polish a plant.
on doing quiet work.
I have my phone set to silent a rough ninety-five percent of the time. The other five percent includes the afternoons when my parents are driving into the city and they text to say they’re crossing the Kosciuszko Bridge, an hour behind schedule. When James takes the kids for a grocery run, I try to be a good sport and make myself available for questions about remaining peanut butter in the cabinet or yogurt in the fridge. Most of the time, I attempt to establish some distance from my phone’s constant pull at my attention. Text pings aside, it’s been years since I had any notifications at all turned on my social media apps. This does not, I confess, correspond with any kind of real enlightened retreat from using them, but it does mean that when an app is closed I don’t get alerted every time anyone weighs in on something I’ve shared.
What I’ve come to notice—or maybe just acknowledge—in my adulthood, is that I don’t work well with noise in the background. Not with music or podcasts or pinging from my phone. Give me the buzz of the refrigerator and the clanging of the heat pipes and I’m fine. If the neighbors’ radio is too loud during the day, I’ve come to love the sound of the popping campfire, I can play from James’s alarm clock, but when I’m trying to write, it’s quiet that I crave.
Sometimes I think this is why I like to fix things and keep my hands busy. The hours focused on a task that doesn’t require talking—or listening—lets me make sense of things. If I’m stuck on writing, I organize my sock drawer. I empty the dishwasher. I knit a few rows of a potholder. I take a walk. What I’m really doing, is writing.
Later, comes the download. The thoughts and strings of words I’ve been playing around with in my head need somewhere to go and I plug in, transferring them through fingertips to keyboard and onto a page—a screen? I often blur my eyes while I type my first draft. There’s something about letting my vision go lax that gets the words out. It lets me get out of my own way. The line breaks are wonky and the sentences will need revision, but with my eyesight blurred and the room quiet, something begins to take shape.
In weeks like the last few, when my digital media consumption and time spent online skyrockets, I realize I become crushed by the noise that I let in.