Thomas Doty – Storyteller
On Being Restless
I have always been restless. As a child I was told that it was growing pains. As a teen I figured it was the uncertainty of my rocky attempts to negotiate my life's path. When I finally found my calling, I attributed my restlessness to that stereotypical diagnosis called "artistic temperament."
Now, as an elder, comfortable with my art and in my body, I believe my continued restlessness is the result of a lifelong dread: I just don't like living in the real world. Or at least how it gets noisily played out in our modern times. Around every bend of my path is a bottomless toolbox of gadgets, each with the ability to assault my senses with unnerving success.
In childhood and youth I found refuge in the wilderness and the fantastic literature of made-up worlds, then in my creative immersion into music and writing, and now, as a storyteller, in native stories, especially Old Time tales that live in the quiet, uncluttered landscapes of Mythtime.
I am daily jarred by the noisy chaos and puffed-up hype that aggressively defines our existence as a contemporary culture.
Recorded music, throbbing in most every public place, along with the artificial glare of multiple mega-screen TVs amid a crowd of mobile phones, discourages the storied qualities of deep, in-person conversations, and a sense of community. Old style talk and some real people playing real music has worked for centuries!
Then there's the "them-or-us" divisiveness of news and politics, and the "I'm-the-center-of-my-universe" noise of social media. This isn't everyone, and I am grateful to those who post genuine and beautiful writing and art. Even so, name-calling and trivial grandstanding abounds ... and loudly! Several times I've deactivated my Facebook account in search of peace and quiet only to return because I was assured by successful artists that it is an effective way to get my stories out there. Well, I do have a website with lots and lots of stories ... for free. Yet still I come back. Even me, who has always been radically rebellious, have weak moments when I surrender.
I write these words along what I thought would be a quiet stretch of creek in upper Lithia Park. But no! I am gassed and noise-blasted by a leaf blower whose sole purpose is to move debris from a client's property to a neighbor's. And down the creek a quarter-mile, a tribe of twenty-somethings is pounding a dozen drums, oblivious to the notion that some folks might walk into the woods in search of quiet and not want to participate in whatever deluge of ecstasy they have created for themselves. Even the park crew has a fleet of ear-popping machinery that every day gives some stretch of this park the air of a construction zone, a crew whose primary job is to keep the park pretty and tidy so locals and visitors can find peace in its tranquility. This works for the park crew. They wear ear plugs!
I have no problem with a bit of noise on occasion. Or our ability as people to create noise when it seems appropriate, with ceremony and celebration. But this ongoing blast of noise fueled by complacency is too much. And I believe that deep down, most sensible folks feel the same. But rather than speak up, we accept it, considering it a necessary result of life in modern times. We surrender.
So the restaurants and pubs and malls, filled with folks glued to their phones, will continue to turn up the music and fire up the TVs. The landscaper will leave his rake at home, preferring the faster, income-generating results of the leaf blower. And the park crew will rumble their machines along the creek as long as town politicians see it as economically effective, never considering that hiring more employees and giving them hand tools might bring more visitors to town who will spend more money.
As I age, I find myself glancing over my shoulder back to my youth. I remember quiet saunters through the wilderness, phone-less, with a pencil and notebook in one pocket and a book of poems in the other. I remember random meetings of folks on the trail, and engaging conversations in the shade along the creek. I remember sitting for hours and watching critters pass by. In quiet moments, I remember.
Even as an old man, I am still restless. Tonight, as I wander home, if I eye the perfect path that leads into the deep woods, I'm outa here! I'll leave my complacency and personal cloud of irony at the trailhead, including the iPhone I've been using to write these words.
I'll quietly walk out of the real world and into an Old Time story. I'm pretty sure this time. Pretty much. Truly.