Monday, September 10, 2018

Occupied by Noise

Good Monday morning. 

Last week I shared details of our recent trip to Dallas to listen to the Dallas Symphony perform the Jurassic Park score live as the movie played. You can --- > click here to read that if you missed it. The live music so inspired me I have a few additional thoughts from the evening to share that I'll get to momentarily, but first a quick story about a personal victory of mine.

The short version of this story goes like this: I made Henry a Humpty Dumpty costume. Every year at this time the Pre-K students learn various nursery rhymes, & this all culminates with their Nursery Rhyme Parade at the end of the week. The last two years Henry's costumes have not been stand-out costumes. He seemed indifferent to it all, & I, his weary mother who was working full-time, was also indifferent about his attire for the Nursery Rhyme Parade. 

This year was his last year to march in the parade, & he voiced a specific preference for a Humpty Dumpty costume. I did some googling, & ultimately I decided I could make him a Humpty Dumpty costume. Please understand I just do not make things. I am a slave to our consumer-driven society (I am also craft-impaired). I will spend a fair amount of money on something I can have delivered to our front door ready-made before I will physically go inside a store & purchase items with which to make something. There were a few ready-made Humpty Dumpty costumes online, but I didn't love them (& I waited too late to ensure a timely delivery anyway), & so on Thursday after I finished teaching my speech class I  went to Michael's & bought a few things. 

See how this works? The freedom to run in a store & grab a few things while the kids are in school means I do not have to go inside a store after school with the hungry, tired kids in tow. It sounds like a small thing, unless of course you've worked all day & then attempted to run errands with your tired, hungry kids.

So, without further ado, here he is:

Look at his face as he marches down the hall. He was so excited & so proud. 

Let me tell you a little more about my Friday. Trey was out of town Thursday night. He has to earn CLE (that's continuing legal education) hours yearly in order to continue practicing law, & so he drove down to New Orleans Thursday so he could attend a CLE seminar Friday, eat a lot of good food, & then drive home Friday evening. So, not only did I create a Humpty Dumpty costume Thursday night, I did the whole nightly school routine all by myself. I made sure Reagan's homework was done. I unloaded & reloaded the lunch boxes. I found clean clothes for everyone to wear Friday. Now, admittedly, I do most of this daily anyway, but Trey usually handles the bedtime stuff & any serious disciplinary matters. I handled bedtime by telling the kids what they wanted to hear most: to get in my bed & hush & go to sleep.

Meanwhile, I took advantage of the quiet house & hung the extra curtain panels I ordered a few weeks ago. I love the curtains I ordered this summer so much I decided the windows needed even more curtain panels. Trey's absence was actually the kick in the pants I needed to hang the extra panels because one of the reasons I wanted them was so I'd have enough material to totally cover all the giant windows if I feel so led . . . & when Trey is gone overnight I usually feel so led.

I also wanted to hang the new panels while Trey was gone so he would not walk in the kitchen & ask me why I bought more curtains. Obviously if he reads this blog he will know I hung more curtains, but details often escape his notice & thus far my adding four new panels (two per set of windows) to the existing curtains has escaped his notice. It is also possible he has noticed there are more curtains, & he is choosing not to comment on them since I have sort of found another house I want him to buy & so he's just avoiding interacting with me altogether. Marriage is actually just a years-long game of chess.

See! I can totally block out the world.

After I hung the curtains I got in bed. The three of us got some sleep. I think the kids both slept pretty well. I dozed occasionally. I knew I was the only adult in the house & the only one responsible for getting us all up & dressed & out the door Friday morning, & the weight of that (plus two kids & a dog in my bed) kept me from sleeping soundly. 

I did get us all up & out the door on time Friday morning. We even remembered everything: backpacks, lunch boxes, & Humpty Dumpty. I cried a little during the Nursery Rhyme Parade. I was happy for Henry. His little happy face marching up & down the hall was just everything & kept me smiling all day long. I was also happy the rush of the day was over. It was eighty-thirty in the morning, but the crucial moments of my day were over. I left the school & spent about three hours sipping coffee & typing up some notes for my speech class.

I snapped this of me & Reagan (& my hair, which deserves its own shoutout since it occupies half the photo) as we watched the parade, so you can see that I looked a mess, but I was a happy mess:

I can't tell you how wonderful my hours alone sipping coffee are for my mental health. Since I am teaching a class I haven't taught since 2005 out of a text I've never used before, I have a fair amount of work to keep me busy while I sip my coffee, but usually the work doesn't feel much like work. Perhaps soon I'll tell you about the cast of characters who frequent the local coffee shop that's my favorite place to perch & work during the week. 

