Talking About Silence

It’s ironic, I know–talking about silence. You destroy it the minute you begin. The only thing you can do is describe the negative space around it. Lo spazio vuoto. Everything you don’t say is the thing you mean.

It takes practice. Silence, I mean.

Silence isn’t something most people love, crave, or become terribly crabby without. Enter: me.

You know the story: silence came to me by accident. I didn’t want it. For 14 years, the tv was on, then suddenly it wasn’t. The ticking clocks were deafening, at first. That’s a lot of punctuation. Are they comas, the ticks, or periods? Maybe they are question marks.

It grows on you.

Sometimes, if you dive down deep enough under water that your belly touches the sand, you can hear whales. Really. Who knew? It’s all this silence and then when you’re down far enough to have to pop your ears, there it is: the language with no words.

I love music. I love lights and noise and having 2 or 12 people over for dinner. I love talking and laughing and telling stories. I love saying the funny thing you didn’t expect. I love telling you a story you can barely believe. Silence waits outside the screen for everyone to go home. It waits with the cats who don’t like a lot of commotion either, and slides back in with them during the night.

You can cultivate silence like a plant. Like a garden. You can plant it and reforest the devastation. You can water it in the evening and check each morning to see if it has new leaves. You can wait for its flowers. You can sit in its shade and watch the butterflies. You can find so much richness in its presence that the pain of it thickens into love. Believe me.

Sometimes I am the one who talks too much, who shouldn’t have started in on that story in the first place. Or who throws out a comment that seems like it’s going to be clever until it hits the air. But not always.

Sometimes I am the one who can’t think of one thing to say. I believe in comfortable silence. We don’t have to talk all the time any more than we have to eat all the time. Why? Can we ever just leave our mouths at rest the way we prop up our feet? I think so. Sometimes there is nothing in me that wants out. Everything is ok where it is. Or I am waiting to know what I mean before I start talking.

Surfing is silent. It can be, anyway. That’s the way I like it. I’m not a chatty surfer. If you can get 4 sentences out of me before I paddle away, you should feel special. It’s easier to pay attention when you’re not using your mouth. That’s about a lot more than surfing.

It’s like your soul condenses in silence. It becomes thicker and contains more of the essential ingredient–the thing it is. More of a bisque and less of a broth.

Turn off the noise and listen to the wind. Or the clock. Or the birds. Don’t speak. Nothing going in. Nothing going out. Stasis.

“What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your full love.” Thank you, Rilke. Silence become anything but boring.

Poems About Waiting

poems about waiting
hover in the corner
by the ceiling
like angels

they don’t mind because
same as angels
waiting is
what they do

they can wait forever
or until tomorrow
they can wait
for anything
or nothing at all
and they won’t wish
you would hurry or
turn on the tv

while you sleep
they are waiting
outside the mosquito net
nearby
with the cats

poems about waiting
might not have words
because speaking
is not what they do

their language is
made up of comas
and spaces

 

How to Be Okay When You’re Not

I thought you might like a suggestion about how to be okay when you’re not. Because it happens to all of us and it’s good to have a plan.

This is mine:

I go to the beach.  Of course.  Because I can.  But you don’t need a beach to do this.  I sit in the sand and curl up into a little ball, like a seated fetal position. That’s the position I take when I’m really bad. When I’m kind of okay, I might sit cross legged. If I’m good, just feel like I need a huddle with all of my selves, I might sort of lie back on my elbows. It doesn’t matter.

I reach my finger out and trace a circle around me–all the way around–in the sand. It could be a big circle or a little circle—it doesn’t matter. The less okay I am, the smaller I make the circle, like a tighter hug.

I don’t know where I got this from, but it’s been with me for a long time, and I am pretty sure I didn’t make it up. If I did, it’s one of those things that can’t I be the first one to have invented.

This is how to be okay whether or not you are.

The important thing is to close the circle. You may not believe this until you try it, but you can feel the circle close. Something happens. I swear. No, I am not insane. Try it. If you can’t get to the beach, sit on your living room floor and draw an invisible circle. Sit in the driveway and draw a circle with chalk. You’ll see what I mean.

I tell myself that everything that is me is inside the circle. Definitions are important when you’re not okay. Basic definitions. Inside the circle: Diana. Outside the circle: not-Diana. Having something you can be completely sure of is a fabulous place to start when you’re not really okay. And it rocks when you are.

I tell myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. There is enough air. The sand is holding me up. Nothing hurts. My heart is beating just the way it’s supposed to. My lungs are doing a great job of breathing. Everything essential is just fine. I tell myself everything I absolutely need is inside the circle with me. Intestines, for example.

And everything/everybody that is not-me must stay out while the circle is closed. When I’m especially not-okay, I write things in the sand outside the circle. The first letters of names, usually. People, living or not, who, no matter how much I love them, are not me. Only I am allowed inside the circle. I have to be in here alone to be okay, and you have to stay out. Sometimes I review a list of things and people who are not me, mentally telling them they have to stay out right now, setting them on the other side of the line.

It becomes easier and easier to breathe.

I explain to myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. Nothing is missing. Here are my two hands, each with 10 fingers. I have plenty of teeth and enough hair. My legs take me everywhere I need to go. If I am hungry, it is by choice.  Outside the circle, everything can be as wrong as it is, but inside the circle, everything is accounted for, working, in place. It is the only spot in the universe where everything is alright.

