the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Silent Night

When readers — even Sophia — write comments, saying they liked a post, it puts me in the difficult position of deciding what to do next.  I am familiar with the old Yiddish saying —  a man should never try to strike a hot coal twice, or the embers will burn his toes.

Since the last post was about words, I decided to be playful, and write a post about silence.  Aren’t I a clever fool?  Ha Ha Ha, I love blogging.  I can write any shit and at least one person will read it.

Silence.

This post idea had me laughing and laughing and laughing, amusing myself to no end, when it occurred to me that I was making a racket with my guffaws and wheezing (allergy season).  Could I even write a post about silence?

Writing about silence is not an easy task for someone like me.  I come from a long line of talky Jews.  I like the noisy city.  Urban life wraps me like a worn, but comfy blanket.   I do my best writing in crowded public locales where traffic is whizzing by, offbeat horns honking in cacophony.   A few years ago, I stayed a month in a small Vermont hamlet, populations mostly cows.  It was so quiet at night that it FREAKED me out!   Every night, I expected a bear, or serial killer, or monstrous cow to jump out at me from each shadow.  I felt naked in the silence.

Silence.  Page One.

I cleared the couch of random papers and iphone chargers, and stretched out, flat on my back.  My goal was to lie quietly, focusing on the nothingness around me, until I could hear the silence.

It was late at night, so there was little traffic outside.  I could hear a car or two pass by, and a police siren in the distance, probably near the liquor store, but Queens had settled in for the night.  I was alone at home.  The computer was off.  The television was off.  The radio was off.  Usually, when I come home, and I am alone, I flick on one of these electronic objects, just so I will have some company sent my way through the cables of Time Warner.

But now I was alone.  Really alone.  I tried to focus on the quiet, but there was a distraction.  There was a buzzing in the background.  I tried to ignore it, but I could not.  I decided to track it down.  I closed my eyes, using my ears as my compass, and felt my way to the sound.  I ended up in front the Kenmore refrigerator.  Of course.  Despite their advertising it as a “quiet cool” in Sears,  this huge appliance was the noisiest monolith in the apartment.

I unplugged the refrigerator.  Yes, I was so motivated to hear the silence, so loyal to my experiment, that I pushed past my comfort zone and took my food source off her respirator.  And this was not an empty refrigerator.  I had recently gone shopping, and it was bursting with food products — turkey slices, peanut butter, even some expensive Butter Pecan ice cream in the freezer!  I was risking it all for my writing.  I was Blogging with Integrity!

I returned to the living room couch and assumed my position.  I closed my eyes, and prepared for the silence.  Any moment, and I would be a Buddhist monk, a Zen Master, a Kabbalist, at one with the nothingness in the world.

But silence does not come easy.  The brain does not fucking stay quiet.

“The ice cream is melting!” said my nagging mind.  “The milk is getting sour.  What if the refrigerator doesn’t turn on again?  What kind of idiot turns off the refrigerator to listen to the silence?”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” I screamed.  “I can’t hear the silence.”

But it was hopeless.  I gave a walk of shame into the kitchen, and re-plugged the refrigerator into the wall.  The familiar hum of the Kenmore returned and it relaxed me.   I never had noticed this sound before, but now I considered it a friend, as if we were neighbors gossiping in the kitchen.  I turned on the TV, radio, and computer, opened the window so I could better hear the distant traffic, took some Butter Pecan ice cream, still mostly frozen, and sat down to write this post.

22 Comments

  1. Heather

    I can’t do silence. It scares me. Instead, I do music, and that can be even harder to take.

    Good thing the ice cream didn’t melt 😉

  2. Kellyology

    That kind of silence for me usually results in immediate sleep. And then the next morning all of my food would be spoiled, so I’d have to buy new. There goes the food budget! And there goes my time because I’d be spending 1/2 a day at the grocery store, fighting the crowds…again. And my stress level would then go up, and I’d end up yelling at the husband because well…he’s him. Then he’d yell back. Which of course would end up in a throw down b/c who is he to yell at me? And well…you get the idea.

  3. better safe than sorry

    i don’t do silence well, but i’m a master at not paying attention to whining kids.

  4. The Bombshell

    My friend, silence is not worth the sacrifice of premium Butter Pecan ice cream. Glad you figured that out.

  5. sarah

    visiting my parents in the boonies gives me serious anxiety–the silence at night is suffocating. I keep the bathroom fan on all night just to have some sort of familiar-ish hum so I don’t have the hear the nothing.

