Tag Archives: quiet

Sweet sleep and ice cream machines: What do you need to create?

It’s almost 4:30 in the morning. I’ve been up since 3:15 when I first heard a little someone who sleeps right beside me in a mosquito-netted travel cot tossing his head from side to side and smacking his lips. Then I heard questing chirps and fingernails clawing at nylon (I’m pretty sure he lives in hope that if he just scrabbles around frantically enough he’s going to find a boob in bed with him one of these days, either that or he’ll manage to dig his way to one). After a couple of minutes of this I got up and gave him what he wanted.

He went right back to sleep afterwards – it’s the only time of day he will reliably go down without a fuss at the moment. I, however, didn’t find it so easy.

Some of the roosters are also awake, neighborhood dogs are having brief and vocal tussles and I can hear rain falling – such an odd sound at this dry time of year. My bad foot aches. I’m hungry for banana bread or brownies or something. (Not fruit, though, or anything else we actually have in the house. No, not that). My mind is busy hopscotching around between blog posts and book tasks and what exactly I might say to Mike when I wake him up with my restlessness and he rolls over and tells me that I should be asleep. I’m cooking up a line perfectly calibrated to convey that I don’t lie here awake just for fun – a line that’s a bit sharp without straying into unreasonably bitchy territory.

They are such useful conversations to have, these imaginary ones.

I don’t often get up in the wee dark hours and write but I knew how this would play out if I didn’t – the same way it has played out half a dozen times during the last two weeks.

I would put Dominic back to bed at 4 and lie there awake until 5. Then, right as I was tumbling off the exhausted cliff and falling into sleepy, Dominic would start to doze more lightly. He would lose his dummy and want it back again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then he would wake properly around 6 looking for his own version of banana bread and brownies.

And I would be shot for the entire day as far as any good writing goes.

Decent sleep is such a creative basic for me, something I just can’t do without. I don’t have many other real needs. Relative quiet is on that list. A decent chair and a cup of coffee first thing in the morning come close, but I’m not sure even they qualify as needs. Maybe my laptop does. I can barely remember how to write longhand anymore – I think in type.

Wants are another story; I have plenty of writing wants. I want blank notebooks, and pens that spill just enough ink smooth and clean onto the page when you use them, and something to find me the perfect quotation at a moment’s notice. I want beautiful bookshelves and music that articulates the emotional tone of what I’m writing. I want a soft-serve ice cream machine in my own office.

I’ve always wanted my own office. Well, to be honest what I really want is an entire cabin in the woods (or one set in a lush and well-manicured garden – I can never decide which). I want to fill this cabin with books and buy a huge wooden desk made of gorgeous timber – timber that earned its beauty during decades of struggling up toward sunshine in a rainforest – the sort of timber that I should be too responsible and too ashamed to own. And when I grew tired of sitting at this magical desk, I imagine that I would relax on a beautiful Turkish carpet in front of a fireplace.

Somehow my imagination never has me cleaning the ashes out of this fireplace in the cold hard light of day; I only ever sit there during twilight and watch the mystic dance of flames.

Isn’t that the way with wants?

I might want an office, but I certainly don’t need one. As long as it’s quiet enough I can write anywhere. Sometimes I can even write when it’s not at all quiet (does anyone else get some of their best ideas in church?). I can make do without the ice cream machine. Sleep, however, is a different story.

Trying to write without enough sleep in the bank is like trying to drive through fog or swim wearing shoes or bang your head against the wall without putting your bike helmet on first.

See what happens? You come up with sentences like the one above. And then you’re too dopey to edit them out. When I write tired I feel easily overwhelmed. I second-guess myself constantly and nothing I come up with seems good enough (possibly because nothing I come up with is good enough). It’s no fun at all.

Nope, if I had to choose between my cabin in the woods and getting enough sleep it’s not even a close call. Sleep I need. Cabins I just want.

Over to you: What are your creative wants and needs?

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On Peace and Quiet

When I think of the word peace, I always think next of the word quiet.

I’ve always been someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to sound. As a student I would find myself distracted by the rhythmic clicking of a pen all the way over the other side of the lecture theater. Even now, any tapping or drumming of fingers tends to draw my attention with all the constant compulsion that magnets offer iron. Out in public I must sometimes make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact with the person I am speaking with, or I will find myself glancing around, restless as a sparrow, monitoring the source of every other sound that is playing its squeaky shrieky part in the symphony of background noise.

I crave quiet.

They say that you never fully appreciate what you have until it’s gone, but that’s not always true. I often notice and appreciate the gentle companionship of quiet. When I hear my damp bare feet meet our wooden floors after I get out of the shower at dawn, it reminds me to exhale gratitude for these brief still moments before the day really wakes up. Last year, as I stretched my way through prenatal yoga poses, I always thrilled to the heavy silence of the empty house. When I was pregnant and living at my parent’s place, I would open the bathroom window when I got up at night to listen to the slippery rustle of the breeze taunting the leaves in the tall stand of gum trees. Then I’d shut the window again, because given a choice I will always choose silence as a sleep companion even over the nocturnal music of this magical world.

Quiet for me is not just the absence of noise; it is a calming presence that prompts me to pay attention, to feel the act of breathing, to listen out for thoughts and feelings dancing hand in hand through my head. Quiet reminds me to live rather than just exist.

I am pretty good about being present where I am, but on those rare occasions when I indulge in fantasies of being elsewhere I always think of beaches, of cabins in woods, of the hushed sigh of falling snow or the grace notes that are the pop and hiss of a fire on a cold night. I think of my parents’ house. I never find myself longing for the efficient clamour of the London underground or the din and bustle of New York with its agile taxis and steaming hot dog carts and moving, throbbing energy. Those cities have their own charm, but I never find myself longing for them. I long for the still, silent places.

On the whole, Asia is not a still, silent place. Luang Prabang is by no means Jakarta or Bangkok, but it is a place of near neighbors and thin walls. It is a place of barking dogs, roosters, axes in wood, coconuts on tin roofs, motorcycles, and a cultural more that says you’re not having fun unless people in Vietnam can hear your music playing. It is a place of power tools running right outside our kitchen window.

Silence often brings me peace. This sort of peace comes easily, as a gift, but silence is not the only courier of peace. There is also peace hard won in defiance of noise, peace chosen in the face of fear, peace found in a seemingly barren wilderness of grief.

This I believe.

But sometimes that belief falters on days when I am serenaded by the shrill screech of power saws, or I think for too long about the lack of good medical care in this country, or I receive the news that a friend has lost his mortal battle with leukemia, leaving behind a much beloved wife and two little boys. Sometimes peace seems an elusive chimera indeed.

What does the word “peace” mean to you? What brings you peace?

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