Please Please Please Shut Up by Kevin Tosca

A playground sat, diabolical, three floors below Jacob’s balcony, below his open sliding glass doors, the ones letting in all that early spring light and blue and wind. He hated this playground. He hated it, but winter had come, the 30-round Midwest winter, and he had forgotten his hate.

The devils playing down there were virtuosos, champion yellers yelling nonsense with an impressive and preposterous gusto, reminding Jacob of an interview where Kurt Vonnegut talked about man’s desire --his vain need--to proclaim “Killroy [Vonnegut’s Everyman] was here."

Jacob then remembered, from a walk he took earlier that day, another noise machine near Medicine Lake, a little boy on a bridge who kept saying (kept whine-repeating as if his message was necessary to unlock the secrets of the universe) “Mom, come here," “Come here, Mom," “Mom," “Mom, look," “Look, Mom," “Mom!" because said mother was on the other side of the bridge tending to the boy’s sister, ignoring him.

Is that it? Is that what life is? All it is? Are we all just a bunch of large children groping for attention?

Desperately needing to be heard? People the world over are (at this and every minute) frenziedly blogging, facebooking, tweeting, texting. They are talking and talking and talking.

A fear shot through Jacob’s gut. What if his writing were the same? What if it and all the other arts were merely more sophisticated forms of screaming “Look at me!" “Hear me!" “Somebody, please, recognize my individuality, my worth, my existence" "Now!"

Jacob didn’t want to be that dependent, that needy, that obvious, that egocentric, that common. He didn’t want to be another howling man-child, another pathetic male on the bridge pleading for female attention. And he definitely didn’t want to be the artist who needed to say “I lived," either, because he could perceive how incredibly vain and impotent and downright near-sighted that was.

Besides, wasn’t he always proud of himself the less he spoke at the restaurant where he traded his time for money? Didn’t he take a sly, deep pleasure from keeping things hidden there and everywhere? Didn’t he feel he betrayed his innermost self, that he lost something vital, when he spoke about what was dearest to him?


So silence. Beautiful, peaceful silence. The sloughing off of all that foolishness and the ability to hear the light and blue and wind and not sully it with your inane ambitions and juvenile needs, your beggary of words. Others would speak, others would always speak, so why join the blabbering crowd? Why not just listen and feel and do everyone the favor of not opening your mouth, not filling the air with more oral excrement stamped with your personal brand of want? Why not just shut the fuck up, once and for all?

Jacob smiled, there on his floor. And the children, as they do, went away, but he knew more would come. In this they were like Jehovah’s Witnesses, or hard wind. He pulled the comforter off the bed because (despite the calendar’s date) the air was cold, and he took a nap, there on his floor.

Later, while eating dinner alone at his kitchen table, Jacob turned on National Public Radio and heard Terry Gross interviewing a historian who had Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The man had suffered more than any being should have to suffer, but he was alive, he could still do a thing or two, and the thing, he said, that he could still do, that mattered most to him, was speak. He said that as bad as it’s gotten, it’s still okay, but if it gets worse--if it gets to the point where he could no longer talk--then he would want to die. The one thing keeping

this broken man alive, this man’s greatest spiritual pleasure, was talking. Silence to him equaled death, equaled, he intimated, something worse than death.

But was this man a child? This learned, honest, vulnerable man who was still writing his books, still teaching his classes, still giving his interviews, still filling the air with his words? There was something defiantly moving and touching about his life: his will, his battles, his simple wish--his need--to communicate. But there was also something undignified, something unwise, something overwhelmingly sad and disgustingly clingy and desperate about him too.

After dinner, Jacob went to see Atom Egoyan’s latest film. He watched it alone except for a couple petting and snuggling and making love sounds two rows below him. The film--full of jealousies, insecurities, suspicions and sex--pushed his intellectual and emotional buttons, and he left the theater with a clear, sharpened mind, left it with that and with an intense, urgent desire which made him laugh a wistful, self-scornful laugh.

What did Jacob so intensely, so urgently, want to do? Jacob wanted so intensely and so urgently to share his thoughts, wanted to share them and the whole trajectory of his day, or else what, he demanded, was it worth? What did it--any and all of it--matter?

Jacob went home and he did what a solitary, literary-minded man like him could do on a cold, moon-full, child-vacated early spring midnight night like that: He picked up his pen. When he was through, he re-read what he had written. The words pleased him, and he thanked the silence because he knew the silence was to thank, making Jacob think of another of Vonnegut’s themes: the loneliness of man. Utter. Inescapable. Heartbreaking. That, all that, and the paradox. The fact that Jacob wouldn’t have written a word, not one lousy letter, if he had talked to someone, shared his day with someone, but he still, yes, he still wanted to share it. Perhaps, God forbid and God damn it to hell, he needed to.


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