  6. Staceylt

    Silence scares me. It makes me get up at night and check the doors and look out all the windows, touch my children on the chest to make sure they are breathing. There is no silence here by day, and at night I create noise to distract my mind. I need a book on tape to fall asleep, because it drowns out the silence enough, most of the time.
    Brave experiment.

  7. ozma

    I think in total silence people sometimes actually start to hallucinate noises.

    There’s this form of meditation I’m trying to learn (extremely haphazardly and lamely) where you label everything in a general way–so if you hear a noise you don’t think about what the noise is, you just tell yourself ‘noise’…if you have a thought, you just tell yourself ‘thought’…Try it sometimes. It’s kind of strange how it works. It detaches you in a funny way.

  8. Vanessa

    Okay, lame historically accurate fact: I actually used to sit on the swingset in the backyard as a kid and try not to think. I was that geeky. It’s even harder than listening to silence.

  9. leah

    my head bitches at me too.

  10. Caitlinator

    This reminds me of one time when I climbed up a 600-foot sand dune in the desert of Namibia. For the first time in my life, ever, I experienced true silence, and it really is deafening. The only sound I could hear was the ringing in my ears. There were no birds, no insects, no airplanes, no people around me, no wind. It was a bit terrifying to feel so isolated and small. And yet, I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.

  11. Finn

    The only place I’ve experienced complete silence was the Sonoran Desert. It was cool and eerie at the same time.

    Of course my brain never shuts off either so it was constantly commenting on the silence while I was trying to experience it!

  12. Chris

    I noticed Sophia’s comment on your last post. I like how you described the disabling feeling when several compliments are received on a post. It’s like, “Shit. Now I’ve raised the bar. Shit.”

    I liked this one too!

  13. harmzie

    Once, long, long ago, when I had time for these kinds of pauses, I was at home in my parents’ yard on a beautiful sunny day. No one was home and it was silent.

    I lay down in the grass to watch the clouds and listen to the silence, wondering just how quiet it could get.

    Then I heard the first chirp, and then the incessant chatter of the birds. I soon discovered that those mothereffin birds were CONSTANTLY screaming all the time. While no one is listening. I had to go and turn on the radio, because it was actually starting to drive me mad. I’m ok now.

  14. Mary Beth (Cats, Books, Life is Good)

    You know the part of My Cousin Vinny where he has to go to jail to get some sleep because the silence is too loud for him? I think for some, silence (or at least quiet) is in the familiar background noises. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming.

  15. Shauna

    You rock.

    That is all.

  16. sarah g

    silence is hard. i can do it while praying; or ‘listening’ to God; but thats not really silence.
    my dad made me watch Silent Movie by mel brooks; whom I enjoy. it was tough. you can’t walk away and do other things. you have to stay and do only that or you miss it. It was hard to go without the static’ of life!

  17. Becky

    Know where you can find lots of silence? Iowa.

  18. teahouseblossom

    I think it’s living in today’s urban environment. I remember going home to my parents’ house after having lived in NYC for a year, and I couldn’t sleep at night because it was SO QUIET!

  19. Marilyn

    I’m currently reading this: http://bit.ly/49qhR1 – It’s made me really think about silence (or the lack thereof). 🙂

  20. caron

    I found myself thinking a lot about this silence business the other evening. I had spent my morning working with an autistic boy who has no language. He has taught me so much about silence. It used to be crazy uncomfortable for me to not dialogue everything. I am able to (well, at least when I’m working with him…) spend time in silence, focused on things most of have forgotten to pay attention to on a regular basis.

    I realized that learning to be “okay” with silence helped as I sat at a festival that evening talking to people about my memorial project. People become speechless for a moment upon hearing the story of the quilts. It’s been hard to sit with all that silence.

    So, anyway, there’s still some unformed thoughts floating around about silence, but I’m off to my job librarian, and yet another form of silence.

  21. p-huong

    I’m the same way. If it’s too quiet, it just doesn’t feel right. Silence distracts me more than a noisy room.

  22. Cha

    I recently moved to a new city all by myself, and I moved to this tiny studio with an open floor plan, I loved it…till the first night. My fridge starts every 20 minutes -believe me, I have kept record- then as I’m on the ground floor I listen when my neighbours come home, when cars in the garage get start, when someone slams a door…. I can’t do much for the external noise, but I unplug my fridge, now for the 4th night in a row, and its been nearly a pleasure. I’m just waking up after my first straight sleeping session since I came here. Of course sleeping pills help 😉 ButI definitely need SILENCE to sleep.

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