Two Kinds of Quiet

px2j3zadqk4-carolina-sanchez-b-1There have been many times in my writing life when I’ve wondered why on earth anyone would want to read my words. There is so much good stuff to read from people so much more on the front lines than I am. And still — I come here.

I come here tonight after taking a shower and climbing into bed. Mani is talking on the phone with her oldest daughter. Today was a mish-mash of working, a short run, grocery shopping, napping, and more working. The kids are at their dad’s. I miss them, though I keep the missing in perspective given that they are just a few miles away and I will see Pearl tomorrow morning when she comes over for breakfast before the school bus, and V and I have been exchanging silly texts for the past two hours.

I’m inundated with articles I want to make sure I read, a list of books I admit is daunting given how long it takes me to complete a single memoir on my nightstand, and thoughts about how best to participate in this moment of historical urgency.

I’m terrified of not doing enough, and yet aware that that seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, an unacceptable cop-out. So instead, I am focusing on what I can do. One of those things is this — show up here and just write. Just say hello, how are you? Where are you? To myself, to you reading.

It’s very tempting to stop writing when things are murky and I’m less than clear on my contribution to this mess — both in terms of cause and solution. I notice the impulse to get really quiet.

There are two kinds of really quiet. One is the kind that would have you listen hard — listen in to the quiet. Listen for the knowing that will surely find you when you get very still (as if you are hunting wabbits and conquering injustice, for example).

But the other kind of quiet is something else. It’s a bit insidious. It may masquerade as the listening-hard variety, when in fact you are slowly receding, giving away the work to those who appear more vocal, more comfortable speaking out, more knowledgeable about what to say or do.

I am pretty sure there are a LOT of people who don’t feel comfortable writing or speaking, not our of lack of outrage but out of not knowing what the hell to do beyond circulating other people’s blog posts and news stories. “Thank god for good writers” is a thought I have frequently, these days more than ever. I won’t hide behind the quiet, but I’m also not the loudspeaker type.

These are not exactly times of balance, and yet to be effective — as writers, as parents, as fighters, as lovers, as friends, and as allies — it goes a long way to have some connection to your own values and voice. This connection comes in part as a result of cultivating quiet as a way of being present as opposed to quiet that is a disguise for checking out out of a sense of personal impotence and powerlessness.

You are not powerless.

Take your anger, your grief, your fear, your overwhelm — whatever states you find yourself cycling through — and let them be guides. Show up without knowing what you will write or say. Trust your instincts: join up with people you can learn from and move away from people who make you feel unsafe or crazy. And if the quiet of really listening for where you belong is trying to get your attention, let it. There is information there, and you are the only one who can convey it.

You are not crazy for feeling crazed. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from a speech on January 14, 1963: “What we face is a human emergency.”

It’s enough to make any one — writer or not — have to gather up her wits and words and figure out where on earth to start. And as usual, the answer is simple: Start where you are. Then keep going.

4 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Quiet

  1. daniel says:

    this is so good Jena—the whole writing, the encouragement to just start where you are—then i was moved and emotional about this wonderful part: “This connection comes in part as a result of cultivating quiet as a way of being present as opposed to quiet that is a disguise for checking out out of a sense of personal impotence and powerlessness”—-thank you for all this and the support it gives one to write from this silence…

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