The Sound of Silence

I don’t like loud or repetitive noises. In fact, a lot of sounds bother me, regardless of their volume. I especially dislike electronic devices, household appliances, and toys that beep, buzz, or talk unnecessarily. I have disabled the sound-making capability of just about everything in my house that I can. I mute videos on social media. I’m one of the few people I know who can sit in the car for hours without the radio on without even noticing that it’s been turned off.

When my daughter was a toddler, I took the batteries out of her talking Cookie Monster toy and told her it was broken. I still feel kind of badly about it, but I was a stay-at-home mom who was often alone twelve or more hours a day while my husband was at work. It was either a quiet Cookie or a nervous breakdown.

I even removed the whistle from our tea kettle, which drives my husband crazy. “How am I supposed to know when it’s boiling?” he asked. “When a lot of steam comes out of the spout,” I said. “You just have to watch it.”

I’ve always been this way. A couple of years back, I learned that there’s a name for my supersenstivity to sounds, an issue I also have with bright lights (I’ll save this for another post): sensory processing sensitivity or SPS.

Sensory processing sensitivity is an inherited trait, just like being tall or having blonde hair. People who have SPS are born with hypersensitive nervous systems. SPS is one of the traits common among highly sensitive people, of which I am one.

One of the most problematic issues my SPS causes is an aversion to the sound of my own voice. I don’t usually notice it if I’m having a conversation with someone because most of the time I’m concentrating on what the other person is saying. But I have a real problem with things like public speaking and reading aloud.

When I was in school, the issue was most noticeable in my foreign language classes. I always did well on written exams and homework, but could hardly ever bring myself to say anything out loud. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to effectively learn to speak French even though I’d really like to.

My second novel, The River Is Everywhere, will be published this March. Among the things I need to do to market the book is plan author readings at bookstores and libraries, events that will require me to both engage in public speaking and read aloud. Although I know how important these types of events are, I’m dreading having to do them.

I’ve asked other authors I know for advice regarding this, and most of them have told me the best thing I can do is practice reading aloud from the book, and keep in mind that anyone who comes to a reading is there because they want to hear what I have to say. This makes a lot of sense, but I know it won’t be easy. Still, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Until then, I’m going to enjoy living and working in my quiet house.

ENP

Traveling Along the River

On August 4, I lost my friend Mario to cancer. He was the third friend of mine to die of the disease this year. His death wasn’t unexpected. He was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer in July 2021, and the last time I saw him, this past April at another friend’s funeral, I barely recognized him. Still, Mario was one of those larger-than-life people you can’t imagine not being in the world.

Without meaning to, Mario became the center of attention in any room he walked into. He was intelligent, talented, had dozens of friends, and a heart big enough to make Santa Claus jealous. I met Mario more than 30 years ago, when I was 18, when we were both freshman in college—kids. We didn’t see each other all the time, but it’s still hard for me to imagine my life as an adult without him in it.

I was in the middle of working on developmental edits for my second novel, The River Is Everywhere, when Mario died. (The book will be released in March 2023 by Vine Leaves Press.) Before sitting down to work on it near the end of July, it had been more than a year since I’d looked at the manuscript. The book’s main character, Ernest, is a 16-year-old high school student who loses his best friend in an accident. He spends much of the story trying to make sense of his friend’s death.

I wrote the book years ago, before any of my friends had cancer, before I could have imagined any of them ever meeting such terrible fates. And yet, when I was re-reading the manuscript, I found myself drawn into Ernest’s world: Here was someone who was dealing with the some of same feelings that I was. The fact that I had made Ernest and his story up didn’t seem to matter at all.

As hard as it was at times to motivate myself to get my butt in the chair, working on the book helped me begin to heal from the loss of my friends in ways I hadn’t expected. At its heart, the novel is a coming-of-age tale and adventure story. When I wrote it, helping readers deal with loss and grief wasn’t one of my intentions.

I suppose that’s one of the things that makes art so important: Often, it’s much more powerful and meaningful than it appears on the surface.

This experience has made me hope that someday The River Is Everywhere might help someone else in the same way it’s helped me.

ENP