Emily Articulated

My broken car stereo

By Emily Erickson
Reader Staff

Not long ago, I was having one of “those days.” It was the kind of morning that started with a coffee burn on my tongue and a drawer full of gloves without their match. It was an afternoon of getting stuck at an impossibly long red light, and my very-important-email sitting finished in my draft folder, needing to have been sent that morning. It was also the kind of evening that started too early, with the sun dipping behind the mountains before I even had the chance to bask in it. 

Emily Erickson.

It was the kind of day where everything felt just a bit “off,” like in some opposite universe. I wouldn’t be able to quite put my finger on why it felt like it did; and, then, on my ride home, my stereo went blank and the resulting silence filled my car.

Which is why, for the past few days, in the wake of the day that was “just one of those days,” I’ve been driving to and from all of my destinations without sound.

As someone who loves auditory experiences — from audiobooks to podcasts to radio and news programs, and of course, to music — my days are typically spent entirely surrounded by sound. 

But, with my recent unprogrammed dedication to chunks of time without the smallest tinkle of background music — with nothing but the low crunching of car tires and the whooshes of wind gusts outside my windows — I’ve been more tuned in than I have been in quite some time.

The simple act of driving to my destination has become an exercise in paying attention; not only more closely to the details of everything around me, but also to what’s happening within my own experience.

With the past year carrying a steady stream of things demanding my attention, like pandemic updates, election headlines and news of the next impossible development — all supplemented by distractions from my own thoughts and feelings (yes, I just relistened to the entire Harry Potter audiobook series… again) — I’ve been living in a state of nearly constant information and creativity input.

But, like the simple action of turning off a faucet, I’ve removed the constant influx of other people’s output. By breaking my radio and commuting in silence, thus designating a space and time to be alone with my own thoughts and feelings, my brain has had the freedom to create its own ideas, and come to its own conclusions. 

After each 15-minute trip to wherever I’m going, I hurriedly pull out my little car notebook, scribbling the places to which my mind has traveled, with ideas for art pieces, article musings and curiosity for some phenomena splashing the pages — flowing more freely than they have in quite some time.

It took disconnecting from constant sensory input to reconnect with my own thoughtful output. It took silence and space to rekindle the flame that I didn’t quite realize had been dimmed by the largeness of this year.

This silence is a luxury, to which I understand I’m uniquely positioned to enjoy. Without kids or even the rigid schedule of an office job, creating space — although unintentional — is much easier for me than it would be for most others. But, in the noise of 2020, and especially the bustle of the holiday season, I hope you all find time for your own thoughts. And just maybe, for some of you, a broken car stereo.

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