City of Noise

I’m listening to silence right now. Or the closest I can get to silence. I’m at my weekend writing spot with my earbuds popped out. I hear police sirens, now coming closer, now someone shuffles papers at a desk nearby, a honk, another honk, the air-conditioner’s hum, a cough, my own fingers on my own keyboard typing out this sentence, my own yawn.

So much has been going on all around, and it’s not all where I’m sitting. This election—I can’t stop reading about the election. Anxiety combined with insecurity over other people’s fabulous lives topped off with an abounding wave of static growing larger in my head made me turn off the Twitter updates that flash every three minutes on the bottom of my screen. I might have to delete my account.

Yesterday, I couldn’t get a thing done. People were everywhere. It was one of the days in the city where everything and everyone’s clamoring for attention and you’re just jostled up in it. People bumping you in the street. People asking for things. Long lines at the counter. Big crowds at the tables. Then when you think you have a moment to yourself the building’s fire alarm goes off and the firemen come and the elevators stopped working and you decide (even though you are told it is a false alarm and they will figure out how to get the alarm to stop screaming) to evacuate on your own, walking down twelve flights of stairs and out into the pouring rain, where it’s quieter.

I can’t blame the noisy city, or the noisy world, because the noise that’s most at fault is what’s found in my own head. I second-guess my novel. I tell myself I cannot do this, I cannot do that. Then I argue the point. I bat ideas at myself, bat them down. I picture one thing, picture another. My head is edited by MTV.

So I try the under-the-desk method. As I said I’m in my writing spot, where other writers will walk by and see me, but the carpet is plush and the shade under the desk inviting. I lie down there on my back. I put a scarf over my eyes, close them underneath the scarf, try to block out the sense that there is anything else but my novel and me.

I think about my character. I know what she looks like. I put her in the room she’s supposed to be in and I go so now what? I know what will happen, I just don’t have the words.

I tell myself to think of the words. Think.

My mind bubbles up with: my narrator staring at me blankly; she has a paper cut; how this morning I did not want a paper cup but they gave me one anyway; a tank from the magazine article I just read; a moose; wouldn’t it be funny if the plural of moose was meese?; trees; mountains; Woodstock; my brother; what’s for lunch?; someone is walking by, are they looking at me?; how many keys are on my key ring; Anne Hathaway; Rita Hayworth; a blank page; time travel; a page with fuzzy words; a severed foot from the DVD I was watching last night; a frog from who knows where; how do you spell gnocchi; my bones ache; a yellow taxi; a pigeon; the flicker of static on the back of my eyes that looks like stars.

No, I tell myself, no. The point of lying under the desk with a scarf over your eyes is to not think nonsense. To cleanse your mind and see what pops up.

Nothing pops up but the stars on the backs of my eyelids. And pigeons. And lunch.

Come to me, novel. I’m down here, on the floor under the desk.

Still waiting.

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