Note to reader: I first wrote and posted this blog on Sunday June 21st. Oddly enough, things have been VERY quiet next door over the past few days…go figure!
Sour Situation? Accept It, Change It or Change You
God give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed and the wisdom to know the one from the other.
– Reinhold Niebuhr
I would like to share with you something that I am currently experiencing. You can take from it what you like…or you can write me back and offer any wisdom you might have to offer 🙂
I am beginning to realize that when something is bothering me, I pretty much have 3 choices:
1. Accept it
2. Change it
3. Change me
For those of you who know me or are familiar with some of my writing, you may be aware of a significant source of irritation in my life: my noisy neighbours.
If not, here’s the basic situation: from the day I moved in, there has been one noise or mess-related issue or another going on next door.
Whether it was the daily pounding bass from the stereo (that I could still hear while wearing silicone earplugs and headphones), the lawn that rarely gets mowed, the crap-filled backyard (but at least the old fridge is gone!), the screaming (playing, sorry) children or the screech of the band-saw, my patience has been tried again and again.
I have worked on changing me.
I have gone to meditation classes (taught by a Buddhist monk, no less) to try and learn how to calm my mind in the midst of chaos. So although now I can meditate when it’s quiet; not so much when the noise starts up again.
I have worked on adjusting my attitude by reminding myself how blessed I am to be living where I do and that I should be grateful that there aren’t bombs going off.
I have told myself how nice it is that the children are actually playing outside, using their imagination (and vocal chords) rather than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen all day.
I know the sound of children happily playing should be a joy to my ears…and it is – just not ten feet away, every day.
I have even written a play about my neighbours, for goodness sake.
I have tried to enjoy my beautiful little garden while children are screaming and smashing toys next door, as the band saw screams on (which to me, is akin to the sound of nails on a blackboard).
Mostly, however, I have learned to simply avoid trying to enjoy my garden if the neighbours happen to be enjoying theirs.
I have tried to love my neighbours. I have tried to like my neighbours. I have succeeded in being nice to my neighbours. In fact, we get along pretty well…because I don’t like confrontation.
But alas, I am failing dismally at accepting the fact that their lifestyle is not a conducive fit to mine.
I work from home. I am a writer. I need peace and quiet.
But here’s the worst of it: the noise next door, of course, is not happening 24-7. But it may as well be because the noise in my head – my internal reaction to the situation next door – is not only going on and on, pretty much 24-7 these days, it’s starting to get pretty loud and nasty up there.
I recently saw the new Pixar film, Inside Out, and now at least, I have a good visual of the foul little red man – anger – who has a spot at the control panel in the headquarters of my brain!
Although anger has it’s occasional role to play, I do not like it when he’s got his angry little red hands all over the controls…which is how I am feeling, again, about the situation next door.
In other words, I don’t particularly like the person I am becoming, living next door to these people.
Which leads me to the question: what am I going to do about it?
Well, I can’t change my neighbours. They are who they are and I, more or less, have accepted that. But try as I might, I cannot seem to accept the noise.
And since I’ve tried, with little success, to change me and my response to the noise, I am pretty much down to the third option: change the situation.
In other words, move. Sigh…
I’ve been here 5 years now and, other than the neighbours, I have absolutely loved it…the house, the garden, the town, the neighbourhood, the province, the ocean.
Over the years, I have confided in friends and family about the neighbour situation and the number one response has been:
“But if you move, what if you have noisy neighbours there, too?”
So, out of fear, I have stayed put year after year…repeatedly irritated by the noisy neighbours I do have – rather than taking a chance on finding a quieter place.
Does that sound sane to you? Because it doesn’t to me anymore.
In fact, in hindsight, that is an odd way of looking at things. It’s rather like telling a woman she shouldn’t leave her abusive husband because she might end up marrying another one.
But at the end of the day, the choice to not move has been mine – so I take full responsibility.
“You may not realize it, but your life at this exact moment…is a direct result of choices you made once upon a time.”
