Silence or Surround-Sound
--Guest Post by Carolyn Rose
How do you do your best work? While tapping your toes to the Motown beat? Howling along with Howlin’ Wolf? Listening to the slosh of the washer and the whisk of the dryer? Monitoring the kids’ conversations? Talking back to Talk Radio or keeping an ear cocked for that recipe for cheese and cantaloupe soufflé “coming up next” on a TV interview show?
Or do you require silence to concentrate?
I used to think I did.
In fact, I insisted on my own office space, a floor above my husband’s and at the opposite end of the house. Mike, who is the co-author of our cozy mystery series set in the fictional Oregon coast town of Devil’s Harbor, likes music, lots of it. His office shelves hold at least 300 CDs and he’s got a TV, a piano, and a pool table in his space.
After a long career on the air at radio stations in three states, he’s lost a lot of his high-end hearing, so he tends to crank the dials up. The Spinal Tap musicians who had amps that went up to 11 have nothing on him. When noise leaked up the stairs—as it did almost daily—I’d snatch up the intercom and carp at him to keep it down.
The more I became obsessed with my need for silence in order to write, the more I blamed everything and everyone else for my lack of progress.
And then one day, frustrated because my latest novel was not only going nowhere but not even making good time in the process, I sat and listened, really listened.
And I found out that silence—at least in my office—is anything but silent.
First, I heard the breathy hum of the computer and the clicking of the keys beneath my fingers. I heard myself swallow. I heard my stomach rumble and a crackling sound in my sinuses as I drew in air.
A jet flew over, the roof creaked as the sun warmed it, and outside the window a bird skittered along the patio roof. A neighbor cranked up his lawnmower and another revved the engine of his truck. Someone trundled a garbage bucket down to the street. A dog barked and a woman called for it to come. A squirrel jumped from branch to branch in the pear tree. A jay complained that I hadn’t filled the feeder.
After a few minutes, I tuned out those noises and listened more intently to the words spoken inside my head by my characters and, beyond that, the sounds created inside my mind by my imagination—the cheese puffs calling out from the fresh bag “hidden” in the closet above the refrigerator, the chocolate pudding easing past its expiration date, the last cranberry muffin shivering in a plastic bag at the back of
Suddenly, I was awash in a sea of sound. Waves of sound rose higher. An undertow of noise pulled me down.
I clamped my hands over my ears, but the surf sucked me under. I heard skin rub on skin, my tongue rasping against my teeth. I heard the thud-thud-thud of my heart pumping, the suck of air in my lungs.
These tiny sounds grew louder, reverberated, resonated, resounded.
I leaped up, turned on the TV, then dug an ancient boom box from the closet, slapped a Rolling Stones CD into the slot, and began singing along with Mick and the guys.
In a few minutes, I’d drowned out the sound of what I’d thought was silence.
In a few more minutes my fingers were tapping out the rhythm of “Start Me Up.” Words stutter-stepped onto my computer screen. I filled a page. I filled another.
A figure loomed in the doorway and my husband raised an eyebrow.
“Silence,” I shouted over the music, “is vastly overrated.”
Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She teaches novel-writing in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.
She is the author of Hemlock Lake, Consulted to Death, Driven to Death, and Dated to Death, and the co-author of Sometimes a Great Commotion, The Big Grabowski, The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, and The Hermit of Humbug Mountain.
Visit her virtual home at www.deadlyduomysteries.com