Silence is a difficult thing to capture in a story. How do you create silence when your only tools are words? But it's important to me to keep trying to make my characters be quiet. To show how much 'the nothing' weighs. I say things like: He was most afraid of the deafening nothing. Or: They stood saying nothing. I use the space bar a lot. It's tricky business.
I recently gave a lesson on public speaking to my first-year writing students. "If you stumble," I said. "If you come to a moment where your mind goes blank and you can't recall your phone number let alone what you were going to say next, think of Norm McDonald." Remember that guy? He used to deliver 'the news' on Saturday Night Live, and he was the least funny man I have ever heard on that show. Still, he managed to get quite a few laughs simply by making silence work for him. He could say whatever stupid thing came into his head. For example: Why did the elephant cross the road? When no one laughed, he didn't flinch. Silence accumulating like the national debt, he waited them out. Finally, he'd say: Because it was the chicken's day off. And since he had allowed the quiet to speak for him, permitted the audience members to feel the weight of their own thoughts and in turn, his - they laughed like crazy.
I have been told that I am not funny. I have also been told that I am funny. I have been asked to Stop making words with my mouth and Why would you write about that? And I have been asked to Say more and Please write more about that. And in truth, I believe the greenhouse effect is in part a result of a layer in the atmosphere where all the wrong words we've ever spoken or written rise and collect, choking out the clean air. Many times 'in real life' I wish I had just kept quiet, so it's no wonder that I want to gift my characters with this quality. This ability to not talk a thing to death. And, unlike Norm McDonald, I don't want to use silence to get a laugh. I want to peel back the padding words provide like barriers between us and show the tender spots. The bruised fruit beneath the skin. I want to look at what hurts. Analyze it like a scab.
On the other hand, sometimes I don't say enough. Sometimes I keep too quiet. I don't stay on top of emails to people I care about. Or out of fear of confrontation (which I am getting better at as I age) I retreat. Wave the white flag and say nothing when a situation clearly calls for the opposite. Even this blog goes stale for weeks at a time, waiting for the 'right' words to fill my fingers. Perhaps I should ponder what Mr. Myiagi might say: "Balance, Daniel Son."
The last thing is this: I often dream about people who are long gone from my life. Those who have died or departed in other ways. I wonder why their faces appear in my unconscious thoughts. I like to think it means they are are thinking of me at the same time. That our words sleep walk and venture into a world we can't travel by foot. A place where we meet and hold hands. Sing songs and say all the things we didn't say when we had the chance. Probably a bunch of baloney - but who doesn't like a little balogna from time to time? White bread and a squirt of ketchup and Voila. Happiness.
Here is a great song by Allison Krauss and the Union Station. It came into my head last night and so I send it on to you.