white noise

 Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
– Thoreau

How do we get there?  I mean, no one sets out, cheerfully saying “Gee! When I grow up, I want to lose my ability to feel unbridled joy, cry at a beautiful sunset, or develop myself as a unique and special creature”.

We’re merrily chugging along through our 20’s, full of optimism and dreams.  As yet unravaged by failure, heartbreak… or the numbing weight of day-to-day responsibilities.  The emotional exhaustion of the hamster wheel.  We play, we grow, we learn.  We chart a course for an unknown future. Restless at times, lost at others.  We know we’re just getting started – and the journey can still take us anywhere.  It’s exciting and unscripted!  There are possibilities… there is hope.

We do that thing that is expected of us. Socially and biologically. We ‘Settle Down’.  We play less, we worry more.  We furrow our brows as we plan our future.   But we have purpose.  We are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers.  Employees – with increasing responsibility.  Those dependent little faces?  Our children.  Our parents.  Our employees.  We care for them.  They are counting on us.

Along the way to “Settle Down”, something is lost.  There is no free lunch you can’t have it both ways you can’t always get what you want.  We let go of things.  We lose our Selves.  Dreams.  Passions.  Hobbies.  Creativity takes a back seat to bill paying. Our friends who didn’t head for “Settle Down” seem irresponsible.  How dare they call us at 11:30 pm on a weeknight?  We are grown ups.

That person in the bed next to you is different, too.  Lost among the routines of taking out the trash, cleaning up the dog puke, fixing the plumbing…. No longer a “person of interest“, to steal a phrase from modern law enforcement.  A room mate.  A co-parent, if you’re lucky.

You watch him sleep.  Listen to his endless snoring.  Knowing that he’s gone, too.  You walk the house at night, tripping over your amiable, but thoroughly confused, dogs.  You walk quietly, so as not to wake your sleeping family – and all you hear is the white noise in your head.  The noise that replaced passion.

We still have purpose, but it’s less compelling.  They don’t need us as much now – that was the goal, right?  Fly away, babies!  We’re aware of the clock hanging over our heads.  We can see the finish line.  We watch the old couples…  The men who drive their wives to WalMart.  The ladies who lunch.  We listen to our elderly parents – recounting every item of food consumed during the previous week as a “scores and highlights” reel.  No exit ramp in sight.  We know exactly where we’re headed…

“Only cowards stay, but traitors run*…”

Then the white noise in our head is replaced by something else… the screaming…  No one else can hear it. Except maybe the dogs…


* Bare Naked Ladies, Jane.


32 thoughts on “white noise

  1. Excellent piece of writing. You captured it so well.

    The sad part is that too many people never realize that they’ve fallen into the middle class trap.

    I wonder what would happen if more people turned off their TV’s?

  2. I have been in this headspace for a week or so, now. This was an eloquent expression of it, far more elegant than I could get out.

    (PS. I’ve also been listening to BNL a ton, lately. That line has always made me so sad. Good use of it.)

  3. rob – thanks. draft written while inexplicably crying on an airplane. it was a couple in the airport. middle aged. nice people. apparently coming back from a tropical vacation of some sort. trying to get the spark back, no doubt. they couldn’t have been more disconnected. sad. but they were trying.

    ginny – that line in that song is what sucked me into BNL. more than a bunch of happy hippies. it’s a tough headspace – but it doesn’t always have to end that way. i see people who find alternate paths…

    alex – dogs are cooler than cats in that regard. they really can hear you think. cats might be able to do this, but generally couldn’t give a shit about what’s on your mind…

    nursemyra – would love to… but to get out of the wheel, accountant says i need to get debt free. going to severely restrict my holiday travel, i’m afraid 😦 Might try to get there next year…

    kyknoord – what? they have iPods in south africa?

