Fuzzy static constantly flows with the force of hundreds of tons of water that cascades over the edge of a cliff. White noise drowns surrounding sounds as if they were inexperienced swimmers who sunk like rocks to the bottom of the lake. I play the noise daily as I write. I tune the world out with the click of a button and switch over to a new station in my head that has nothing else playing. It’s there in the loud silence that I can concentrate. I spin new phrases around like the dead, yet colorful leaves caught in the eddies that swirl in rushing freshwater streams. It is there that a new world opens to me in the middle of a chaotic workday at the office.
It has become a necessary yet unnoticeable passenger on my journey through writing. Without it, I am subjected to the erratic bustling surges of outside life or the life outside the ones that I create on paper. Perhaps I’m also avoiding the spaces that are quiet enough to hear the drop of a paper clip. However, the white noise track changes when I’m sitting in a coffee shop with low-level conversations and the whooshing sounds of steamed espresso and milk. I can take my earbuds out and listen to the familiar sounds of baristas making coffee.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on a steady background noise until I went to my American Sign Language (ASL) class the other day. Our professor signed to her students asking them how they faired with using only closed captions to watch television. Several of the students, including myself, mentioned that we had forgotten we were even watching television in the beginning. We relied on the TV as background noise and only half paid attention to the program if we attempted to perform another task while watching TV. One student called the act of turning on the TV as listening to white noise. The professor, who was born Deaf, signed that there really weren’t any signs in ASL designated to white noise. To her, it must have been an unnecessary concept which served no purpose.
I thought back to the years when I was growing up. Upon arriving home, my mother would always flip on the light if it were dark and then immediately turn on the TV. “It’s just for background noise,” she would say after I had asked about it one time. She would then continue her pattern of walking away to another room with the TV subtly dispersing noise throughout the living room. Perhaps I picked up the habit of listening to white noise from her?