Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Choice of Silence

Each time I sit down to write, there comes a moment I dread. A moment when I switch off my phone, turn off the music I've been listening to, press "stop" on the Netflix rerun I've been watching, silence the bing of alerts on my iPad and laptop . This fated moment lasts only seconds. A blip on the timeline of my day. But I dread the decisive disconnect from everything apart from the whir of my own mind. The abrupt arrival of silence.

Being somewhat more introverted than extroverted, I enjoy being by myself. I enjoy silence. I just don't always enjoy the absence of sound. I know it sounds strange. Noise is disruptive, cacophonous at times. But the noise that I choose to invite into my life--music, entertainment, voices of family and friends--I have around me because I want it to be present. It becomes familiar company. So when I choose to make it absent, my mind seems to stage a mini-riot. 

The deliberate initiation of silence is at times the hardest part about sitting down to write. 

However, I write best in silence. And once that silence is created, I face my laptop or manuscript and in only moments forget--appreciate, even--the absence of sound because the music of my own imaginings fills me. 

At odd moments while writing I may be pulled away from this quiet space by something--the sound of a car door or the running feet of my children--and it jars me. But if silence resumes, I am quickly able to find again that deep, quiet, inner space from where my writing springs.

Once I'm done writing for the day, I lean back, stretch, take a final swig of cold coffee, and stand up. 

Sometimes the stillness--inward and outward--is broken by force. My children arrive home, ask for a snack. Someone comes to the door. The bell rings for my next class to arrive. I have to move on to the next scheduled event of the day. 

Yet it's a gift when I don't have to talk to anyone immediately. I ruminate on what was just written: on the creation of something new or the scrubbing and buffing of something already in progress. I luxuriate in the silence--unwilling to break its hold over me just yet.
Just as I chose the silence, I can choose the moment when I switch on my phone. Press "play" on my playlist. And smile again at the noise I had missed--yet not missed--for a moment in time. 

A few days ago I stayed late at school to write, walked out to a cool breeze, a bright moon, and trees turned golden by the streetlight. I got in my car and didn't turn the radio on until I had passed through the covered bridge, looked up at the bridge's rafters illuminated by my headlights, and slowed to watch two deer with glowing eyes cross the road in front of me. Then, and only then, did I filled the car with music. Music that sounded sweeter because of its absence only moments ago.

I've been doing loads of thinking about silence--it's the focus of my MFA critical thesis, it's something I'm trying to incorporate it into my writing, and it's something I'm learning to instill (without a mini-riot) into my life. (If that's not enough, I've even included it in the name of my blog!) I found a fabulous depiction of this ambivalence toward silence and sound in the short story "The Year of Silence" by Kevin Brockmeier. It's a great read that I highly recommend. You can find his story in the Best American Short Stories 2008 collection that was edited by Salman Rushdie, or you can purchase it from the Ecotone Journal (where it was originally published) here.

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  1. I love silence...but it's hard to come by in my house. lol

    1. I understand, Debbi - sometimes you just have to grab it whenever you can find it.

  2. So true--the moment when the silence comes is often uncomfortable, but the silence after that moment: bliss.

    1. That exactly it! And I'll take a little discomfort if bliss is to follow any day. Nice to see you, Allie!

  3. Silence is golden ;)
    (My iMac finally figured out how to make comments on your blog, too. Yee haw!)


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