Sound Thoughts

When I arrived to the Osage Arts Community, I unpacked, prepared myself for two unstructured months to write, sat down—and watched Mad Men.  It had been a year since my last episode.  Don remarried, Joan had a baby.  So much was happening.

I was alone in the house on the farm, and outside the house there was no one around.  A dark river floated rafts of ice below my room.  Deer startled in the woods, and the loud wind was startling me each night.  Expectations for my writing mounted around me like steep banks, but instead of starting the climb I huddled below and became enraptured with someone else’s story.  That was much easier.

The icy Gasconade River

What I love about Mad Men—what transports me—is that world’s bright, crisp sound.  The show’s every noise is amplified.  A glass clicking smartly on a table.  A stack of papers crackling.  A sigh.  Of course, it’s just the boom mic picking up sound with the efficiency of a lint-roller.  But because the world is portrayed so acutely, the world itself seems sharper.  That’s why I find its fiction so seductive: everything is purposeful.

Silence was the house’s state of repose.  That wouldn’t do.  I played music to disrupt it, hiding still from the gifts the OAC residency offers—solitude, a quiet space for productivity—and gave myself the company of sound.  The silence was intimidating, but easily banished.

Not as easily banished as I thought.  The house was silent when I fell asleep. Or, absent of human noises: wind visited to harass the many windows.  Pipes were always active.  In the mornings, the quiet seemed to accentuate each movement.  Milk sloshing extravagantly.  An almond breaking under a knife.  A spoon knocking against the walls of a mug.  My footsteps.  My own voice as I talked to myself, because I had of course begun talking to myself.  The words were crisper; I could hear my tongue push off the back of my teeth.

For those among us who claim introversion, it’s a special trial when we have to demonstrate it.  Brief solitude disconcerted me.  And silence seems to welcome introspection, even when introspection is not welcome.  But a shade of Mad Men’s auditory allure had appeared in the house where I snapped a carrot in half, and the snapping gave the moment a rich pleasing texture.  The sound was the same, but the silence guided my attention to it.  At this residency, retreating from the usual has already freshened perspective.

Sunset outside the studio
Sunset outside the studio

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