The instructions in V_O_G are to devise my own silence exercise.
For me, silence is easy. Except for brief, caffeinated periods when I was a teenager, I actually tend to lapse towards the taciturn unless the fun is flowing or I’ve taken charge of some situation. That chatty performance you saw in those videos? That’s the result of years of public speaking and speech competitions. I can improv with the best of them, though I usually don’t get past fifth place.
It’s not that I’m not a talker.
It’s that I’m not a truster.
Exposing even small details about anything I cared about to my immediate family would inevitably lead to my betrayal: if I liked a boy my mother would somehow conflate not taking a laundry basket into the basement with my eventual whoredom. If I admitted I felt bad about my body, my sister would, as soon as I insisted on taking the TV at the time we had agreed upon instead of continuing to let her watch MTV, tell me I “didn’t just look like a pig.” These were not isolated incidents – any detail at all would eventually get thrown in my face.
So I learned to create a mask of sound, seemingly to chatter happily about my life while ensuring that no one knew any real details about who I was, who I liked or what I felt. My mother was convinced I was a happy teenager, and my sister was annoyed at not being given any ammo.
After I left home, I found it was hard to connect to people so most of the time I would lapse into what I call the introvert-trance: my inner world was where I was safe and could solve problems. Or, I’d use that 50% of me that is extroverted to, instead of speak, be in a room and observe people.
My inner world – outer silence has really taught me a lot about how people tick. For instance, the people that chatter incessantly and annoyingly are usually in a lot of pain but don’t have the synapses to pull it together and overcome it. They’re chattering because they can’t stand hearing themselves think. Whatever that inner voice says, it’s probably got the inner critic cranked up to full volume.
And I realize that the other silent people are, like me, disinclined to trust. I know they’ll be hard to reach and most conversations are short and to the point. And I’m reasonably certain that what the silent people tell me is the truth, or enough of the truth that they’re OK exposing.
So to me silence is the art of safety. In my quiet place, no one can hurt me – no matter what I’m thinking.