After reading John Cage’s Silence, I wrote down the words, “In silence, there is so much noise.” For a while, these words have been a sort of maxim I’ve followed. They even made their way into in a poem I wrote, a poem I’ve been writing, a poem that is me, a poem that may also be you.
Many people say they need silence in order to focus; I’ve found this especially true of my writing friends. And in the past, whenever I’ve heard someone say something along those lines, I’ve internally rolled my eyes, wanting to argue, but always decided not to do so. “In silence there is so much noise,” I would think to myself. And I still believe it’s true. I feel it in my bones. Don’t you hear it, all of the movement, all of the noise inside of you?
Finally, I’ve figured out what my writing friends have been talking about. It’s not true silence they’re desiring, but rather a way to turn down the volume, a way to listen. I realized this in January, when something inside of me shifted. I found myself craving silence, something I’ve never desired or required. It felt odd. But instead of ignoring this new desire, I listened, and I’m thankful I did.
For the past three months, I’ve been choreographing, setting my work, and teaching technique to dancers roughly seven hours every weekday on top of completing a yoga teacher-training program. It’s been mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting in the best ways possible. But unfortunately during my first few weeks, I was continuing to participate in the habit of going on Facebook after my work was done, when I wanted to unwind or needed a break.
Facebook is one of the noisiest places on the Internet. Advertisements, photographs, text, videos, links. There’s so much information! As an empath, it’s overwhelming, and as a poet, it’s the ride at the amusement park on which so many people get sick. Thankfully, I realized I was going on Facebook in search of silence, but finding the exact opposite: a site even busier than my body and brain. Once I realized I was taking part in something that was yielding the exact opposite result of what I actually wanted to experience, I deactivated. No goodbye or announcement to friends. I just did it. Not even a full week after resigning, I began to find the silence my body and brain were craving. And you know what it was filled with? Noise.
Snow falling. The waves on Lake Michigan. So many birds. But the silence I wanted hasn’t only been filled with sounds: colors, lights, textures, everything has taken on new vibrancy. In this silence, I’ve also been able to notice the interconnectedness of things (For example, I read Silence in graduate school on the recommendation from my professor Trinie Dalton. Months later, I moved to the East Village in NYC in an apartment on which one of the walls hung a framed copy of “10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life,” which Cage popularized. The woman who leased the apartment took class from Merce Cunningham, who was Cage’s longtime partner and collaborated. On the wall of Merce’s studio, Cage’s “10 Rules” hung until his death. In the fall of 2015, I taught my first class in the Residential College at the University of Michigan. On my shared office wall was a copy of “10 Rules,” which I gave to my students. I’ve come to realize I am a person who believes everything happens for a reason (#6 on the list!), something I didn’t know about myself before. And this is only one of many incidents and insights I’ve had in my absence from the site, a fact I attribute to listening in the silence from which I’m writing.
I’m not sure if I’ll go back on Facebook. I might. But for now, I’ll continue to be thankful for everything I’m experiencing. At this moment: the sound of the wind as its moves the pines, a street light illuminating snow, the movement inside of me that is present, always rolling, always available. I still believe silence is filled with noise, but I no longer think people who want it are wrong. When we want silence, we should find it, and inside of it, we need to listen.
Lead image: Millet, Jean-François. “Shepherdess and Her Flock.” 1862-1863. Black chalk and pastel. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Photograph of Lake Michigan courtesy of the author.