Friday, June 23, 2006

Quiet Is Not A Dirty Word

Writers crave quiet. So do parents of preschoolers and teachers on summer hiatus and air traffic controllers and people who live next door to motorcycle enthusiasts.

We despise quiet when it means the heart monitor stopped beeping. The nest is prematurely empty. The conversation reached a painfully awkward impasse. The answer is too disturbing to speak aloud. The one who used to occupy the chair across from you at dinner is gone forever.

We’ve created a world that avoids quiet at all costs. Why elevator music? Is the twelve-second trip to the third floor impossible to manage without artificial soothing? Does the business I’m calling think I’ll not notice—or care—how long I’ve been on hold if they can keep me humming along with the Best of the Beatles with full orchestral accompaniment?

With the advent of personal hand-held satellite receivers and chocolate-chip-sized devices for downloading music and postage stamp DVD players and cell phones smaller than the credit card paying for them, we’re entering an era that seems bent on eliminating quiet if at all possible.

My husband and I stopped at a fast-food place the other day for an afternoon snack. Not much for a crowd at that hour. Only three other tables or booths were occupied.

A middle-aged woman with an elderly companion. A trio of business people—two women and a man. A young, very young couple with a newborn in an infant seat on the table between them.

Some call it eavesdropping. We writers like to use the term “observational research.” I couldn’t help notice that at each of those other tables, at least one person spent the entire time talking on a cell phone rather than to the person sitting across from them.

The middle-ager used her cell phone to rattle the cage of some unseen teen. The new mom tried to point out something adorable the baby did, but the baby’s father didn’t notice. He chatted non-stop with a friend about a righteous used car he thought the friend should consider. (I didn’t have to work hard to catch details of these conversations. Their words almost drowned out the ones trying to pass between my husband and myself).

The third table caused me to shake my head in that way people do when they’ve crossed from the exuberance of youth to the burdens of wisdom. All three business people spent their late lunch hour on their individual cell phones…at the same time…while eating fries and frozen custard and sitting less than two feet from other human beings.

Why does our world think quiet is a dirty word? That life’s goal is to cram every minute full of noise and activity?

Are we afraid that if we sit still and quiet ourselves, we might actually hear something meaningful? From some source other than a high-tech speaker or state-of-the art earphone?

Do we fear what we’ll hear if we listen to each other’s heart? Is it time to stop and hear the roses?

I’m in the mood to start a petition to elevate quiet to its rightful place of respect. Are you with me?


Kristin Billerbeck said...

As a born city girl, I don't mind noise. Noise means there's people and life. That being said, the sounds I cannot concentrate or write under are my children screaming and/or fighting. Something that seems to be the sounds of summer around here. I used to be able to write with no problem with my three boys. I knew what sounds to listen for, but my girl chatters incessently and the way I write with her at home is I play "store". She shops in my office, and every two minutes or so I ring her up and she's back on the shopping kid giving me two more minutes of peace.

I've found working in the evenings has become easier for me -- their Dad is currently Mr. Mom, but he has a much wider berth on sounds -- being raised in a household of five kids. : )

Kristine Pratt said...

Quiet. I long for quiet.

Six months ago we lived so far out in the country that the sound of an airplane overhead or a car going by was an alien sound that startled one. My music at night in summer were chirping of crickets and the rustle of wind in the corn.

Now we're living in a house a block from the expressway, on a main highway with a gas station across the street. Two months ago I sat on my front porch and cried out to God, "Please, let there be quiet!" for I simply couldn't sleep anymore.

Gradually I've grown accustomed to noise. The children surround me with their boisterous play in the summertime. The cars still go by and I no long dream of putting up a road block after 11pm. Much.

Still, given a choice, I long for quiet.

Kristy Dykes said...

Great blog, Cynthia. I'll be back!

Kristy Dykes said...

Great blog, Cynthia. I'll be back.