On Being Out of Tune

n02Today is my birthday, and I’m looking around wondering where I’ve landed.

Everything falls into four categories for me these days: things I know, things I guess, things I know I don’t know (and may never), and things of which I’m (still, after all this time) entirely ignorant. Growing older and knowing more should quiet the other categories, but, mostly, I guess. Ignorance may not have diminished a decibel—it’s hard to say. I’m not wise. I’m out of tune.

When I walk I think, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of both. Though we’ve already experienced chilly weather in Chicago, chairs and tables remain outside restaurants, pedestrians crowd sidewalks, and people linger at windows eying what’s inside. Despite congregation, walks leave me lonely. I wouldn’t eat or drink streetside without an occasion. I recognize almost no one else. I can afford little in those stores, and most of what they sell belongs in a different life anyway.

As a younger man I anticipated future confidence and self-assurance, but, on these walks, others’ knowledge seems greater than mine. They look more comfortable and animated as they chat with companions or on their cell phones. Their strides appear purposeful. Clearly, they aren’t walking to think—as I am—but to get somewhere. They don’t guess destinations. When I try to detect our common humanity, they seldom look back, rarely make eye contact, even more rarely smile. I’m so alien I imagine myself invisible, sharing streets with the ghosts asking for money at corners.

I’d say this estrangement is an outdoor phenomenon except that I sense it no less online where, because human contact has no place, social interaction is a shadow play. I like, you like, he or she likes, but without investment or consequence. The volume of such muted and largely impersonal transactions defies recall and creates one continually washed-out present. It’s silly to be nostalgic for general stores or neighborhood pubs or small town main streets, but I think I might accept guessing in more reassuring company. At least we’d know we’re all a touch dissonant. More ordinary lives in my life might assure reality isn’t bigger than any capacity to understand it.

We’re so often outraged—intolerant of deliberation, angry… but too impatient to plan for futures more distant than the present news cycle. We continually urge a response, a decision, some action. Not to be ready is to lack initiative and leadership, to betray weakness. It won’t do to discuss, as words are just words. Musing is absolutely out. Thoughts are immaterial without practical or remunerative applications.

We ought to share more than vehemence.

One of the dog walkers on my block is especially friendly and has a loud voice. Sometimes, when my window is open, I listen in on his conversations with neighbors. They say little really. They verify last night’s roof deck party was loud and late, or they laugh over some poor pooch’s latest mishap. They gossip and make small talk. Yet, though I never participate, these exchanges do more for me than I can say. These aren’t friends meeting, exactly. They won’t settle anything. They’re humans communing, affirming what they know and guess.

At such moments, I’m grateful I have non-Facebook friends in my life, ones who hear and understand my doubts, who appreciate my desire to know more, who might touch my hand or throw an arm over my shoulder and walk with me.


Filed under Aging, Ambition, America, Anger, Brave New World, Doubt, Empathy, Essays, Facebook, Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, Grief, Home Life, Identity, Jeremiads, Laments, life, Meditations, Modern Life, Nostalgia, Place, Solitude, Sturm und Drang, Urban Life, Worry

11 responses to “On Being Out of Tune

  1. Interesting, lately I’ve been walking around Chicago. I see those people, with the stride and the technology, and the shops I can’t afford to step into. My haunt Tuman’s Tap… well Bill finally retired to drink himself to death in Florida and” let the f!@cking yuppies take over”. I have noticed there aren’t as many of those famed Midwestern smiles as there used to be.
    Though I prefer my mountain walk in Mexico, I do love to walk in this city. It seems to me that most of the humans are ghosts, but the city itself has a life of its own and that to me is a comfort and an inspiration. Though surely not as much as a hand on ones shoulder 🙂 I hope you have a happy birthday David.

    • dmarshall58

      Thank you! I do love Chicago too, and my observations have as much to do with me as with what I see. And it’s partly envy. I wish I were more susceptible to the life of the city others seems to experience more vividly. –D

  2. That was a compelling expression of the airy, heightened folks of the ‘Now’ connected to everything present at all once. How do I know this disconnected, disembodied existence! The warmth and truthfulness of the small talk towards the end accentuates the surreality of online existence.

  3. I personally feel that your lack of “connection” with 90+% of the people out there is sure sign of being IN tune. Gods! Have we now to come up with two warring definitions of the “Now”? “Connected”?

    I am currently doing what I can to disconnect from many of these “virtual” worlds–i.e. cutting down my FB feed to practically zero. I only just got on FB in Feb-Mar out of necessity (opening a cafe–gotta have a personal page to interact with the business page) and already it has become too much. Time to scale back–get back to what matters. My free time is so spare that the last thing I need is another distraction.

    Sorry for the diatribe.

    For what it’s worth, my connections on WP seem much more real than virtual. I think that little bit of initial anonymity (of blogging) allows for a bit more real soul-baring that leads (can lead) to more heart-felt connections.

    I would gladly walk with you in the real world and am happy to do so in this one for the time being.

    Happy Birthday D–

    • dmarshall58

      Thanks! I agree that anonymity can, oddly, lead to some soul-baring. At this stage, however, I might trade some of that for being able to talk to friends more freely. It seems the generally trivial character of our interactions make it harder to address thoughts and feelings in person, and I suspect it’d be more productive and fulfilling to trade facebook for face time. It’s only a suspicion, however, because I’m out of practice at meaningful conversation. Another reason to meet someday. I appreciate your thoughts.–D

      • I think trading almost anything for FB time would be worthwhile. A cup of coffee, maybe? But then, I can be a bit of a Luddite at times, if only because I see my own dangerous fascination with “devices.”

        I have precious-few persons with whom I can have “meaningful conversations” right now. My life, as a restaurateur and caterer, is full of hours of trivial but
        necessary conversations. When I do have the opportunity to speak about writing, poetry, creative process, etc., I run the risk of monopolizing the conversation.

        I am too often in a barren desert
        of the mind, and find myself running
        fool-heartedly to any oasis,
        embarrassingly lapping and
        splashing in the water like
        a dehydrated Labrador.

      • dmarshall58

        Monopolize away, as far as I’m concerned… I’m just as dehydrated to listen. –D

  4. dhefko

    Happy birthday, David!

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

    • dmarshall58

      Thanks! I was nearly finished with this post and thinking about a title when that poem jumped into my head. Wordsworth was lamenting our disconnect with nature (which is also true of now), but the idea that we “lay waste our powers” because so much “moves us not” seems especially current. I’m trying to be less forlorn, I really am. It doesn’t pay to lament what you can change and there’s still a lot to change. –D

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