In my intermediate fiction writing class, we did a writing exercise where we were supposed to write a scene, but restrict ourselves by pretending phones, Internet and other technology did not exist in our character’s town. Placing a restriction like this on your writing forces you to analyze what is truly necessary to convey your message. Ever since doing this exercise, I have been fascinated with putting different limitations on my own writing and seeing what that reveals about my character, about the story or even about myself. I decided to turn this article into a similar exercise, placing restrictions on what I can write. Here is a day in my life on campus, only described in sounds:
My day begins with Alexa, my Amazon Echo, waking me up with an upward tri-tone – three notes repeat over and over again until I finally grumble, “Alexa, stop.” The hallway is silent on my trip down to the bathroom. There I hear the sounds of the faucet running, the foamy soap squirting out of its dispenser, my toothbrush brushing back and forth against my teeth, the pushing down of the paper towel dispenser (three or four loud pushes), the rolling of toilet paper and the flushing of the toilet before I head back out into the hallway, where silence returns. I break the silence with a high-pitched mix of a yawn and a sigh.
Back in my room, my mini refrigerator hums while the plastic wrapper of my granola bar (my breakfast) makes a crinkling noise. The zip of my backpack and the slamming of my door are the last things I hear before I head outside to be greeted by the joyous sounds of birds chirping, leaves crunching and squirrels scurrying, as well as the contrarily unpleasant sounds of jackhammers, bulldozers off in the near distance – the ceaseless construction by Casper Quad.
Out on Escondido Road, the motor of my wheelchair drums on, a rare sound amongst the common pedaling and rolling of bicycle wheels. It is oddly silent besides the quiet axles of bike wheels turning – an occasional “hey,” but not much else, only the sounds of people heading where they need to go.
In classes, professors lecture enthusiastically – the sounds of their voices are occasionally accompanied by the low laughter of the students when a joke is made. The typing of keyboards, the scribbling of pen against paper and the flipping of loose leaf paper are all ambient noises in class, interrupted by the intermittent sneeze or cough of a sick student or the opening and closing of class door by a latecomer.
In the dining hall, the friendly “hello” from the worker who swipes my student ID with a swoosh precedes the clinking and clanking of bowls, forks and knives scraping against plates, loud chitchat of students, sudden bursts of laughter, equally sudden groans of frustration and the latest pop hits playing in the background of it all. I hear the latest life updates from my friends; the joys, the sadness, the stress and the excitement are all in their voices.
In my dorm, the muffled sounds of students practicing the piano, violin or oboe in the music practice room located right under me are overpowered by the playlists I turn on using Spotify, usually K-pop or “Today’s Top Hits.” Every once in a while, footsteps pass outside my room and neighbors rummage through their backpacks to find their keys and unlock their doors. Typing, typing, more typing on my keyboard as I work through my papers or problem sets.
At the end of the day, the last things I hear are the sound of my own voice, “Alexa, set alarm for 8:15 a.m.,” and Alexa’s response, “Alarm set for 8:15 a.m. tomorrow.”
Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu.