The Rising Tide Of Wretched Detritus

landfill bulldozer

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.

Published by Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.