ambiance

There is a lot of ambient noise in my house.
The tv, fridge, microwave, computer, monitor… all give off this high-pitched whine.
I’m sure you’ve heard it, or felt it on some level. It’s an extra bit of high tension current oscillating in your living room.
There are plenty of days that I never notice this intrusion. Those are the days that should concern me.

My dad and I had a tool we called, “Damage Assessment”.
The way it worked was you go into the country, somewhere with only trees and fields and a night sky full of the Milky Way.
The measure of how weird it feels to be disconnected from all your phones and tvs and cars and radios and fluorescent lights and microwaves and jack hammers and neighbors and everything you are used to from living in a city is your “damage assessment.”
If you don’t feel odd at all, good for you! You aren’t damaged from your city livin’.
However, if you feel nervous, or vulnerable, or disconnected – the intensity of that feeling is equal to how much living in the city has fucked you up.

Do you remember how quiet it was the afternoon of 9-11 and the following days?
I remember walking my dog and wondering about the odd silence.
I was living in Chicago at the time. A city that gets just a wee bit more sleep than New York. Alyosha doggie and I went outside. There was something different, but I couldn’t exactly place it. There were fewer cars on the road, and not as many people walking on the sidewalks, but that wasn’t it.
I looked up and realized that there were no airplanes in the sky.
Chicago has a highly trafficked airspace. It has two major airports (O’Hare and Midway) on opposite ends of the city, plus some smaller airports (well, Mayor Daley took care of one of those in 2003) With no air traffic, there was a solitude to the city sky. It was unnerving to have a quiet in that vast blue overhead.
There is something intrinsically wrong with feeling weird because the sky is silent of machinery cutting through it.

When there is a power outage in your home, block, neighborhood, it is quiet. Storm-related power outages were not uncommon when I was a kid. I cherished those times. It was so peaceful, and exciting at the same time. We kept a heavy yellow flashlight magnetized to the fridge. Mom or I would retrieve it, then we would open the drawer with the thick white emergency candles. We lit those candles and placed them strategically around the house. We didn’t want to challenge the darkness, we welcomed it (but still wanted to be able to read).

Elie Wiesel wrote in his book, “Dawn”
“Night is purer than day; it is better for thinking and loving and dreaming. At night everything is more intense, more true. The echo of words that have been spoken during the day takes on a new and deeper meaning. The tragedy of man is that he doesn’t know how to distinguish between day and night. He says things at night that should only be said by day.”

I think that all these gadgets and noise and electronics act as a buffer for us against the night. We have an instinctual fear of the dark, but like many of the residual animalistic instincts we still have buried in our reptilian brain, over the millennia it has gotten distorted and misshapen into a caricature of what it started off for us: a protective device. Now we Masters of The Physical World fight back against the dark, our unknown assailant, by flooding it with neon and spotlights and noise in hopes that will keep the shadows at bay.

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