Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Playing the Quiet Game

Life can get pretty noisy at times. Most times it's hard to hear the silence. With all the things there are in today's world that cause noise, it's a wonder we aren't all deaf.

In 1968, at the age of six, I was in the first grade. My teacher then, Mrs. Ballard, had a hard time with noisy six year olds. She was always having us play the 'quiet game'. I guess it was her way of keeping us in check and keeping herself from losing her mind amidst the chaos.

The quiet game always consisted of us having to put our heads down on our desks, not looking at our neighbors, and not making a sound until she told us to raise our heads. Those quiet games felt like an eternity to me. As a six year old, I don't think I had any real concept of time, but those 'quiet games' felt like they lasted a life time. I'm sure, thinking back on it now, they couldn't have lasted more than five minutes. But five minutes to a fidgety, rambunctious, having the attention span of a flea six year old might as well have been a life time. And it never failed, I always got a case of the giggles...which I ALWAYS got in trouble for.

The giggles came from two sources: 1. The class cut-up, a boy, who always disrupted class for whatever reasons, found the quiet game prime opportunity to show off his greatest feats of shenanigans, usually in the form of smelly bodily noises...on purpose. Those times were hard to keep quiet when such fabulous performances were offered (fabulous to six year olds). The whole class would have the giggles and therefore we would all end up with some type of punishment...usually in the form of a note sent home to parents, or not getting to go outside for recess that day. And the instigator almost always got a paddling out in the hall.

2. I hated the quiet game. I couldn't take the silence. The giggles seemed like a good way to break the silence and it let me know there was life still in the room. I couldn't stand the quiet. It was a scary thing to me. For some reason, silence felt like death all around me; there was nothing alive to make noise and it literally freaked me out.

As the years rolled on, I always needed some sort of noise around me. In junior high and high school it was music. Whenever I could, however I could, I listened to music. I was not fortunate as a teenager to have a record player, or my own radio as a lot of my friends did. So finding ways to listen to music became a creative thing in itself. But usually my folks had the radio in the kitchen on until late into the night, listening to Bill Mack, The Midnight Cowboy, on WBAP (AM radio) out of Fort Worth, Texas...and I would have to settle for that. I couldn't go to sleep at night without that radio being on. My mother was an avid TV watcher and when my dad worked nights, she had the TV on most of the night. So that became a source of comfort also...listening to Johnny Carson and old movies as I lay in bed hoping to fall asleep before midnight.

When I left home and got married, I couldn't go to sleep at night without the radio beside my bed being on. I had a clock radio and I would put the music on just enough to hear it without it disturbing my newborn babies. During the day, I would always have the stereo on playing my favorite records or my favorite radio station. If the stereo wasn't on, the TV was. And it was almost always on sitcoms and cartoons. I had to have bright, colorful, happy, positive, noisy programs to keep my spirits up and to ward off the feeling of doom and gloom. My kids grew up with loud music and LOTS of cartoons.

My world was noise in some form or another 24/7. It was that way for years and years. When I married a second time, that changed to some degree. My new husband couldn't sleep with the radio or the TV on...and for the longest time, I slept on the couch in order to listen to music as I went to sleep. But the separation was awful and eventually I learned to sleep without the music at bedtime. I wanted to sleep next to my husband and so in turn, I forced myself to bear the silence. Eventually it became the only way I could go to sleep and still is today.

Throughout all the years, I've always sung in one fashion or another. Sung in church. Was always in choir in school and usually cast as lead vocalist in school musicals in high school. I've been in bands for years. I ran my own karaoke company for years. I worked as a KJ for other karaoke companies for years. The music was ever present...and always loud. I loved loud, full sounding music. I loved MY music loud. I wanted others to participate with me in loud music.

When my babies were born, loud music didn't seem to bother them. I listened to lots of loud music while pregnant, so I truly believed they were accustomed to it by the time they were born. They would sleep through it all. And when they were fussy, the music seemed to sooth them back to sleep, or to a place of contentment. Loud music was a way of life for me nearly my whole life.

Later on, when I entered the job market, computers and cash registers and over head music and noisy customers and announcements over head and the constant chitter, chatter, clang and bang of the retail world was all part of normal for me. When I got home in the evenings, all that was replaced with the music or the TV. The noise of traffic and sirens screaming and garbage trucks at five a.m. never bothered me. It was all a part of life. It was alive and death didn't loom because the noise was life.

About a year ago, out of the blue one day, it hit me. Hard. About just how noisy my life really was. I had been experiencing a very tough time for a while and it had me living and working with someone I didn't know. We spent 24/7 together for months. The place we worked was a thrift store of sorts. He ran the place. I volunteered full time, not by my choice really, but because the hand of fate dealt me the circumstances and I truly had no choice in the matter.

This store was busy. Busy. Busy. Busy. And noisy. Lots of customers. The phone always ringing. Other volunteers constantly chattering. The music over head always on. The traffic outside constantly hustling by. Someone was always bitching about too much work or cranky customers or about someone else who worked there. They all bitched about something...every single day. Merchandise constantly coming in and in need of sorting, pricing, and displaying...which was noisy in and of itself. The constant 'soap opera' of other volunteer's lives was ever present. There was never a quiet or dull moment in this place.

