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Even to think or utter the word “silence,” I find myself stilled, pastoral scenes of monastic or convent retreat settings where silence is the norm fill my mind screen. This is swiftly followed by visions of natural settings where no voices, no sirens, cars or daily noises that eventually become “white” background sounds, pierce the peacefulness of nature.
Human abilities to tune out daily background sounds is quite phenomenal. We once lived near the YVR flight path. Our guests, yelling simply to try to converse when aircraft flew over, would ask: “How can you stand that?”
We never even noticed it anymore. Adaptable humans that we are, we had very efficiently acclimatized to our environmental white noise. It simply never registered cerebrally that we rarely experienced true silence anymore. Looking back, we went camping more frequently in the years we resided there than in any other period in our lives. Perhaps our need for silence was balanced out without us even consciously aware of what we were doing to restore it.
As communication, I have found silence to be very effective. Sometimes it really is the only answer. For nothing you might say would be right no matter how good, well intended or truly fair or respectful what you say is. Silence is a healthy option for all concerned. It permits a cooling off, a regathering of thoughts and ideas. No situation is ever as black and white as we might imagine. Silence, then, can be the grace period where quiet contemplation of the situation in its entirety serves to expand our personal vision and awareness.
A friend who counsels in senior high school tells me she uses silence as a means of communication in a way I have, personally, found to be quite powerful. It works, at least for me. Sometimes, in her personal world, with a friend, relative or, on occasion with a client, when there is nothing left to say, my friend just “lets them sit in it.”
It’s really quite amazing how this works. Sometimes the silence achieves miracles no words ever could. In the gift of silence, all the person has is their own words echoing back. ECHOING… Echoing… echoing… Therein often lies the answer… for themselves.
Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Having employed the technique a multitude of times since learning it, I have witnessed it in motion. It is miraculous. My friends and I use silence frequently. It is comforting. We know the other loves us and is simply thinking, pondering and may or may not answer. But either way, we know we are loved and valued.
Which leads me to another thought, the very opposite of silence. Have you ever tried to watch a movie with a chatterbox by your side? Now there is a time when silence could well avert a war (smiles).
Recently, a friend wanted me to see a movie she was excited about and thought I would enjoy. Approximately 15 minutes in, my thoughts turned to other things, tuning out both the movie and her continuous explanations, narrations of the movie. Afterward, when she asked if I liked it, I said, “Truth?”
She said, “Yes, of course.”
“Well,” I said, “at the risk of hurting your feelings, I didn’t see it because someone chattered all the way through and I couldn’t get into the story at all.”
“Oh, no! I need to shut up! Just tell me to shut up!” she said.
We laughed and it was a learning experience for both of us. I learned that she can chatter incessantly and must be reigned in periodically, she learned that I will always tell her the truth.
Sometimes, in silence, lies truth. It says everything with nary a single word uttered.
Other times in silence lies peace. A quiet, nothingness that permits us to simply be without external interruption.
Not everyone can handle this type of introspective silence. They need constant distraction whether it be radio, TV, other people, video games, whatever it takes to occupy the neurons and keep them from quieting.
If I go too long without silence, I cannot handle anything. It feels as though something is pulling on me, nagging at me and not letting me be just be. In just a few moments of utter quiet, I find my way back to my centre, feel grounded and can move forward in the sure-footedness of peace.
The sensation is akin to sitting by a shore or in a wooded area. Sure, the sounds of nature are there but the sense of peace is also there. Going to connect to with some of mine right now.
Peace out for now, folks. Have a terrific, peaceful day, everyone, with a little bit of silence thrown in just to see if it changes anything up for you. Smiles.
First published: (c) Janni Styles April 14 2011 @ 14:09
Writing well is something to eternally aspire to because the truth is, no matter how well we write, there is always room for growth and improvement.
