In Defense Of Silence
How my writing-less summer reminded me of the music of my life
Musicians know that nothing can mess you up like an unanticipated pause. But the key word there is “unanticipated.” Behind the scenes, we stop and start again all day long.
We stop and start while first reading through the piece, getting a feel for things; we stop and start during practice to correct errors or contemplate the expression of a phrase; and ultimately, we stop and start in performance, according to the written dictates of the music.
If you’ve ever attended a live music event, you know there can be nothing so awkward as a pause in the wrong place…and nothing so powerful as a pause in the right place. The musicians are preparing for, and the audience is breathlessly anticipating, the next word, note, movement.
The magic happens in the middle of the silence.
This past summer, after burning out over blogging through the springtime, I wrote nothing. Absolutely nothing, outside of a daily gratitude list, or a very rare journal entry.
As someone who has been writing out of desperate compulsion for all my life, this was incredibly unusual.
But it’s what I did. I read. And read. Stayed present with my little boy. Was lazy, and loved it. Relaxation, without the vacation, was my focus.
So when the upheaval of an unexpected autumn move washed over our family, I was “ready.” (Not really, but who is ever ready for upheaval?) I was tanked up, and knew it, and that fact got me through many a long hour of discouragement in the fall, as I looked back over my summertime of silence.
And then came the holidays, and self-imposed deadlines for the biggest, most committed writing project I had ever tackled. It was probably the worst time I could have chosen to do the work — but how often do we, as writers, choose our real work? Apparently, it usually chooses us.
Here’s the truth, though: had I not pulled back, and let myself off the hook for the summer, and let the ideas and energy simmer on the back burner, I seriously doubt I would have been able to stick it out, get up early every morning, and pound out the project during December.
The magic — of preparation and anticipation — happened in the silence.
A piano professor once told me that the rests are the hardest parts to play in music.
She was right. Forcing ourselves to create the empty space of silence, when borne up on the wings of beautiful melody or captivating rhythm, is incredibly difficult. But it serves a priceless purpose. The silence sets you up for the crescendo, the next emotional connection, the message of the music.
Consistency in any good work is vital, we know. But there are occasionally circumstances in life that force us to pull back, put it down, and walk away. Illness. Moving. Birth. Death. Finances. Family. Who knows.
The thing is, though, we don’t have to discount the downtime. Sometimes, its the exact rest between the notes that we need to make the next measure of music meaningful.
Silence speaks with plenty to say; let’s not miss the magic to be found in it.