cynthyb


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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

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“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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Crickets …or Defending–or Fending Off–White Noise

Blog Post #33

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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.

Hush Little BabyLike 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.

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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.

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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
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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.”

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Revere 8mm Projector like the one my father has.

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.

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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.

Voices

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.

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Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

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?)

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Our sweet twin granddaughters

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.

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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.)

Media

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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.

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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.)

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Han Solo’s Blaster from Star Wars

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.

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Television White Noise, also called “snow”

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.

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Summer Evening – Childe Hassam

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.

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Family gathered on the red couch, also known as….

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…the sleeping couch (as ably demonstrated by one of our grandsons)

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.

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I wonder….perhaps those crickets repeat their song because they’re trying to remember the words….

© July 15, 2015

© October 10, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

My First Blog Post EVER!

*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.”

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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.


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My First Blog Post EVER!

This is my first attempt at a blog.

I feel  anticipation–if not a little nervousness–about posting, but here goes!

Blog Post #1: Quiet and Creativity

Have you ever noticed that most of your best ideas come while doing something like taking a shower, drifting off to sleep, or driving alone in your car? In the shower, and that twilight time when I’m between wakefulness and sleep, are the best for me, probably because there are no distractions. In the quiet, or the white noise of the water flowing, my mind becomes a flutter of thoughts and ideas that I must quickly snatch out of the air and pocket before they flit off, never to be thought of again. 

Of necessity, I keep paper and pencil at my bedside and in the bathroom.  In spite of the electronic gadgets that are causing paper clutter to become obsolete, I have sticky notes stacked like pancakes, decorating every flat surface, all over the house. Sticky notes on the mirror. Stickies on my desk. Stickies on my laptop. Stickies on my purse. Stickies on the cover of my Galaxy Note.  Stickies on stickies. It’s ridiculous. Why the stickies? Because these are my best ideas! There’s something of inspiration in some of them. If I don’t write things down, and put them in plain sight, I’ll forget. I don’t want to forget, hoping they’ll bear some rare and precious creative fruit at some future time. 

For me, ideas flow better in quiet times, so I’ve learned to tune out noise. As a mother of five, it was a natural extension of the quest for serenity in a busy life, especially since I home schooled our kids–a creative bunch in their own right. Anyone who has adventuresome kids with many creative outlets, knows that noise is often a natural byproduct of unleashed creativity. 

But kid noise doesn’t compare with adult noise, which may be more difficult to regulate. Ball games, power tools and machines, car radios, hammering, pounding, drilling, and the most invasive: TV noise. We had to find a cure for the perpetual TV racket when we moved in with my virtually deaf ninety-one year-old father. The TV volume had two settings: “off” and “fire engine siren.” You can guess which volume the TV operated at day and night. My father has no real waking and sleeping schedule. Like a baby, he is often wide awake until three, and napping in the middle of the day–the TV (his constant companion) set on “siren.” 

Our family likes to gather at the old “homestead;” when my family is here, we’re twenty-four strong, (not a small group, and not a big house). Being Italian, we know how to make our voices heard one over another, all at the same time. In those first months we were living here, the cacophony of voices had to overtake the sound of the TV for anyone to be heard above the din, so the volume increased until one or the other topped-out at a fever pitch. 

To converse one-on-one with my father is also challenging, since you must repeatedly yell for him to hear you say, “Hood Sue spike the skinner?” Hood Sue spike the skinner?” “HOOD SUE SPIKE THE SKINNER?!” (Translation: Would you like some dinner?He’d follow-up with “Who’s Sue? I don’t know who Sue is.” 

Then! We discovered the invention of the century! Wireless TV headphones! Now, when Daddy dons his headset, he correctly understands what everyone in TV-land is saying. To his ears, however, we still speak a garbled version of English. Especially since he won’t take the headset off to hear what we’re trying to say. I’m still yelling: “DADDY, TISSUE SET A SNUFF?” (Translation: Did you get enough?) We’ve come to grips with never being understood the first time around. Or the second. Or the third. 


But I have to say, those headsets changed my life! The first few days, post head-set purchase, my husband, Brad, and I walked around the house in a stupor of quiet–hearing birdsong outside, and real fire engine sirens blaring on the boulevard a few blocks away. When family members came over, a look of bewilderment immediately registered on their faces. What was this new experience so uncharacteristic of Grandpa’s house? They found a new pastime: making up their own dialog for what was happening on the now mute TV. Much funnier. Much more entertaining. Just as noisy as the siren.

I love being with the family. I love the chatter, the laughter, the sound of children at play, and adults engaged in stimulating conversation. But I also cherish quiet. Being an introverted person, I need quiet from time to time. I purposely turn off the music in the car, mute the volume on the TV (a given), and go for walks without a bluetooth in my ear. I love quiet. I treasure it.

In quiet moments, I have become more keenly aware of the sounds of nature. More importantly, over time, I have learned to fine-tune my thoughts and heart to listen to the whisperings of the spirit–my own, and the Spirit of God, whose voice is a “still voice of perfect mildness.” (Helaman 5:30) It has made all the difference. 


Now, when creative energy surfaces at odd and sundry times–most of which are quiet–I grab my pencil and sticky notes, and clutter up my work space until, one by one, each precious thought and word is recorded for future reflection and use. 

Then, I can finally fall asleep.


© Copyright March 31, 2014