The Glimmering Hush
My anxieties surrounding the book tour for my debut novel, Whiskey & Ribbons, aren’t the usual ones, like nervousness about reading in front of people or stressing over whether or not anyone will show up. I’m comfortable with public speaking and have gotten used to it from doing it so often (in addition to years of theater training). And I love a small crowd as much as a large one. What I worry about is: where will I find quiet? The kind of quiet I need for my mental health? For my heart?
Some of my favorite things like baseball, reading, writing, and birding depend heavily on quiet, patience, and remaining still. Slowing down. (Are they my favorite things because they are quiet or because I am?) I will be writing about these practices of attentiveness in my installments of The By and By. I will be writing about seeking and finding calm and the quiet music I listen to along the way. Not pure silence, not total darkness, but some diminishment, still sweetly perceptible. A hush, glimmering.
I think often of escaping from noise. Wherever I am, I like to sit by windows, doors. I like knowing how to get away when I need to get away. I’m easily startled and I hate loud sounds. I don’t mind natural loud noises like thunder or rain or wind; I love the deep rattle of a summer storm, the drip and birdsongs afterward in rainbow light. There is a cocky rooster a couple houses down from us and I love hearing him—that’s a Kentucky, country kind of quiet I love. Can I find the away-from-the-city, Kentucky quiet I’m used to when I’m in a busy urban area like Atlanta? Virginia? North Carolina? South Carolina? Arkansas? Tennessee? Anywhere? Everywhere?
When it comes to noise, it’s the unnatural, manmade kind that angers, irritates, and startles me, that sends me running. Lawnmowers, garbage trucks, leaf blowers, constant talking, too-loud commercials, motorcycles, those cars young men seem to love and make loud(er) on purpose, etc. My husband uses a push mower when he cuts our grass; it makes a gentle tick-clicking sound as it passes over our yard.
My phone makes zero noises. I only get push notifications from my baseball app. My phone doesn’t ring or vibrate or beep at me. I don’t need it to. I look at it when I want to look at it and until then, it is invisible. Quiet. (My husband’s phone is always on silent and our children don’t have smartphones.) Once I asked our children a question I found on a parenting quiz that read what is one thing Mommy says most often? Both of them replied: it’s too loud. That’s something I say a lot: it’s too loud. It, meaning almost everything.
We live in a loud world and noise is unavoidable. I don’t expect to go out into society and encounter much in the way of natural calm at the coffee shop, the grocery store, the gas station, the school our children attend. But when I fear the world is going to be too loud for me, I choose to stay home. I carry earplugs with me and I put them in when I’m sitting in carpool—when the car behind me is playing music too loudly or when someone is speaking at a high volume on their phone. I don’t think these people do these things on purpose and everyone is different. They obviously don’t mind it. But to me? Most things are too loud.
So I think often of escaping, not to a place necessarily but to a state of mind. I listen to quiet music, I watch quiet movies, I read quiet books. That may sound strange, but when I say quiet book I mean a book that allows me to breathe—the book opposite of an action movie. I rarely go to the movie theater because most movies are about overstimulation. Add that to the dark in an enclosed space? A nightmare. I live in a quiet house with no ticking clocks, no ringing phones. When I’m watching TV, I mute the commercials. When our children were small, we didn’t buy them loud toys or toys that made much noise at all. When my parents gifted our children a noisy toy—a monster truck that honked and grumbly idled—we taped up the speaker, to gentle it. It’s a part of my personality, this quiet.
I can’t think or relax when it’s noisy. My body stays on high alert. I don’t enjoy it. I can be quiet for long stretches of time. I don’t need absolute silence; I like to listen to quiet music or have a quiet movie or TV show on in the background. But I don’t need talking. I like being able to hear the birds, my wind chimes, nature-noises. There are hung wooden letters on our living room wall spelling out the word peace. And in an ever-increasingly loud world—the noise of social media, the noise of daily outrage, the noise of political arguments, the noise of the news cycle—I need quiet even more.
As I prepare to set out on my book tour, I have already looked ahead to the quiet sanctuaries I can find or create for myself. I always plan to find parks, bookstores, water, places I can go to be quiet, to feel safe. Sometimes this place is my car or my hotel room. My husband’s job allows him to go with me most of the time when we travel during the week, and my children get educational enhancement school credit for our adventures. We always travel as a family when I have weekend events. Our children are old enough to come to some of my readings, and when it’s something not suitable for them, my husband will take them to the movies or somewhere they can run wild.
My husband and I have chosen to live a quiet, slow life because it suits us. He works from home and he and I can be in the house together, working separately, quiet for hours until we stop to have lunch together or chat. Sometimes, my husband will take our children swimming so I can have some quiet time alone. Sometimes, we swim together. I am drawn to water, the blue. We’re cloud people, star people, sunrise/sunset people, sky people—we look up. We search for dark skies, away from light pollution, noise pollution. Our daughter is naturally quiet too, and she and I can sit together comfortably for an absurd amount of time, being quiet. Our son, on the other hand, loves loud noises. He loves hearing them and making them. He likes the volume levels on his video games sky-high, and oftentimes, he likes to see how loud he can be just to annoy his sister. He’s the jokester in our family, so weird, funny sounds make him happy. We give him space to do that outside because it’s good that everyone is different! We just don’t always have to be different in the same room together!
The book tour will be a test. I will be on the search for quiet in these cities, some of which are new to me. I am looking forward to the newness. New landscapes, new-to-me birds to see, new hotels with hot water for tea. Fortunately there are parks and baseball stadiums and gardens almost everywhere. I will find them! I travel with a strand of twinkle lights and lavender oil so no matter where I am or how new things are, a bit of it still feels like home. I will be looking and listening for golden Kentucky quiet, home quiet, wherever I go, taking notes and keeping my heart open to those twinkles, that gold.
The Glimmering Hush Playlist: February
“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” by Sufjan Stevens
“Only Love” by Ben Howard
“Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz
“Learning to Love Again” by Mat Kearney
“Abraham Lincoln” by Holopaw
“Lion’s Mane” by Iron & Wine
“Human Thing” by The Be Good Tanyas
“Water” by Lauryn Hill
“Cranes in the Sky” by Solange
“Greetings in Braille” by The Elected
“The Glimmering Hush” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
Enjoy this story? Subscribe to the Oxford American.