Sensory quietness for the soul
Is this too much to ask for in a busy, dense city?
Greetings from my dedicated writing spot during vacation:
I am a highly sensitive person. It’s weird to discover this late in life because the whole world seems dead set against accommodating you… so you learn to believe that life is a very abrasive experience… so just suck it up and deal with it in however way you can.
Michael told me over breakfast today the motto of the Marines.
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.
This got me thinking: I am of two minds when it comes to perserverance.
There’s a nuance between having the grit needed to persevere a genuinely hard situation, and being exposed to unnecessarily harsh treatment, for no good reason.
A couple of years ago I had my hearing tested, because I feared my hearing was starting to go prematurely.
I could hardly hear other people talking, even though they were close to me. It was frustrating for me to keep on asking them to repeat themselves, and for them too I’m sure. Convos in a noisy bar were the worst. I would guiltily nod in conversation even though I couldn’t hear most of it. Often I just ended up taking whatever drink a bartender would make me bc I couldn’t hear them well.
When the tests came back, I was shocked. My hearing was “better than average”.
What did this mean? Oh right. I just hear WAY MORE than everyone else around me.
In our apartment I hear the central air fan whirring anywhere I am. I hear the fridge from the bedroom. I hear the constant rumble of cars from outside. These are all low-grade noises, but they are constantly there.
In pubs, the voice of my conversation partner ends up getting drowned out by the music from the bar, other patrons chatting, clatter from the kitchen etc. etc.
When Michael and I are walking on the street and he says something while facing away from me, I can’t distinguish what words he’s saying from the constant rumblings of traffic passing us.
After making dinner and already seated elsewhere, I can hear if we mistakenly left our elecric stovetop on just by the small noises it makes.
After the diagnosis, I thought: ah well. I guess I’ll just have to live with this. The noise landscape I’m in is part and parcel of modern, urban life. Whenever an excessively loud car/motorbike drives by, most of us curse under our breath, then shrug our shoulders in exasperation. There’s nothing we can do about it. Noise by-laws will keep on getting violated because of how difficult it is to prove the “crime” and enforce this.
Then, I saw this:
Paris has already demonstrated strong leadership during the pandemic (courtesy of Mayor Anne Hidalgo) to win back the streets from cars and back to the people. Therefore, I was elated to learn about this effort to start to take control over the noise landscape of French cities (and also a bit jealous! When is this coming to Toronto, and specifically the DVP🙄).
It’s a huge first step rooted in a philosophy of “enough”.
We do not have to accept sensory abuse in our cities. It’s unhealthy, and an unneccesary nuisance. And it’s finally more acceptable to talk about it without being given unhelpful labels like “you’re being too sensitive” and “you chose this by living in the city”.
As I savour my final afternoon in the quiet of this solarium, I question: how can we increase access to quiet, sun-filled places like this to all of us who don’t own houses?
It’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.
Thanks for reading this week’s newsletter! How are your senses doing lately?
Give this letter a ❤️ if you enjoyed it (and do share the letter with friends who may appreciate it too!)
Until next time, stay safe and stay curious.