– Sarah Ban Breathnach, Something More; Excavating Your Authentic Self
The future, however, is wide open. And I suspect the neighbour situation is the catalyst needed for me to make a move…because if it wasn’t for the noise next door, I wouldn’t be going anywhere!
So in the bigger picture, although I don’t know why I have to leave and I certainly don’t know where I’m going to end up, I’m getting a pretty strong sense that it is time to move.
Interestingly, in the midst of working my way through this decision, I came across a blog by Brian R Willis entitled, Dare to be Great, Not Perfect, in which he refers to this insight:
“You don’t need to know what perfect looks like, you just need to know what better is. Use better as your guide.”
– Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for a Better Life
I thought about this, then asked myself: “Am I seeking perfection? Do I really think I can find a new place to live that is perfect in every way, including being completely quiet?”
And my answer was no. I am not seeking perfection. But I think I can find a new place that is better suited to my needs. And if I can find the courage and motivation to make a move, maybe there are other exciting new things in store, as well?
There is that old saying that when life hands you a lemon, you can always choose to make lemonade. So I shall do that…it just may not be my current backyard that I drink it in 🙂
As always, I would love to hear your feedback!
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here.
19 thoughts on “Sour Situation? Accept or Change”
This feedback just came in via e-mail:
Sounds like you are making the right choice. It sounds like despite all your efforts and strategies the BUT keeps getting stronger (I love the house BUT. I love the neighbourhood, BUT. I love my garden, BUT) It sounds like it is time to BUT Out and move on. I am sure you will find a great place that does not have the aggravation and you can love living and working there without the but.
And this great comment just came in via e-mail:
This is an EXCELLENT BLOG! I think the question you pose in the beginning is fabulous. You write about the situation in such a calm, thoughtful way that it’s obvious you’ve thought about this situation carefully for a long time.
I can completely understand your frustration. When you work from home the noise can be a serious problem, one that for me can put me in very flustered state of mind, where I can’t even think or put words into a sentence.
And my neighbors are fairly decent.
You want your home and yard to be a place of rest, recreation, relaxation…not a source of tension.
I’m wondering if you could begin looking for a similar home in a quiet, similar neighborhood? Even if it takes some time, maybe you’ll find something else because you LOVE that area.
It would be a shame for you to leave an area you love, but living next to that particular situation is not good for your health or writing.
And maybe the act of looking will give you a sense that you’re doing something proactive to work with this situation?
Across our lovely city lot is of course another neighbor. A small yet sufficient size of lovely green grass, on the side of their property has been neglected for 7 years, never mowed. Much to my chagrin, and other neighbors as well, the lovely green grass over the years changed to long green, brown grass screaming for a lawnmower. Bringing my mind to always wonder, why do they not mow that??? About 2 years ago I decided to accept this silly piece of land outside my door. It became my “little piece of country meadow in the biggish city”. I started to love that long stringy grass. I even recently bought a package of perennial wild flower seeds that I was going to discreetly sprinkle on it! Sure, it’s not my land but why not? The long grass, I imagined would be there for perhaps the end of time and I was okay with that. Like I said, I’ve learned to love it. Two weeks ago, while arriving home I quickly noticed my little country meadow finally met it’s match with an electric lawn mower. It only took them 7 years to mow it. Now it just looks like an ordinary patch of green grass. Strangely enough, how I now miss my little piece of country meadow in the city!
When you have pumpkins make pumpkin pie!-)
Good luck sweetie! Whatever you do the universe will unfold for you as it should, I hope! This just might be the next act of the play for you! But hopefully we can do another writing retreat before you go, maybe August!
I was thinking the same thing, Lynne!! Either another play…or another scene in the version of The Neighbours play we’re working on! And yes, let’s do another writing retreat SOON!
LOVE this story, Sharon!! Oh my goodness…I love how you totally changed your attitude towards the long grass and learned to even appreciate it. Then you were sad when it finally got mowed. Oh, I have much to learn in the acceptance-department and attitude-transformation department!!
thank you 🙂
Maryanne, have you looked into the administrative solution, going to the city? Here in Calgary there are strict rules for lawn care and noise, including decibels and hours.
