Quiet is a memory

During lockdown my neighbourhood has felt like the location of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window expanded over half a square mile or so.

Quiet is a distant memory. Revving engines and tyre screeches are followed by police sirens, which are followed by quad bikes or wheelie-ing dirt bikes, which are occasionally followed by a rather sad moped, filming the action on a cracked phone. About once a week a police helicopter joins the cacophony, which during autumn or winter would be followed by fireworks aimed as skillfully as possible. But mostly it’s just voices, which I can hear everywhere.

Groups of friends talking loudly as they walk down the street, not fast enough for my liking. That one neighbour who for some reason cannot open her car door without also opening her mouth. The young child who screeches from her front step around the same time every night about 2am, presumably while her young dad has his bedtime cigarette. Occasionally a party at the local trap house, which I’ve sort of grown to like. Almost nightly, a family leaving number 12, having decided that saying their goodbyes inside the house would be far too curt.

And with the ready availability of my own internal monologue, the boys who play football in the dead end behind me. I’ve had to block the wall of my house with my car because they meet my appeals – I don’t mind you playing football [except I do, in truth, but what can you say, when you know full well the main road is deathly] but if you have to slam the damn ball against a wall with everything you can muster, could you do it against the wall that doesn’t have a house behind it? – with bemusement, but it’s not something I like doing. Still, I hear their feet shuffling as they dribble; the familiar cry – Ali! Aliiii! – of a younger brother begging for a pass; the inexplicable sine wave squeal of a toddler, presumably just reminding us all he exists.

There’s always something. Right now it’s a baby wailing and car doors slamming. Running feet. A dull thud. And my tinnitus, of course.

I’m trying to just let it run through me today. For one thing, it’s Eid, and I don’t want to be a misery. Times aren’t easy, we’re all living on top of each other, and although I sometimes have to remind myself, I’m an adult man who is capable to choosing how he responds to things in the world.

I think the constant noise here used to occupy my thoughts a lot more than it actually does these days, though I’m aware I’m giving the opposite impression. It’s not that I don’t notice, because I always notice, but I probably only give it actual thought once a day, which isn’t a lot really. But right now it’s on my mind because this evening I took advantage of the late sun with a lengthy trip to the big park about a mile up the road. Lying on my front with a magazine and a bottle of beer, I realised for a few seconds there was almost complete quiet. Even my tinnitus – my most faithful companion – appeared to be subsumed just for a moment by what felt like a sound all in its own right, but one completely unfamiliar to me, like seeing a colour you don’t recognise.

Gradually I heard a distant car, some voices, my tinnitus as clear and sturdy as ever, but the moment stayed with me a little longer as I remembered other quiet times. Sitting in a car in rural Wales. A deserted motorway service station by a deserted motorway. For a moment, I could have been anywhere.

It took me a long time to realise I like quiet. It’s one of the many reasons I’m so fond of night, and defensive about it. It’s partly why I enjoy sitting in the front row at the pictures. It’s probably the main reason I’ve developed a rather late affection for the countryside. I like quiet people, or at least people who know when to be quiet, or at least people who frequently choose to be quiet.

I often think it’s in the quiet, in the gaps between noise, that we might really find something worth saying.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I’m a more comfortable editor than writer. While writing is an art of saying, editing is largely an art of erasing things that don’t need to be said, at least in words. Funny then that I’ve chosen today to begin a weekly blog, inspired in large part by people who seem to me so adept and prolific when it comes to saying things.

The direct impetus is probably Jay’s podcast, 301 Permanently Moved, which I’ve spent spend a considerable amount of time listening to lately, and today specifically. It’s a personal podcast, 301 seconds in length, written, recorded and edited in one hour each week. It’s a formidible undertaking really, not just because of the commitment and time pressure of its making, but because it has clearly developed across its history and yet each episode fulfils its mission: it remains, above anything else, a personal podcast; we listeners are merely along for the ride, dipping our toes into Jay’s internal world. Gratefully I can report that the water’s lovely.

I’m also motivated by my friend James, whose daily podcast The Burner is an intellectual accomplishment of the kind I can’t really wrap my head around, and a new friend, Sarah, whose writing (and podcasting) output is nothing short of prolific, but who still commits time each week to a newsletter that is much more honest and personal than you might expect from a journalist who seems to be continually reaching the height of her career.

