The Gift of Silence From a “Hemulen”

by Katy on December 17, 2015 · 12 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!


In today’s interconnected digital world it can near to impossible to allow oneself the gift of silence. There’s always a tempting e-mail to check, phone call to return or Facebook to update.

Sometimes when my kids are at school and my husband’s at work I am overwhelmed by the silence in my house. And as much as I appreciate the calm, it can be hard to concentrate with the vast nothingness of a quiet home. (I suppose this is part of why I’m able to be so productive while listening to audio books.)

I was reading a chapter of Tove Jansson’s Tales From Moominvalley aloud to my younger son at bedtime tonight, and this passage jumped out at me:

“The Hemulen threw himself headlong into the green, friendly silence, he gambolled in it, he wallowed in it, and he felt younger than he ever had before.”

And suddenly I craved nothing but that vast nothingness. I wanted to “gambol in the green friendly silence.” I wanted throw myself into silence. Me.

It’s easy to become addicted to constant stimulation and input, to never have that cushion of quiet to let ideas swirl and take form. I have a tendency to come up with great ideas while showering, and I know it’s because there’s nothing to do except think. Nothing to look at, nothing to listen to, no tasks to perform.

Even activities that used to serve as space cushions of silence no longer perform as such. Drivers chat with friends, pedestrians listen to their iPods and even the brief wait in line at the store becomes an opportunity for one more quick phone call.

My mother grew up the fourth child in a family of seven, and she can’t concentrate if it’s too quiet.  She’s a writer, and when she needs to buckle down and finish a chapter, she heads out to a restaurant. I have many childhood memories of sitting with her at the Newberry’s snack bar, while she put the finishing touches on an article. I, on the other hand, can’t write if there’s chaos around me. (Which is why I do almost all my writing after 11:00 P.M.)

I want to gambol in the “green, friendly silence.”

Do you find that the cacophony of the external world is making silence the exception rather than the norm? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Anne December 18, 2015 at 5:22 am

Yes definitely in my life silence is the exception not the norm! Accept when I am doing taxes, bills, something I need to focus on i.e. writing a paper for college definately took place at the library- then I definitely prefer silence! I find myself often telling my daughter if she is doing something that makes noise I can’t concentrate if I am typing an email back to a client etc. It makes no sense as my K-8 years took place in “open” classrooms with no walls – our elementaries and middle schools in my hometown had three or more classrooms in a row with no walls in between, just lots of noise! Elementary was in a “pod” classrooms in a circle around a center meeting area with steps down to it, gotta love the 70’s.

It’s a struggle for me as well. I like background noise at work sometimes but only if I am working on mundane things such as filing, sorting,etc., and then it has to be a certain background noise, nothing that might catch my attention or distract me i.e modern music, podcast/book on tape I have to follow along with is to distracting. At work in the AM many times I am the only one in the office. I find I can’t play music on my computer as it distracts me but if I turn it on in a nearby office it doesn’t distract – I need the “stereo” effect. Anyone remember the days when your parents had a wood counsel combination record player/radio in the living room? I need that kind of effect where its nearby but turned down low. My grandparents had an old radio on their kitchen table turned to the news/talk radio in the AM – that’s the kind of effect I need.

At night I also find myself needing to fall a sleep with a podcast (now), used to be talk radio in the old days (Coast to Coast or the Old Time Radio Shows late at night) to distract my thoughts/mind. It has to be something interesting but again mundane – old radio shows are fav’s, or something like the History Chicks, BackStory, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Bowery Boys (tried that one Katy? New York all the way 😉 ) or Lectures in History from CSpan. Some nights when I am in need I listen to the Marianne Williamson Monday night talks (some nights its every night!) or other spiritually related podcasts.

This week I find myself going music free at work as I am looking for a distraction (thus I am typing this blog response ;-)).

Hear that? Silence.


sherri December 18, 2015 at 7:45 am

Our house is very quiet as our three boys are grown and out of the house. I love the quiet most of the time, and am not one to put the tv on or really listen to music. I just do what I do lost in my thoughts.

But I am with you, I get my bet ideas in the shower!!

As for the general population, we just returned from NYC, and those midtown finance/law types are constantly conducting business on their phones while walking around. You can hear the details of their “deals” and workaday problems!

I can’t function with too much noise, and like my quiet life most of the time.


Jennifer December 18, 2015 at 8:15 am

The exception, definately, the exception. I have not had silence or been to the bathroom by myself in 20 years!


tonya parham December 18, 2015 at 9:13 am

I am an only child and only grandchild–raised by my grandparents in the 1970’s– and I simply cannot deal with lots of noise and being overstimulated. In fact, I find it really hard to read if there’s much noise going on.

HOWEVER, I find I write fine with lots of noise and people talking. I went to grad school and got an MFA and most of my classes were so tedious there really wasn’t anything to do so as to not pull my own hair out but to write. So, write I did. I filled a multitude of journals in grad school. And still, I love to write in coffee shops (which isn’t frugal) and restaurants (even less frugal) because something about the noise just makes it easy to fall into the page. But reading? Nope– it’s gotten easier to read with noise around; grad school got me over that somewhat as well because there was so much I had to read, I would have to read even when it was noisy. I can read books on my iphone app now at gatherings but it’s not a good long focus.