We went through this recently and I was losing a great deal of sleep over it, though it started and ended quickly when the new tenant next door suddenly moved out and checked himself into rehab. We can’t all be that lucky, and sometimes complaining doesn’t help because it can escalate if the neighbours take insult. Are they bikers?
That said, the world is full of beautiful places and beautiful neighbours, and maybe you just haven’t found yours, yet. No one knows better than you how inspiration can come from adversity.
Hi Tim! Thanks for your excellent ideas.
I have not gone to the city recently about the situation next door. I did several years ago, when the music was an issue – and the city wasn’t much help because the music wasn’t played late at night (just during the day). If the band-saw noise keeps up, I will first talk to the neighbour about it – and then if it persists, I will talk to the city.
No, they aren’t bikers. It is actually a really decent guy raising 2 little kids on his own. He just has a really loud hobby…but at least, the noise comes and goes. Thankfully, it is not ALL the time.
I am so glad your neighbour situation got resolved quickly!! I think most people at one time or another have had challenging neighbours…and you’re right, adversity can certainly lead to inspiration!
This fantastic feedback just came in via e-mail:
I read your post and could write a book as I totally relate.
I am on hold with the City’s 311 line to complain as I write this. The past two nights an ice cream truck playing the most INANE IDIOTIC “music” known to humankind has been making the rounds in our hood. It can be heard for blocks on end as they weave their way through our otherwise idyllic streets. WHERE and WHY does my right to enjoy my property end (and paying very high property taxes) end their “right” to pollute the peace begin?
We spend hours daily in our backyard at the end of the day, whether gardening, reading, playing with our dog, eating dinner and general unwinding (sometimes wine is involved) and connecting with nature as best as one can in the city.
I have the same issue with traffic helicopters destroying the peace early mornings (before 7:00 AM) while I am out walking the dog. These traffic reports are of dubious value IMO. NEWS FLASH for ya: Bow, Sarcee and Crowchild are backed up EVERY SINGLE DAY during rush hour!
Other “neighbourly” pet peeves I’ve experienced: illegal tenant idling his diesel truck from 5:30-6:00 AM outside our bedroom window in winter (at our old house), chicken coop being built behind us in Windermere (no rooster tho thanks to the “wise” county decision).
We are surrounded (for now) by quiet seniors and I know that it can change in a beat.
Like you, I work from home and need silence (no music etc). Yes, I am high strung and am very sensitive to any type of annoying noise. I live across the street from two schools and actually like the sound of the kids playing at recess and lunch even if there is screaming because I know that when the buzzer goes the noise will end (and pretty soon it will end for two whole months)!
OK, I am going to say this again. Why don’t you try talking to the neighbour about the band saw nonsense? If he is running a business from home that involves power tools, he should have a business license to operate from home. You can’t really do anything about the children till they grow up a bit, or go to school and quiet down. Children make noise so you will have to look for a new house several blocks from the nearest child, which is totally unrealistic (well maybe not in Sidney). You have very sensitive hearing from years of wearing headphones all day so getting used to everyday noise (like lawn mowers, playing children, loudly chirping birds, chestnuts falling on the roof, dogs barking) will help.
The best thing about our place is our neighbors. We have thought about moving before, but the neighbors keep us where we are. We sure wouldn’t be able to guantee great neighbors anywhere else. Just remember, that those kids will grow up and the noise level will come down. Maybe if you mention to your neighbour how much the constant band saw noise is bothering you he’ll make adjustments. He may not realize that it is a problem and will do something about it if it is. You can always look for a new place in the meantime, but don’t settle for less than almost perfect. Good Luck
Hi Brenda! You raise a good point about you staying where you are because of the GOOD neighbours. I have awesome neighbours on the other side…and I would be so sad to leave them.
Yes, I will have to talk to the neighbour about the band saw. And yes, I do have super sensitive hearing…you’re right!
MORE great feedback came in via e-mail:
From the feedback so far, this seems to have touched a nerve for all of us at some time or another. I currently have awesome neighbors but this hasn’t always been the case. Yours is a nasty situation to be sure.
