polish-German philosopher, once said "the higher your tolerance for noise, the lower your intelligence."

I'm not sure if there have been scientific studies of that correlation or if that's just how ancient philosophers quipped in a time before Twitter. But surely there is much too much too much.

So, as I said, for 45 minutes a week, I subdue the world in my psychiatrist's den of quiet. It is there I can hear myself think. It is also there I can hear the wisdom of years ago, when the planet was cooler and decorum was still important.

I came into my doctor's office this morning after a week off shooting. I wasn't going to the office afterward. Instead I was going to an editor.

So my old and creased face wore eight-days of beard. And I had put on shorts.

I did not look good. And as I am warring a bit with certain entities at work, the good doctor worried about me.

Like Boudu, I was saved from drowning.
"You look deranged," he said to me. "And wearing shorts? It's not a good look."

Most people would regard my doctor as "judgey" and "hatey" for comments like that. Under the subterfuge of pretended niceties, as a culture we no longer tell the truth to each other. When people wear plaid shorts with a plaid shirt, we never say how ridiculous it looks. We never remark about how silly it is to wear a wool hat in August or a baseball cap backward. No, everything is permissible--a form of self-expression.

But in Mitteleurope where, once a week, I get a taste of quietude, manners and decorum, there is right and wrong and good and bad. Ugly and beautiful. Mean and kind.

So, with the editor not yet ready for me, I walked home. I took a judicious cool shower, shaved myself into respectability and put on a proper pair of pants.

I feel better already.

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