For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much.
– Jim Carrey, to Philip Seymour Hoffman
I have not been able to get Jim Carrey’s tweet on the occasion of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden death out of my head. That line has been running through my thoughts pretty much constantly since Sunday.
No. I am no Philip Seymour Hoffman, that’s not what I am saying. And I am not saying I know anything about his private demons or struggles. But I do know what Jim Carrey’s talking about, and I’ve written about it before. The loneliness that is curled at the core of my human experience. The quiet, jagged seed of desolation and sorrow that is buried deep inside of me. The emptiness that I wrote to Grace about, warning her of the behaviors that so many people indulge in to fill the echoing void.
I’m convinced that this gnawing loneliness is a universal aspect of being human, but I’m equally certain that people are aware of it to varying degrees. And there are many ways that people try to distract themselves from feeling it, and some of these behaviors are more socially acceptable than others. Some of them are also riskier, as Seymour Hoffman’s story vividly demonstrates. It’s the socially acceptable avoidance tactics that have always been my personal favorites. This can, and does, lead into a trap: almost exactly two years ago I wrote about the dangerous complexity that is born when the ways you hide from your own life are applauded by the world.
I’m learning to stop avoiding my own life by focusing on external achievement, and beginning to let authentic goals replace brass rings. There is no question I’m making progress. But the thing is, as I get quieter and more in touch with the whisper of my own voice, somehow, the world gets noisier. Maybe that’s what happens, as paradoxical as it is: we shut out the noises, the coping techniques that blur the pain, and in so doing we expose ourselves to the real noise. Does that make sense?
The world’s noise has always affected me in a deep way. It’s not the first time I’ve noted it, and it won’t be the last: I’m extremely porous, and the world seeps through my membranes quickly, powerfully, and, often, overwhelmingly. In the simplest terms I like silence. I was a cross-country runner in high school: is there a sport more designed for someone who likes to be alone, likes to be outside, likes to admire the seasons as they ripple across nature? I don’t think so.
And yet the silence holds so much music. It’s the same way that I now see how the darkness is full of stars almost blinding in their brilliance.
As I turn towards quiet, tune into my own internal world (the hidden geode lined with glittering that Catherine Newman describes), I am by turns dazzled by the symphony of sounds and disoriented by their startling cacophony. You can’t have one without the other, I don’t think. This is a line that each of us walks alone and we all make choices about how to cope with how open and exposed to the world’s noise we naturally are. I am deeply saddened by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Since Sunday I’ve felt a bone-deep reminder that the world’s noise can be destabilizing and terrifying for some, and that we all need to find a way to manage our porosity to the world.
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