The content of the speech class I am teaching this semester is fascinating to me. Fundamentals of Communication is a course most universities offer, & it is a course most students take if they need a speech elective & their major does not dictate they take Public Speaking. When I contacted my department head at Delta to inquire about teaching opportunities, he told me he wanted someone to begin offering the Fundamentals course. His plan is to eventually offer the course online.

Every semester Delta offers faculty the opportunity to earn their online teaching certification. Beginning in October I will start this process. I'm not certain if the Fundamentals course will be offered online as soon as this spring, but I am excited about the possibility of online teaching. I do enjoy being in the classroom, & I hope to have at least one traditional, face-to-face class most semesters, however I also enjoy not wearing make-up & sleeping later because I don't have to blow dry my hair. The idea of being able to fulfill my teaching responsibilities while sitting in bed with my laptop is certainly appealing. Some of the work I am putting into the Fundamentals course this semester is above & beyond what I'd typically prepare for a face-to-face course, but I am compiling  a lot of material that can be used when the course is offered online. 

Anyway, I want to mention something we discussed in class last week (it is interesting, I promise . . . stay with me). There's an entire chapter in the text dedicated to the myriad of ways our uniqueness as individuals impacts the way we, well, the way we do everything, including the way we communicate. In fancy academic circles the phrase cognitive diversity is sometimes used to introduce Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory, a theory that suggests human intelligence is not (& should not be viewed as) dominated by a single general ability. Gardner originally suggested seven distinct categories by which to assess human intelligence; a few additional categories have been added to his original seven over the years. 

Last week I directed students to an online quiz that asks around twenty questions & then spits out a sketch of a person's strengths insofar as multiple intelligences are concerned. I took the quiz & shared my results with the class; I will now share them with you:

Linguistic: 75%
Logical-Mathematical: 13%
Visual-spatial: 8%
Intrapersonal: 81%

Interpersonal: 63%
Musical: 31%
Bodily-Kinesthetic: 17%

I often find myself telling you fine people I have, "been in my head." So there you go; Intrapersonal came in at a whopping eighty-one percent with Linguistic closely behind at seventy-five percent. Interpersonal came in third at sixty-three percent, so while my social skills are not terrible, please know if I am talking to you I'd probably rather be reading, writing, or talking to myself. If you're interested in taking the quiz yourself you can do so by clicking here

I told you all that to segue into this next segment in which I champion self talk, or intrapersonal communication. We all need to talk to ourselves more often. You know what that requires? It requires a few things. One is silence. The other is communicating with others, whereby we learn how to communicate more effectively with ourselves. It is the messages others send us that form the initial basis of our self talk, after all. You are a good girl, you are a pretty girl, You are a good friend, You are too loud, etc.

Self talk is a vital skill & one you learn & refine by communicating with others, & guess what technology allows us to avoid much of the time? Silence and communicating with others in traditional ways. Sure, we text. We send emails. We do a thousand things electronically, but face-to-face conversation is becoming a lost art in the same way letter writing is becoming a lost art. As we communicate with others less & less in meaningful ways, we are thwarting the natural process by which we learn to communicate honestly & effectively with ourselves. 

The first week of class I showed my students a TED talk titled "Connected, but alone?" in which Sherry Turkle discusses the impact of technology on communication. If you feel so moved you can click here to watch & listen. Ms. Turkle studies the impact of our devices & online personas & the ways in which they are redefining human connection & communication. The video runs about twenty minutes & is worth a listen. 

Most of us prefer mediated communication at least in part because it allows us to edit ourselves (meditated communication refers to any communication facilitated by technology). We can craft the perfect email or text or Facebook post, & we don't have to share it or send it until we are ready. We grow accustomed to this, & thus we feel increasingly uncomfortable & unprepared in situations in which we cannot edit ourselves. We may text or snap someone for a year or more, but seat us across from that person at a table for two & take away the devices that distract us & it's a whole new ballgame, a game the world's most artful, witty texter may not know how to play.

I stay in touch with a handful of my high school students. They text. They snap. They tweet. I know these are not proper, fulfilling substitutes for face-to-face communication because every few months I reach a point at which I say, Come home & let me see your face. Have an actual conversation with me. Ask a grandparent whose grandkids live across the country if FaceTime is the equivalent of having them in their lap, in their arms. 

By not practicing & refining our interpersonal communication skills, we are also struggling with our intrapersonal communication skills. The first thing you learn in Fundamentals is the meaning INTRApersonal communication & INTERpersonal communication. Intra is within, thus communicating with yourself. Inter is between, thus communicating in relationships. 

