For as long as I can remember I’ve been extremely sensitive to loud noises. It runs the gamut - sudden loud noises like crashes, everyone hates those but also repetitive noise like tapping, clicking, fiddling, beeping, etc. The list goes on. Construction equipment, garbage trucks, jackhammers, leaf blower, etc. I’m not exactly sure why but I can’t even think straight when noises like that are polluting my headspace. I find myself feeling emotions that border on rage, anger, and frustration. I’m the one at the restaurant to tell them to turn the music down. I literally cannot concentrate on thinking or talking if there are loud or repetitive noises. Most people know this about me. I really never met people with my level of noise sensitivity.
Growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC was quite serene. Nice, quiet neighborhood with the sounds of kids playing (yes it was a long time ago), lawn mowers in the distance (leaf blowers didn’t exist yet, thank god), and the occasional flock of helicopters flying from DC to Camp David. There were four kids in our family. My dad, a nuclear engineer for the EPA took naps every Saturday and Sunday at the same time. He worked hard and my mom was his ultimate protector. She would spare no expense or effort to ensure he got the R&R required to support our family. But naptime turned my mother literally into the Sound Nazi. (not to be confused with the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld but equally as intimidating). Her ability to hear any noise uttered within a 50 feet parameter of our home was uncanny. She would even come over while playing in our neighbor’s yards and tell us to be quiet. SHHHHHH, your father is sleeping! She wouldn’t confront the group though, too loud. She would summon me to her and I became the Sound Nazi’s diplomat. Great, I’m not going to win the popularity contest with that title. She wanted everyONE to shhhhhh.
Shushing was like her mother tongue. A linguistically elaborate expression that could last up to a minute and sometimes projected without sound, those were the worst. You knew you were in major trouble; it’s all in the eyes. There’s also shush-shouting, mentioned above, this meant she was not kidding around. This level of forced quietude in the middle of the weekends conditions something in someone. It becomes the norm. You believe you can control the noise in your environment. Now as an adult, I want everyTHING to shhhhhh.
A bubble I do not live in. And I never will. My fondest memories are of seeing live music all over the country, from Jazz Fest in New Orleans to major shows at Red Rocks (my favorite), and not to mention the hundreds of football games and Grateful Dead shows. I’ve heard it all, quite enjoyably. Again, those are controlled situations from which I chose to participate. After all, music is life. But noise is pollution and it’s growing.
This world has gotten LOUD.
In the November 2019 Issue of the Atlantic, Bianca Bosker digs deep into just how pervasive the issue of loudness and noise pollution has become. Why Everything Is Getting Louder, told through the lens of a new homeowner that was driven to distraction and frustration in his Chandler, Arizona neighborhood when he could not identify a persistent, disturbing hum.
The article describes in detail why noise pollution is so bad for humans and animals. Our lives weren’t meant to be so noisy. It interrupts our systems, our communication, and our learning. With all the environmental concerns right now, it’s hard for noise to take a front seat or sit on the lap of climate change. In my own environment, every morning I’m awakened by jack hammers, bulldozers, and beeping. Yet others can’t hear it or it doesn’t seem to bother them; Sound Nazi didn’t raise them.
I Found My People
Perhaps the most interesting part of the article are the individuals, organized non-profits, and neighborhood groups that have rallied around noise issues. Bosker goes into great detail on the extended efforts these affected people go through to identify and stop the egregious prevalence of noise pollution down to the very street they live on. City Council members, police chiefs, CEO’s of corporations creating the noises are approached and reproached in efforts to literally stop the insanity. Mostly ignored. However, the issue of noise abatement is getting louder. Pun intended. There are over 150 non-profit organizations dedicated to noise abatement and over 50 chapters of the Noise Free America. Sign me up. She does discuss how noise is relative. But numbers and data don’t lie. This is an excellent article full of history of noise and how it’s been used to win wars. Yet, in our quaint, mostly peaceful neighborhoods and cities, it’s a growing issue, based on our appetites for technology, postulates Bosker. In other words, it’s our own fault.
Silence: Fifteen Minutes of Fame
Read this article. The end is the best part. There is light at the end of the tunnel or quiet at the end of the canal. There is an organization that provides accreditation to places that are quiet, without human generated noise, for more than 15 minutes at a time. Fifteen-minutes. Quiet Parks International are my people. They understand the health concerns related to not having quiet spaces. They are setting the standards for quiet places and building the benchmark. I hope our cities and neighborhoods start taking this more serious. It is something we can control. Travel is now our outlet for quiet. The hashtag - #savequiet Too bad my mom is not around, she would have been a great ambassador for #savequiet.