Pressing Pause

"Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this...?" ~Alanis Morissette


I've never been secure in silence. When I was young I would chafe at the constraints of church, and school, and anywhere else I was expected to be seen and not heard. It wasn't that I didn't want to pay attention. It was the difficulty that the focus imposed on me without any sort of background noise. To me silence was merely a precursor to the good times, when I would be allowed the chaos that I needed in order to be whole again. In those pauses between the sweet noise I needed so I could concentrate lived the frustrations that threatened to eat me up inside. And the biggest problem was that most people in charge of my moments never believed me when I told them the silence would be the death of me.


As I got older I was able to make sure those pauses went more quickly and were more well-contained. In those spaces between activity I found ways to keep the noise, even if it was only in my head. And whenever I got the chance to be truly alive, to revel in the music that made me feel like a veritable god, I took it and transformed my world into what I wanted it to be. It became a carnival of sorts, a carousel of tinkling tones and colorful horses on parade. It was more beautiful than the setting sun, but there was no one to appreciate it with me. The dual glory and devastation of its personal nature is something I have never found a cure for in all my years of life on this earth


I don’t know what has always drawn me into the beat, the backbeat, the feedback, everything that goes into sound and rhythm. I just know that it’s always been there for me. Those times when all I had were my hands and I transformed the tabletop into a drum set were some of my best, and earliest, memories. If it was available it became part of my orchestra – from our bendable straws, to the laundry basket, to even the glasses from the cupboard. My mother wasn’t pleased because usually it meant she couldn’t find things when she needed them for their ordinary use, but I didn’t care because what I used them for made them extraordinary.


Even now I can’t abide the hollow nature of true quiet. No matter what I’m doing I have to place a soundtrack to it, to play music in the background, making up for all the times I couldn’t when I was younger. At this moment, as a matter of fact, as I type this blog entry, I’m rocking out to some of my ‘90s jams. Every once in a while I get moved by the spirit and I have to get up from my seat and dance, but that’s part of it too. I need those breaks. I need the ability, the possibility even, to be distracted from what I’m doing just as much as I need to focus on the selfsame. That’s the dichotomy of having music as a constant wallpaper, that it can give and take away at the same time, depending on my mood.


And the type of music I need as a background shifts and undulates like a snake crawling through the short grass. Some days it’s as heavy as I can possibly make it, the sounds like shrieks and guttural moans emanating from my speaker or through my headphones. At other times it’s classical violin, hours of classical violin that is beautiful and haunting at the same time. But the ultimate is when I put my iPod on shuffle so I’m surprised by the songs that float through my headspace. They can range drastically, from Snoop Dogg in one moment, to Enya in the next, to Taylor Swift, and on down the line. I never know what’s next, which fits my personality to a T.


But silence… I honestly don’t know what to do with it. It drives me absolutely insane. If it were up to me there would be no pause buttons, just endless chaos, endless noise, endless music to fill the spaces that were previously without it. Sometimes that’s not an option, and I have to suffer through the silences, but sometimes angels dwell there, ready to shelter me in their warm embrace… at least until I get another chance to fly again.


Sam McManus

In the CD Player: Strange Little Birds, by Garbage