January 12, 2009

quiet mouse / noisy mouse

When I was a wee little thing, my grandmother expressed concern, to my mother, about the fact that I wasn’t talking yet.  I don’t know how old I was, but apparently, I should have been talking by that point.  Mom said they couldn’t wait for me to start talking…

… and they I did, and they couldn’t get me to shut up.

Throughout elementary school (kindergarten, preschool), every single parent-teacher conference yielded the same thing: “She talks too much/a lot.” “We can’t get her to stop talking.”

I was forever being reprimanded for talking when I wasn’t supposed to be.

I didn’t just talk a lot, I also talked quickly.  WAY too quickly.  Everyone who knew me – and I mean everyone – called me Motormouth.  Up until a few years ago, my father still couldn’t decipher the words spewing in rapid succession from my mouth.  He’d either look at me and say, “WHAT?” or ask mom to translate.

One of my teachers in high school had once said, “I’ve never in my life heard someone talk so quickly, yet enunciate so clearly.”  I guess my enunciation skills were my saving grace.

The speed issue was finally curbed (a little bit) once I moved to Prague.  During my teacher training (to get my English teaching certificate), I was smacked down, hard, by my instructor.  He all but said “You need to slow the fuck down. Now. Or you’re not going to pass this program.”

After spending 3 years of my life speaking slowly and clearly for the sake of my students (native Czech speakers), as well as 8 months of speaking to a Czech boyfriend, I learned to slow the fuck down.

Most of the time, that is.  Occasionally, I still find myself tripping over my own tongue, my mouth unable to keep up with my brain.

Sometimes, I still talk too damn fast – when I actually say more than a few sentences, that is – like when I’m working (training, talking for 8 hours a day.)

Because other than that, I think I just talked myself out when I was younger.

I just don’t talk much anymore.

I don’t just not talk much anymore, but I’m sensitive to noise in general.

I love conversing, I love getting hopped up on a topic or connecting with someone for hours and hours into the night, but it’s a rare occasion.  I like to talk a bit when catching up with friends I haven’t seen for a very long time.  However, if I don’t have anything of consequence to say, I’d rather just not say anything at all.  I don’t speak for the sake of it and I’m not the type of person who just likes to hear themselves talk.

I know some people like this – people who just like to hear themselves talk or never seem to run out of things to say, people who talk at you.  They exhaust me.  I have a very dear friend who does this, and I love her to death.  But when I’m with her, I tend to retreat and let her run her course.  The more someone else talks, the quieter I get, and I can only take so much of this.  After a couple hours, I start to feel exhausted and irritable.

As for mornings, don’t even get me started.  My morning mood is infamous.  Infamous to the point where my mom has confessed to keeping doors closed behind her when I’m there visiting, lest I think she’s trying to communicate with me and then finding herself on the bad end of that look I give.

It’s not just that I’m grumpy in the morning – the process of waking up, the slow entrance into the day is important to me.  Psychologically, emotionally important to me.  Abruptness hurts, sudden starts & movements are jarring. And there is absolutely nothing I need or want to say first thing in the morning.

And if I’m sick, or particularly tired or just feeling slightly or way off, there is nothing I would like better than to curl up into a quiet little fortress of isolation.

This brings me to my Domestic Partner.

(Lest he think this is some sort of criticism, it’s not – it’s an entertaining observation about two extremes.)

He is not a quiet person.  By any means.

He’s an auditory bull in a china shop.  Or would that be a bull in an auditory china shop?  I’m thinking it would be the former.  Or maybe neither.  Maybe I should just say that he is like the noise that would be made should a bull actually run through a China shop.

Imagine, for a moment, what that would sound like.  Actually, imagine if a hundred bulls ran through a China shop.

He’ll argue that he’s “not that bad,” or “not that loud,” but to someone who treasures quiet like I do, he is that loud.

He likes to make up songs and do dances for me in the morning.  (Well, all day actually, but the morning is a particularly dangerous time for him to be doing it.)   He likes to tell me what’s happening on the television as it happens – even though I’m sitting right there and can see perfectly well what’s happening for myself.  He also likes to tell me when I’m not watching and not interested in watching because I’m trying to read.  He likes to yell at the people on the tv (I realize, this seems to be a man thing, as well.  Except he yells at celebrities rather than athletes, which is, admittedly, a small consolation.)

If I’m making dinner, he likes to imitate every sound I make (the spoon hitting the sides of a pot as I stir, the knife hitting the cutting board as I chop onions) and then – and then – he’ll start making up songs about what I’m doing.  “Oh, Nikki’s chopping onnnnnnions.” And while it’s rather amazing how he can make up verse after verse about the fact that I’m chopping onions, I would, at that point, like to throw myself behind a soundproof barrier.

He, and my father, actually, like to point out the obvious.  They both like to say out loud the words on pieces of paper in front of them, or on billboards & signs that we pass, or whatever is on my laptop screen at the moment.  (And yes, I gripe at Dad to knock it off, too.)

I think that I usually talk in a pretty low voice.  Unless I’m mad, in which case my voice will rise (and I get accused of screaming and yelling but no one in California has heard me actually scream and yell yet.  Because when I do, all of California will surely hear it.)

Boyfriend… Boyfriend is booming.  He explodes onto the scene, returning to home after work, or waking up.  Now, I understand that because his job, his livelihood, depends on his hearing, and when a movie or concert is too loud, he might need to use earplugs to protect those money-making eardrums.  But my sanity depends on not having every moment of my life narrated or sung about, or explosions of sound (no matter how low-decibel they may be) during the day – particularly in the morning or when I’m in a very solitary mood.

There is no moral to this story, nor a tidy wrap up.  I do ask you, however – considering the fact that neither “quiet” nor “loud” is “right” or “wrong,” how do you reconcile the crash & boom with the sound of silence?  It seems like a minor, silly conflict, however many a moment is spent with one person being annoyed at the refusal to respect one’s desire for quiet while the other is upset about basically being told to shut up all the time.

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