Well, almost always. Not for some literary greats, obviously, but then I consider myself an average person with an overwhelmingly powerful desire to be the best writer I can possibly be. Continually learning is one of the methods I use to advance my writing abilities and develop my own “voice.”Mordecai Richler said the following (noted from an article/interview with him): “As a society, we are irony deficient.” Richler carries on writing regardless of what he thinks the masses want. He said he may not be writing for people who know about Greek mythology, the Bible or who Dr. Johnson is but he writes about them anyway if he wants to. “Novelists only have a couple of tunes to play and they play variations on that tune throughout their careers.” Richler also said until he wrote “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” he hadn’t found his own voice.
This was comforting to know. As a writer, I found it reassuring that I did not have to know exactly what my voice was so much as simply keep on writing until I find it. Some days I think I have found it. Other days I feel I have no voice at all.
Thanks to Mordecai Richler’s words of wisdom, as well as many others including Carol Shields and Margaret Laurence, personal instruction or training from Ed Griffin, Andreas Schroeder and Bill Burns, I’ve been fortunate in my journey to continue “growing” my own unique writing voice.
I’m not saying I’ve found it yet. But I am definitely still working on it.
For all the professional training we may have, there is often no other remedy than to simply keep on writing. But what can one do on those days when pulling a decent sentence out of the mind feels akin to trying to extract your own wisdom teeth? Apart from a good long walk, I keep several prized books around me.
A few of the favorites in my personal library that help me kick-start myself on those days when I am hitting “the wall” are :Ralph Keyes – The Courage to Write Natalie Goldberg – Writing Down the Bones Christopher Vogler – The Writer’s Journey Brenda Ueland – If You Want to Write Peter Rubie – The Elements of Story Telling Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird Laurence Block – Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print Gabriele Lusser Rico – Writing the Natural Way Linda Seger – Creating Unforgettable Characters Jesse Lee Kercheval – Building Fiction
What do you read for inspiration? Even if it’s not about writing, what written works inspire you to carry on and keep on fighting the good fight of the creative life?
The Sunday my teenaged brother accidentally slammed the car door shut on my hand is more vivid in my mind then my forever altered fingerprint. It wasn’t that I had never witnessed my father’s rage before. His impatience with the repetitive noises children naturally make was no secret in our family. Neither were Dad’s scathing outbursts of cursing when he reached the height of frustration. But his silence that day terrified me. No yelling, no swearing, just the rhythmic crunching of boots crossing gravel.
To appease my father, my brother uselessly repeated,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
“Stop it! Get in the car! We have to go to the emergency room!” My mother shrilled through the tension as she wrapped a towel from the clothesline around my hand.
With a bewildered expression, my father backed toward the car. My bloody nosed brother stared at us as we pulled out of the driveway but he did not return my wave at him through the rear window. It’s okay, I whispered. At seven years old, I already knew that Dad calmed as quickly as he riled himself up.
Child rearing was not my father’s area of expertise. Country music was and, competing in several talent shows, Dad rivaled artists who later achieved international fame. In one event he had hoped to place third and win a new stereo. Instead, he was awarded the first place trophy and a chance to advance in the industry. But a growing family demanded a steady pay check and Dad abandoned his musical dreams.
A machinist by trade, his skilled hands eventually only played the guitar at home on weekends. No more band rehearsals or overnight jam sessions. With guitar in hand, he left when I was thirteen. All I knew was that he was deserting us.
Some of us are still licking wounds from the ensuing sense of rejection and abandonment. Mine manifested as an inability to release possessions and relationships long past the expiry date of their goodness. A greeting card hoarder, I held onto people and things that were no longer life-giving. I now know that I was clinging to a self-worth that hinged on how much others valued me, including my father. I considered death among one of his many human short-comings because when he died, so did the love he gave me.
Dad lived simply with a fondness for good food, rye whisky, Sunday drives, nature and practical jokes. A charismatic character with a strong sense of right and wrong that is vivid in my mind, he would hate it if I painted a posthumous image of perfection. “That’s not right,” he would say. “Tell it right or don’t tell it at all.”
