Saturday, June 23, 2012

Noise in the Universe

by Lynn Townsend

The first thing you need to know about me is that I suffer from a condition called tinnitus. What I've gone through and all the crap I know about the condition is summed up in five simple words that no one likes to hear: It's all in my head.

I hear... sound. Constantly. Even when there's nothing there to possibly make a noise. In my forty years, I've never actually been exposed to silence. (Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkle) When I was a child, I was convinced the sounds - my tinnitus is particularly bad at night when there aren't lots of other white noise
to drown it out - were ghosts, trying to tell me something. I would disappear into my own world, ignoring everything around me, trying to figure out what it was.

By the time I was a teen, I suffered from extremely bad insomnia (Who Needs Sleep, Barenaked Ladies) and migraines, as well as occasional episodes of vertigo and sensory- especially auditory, but in one spectacular case, visual - hallucinations. From doctors, I was told that "it was all in my head" and that I was "seeking attention" and placed under the care of a school psychiatrist who had difficulty separating sarcasm from suicidal impulses.

My freshman year of college, attempting to drive away the "interesting" smell of a roommate who had never done her own laundry before (and as far as I know, managed to get through her entire freshman year and still hadn't actually done the laundry... Dirty Laundry, Don Henley) I discovered the miracle that is white noise.

A simple oscillating room fan mostly cancels out the noise my head makes.

Music helps, too. Especially if it's new music. The sound in my head gets used to the same old stuff and sort of... tunes around it. Hard to explain.

Pretty much from then on, I've had some sort of noise going on in the background - a fact that made some of my later roommates rather annoyed.

But it led to my becoming an absolute audiophile. CDs and later mp3s... I was obsessed. Every scrap of music that I could get my hands on. I have a weird habit; I go to yard sales and estate sales and I buy random boxes of CDs. I don't care if I ever heard of the music before. Or even if the CD on the label is the same CD inside the case. (at estate sales, this is often the case, actually.) In fact, I'm just as happy not to have. Something new.

At current estimates, I have over 22,000 mp3s. I've ripped every CD I ever bought. I could listen to music for the next 2 months straight, 24 hours a day, and not hear the same song twice. (Well, maybe a few
repeats. I do have 8 different versions of Living in the Past by Jethro Tull.)

All of this sums up to; I have a rather large supply of music whenever I want to write. I like to start out a novel or a novella or a short story by finding a theme song for it. The song may not have, lyrically, anything to do with what I'm writing, but the tempo of the music will be appropriate. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes not so

The last piece I published, The Blister Effectwas written entirely to Jonah Knight's excellent Steampunk CD, The Age of Steam particularly "Once Again Around the Sun" which contain these lyrics:

I live like a ghost in the Age of Steam
These walls can't keep me from you
On every darkened street where gaslight cannot gleam
If you're there, I will be too
And every broken part can be replaced
With another part until you are machine through and through
And I will carry you once around the sun
I will follow too, once and then we're done

When Kristina was poling around for someone to guest post, I was, interestingly enough, putting together a playlist to inspire me. I'd seen a Submission Call that I wanted to do - I'd been pondering writing an erotica piece where most of the action takes place on the narrow turning in my staircase. (I just moved into a new house and I'm having all sorts of fun imagining where might be interesting places to have sex.) But I didn't have a character, I had no scenario, no plot, no nothing. Just a scene.

Once I saw the submission call, that narrowed it down a bit; Firemen.I could do that. My uncle and cousins are all firemen or EMTs, and I've actually been on site at a live call before with my grandfather who was also an EMT and happened to have me and my cousin in the car when the tones went off. I pulled up my music player and put together a list and titled it "Burn Baby."

Burn it Down - AWOLnation

Beds are Burning - Midnight Oil

We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel

Sunny Came Home - Shawn Colvin

Burn all the Letters - Indigo Girls

Burning Man - Third Eye Blind

Burnin' For You - Blue Oyster Cult

Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash

Light it on Fire - Cowboy Mouth

Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon

She's on Fire - Train

Rooms on Fire - Stevie Nicks

I'm on Fire - Bruce Springsteen

Burning Down the House - Talking Heads

Set Fire to the Rain - Adele

Burning Love - Elvis

Fire at Midnight - Jethro Tull

Urgent - Foreigner

Sound the Alarm - Thievery Corporation

And if my characters resemble, in my head, Emily Saliers (from Indigo Girls) and the male lead's name is Steve... well, that's just a coincidence.

But I cannot lie. The title "Big Trucks" came straight from happening to catch Baby Got Back at exactly the wrong time.

Read more from Lynn Townsend at  Paid by the Weird or on Facebook


  1. Hey, Lynn,

    Welcome to the Grip, and thanks for a fabulous post. (I actually KNOW some of the songs on your playlist - yay!)

    Seriously, the tinnitus must be a trial to live with. I'm delighted you've managed to turn it into an asset.

  2. Hi welcome to the grip!

    I've never met anyone who had tinitis before, its interesting that you can drown it out with white noise. I wonder if that works for other people who have this problem.

    I also didn;t there were 8 versions of living in the past. I've always liked Jethro Tull.



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