What’s Left Underneath

Quiet Creativity In a Noisy World


Words || Matthew Byrnes

Silence is a concept that pretty much every person is familiar with. It’s like water, or air, or the ground, we always just assume it’s there. Nowadays it’s more like a phantom limb. We never realised that we lost access to the quiet, we all think it’s still there somewhere, lingering just on the edge of our consciousness. But the small twinges, those few moments when everything stands still and you can finally organise some level of thought? They only seem to last for a half-breath, before the great engine of industry and progress revs again, and leaves those quiet moments trampled in the dust. 

I admit, I miss the way the micro-society of primary schools functioned. Back in those days, it was far easier to interact with your peers; you shared your interests, stated opinions, and were either laughed at or embraced. Not a utopia by any means, any society that places you soundly in a box can never be, but as a young fledgling, at least you knew your place. My best friend as of today resided in the same box as me. Memories of those days are associated with pixels on a Gameboy, or the smell of fresh trading cards. In reality, you could give us anything with an interesting story, and we would find it very easy to latch onto it.

We stayed close throughout primary school, but really it was high school where I really got to know the kind of person he was. A very clear memory I have took place at the very beginning of Year 8. It was the first time I skipped a class. Not to smoke a cigarette, or to hook up with a girl behind the school. Remember, I was a nerd in those days, there’s no way I was ever that much of a rebel.

I walked out of my woodwork class and saw the boy from my primary school, sitting on a fence with bruised knuckles and tears in his eyes. I put an arm around him and just talked. We talked for nearly an hour, about how hard he found it to express himself, about all of the wonderful stories that he held in his heart that he wanted to share with the world. Making stories was the childish pastime that lingered with the two of us since our youth, a passion we both still hold to this day. I watched as the years passed, as he followed me into the prestigious Extension English course, which only a select few were eligible for. I watched as his life got more complicated, when he had to drop out of Extension English, as he started to miss school days. He dropped out of school and got a job as a kitchen hand. I remember the day he came to my house, blood dripping from ruined knuckles as he plucked shards of glass out of his shaking fingers. 

I remember what he said to me that night. 

“What’s the point? They demand more and more, but I just have nothing left to give them.” 

His parents had called him a blight on society, another classic example that young people are regressing into sub-humanity. He didn’t say it explicitly, but I knew that was the day my friend had lost faith in the world. School had nothing to teach him, society had nothing to offer. From my happiest memories, he always had a light in his eyes, even in primary school. Yet from that day onward, that light was noticeably weaker, the childish fun we always shared became slightly tinged by the knowledge that there was a much crueler world waiting when we grew up.

I walk across the university campus, a place where inspiration and unique thought is paramount. There’s a great construction site right in the middle. They’re building a garden, they say. Maybe it will be a peaceful garden, but it will still be surrounded by concrete. I walked to class one morning preparing to workshop my latest creative writing piece, and I couldn’t help but question the people who take up these constant construction projects. There’s something humbling about walking to class, underneath a massive arch of autumn trees and leaves, feeling like you stand in the halls of faerie kings and muses of old, stories of Elder-wood tree sprites and Tolkien’s imagery to inspire you. Yet at eye level, there is very little to see or hear but the clanging of tools, the shifting of gears, the breaking of earth. On every corner there’s a wi-fi hot spot, or a coffee shop,  an all manner of distractions and stimulus to keep our heads down and our minds occupied. 

I’m not saying that progress is evil, or even stifling. It would be very easy to paint me as a neo-dark age enthusiast, terrified of advancement, rallying the villagers with pitchforks and imploring millennials to dump their iPhones onto the fire. But I believe in people, and the ability that people have to build ourselves up as worthwhile members of the greatest living organism in the history of recorded life. The earth is a system that we all live in and rely on, and with the dawn of technology and the internet we have access to the greatest network of connectivity and potential collaboration in history. And yet, what could be an opportunity for collaboration becomes the main source of dysphoria and struggle. We used to value ingenuity and creativity, now everything is just mass produced and there’s no individualism or quality anymore. 

That’s why words are so important. I see sprouts breaking free from the surface, pushing through the filth and muck, blossoming ideas and creativity. Any writer that I’ve encountered sees adversity and injustice as a canvas ready to be painted. And the more that the written word competes with the internet and media, the more chance the young authors of the world have to make their mark, to preserve that sense of imagination, that light in our eyes, that seems so close to fading forever. 

My friend is still a dreamer. I see him when I can, and he always has a smile on his face, a clever thought or two always bubbling beneath the surface. When I write, I think about people like him. The clever ones, the outcasts, the dregs of society. In reality society never changed from primary school, everybody is still put into boxes. But the people I’m thinking about are the ones that don’t fit in any of these categories, who have so much to say but no medium to express themselves in. We carry each other in our arms, because in the face of what we are up against, we owe it to each other in some unspoken vow to cry out above the volume, to try and stand together and grow into something new. Something original and creative. 

There’s so much noise, all of the time. Not just the cogs of industry, but the scraping metal and twisting components of a changed world. Who would buy a book to read when at the tap of a button, you can read the thoughts of any notable name in an instant? The world seems to be getting so much bigger every single day, and yet there’s somehow so much less space. How is it that the human element of humanity is the lowest of priorities?

What are we building with all of that noise? By the end I’m sure the world will just be black metal. And if there’s no quality anymore, then maybe that black metal shape fits our needs perfectly. The world they create will be full of their garbage, their innovations, thrown awkwardly in any position it fits. And nestled down at the very bottom, seeking the smallest pockets of fresh air, will be us. The dregs of society.