Hello Silence, My Old Friend

After a stretch of days that nudged up to and hit the 100-degree mark, (complete with good old Maryland humidity), we’ve hit a patch of lower temperatures–80s by day, 60s by night.

I use window units to the cool the house, so I’m only cooling where I am, when I’m there, and only when the discomfort has become unbearable. As much as possible, I make do with just a fan. Now that we have a break in the weather, I notice the cool–oh, boy, do I–and the difference in the light because of the lower humidity and the fact that I’m keeping doors open all day.

I also notice the quiet. No roaring box fans, no AC clicking on and off, and back on. The house is what I consider “normal” again, so quiet I can hear the florescent bulbs in the kitchen and every bird tweeting in the yard. Every car that goes by is a ripple across the pond of my quiet.

Quiet is good for us, and may constitute a large part of the benefit of mindfulness mediation. Noise, by contrast, is bad for us, and most definitely makes the list of reasons why open office plans are a false economy, large classrooms can be tougher learning environments, and sleep patterns become erratic. This is true even if it’s quiet when you go nighty-nighty. If your day was noisy, your mind can stay noisy long afterward.

My dear mother was not as attached to quiet as I am. She would play morning radio for company, or a classical music station in the evening. She was home alone by the hour, and sound helped her feel less isolated. She needed light though–natural sunlight, if at all possible. She thrived in homes that had many large picture windows, and arranged her surroundings to take advantage of the sunlight.

Turns out, natural light is full of benefits. Given a choice, most people will seek natural lighting over the artificial kind, and if they can find some natural light, they will be happier, more productive, and calmer. Homes full of natural light are less likely to be plagued with mold and mildew, students who have naturally lit classrooms will enjoy better academic performance. Young children who spend time in natural light are less likely to end up nearsighted.

My mom needed a tidy house, I need a house where I can see my stuff, or I’ll forget what I have (this is typical of visual thinkers). I need flowers too, which also bring a surprising load of benefits with them, from enhanced problem-solving and creativity, to improved mood.

What is your ideal environment? What are your environmental non-negotiables? Is there a way to have more of what makes you thrive, and less of what blights your joy? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed ARC of My One and Only Duke.

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18 comments on “Hello Silence, My Old Friend

  1. 1
    Susan Gorman says:

    I am sitting on my back deck with my corgis Molly (almost 13) and Laci (1). Molly and I are listening to the birds and enjoying the morning sun. Laci is chewing on her bone and watching for chipmunks.

    I love the peace & quiet– no tv, neighbors lawn mowers, cars buzzing down the street.

    Sitting on the back deck on the weekends is my non negotiable. I need to relax, read and play with my dogs.

    I am going make an effort to sit outside or play fetch with Laci after
    work during this break in the weather. She needs the training and I need the time to myself.

    I need to figure out a better way to spread out my vacation time I think I should take more long weekends to recharge. I need to get back to dog class- I enjoy class and my friends. And I need to walk at lunch- walking in this hot weather was not enjoyable.

    Thanks for problem solving and helping me get back in track!
    Enjoy the break in the weather!

  2. 2
    Mary T says:

    I live alone and I like it. I’m at peace with my own company. There have been times over the years when I have lived with others (friends or relatives). When that happens, I find that if I don’t get a certain amount of time alone, I get real cranky.

    Natural daylight is important to me too. From early Spring through late Fall you will fine me sitting on my front porch, with hot coffee or iced tea enjoying the birds, bees, and neighbors. And I love my flowers. I can’t have them in the house because my cats will have them torn apart and strung all over the place.

    I’m not that big on absolute silence. I usually have the TV or radio on in the background, although I’m usually not paying attention to it.

  3. 3
    Make Kay says:

    Yup, I need natural light. I love opening all the windows in the house- it elevates my mood immediately.
    I also love the sound of water. A babbling brook, the sea, or a fountain if there’s nothing natural available. So Soothing!!

  4. 4
    Teenie Marie says:

    I need my own bathroom. In a houseful of men, that seems like a no-brainer but even before we could afford a house where I could have my own bathroom, I carved out a space that was just mine. I do share a bathroom in this house with Hubby but begrudgingly.

    I need the ability to eat outside when it’s nice out. A patio or deck or porch with chairs and a table. I love to eat outside and grill or bring my fried chicken or a sandwich. Makes me feel good even when it’s snowing. I look forward to the time when we are able. Every weekend in summer, we eat outside and I love it.

    A sunny kitchen is a must…..it doesn’t have to be sunny in the morning just sunny sometime during the day. My present kitchen is not sunny in the early morning but as the morning progresses, it is.

    Silence is helpful to me as a musician and there are a couple places where I can get it, no matter if the AC is on or not. I can reboot my ears and I need that if I am preparing a score.

    My garden makes me happy even in the winter and I need that!

  5. 5
    Bonnie says:

    When I’m reading, I like absolute quiet so I can focus totally on the book. For everything else, I need background noise (usually in the form of music) or I go bonkers. As far as light, when it’s daytime, all the blinds / curtains are wide open to allow all the light possible inside, but at night everything MUST be totally closed. When I see homes on tv, where certain windows have no coverings, it makes me twitchy, but I guess that’s just my idiosyncrasy.

