The sound of solitude

Beginning at age 4, my nightly tradition became reading a book while listening to music. I may have set a sleep timer on my 1980s clock radio, or perhaps I let the Top 40 sing me straight through till morning. I don’t recall now. But as far back as memory will carry me, music was the background to my life.

That changed several years ago. I found myself switching to public radio or silence for my post-work commute; I’d had enough stimulation throughout the day. When I got home, I left the radio, iPod and iTunes idle.

Quiet took music’s place.

My evenings are instead filled with the sounds of my cats’ meows, a train rolling down the tracks miles away or the clatter of my fingertips across the keyboard. Podcasts provide occasional company and information, particularly when I’m in the middle of a hated task like folding the laundry.

I thought this was the result of years of music writing. I dabbled in the genre starting my freshman year of college, and after years of reviewing I needed a break. It’s fun to be the first among your friends to acquire an album and declare a band the Next Big Thing, but it becomes exhausting. (And I know people who are much better at than I am!) Frequently, I longed to listen to The Beatles instead of whoever was coming through town next. Silence seemed an apt response as I moved away from the music beat.

There may be truth to that. But tonight, as one of my best friends and I decided to take a break from social media, for the first time I realized that may be as much a factor.

I’m addicted to information. I surely check my email a hundred times a day. Typing in “fa” for Facebook or “tw” for Twitter before letting my browser complete the rest is almost a tic. During a recent magazine subscription purge, I narrowed the list to 10 must-have mags (and that was as deep as I felt I could cut). Social media, however, can serve as a bullhorn rather than a means of discussion. And I’m tired.

So I’m taking a break. It’s something I’ve never done before; I’ve been on Facebook since 2004, Twitter since 2008. I believe in their value. (Just last week, Facebook alerted a couple of Pennsylvania friends that I was in New York City when they would be, as well. I’m glad for the impetus to get together.)

I’ll be back, I’m sure. The aforementioned friend and I are taking a step back during the Advent season, intentionally drawing boundaries with social media in hopes of creating more space in our lives. Many posit that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Accurate or not, we’ll see where we are at the end of these 22.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to know enough about yourself and who you are, and be comfortable enough with that. That way, when you are with another person, you’re not trying to make that person into somebody you need them to be in order to buttress a fragile sense of your own self. You can actually turn to a person and see them as another person, and have a real relationship with them.” —Sherry Turkle in “Relearning How to Talk in the Age of Smartphone Addiction.” Our discussion of this article is what led Heather and I to take this break.

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