Breaking my silence

I owe my ears to a bug and a meditative master. Well, maybe more so to the meditative master because he’s the one who gave me a gift.

He taught me how to listen.

I don’t mean he advised me in the art of paying attention to people’s words and the message they endeavored to convey. I mean he instructed me to hear sounds, and tone, and vibration.

In absolutely everything.

At the time, I thought I had a fairly well-developed ear. I was a musician, trained to hear intonation and pitch with a considerable degree of competency. But he had a level of attention to sound that was mystifying to me. His auditory skills were on par with most owls and marine animals. Mice feared for their lives around him. Beluga whales bowed down in his presence. I just wanted a little piece of that magic.

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But be careful what you wish for, right? Because a boon can just as easily become a blight.

I cannot find silence. I can’t remember the last time I have heard … nothing.

This man was a sound engineer, someone my music producer had hired to mix the final cuts of the album we were making, the film score we had finished and the commercials we whipped out. My job was done. I was excused and told to go work on the next project, but sometimes I’d plop down on the studio couch, make myself as invisible as possible and watch what unfolded.

And what unfolded was a brain twisting mystery. This man would sit in front of the sound board console and hold his breath. He was as still as the Buddha, who probably would have slapped him on the back with a thump of well done! Then he would crawl around on the floor, beneath the equipment, searching for an elusive something-or-other. Sometimes it would be hours before he actually played our music.

When I finally dredged up enough courage to ask him what he was doing, he’d answered, “I’m noticing.”

“Noticing what?” I asked.

“A lot,” he said.

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And during the next year I began ‘noticing’ too. He showed me how to find the buzz in each cable, the hum in all the machinery and the layer upon layer of sonance everywhere.

I went a little wild with my practice and drove my producer crazy with my newfound enthusiasm and belief that we would both benefit from this exciting auditory adventure I pulled him along on. At one point when recording the vocals for a lush and abundantly orchestrated song, I made him stop and pull out track after track after track, positive I could “hear” something that didn’t belong there.

We found it. It was a cricket in the recording booth. Finding the cricket to pitch him out proved impossible. Finding the musicians to bring them back in proved expensive.

No one was happy with me.

Except the sound engineer.

But now I can’t go anywhere without listening for the layers. It’s not as if I’ve developed the auditory capability to hear dog whistles, but rather I’ve stopped tuning things out. And I practiced this for so many years now I can NEVER tune them out.

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I lay awake at night, and hear the usual things.

The clock ticking, the dog breathing, the cat licking, the stinkbugs flying … and then smacking into walls and dropping onto the floor.

There is the sink dripping, the toilet running, the wind rattling, a coyote howling and an aircraft droning.

And when I have categorized these sounds, I am left with others that pull me out of bed and ask me to hunt them down.

The fridge has a little hum. The freezer has a funky hiss. The DVR has a purring motor that churns and roils, keeping something tiny inside of it cool and protecting it from combusting.

Down the hall in the family room I find two speakers, softly throwing out sound in the key of A. I bend down along the floorboards and hear muffled scratching—someone is busy making a tiny nest in the wall. I crawl beneath my desk and trace a treble tone to my computer’s hard drive. I start at an unexpected sound and bump my head, taken by surprise at the vibration above me where my smart phone was set to silently buzz with an incoming email.

I hear the heat vent whir to life, the soft whooshing of air, spongy and constant. Then the generator which lives halfway down the hill to the sheep barn clicks on for its weekly test drive. I open the back porch door and stand on the icy cold steps to count the multilayers of sound the generator is generating.

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Far off, on the other side of the house, the wind chimes chingle.

And then I hear the birds chirping and something high-pitched and tiny. The sound takes me up the porch steps and back into my bedroom.

And right next to my bed.

It’s my alarm clock.

It’s time to start another day. Another day filled with sound.

I’m thinking the sounds will most likely be my yawns.


February Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for February!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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31 thoughts on “Breaking my silence

  1. Brings new meaning to the word ‘hum-bug’. You’d go nuts here at our place this summer, the cicadas are deafening. What an interesting insight to listening… a curse or a blessing? xx

    • Ah yes, the cicadas. I remember those (insert deleted expletive here) fellas. And will not miss them for the next dozen years. Deafening, yes. And destructive. Even though we just had our “fourteen year cycle” visitors, the four year group are around the corner, as well as the bunch that come only once a century, and don’t forget the every summer regulars. Ugh. Noisy critters. No rest for suffering ears.
      I feel your pain. No, I mean I hear your pain.:)

  2. We are all familiar with the sounds of our homes and appliances, but can still hear something that isn’t quite right. It’s a question of do we ignore it or investigate.
    My first father in law was a watch and clock repairer. In a room full of constant ticks, he knew if one clock/watch stopped, and exactly which one it was.
    People laughed when I said I could hear a spider in the room. When it ran over their foot, they finally believed me.
    I have a good ear for music, and tend to hear beyond the melody into the depths of the song. Sometimes it’s surprising what is actually going on behind the vocals.

    • Isn’t it fascinating to be around somebody with that level of sensitivity? Amazing and awe-inspiring I think.
      And I can’t tell you how much musicians appreciate hearing that you’re listening for more than simply lyrics or the structural bones of a composition. So much time goes into the most minute of details to give each piece texture and layering. I hope your fine level of musical awareness is loaned to an instrument … Maybe? 😉

      • Yes, I’ve been playing the piano since about the age of 3 (Dad’s help to start with!). I can’t read a note really, so anything I play is always in the wrong key. Sadly I sold my piano last year, but hopefully I’ll be able to replace it once we’re more settled.

        • Reading music or playing by ear, if it sounds glorious to you, then it’s in the perfect key.

          Fingers crossed for that Joanna’s return! Nothing like a little bit of tickling the ivory to make a musical house a memorable home. 😉

  3. As a kid I thought listening to the noises around me and trying to match them with my voice was good fun on long car drives, or stuck waiting for the machines to finish in the laundrette.
    Now I wonder just how many adults were looking at me wondering who the weird humming kid was.
    How great to find other people who listen to all the noises around! Many a night I’ve got up convinced someone has left the PC on only to find it’s the hum of the media vault and it’s louder than usual because the study door has been left wide open.

    • What a sweet visual-you in the back of the car humming, or singing to the washer and dryer, but a pastime I remember all too well. I still hum to the fridge while trying to write. I suppose it’s company of a sort. All these bits of technology we surround ourselves with–a virtual orchestra. 🙂

  4. The Long-Suffering Husband always comments on my ability to tune sounds out. I can do it as long as I have the right thing to rivet my attention, like a good novel. Whereas a tiny sound can prevent him from concentrating on his work… a tiny sound like the refrigerator door opening in the next room…

    • I’m right there with the Long-Suffering Husband, Linnet. I can hear the cat pass gas in the basement when I’m sitting at my desk writing.

      I cannot understand–and am hugely envious of anyone’s ability to focus through noise. How my teenage kids are capable of mastering any schoolwork with the amount of pinging, ringing and singing going on all around them is way beyond me. I’d give my left lung for a brain like that.

      Maybe in my next lifetime. 😉

      • Well, there are limits to my focusing powers. The tiniest noise in a theater or concert hall–especially anyone unwrapping a candy–distracts me to the point of “row rage.” Maybe it is the agonizing slowness with which they do it–no doubt thinking it will be quieter.

        • Wow, you just described the very experience I had last night while trying to video tape my daughter at one of her concerts. The woman next to me, trying to be incredibly polite, with painstaking slowness, opened one of the crinkliest bottles of water I have ever heard. Three minutes of that particular song will be nothing but the crushing of thin plastic. *sigh*

  5. Because I spend far too much time deep in my own thoughts, dwelling on that which has already happened or has not happened yet, I make a point to study Zen Buddhism, particularly the practice of zazen, which is simply sitting and being aware of the present. I am admittedly not very good at this, but I still keep practicing. Your post reminds me of how I spent some time this afternoon. In one of my pensive moods, I went outside to enjoy the mild weather. I sat and stared up at the sky without really seeing, listened to the birds without really hearing, too busy thinking. But I slowly brought myself back to the present and paid attention to my surroundings. The way the wind rustled the bare tree branches, how the house wren hopped about in the leaves and made a trilling noise to a companion some distance away. I recognized the call of the cardinal, and the cawing of the crows, and I saw the first robins returning. And for those few minutes, I was at peace. I think you possess a true gift in your ability to listen so closely; it anchors you to the present, which is actually the safest place to be.

