The sounds of (almost) silence

Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise?

Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Walking in the dark and drizzle to the mailbox tonight, I had a few minutes to reflect on the relative silence of where we live (just passing 2-months).


I say “relative silence” because I realize it is all relative.


The level of noise at our new home is silence relative to that of where we used to live. The din at that apartment – with the freeway was audible even inside with the doors and windows closed – was still like the dead of night compared to the corner of 3rd and Mission in San Francisco.


And none of them compare to the pure silence of being in the middle of nowhere. Or high up in a mountain forest. Or in a dry river valley.


Nature has levels to silence that we can only dream of. They’ve become frightening and alien to us. We have so much noise in our lives that we have to use noise to cancel noise with things like iPods while riding a busy BART train or simply talking in a quiet room. Do you know how active noise canceling headphones work?


And each of us have our own levels of silence or noise we can withstand.


I find myself more and more craving silence. Deeper and deeper silence. I had originally thought of our new home as being very quiet, but within days of moving in, I caught every sound – every creak of the building, every noise of our neighbors, the rain on the roof – to the point that I have to sometimes remind myself of how much more silence (more nothing?) I have now from where we were just a few months ago.


And then I had to wonder how it is that I can spend most of my Saturdays in San Francisco – on the busy streets, in the museums, in the stores and public parks – without going crazy?


I don’t know the fine point where I tip from being able to bear a noise to it being too much. I’ve reached my limits, but it happens quickly and it’s from things like airplane engines and stadium crowds. Where do I tip? And is it a function of pure volume or does it include other factors such as length of time I’m exposed to the sounds?

Or is it not really the sounds but some kind of bank of silence I draw upon?


I don’t know. Maybe I won’t ever. It’s pretty clear, though, that my dreams from my youth of moving into Manhatten or San Francisco or Chicago were probably better left unfulfilled.

They just don’t have enough of the nothing. They have too much sound in their silence.


(Want something else to muse on? Think about what silence looks like to you. Get specific. I’ll be my silence looks different than yours.)


Copyright 2013 by T. E. Wilson



4 responses to “The sounds of (almost) silence

  1. Pingback: Journaling: “I want to live…” | Below Zero | Above Infinity·

  2. Pingback: terrestris | Below Zero | Above Infinity·

  3. Silence would be like a warm sunny day with a light breeze. Or a snorkel dive to my depth in warm ocean water. But with constant tinnitus in my left ear for over 40 years and now in my right ear for the last 2 years I am not likely to have silence in my lifetime. But it is nice to dream about it.

    • That is exactly what I meant about how your silence would look different than mine. To me, being underwater – whether snorkeling or SCUBA diving – is a very noisy environment. But I was never able to find comfort in it, so it makes sense that the sounds of that silence would also not be comforting.

      I’ve read that tinnitus happens to most everyone – to a degree. For example, in the quiet of a tent in a campground, I can hear a constant buzz or hum which I couldn’t hear when I was young. This is likely both a result of aging and of damage to the delicate vibration-sensing hairs in my ears which has occurred over time. That doesn’t make it any better and there are some researchers who’ve found that it’s not actually the damaged hairs that are the problem but the brain not knowing how to process the lack of input when the hairs stop working properly. I heard a fantastic KQED or NPR program a year or two ago on tinnitus which included a segment where some people have found relief by finding something that puts off nearly the same tone at their tinnitus and then listening to that sound. If I remember, it provided temporary relief, but repeating the treatment resulted in another period of relief. Unfortunately, I can’t find the program online. If I do, I’ll post a link to the recording or transcript.

leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s