The pitch of modern life

July 15, 2021   ·   0 Comments


When I lead creative writing workshops, one of my favourite activities is to get participants to explore their senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, smell). Sensory writing is gives us the chance to wake up to the world around us, to describe things that we often take for granted. Our senses are our primary source of knowledge about the world. Writing which incorporates vivid, sensory detail is more likely to engage and affect a reader. Sensory writing is the ‘scratch and sniff sticker’ of the writer’s craft.  

The participants love these activities. I ask them to describe things like their favourite smell, and what it makes them think of, or to compare a piece of food to a particular emotion. One person likes the touch of sandpaper, another person likes the taste of gorgonzola cheese. 

Let’s try some: What’s your favourite thing to smell? Me: basil; caramel; bread in the oven. Your favourite thing to touch? Me: my daughter’s arm; a book; a pen. My favourite sounds? The train passing through town; the birds in the forest behind my house. We also enjoy sharing our least favourite things to ‘sense’. 

My least favourite sound is the sound of loud motor vehicles. Even as I write this, I can hear cars raging along Broadway (between Blind Line and C-Line). If you walk along downtown Broadway, or sit out on your front porch, you probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about. There are times I can’t decide if I’m living in Orangeville or if I’m stranded in Jurassic Park. The sounds from these vehicles are nerve-wracking, bone rattling; it makes me feel as if my entire body is being pushed through a cheese grader. It feels like I’m standing in the epicenter of an earthquake or standing in the middle of the track at the Molson Indy. 

From my understanding, the levels of noise from these vehicles are a result of modifications made after the car has been purchased. The modifications are not functional, merely decorative. Transport Canada has imposed maximum noise limits on vehicles that should be no louder than a lawnmower. I think it’s safe to say that what we’re hearing surpasses that limit. 

It can’t just be about sound. In a recent Vice Magazine piece, Dag Balkmar, a Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies from the University of Örebro writes: “These people want a unique car, and by making their car unique they become unique themselves. It’s about making an impression, saying, ‘I’m here. You have to take notice of me.’ It’s definitely a way of expanding and taking over space, which is a typically masculine way of being’. 

A loud car, like a loud person, is making a statement. Like church bells summoning people to mass, or the loud noise a factory worker is subjected to on the floor, there is a power dynamic at play here. To me, when somebody modifies their car and pays no mind to the anxiety they are causing is akin to a bully picking on kid at recess. It turns out, the consequences are also the same.  

Scientists have argued that long-term exposure to certain sounds can affect our mental and physical health. An article in the European Heart Journal revealed that long-term exposure to the sound of traffic increases our risk of stroke.

Let’s flip the script — what if I took something I like to do —let’s say, reading. How would any of these guys feel if I showed up in their living room (I can hear their vehicle from inside mine) reciting — no, shouting —lines of Shakespeare: IF YOU PRICK US DO WE NOT BLEED? / IF YOU TICKLE US DO WE NOT LAUGH?/ IF YOU POISON US DO WE NOT DIE?/ AND IF YOU WRONG US, SHALL WE NOT REVENGE?”

People have always complained about there being too much noise. In some ways it has to do with the material progress that we’ve made. There are more people, computers, gadgets, cars on the road, etc. We want things bigger, louder, more bombastic. The last time I watched a movie in a theatre I thought I had popped an ear drum. Even libraries aren’t quiet spaces. But here’s the thing: I can choose to not go to the movies or frequent the library. I can’t choose to not hear these cars and bikes. 

I’m not asking for complete silence. I’m asking for a certain level of respect to be shown for all citizens in this community. It would be difficult to curtail. If we can’t stop it, can we at least manage it? If I can’t sit on a patio on Broadway, how many others are also going to avoid the area? This can’t be good for business. I won’t sit on another downtown patio until I can do it, and hear myself think.  

When I was a kid, my friends and I pinned hockey cards to the back wheels of our bikes with clothespins. We rode up and down Watson Avenue like we were the meanest, baddest bike crew on the planet. We got a rush from the sound, and from the attention. If people weren’t looking at us, we could be sure that they were, at least, hearing us. In some way, I get where these guys are coming from. On the other hand, I think it’s time that they grow up. 

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