Sound & Color & Escape

By  |  July 12, 2018
Photo by Timo Maier on Unsplash Photo by Timo Maier on Unsplash

The Glimmering Hush


My spring book tour for Whiskey & Ribbons took me to North Carolina, where I was to read in Raleigh and Chapel Hill and speak on two panels at Greensboro’s inaugural book festival. On our drive from our home in Louisville through Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, it rained buckets, the robotic voice of our rental car reminding us there were flash flood warnings seventeen miles away, sixteen miles away, fifteen miles away. It rained so hard during and after my event in Chapel Hill that people hung around the bookstore waiting out the storm. The rain was loud and I love that sound because it’s a God-sound. Clean.

Home is usually my quiet place, my sanctuary, but in early June, our neighborhood was very loud. Construction on a house across the street started (too) early in the morning and continued well into the afternoon. Nonstop beeping, scraping, grinding, sawing, truck tumult—everylittlebit of imaginable construction noise, on top of the normal lawnmower/weed-whacking sounds. Also, one night, for an unknown reason, a huge military plane circled the edge of our neighborhood for hours. A helicopter, too. We don’t live directly under a flight path so hearing engines overhead, while not entirely uncommon, isn’t something we have to deal with all day every day. And just when we’d think the plane was gone, it’d come back again. It was so loud, the constant droning hum would vibrate our house. There was no escape. I’m a hilariously light sleeper, so I knew I’d get no rest until the plane and helicopter flew away for good. It can be truly difficult to escape noise sometimes. Where do we go when we feel the desire to get away—from the noise around us, of all strains and stripes? From the news cycle? From the noise in our heads? From the panic?

While we were waiting for my daughter’s eighth-grade graduation to begin, I had a moment of panic. It’d been an anxious day, and had it not been my daughter’s commencement, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave the house at all. In our seats before the ceremony in the packed middle-school gym, music suddenly blared from enormous speakers—concert-level loud. When I realized that it wasn’t a mistake, that the music would remain at that ridiculously mind-numbing level until the ceremony began, I started to cry and had to focus on my breathing. My husband suggested that we leave our seats and step outside, but I didn’t want to give up our places and start all over again in that crowd. So we stayed there and I was miserable and overstimulated until the music was turned off, until the ceremony began. I wouldn’t have missed it. We are wildly proud of our children, of who they are, of what they do (our daughter won the highest Principal’s Award), but it was hard for me to settle my brain and heart, surrounded by so much noise.

A few weeks after my book events in North Carolina, my family and I went back there, this time to the coast. To rest. No book events, no work. Just beach. We rented a small, pretty house on the water. The island was exactly what I needed to escape and to listen to the quiet and the nature noise, too. Ocean storms. Rain, wind, and algebraic grumbles of thunder. The sound of making dinners in our beach house kitchen, of cheering the FIFA World Cup, of playing board games as a family, watching the hot-pink sun hiss out across the sky and rise again against the blue. I loved sleeping with the screens open, the waves sighing all night under the crescent moon, the cicadas rattling every morning without fail at five-thirty. There was a bird feeder on the deck of the house and red-winged blackbirds would announce their visits—little bottle rockets with their sweet, glassy calls. They’d eat—alongside the wonder and color of painted buntings, house finches, brown thrashers, pigeons, and cardinals—from a wooden box filled with black oil sunflower seeds and millet. Those bird sounds: coos and shiny beeps, the clip of pecking; the tiny sandpipers and the soaring pelicans constantly scanned the sand and rough saltwater for food. The pelicans flew so low, I could hear their flapping wings. 

I needed that time, that quiet in nature, all of it, although yes, nature-quiet can be quite loud. But nature sounds soothe me, even the loud ones. So whenever I can, escaping from the man-made noise is how I relax. It’s also how I like to celebrate. And as we leaned into summer, as the days got longer and the light stretched out more and more, there were a lot of things to celebrate! In June, Whiskey & Ribbons was both longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and featured in O, Oprah’s magazine. My birthday is in July. Also, in July, I was headed to Wisconsin to read at the Eaux Claires Music Festival founded by Aaron Dessner of the National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

In the spring and summer, I make a habit of sitting on our deck in the mornings and as far into the afternoons as the Kentucky sun, heat, humidity, allergies, and mosquitoes allow. I also like to sit up in the treehouse in our yard that my husband built for our children—but he and I love and use it too—with my books and my fizzy strawberry pop. And my little family and I usually venture back out after dinner to skateboard, bike, and read in the crepuscular light. It’s become an accidental ritual of ours, heading out to what we call “the sunset spot” after dinner—a nearby, quiet open space/farmland/parking lot where there’s a lot of sky and green. The school year is over, so we have more time as a family in the evenings to laze.

One night a few weeks ago, while my husband and son had zipped a bit away from us on their skateboards, my daughter and I were alone and reading together when suddenly she put her book down and slipped off her shoes. She ran into the open grassy field and dipped in wide circles, her arms spread out like an airplaneMy daughter starts high school in the fall, but in that moment she was my little bird, my baby girl again. I put my book down and took my sandals off and joined her because I look for moments like that, always. And I never want to miss them. They happen when they happen and only then. This is how I’m present and how I escape at the same time. I think of Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes brightly singing a new world hangs outside the window, beautiful and strange at the beginning of “Sound & Color.” And later, life is sound and color; love is sound and color. I think of the color of sounds, the sounds of colors. Things both tangible and intangible. I think of the Weepies singing we are always living in twilight over and over again—a plea, a prayer to hang on. An acknowledgement regarding how anyone can feel when it’s getting dark and too hard to see, how we all can be rendered blind in crepuscular light. But! Our eyes adjust too! And that’s magic and beauty and hope—a God-light. Clean. After my daughter was finished running and spinning, she said “this is my favorite light.” And I told her, it’s easily my favorite light, too.

  

The Glimmering Hush Playlist: July


“The Glimmering Hush” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By

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Leesa Cross-Smith has been a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She is the author of Every Kiss a War and the novel Whiskey & Ribbons. She lives and writes in Kentucky.