It snowed here today, and, of course, the kids went outside to play. Even Wyatt donned his snow suit to experience his first touch of snow.
I love seeing snow. But I love listening to it even more. You know, the pip pip pip of the flakes hitting the ground below if they are icy flakes. Or the feather-light silence of fluffy flakes landing on a quiet blanket of white. And, of course, the playful voices of the kids breaking through it all. Perhaps it’s the New Englander in me, but I love tuning in to snow — especially the snow that insulates sound, making everything temporarily silent.
While in graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on listening and the ways that writers use the experience of sound – music, spoken voice, city and country sounds, historical sounds – to explore issues of racial representation, constructions of identity, and sonic modes of citizenship and social activism.
Since then, I’ve written articles about listening, and tried to develop different ways to help my students become more effective listeners and, by extension, more effective readers, writers, and thinkers. Becoming more of a listening student also helps students think about what kind of filters they listen through and may not be aware of, and hopefully helps them hear their own unique writing voice better.
I’m excited because, in the spring, I’m pulling all my listening materials together and teach a class which I’m calling “The Listening Mind, or, Reading and Writing with Your Ears.” The title plays off of the title of a Toni Morrison essay, “The Dancing Mind” where she talks about being aware of the social and political aspects of writing and learning. The students will go on listening walks and record what they hear, study the development of a particular sound technology like the radio or ipod, write music reviews, and analyze a few of the books we study.
Here are just a few of the sonic moments from literature that strike a chord with me:
–Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man listens to Louis Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” as he lives underground in Harlem.
–Toni Morrison creates a talking book in her novel Jazz. Also, we hear music and a camera’s shutter sound in the book.
–The juxtaposition of western opera with peking opera in the play M. Butterfly.
–The moment in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close when the narrator asks, “What if we all swallowed little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers?”
The last one also reminds me of Maroon 5’s pop song “Stereo”: “My heart’s a stereo/It beats for you so listen close.”
I guess you could think of the moments above as part of my personal literary soundtrack.
What plays on your personal soundtrack?