I just sit there. Sometimes I close my eyes. Sometimes, if I’m not having a good day, I might cry a little. I don’t usually, but it’s not impossible. So if you walk by on the beach and happen to see me, don’t worry. It’s just salt water. And don’t talk to me. I can’t talk when I’m in the circle. I mean, I don’t want to. That’s not generally a problem either because I think there’s something about the circle that makes you invisible to most people. I’m not kidding. You’ll see what I mean when you try it.

Then when I feel a little better–or the tide is coming in, or my back starts to hurt, or the mosquitoes are biting me, or I can tell I’ve had enough sun, or I’m thinking about how my cats are hungry—I reach out with my hands and open the circle. I make a door in it.

And the rest of the world comes rushing in. But it’s alright. Because on some very basic level, I have remembered that I am still here and there are at least some ways in which I am okay. And that, as I said, is a fabulous place to start.

Try it. It works.

Not to Hide

Silence

This is the end of a year of silence. I didn’t set out to experience a year of silence, but I also promised not to require anything of myself other than keeping my job and feeding the cats. A year of of much silence is what came to me. It was necessary and beautiful in a fearsome way.

Walking out of it, I feel nothing like the person who walked into it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s true.

 

2017

In 2017, I lost everything. Not “lost” like I don’t know where I put it–“lost” as in my whole life lifted off the planet like water vapor and disappeared into the sky. You know that story already. Until the beginning of June 2017, I had one life. It vanished and was replaced, first by another completely different life in a country with a language I barely spoke, and then replaced again. Replaced the second time by a life back in my familiar country but in a strange house with a reconfigured job, and a new silence.

So. Very. Much. Silence.

I learned to inhabit it.

 

2018

2018 has been a quiet year. Very quiet. Everything happened. Nothing happened. I don’t really know. If I try to make a cohesive, sensible tale out of all of it, my head begins to split down the middle, so I stop. It’s alright. I just tell you true stories as they come to me–maybe someday one of us will be able to make sense out of it all. Or at least some of it.

I have literally written volumes. Notebook after notebook, obsessively as if my life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t–it doesn’t matter. I have to do it to keep from going mad. There is so much noise in my head and so much silence all around. Sometimes I start to cry and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I feel unnervingly happy. There’s just so much. So much everything. So much that is so important and so impossible. It’s a very big wind and I attempt to simply stand still in it. To take all of it and not fall.

And yes there is a book coming. Poems for the brave-hearted. It’s called “Certain as Afternoon.” Because everything that will happen is.

 

Fear

I’m not afraid.
I don’t feel weak, either.
I feel inexplicably strong.
Like one of those giant cenizaros that hum with bees when they bloom.
Like that.
A blooming kind of “strong.”

I literally do not know what I want.
Maybe I am afraid to want anything for fear of losing it.
That would be a reasonable fear for me to have, all things considered.
But I just said I wasn’t afraid, so what is this confession?
Not afraid, perhaps, of anything that can come from the outside.
But raw as as a fresh wound on the inside.
Yes.
That.
I’m more afraid of me than I am of you.

 

Resolutions

I don’t do New Years resolutions any more. When I used to do them, I always resolved the same things: to write more, to eat less, to be kinder. I don’t have any other ideas. But if I wrote any more than I do right now, I’d have to quit my job. If I ate any less, I would blow away in the wind. If I was any kinder, I seriously hope someone would tie me to a tree and go get help.

But maybe I do have a resolution for 2019. I resolve not to hide. Why do I feel like bursting into tears when I write that? Because hiding is safe and I am good at it?

Well I won’t do it.

I’m not broken anymore. Not most days, anyway. But I’m not sure I’m the same species of creature that I used to be. Something in me feels like it has the coiled strength of a waiting tiger–motionless and not at all delicate. And I’m pretty sure I have butterfly wings, playful, bright, and fragile. I don’t know what you call a thing like that. I don’t know how you be a thing like that. What does it eat? Where does it sleep?  Will people be afraid of it?

 

Water

It’s like surfing. Everything is. Life is. Every day you paddle out into it, whatever it is. Some days you wait and wait for absolutely nothing. Some days you get cold and you want to go home. Some days the sets are so big and so terrible all you can do is paddle straight at them with all your might and pray to God that the hit, when it comes, won’t be as bad as it looks. Some days you ditch the board and dive for the bottom. And some days everything is right, including you, and it all comes together so perfectly you can’t decide if you more want to laugh or cry. I like those days. I have some like that. I have all the kinds. You don’t get to pick.

You pick whether or not to get in the water.

I’m in.

Poem For the Cave

(A love poem for a dark place that ceases to be terrifying when it becomes familiar.  I call it The Cave.)

o deep black
space of silence,
place before time,
dark lung that
pulls us in with the air.
this is where we must
find our way
without sight,
the place where the eye
cannot speak and
only our crying echoes
to show us the
shape of our
sorrow.
the texture of air in our
clutching fingers
is so thin and strange.

Slowly Like Snow

you said take me home
to the sea and
i promised
i would

neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
the weight
of a carry-on bag
with ashes

i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
couldn’t
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely

when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to

i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me

you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised

i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
my skin
and watched
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
around me