A man ill-equipped to deal with the curve balls life tossed him, my father was completely freed when performing. He often encouraged us children to take turns pressing an ear against his battered acoustic guitar while he strummed. The only stress visible in him then was his taut neck cords straining to hit the high notes. And he did.
Recently, I realized that my father’s gift was far greater than the gift of music alone. Observing the passion of a man lost in the rapture of creativity was a magical experience. Through him, I not only heard but saw and felt the music. I still do.
When I was still a teenager and my father was 41, he left this earthly world for what I have always hoped is a better place. Over time, I feel I have come to know him better than I did when he was alive. Youthful preoccupation blinded me to the light of love on his face in the photos I now cherish and pore over while listening to his music. His songs speak directly of the heartache he endured and , more poignantly, to the suffering he knew he caused. Every time I hear the lyrics I recall my brother’s words the day my fingerprint was altered and I can almost hear Dad saying,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Reverence on my part, perhaps, because my father lived simply but he was not a simple man. The most glorified memory I have of him is one I, regrettably, was not present for. It is of a man who, weeks before his cancer riddled body fought the final fight, created a haunting legacy of words and music that tell me who he was and, in turn, who I am.
Now 40, I have learned a couple of things myself. I have realized that the greater part of being loved is loving yourself, being at peace with yourself. I know that people must follow their hearts or it can make them sick, possibly even kill them with an insidious, joy corroding cancer of the spirit.
Thanks to my father, I strive to “make my own music” by writing full-time. I left a mainstream career track for humble part-time work that supports my learning and basic needs. I no longer feel stretched forty ways but there is no steady pay check for following the call of the soul and being true to your creativity. There is usually no check at all. But I can’t let that stop me.
In discouraging moments I think of my father’s creative life cut short by obligations, then by cancer at age 41 and I continue writing because I have no choice. I know Dad would completely understand this and, wherever he is, I hope he knows that being in his life was one of the highest notes in mine.
(c) 1999 Published in Anthology of Winning Literature
~ all rights reserved by author ~
Pearl Webster was one of my mother’s friends when I was in the eighth grade. Pearl was a retired veterinarian assistant with a blunt but forgivable edge to her character.
“Don’t waste ten bucks downtown. Save your money. I’ll pierce your ears for free,” Pearl promised, her medical background the basis for appointing herself head surgeon in my procedure.
“Nothing to it,” she said. “Trust me.”
Desperate for pierced ears like my friends, I was thrilled to win my mother’s approval as soon as Pearl got involved. We left our house early one Saturday morning for Pearl’s big two-story brick house with a sprawling veranda. My brand new surgical steel studs were in my jeans pocket along with a new pack of chewing gum. Mom carried her puffy blue topped sewing basket in one hand, a fresh cigarette in the other. As a part-time seamstress, Mom possessed a great number of needles which she was well accustomed to forcing through fabrics of various resistance and thickness.
“Your ear lobes,” she said, “will be a cinch.”
Already four inches taller than my petite mother, I could easily see over her head but questioning her judgement under any circumstances was unadvisable. Luckily, we had reached Pearl’s house before I could voice any concerns about the menacing images of needles I couldn’t help envisioning.
In Pearl’s cozy kitchen, I sat down where she motioned me to, in a yellow vinyl chair with chrome legs next to the matching table. Pearl’s 100 pound Shepherd cross dog, Shane, lumbered over to me. He braced his front paws, one on each of my knees, his foul breath forcing me to hold mine while the loosed hairs from petting him wafted lazily through the coffee spiked air.
“Get down off of her,” Pearl said. Shane moved slowly, eyeing Pearl for a change of heart.
The familiar olive ceramic lamp of a rearing donkey sat on the kitchen table by the window. I’d spent many a lamp lit night with my elbows parked on that yellow flecked arborite earning pocket change by beating Pearl at cards games she taught me.
“Would you like something to bite on?” Pearl asked.
