Quiet the Noise, PLEASE!

Stephen King On WritingIn The Republic, Plato says that “the virtue of a thing is that state or condition that enables it to perform its function well.” The virtue of a knife is its sharpness. The virtue of a racehorse is its speed on the track. Lately, I’ve been asking myself about how to find and maintain that Platonic ideal. Whether you believe in a higher power or just want to live the good life the question is always lurking around the edges of consciousness.

Last year I wrote about leaving the US for Vietnam during the Republican primary debates and how good it felt to be out of the seemingly endless loop of right-wing one-upmanship delivered by Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, Bachman, Cain, and Paul on the nightly news cycle. In Vietnam I was free to tap into it by reading the International Herald Tribune or looking on the web but it didn’t dominate my connection to world news. That changed when we returned to the US in the middle of the Presidential campaign and were deluged with super-pacs, candidate ads and sound bites from Romney, Ryan, Obama, Biden and all the local pols for the next five months. After the election it was the Fiscal Cliff and now it’s the Debt Ceiling and Sequestration. ENOUGH ALREADY! I sense that the republic is in danger, but I also sense that it is durable enough to survive in spite of the blockheads in Congress. Stop talking and do something.

I could be happily well informed by watching Charlie Rose and Nora O’Donnell (CBS This Morning) five mornings a week and let the rest of the chaff fall away. I confess to reading the NY Times and some magazines too, but most of it just adds to the noise problem. It takes discipline to cull and lower the level of competing voices. I haven’t mustered enough discipline to do it yet but I’m working on it.

If Plato is right, I need to find the state or condition that enables me to perform my function well (whatever that function is). I’m trying but it’s not easy. There is so much noise coming from my TV, radio, iPod, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, laptop, iPad, and iPhone that I’m past the saturation point and find it really, really, hard to concentrate on finding the calm center where things get done. What I know now is that the interference is all outside noise. It’s not the noise that keeps me awake at night thinking creatively or about things I need to do in the morning. It’s noise that can be turned off with a switch. And when it’s turned off I can go inside where the good things happen. Turn off the TV. Look at and answer email once a day. Make a task list and a schedule. Be flexible but focus, focus, focus.

I should have started thinking about this 60 years ago. Approaching death really helps you focus. When I was young I was swept along by the life force. I was thinking short term. What’s up next? What will I do? What will keep me juiced up. Life was about experience, not reflection. In those days the noise was coming from inside my head. Now I need to quiet the outside voices. My favorite grandson, Benny, says “NO, GO AWAY” to quiet the voices he doesn’t want to hear. I need to adopt Benny’s dictum.

My idols are those writers, singers, film makers and thinkers who have found ways to quiet the noise and pump out the product. Here’s to Stephen King. Except for On Writing, I’ve never been able to get through his books, but his focus and output speak volumes about his ability to shut out the noise.

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