Blog Post #33
Is there anything more indicative of a summer’s night than the constant, rhythmic creaking of crickets? Their wearisome song repeats until my brain flatlines in monotony…Then, suddenly, my ears perk up. The chirping stopped! I hold my breath…waiting. Just when I think the crickets are quite through for the night, the creaking begins anew, picking up the whirring drone exactly where it left off.
The crickets’ song is like many other “white noises” of life,—things one is conscious of, but registers mostly in the inner folds of the mind,—out of sight, and mostly out of mind.
Like so many summers’ nights, I have often found myself lying awake in a state of cricket-droning stupor, where my mind repeats nondescript patterns of thought in a rhythmic, almost locomotive manner—ever chugging onward, but without reaching a destination. When I was in school, mathematical equations and answers to history test questions boarded this train of thought. Later, items related to marriage and children climbed aboard. Recently, my mind dredged up from its long-forgotten annals the words and melody of the lullaby *“Hush, Little Baby.” I found myself repeating the lyrics and tune up to the part that goes, “And if that diamond ring…”—which is as far as I ever memorized that song. Over and over I reviewed the lyrics, and like the crickets, abruptly halted at the words “diamond ring,” after which my mind picked up the pattern again, re-playing the lyrics from the beginning with precisely the same result every time.
To make things worse, my poor brain was troubled by the unfinished poetic stanza, and began to search for words that might correctly finish the lyric—but to no avail. After three quarters of an hour of this kind of frustration, my jaded head cried out for relief. I attempted to change the tune, to knock the phonograph needle off its groove and replay it nearer to the end of the record, but it was no use. Like a scratched LP, the needle of my weary brain was stuck in a groove of thought–too tired to resist the white noise patterns of my mind.
This is only one such white noise event that has been replayed in epic proportions for a good many years of my life. Just as the crickets don’t chirp every night, thankfully, neither do these repetitious episodes return every night, but when they do, they lull my poor, tired soul away from rest, and into a holding pattern of unproductive, undesirable, and relentless thought.
White noise is a curious thing, and somewhat fickle in its effects. Sometimes I welcome it, like a soothing friend, and other times, I want to block it out completely. As a rule, it is the kind of sound that I automatically tune out, but other times, it feeds monotonous thoughts. Several of our children have taken to setting up fans in their bedrooms to lull them and their little ones to sleep via white noise frequencies. I have never preferred this practice, but it works for them.
By definition, white noise is “noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities” (Google Dictionary). I might redefine white noise as “noise containing many distractions with equal intensities.”
When I was a little girl, the family sometimes gathered to watch home movies. Daddy had (still has) an old 8mm projector that made a clickety-clack sound—the only sound emanating from that projector, since neither his movie camera nor his projector were “talkies.” We filled in for the audio by remarking about what we thought and felt as the action took place on screen: “Can you believe I wore my hair like that? I look like a poodle! And look at that rag of a ribbon pasted to the back of my head.” “Did you have to film from that angle? I look like the side of a barn in those pants!” “Ha ha! Look at those clothes! So 70s!” “Why are you filming that? It’s just a view of a boat on the water way off in the distance…(ten minutes later)…How long does this go on?…What’s so great about that tiny boat?…When are we going to be in the movie again?” “Aw, look how cute he was.” “I remember that day as if it were yesterday.” No matter how interesting and fun the movies were, in all my days, I could never keep from eventually succumbing to the clickety-clack of the projector. Its ability to knock me out was as potent and as certain as a drug-induced sleep, or a boxer’s jab in the face.
The car has a similar effect. My poor husband, Brad, is a lonely long-distance driver much of the time. The hum and rumble of the motor puts me down for the count in the first round of the trip. Only when the bell rings as the car pulls to a stop at the bathroom (gas station) do I find myself arousing from the sleep of the dead, and walking, zombie-like, into the ladies room. Somewhat refreshed from the stop, I pull my seat into the upright position, and chatter like a squirrel for the next half hour until the persistent rumble begins tugging at my leaden eyelids, causing them to droop over my pupils, which disappear like tiny, hazel suns sinking on the horizon.
There are other forms of white noise that really don’t belong in that classification, but have such similar effects as to wind up tossed, like soiled laundry, into that same categorical bin. One of these has to do with voices. Not all voices, mind you, but certain voices, and only at certain times.
Brad and I,—in an attempt to find the best time to read scriptures aloud together—at one point, settled on just before bedtime. Sadly, this was anything but ideal. I was fine as long as it was my turn to read, but Brad’s low, quiet voice in combination with patterns of writing and speech found in scriptural text had such a soothing, sedating effect, it wasn’t long before I was bagging Zs. If this had only happened once, I would dismiss it, but since it happened, pretty much, every time, I am forced to shelf it right next to the spindle on the spinning wheel that put Sleeping Beauty to sleep.
(Hmm….I think I’ve just had an epiphany! On nights when I lie awake with monotonous, cricket-whirring thoughts, I should wake Brad up and have him read the scriptures to me! Think that’ll go over well?)
We have adorable, precocious, 7-year-old, twin granddaughters who have a lot to say—all the time! Unfortunately, they choose to tell me what they have on their minds at precisely the same time, in precisely the same mode and timbre of speech. Not only do I hear two distinctly different topics at the same time, I hear them in stereophonic sound, at the same shrill pitch, and with the same unrelenting, feverish enthusiasm making it absolutely impossible to understand a word either of them is saying. My mind is thrust into Never Never Land where I never, never hear a word they have to say. This is disconcerting, to be sure. I love these precious little girls, and I want to listen attentively to their thoughts and feelings, but even though I try mightily to focus, and have talked to them about taking turns, they persist in speaking at once, as though it is inconceivably beyond their ability, as twins, to do otherwise.
As a seasoned mother of five, and a home schooler as well, I learned—for the sake of sanity—to tune out the many frequencies of voices that played in full pitch around me. Not all darts of speech were aimed directly at me, but there was always an abundance of them firing off in every direction, containing many varieties of tone, intention, and intensity. There were many occasions when Brad would arrive home from work, and call my attention to what was taking place in the next room. “Cynthia, the kids need your attention. Don’t you hear that?!” he’d say, incredulously. “Hear what?” I’d respond, in oblivious innocence. Honestly, to me, the house was as quiet as a tomb. I had learned to tune-out much of the white noise produced by multitudes of children in active pursuit of learning and fun. (Unfortunately, I had also learned to tune-out children in active pursuit of mischief and disciplinary action.)
Perhaps the most devious of white noises is that which enters the brain via the media—all kinds of media. On a recent shopping excursion, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious and antsy. My fidgetiness escalated until I found myself wanting to run out of the store before finishing the necessary shopping. As I focused my reasoning powers on my growing restlessness, I was able to pinpoint the cause with exactness. It was the piped-in music—loud, confusing, and irreverent—a winning combination for driving away shoppers like me who prefer quieter, upbeat, positive, white noise type of input from a generic source. Most stores, in fact, choose white noise kinds of music—the kind that filters out any negative feelings, (such as fleeing the store!), and encourages positive, money-spending behaviors.
Traveling on a long road trip with our children many years ago as built-in, DVD-player-wannabees, Brad rigged up a small TV set and video player in between the front seats, duct taping the contraption together, as well as to our arm rests to secure it in place. (The TV faced towards the back, of course, placing the speaker next to my head at precisely the level of my ear.) To my chagrin, from my spot in the front passenger seat, the much loved movie, Star Wars, A New Hope turned out to be nothing more than horrendously loud, ear-splitting sound effects blasting their way through the speakers via The Force directly into my left ear. (If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to try a similar experiment next time you make a long road trip. I was surprised at how little dialog there was in this film. Some movies are not to be confused with audio books.)
As far as I’m concerned, most TV noise falls into the white noise category. (It’s actually quite entertaining to turn the sound off and see how silly the actors and action appear without it.) This is not to say that I never find something worth listening to and watching on the TV, but it has become increasingly rare. Frankly, dialog, commentaries, speculation, and sound effects delivered with mind-jarring insincerity, sensationalism, and noise have driven me to tune out all noise originating from the TV as white noise. Whether whispered, or shouted, TV sounds and voice-overs are mostly exaggerated and artificial, while sound effects, as has already been mentioned, have reached brutal decibel levels.
You may be thinking, “Why don’t you just turn off the TV if it bothers you so much?” A legitimate question. I have a legitimate answer. My father, (whom we live with and care for), at 92 and nearly deaf, spends a good deal of his day in front of the TV. His wireless headset is an ear-saver for all of us. However, in order to hear, he must listen at maximum volume, and I can hear every word and sound from virtually every room in the house via the sound leaking out of his headset. It is often hard to tune-out when I sit with him attempting to read. I’d be perfectly content to hear the white noise “snow” in lieu of some of the other more obnoxious and nerve-splitting sounds emanating from the TV. Once you’ve heard white-noise-via-headset-sounds for years, you develop practices for lessening them—such as listening to white noise music via your own headset. Interestingly, as I sit here typing away, with earbuds inserted, and beautiful music serenading, I can still intelligibly hear the TV through Daddy’s headset. Alas, some white noise cannot be completely eliminated.
There is much to be said for white noise. Crickets are often a welcome sound on a summer’s eve. They suggest lazy, long summer days, warm nights, and flinging one’s cares into daydreams. Engine rumblings, clickety-clack projectors and any sound that calms and quiets may be just the prescription for a frenzied mind and weary brain.
Some of my most restful, white noise moments have been enjoyed in the family room on “the red couch” (which all family members refer to as the “sleeping couch”). On a quiet, rainy afternoon, while a passel of grandchildren play with toys that make lovely white noise kinds of sounds,—the clicking of wooden blocks, the rustle of drawing paper, and the scratching of pencils,—and while engaged in happy chatter, the sounds in the room gradually distill into a blend of cozy, comforting bliss, as I slip into a half-awake, half-asleep state of euphoria. This is the best kind of white noise—the kind that cradles you in a subtle, mindless, safe, pleasant trance of peace. The spell can only be broken by an abrupt, non-white-noise sound, such as the slamming of a door, or the blatant ringing of the phone. Or maybe even the unexpected chirp of a cricket.
I wonder….perhaps those crickets repeat their song because they’re trying to remember the words….
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
*I realize that in writing this, I may cause a stupor of thought as to the words of this lullaby in my poor, unsuspecting readers. So as not to keep you in suspense, or lying awake tonight, I am including for you the lyrics to “Hush, Little Baby.”
Hush, Little Baby
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa’s gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa’s gonna buy you a billy goat
And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Papa’s gonna buy you a cart and bull
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover
And if that dog named Rover won’t bark
Papa’s gonna buy you a horse and cart
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.