A Wall of Sound

I wonder if I should preface any post that isn’t about the current chaotic state of the world with a statement that: “I am aware of the current chaotic state of the world but for this one moment have chosen to write about something trivial with the full awareness of its triviality and me, writing this, and you, reading this, does not mean we are not thoughtful, caring, and concerned people trying to do the work needed to help and heal and herald in a new equitable society.”

I have been having some very first-world problems associated with the way sound is delivered to my head. I have the privilege to have a choice of ear-based devices:

  • Set of large Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones – great for focusing but not great when you feel the need to listen for stray noises and shouts in your home
  • Set of Apple Ear Buds – well used, from a phone before this one, so it has the proper plug bit, old faithful with a cord that gets in the way
  • Set of Regular over-the-ear headphones – been with me a while and are a little awkward, currently residing downstairs as a way of calming a fight, though they are currently unused
  • One Brand New Set of Air Pods – excited to get these, though it took six weeks and I thought all of my audio needs would be fulfilled, I’d be cooking while listening to podcasts, chilling to some lofi beats while doing laundry, able to Zoom and move my hands while I talk without violently ripping out my ear buds as my arm gets caught on the chord – you know, normal stuff

Since remote learning began and the outside world boxed itself into a gallery view of my colleagues, friends, and family, I have found regulating my audio a never-ending sense of frustration. I think part of this is because of my overdeveloped sense of responsibility to not completely block all sound from the rest of the house. If I lived alone, I’d probably just wear the heavy noise-cancelling headphones all day and never have saved up for the Air Pods.

Obviously this makes me totally vulnerable to all the baddies that stalk me in the silence.

The variations in hardware, their settings, their usage of microphone and volume controls, have so thoroughly confused my Windows 10 machine that it’s quite possible the keyboard that stopped working on my laptop may resurrect itself just out of sheer frustration. (Wouldn’t that be nice, Lenovo Yoga – don’t buy one).

The interesting thing, for me – maybe not for you, is how important sound has become in this new isolated world. The funneling of it, the volume of it, the staticy feel of it, the blocking of it; the wall of sound is part barrier and part passage way for my professional and creative life and my hardward is making things difficult.

I have a two monitor set-up (the laptop and then a 8-year-old monitor that was my father’s). The difference in resolution plays a bit of havoc with my eyesight. The large monitor is glare-free and slightly dimmer, making it easier to read for long stretches. The laptop screen (also of the touch variety) is crisp and bright and usually plays second fiddle. If I prioritize that one, my head starts to hurt. The other way around, no problem. I got the visual part sussed. Why is the audio so hard?

The trouble is with me in thinking that the Air Pods (or any piece of hardware) was going to solve a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. A hard lesson I need to learn is to allow myself space to retract from the rest of the house and to set boundaries. There is not a constant assault on my time or attention, but my own sense of the possibility limits me and the amount of concentration I can put into any one task. Pre-pandemic I could escape to a library, coffee shop, my office, any place. My options are limited (as are everyone else’s and please, see my privilege disclaimer in the first paragraph because I know kids make things tougher). My hyper-focus (a symptom, not a feature) is stuttering and I’m adapting to a new way of thinking and processing. Getting the sound around me to work on a consistent basis is just one more way I can delude myself for a while and get at least one thing accomplished.