“Silent House”

What does ‘quiet’ mean to you?

This summer, the power went out a few times when vicious thunderstorms flew through the city.  One night I woke up in the midst of one and watched it for awhile (I am both awed and frightened of thunderstorms).  As it moved away and the rumbling faded into the distance, I headed back to bed.  Then the power went out.  It was hot and sticky in the house, so at first I was simply annoyed that I no longer had a fan.  But then I laid in the darkness and noticed the silence in the house.  Gone was the humming of the refrigerator, the whirring of the fan on my laptop, the clattering of the next door neighbour’s air conditioner.

And I HATED it.

I hated it so much that I downloaded a white noise app and put on a fan noise in order to get me back to sleep.  I’d never been so thankful for 3G.

The past couple of months, though, I have craved quiet.  Currently, I am quite sensitive to noise.  It’s been odd but rather refreshing.  Usually I can’t sit in the quiet; I’d need the TV or radio on, even if I wasn’t watching it or listening to it.

Noise affects our bodies in many ways (don’t I know it after the last couple of months).  Consider the noisiness of a bar, which I’ve never been a fan of (mostly because I’d have to yell to the person beside me to be heard):

Did you know that when you are in a bar, all the noise — the clash of glasses, yell of a bartender, and couple fighting in the corner; the jokes of friends, slam of the door, and music jamming from the jukebox — activates our body’s flight or fight system? In response to that, the body wants to do something, anything, to manage the adrenaline that’s pumping through its veins. In this case, that means spend money. Eat more. Get another round.

Grocery stores play slow music to help shoppers relax; the longer customers are in the store, the more money they’ll spend.  We use music and nature noises to help us relax.  I have a couple of relaxation CDs and apps that have soothing music.  Some think listening to Mozart will help them concentrate (although I recently read something that said that theory had been debunked).

Do quiet and silence affect us in the same way, or are they different?  Watch this performance of John Cage’s 4’33”.

Just thinking about it now, my gut reaction is that silence implies discomfort, while quiet is restful and pleasing.  And maybe there’s something to that, because above I unwittingly described the uncomfortable lack of noise in my house when the power went out as ‘silence’ rather than ‘quiet.’

Quiet also seems to connote a sense of relaxation.  The other day I was watching a movie, while using my laptop AND iPad.  While I was ‘quiet’ in the sense that I wasn’t making any noise, my brain was anything but quiet.

If you’ve ever done a Myers-Briggs personality test, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I’m nearly right on the line between being an introvert and an extrovert; I’m a slight extrovert.  Of course this test was done many years ago, but I don’t think this preference has changed much.  The difference between an extrovert and an introvert is where they get their energy from and where they put it.  Introverts are NOT shy or reclusive; they simply spend more time in their inner world.  If you’re an extrovert, these statements apply to you:

  • I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
  • I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
  • I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
  • I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
  • Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.

These ones are more suited to introverts:

  • I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
  • I prefer to know just a few people well.
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

I’m a good mix of both; I suppose I’d be an ‘ambivert.’  While I like being in groups and I’m rather outgoing and boisterous, I definitely need a good amount of solitude to regroup and re-energize.  I think that’s why I like living alone.  After Christmas, I was relieved when I finally had a few days to myself.  I also tend to get lost in larger groups of people.  When I was younger, I spent a lot of time on my own – hours upon hours.  When I was around 4, I was terribly shy; I used to wear sunglasses that I was sure made my invisible to the rest of the world (true story).  I was an introvert.  In university I seemed to unlock the extrovert part of my personality.  These days I wonder if I’m maybe starting to move back towards the introvert part of the spectrum.

Awhile ago I bought Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Ironically, the opening anecdote features the author in a settlement conference at the law office she was working at.  Throughout law school I’ve been taught that you need to get noticed in order to get that great articling position.  You need to sell yourself; get out there and meet people!  That is exactly the opposite of me.  In a large group of lawyers, like a career fair, I prefer to seek out those people like me who are standing around on the sides, as those people tend to be introverts like me.  All of the extroverts are in the middle of the room, schmoozing and making contacts.  They are comfortable in that setting.  I am not.  Cain’s opening anecdote made me a lot more confident that my skills and personality won’t deter me from being a good lawyer; in fact, it may help me.  She also made me realize how much we celebrate extroverts; introverts are usually looked at as odd, lonely and boring.  We’re told that only the bold get ahead in life; law schools help perpetuate this myth.

I haven’t finished Cain’s book, but I think it’s necessary because we live in a world full of SO. MUCH. NOISE.  And it’s not only sensory noise – we’re flooded with information, such as advertisements.  Twitter is too much for me; Facebook with its ads is also getting to that point.  Over the past couple of months I have tried to limit my time with my laptop, etc.  While difficult at first (and yes, I know the  ridiculousness of this admission #firstwordproblems), it was wonderful.  And it still is when I actually do it.  I look forward to those times when I give myself permission to turn everything off.

I spend a lot of time at my parents’ farm.  I go there because it’s quiet.  Maybe quiet time is  something I need to explore and cultivate more of in my life.


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