The Fine Art of Discourse (or, a lesson on when to keep your mouth shut)

Silence is golden.

Oh yes friends, yes it is. While naturally loud, with a strong and extroverted personality, I cherish and value silence. I love spending time alone, in my apartment, the park, even menial tasks where I’m not ‘alone’, I enjoy without company, like taking transit or grocery shopping. I relish in the moments alone, not talking to others, just me and my thoughts. Whether I’m stressing about work, dreaming about California, or just trying to remember if we have fresh bread, I don’t mind the sounds of my own thoughts in my head, and being only in my own head.

So it should be no surprise that when on transit, I travel with headphones in. Sometimes I don’t have music playing, and sometimes my headphones aren’t plugged into anything at all, they’re just hanging in my jacket, or my pocket. I want to be left alone, not out of a dislike for strangers, or a fear for my safety, but because I simply like being alone, in my silence.

I can’t always avoid people, and for the most part, interactions I have with strangers throughout the city are pleasant. With hair a length and colour that would make Ariel herself jealous, it gets a lot of lovely comments. I’ve been complimented on my shoes, or my jacket. Eye contact sometimes gets me a conversation about the weather if the person is friendly. There’s always the occasional cat call, or lewd Little Mermaid fantasy verbalized, but never anything harmful. And of course, when people see you reading, they like to comment on the title, or the author.

I like short story anthologies for transit, because I can usually get through one or two stories in a trip, and they aren’t daunting to restart if I get lost. There isn’t really much people say about them either, except to ask if it’s a good read, of if I recommend the author. The interaction are tame, and pleasant, the opposite of what I imagine reading Jordan Peterson’s book in public is going to be like, especially in Toronto. I anticipate reading his book will be met with stares, possibly a few verbal expressions of displeasure. I hope to find intelligent discourse, and opportunity to discuss him and his work, though, what happened to me this week is making me consider changing the book jacket for Peterson’s book before it debuts with me in public.

My current transit book is Chuck Palahniuk’s “Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread”. This book is a National Bestseller. The critically acclaimed author penned Fight Club, but is also known for other works such as Choke, Rant and Invisible Monsters. My first introduction to Palahniuk was his story Guts, which most people have read, but try to forget. That’s one of the reasons why I love his writing so much, because I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. His topics make your skin crawl, and he forces you to look at the deepest, darkest parts of humanity, and worst of all, yourself. I love the challenge of writing that makes me uncomfortable, and makes me think. I feel it’s important for mental and emotional growth, it’s how we evolve.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way.

“You’re reading that?” a voice says, cutting through Tswift playing softly in my ears while I wait on the subway platform. My book is open, and I’ll carefully avoid assuming their gender, considering what happens next.

“You know, he wrote Fight Club.” They say, matter of factually, still with a tone of defense and argument.

“I know, Fight Club is the frat boy manifesto.” I say, pulling out an earbud. This is only partially my opinion, but I don’t know where this is going yet. “I like his other works, Tell-All is lesser known, but great, and Invisible Monsters is actually,”

“You know that garbage just promotes toxic masculinity.”

I’ve been cut off, and they’re still on high defense. I immediately know where this is going, and it’s no where good, no where fast. This isn’t discourse, this is me being lectured, belittled and scolded for my choice of literature. Anna adores Kurt Vonnegut, and I think he’s a bore, but whenever she picks up one of his books, I’ll listen to her explain why, and I’ll shrug, because I never know why. I wish I could have her passion for Vonnegut, but I just don’t, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with, is how this person is treating me, on a subway platform no less, without ever once asking why I’m reading the book that offends them. Maybe it’s assigned reading for a class, or I’m using it for research and an essay. Maybe it was a gift, and I’m being polite. Maybe it was my boyfriend’s favourite book, and he died in a horrible car accident last week, and I’m grasping at straws to feel close to him.

After a few attempts to interject, or cut them off as they had done to me, I realized it was hopeless. I could see the train approaching over their shoulder, and I had a few choices. If this were a story written by that woman hating, toxic masculinity fueled sociopath, this person might be shocked to learn that as a woman, I would still inflict just as much violence as my written male counterparts. Palahnuik’s narrative has no gender or sexuality based boundaries on who commits violence towards who, and this person would be thrown in front of the oncoming train.

However, this isn’t that story.

I see the train approaching over their shoulder, and smile and nod. I put my ear bud back into my ear, and walk away from them, mid-sentence, with the intention of putting at least a car’s distance between them and I before the train stops. Taylor is ironically singing to me about why we can’t have nice things.

As uncomfortable as the person made me, there was a comfort in my choice to just walk away. And part of that comfort, was just silence.

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