Mastering Silence

This is the longest time we’ve spent together at home 24/7, as my partner, in his second week of shingles, has been focused on pain management and I’ve been focused on caring for him. Tiny house living takes some skills that aren’t often mentioned in the photo essays about clever storage space and minimalist kitchens. For example, how to share silence. In such proximity, we can hear each other breathe. We feel the vibrations of every move, the creaking of cabinets and doors, the thump of footsteps across the floor. My ears know where he is when I can’t see him. Raindrops plop on the window. The dog barks at an airplane. Doug firs woosh like dark curtains blowing open and closed. It’s winter. But it’s not gloomy. Because we’ve mastered silence. It’s a high level adulting. 

Billie Best writes about silence

I’m territorial about my time. Silence is my turf. Normally, he would be going to work every day and I would be home alone. That arrangement suits me well because I need solitude to read and write and weave long, layered threads into whole stories without interruption of the sort that replaces my thoughts with TV commercials and the wonders of blue mouthwash. Unwanted sound is like junk mail for my ears. It can drag me down a rabbit hole of curiosity and completely dishevel my productivity. But he likes noise. Football and fishing shows and Building Off the Grid and Yellowstone are his fare as he sits in his recliner waiting for the pain to pass. And I can’t deny him this pleasure when he’s being tasered by a virus attacking his nerves. 

Thankfully, Bluetooth headphones rescued us from this territorial conflict. He needs to watch football like he needs to fish, like the way I need to read. It’s a deep yearning, a lifelong habit, a mind-state that is mental home and hearth. Competition is his happy place. Men six inches tall scramble back and forth, knotting and streaking like a murmuration of birds on our flat screen. Chatty sports announcers catch my brain by the hairs, guys named Boomer and Booger shout and whine, and I realize I’m tracking their conversation even though I’m not really interested. It’s a distraction. So, he wears his new Bluetooth headphones, and I put on my earbuds and condense my visual field to my computer screen where I keep the alphabet chained and hungry. This is how we share silence. We may be ten feet apart, but our brains are traversing different worlds in separate mind spaces isolated by technology.

Thankfully, our compatibility endures. We meet for lunch at the kitchen table. I make soup. He naps. I read the news. He watches it on TV. Occasionally we agree to release audio into the room for the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the game. The symbolic unity of thousands singing that song tugs at our emotions. Then we return to our respective Cones of Silence. At half time an unfamiliar person in sequins struts onto the stadium stage. That’s when we joke about our declining cultural awareness and remind ourselves about the time a couple kids sang “One Toke Over the Line” on the Lawrence Welk show, and LW followed up by saying the song was a “modern spiritual.” In 1971, we made fun of our grandparents for not knowing the meaning of those song lyrics. Now we’re on the flip side of that math excusing ourselves for not having a clue about the halftime act that has 50,000 people cheering.  

This is life in the slow lane. We’ve de-calendared ourselves, cut lose our routines and unwound the clocks, letting go of time. It really doesn’t matter what time it is as we nurture ourselves and wait for better health. The good news is we’ve found a way to do this, to be home all day together in a tiny house and enjoy our separate interests. Silence makes it endurable. And mastering silence makes our noise more meaningful. Yes, gratitude.  

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