I carry ear plugs with me most everywhere I go.
A while back, my husband needed some oral surgery. We walked into the waiting area and one of those satellite radio stations was blasting the current version of Musak through the room. It was really LOUD. I go to a medical office for some high tech test and there’s a television on. LOUD. Why are there televisions in medical areas? Haven’t any of the doctors read about how noise increases stress levels?
Am I the only one who thinks the world needs more quiet? Am I the only one who longs for the days when all one heard in a waiting room was the rustling of pages as people thumbed through well-thumbed magazines from the previous year, 118 BC?
The day of the oral surgery, I brought a book, knowing I’d be there for some time, waiting. What do other people do? Listen to the really bad music coming over a mediocre sound system? I mean, not everyone likes the same music. So who is it being played for? And why is it so LOUD? How do they expect people to read even magazines that require no brain processing whatsoever when there’s some awful radio station blaring in their ears? If I had not had my ear plugs with me, I would have driven home and got them. But they were there, in my pocketbook the size of Chicago, and I stuck them in my ears, and though I could still hear the so-called music, my skull had stopped vibrating.
Color me puzzled. These are medical facilities. Why would they think that people in pain or in some degree of anxiety about a test (we are most of us anxious when a test impends, even if we’re sure we can ace it) or awaiting a loved one undergoing a procedure, minor or major, want to hear LOUD music or LOUD TV programs? Is the noise supposed to drown out the anxieties, deaden the pain, distract us? Because, if that is the case, it’s not working for me. It’s driving me INSANE.
Or do they simply assume that the majority of the population blew out its eardrums in adolescence and therefore cannot hear anything lower in volume than Spinal Tap 11?
I was pondering these and other questions last week, when the power went out.
Which is why you didn’t hear from me at all and Mary Jo had to put up that little forlorn figure.
I was doing–not by choice–some time travel. Back to the days when there was no electricity. When you notice things, like how dark it gets at 3pm on an overcast day and how really dark it can be by 4pm when it starts snowing. And how cold the house can get because the heating system, though running on oil, is controlled by an electric thermostat. Even the gas stove has electric fire starter thingies–though it’s possible, fortunately, to start it the old fashioned way, with a match. Then you think about how great matches are, and how much trickier it used to be to start fire. I could blog about early 19th century lighting, but that’s maybe for another day. Today is about sound or the lack thereof.
The thing I noticed most about no electricity was the quiet.
My house is usually fairly quiet because I don’t turn on the television or radio or any audio/visual gear during my workday.
But that’s a different quiet.
The thing I noticed, when the power went out, was the lack of humming, that endless hum that’s part of our days because it’s the hum of electrical power, of our computers and clocks and televisions, quiet but alive, humming.
You don’t notice it until it’s gone.
And I wondered, since lots of other people do keep their TVs on or radios or listen to music, whether they don’t really hear that aggravating sound that to me equals Noise because to them it’s become like the background hum of electricity. This made me think of 19th century visitors to Venice, people from London, who couldn’t sleep because Venice was too quiet: no carriages and carts and horses rattling over the pavement day and night.
I loved the silence. The lack of hum was very soothing to my nerves. If only I could have had some light & my computer.
There it is, the price one pays.
Reading by candlelight–or, in my case, battery-powered book light, because lighting candles in my paper-strewn office is an act of suicide–is much harder than reading by bright electric light, especially when you are going back and forth between books and maps, as I was doing, in my research. I tried to work on my MIP–I used to write my stories in longhand, after all–but I am so in the habit now of working at the computer that I’d have to retrain my brain, and that, as I learned when I made the switch to computer years ago, takes weeks, not minutes.
Plus, it was cold day, and the house grew colder as they day wore on, and as it wore on, it grew darker, as days will do. And the frustration of being stymied in all my daily tasks made it hard to get anything accomplished. To up the frustration factor, the electric company kept changing the estimated time of power restoration. We began in the morning with an optimistic prediction of 10am that soon deteriorated to 6pm, then skulked to 7pm, then–at 7:05pm–slunk to 8pm, at which point homicidal thoughts entered my brain.
When the power came back on at about 7:10pm, happiness washed through me, all warm and bright, like…electricity.
And yet, for all the miseries of that day, I still recall with pleasure the silence. And today, and probably for a while to come, I’m conscious of the hum about me, a hum my characters would surely notice and wonder at, and probably find exceedingly annoying, if not spooky.
And what of you? I know you’re readers or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Being a reader, do you prize quiet? Or does it not matter? Can you tune out the loud of our lives? Does quiet please you or trouble you? How many people use ear plugs? Please raise your hands.