Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Steeping in silence

© Photo by Nancy Butts
There is too much silence in my life; and there is nowhere near enough.

That is the line that keeps echoing in my head as I sit down on this windy March day and try to find something worthwhile to say after a five-month absence from this blog.

For the first time in months, a syzygy of events more rare than a conjunction of five celestial bodies has finally occurred: I have the house to myself at the same time that I have zero—count 'em—zero work deadlines to meet. Making it even more miraculous, I also do not have an appointment with either a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon. Since those both require driving anywhere from 80 to 140 miles round-trip, such appointments tend to devour most of the productive, creative hours of my day.

And since last October, I've had a slew of such appointments. First it was the rather unsuccessful aftermath of my knee surgery, and then it was some still-mysterious tectonic event in my neck on Dec. 8th that led to twenty-six days of unrelenting, excruciating pain. That was not conducive to writing, let me tell you. Opinions differ as to what happened, but the MRI of my neck looks like something exploded in there, and the physical therapy isn't helping. So I don't know what lies in store for me on that score.

Meanwhile, students and freelance clients and educational gigs have been flooding me with work. It's flattering to be in such demand, and it's good for my bank account, but it's also exhausting. I woke up one day last week feeling so depleted, both physically and mentally, that I could barely function. I had to declare the day a Work Free Zone and hide out from my email, so no one could find me and give me any more assignments with deadlines so tight that they require traveling back in time to get them done.

All of this is to explain [rationalize?] my absence from this page; and also my pervasive creative silence. It may be a paradox, but my life is so filled with noise—in the sense of a bombardment of what electrical engineers and information scientists call "signal interference"—that I have fallen silent. I have nothing to say.

At least, that's how I felt this morning when I uploaded the edits of a client's manuscript, checked both my work inboxes, looked at my calendar, and realized that I have an entire afternoon to myself. I don't have any assignments to correct, manuscripts to edit, or educational texts to research and write. I don't have anywhere to drive. And the house is blessedly silent, since both my husband and son are at their respective college campuses teaching. It's just me and Yukon, the neurotic Newf.

The house is silent, and so am I. Or so I thought. Obviously, I found something to say, because I've just written six hundred words about it. But it's just a tease, a delusion. I can't hear any of my characters in my head right now; are they just sleeping, or did they give up on me and move away? I don't know.

There isn't going to be a tidy end to this post; I haven't come to any epiphanies, or suddenly found my creative voice again. I just need to set this down: although the noise of my life has momentarily fallen silent, I still can't hear myself. And for a writer, silence is supposed to be this horrible thing. We're always running away from it, always scrambling desperately for characters and ideas and words and images—for something, anything to say.

But maybe that's the epiphany I'm supposed to be having. Maybe silence isn't such a horrible thing; maybe we as writers need to stop fearing it. Perhaps we need to stop once in a while and let ourselves be filled up with it. Instead of struggling to drown it out with an increasingly frantic deluge of words, maybe we need to steep a while in silence and listen, really listen, to what it may have to say.

"Without silence, words lose their meaning." The Belgian priest Henri Nouwen said that; I used it as the epigraph of my first novel, Cheshire Moon.

Time to listen.