Meanwhile, my wife, who is the youngest of five kids can read anywhere any time. (I think it’s gotten harder for her, though because I keep our house pretty quiet and we have no kids.) I did ask once, “How can you read with all this noise going on?” We were in some building where there were all kinds of building and people talking. She says, “Oh, you forget, I grew up with a bunch of idiots who were all older and acting a fool. My parents were always yelling at them and at each other. If I wanted to read, I had to be able to tune them out.”

So, it’s good to be able to have silence and be comfortable with it, but too much of it and we can be paralyzed by the real would and it can destroy our ability to focus in on things that can keep us afloat in the crazy world we live in. At the same time, a certain amount of noise tolerance is a good thing, but we need those times of quiet and solitude to connect with ourselves,

That being said– after 26 years of cat ownership and having seven of them– it’d love to be able to sleep an entire night and not be woken up by them and have to go pee!


Maggie December 18, 2015 at 9:32 am

I’ve got two kids under the age of 4, so yes. Silence is the exception. Sometimes when they go to bed I like to just shut off all the noise making things in the house and listen to the quiet.


Marcia December 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

My husband and I are very quiet these days. He doesn’t hear well, wears two hearing aids, and can turn them off without me knowing it (which he does if using machinery so as not to damage what hearing he has left.) So both of us live in our own brains most of the day. Our TV is not usually turned on until the 6 PM news, and if no one is watching, we turn it back off. We do have some chat times—usually a “what do you want for dinner” at some point during the afternoon, and at bedtime definitely a summary of the day’s activities or a look forward at the next day. Sometimes we find ourselves talking to others and saying—Oh, did I mention that to you before? We amuse ourselves during the daytime—not knowing always exactly what the other has planned to do either. This may seem somewhat odd to some people but it’s not at all odd to us. We maintain some independence, although we do let each other know what we’re up to—even if it’s a note on the table that says “gone to XXX, left at 12:30” or “see you by suppertime.” I do find that even two people dropping in, like my DD and DGD, sometimes seem awfully loud to me when they are talking back and forth. When I was working, it was the exact opposite—I worked in a busy department, I was a supervisor so had constant interruptions with questions or situations needing an opinion, signing things, etc. Then I couldn’t even depend on my closed door to keep people out. I frequently closed it during my lunch time but found I needed to LOCK it, or people would knock and enter without waiting for a response!! I was able to concentrate well when I needed to study or get through a stack of paperwork quickly and efficiently. Then I might just tune things out so I didn’t hear someone approach to talk to me.


Marie-Josée December 19, 2015 at 5:11 am

I was raised by my grandparents who kept the house quiet – no radio or television, except occasionaly in the evenings. In addition, during most of my childood, we lived in northern Manitoba in Thompson and Fermont, Quebec. Well above the 45 parallel with no noise from neighbours or city life. The only television station that reached us was the Canadian Boadcasting Corporation in English and French, very similar to PBS. As a result, I am very comfortable with silence – I am writing this post in a house which is completely quiet. My husband was raised in a home where the television was on from morning till night. They had one in the dining room and watched television during meals. My husband arrives from work earlier than me and I walk into a home filled with music from Marillion to Bach, depending on his mood. If the house is silent, he is either not there or napping! I like to instrospect/read/be quiet and I actually need quiet time to be happy. My husband is clearly a “doer”, he can’t sit for more than 45 minutes doing “nothing” before becoming jittery. Actually, he gets up and goes to do dishes, laundry or anything that he noticed needed tending to do.


priskill December 19, 2015 at 7:15 am

Love this quote! I think I am easily distracted so I retreat into books — at coffee shops, restaurants, etc, where I like the background noise and it doesn’t disturb. But if I really have to concentrate or figure something out I need silence. Good pint about the absence of “green, friendly silence” in our lives.


Ruby December 19, 2015 at 8:30 am

I worked for years in noisy, crowded newsrooms and could write in that environment, but that skill has fallen away with the years. My last job in media had so many interruptions and noise going on that I used to grimly joke that it had given me attention deficit disorder.

Our home is really quiet. I know so many people who have to have the TV on 24 hours a day, and ours is rarely turned on. I do like to listen to the radio while I cook, but the rest of time it’s very quiet.


Karen December 19, 2015 at 9:24 am

I love quiet. Unfortunately there is a bus stop at the end of our driveway where one particular person has bellowed cell phone conversations about the latest no-good boyfriend (yes, that loudly) on an extraordinarily regular basis. Maybe it is a long distance call… When the expletives become all purpose – noun, adjective, verb, adverb, I turn on the TV till she’s gone. Hate it.


Karen December 19, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I grew up in a small house with 6 people so I was used to noise and people being around. Then college, first in a dorm and then in an apt. with 3 other girls.

After that I moved away and lived in a city by myself. At first I hated it and then I really liked it and decided that that was my truer self. Being quiet and listening to my own thoughts.

Then marriage, children and back to the noise. And finally empty nest and now back to the quiet.

I guess what I am saying is, for me at least, there was many seasons in my life and I adjusted to them. But when all is said and done I think I mostly like the quiet with dashes of noise. Which I will get later this week (the holidays) and I prepare myself to gear up for the noise. Because people (family) bring the noise and I really want that once in awhile.


ClaireatPaintItOKC December 23, 2015 at 7:58 am

I love that line! I feel like I often get too caught up in what’s going on around me and never truly take time for myself either. Nice article! I really enjoyed reading this.


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