When I was a young teen, I carried a transistor radio with me everywhere. It was my self-confidence. My company. My protection and my security blanket. In later years, I brought that need with me into my apartment; the sounds of TV or music turned low were ever-present, even if I wasn’t listening, as if me-myself were not enough to inhabit the space.
How different my life is now.
When I started writing again after more than a decade away, I set out to challenge my peculiar quirk by letting silence own the room. No radio. No TV. No iPod or CDs. Me only.
It was unsettling, at first, hearing nothing but my own echoes, waiting for the story to materialize. But then something unexpected happened. I discovered something wonderful:
The room wasn’t empty after all.
Silence feeds words.
In a room occupied by sound, the writer shares her attention; she listens, even if she doesn’t intend to. In a space visited by constant, unfamiliar noise—as my Denver apartment is, with its sounds of street traffic that haven’t yet faded into background buzz—the attention is invited elsewhere.
Lack of sound is a blank slate. Rooms are fillable spaces into which internal sounds can set up shop. Ideas can find their footing. Words that rise into the quiet aren’t obliged to push anything aside. They aren’t forced to wander through the maze of soundwaves to find the page, to resonate in the ear. Words that come into the silence are richer, more memorable than if they arrived into sound.
In the recent move to Denver, I backslid. I brought the need for noise into the new place. Re-acclimating to the trust of quiet takes will and skill. But the rewards are inevitably and invariably surprising. I found that out again last night. I gave the hour before bed to lamplight and stillness. And pages and pages of notes were given back to me in return for the exercise.
Once a scaredy-cat about being exiled in my own quiet, I am different now. My writing life has become about the sounds I don’t hear.
And once again, I have discovered what I already knew:
Silence isn’t empty. It is opportunity.