The art of quiet

On the road somewhere in Zavala County.

On the road somewhere in Zavala County.

Quiet, quiet, quiet.

Those desperate words drift through my mind. A lot. Usually when the kids are screaming that the other one hit them, touched them, “aggravated on them” or simply exists. Or that a Band-Aid that they didn’t need anyway is falling off, or when they are losing at Uno. (This is stupid! I’m never playing Uno again! I’m never playing anything again!)

Work is quieter than home. But a newsroom is not a quiet place. It’s the kind of building where I’ve run into live penguins. In my college newsroom, it seemed that every single day that there was a shouting match between editors during the budget meeting that ended with one girl screaming, “Well, f— you, Kevin.” Which made things interesting if you were on the phone.

So when my car radio broke a few months ago, I thought, meh. Leave it. Quiet. A little bit of quiet is just what I need.

This radio breakdown was entirely my fault. After having a new battery installed, all I had to do was punch in the code to get the radio to work again. What code? My radio had a code? I was confident I knew it. So sure, in fact, that I typed in variations of my usual PIN numbers approximately 10,000 times until I jammed the whole thing up and it was as frozen as an editor’s heart. (Note to my editor if you’re reading this: I kid). The dealership told me to swing by for a quick fix. And I thought, whatever.

I drove for about two months in silence. This wasn’t exactly a spiritual exercise. I wasn’t meditating in a field of flowers as I drove to work, the grocery store or around South Texas going to various oil field sites.

But quiet is good. Quiet lets you think. Ideas can pop. Thinking is productive, but doesn’t look that way. But it’s not OK just to sit around and think or read at work because it looks like you’re not doing anything.

If you stare into the vacant beyond too long, your boss will give you even more work, and you totally don’t need that. So there are many blog posts devoted to the art of looking busy without actually being busy. “Sometimes you have to look busy so you can actually work on the things that matter,” according to Lifehacker.

This stupidity crosses all professions. We all know that bankers are supposed to work 20 hour days. So theiBanker details how to steal a few moments to walk around outside or talk with a friend at the coffee machine.

The solution is simple: 1) look busy and 2) don’t stay around the desk too long. You should keep a phone and some printouts at hand so that you can grab them and rush around the office saying fake, important-sounding things into your cell. And THEN you can go have some coffee. But you have to be ready to jog the office at any moment in case the boss is heading your way:

This is obviously stupid and insane. But hey, we live in a society. We don’t get to make up all the rules. To keep your sanity, you have to carve out quiet wherever you can find it. Slow it down for a little bit to let your mind rest.

If you’re a spiritual or religious person, you know that God is all over quiet and rest. God likely thinks it’s stupid that some of us must run with a phone pressed to our ears to take a 10-minute break.

“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

But have you tried to be still and meditate? And if you have tried, have you not had at least one stupid thought – Why is there a crack in the wall? I should close my eyes. My toe itches. – zipping at you every nanosecond? Why is it so hard to be still and quiet?

“How are you?” I asked one of my best friends the other day.

“Busy,” she said. “So busy.”

We had been in a two-week round of phone tag because we are both so “busy” that we hadn’t been able to answer the phone – or even hear it ringing – when the other one called.

Busy. Too busy to talk to a friend of 20 years?

Quiet. I’m all over that.

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