In our monthly newsletter, one of our editors at the post calvin suggested we make a few lists for the new year. Of things we are thankful for, of things we resolve to accomplish, and of things we are ready for the universe to give us.
There’s one thing in particular that I’m ready for the universe to give me. Whether or not the universe has the power to grant this wish, I can’t say.
But this is what our hypothetical Mirror of Erised shows me: a better set of earplugs.
Well, not literal earplugs.
Here’s what I mean:
Before COVID, things were still noisy, but more manageable. There was a time for screens and a time for faces, and new information was tucked neatly into rooms, spaced out naturally. But alone at home it all comes at once: feeds and memes, bad news and good news, confession and rage and capital letters, and so many open tabs.
Throughout the day, I always have both my phone and my computer open, checking four different email accounts and getting texts from my students or their parents confirming session times or asking questions.
And the news. Oh boy, the news.
Even if I can manage to put the screens away, the noise still follows me. My girlfriend recently asked me where I go when I get quiet for a while and my eyes wander off. I described it like this: have you ever been in a coffee shop, trying to talk to someone, and you have something you really want to say, something you really care about, but the person at the table next to you is talking very loudly to their friend on their phone. You know what you want to say, and you really want to say it, but you can’t get the words out. All you can focus on is what that stranger is loudly saying to their friend.
I have several of those strangers in my head. One is quoting funny lines from Monty Python. One is singing songs by the Mountain Goats. One is recounting in horrific detail something embarrassing I did in high school. One is angrily ranting about politics. And one is rapidly listing off all of the things I still have to do for work this month.
And in the silence of isolation, the noise has never been louder.
So I want a better pair of earplugs, but, like, for my thoughts. And not those crappy foam ones from 3M that just muffle and distort everything. I’m thinking the swanky molded-plastic ones rock stars wear, that filter frequencies evenly so the sound is quieter but the quality is unchanged. I want some sort of magical ability to hear and see and think only what I need to hear and see and think in that moment. Not to shut the world out, just to filter the input.
Or maybe instead of earplugs, a feeling something like this: I remember diving under the waves of Lake Michigan in the rush of summer. I could bend my knees in an effortless crouch and spread out my hands in the cool water. I could look up at the split sunlight and hear the very faint and mild ringing of underwater mysteries almost beyond my perception. Quiet and full of life. Away from the noise.