I recently read an article delineating a handful of things people should be able to do all by themselves by the time they're eighteen & headed off to college. One item on the list was Talk To Strangers. I know we teach young children not to talk to strangers, but mamas, as your baby ages he needs to be the one talking to his teachers. By the time they are fifteen & sixteen years old, & certainly by their senior year of high school, you should not often, if ever, be emailing their teachers whom they see in person five days a week. Force them to communicate with people to resolve issues. This is such a vital life skill. They need to learn to communicate with other people not only to resolve school-related issues but to hone their communication skills in general so they can go on real, live dates with people, perform well in a job interview, & also learn to communicate with themselves so they can figure out who they are & how they feel about a thousand different things life will throw at them. 

One thing I told my seniors these last two years as they were headed off to college was to learn to be alone. Learn not only to tolerate being alone, but learn to love it, to crave it. Learn (to quote the Eagles) to be still. Learn to be quiet & listen to yourself. Learn to be quiet & listen to God. 

People who cannot communicate well with others often cannot communicate well with themselves. They avoid both situations easily by filling their waking hours with all manner of technological distractions. I once attempted to date someone who could not be alone (or still). It did not work out well.

Until you are comfortable in your own skin & can have sincere, honest conversations with yourself about your desires, your goals, your values, your flaws, etc., you are not ready to be in a relationship with someone else. Your friends & the people you date should share your interests & fulfill your need for companionship; they should not serve as distractions from the real & hard work of being alone with yourself & your thoughts. I have always shied away from people (& many of them are female) who have a deep need to always be surrounded by a lot of other people. Being sociable is one thing, but a constant need to be entertained, to be busy, to avoid a moment or a meal alone is a bit of a red flag to me. I am not a babysitter or a therapist. 

To (again) quote the Eagles, from "Learn To Be Still:"

We are like sheep without a shepherd
We don't know how to be alone
So we wander around this desert
And wind up following the wrong gods home

If you don't know how to be alone you will quite possibly follow the wrong gods home in a desperate attempt to avoid your own company. I am not trying to rhyme & be cute; this is just a basic truth, something I see played out over & over again in the lives of young people who grow up never having to think deeply about anything because from the moment they wake until the moment they fall asleep their phone is in their hand, a screen is in front of their face, & they fill the moments in between with chatty friends, video games, Netflix, etc. There is no silence in their world other than that which fills their dreams. 

So, I told you I wanted to discuss a few thoughts that originated as I sat & listened to the Jurassic Park score live. I promise all of this ties together, & I hope you will see that momentarily. Obviously today's thoughts were inspired by some of the things I've been discussing in my speech class as well as the melodious strains of the Dallas Symphony.

I want to end today by sharing a particular passage from The Screwtape Letters, a passage that was in my head during our time at the symphony. In this passage, Screwtape (a demon, if you recall) explains to his nephew, Wormwood (also a demon), that Satan hates music & silence. If you've never read The Screwtape Letters, you should, & this is especially true if you plan to continue to read this blog & desire a full understanding of my references to Lewis's work. Satan is referred to in this passage as, "Our Father Below."

"Music and silence -- how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell . . . no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise -- Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile -- Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress."

So Screwtape, a demon from Hell, refers to music & silence as abominable forces. I am suggesting to you that both music & silence are extraordinary gifts from God; our desire to make & listen to music as well as our desire for silence is, I believe, God pushing us closer to Him. In the above passage Hell is described as occupied by noise, & I will tell you that sounds like Hell to me.

Noise can be physical, but it can also be psychological. You may be able to get the kids to sleep & turn off the television, but you can't tame the voices in your head. I suggest, if this is your dilemma, that you try writing. Writing is an excellent way for me to separate the wheat from the chaff where my thoughts are concerned.

Find some time for both music & silence routinely. Don't rush to fill silence. Make time for silence in your kids' lives. They need it. They need to learn to be comfortable with silence. I firmly believe Satan need not tempt most of us to lie or steal or commit adultery; rather, he simply needs to keep us overly busy, overly tired, surrounded constantly by noise that prevents us from seeking & appreciating God. The last few weeks there has been more silence in my life, & I am better for it, & my kids are better for it. I find myself in the silence; I can only face the noise when I have had sufficient time steeped in silence.

I hope this has made some sense. I told myself I was not going to pen a political blog, though after the spectacle of Kavanaugh's hearing last week I was tempted to do so. I hope you have a quiet week, & may Joe Burrow & his LSU Tigers give us a reason to make a joyful noise on Saturday. 


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