  4. have you been peeking at my life? wow… except my white noise did turn to screaming, but is now just a pitiful whimpering… hopefully the sign a new change back to passion is on the way

  5. i write fiction i don’t get paid for, i paint pictures i don’t get paid for, i wander the streets alone or with the boy and enjoy the sounds, smells, sights, i read a lot of books and other than doing enough to not get fired i really don’t give a shit about my employer, why would i? they’d shove me out the door as soon as i became expendable, but needless to say that is a great bit of writing there Ms. Daisyfae, you need to listen to some Morrissey to really drive the quiet desparation home, a long time ago i rebelled against the middle class trap, i believe you can still lead a life less ordinary no matter where you are or what you do, yes society makes us do certain things and yes most of us would do anything for our offspring but so many people give up living, which i believe is different than settling down, i know i’d be dead if i didn’t curb some of my more taxing habits, age catches up with all of us sooner or later we either end up being graceful and wise or looking like Terrell Owens or Michael Jordan grasping at a warped and fading glory…
    and i must disagree about cats, they know exactly what you’re thinking and some, not all, do care, my old cats where my best friends when i happened to take boatloads of acid and watch the sun rise, we used to communicate telepathically and laugh while the rest of the world slept, we also seemed to see a lot of the same invisible things moving about the room but many i should post those stories on the lounge.

  6. my small contribution is that we become complicit with the boxes we’re put in (by ourselves, by society, by loved ones….) – and it takes more energy to not only get out, but also to stay out of them.

    do something fantastic – no matter how seemingly small – every day. to hell with practicality – go with what feels right. the rest will follow. throw out the 5 year plan in favour of a loose interpretation of things you’d like to accomplish for yourself.

    by fantastic, i really do mean anything that’s fantastic for you. sometimes it’s wearing mis-matched socks, and when asked why, simply answering “because i want to”. for me it’s drinking wine and eating popcorn for dinner. or watching a movie rather than being “responsible” and studying. it’s about doing the things every day that make you happy, and reveling in them.

  7. gnukid – you need to close your blinds. oh, and i love what you’ve done with the guest bathroom…

    kono – but it’s comfortable here in the middle class! the furniture is nice, the food is good, and i can take ridiculous vacations on a whim… so i’m a big fat pussy, in fact. a life, be it ordinary or less ordinary, is what you make it… i’m looking forward to the ‘conversations with your cat while tripping’ posts. seriously. you need to write that… maybe i’ll change my opinion on them!

    unbearable banishment – i used to think the Joni Mitchell song “Circle Game” was cosmic and soooo heavy, man. Then it was me, dragging my feet to slow the circles down…

    tysdaddy – thank you. but please throw it around judiciously. it’s a big ol’ buzzkill…

    anniegirl – but i know it doesn’t have to be this way. it can be avoided. it can be beaten down. i’ve seen it work…

    daisymae – ahhh — Schrodinger’s cat must have also felt trapped! an object in the middle class trap at rest tends to stay on the couch at rest. thanks for reminding me that there’s just a hint of physics present in human nature… i like your approach to “the fantastic”.

    WTG – a good reminder about the ‘half full’ part. my amazing children. the years as a family that were beyond kick ass! we were good! tons and tons of laughs – right up to the end… and a few now as we rag on his new girlfriend!

    jenuine – *snort* i have patterned my life after the teachings of George Carlin… thanks!

  8. Ah–what a marvelous post to wander back in on. Jeez sugar were you writing what my life was a couple of years ago? As one who’d never really ‘fit’ into the space I was being pushed, crammed, crimped into I so KNOW the truth in this post—I was brave enough, though, to break free.

    And my god has it been worth it.

  9. I had my scream in 2000. Now I am one of the irresponsible “Do what I wants”. Luckily I don’t need that Plasma screen or the big Hi Fi. A Glass or two of a nice red and an exciting new cheese make my day. And I will keep my job while it interests me. Then I will do something else which interests me.

    By the way – The Circle Game is too true to be funny. So why is it one of the songs I keep going back to?

    Can you tell I enjoyed this piece of writing? It is brilliant!

  10. dolce – it’s a full moon. go outside and check. i’ll wait… [tapping toe. looking at watch… sighing…] Seriously, did you wander off to the pub again? it’ll get better… 7 more weeks!

    turnbaby – congrats on a successful ‘de-orbit’! i love reading your tales of adventure with brad! makes me very happy to see such a successful fresh start!

    archie – thank you… this one has pulled out strong, visceral responses — both in the comments, and VFR direct via e-mail. teaching me that if i want to write words with impact, i just need to sit at the laptop when i’m in the midst of a good weepin’ and wailin’ fit! The Circle Game… it was when my childrens’ ‘cartwheels turned to carwheels through the town’ that the song got stuck inside my brain… i can’t finish playing/singing it, without tearing up. i’m such a sap!