The more I engage with the things these three people put into the world, the more inspired I feel to commit something too. The problem is I’m one of those people who finds it much harder to act on ideas than to think them up where they concern what we might think of as intellectual creativity, which leaves me feeling a bit useless and melancholy.

When I used to be in bands, creating things to put into the world was a weekly endeavour. 12 years later, despite having created a PhD and being secure in the knowledge that, at least when I put my mind to it, I can “write well”, I struggle to see flashes of inspiration through to anything that doesn’t just end up in an imaginary waste paper basket, whether because of a lack of authenticity or originality. Where I used to be able to spend hours across any given week crafting a song, these days I’m lucky if I manage a verse before the idea is jettisoned. Less than two years since my PhD, I’m lucky if I get excited about a sentence.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is two-fold. The first is practice. Easy enough. But the second is that I’ve never really been sure who my audience is, which only leads to a familiar set of self-defeating questions: what should I write? how should I write it? who’s read it? what did they think of it? what is the point? I’ve answered that now, with the help of 301 Permanently Moved. This blog’s audience is going to be me.

I’ve purposefully chosen not to revisit the existing two posts on this blog, but the blog’s existence – and the posts’ time stamps – is to me a reminder of my propensity for starting out projects without seeing them through, for whatever reason. A blog. A screenplay. A novel. A song. A podcast. A recording. A book. Two books. It goes on. Of all these I’m going back to a blog because I’ve been thinking about it since Jay told us all to, and because of all those things it seems the most likely medium that, knowing myself, I’ll be able to keep personal. Not just in terms of content, but in purpose.

So from now on this will be a personal blog. Not just about me, but also about me – though I will have to at least partially overcome my reluctance to put anything but hyperreal fragments of myself on the internet. Most importantly, the act of creating it will be for me – time each week, carved out to focus on something for myself simply because it’s something for myself. I confess this thought doesn’t come naturally to me – it’s an attempt at a conclusion to a longer thought process, really – but I want to test myself and see if I can sustain it, because it forces me to shut out the noise and find a little quiet. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find something worth saying.

What I’ve been watching

I’m quite pleased that this weekend I’ve managed to get through a few films, having struggled to allow myself the time over the past few weeks. The weekend started strong with Good Night, and Good Luck, the black-and-white film directed by George Clooney, which Sarah and I watched concurrently. The decidedly unerotic unthrilling erotic thriller Chloe was a misstep for Mubi, I shouldn’t have bothered. Yesterday I committed to parts 1 and 2 of The Godfather, which felt like an accomplishment, and today my friend Jess and I watched Psycho – my first time! – which I really enjoyed, and I’m pretty grateful she teased me into it because I think I’d have been a bit scared on my own.

Over on YouTube, Rick Beato’s ‘What Makes This Song Great’ episode on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was fantastic and sent me down a real Nirvana rabbit hole, and I spent quite a bit of time this week watching video explainers on Hinduism and Sikhism, leading me to an exciting new explainery channel called Cogito. Each was about 20 minutes, so still the basics but enough to get into it a bit. I might go back for more this week – I’ve been thinking about religion a lot lately.

I hate reading

I’ve failed to get back into Wolf Hall for some time now, and although I started the so-far excellent Class Power on Zero Hours the other week, I’ve failed to make time for it this week. I feel extra bad about it because I’ve committed to writing a review piece about it.

In better news I got back into Empire (#376 Summer 2020) and felt quite motivated by Mark Cousins’ defence of documentaries. I think I might order his new one, Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema, on blu-ray if it’s not too dear.

Keeping me company

Aside from my 301 Permanently Moved deep-dive, I listened to Kermode and Mayo yesterday for wholesome Saturday vibes, and I caught up with the last Pilot TV podcast. I’ve been missing The Burner a lot lately, though it was totally right to take it off air for a week. I’m looking forward to having it back tomorrow. The most recent Empire podcast will probably get a look-in too, and I’ve been getting back into Blindboy lately – which has been about the closest thing to a tight hug from a good friend in a while. Meanwhile I think I’ve managed to avoid any politics podcasts for about a week. Funny that.

Hasta la semana que viene.

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