When I was a boy of about six, after my parents had one of those arguments that blew in like storm fronts, that came with about as much warning and left in their wake about as much damage, my father had stormed out of the house and my mother had retreated in tears and imprecations to some other bedroom. In the aftermath of these blowups, my brothers and I would move quietly around the house, waiting for the dust to settle.
I sat on the stairs and asked them, “What’s going to happen? Are momma and dada going to get divorced?”
My mother must have overheard, and she came out of her room to chastise me. “It’s none of your business,” she said, in effect. By then I already knew enough not to talk to anyone outside the family about what went on at home. But that day gave me my first inkling about how complete the silence needed to be. It was my first and longest lasting lesson in what could and could not be said.
Over time, I learned to take those silences for granted. I never told a teacher, a friend, a priest, a teammate anything about the biggest things happening in my life. When I decided I wanted to write, I tried to keep my stories and poems from my siblings in the legitimate fear that they would criticize or ridicule them.
That was more than 30 years ago now. I live in my own rented home, with my own family, wife, children. I have a study off the master bedroom; I have notebooks, a laptop, privacy, space, and time to see where my writing might lead me. Now, though, I begin to wonder whether the burden of silence has been lifted after all.
I’ve thought a good deal about the fear I struggle with as a writer, and I generally ascribe that to fear about the quality or success of what I write. But when I think about it, I know there are pieces of writing that I’m afraid to let even myself see, afraid to commit to the page at all. Because if I release everything that’s inside me, who know what might come out? Who can tell what pain, what anger, what vulnerability might become visible—or worse yet roar to new life? And who knows what damage it might do?
Of course, pushing my concern outward only serves to obscure the final, and deepest fear: What might my unencumbered writing tell me about myself? What might I have to acknowledge, come to terms with, change about the way I live my life?
I have no answers to these questions. In fact, before now, I’ve barely let myself ask them. But I’m beginning to understand the implications of the truth that silence is not selective. It doesn’t suppress here but allow free rein there, even if it attempts to. It is a broad, heavy hammer that flattens everything in view. And if I want to use writing to create experiences that render my consciousness in truth, I have to find a way out from under silence’s weight.