Jul 10, 2012 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Writing Silence

Almost every friend or family member who visits us from the city comments after their first night here at Larrapin/Longview, “It’s so quiet here.”  They say this with a sigh of relief, as if noise were a heavy burden that has been lifted from their chests and at long last they can breathe. Some of them, however, feel differently. “Man, those bugs are really loud. I couldn’t get a wink of sleep.” Or, “I’m just not used to all that silence. Kept me up all night long.”

It is quiet here at our 3 acre farmette, but it is never silent. I hear the breeze rattling the dry leaves as I write this. The fan turns above my head with an unsteady engine and a little click of blades as they spin round and round. The cicadas rise and fall with their own rhythm, a living mystery. When I walk through the yard the grasshoppers thump and whir as they make room for the human who would use them for fish bait if she could only catch them. Handsome, our rooster, crows. The guinea, that god-awful Hell Kevin, starts quacking at the water hose mistaking it once again for a snake. Titmice and sparrows chirp at the feeder. A hummingbird whirs past, letting me know she needs more sugar water.

This is what we call quiet around here. But it isn’t silence. Silence anywhere is truly rare. The deer approaches the water dish we have set back toward the woods in silence. At least from here, she’s silent. The only way we know she’s out there is if Buster sees her and barks. But she is used to him, and comes on to the water on her hard, silent little hooves. If she runs, we will hear her crashing through the undergrowth or catch the sound of her hooves as they beat the path her tribe has made through the ravines. There is a sound even to snow, which you know if you have ever been quiet and stood among the whirling flakes. It’s a soft, shurring sound, the very epitome of quiet. But not silence.

Janisse Ray in her book of nature essays called Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land  contains a short chapter on the nature of silence.  A line from her essay on silence reads, “Silence is the ghost of the panther screaming like a woman in the flatwoods. Silence is the lostness of packs of red wolves.” Throughout these passages, Ray equates silence with death and disappearance; what is no more and can never be again. Yet, she also equates it with healing, ancient wisdom, peace, and contentment. Silence is so rare in our world today that we hardly think of it at all; certainly not as a word full of paradox. My partner, a hospice nurse, is well acquainted with silence–the silence when breathing stops or the blank in space when the heart quits beating. I have been silent meditating in a Buddhist temple; not because nobody’s stomach growled or no one sighed or shifted. But because I went into a place inside me where silence is born, and where it lives easily within my reach. I only have to sit quietly and breathe to find it there.

My best writing is done in silence. I must have quiet to write at all. No radio or TV can play in the background. Nobody can say anything to me now and then. But all those “quiet” sounds I mentioned earlier are accompaniment to my work. The cardinal’s song gives breath to the sentence, makes it sing. But when I enter the zone that artists and athletes talk about, I hear nothing but the next word and the next and the next. I lose all track of time. I am not to be trusted to know when to get up and stretch or keep a date with a friend. There are pictures and there are words, but they are not my own. I read once, and this was some time ago, that there are only a handful of places left in the world where you can hear nothing but Nature–it is no plane’s fly zone. There are no roads and no people live there. We have eaten up these places with our 6 billion lives milling about, talking and laughing and crying out to have our most basic needs met.

Yet, there is a silence we can all attain. As creatives we need to access our quiet place, our soul’s silence so we can write or paint or build the deepest truths we may discover there. I am blessed to have such a quiet place in which to live. Reaching for true silence, though, is still up to me. I know many writers who can find their silence in busy cafes and even in bars. For them, noise is no block to their ability to create. For me, it’s a different story. I need stretches of time and tons of quiet, and then maybe, just maybe I can reach the silence.

Write what silence means to you. Make a list first of the places you find this elusive quality. What does it sound like to you? Then write a poem or a bit of prose about silence or the quiet you find in your own life. And try hard to get a little every day.


—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). To order your copy of A Little Lazarus directly from the author, please click here. Or, if cookbooks are more your style, get a copy of Mendy’s family cookbook Across the Arklatex at www.twopoets.us.

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1 Comment

  • I so love this. It perfectly expresses this life some fortunate of us have have chosen to inhabit and make our home..or really come home to.