Reflections From The Front Porch
The Sounds of Silence
Written by Darrell Anderson.
Many years ago I played “climb the ladder.” Or maybe the name of the game was “brass ring.” Then again, I think the game was called “Type A.” Aw, I don’t remember anymore. What I do remember is that one day I awakened from this playground and decided to change the rules. There was too much noise in my life.
One of the first things I did was throw away the appointment planner. I couldn’t do that right away cold turkey, so what I did was to stop arranging meaningless appointments. Within a few months I was able to discard the book by atrophy. Thereafter, if I couldn’t remember where I had to be or go then I figured I was overbooked and something was wrong in life. To remember some meetings I would occasionally use those wonderful Post-It notes. The transition went well. For several years now I have not kept a formal written schedule.
Another thing I did was unplug the fax machine. One reason was I had begun a journey of learning to live a more energy-efficient life. I used the fax machine maybe twice a year — why waste electricity? Nowadays I tell the sender to wait 10 minutes, I power up the machine, and away I go. I still use the fax machine as an occasional simple copier machine. Nothing for bulk of course, but for the occasional one copy the fax machine is handy. The rest of the year the machine sits quietly without power.
Next I turned off the telephone answering machines. At one time I had two machines, one for the home phone, the other for the business phone. I disconnected the business answering machine because I really did not receive that many calls on that line. The line was more a “status” symbol than anything else. I remember when I originally had requested a business line, the sales person asked me if I wanted call waiting. You mean callus rudus interruptus? Surely, I was told, I would not want to miss important calls? I told the lady that the only important call I knew of was the individual I was talking to at that moment. If any other call was important that individual would try again.
Eliminating the home answering machine followed. That decision disgruntled maybe two people, but out of 6 billion people, I figure those numbers were wonderful.
What was odd about unplugging the answering machines was the awful realization of admitting that I had been a prisoner of those confounded blinking lights. People see those blinking lights and like Pavlov’s dogs, they automatically run to the machine and press the Play button. What an absurd thought! Yet, no more was I prisoner.
Next I disconnected the business phone. Phone companies require people to pay extra for the privilege of having a business line — um, for the “free” yellow pages listing. Yet, my vocation does not use a phone much and email suffices adequately, so why the expense and extra noise?
I also requested the phone company to provide me an unlisted number. People could still find my number through the operator, but not the phone book. That simple move helped eliminate most unsolicited phone calls, and removed the ability of the phone company to sell my name and mailing address. Wonderful!
A windfall of unplugging the answering machines was that after people realized I had no machine servant to talk to, the silly game of playing phone tag stopped completely. Thus, people actually began to call me less frequently because they knew that if I did not answer the phone that they would have to call again. Many people said to heck with that and stopped calling. I like people, but most phone calls are unimportant.
On some days, when I really want to relax, I unplug the phone ringer too. Talk about a blissful day! Once, I forgot to activate the ringer and went several days without hearing a ring. I have no idea if anybody had tried to call. No noise!
Then I unplugged the TV. I realized I seldom watched the boob tube. I did not have cable, and hadn’t for many years, but I still seldom watched the commercial stations. I always preferred to read. Still, unplugging a TV is a psychological move. I was consciously aware of reducing the amount of noise in my life. The sad part about unplugging the TV is that some people would no longer visit me because the boob tube was no longer available. Odd, but I guess that shows where people place their priorities.
Then the big move — literally. I moved to a rural location. No more damnable 15 inch subwoofers driving by the house. Peaceful bliss! By the way, I built my house (with help from others, of course), but you probably have no idea how pleasant is the sole sound of a hammer in the middle of the woods.
Slowly through this transition of several years, I noticed a change within. I was experiencing less stress. I always had excellent hearing, but I noticed with the reduction in background noise my hearing improved. So much so that often people would think I was playing a practical joke when I told them I heard specific noises. Yet, today I can hear mice scratching through the ground leaves, I can hear birds flying overhead, I can hear slight noises in the house caused by temperature changes. I can sit on my front porch swing and hear nature all around me.
My next effort to reduce noise was not actually trying to eliminate physical noise but internal noise — distractions. I stopped using credit cards and bank checking accounts. The freedom that comes from such a decision is difficult to explain. Yet, I no longer had to play the reconciliation game every month. I did not have to worry about identity theft. I did not have to worry about compartmentalizing my life using double-entry bookkeeping. I did not have to worry about keeping receipts or check stubs. All of that simply went away. I know I never will convince many people to make a similar move, but the liberation is indescribable.
I eliminated other distractions by declaring war on junk snail mail. To this day I rarely receive junk mail.
Next the alarm clock was relegated to a role of emergency use only. I did not concern myself with what time I went to bed or awakened.
The noise battle continued. I hated the noise my computer generated. Between the hard drive and cooling fans I often felt as though I might as well live next to an airport. I began to study the problem, spending hours online researching ideas and products. I finally decided to update my aging system with some new components rather than buy an entire new system. I installed a rheostat in series with the power supply cooling fan to drop the fan voltage and eliminate that noise. I bought a new Seagate Barracuda hard drive. That drive was so quiet I had to watch the computer screen because I did not think the system was operating. I also updated my old Pentium-MMX with a K6-III+. I added a 92mm chassis cooling fan directly over the new CPU and added some voltage dropping resistors to slow the speed of the fan. I have excellent hearing and can barely hear my system operating. Other people hear nothing.
The desire for silence was not over. I sold my oversized refrigerator-freezer and purchased a smaller model. The new model was more efficient and quieter, and of course, consumed less electricity. I had shopped hard looking for a model with the older design of cooling coils located on the back of the appliance rather than on the bottom. Those models with the coils on the bottom also came with external cooling fans — more noise. However, the smaller appliance was not enough. I have an open design in my house and kitchen noise leaks into the living room. I built a noise barrier wall to partially block refrigerator noise, and then plugged the appliance into a timer so that in the evening during my reading hours I would be blessed with absolutely no refrigerator noise. I cannot describe four solid hours of reading with absolutely no noise.
Noise can be a terrible thing. Noise is distracting, stressful. Yet, with some simple and straightforward changes, my life became more enjoyable. Much more. The only time I now tolerate noise is when operating the chain saw, or lawnmower or wood saws; but hearing protection resolves those issues.
Slow down. Smell the roses. Listen to the flowers growing.
There were side benefits from eliminating the noise. My thinking skills improved. I learned to listen to myself. Unlike many people I have known, I have no compulsion whatsoever when I enter my home to immediately turn on the radio or TV. I have no reason to run to the answering machines to look for messages. I do not get into my pick-up truck and power up the radio. I never feel like a steel ball in a pinball machine. I can sit on my front porch and do nothing but watch the birds, chipmunks, or deer and feel absolutely no duress to do anything. I know who I am and where I am going. I am at peace and I’m comfortable with my person.
I am free.
Regardless of what happens in this world, I know that I am free. The world can steal my home, steal my truck, steal my money, steal my clothes; but they never can take me. They can imprison me and throw away the key, they can even take my body. Yet, I am and always will be free.
That does not mean all is well in this world. All I am declaring is that the world no longer distracts me. I still grieve about what I see around me, but without the noise I have become an individual who still can be at peace. I know I am free because I have stopped the noise. I can hear my freedom and liberty.
The world might fall completely to pieces all around me. Yet, like a cartoon, when all the dust settled all would be gone but I would be standing. Or, more than likely, still sitting on my porch swing.
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