Finding Quiet Space in a Noisy City
In one of his best short stories, Ernest Hemingway suggests that, faced with life’s many tribulations, people need “a clean, well-lighted place” to visit in order to maintain their sanity and dignity. I have been in New York for nearly a month, and already I feel the need to escape the city’s endless noise — especially when I need to study.
Unfortunately, The New School doesn’t have many tranquil places on campus for students to go to do their work. I understand that space is limited. The University Center still looks like a hole in the ground, so students and faculty must make do in the meantime with the resources given to them.
However, there is one place on campus that has potential: the study center at 90 Fifth Ave. It’s clean and well-lit — which Hemingway would have appreciated — with comfortable chairs and spacious tables. But it’s not always quiet.
Part of that has to do with the space itself. It has concrete walls and floors, and an unfinished ceiling. The acoustics there are great. You can hear conversations and phone calls from across the room.
But this fact raises another, more important question: Why are people talking and taking phone calls there in the first place?
I have a few theories. First of all, some people are simply inconsiderate. Here’s an example: Last week a drama student paced though the study center on his phone and complained about a part he didn’t get. The conversation lasted for about five minutes. I watched this spectacle in amazement, as did the students sitting around me. We were dumbfounded by this guy’s rudeness.
Here’s another example: Yesterday two guys seated right next to me were swapping drinking stories and recalling their sexual misadventures from last weekend. (By the way, be careful what you say in public places; you never know who might be listening.) While I enjoy a good story as much as the next college student, I prefer to hear these anecdotes in a bar, and not when I’m trying to read Fredrick Douglass. Save it for the pub, boys.
Unfortunately, guys (and gals) like our struggling actor and partiers just need to be told to shut it. In the future, I won’t be shy about demanding quiet in a place intended for studying.
To be fair, I believe that most people are considerate, but simply don’t realize how much noise they’re making. Again, sound carries in the study center. Even if you take your phone call near the escalators, you can still be heard from around the corner.
So here is my proposal: take your phone calls in the lobby or, better yet, go outside. Consider it a good opportunity to take a break, stretch your legs and enjoy the early autumn cool. And if you must talk in the study center, use one of the conference rooms.
I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take for the sake of silence. We’re all trying to manage immense workloads. There are plenty of places in New York to be loud and obnoxious. Save your conversations for the parties. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, try turning off your phone for a couple of hours while you study. If that’s too much, then at least show some courtesy and make sure your call isn’t disrupting others. These are reasonable requests.
At the end of Hemingway’s story, the main character, an old waiter, elects to keep his tranquil, pleasant café open late into the night in case someone needs it. Frankly, I need a quiet place, and I think other students do too. This city reverberates with the sound of jackhammers, car horns and noisy people; let’s preserve one floor of one building where we can do our work in peace.