Quiet

Sorry to have been quite so quiet here of late. It’s been just over a month that I have been here in Boulder. Last week, homesickness for Stockholm finally hit me. Mostly I feel homesick for Matt, but there are a few things cropping up that I specifically miss — mostly related to silence.

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Surrounded by strangers at the stadium — fun!

The most obvious silence I miss from home is the lack of traffic noise in my daily life, waking or walking around or sitting with the windows open. Here, I get the chorus of crickets, the creek clattering on its way and the lonesome train howl in the background that I love. But I also get the river of cars at rush hour a block away.

Plus I get the lonely howling dogs a building over, and the thumping galumphing of my upstairs neighbor. Somehow, it seems to me that apartment buildings are more solidly built in Stockholm and quieter than some of the 1960s and later quick-fab creations more common in the American West. We can close our quadruple-paned windows and shut out noise in our Stockholm bedroom, whether it’s the loud-talking hotel guests across the way, the trucks delivering bread and milk daily to our local grocery, or the dripping drainpipe outside our bedroom wall. The cement walls even mute the thumping base from the occasional party next door. Not so in the settling wood and spackle building in which I live now. I can hear the kitchen stove fan from my neighbor next door.

I have only a small subsample, but it makes me wonder. Humans need to live around other humans, but there is a reason the American dream includes owning one’s own house: it’s just quieter. It’s less annoying to hear your neighbors in their daily lives, and you can feel free to do what you want without disrupting anyone else’s peace. The flip side, I wonder, is that you don’t have to think about anyone else. I am still puzzling over how that interconnectedness plays out in empathy and social fabric — are Swedes more communal because they don’t have to deal with each other much? Are Americans more independently individualistic because most of them live atop each other? What about intergenerational families living together — in Queens, in Beijing, in London or Delhi? What difference does it make to live apart or atop each other?

The other silence that has been overturned is my quiet social life in Stockholm. I meet friends regularly there and have people to supper, but not like I used to in my previous American settings. Matt and I hang out together in Stockholm, come home to feed each other nearly every night and sit on the couch — a quiet life, relaxed weekends with silly errands and not much going on.

Suddenly I have transplanted myself to a small city where friends from college, graduate school, past jobs, and past neighborhoods have moved over the years. Whammo: add water, stir and instant social life. I have been out for beers, coffee, meals, a baseball game, all sorts of engagements; I have had visitors and gone visiting. I have not been relaxing, not the way I have been learning to do from Matt over the years. I miss that quiet, at the same time that I am thrilled (and overwhelmed) to see old friends, and even make new ones.

Strange, the need for silence and the happiness of noise.

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