Home Sweat Home (Chapter 1 of MUSINGS FROM A SMALL ISLAND)

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Sol Luckman

My family’s condo occupies the top two floors of one of four three-story buildings forming a small complex only a few hundred yards from the beach. There are multistory condos on either side as well as a single-level one below our home. All three neighboring units are owned by part-timers from out of town, which means for long stretches we’ve been lucky enough to have the whole building to ourselves.

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Sadly, those days may be coming to an end, as one of the adjacent units just went on the market. This means we could end up with full-time neighbors with a bevy of barking beagles or, worse, a steady stream of obnoxious vacation renters with no intention of acting neighborly whatsoever.

One major problem I have with living surrounded by other residences is that I’m highly—as in, extremely—sensitive to noise. I’ve suffered from this inconvenient malady ever since I can remember. I blame it on my artistic temperament.

Innumerable other creative types have dealt with the same issue. Recently, in fact, scientists at Northwestern University found that hypersensitivity to audio stimuli is a sign of creativity—and maybe even genius.

Marcel Proust wrote while wearing earplugs in a Parisian bedroom lined with cork. Across the English Channel, Thomas Carlyle soundproofed his writing room with double walls. Franz Kafka and Anton Chekhov were also famously discombobulated by ambient noise.

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So I guess I’m in pretty good company when our downstairs neighbor is in town blasting NPR all day up through the wafer-thin floor under my workspace and—in a desperate attempt to maintain my train of thought—I engage in various defensive behaviors: turning on the hall fountain, jamming earplugs in my ears, clamping on headphones without actually playing music for extra soundproofing. (I do go through phases when I enjoy working to music, but at the moment, sadly, I’m not in one.)

For the sonically challenged, the world would be much better indeed if architects and builders cared about noise pollution as much as profit margins. Here on my small island, they would build condos with cellophane if such methods were up to hurricane code. Instead, whoever constructed the stack-a-shack my family and I inhabit used wax paper for the floors and walls.


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