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September 2011

Nails on a Chalkboard

Nails on chalkboard As dry erase boards and "Smart Boards" become the norm, we can assume the chalkboard will soon go the way of those old blue phonograph boxes they used to have in schools. And that's a shame for one reason alone: The phrase, "nails on a chalkboard" is such a useful term to describe sounds of any pitch that grate on your nerves the way a cheese grater grates... well, cheese.

I can't remember ever being so distracted by sound the way I am today. In fact, I'm wondering if I should stop trying to produce a novel and just spit the events of today out into a comedy film script. They play out like this:

Up at 6:oo a.m. to finish combing through the last three chapters of my novel for errors. The livingroom is still dark, the house is asleep. Coffee mug comfortably in reach, I begin. Suddenly, a fight erupts in the bird cage across the room. Weasley and Dobby, our parakeets, never tweet or twitter before their nearby window is open and the lights are on. This morning they squawk and squeal as if the house is on fire. I can only imagine what the problem was. Did one of them poop in the water dish? I chastise them, then go back to my work.

One hour later, the squawking begins again. Only this time it comes from two fighting children. This, sadly, is not a rare ocurrence. I stop working, start breakfasting, run a few errands and arrive home to...

Dun dun duuuuuuuunnnnn! The in-laws. This too is not a rare occurrence. It's a weekly occurrence, and while I won't go into why that is, how I let it happen, and why I haven't done anything about it in this post, I will say this: I have established that when I need to work, I will work regardless of them being here or not. Only, today I cannot get rid of the sounds that come with them.

I pull up my laptop, and while I work, they chat with my husband. Only their chatting is trill, in another language, and loud enough to run through one's entire body like an electric surge....nails on a chalkboard. I move to another room, then realize that it doesn't matter what room I am in, I will hear them and my teeth will continue to grind. The only place I'll find escape is outside. Only, I'm worried that might seem excessively rude. And, since the temperature has dipped, I wonder if I'll be cold out there.

Aha! That's it! My mother-in-law can't stand to be the least bit cold.  I'll suffer for the sake of getting work done. So I say, "Let's get some fresh air, everyone! I'm going outside. Anyone want to join me?"  I get no takers. So out I go, figuring at least I asked, right?

Ten minutes later, the back door opens, and within seconds I am enveloped in a conversation my entire block must hear.  I read my prose at a whisper, hoping it will override my mother-in-law's shrill laugh. After a half hour of this, and exactly half of one page proofed in that time, my wonderful son suggests going inside to watch a movie. And they all do! I'm free! All I hear is the faint sound of cicadas, which is soothing, musical, and serene. So I work. One page, two pages, three pages....

In the distance, the bell rings. My husband's friend has come to visit him, unannounced. This is actually a nice thing, since my husband is on crutches after foot surgery and he's coming by to see how he's doing. Only he has brought his three children with him. Suddenly, the yard erupts again, and I give up, turning to this blog to see if I can write through the hub bub. And I start, through five kids in the yard, a shrill MIL in the house, the dialogue from the film Airplane coming from the window my husband just opened, and a longing for the sweet music of the cicadas and nothing else. 

And then it hits me. Music. I've spent this whole day trying to be considerate by not playing the music I usually play when I'm writing at home alone. So I pull up Grooveshark ( and set my playlist going. Instantly, my shoulders uncrunch, my teeth separate, and I can find the humor in a chipmunk that just jumped onto the patio table, then scampered away at the sight of me. Unlike other sounds, music distracts the distracted part of my brain and allows me to concentrate. With the strange mix of artists on my playlist, I know I'll probably tick someone off, but hey...I'm a writer. I'm bound to be a bit strange.

Here are some of the artists on my playlist: Sugarland, Nine-inch Nails, Prince, Casting Crowns, Alanis Morissette, Enigma, Our Lady Peace, U2, Train, Evanescence, Melissa Etheridge, Harry Connick, Jr., Pink, The Verve, Tpau, Led Zeppelin.

Who's on your list?