After the days business ended and the store closed, the person who ran the store...and with whom I was living with at the time, would sit. and talk. and drink. and listen to loud music 'til way late in the night. There was lots to talk about. Lots of reasons to drink. And the music and the alcohol blew off the days commotion. When the music went off, the TV came on...and stayed on all night.

During these months of hard times, there were always people coming at me from all sides telling me what they thought I should do with my life and how to go about it. EVERY ONE had an opinion. There was CONSTANT noise in my life, about my life. In addition, there was the constant noise inside my own head about my life circumstances (like I didn't think about this shit all the time as it was and what they were telling me was news to me? I don't think so!) and all that was around me every minute of every day. It was noise and commotion surrounding me and costantly churning in my head round the clock. It never shut off.

After a few months of struggling to get on my feet with my life, an opportunity finally came to get my own place. It took some wrangling and some wheeling and dealing, but finally a deal was worked out on a nice apartment and I could start the trek of finding some normalcy again. By this time I was romantically involved with the person I'd lived with and worked with all these months and we moved into the apartment together.

As we settled into a different place and a different kind of life together, amidst the continual playing of an Eric Clapton CD...and very noisy neighbors...and a very noisy neighborhood...and the constant chattering at me from outside sources about what other directions my life should take - I snapped. Out of the blue one evening I just couldn't take the noise any longer. It had never dawned on me before how much noise there was in my life, but here I was in all this commotion for months and months and months and something inside me gave way and said NO MORE NOISE. Period. I had a breakdown of sorts, I guess.

It was a shock to me when this happened. I was astounded at the fact that music was now an annoyance. The TV was rudely disrupting. People talking to me, about anything, was a huge intrusion. The phone ringing was apalling...like "how dare anyone even think of calling me". The very things I took comfort in my whole life were now alien and nerve wracking. I was horrified. But the only way to deal with it was to dwell in the quiet and seclusion and hope to find my way back to at least some of it someday.

I proceeded to completely black out the bedroom windows. There was no TV in the room for a while. I never turned the clock radio on. I used the laptop for an occasional DVD if I needed mild diversion from something, but that was rare. When I occupied the room, the door was always closed. I just needed some place that was quiet. Some place to shut out all the noise. It was my place of reclusiveness because I'd not been alone, or in the quiet for months...years really. I needed to be alone, in the coolness, in the dark, in the silence. It was hard to get up and go to work each day because of all the commotion that surrounded me in the work place. My bedroom was the only place on earth that offered solitude and some peace.

Today, it's still much the same in needing to find the quiet times. The "quiet game" is something I now relish and play frequently. I still have to search hard for the quiet time. If I'm not alone in the house, the TV or the music is always on, which is OK. It lets me know there's life abounding in our home. But I've gotten to where I don't turn the TV on during the day anymore when I'm alone. There's enough noise around me as it is with the constant buzz of neighborhood lawn mowers from fanatical keepers of the lawns...and sirens screaming down the main drag only two blocks away...and 'jeep boy' who lives down the block continually racing up and down our little street with his loud ass jeep, his loud ass buddies following right behind...and their thumping music to boot. We are right in the flight path of our local airport. The dog and cat run and play and bounce at each other pretty much constantly. There's a lot of noise no matter what time of day or night it is.

What's so crazy about all this noise stuff is that I'm very hard of hearing. Have been all my life. I 'feel' more noise in my bones than I take in with my ears. I'm extremely sensitive to sound vibrations no matter what the source...and it seems like the older I get and the worse my hearing gets, the louder the noise becomes for me.

I have to read lips while someone is speaking to me to fully understand what's being said. And you wonder how someone who is nearly deaf can spend a life time singing, successfully? It's all about the feel...and yes, that translates into pitch control and singing on key...successfully. Just one of those things.

I spend a lot of my time today trying to create focus and balance in my life. I find I don't need the music so much any more...usually only when I need to fill my soul. And when I do watch TV, it's for the sheer enjoyment of it; not to fill in the quiet. I still have to have bright, vibrant, happy, positive, usually comedic type programs or music video channels to watch. Can't deal with the doom and gloom of detective, and court, criminal/forensic investigative, and blood and guts, murder, and sleuth TV has to offer. That will be something I'll never reconcile. This stuff plunges me into deep, dark depressions that are hard to pull out of. My nature is to be fed with happy stuff in that regard. I Love Lucy, and Andy Griffith, and Friends, and MASH, and Roseanne (yes, Rosanne, because I seriously identify with a lot of the content) and old cartoons and an occasional movie of happier proportions will always have to be the menu of TV watching for me. And my very favorite of all -the Greater Tuna series of plays on DVD. I soooooooo seriously indentify with this content....and laugh 'til I pee my pants.

Knitting brings me peace. Sewing and quilting bring me peace. Singing brings me peace. There's peace in the nature in my own back yard. I find peace in my relationship. I find little things everyday that bring me peace in one way or another. Focus and balance comes in the quiet moments. The quiet game has become a daily staple. It offers the offset to an otherwise very noise existence...which I think we all live in today. It's about paring down those things that cause the most unecessary noise and living in the noise that's necessary to daily life and finding tranquility in what's been done away with.

Getting freaked out about the silence and crying because I hear no noise doesn't happen any longer. The doom and gloom and death-like feeling of the quiet is gone too. I relish the times when the sound vibrations are at a bare minimum...and look forward to those moments when quiet abounds. I have learned to love "the quiet game". It's not such a terrible thing after all.

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