I nervously glanced at Mom who was intently sorting through her needles. Her fingernails were always so naturally long, strong and white. I curled my hands into fists to hide my short, weak nails.
“I’m alright,” I said.
The truth held for a few more seconds.
“Hold still, Judith,” my mother said.
Determined nurses tending captive patient, the two women fastened wooden spring hinged clothespins on each of my ear lobes. Pearl’s insistence that my ears would numb wasn’t doing much against my unravelling resolve. Heat blazed first from my ears to my cheeks, then flooded my entire head. I started panting just like Shane when he gets excited. And that was when Pearl jammed a lit cigarette between my lips.
I reached up to remove it but she shoved my hand back down.
“We know you kids all smoke,” Pearl said, one hand on her hip like she wasn’t taking no for answer.
Again, I looked at Mom but again she was fixed on my ear lobes and didn’t say a word in my defense.
Coughing and sputtering now, I reached up again but Pearl beat me to it, bringing the cigarette to her fuchsia lipsticked mouth for a good long drag before speaking.
“It’s okay, kid, you don’t need to pretend,” she said. “Your mother won’t get mad. A puff’ll get your mind off your ears.”
Barely catching my breath, I found the cigarette stuck between my lips a second time. Choking immediately, my passages seared painfully from smoke that proved Pearl right. My burning ears were forgotten.
Ice cubes followed clothespins and by the time the needle appeared, I was beyond caring. The piercings were quick and smarted far less than my breathing passages. I didn’t even notice the stinging from the alcohol that my friends had warned me of.
“For good measure,” Pearl claimed.
“To stop infection,” Mom said. But infection didn’t sound so bad just then.
“Have a smoke,” Pearl said, extending her king-sized cigarette pack through a perfectly executed smoke ring.
“But I’ve never even smoked before,” I said.
“Come on, kiddo. No need to lie anymore,” Pearl said. She smiled, her gold tooth flashing me encouragingly.
“But I’m not,” I said. I had tried smoking with my friends in the school ground but it choked me and made me so dizzy, I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to do such a thing. Ever.
“Take one,” Pearl urged.
“Mom…” I started.
“Go ahead. It’s alright,” she said before I could utter more than her name.
Holding back her drug store blonde shoulder length locks, Mom leaned into Pearl’s flaming match to light her menthol brand cigarette. My mouth felt unhinged and fell wide open but all I got out was breath. Pearl shook the match and tossed it into the ashtray on the table.
“What? You don’t want one?” Mom asked.
“No,” I said.
“Well, who could blame you with two new holes in your head, huh, kiddo?” Pearl said. Her raspy laugh unleashed a smoke cloud right at me that set me coughing again.
“Uh oh. She might be sick. Some people throw up when they get nervous,” Pearl said.
She rested her cigarette in the ashtray that matched the dark green ceramic donkey lamp and got a pail out from under her sink.
“It’s alright. We have to get going, anyways. Tell Pearl thanks,” Mom said.
Mom’s closed sewing basket was back in her hand with a fresh cigarette in the other by the time we reached the street.
“Don’t think you can go around smoking just because you got away with it today,” she said.
“Jeez! Nobody believes a thing I say,” I muttered.
“Don’t be lippy. I don’t approve of teenagers smoking,” Mom said, inhaling a goodly belt of nicotine before mashing the butt out under the toe of her sandal on our driveway.
“Don’t let me hear that you’ve been smoking, missy. Not ever,” she said, her face locked in stern mode as she jabbed the house key through the air in my direction.
“You won’t,” I said.
I extracted the gum from my pocket and held a stick out. It was her favorite flavour, spearmint.
“Thanks,” Mom said, her face softening.
“Your ears must hurt like heck.”
“Nah,” I said.
They weren’t sore enough to stop me from thinking about what all my friends would say at school on Monday morning. Or to keep me from wondering how many card games I’d have to beat Pearl at to buy myself a pair of silver peace-sign earrings.