Peace and quiet
In Folio Weekly’s “News of the Weird” I read with interest that officials at England’s 12th-century St. Peter’s Church in Seaford, East Sussex, made a 30-minute CD of the eerie quiet of the Church’s sanctuary for which it is known. As reported in the article, the recording of near-total silence was originally done as a local fund raising project. But the Church has now received world-wide attention for its efforts with orders coming in from as far away as Ghana. Those who have heard the CD have said only occasional footsteps on a squeaky wooden floor or a passing car’s distant hum can be heard. Amazing what some will do to find a little peace and quiet.
I thought I was the only one.
There is nothing wrong with filling the air with sound, of course. I think it was my long-time friend Bill Slaughter who once suggested something to the effect that a musician sees silence as an artist sees an empty canvas, or as he might have expanded, as a writer sees the whiteness of a blank Word doc, with that little cursor blinking and blinking. He was right, of course. And given my former career in the music business, I obviously enjoy hearing the air filled with wonderful sounds.
But not all sounds are wonderful. Among the worst abusers of otherwise perfectly motionless air molecules are the incredibly energetic vocal chords of small children and their ear-splitting screams when the day’s events may not be progressing in a manner deemed acceptable to them. Frankly, most any high-pitched caterwauling tends to put my stomach in knots and cause me to gnash my teeth. That would include, prior to his death back 2009, Mr. Bill Mays on television trying to sell me some Oxyclean by screeching at the top of his lungs (“Hi!!! Billy Mays here!!!!”). My condolences to Mr. Mays’ family, but, nevertheless, I thought I heard a collective sigh across America when it was clear that he would no longer be bellowing his way into our living rooms with those pitches.
Now, lo and behold, I find that right here in Jacksonville we have a Billy Mays copycat. This fellow sounds so much like Mr. Mays I had to double check the archives to make sure the latter, indeed, was no longer with us. But, instead of Oxyclean, this guy is selling Kias and furniture. How many others must be out there already, proliferating faster than Elvis impersonators in 1977? Lord help us.
I often look forward to the quiet of an evening with no TV or other devices rattling for my attention, or diverting my thoughts from something more desirable, such as a book or just plain-Jane contemplation from time to time. And, now that my last youngster has moved out of the house, I am far more likely to have opportunities to enjoy such evenings once the nightly news is over and the sun has set. I have always wondered how people who live in households subject to the perpetual cacophony of televisions banging away, stereos blaring, dogs barking and young siblings screaming at one another over who gets to use the bathroom first, ever have the opportunity to, you know, simply think.
Okay, okay, sure, there’s no sound more satisfying than that of a houseful of family and friends gathered for the holidays or a special event: screaming kids, barking pets and all. But, sometimes I simply long for a little peace and quiet. And I don’t need to buy a CD to remember what it sounds like.
Ahhh, just me and my tinnitus.
(More on this? Check out “Solitary pursuits” in “Reverie.”)
Good choice of words, tinnitus. It’s got a nice ring to it.
“Silence is the paper music is written on.” That’s the line you’re remembering, Skip, having to do with silence and music. And you’re right, you did get it from me all those years ago. But it’s not my line. That is to say, I didn’t think it up. Like you, I got it from somewhere; I just don’t know where. I’ve been trying to track it down forever now without success. When search engines, like Google, came along, I thought they’d lead me right to the source. But no such luck. At some point, I might have to risk being called a “plagiarist,” that bad name, and claim the line as my own.
In the meantime, though, I’m with you, Skip. At this age and stage in my life, I value silence as much as I value anything, including maybe even time and money. If someone were to give me the proverbial forty acres and a mule I’d want the forty acres to be as far away from “civilization” as possible. What I’d do, then, is this: I’d pitch my tent right in the middle of my forty acres, thus creating, instantly, a kind of buffer zone that hopefully would cancel out all of the noise that “civilization” makes. I haven’t decided yet what I’d do with the mule.
Given the last line of your “Peace and Quiet” post, Skip, I have reason to believe you will approve of these lines from a recent poem of my own: “In the other life, the one I am not living, / the one I left behind in a city of tall buildings and hurried men, / it all goes on without me just the same, / but my ears no longer ring from all that clamoring.” If only it were more than wishful thinking.
Thank you so much for your comment. I always feel like I’ve hit a home run when I can shake a few words out of you.
I also appreciate your setting me straight on that line, which has been stuck in my mind all these years like bubble gum on the sole of a shoe, even though I managed to mangle it a bit.
And I do, indeed, approve of those few lines–you could be reading my mind. By the way, please know that I would be honored to publish a “guest” post from you if you would like to share any of your poems with us from time to to time. I have a relatively small following, probably somewhere between thirty and fifty regulars, but I know there are those among them who would enjoy it.
Let me know.
In the meantime, I’m still working on what one might be inclined to do with that mule…
The lines of your poem remind me of Walt Whitman’s ‘When I Heard The Learned Astronomer’ and ‘Animals’. Beautifully said.
One of my most cherished memories is that of the crickets of my youth. We don’t have them much anymore up here in Seattle except for once, two summers ago. A single cricket created a small musical asterisk in an otherwise still summer evening, and for two nights running kept me company as I took a chair, sat outside, and listened very contentedly while he serenaded me with his little song.