Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Sound of Silence

In The Writer on Her Work, Volume 2, Joy Williams talks about feeling suspicious of a reader's praise by saying "Words, you know, they're around. They get used a lot."

Lately I have become suspicious of my own facility with words. It has occured to me that I think in complete sentences, and while this thought made me happy when it first dawned on me, now I'm not so sure.

This isn't just about my notorious talkativeness, because I believe I have reined that in quite a bit and it rarely gets away from me anymore. It's more about the internal thought processes that aren't necessarily tied to speech. I'm starting to wonder if words are holding my thoughts prisoner.

I don't know why this never occured to me before. I intentionally avoided teaching my children to read before kindergarten because of the theory that the process shapes their thinking into more rigid patterns. (This was a very popular idea among the Existentialist crowd, many of whom advocated waiting until kids were 8 or 9 before allowing them to read.) Three of my four children showed themselves to be highly verbal from infancy, and I wanted to give them time to develop their other facilities. I never worried that they would have trouble with words. I wanted them to focus on what came less naturally: being creative, musical, physically adroit. But I never thought about myself in those terms.

Today as I was reading a friend's blog, I came across these quotes from Ekhart Tolle's A New Earth. I'm not a New Agey spiritual kind of person, but the quotes struck me especially hard:

"Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. You don't know what it is. You have only covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg."


"The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you."


It's funny how we can never see clearly when it comes to ourselves. Recently a student of mine who is also a very serious art student wrote in an essay about feeling that she is not as creative as she was a year ago. I suggested in my comments that she spark her creativity by doing things she wouldn't normally do and pushing herself out of her comfort zone a little bit. Maybe that's what I should do, too.

It has never been lost on me that I get a little thrill from being moved to tears for unfathomable reasons. I like it when a piece of instrumental music has an emotional effect on me, or when I see or experience something that stirs up feelings that I can't logically connect to the impetus. I guess I've always understood in a vague, peripheral part of my mind why that might be. And now I've noticed that my ever-morphing daydreams about escaping my children for a few days have taken a new form. I dream of a few days alone, without words. No talking, no reading, no writing. It might sound extreme, but I feel like my brain needs retraining, and rest.


Memphisotan said...

Well, now making a comment just seems gratuitous.

Rita said...

I can see how you could feel that way, with how immersed you are in words through reading and writing for pleasure and with what you do for a living. Maybe taking on an anti-word creative hobby (like painting or sculpting or music or dance) would be very therapeutic. It would still be categorizing your world, but differently.

The idea of just going through life without it being somehow labeled or sorted out terrifies me, honestly, giving some thought to the things you said. I need to feel in control of the chaos of the emotional storm in some way. I think letting it spin around me without my routine picking it apart would make me crazy. But, that's me. Maybe you'd do fine with some time away from it.

There are retreats like that--Catholic stuff, you know, non-speaking convents you can visit for weekends--but I'm sure after a weekend with them you'd have a lot to say.

Angie McCullagh said...

All that wordiness does sound a little exhausting.

Mrs. Katherine said...

What?!? Sassy without words? Why would you deny yourself? Just be thankful that you have so many words, that you are able to use your words, that you are good at using your words, and that words like you. Some people never find something that they're good at. (I know not to end sentences with 'at' by the way, but I think it would too college-essay of me to say 'at which they're good.')

This retreat from words you speak of makes me think of those weird lemon-juice colon cleansings--it's just not natural.

Chip said...

I don't know that we can process the world without words, both in our heads and spoken out loud. It's an essential aspect of being human.

But don't get me wrong--I certainly long for substantial periods of silence at my house from time to time...

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I do believe that there is another "realm" for lack of a better word. Words by there nature limit. I think about this a lot in reference to the Bible when people want to think there is one way to interpret it. Words are also by nature subjective. It's absurd to think that all things can be labled and understood by those labels.
anyway... just my opinion.