Your efforts have been Herculean to resolve this. Sounds like you have arrived at option 3: moving. However, there might be a 4th option: mediation.
Try asking your neighbour if she would be willing to explore this. You might share with him just how much living there means to you.
It is in your neighbour’s best interest to agree. Why? If you move, he could WELL end up with a neighbour who will put up with none of this and his life will be hell. And yes, the outcome would likely involve compromise on both parts and a less-than-perfect situation for you.
But, in the end, you could move and find yourself in a worse situation. Or an absolutely brilliant one. It’s a crap shoot.
Good luck and may the Force be with you!
Okay, here’s some more feedback via e-mail:
First of all I live on a farm where my closest neighbour is 1.5 kms away in one direction and 3 kms away in the other direction. Yes we also live 28 kms out of the nearest town where the kids go to school and I pick up the mail etc. so sometimes driving every where gets old and is costly but to me the peace and solitude I have is so worth it!
And the price of land is so affordable compared to any city or town, especially on the island I would think. That the little extra costs in the distance more than makes up for it. And if I didn’t have kids I wouldn’t need to make near as many trips to town either.
So since you like a lot of the things about where you are BUT this still nagging issue you can’t get over is still there and you are seriously considering a move, why not consider letting go of one of one of the other things on your checklists, like being close to the sea or on the island? Only because that comes with a heavy price tag. I have always thought you would be way better suited to living on an farm or acreage.
My driveway is about a block long so that’s the closest I have to traffic noise. And it is gravel which gets kinda dusty but hey which place is going to be perfect right? And it’s really not that much traffic compared to any town or city. I could probably count the vehicles that go by in a day. That is the only noise I have to deal with. Unless birds singing is noise to you. It’s music to my ears and that’s what I’m listening to right now as I sit here typing away.
I have a huge back yard. I have green space like none other for our dogs. It’s the best life you can give a dog. I had a deer trotting across my driveway the other day. I can get on my horse and just ride, run with the wind if I want and not see or hear another soul.
Maybe you could get a property near a lake. It’s still water and sand. And the money you save on land prices, you could spend on getting away more often.
Pick a place you would consider and look at some places. Heck, pick a place you didn’t think you would consider and just look anyways. Think outside your realm of where you always thought you wanted to live.
I think I may have been one of the friends who have said what if the next neighbours are worse so yes I do agree that it’s time for you to take that chance (I really like the analogy of the leaving an abusive husband) but I also think it’s time to consider other options as well.
And, please don’t be offended, But I have to admit I don’t fully understand what the neighbours are doing wrong? The pounding music yes, but the kids, the band saw, the grass? Isn’t that just life in the city? Or town?
You can’t control what goes on outside your property. Now I haven’t been there to see it or hear so it’s not a fair statement. But IS it out of the ordinary? If he builds things and needs saws, what else can he do about it? What else can the kids do?
My kids are noisy as heck, if they are too noisy and rambunctious I send them outside! Get rid of some energy.
My husband makes all sorts of noise in the shop. But only we hear it. And you know what I’ve always thought about and how much I appreciate? I only hear the lawn mower when I’m mowing. Not whenever any one else is! That’s priceless to me!
Just got this bit of feedback via FB:
Move – You only have one life.
Interesting our attitude towards living in a detached vs condo dwelling and yet Condo boards can even evict owners for what you are faced with. No one has the right to take away from the enjoyment of your home. You know our story. Moving was the best thing we did and love love the condo and my condo family!
More excellent feedback that came in via FB:
I just read your post about your neighbours and can relate. Nick and I have the same issue. I guess my question to you would be why don’t you like confrontation? Maybe it seems odd that that’s what I gleaned – but I wonder do your neighbours know how you feel? Are you sitting in your house festering? I grew up in Forest Lawn and if we moved every time we got a thoughtless neighbour we’d never had maintained a home anywhere. Confrontation can be therapeutic if done in a respectful manner but the truth is it can’t always be done in that fashion. Any who I guess my approach would be to stay and fight. If you love your home fight for it.