As I slog through revision upon revision, a question keeps surfacing. How do I—who has embraced and experienced silence much of my life—write about it? And how do I persist when the horizon seems to keep receding?
Not easily, it turns out. And not quickly. Not without wanting to abandon the effort more than once. I’ve longed for this moment. I have the time and few distractions. I have the energy. But what about the will?
In most situations, I’m nothing if not determined. I set out to transform my yard and garden and, weed by weed, perennial by perennial, I did. I wanted to be a good mother to my children, and when I see what fine individuals they have become, I smile at whatever part I had. I wanted to lend as much quality and dignity to our mother’s last 10 years of life, and with steady support from my siblings, we did.
But when it comes to writing, summoning that determination has proved more challenging than I ever imagined.
It’s not that I’m undisciplined. I make a wide space for writing every day. I don’t check e-mails first or head down the labyrinthian paths of the Internet. But I also log plenty of hours staring outside and noting the activity of birds and neighbors alike. As Patricia Hampl reminds us in her new book The Art of the Wasted Day, daydreaming is good. There is value in allowing our often crowded mind to relax and wander down any path it chooses. Yesterday I was practicing this almost lost art when darting across my absent gaze out the window were gold and house finch, making their first bright appearance of the year in my yard.
It’s not that I’m a quitter (I could never face Mother in heaven, presuming I join her there), and I doubt I’ll go quietly into the night. Instead, I find a way forward, doggedly if need be. But has this bull-headedness met its match? Has my stubborn determination been stopped in its tracks by my attempt to tell the most personal of stories, my own?
“Make your story louder,” my writing coach urges. By that she doesn’t mean adding sound effects. She’s looking me in the eye and beckoning me—the reserved, private, insecure person I am—out from behind the curtain to center stage.
I’m finally beginning to realize just how much I haven’t said.
I’m beginning to grasp how many layers I’ve accumulated between my wounds and others’. Too often, I have used words the way they were used in my childhood home—not as tools for communication but as a means to keep us quiet so as to maintain a deadly calm. I can render a beautiful sentence, but every time I do, I wonder if I’m not creating another place to hide.
Writing I’ve understood as a solitary pursuit, and I’ve done my part to further that notion. When I sit down to write, my phone is muted. The radio is in another room and off. The dog I still miss sleeps at my feet. (When Marlon James declares he writes his award-winning novels in coffee shops, I’m mystified.) In my case, does silence beget silence? Does my isolation in order to practice my craft only reinforce the walls I’ve built?
What would happen if I shouted what was in my heart, a heart I’ve too often kept off-limits even to those I love? Would it feel like the arrival of Spring, unexpected and entirely welcome?