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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

What’s in your Noise?


Tearing through THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. (Note that it is a sunny day and I am in Ireland.)


I went to grad school in Galway, in the west of Ireland—where, as you may know, it rains more days than not. I lived a 25-minute walk from campus, on a road with far more motorists than pedestrians. On my way to class one afternoon, I spotted a girl about my age coming toward me on the path ahead. She carried a big brown shopping bag from one of the wooly-jumper shops in town, so I could tell at a glance that she was only visiting.

We approached each other. She opened her mouth—to greet me, I supposed, so I formed the word “hello” in kind—but I was in for a rude surprise. “F**king rain!” she said fiercely, though she made eye contact as she said it. “It never f**king stops. F**k!”

I stopped in my tracks, mouth wide open, and watched as she continued along the path I’d just taken. The girl never looked back. She trudged along with her shopping bags, head down and shoulders hunched, radiating aggravation. It wasn’t even raining that hard.

As you can tell—seeing as this happened ten years ago now!—this fleeting and rather bizarre interaction left an indelible impression on me. We’ll set aside the fact that traveling to Ireland and then complaining about the weather is just about the most ludicrous thing you can do; what I took from that encounter is that our thoughts, mood, and actions as we move through the world affect absolutely everyone we meet.

I was reminded of that young American tourist recently when I read the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. These YA science fiction novels are set on a distant Earth-like planet, where human pioneers have settled in the hope of creating a sustainable future. Instead, of course, they have clashed violently with the indigenous population (who bear a pointed similarity to the Native Americans) and with each other. The most unique aspect of the novel is that, owing to some biochemical quirk on this new planet, the thoughts and fantasies of human men hover in the air, perfectly audible and visible to all in the vicinity. Here’s how one of the protagonists, Todd, first presents this phenomenon to the reader:

…[T]he swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta themselves, all their clamor and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep, men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.

As I read these three wonderful novels I kept asking myself one question: what would people hear and see around me, if I had “Noise”? I’d seen a long time ago that no one lives independently of the attitudes of their neighbors, even if that “neighbor” is only growling (or beaming) at you in passing; but I wasn’t always as positive as I could be on, shall we say, off color days. That girl on Bishop O’Donnell Road hadn’t really seen me at all—she’d just spewed her negativity and kept on walking—and while I’ve never cursed at a random passerby, from time to time I’ve certainly lapsed into self-involved mopery in the presence of others.

I’m not implying we should suppress what we’re feeling if we’re having a bad day, only that we are still responsible for our moods even at the times when it’s hard to feel happy. It doesn’t matter if you place no stock in auras, “vibes,” or other such New Age principles; the fact remains that you can walk into the space you share with a loved one and know instantly—before you have gauged their posture or facial expression, or heard a single word from their lips—that something is amiss with them.

So if I’m feeling irritated I’ll do whatever I need to do to let go and move on, so that other people don’t have to deal with what is mine alone to process. Conversely, if I’m feeling cheerful, I want to do my best to spread that good feeling around! This way my thoughts and feelings are Music instead of Noise.


1 Comment to What’s in your Noise?

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    November 16, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Moods are definitely infectious. I agree that it’s best to keep your negativity to yourself and spread the good moods!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.