Thursday, December 5, 2013

Writer Seeking Silence and Quiet. Or, I'll Make My Own.

Shhh. That's better.

Silence. Quiet. 

I love both.

Sometimes I am in control. On a solo car trip, when I'm not in the mood for music or NPR, or a book on CD, I like only the sound of the wheels on pavement, a rhythmic backdrop. In my home office, on a day when everyone else is elsewhere, I like quiet, punctuated only by the sounds of the house settling, the wind whispering by, an occasional car, the newspaper landing on the porch steps, the hum of the refrigerator.

My mother played the radio all day while she performed her household chores. I like to cook and do laundry and straighten up (mind you I didn't say "clean"), in a soft relative quietude.

Sometimes when I'm not in control, the universe is kind to me and the aural and visual "noise" is dialed back to a slightly less bothersome level than usual (I consider flashing television screens and blinking, beeping phones very noisy). When the televisions I encounter in public are muted; when cell phones and tablets and laptops can't find a signal so that texts and emails stop dinging and website loading is a fantasy, I'm typically pleased.

I love creating my own sense of (relative) quiet--maybe what I mean is psychic quiet?--by staying still in a noisy environment.  I love keeping my own silence when there's noise.

When there's sound all around (even happy sounds at an enjoyable gathering), I tend to lean back from it. At a wedding (or barbecue, pool party, holiday fest) when music is playing and people are talking, I'm quietly watching it all from my seat (to be clear, I'm not feeling left out, bored, or otherwise unhappy at these times; I simply like the view).

I'm not a shy person and I like to talk. I enjoy music and the sounds of others having a good time is wonderful. But take all, or any of it away, and I'm happy.

Perhaps I'm strange. Or is it because I am a writer? And I'm "writing" in my head much of the time? I think so, but of course many people who don't write also treasure quiet, for all kinds of reasons.

For me, quiet opens a pathway to writing, or at least to hearing the early scratchings of writing in my brain. I like what happens in my head when there's quiet outside my head, or when I create a cone of quiet around myself.

I crave the quiet. I seek it out, so those scratchings can come out to play.

Whether I record those scratchings (on little notebooks I have stashed everywhere at home and carry along when I'm out), or I simply attend to the words, thoughts, phrases, ideas, and observations swirling around, that I know are the kindling for future writing, is not really what matters.

Quiet is often negatively associated with feeling lonely, or the idea of being a loner. But both, in my mind, in relation to the quiet that comes along with those states, are not negative at all; especially if you think (as I do) of feeling "lonely" as simply the state of being alone, and the idea of being a "loner" as feeling settled and not upset by having only one's own company. In those contexts then, I want to be  a little lonely, and I'm not put out by being labeled a loner.

Last year, in a post at Catching Days, Dan Chaon says, "The real secret to a writer’s day is how much time you’re willing to be alone, how much you like being lonely, how much you crave it."

He also talks of his preference for staying awake far into the night. I do that too. Because I'm alone then, in control of the quiet. My writing keeps my company.


Andrea said...

Mmm...quiet. Sounds nice. Where do I sign up? I've got an electric-guitar-playing son, another who just started piano and a third on the drums. Also, they're boys, so when they're not playing music they're fake-fighting (or real-fighting). Sometimes I think I want to book myself in a sensory deprivation chamber for a week. Just to hear those scratchings in my brain.

Anonymous said...

My mom also had noise 24/7--the TV on. I used to like silence, myself, and then as I aged, I started doing the same thing as my mother. What I DO crave and get too little of is "alone time"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I find it very difficult to write with a noisy background. Being a father makes if very difficult to even scribble notes sometimes since the baby will insist on trying to wrench the pen out of my hand, but when I find time to write I can't even have the radio playing: either I'll zone out to the music or radio chatter, or I can't "hear" myself writing the story. I guess writing's a really lonely hobby when you think about it like that, huh?

cynthia newberry martin said...

The crazier my mind is, the quieter I like it to be. And I too crave solitude... though I prefer to sleep at night : ) Thanks for the mention, Lisa!