  6. 6
    Bri Adams says:

    Ms. Burrowes, I thought of you this morning, and here is this lovely musing you wrote for us. I think I am a few years ahead of you, age wise. My home, growing up, had the light coming in the windows and the music playing on the radio, early to late. My mother was constantly in motion at home when she was not working; five kids, two dogs, and two cats, certainly created many things to be addressed. My home as an adult is, surprisingly again, like yours, with things arranged so that I can see them. I was surprised to see you mention this and I fully admit to being a visual person. Putting things in transparent containers or organized in a similar fashion has certainly increased my effectiveness and decreased my frustration and anxiety. I’m in Texas, with fans blowing, and the house is much quieter than where I grew up. Sometimes music plays from the lists I have on my computer, but the music is certainly not constantly on. My mind requires quiet except for the birds outside and the dogs talking. Those I enjoy, at all times. My housekeeping is done on the Flylady system, or I would fall behind forever (no joke) and feel guilty. I finally got a little house with a pretty large backyard and it has certainly improved my quality of life, as well as that of my animals. If I could safely leave the front and back doors open in the early morning and late evening, I would. I need the fresh air flowing through the house. Making things and being available to others in some way, greatly enhance the beauty of my days. The days I do those things contrast sharply with the days where I do not. Once I noticed that, I make sure to spend some time where it really matters, not letting the mundane overtake my days. *** The Heir was the book that introduced me to you. I was touched by the emotive quality of your work and have since enjoyed many more of your books. *** Getting back to why you entered into my mind this morning…I woke up thinking of the many young families who are having to relocate from the west coast, due to ever increasing financial pressures. I suspect it is probably serendipity that is keeping you where you are at the moment. If this next decade is as financially challenging as they indicate it will be, you are exactly where you need to be; and your daughter and son-in-law may end up close to you, in the next few years. So, hold the course, save as much money as you can, and we shall see what happens. I wish you a beautiful week, house fans (short and tall) that do their job faithfully and effectively, and many small moments of joy. Thanks for all of your good work, both in your “real” job, representing children, and in your second “real” job of writing. Your work brings joy to many of us, whom you will never meet. Be assured your efforts positively impact our lives in unexpected ways with your lovely insights and your beautiful words. Just keep walking forward. The housing question, along with many other decisions will work out. We cannot know the future, yet we must plan and prepare. I had to laugh just now at occurred to me how often life has worked out problems I have encountered, but in ways that were no where near how I imagined they would be resolved. Whew! I think we all experience those little (and big) twists and turns in life. I believe your karma is good and strong, and that it will return to you with blessings. May you live long, prosper, and have much happiness. I’m not posting for a book, I just wanted to share my morning musings with you. Thank you for yours.

  7. 7
    Celeste P Meehan says:

    My mom always had music playing when I was a kid – Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Perry Cuomo, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, etc. As she got older, she had the TV on for company quite a lot. My husband is also into noise – TV on, him singing or whistling, videos playing on his iPad, Amazon Echo at the ready – “Alexa, play John Philip Sousa marches!” – LOL (and here I am, laughing loudly!) But the older I get, the less I like noise. I never put the TV on, and listen to music at home only on occasion. The only place I absolutely must have music on is when I’m driving. My Kindle books and garden are my happy places at home, nice & quiet! But I’ve become a master at blocking out noise so I can at least relax with my husband at night while he watches TV, while I’m immersed in an historical romance… 🙂

  8. 8

    My ideal environment is where I am now It was a long time coming but boy do I thank my lucky stars that I found this little haven at the edge of a small seaside town.I realised something about myself when I was searching for a place to retire and that is I am a edge person!,that means I like to live close to a few people near to some small shops ,park ,walking paths and transport links but not in the middle of noise and business and people rushing here there and every where often not noticing each other my space being on the edge gives me the freedom to choose when and if I want to become involved or stay on the edge and bide.It is peaceful,calm and I meet a lot of like minded people.I’ve done my time working many many years in the care sector and mental health and gave all I had but now it’s a time loaned to me to enjoy my finale of my life choose carefully your swan song it only comes around once.Get the best out of it and feel good about yourself be happy and smile more it certainly is contagious we may duck out of the hustle and bustle of it all but we still need people around no man is an island or a woman come to that.It’s very HOT here in the UK we are all frazzled and a bit touchy but let’s smile it can’t last much longer!!!.

  9. 9
    Hilary says:

    I was recently discussing this exact topic with my son. We went on vacation and stayed in a hotel that was right next to a convention center. For two days and two nights, a techno music convention was happening at the convention center and loud music was playing 24 hours a day. It was a nightmare environment for all the members of my family and we were all grumpy and on edge. After our vacation, we returned home to find that our entire neighborhood has suddenly become obsessed with fireworks and have been firing them EVERY NIGHT for two weeks. All these noise issues have been difficult for my son. His anxiety is higher than ever, he can’t get adequate sleep, and his grumpiness is off the charts. He gets that from me. I much prefer quiet and solitude to loudness and constant chatter. Disruptions to my usual quiet life can throw me for a loop and definitely affect my mood. Quiet is a requirement for me on a daily basis, but solitude is a luxury I don’t get to indulge in as much as I would like. Summer time with two kids out of school doesn’t leave much room for solitude.

