Writing amid the noise of these covid times has been a challenge. Some of us have coped better than others–I might be somewhere in the middle, tearing my hair over an endless edit. The news cycle is overwhelming. Going into a cave is a privilege I can’t always afford.
The other day, I discovered a hack.
In between writing and editing sprints, I take breaks in my balcony–it is filled with green, but unfortunately overlooks a busy, noisy road. It wasn’t that way when we first moved in years ago, but Singapore is a tiny nation, and the number of tall buildings in my neighbourhood has grown by, I don’t know, 500 per cent? So these days I sit on my balcony, trying to enjoy my cuppa, watch the scyscraper-lined horizon, and centre myself. You know how that goes.
For quite some time, I was annoyed–at the roads for being so busy, at the number of people driving alone in their cars, at myself for being so helpless against traffic noise. I tried noise-cancelling headphones, and music. We can’t afford to move any time soon. A few days ago, I couldn’t find my headphones and it occurred to me that I could still hear bird calls someplace underneath the traffic. I wondered if I could close my eyes and zone in on them. So I did. And after a while, I heard the doves on someone else’s balcony, a flock of chatty parakeets talking to each other as they flew past, the black-naped yellow oriole that visits the garden below, and the shy little sunbird that flits from one balcony to another, feeding. The traffic noise seemed to recede, become a soothing background whoosh.
Yesterday, when I was sitting on one of these weird meditative breaks, I heard the sunbird loud and near, and thought I must be imagining it. It could not be on my balcony when I was sitting there. The second I parted my eyelids a little, I saw it flit off with a final cheep. That subird visits everyday. I call it the tooi-tooi bird, because that’s what it sounds like, declaiming in rising, staccato bursts, a call that is fragile, authoritative and celebratory at the same time. Its song remains the same: on days of sunshine and gloom—a reminder that life goes on, will go on with or without us. Its decibel level is all out of proportion with its small body, and that gives me faith. It flees at the slightest disturbance, which is why all my pictures of it are grainy, from behind the balcony’s glass doors.
It loves to suckle on the jasmine perennially in bloom, and hop about the moringa that offers a great perch–but in all these months and years, this was the first time it shared space with me, brash and loud within less than three feet of where I sat. It felt like an honour and a blessing.
The news cycle and social media are full of unpleasant noise these days. A lot of it is downright depressing. So much is vicious, even malignant distraction.
I wonder though if we could still hear snippets of ‘bird calls’ underneath all of these.
If we focus on what really matters, the world that continues in empathy and oneness, in complete indifference to the the angry, barren chaos we involve ourselves in, maybe we could hear it. Be one with it for a while. After all, each moment of our lives is defined by what we notice, where and how we choose to bestow our attention.
So what did you notice today? How do you keep living or writing amid the noise around you? Are you writing, editing, reading? Doing too many chores? How have you been lately?
It is available in India here.
Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.