  11. Surely to god you have a camera in my house. Thanks for the great read. It flowed with simplistic brilliance!! The tear that just dropped into my lap actually felt pretty good.

    I saw this older couple at a fast food place the other day…they sat there for almost a half hour and didn’t say one word…maybe that’s better than having empty conversation about gas prices, the economy, the weather, the winner from last night’s Jeopardy, how Aunt Betty’s surgery went, whose turn it is to sweep the leaves off the back deck…..

    It’s a shame our poor dogs “settle” for less right with us…just snoozing away until they hear, “wanna’ go outside?”

    I want to write more, but I have to take the garbage out…and clean up a little dog puke (kind of an exciting event for me AND the mutts!).

  12. Great post…and so incredibly spot on.

    It doesn’t have to be that way, because we do have the ability to bring back that sense of purpose and excitement for the future…but it sure does take some effort, and one doesn’t always succeed…or so it seems.

  13. So eloquent the Daisy is today about the little boxes we put ourselves in once we learn how to do it from everyone else around us. You are so right about it all. I just hope, hope, hope I find the right someone for me who will not sit like a silent bumpkus right across the table from me when we could be exploring so many new things about the world together. Pipe dream? Maybe, but I’m holding out for it.

    Lovely post. Thanks. KJ

  14. oddly enough, hubby and I are going through this now–Together, luckly–Should we stay where we are, what should we do, sign contracts – don’t sign contracts,,,
    We decided that we will move once more if need be before SS is 10 then for his sake we stay till he’s done w/ school.
    We feel like there is something more to our lives that we are missing and we are trying to decide what it is and where we should be..So many decisions..but we decide we will make a decision within the next 1 1/2 yrs and its final for the next 10 yrs..
    well thought out post–great flow to the read

  15. Oh, Daisy Fae, I know that place, I’ve been there. My arthritis and craziness mental health issues got me out of there. I don’t wish it on you.

    To my mind, this is why the sabbatical was invented. Anyway you could work something similar into your job, take on a project that excites you, but is 180 degrees from what you’re doing now? That little flirtation with the Big C a couple years ago is a warning. So is this. If it was up to me I’d sell the old house (when the market comes back, or hell, if you were in it for 20 years, now), pay off the condo, and tell them to take this job and shove it. But then, I’ve already lost everything, so it doesn’t scare me. I know you live through it.


  16. crying bull – i sometimes wonder if the ‘silent’ couples are really just so close that they can sit comfortably in silence… dogs have an inherent advantage over humans — they don’t care about ‘self-actualization’, creativity or dreams. they are purely in the moment. happy to doze in the sunny spot on the carpet on a cold day, then be rudely awakened and hop up to go out to play! we should take a cue from them…

    bent – it really doesn’t. but it happens – and judging by the amount of commentary i’m getting, both here and directly, it happens way too often… three choices: work on it, stay or go.

    KJ – you’re on the right track! for me, the idea of sitting “across the table from you, wishing i could run”* is damn near the worst situation i could find myself in again… i’d prefer to die alone! you’re a gorgeous, smart woman – who’s big fun! no need to settle!

    hisqueen – beautiful that you’re sorting through it, and making ‘escape plans’ together! that’s how it should work – not easy, i’d think, and full of the need to compromise! good luck sorting it out!

    silverstar – thanks! muchly appreciated! i’m ok – just had to get this thing out, and get it written. i am exploring an internal transfer to a new position to find some new career energy, and am happily uncommitted to any single partner for the forseeable future to keep me from feeling trapped again. plan is to retire in about 7 years. likely to ‘couch surf’ my way around the world as soon as i can!

  17. don’t do it – unless you’re going in after the fresh baked cookies. we all have dark days. i’ve had a dark-ish run lately. but to get through dark, you’ve sometimes got to let it work on you… couple-hood doesn’t have to be that way… just how it sneaks up on you sometimes.

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