  10. 10
    CarolW says:

    I was born and lived in northwest Iowa for 40+ years. I didn’t recognize the impact of the long grey winters which led me to sleeping as long as possible (up to14 hours a day) until 1989 when we moved to Phoenix – often referred to as the Valley of the Sun. Or at this time of year, the locals may use the Land of the Burning Bird or the Surface of the Sun. Although I acknowledge the realities of our extreme heat (our high on Thursday was 115 which was actually one degree short of the record for July 5), I find the desert sunlight energizing. I have learned to mitigate the heat while maximizing the positives of bright sunlight and blessedly dry desert air.

  11. 11
    Sarah says:

    I need quiet, to the degree that I will wear ear plugs around the house even when alone to block out all of the ambient noise of the neighborhood. If I don’t get alone time everyday, I also start to get agitated very quickly. Traveling with others can be a challenge because of it, but I wrangle alone time as much as I can with a husband and kids in the same small space following the same schedule.

    Flowers really are incredible, I love having a long lasting bouquet on the kitchen table. If I had a green thumb I might try growing a flower garden but as it is, I just admire the shrubs when they are in bloom.

  12. 12
    Glenda says:

    Not surprisingly my ideal work and home environments are different – but not as different as they might be. I am one of those people who need light whether I’m at work, at home, or even driving (I leave the ‘moon’ roof open so I have a in car skylight). I prefer natural lighting by far and if I could chage only one thing in my home it would be to add natural lighting either with more windows or sky lights. I work retail and love that my store has a ton of windows and sunlight. When I’m home alone, more often than not there is no TV on and my activities determine whether I’ve got music on – when I’m cleaning house a peppy tune or 2 help keep me moving quickly. The rest of the time, I likely won’t have anything playing. At work we have music playing all day. I am able to tune it out much of the time – especially when helping customers. The most important thing about home environment is that my home is not a home without a pet or 2 or more – that part is not negotiable.

  13. 13
    Marianne says:

    My environment needs to be open, climate controlled and ideally, provided with more than one escape hatch. I appreciate quiet, so the blights in my environment are backhoes, chain saws and lawn mowers. This time of year you can add crows, pheasants and mosquitoes. I will sit and listen to anything that’s on, so I limit that somewhat. If I don’t like it, I will be analyzing why. I tend to read the same way.

    Wishing you enough environmental comfort to stay healthy and happy.

  14. 14
    Anne Egger says:

    Sunlight is not as important to me, I do like quiet.I just got back from a trip to Baltimore, Maryland. I just had a wonderful time. I took the train. It was quite noisy, but in a good way. Every now and again I like a little hustle and bustle. Also , going away for a few days helps me appreciate what I have. I have the best husband in the entire world. I appreciate him letting me travel while he stays home and spoils our cats.

  15. 15
    Chris L. says:

    I’m lucky enough to work in an office with large windows; so, my access to natural light is limitless. In fact, I don’t turn on the overhead fluorescent lights in my office at all unless it’s storming. To me, the light from the overheads is too harsh for the computer work I do, and they make an awful buzzing noise to boot. I control light in my office by task lighting and adjusting the blinds throughout the day. The only downside to my windows is that at certain times throughout the year (insert sun-angle physics here), it gets pretty stuffy between 11 and 3 unless I close the blinds practically all the way. The first time co-workers encounter my set-up, I usually get a funny look. I’ve even been accused of trying to give the impression of not being “in”, though my door is wide open. My ultimate set-up would be an all-glass structure in the middle of my campus’ beautiful woods with all windows instead of walls. I feel like I could get so much more done in such a peaceful setting. As for noise, I do like to have classical music on when I’m trying to concentrate at work. The rhythms help me get in the zone, sharpen my focus, and also drown out all the other office noise.

    Dream Office: https://www.curbed.com/2017/9/15/16298792/sweden-glass-house-72-hour-cabin

    Did you have an enjoyable Fourth of July, Grace?

  16. 16

    I’m a night owl. When the rest of the world shuts down, the phone stops ringing, the traffic sounds die out, and the darkness helps to focus my attention, I am at my most productive. I can’t do this often to remain in synch with my family, but my ideal schedule would run 10 am to 2 am. In other ways, however, I need light. On gray and cloudy days, I light my rooms with the soft bulbs. I try to keep a balance between useful clutter–being able to see my tools and projects–and piles I’ll need to excavate before finding what I need. Most of all, I need to know that at the end of my alone time, I will have my family around he dinner table.

  17. 17
    Gail Nichols says:

    HI MISS GRACE
    I LIKE to have favorite things all around me especially since I have been so sick lately.

  18. 18

    Quiet, moderate temperature, lots of light. I would love to have my cat sleeping on my lap but I create my art standing, moving around. Sometimes I listen to birds or ocean waves. Sometimes political discussions. I don’t answer the phone. I’m in my creative world and I like being alone there.