    • Oh, Miranda, you hit on a note that is very near and dear to my heart. The practice of meditation is a cherished routine and a life-saving habit. I protect that space like a pirate guards his treasure. And it does not surprise me to find that you participate in this study either.

      Have you read any Pema Chodron? I adore her, and find her words resonate deeply.

      Here’s to a little more zen in each of our days. 😉

      • I have read a bit of Pema Chodron’s work. She is indeed full of wisdom. And thanks, Shelley–I need all the Zen I can get! 🙂

  6. With all those sounds going on around you all the time, I’m surprised you managed to keep your sanity (well, I assume you did)…
    This piece reminds me of my dad, who used to be a sound engineer. He would always hear things I never would have noticed had it not been for him. Being a sound engineer is an art in itself I think…

    • And has your dad kept his sanity? I’d be so curious to know what kinds of tricks sound engineers use in order to focus through every day noise. I have enormous admiration for folks who have developed one of their senses to such a high degree that they can actually make a living off of it. My problem was that once that door was opened, it was a little like somebody leading me to a mountainous buffet of fantastic food, but forgetting to show me how to use a fork.

  7. I used to be a musician before becoming disabled. I understand what you’re describing when you’re in bed and trying to fall asleep. Hearing things like the frig coming on way over on the other side of the house can be impossibly annoying. They say ‘white noise’ helps. Ha! I find that just as disturbing. What is really aggravating is the disability has made me tone-deaf in my right ear. A double whammy.

    • You’re right, Glynis. I’d consider that a double whammy too. I’m so sorry to hear of your misfortune. I can only imagine the sense of unbalance as well. I hope you’re able to still enjoy music in some capacity or another. It is one of those joyous things in life that is capable of mending “brokeness” in so many areas of life. The healing can be tremendous. Cheers to you.

  8. At work I wear earplugs due to the enormous sound of AC engines, galley chiller noises, and the massive din of flying. I can still hear the nuances of things and people, so not to worry.
    What I notice when riding bikes, walking/running, so many wear ipods etc and have no idea what is going on around them. They miss so much around them.
    I prefer to hear the sound of birds, cars ,wind, someone approaching, and per your previous post, smells.
    All of these things yield so much information to guide us.
    Love your two posts.

    • Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Karen. 🙂 I too much prefer the sounds of nature as I’m meandering about by foot, unless the weather is a bit rough and I’ve needed to resort to an indoor treadmill – in which case, anything is better than the sound of whirring machinery.

      Occasionally, I’ve tried earplugs at night, but then I’m stuck with the sound of my loud breathing. It’s a bit like trying to go to sleep while snorkeling.

  9. My son had similar challenges with his hearing: an inability to filter out any thing. He would eventually just shut down. Turns out he had struggles with auditory processing. His hearing was fine, but the processing wasn’t. You might be interested in the following book: Too Loud, Too Bright:

    He worked with an audiologist and it helped immensely.

    • Wonderful sounding book, Alys. I just ordered it from the library and really look forward to reading it. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

      And I’m happy to hear you were able to find some relief for your son. I can imagine there is nothing more frustrating than feeling like you have no other recourse other than to just ‘shut down.’ A clear sign we need extra support.

      Again, thanks for the tip!

      • I’m so glad you’ve ordered the book. I hope you get some good takeaways.

        My son had auditory processing deficits in four areas, revealed after a battery of tests with an audiologist. He went through a two-week program called AIT (Auditory Integration Training). It helped quite a bit.

        I will be interested to hear your thoughts on the book.

  10. Hi Shelley. The sounds of silence are magical and amazing and one can just relax and listen to them. But my problem is no matter how loud or irritating sounds around me are, nothing can stop me from going into deep sleep despite any kind of noise. Maybe I should develop the art of listening carefully, appreciating every little buz around. Have to learn a lot from you in this regard. Lovely post with lovely pictures. Enjoyed reading an amazing and interesting post. Take care.

    • The grass is always greener, right, Samina? Sometimes I see the benefit of both sides. Sound sleep vs sharp sound. It’s a toss up. Both would be brilliant. Maybe one day. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and of course the wonderful compliments!

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