Anne here, pondering the meaning of silence in the modern world.
Today I had to catch a tram (trolleycar) into the city to meet with someone from my publishers. It's a fifteen minute journey, not a long commute at all. It makes frequent stops, and since most of the journey is inner city and through popular shopping areas, there's a lot of getting on and off.
And yet most of the people sitting around me wore earplugs of various kinds in their ears — mobile phone (cell-phone) earplugs, i-pods, whatever. The few who didn't wear earplugs were busily texting or talking on their mobiles. Loudly — the talking, not the texting. There were even three young boys, all wearing earplugs playing loud music, who also had a conversation at the same time — loud, because they couldn't hear over the music otherwise.
I sat there, watching and listening, and it occurred to me to wonder how often people experience quietness, how often they are simply alone with their thoughts.
I thought about how frequently I see walkers and joggers and all kinds of exercisers wearing earplugs — some even walk their dogs wearing earplugs — the people, not the dogs. I've even noticed cyclists wearing earplugs, which I think is pretty dangerous, hearing being a good warning device.
I don't understand it. I don't know if I'm simply old-fashioned, or out of touch, or whether it's a writer thing, but I love being alone with my thoughts, yet in the world.
I see people all the time walking along the creek, oblivious to the twitter of the birds, the honk of a duck, the song of frogs, the rustle of the leaves by the evening breeze — it's all blocked out by the doof doof sound of music in their ears. And it's often so loud that I can hear it from six feet away.
But for me, that half hour of interaction with the natural world, my dusk walk along the creek— a band of "wilderness" that runs for miles — breathing the air, hearing the twilight sounds of birds and bats and small critters, feeling the breeze on my face and hearing the wind rustle the leaves overhead and the reeds and long grass that edge the creek — all that adds to the peace that comes from my evening walk.
Sometimes on that walk I'll come up with a scene for a book, or sort out a knotty problem, but more often I'll just "be" in the moment of the walk.
Not that the sound of nature is invariably peaceful. Anyone who has cicadas in their area knows that. And a friend who was so delighted when her husband and sons built her a frog pond, and who celebrated the birth of a thousand tadpoles, quickly changed her mind when those taddies grew up and found their froggy voices.
And I recently spent a week in a place where hundreds of rainbow lorikeets came to roost in the trees at night and they chattered so loudly that we had to shut the windows to hear ourselves talk. They quietened down after a few hours. But those of us foolish enough to sleep with our windows open, wafting off to dreamland to the peaceful sound of the ocean, were rudely awakened well before dawn by hundreds of lorikeets chattering and shrieking with excitement as they greeted the day. If you want to see and hear rainbow lorikeets in the wild, there's a video here. Multiply the sound by a thousand.
Even so, I couldn't imagine going out for a walk or a run and blocking out all the natural noises with loud music. Not even quiet music. I adore music, but I don't crave it all the time, a constant background to everything I do. Nor do I have the radio or TV on unless I'm actually listening or watching it. I love audio books, but I'm not sure I'd want to listen to them while I'm walking. On an exercise machine, possibly yes, outside near the creek or by the beach, no.
I hate sitting in waiting rooms where there's a TV blaring, or muzak playing. On planes, trains and automobiles, I might listen to an i-pod or audio book, or watch a movie, or read a book, but I'm also just as likely to stare out the window and think. Being alone with my thoughts. Pondering. Being in the moment. Daydreaming.
I'm wondering whether that's becoming a lost art.
It's a pity, I think. Loud and constant noise is said to be stressful on the human nervous system, but we seem to have forgotten that. The desire to block out the rest of the world with noise of your choice — or someone else's — is increasing all the time.
Many people have the TV or radio on all their waking hours. Some can't go to sleep without noise of some sort playing, whether it's music or the TV or something else. I know people who habitually go to bed with their phones plugged into their ear, and are lulled to sleep listening to some ambient electronic sound, instead of the "real" sounds around them. It seems to me they're disconnecting themselves from the real world, and it worries me, though I can't put a finger on why. It's obviously a valid choice for them, and who am I to argue? It's not for me, though.
Time uninterrupted, being alone with my thoughts, simply "being in the moment" is, to me, precious.
Some years back another author friend and I were invited to present a series of workshops at a week-long writers retreat in the mountains of North Queensland —tropical rainforest — simply beautiful. This group went on a writing retreat every year, and one of their rules was no talking in the morning, no music or anything else, no human or artificial sound until the first workshop started at 9 am. Some of them rose early and meditated, others wrote or walked, and their communal breakfast was conducted in silence.
It was amazingly powerful. And very special.
So what about you — are you in the "I love my i-pod" camp or do you relish silence when you can get it? Does the TV in waiting rooms entertain or annoy you? Do you jog or exercise to music or audio books, or to your own thoughts? Do you live in a place where nature deafens you? Do you like to have music or the Tv on all the time? And what do you do on public transport? ;) Share your stories.