Tag Archives: coping mechanisms

being without a soundtrack

Good morning, good morning. It’s a Saturday and I let myself rise without an alarm. In my dreams — I can’t remember my dreams, actually. Maybe they will come back as I write. My hands are dry and rough from gardening last night, and my body is a good kind of sore, the sort of sore that says I’ve been working in it. Yesterday I found pea and clover sprouts when I went down to water the garden — and the zucchini’s already putting out flowers — things are happening down in that good dark. I dug up a patch of hard-packed yard out in front of the house, added some planting soil to the clods that I broke up by hand, and then planted poppies, zinnia, and the native gardenia that I got from my friend Alex and have moved now three or four times. I clipped some pieces of salvia, lavender, and mint from the backyard and have put them in jars in the kitchen window to see if they will sprout. Once they’re ready, I’ll add them to this little garden coming together out front.

When I fell asleep last night, the house smelled of actually-sour sourdough bread — I made a couple of whole-wheat oat loaves yesterday, and though they didn’t rise as much as the white-flour loaves have (and are still nothing close to the chewy, holey sourdough that I get in restaurants or from the market), they have a tight crumb and taste fantastic. I will admit that when I opened the oven door to peek at them toward the end of the baking time, my heart fell — they looked like the sad, dense (and inedible) loaves I always got when I tried to bake sourdough in Maine. But these turned out to be actually tasty — they just weren’t terribly fluffy. I guess that’s not surprising with whole wheat.

So there’s the garden and bread update.

This morning I woke up thinking about presence. I’ve had a few days of quiet alone time, and have spent these days mostly un-accompanied by a soundtrack. This is unusual for me. I’m the sort of girl who likes to have the radio on — all the time. I got a my first portable walkman when I was twelve or thirteen, and I’ve been walking around with music plugging up my ears ever since. The music has been a part of my survival, helping me to get away from the spinning, crowded voices in my head, to get away from my difficult and immediate present. But it seems that something has changed.

I’ve used music consistently when I write — both out at cafes and alone at home, listening to something while I’m writing helps me to ignore the distractions around me and focus in more fully on the words. Having some sort of sound on helped, too, with my overly-developed startle response; when there was some sort of noise filling the gap between my imaginings and the outside world around me, then I was less alarmed when I got surprised by the dog’s bark or someone entering the room – I’ve used the music, the voices and stories, to help cloak me, to help me be able at all to move around in the world. I was so overly sensitive and easily startled that the music could provide a buffer. The sound was like a cocoon I stepped into — a private room out in the world; underneath and inside the sound, I could think and imagine and survive.

Plus, you know, I like listening to music — it’s not all trauma aftermath. Who doesn’t like to push a trowel into some freshly-churned soil while Janet Jackson promises anytime, anyplace?

The last couple of days, I’ve gone running around my sweetheart’s neighborhood in the afternoon. I have a new phone for which I haven’t yet acquired a protective case — I can drop it while just standing still, so I certainly don’t want to take it with me when I go out to run, trying to keep a hold on it while my hands get all sweaty. So I ran without music or voices — no Harry Shearer’s Le Show, no “Dog Days Are Over,” my usual go-to jogging soundtracks. Instead, I’ve been accompanied by the sound of my breath and feet, and the sounds of the neighborhood. I’m able (and even willing) to be inside my body without distraction, noticing what’s aching, what’s loose, what’s feeling good. I notice the gardens I’m running past (there’s lots of time to notice them, as I’m not running all that fast), I notice the animals, I say hello to neighbors. The other day, I saw a stellar’s jay and a salamander in mortal combat — the jay was trying to catch the salamander for lunch, but the salamander wasn’t having any of it, and kept snapping back. The bird hopped up, tried to snatch the reptile in his beak, then got scared away. I stopped to watch, but the jay flew some feet away from his retreating prey — he didn’t want to be observed. I get it: I’m like that, too. So I ran on, no music to distract me, feeling the warm sun, the cool breeze, the douse of my sweat and the spread of warmth across and through my back as all those tight muscles got jogged loose.

It’s still new — this ability to write without music playing, to run without distractions (to run, period, let’s be honest), to fall asleep alone without music on, to be in the world without constantly needing soundtrack or noise to keep me from hearing the things I’m afraid of hearing — that I’m surprised by it, surprised that I want to be in the quiet, surprised that I can concentrate without the noise. It wasn’t, as I often told people, that I simply preferred to write in a noisy cafe with the music pushing into my ears over and above the sounds of the cafe sound system and all the conversations; it was that I couldn’t focus when I was in silence — I was too scared to be alone and quiet in my own head.

Now, as coping mechanisms go, listening to music isn’t all that terrible — and I’ve certainly not stopped listening to music at all while I do other things in my life. But what I’m finding is my instinct telling me one more time, it‘s ok to let this go for now; you’re safe enough now to loosen your hold on this way of protecting yourself — like it did with smoking and drinking and butchness and workaholism and too much tv and overeating, all those different ways I’ve found to put space between my consciousness and the world around me, all those ways I found to armor up and keep myself alive. I am grateful to each of these practices, and just as grateful when one more starts to loosen its hold, giving me one more opportunity to just be in and a part of the world I’m inhabiting, grateful to have lived and healed enough to be here now.