Ear­li­er this week, Glo­ria Spiel­man wrote about find­ing fel­low writ­ers on the Inter­net and the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Ghet­to. Her most recent book, Mar­cel Marceau: Mas­ter of Mime, is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series.

One of the upshots of all the read­ing and think­ing I did for Mar­cel Marceau: Mas­ter of Mime, was that I end­ed up doing a lot of think­ing about some­thing I’d nev­er thought that much about before – silence and its pow­er.

It nev­er used to be like this. I wasn’t always on a quest for qui­et. An only child, I yearned for noise, for hus­tle and bus­tle, a busy house with lots of peo­ple and their com­ings and goings. Who the hell need­ed qui­et? Qui­et was bor­ing, unnerv­ing, depress­ing, threat­en­ing even. A void to be filled. So, on went the TV the sec­ond I came home, the radio in the kitchen, a favourite tape, any­thing, as long as there was noise. Any­way, how could you do home­work with no music? I had a friend at ele­men­tary school, who came from an odd fam­i­ly. They were odd as they had no TV. I remem­ber think­ing. What do they do for noise? It must be ter­ri­ble, all that qui­et. (Iron­i­cal­ly, we are bring­ing up five chil­dren with­out a TV, but that’s a tale for anoth­er day.)

It seems I wasn’t alone. The world is full of inten­tion­al back­ground noise: TVs no one is real­ly watch­ing, radios no one is real­ly lis­ten­ing to and why? Just to break the silence, that’s why. Silence can be scary, some­times lone­ly and it forces us to turn inward and gives us space to think. Some­times that’s a good thing and some­times not.

I’m not sure when exact­ly this crav­ing for noise became a crav­ing for silence but one day there it was. At some point I real­ized I could no longer remem­ber the last time I’d turned the radio on at home, or while dri­ving. Silence no longer both­ered, noise did. With me, it was main­ly a writer thing. How do you expect me to lis­ten to those voic­es in my head with all that rack­et?’ So, that’s what they mean by I can’t hear myself think!” I start­ed notic­ing how much more relaxed I was when things were qui­et. I start­ed notic­ing that qui­et brought with it feel­ings of seren­i­ty, peace and relaxation.

All well and good, at home where you can turn the TV, radio or your iPod on or off as the fan­cy takes you but it’s anoth­er thing in the pub­lic sphere. No one thinks it unrea­son­able. We’ve rec­og­nized the right not to have cig­a­rette smoke blown into our faces. There are laws against that, so why does the com­mer­cial world seem to think it has every right to indulge in acoustic abuse. They just don’t let up, do they? It’s that insid­i­ous worm – Muzak. It’s every­where. Shops, the mall, pool chang­ing rooms restau­rants and cafes.

At first, I just suf­fered with­out a word. I didn’t like to ask. British reserve and embar­rass­ment, I guess. I mean, isn’t it grumpy old crankies who don’t want the music on? Music is cool. Not so cool to want it off. There are times I’d like to do the writer with lap­top in café thing but so far every local café has told me they’re not allowed to turn off the music, even if you’re the only cus­tomer. Com­pa­ny Pol­i­cy,” they tell me. We can turn it down but we can’t turn it off. Sorry.”

One wait­ress con­fessed, I’d love to turn it off but if man­age­ment found out I’ll be in trou­ble.” The pool is the only Muzak free zone I can think of, but I’ll pass on tak­ing my lap­top for a swim. Per­haps, one day, I’ll start a cam­paign for free­dom from forced music in pub­lic places but until then me and my lap­top stay home.
As I fin­ish writ­ing this, it’s almost time to start my Shab­bat cook­ing. I’ll be lis­ten­ing to Shab­bat by The Fam­i­ly Wach while I chop, slice and stir. Here’s a taste.

Did I say I didn’t like music? Oh no. There’s a time for everything.