The Sound of One Man Waiting

Someone passed along an article to me about cell phones at school:  maybe, the article suggested, schools should let students use cell phones on occasion.  After all, it’s so much trouble for teachers to stop the lesson and confiscate cell phones.  And it’s so much a part of what they do and who they are, to be continuously interrupted and constantly available.

What I wonder is: if everything is open to social interruption, then how can we concentrate?  How can we really listen?

Television and the internet, while lots of fun, habituate me to the attention span of a two-year-old.  Religious practice helps extend it.  Religious practices often encourage you to concentrate– ten minute meditation, sermon, reciting a ritual.  It is clear that time in a religious space has been set aside for a narrowed, and paradoxically, encompassing, mindset. 

A lot of people don’t go for religious practice.  Close attention to art and nature can be great concentration practice, too.  You are practicing focusing and listening, at least with the more demanding, extended experiences.  Lots of different things would work: long hikes, fishing sessions, quality time with one painting, or fifteen minutes hearing a theme develop and morph.

I think when people say, “I want to be beautiful, and I want to be in love,” they are actually saying, “I want to be listened to.”  It’s just that being beautiful and loved get you more attention in our human hierarchy, so it’s confusing.

It’s intoxicating to be listened to, and it’s challenging to listen.  It’s hard not to think about your own reactions and what you are going to say next. 

Like most of us, I have a few people who want to be able to get a hold of me.  I understand that, and I am annoyed when I can’t reach someone.  Still, I hate that absent people can trump present people. 

When I am with someone, having coffee or whatever, nothing formal or huge, I still want to be with them.  Everyday moments listening to everyday stories are what all relationships are built on. 

I watched “Chinatown” recently, and I loved how Jack Nicholson’s character went to see some guy at his office, and then had to wait for the guy to come back from lunch. 

Can you imagine?  Waiting for someone to come back from lunch?  No one knows where he is.  No one can call him.  The guy’s just out.  And instead of pushing through it, Roman Polanski makes you wait, wait, and listen to his character wait.

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2 thoughts on “The Sound of One Man Waiting”

  1. I don’t know why people feel compelled to answer a phone when someone live is already there (and often had to make an appointment to do so — even friends).

    I don’t know why people feel compelled to answer a phone when they are driving. Voicemail … remember when you had to find a payphone to call back home to receive it, when it was recorded on magnetic tape via “answering machine?”

    Almost all the situational comedy of Seinfeld episodes would not be possible in the cell-phone era — half of what happens to them is based on their missing each other.

    I am not sure I have had a true conversational experience (as I remember having them as a 7th-grader or a college junior) in, well, decades. No one wants to talk anymore. No one has any deep information. We are full of factoids, and rarely do the things I read or see (news / what teachers used to refer to as current events — which now switch by the minute instead of week) overlap. Hence, we are left with nothing to discuss. Just talking points, which are often inaccurate and incomplete because they were only blips of mental input.

    Most of us haven’t even been to the same art exhibitions.

    Or church sermons.

  2. I think it’s great we have access to so much different media now, but it is harder to give examples to my students, and find common ground with people, when our media is so fragmented. We don’t watch the same TV shows or movies. Folk tales and fairy tales are hit and miss. Disney movies often work.

    On the other hand, with my NPR/NYT/New Yorker (let’s say, liberal media) reading friends, the overlap in discussion and ideas sometimes seems incestuous.

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