Silence, Part Two

We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Some readers are not-so-secretly in love with Mr. Darcy.

And some of us secretly suspect that we are Mr. Darcy.

WordPress has helpfully reminded me that it’s been a month since I last published a blog post. A lot can change in a month. Here is that firewood now, in the sun and wind of March:

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Little green things are sprouting, but the damp still clings.

It’s slowly working its way back into the earth. There is something magical, alchemical, about this rich process. It takes time, happening incrementally. My writing process is like that, too. Even before that last post, a silence was settling in.

Sometimes I fall silent here because I don’t know what to say. I’d rather not talk unless I expect to say something that will amaze the whole room. There is value in saying only what is important, but there’s also value in maintaining the lines of communication, and I struggle with this. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say–it’s that there is too much to say, too many thoughts swirling, too many half-formed ideas. This election season (when did a season become longer than a year?) I find myself regularly appalled by people I otherwise admire who sound off at the slightest provocation, without thinking, without assessing, without digging for the deeper truth. I don’t want to do this. Better to keep quiet.

I have a guest post up on the blog of the lovely and wildly talented Marisa Goudy. It’s a very short story about family history and erasure–about the people who are silenced.

Silence seems to be my theme lately. I think I need it in order to do deep work. I’m diving back into a novel I drafted several years ago, when my youngest was a year or two old. I wrote it in increments, in my daily writing hour from 8-9 each evening. I’m proud of it, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that any novel that gets written in one-hour increments must be in want of revision. The Pride and Prejudice metaphor feels a bit odd, since I’m working on a YA fantasy about a warrior-girl, but here’s the thing–she’s a Darcy, too. Words, like her broadsword, are double-edged, and her lived experience is proof that they can cut, can wound, can sever life from limb.

Certainly we write ourselves into our characters, but I also believe that they write us back. The deeper I dive into my character’s psyche, the quieter I become. My awareness of the powers–and the dangers–of language becomes ever-keener. Like her, I find that I need to grab my broadsword in the evenings, climb to the top of a windswept hill, and say in the fierce joy of motion the things that cannot be said in words.

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Evening broadsword practice.

It’s tempting to dump all the contents of my brain here and let you pick through them, maybe find something you like, carry it off with you. But I think it’s this very silence that I need to address, for all us Darcys. I would love to hear your thoughts on this tension between the need for silence and the demands of speech. I’ll be quiet now and listen.

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12 thoughts on “Silence, Part Two

  1. I love this post! I also meant to comment on how much I loved your previous post, but I’m in my own season of silence, too, and sometimes feel that I have nothing constructive to add to the conversation. But I wanted to know how much your words ring true to me, and how much I understand that tug between saying only what needs to be said and being part of the general conversation. I’m happy to hear you’re using this silent time to dive deep into your writing.

  2. Thanks so much, Rebecca. Maybe it takes a writer to truly understand this weird tension between having a zillion words and having nothing to say…..Like you, I sometimes feel like I have nothing to add. I hope your writing is going well! I’ve been loving your images on your blog–they’re deeply eloquent.

  3. You have cleanly articulated a deep paradox. That tension is palpable and can be a crushing press of opposites or some kind of dance I, too, and trying to learn.

  4. Brenna: How much do I love those who are able to move toward and bask in silence? I admire those people, partly because that is not who I am. Being the most extroverted person in the world means that I need to process everything OUT LOUD. I am partial to whom I choose to process with, and I’d like to think that I’m thoughtful before I speak (or write), but it’s just how I work. I want you to know that even if there are periods of silence form you, when you decide to write or speak – what comes out of you is worth the wait. :O)

    1. Thanks so much, Barb. I’m thankful for all you lovely extroverts–without you, the human race would look like one big awkward middle school dance with a bunch of us clinging to the walls and percolating angsty poetry. 🙂

  5. “but it is a truth universally acknowledged that any novel that gets written in one-hour increments must be in want of revision.” Let me say that this made me laugh out loud m’ dear! I so appreciate you rising to the surface to share a few words before diving back down to your ocean depths. I have a lot more to say, but can’t quite finds words for it. I think it’s good you know when you need time to hibernate, and it’s good that you can respect that. xo.

    1. Thanks, Vanessa. I feel like I can always count on you to “get it.” And I love the thought of diving down into the ocean depths like a mermaid. Or a giant squid. Or something. 🙂

  6. Good on ya for writing anything at all! I feel like I mostly just held my breath waiting for my kids to grow up.

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