My father had no friends. He had fans, sycophants, students, hostages, admirers, toadies, followers, victims, listeners and viewers – but no friends. He and my mother did, however, have a select circle of acquaintances. Without exception the men were Type A, driven, and – like my father – leaders in their respective fields. The women were, also without exception, extremely bright, high born, nice, and beautiful.
“Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.” Taz Mopula
This “fast set” socialized regularly and their parties were love songs to designer decadence. Alcohol flowed like blood in the streets of Pamplona, as did testosterone. Ego and intellect, style and substance, need for attention and inflated self-image battled it out for supremacy; with the passing of time came increasing volume and hilarity.
“Instant, universal communication has made it impossible to know if anyone is saying anything valuable.” Taz Mopula
As a child I marveled at these circuses, and noticed that my father and male friends always spoke simultaneously; these were not conversations, they were shouting matches. I learned the reason why at his funeral. One of the few remaining lions revealed that, since they had no intention of listening to one another, speaking all at once saved time.
“At what point does communication become air pollution?” Taz Mopula
Without paternal guidance, I had to learn what having a friend is all about on my own, and there were many stumbles. For example, narcissism and friendship don’t mix. The axiom that goes – to have a friend you must be a friend – became meaningful. This, I discovered, involved learning about the needs and wants of other people, and placing them above your own – a strange concept for an alcoholic! And yet, like a child with a learning disability, the penny dropped eventually.
“Why is it called the age of communication when nobody listens?” Taz Mopula
Of all the skills required, perhaps the most foreign was listening. I knew about scoring points for talking, even singing; but listening was something very different. Harder still was listening to quiet without feeling an intense need to violate it. But, my Quaker education served me well. Although I am a slave to the savage charms of music, natural orchestras of all descriptions, and the allure of my own voice, I now understand silence to be the only perfect sound.
“You have the right to remain silent, and listen. Might be advisable to exercise it before they take that one away, too.” Taz Mopula
Tuning out clutter, both external (motorcycles, wild turkeys, etc.) and internal (ego, fear, anger, etc.), enables me to really listen. Becoming an empty vessel makes it possible to fully witness other people and absorb the eloquent silences.
“It doesn’t qualify as listening if you’re busy thinking what to say next.” Taz Mopula
The irony, of course, is that I find myself in what is commonly referred to as the age of communication – which I think of as the age of digital pollution. Today we are besieged with information and, to pick a number from a hat, about 99% of it is rubbish. While it may not be inherently evil, we are left with the challenge of defending ourselves against the deluge and sifting through what’s left on the odd chance of finding something nourishing.