My blog is taunting me. It’s telling me that it’s been 91 days since I wrote a post. Funny how it manages to tell me, “You should be writing more”, “You’re paying for this blog but instead of writing, you’re just flinging your money to the wind. Does that make you happy?” and “Seriously, what have you been doing that you can’t write a simple post?” all without actually saying a word.
Well I do have something to say and it actually has to do with talking itself.
I leave this week for a retreat in the hopes of getting some much needed quiet time without working multiple jobs and also some concentrated writing time to myself.
This is no ordinary retreat.
It’s a silent retreat.
The kind where you can’t speak. No talking. That’s right…shut your yap or be quietly asked to leave…with hand gestures, I guess.
I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid. In fact I’m more than a bit petrified of what will happen to me when I am in a situation where I can’t speak for days.
It’s not like I’m the kind of person who talks to herself all the time. You know, like those people who mutter things under their breath or have full conversations with themselves even though you’re looking right at them and you aren’t sure if they are talking to you, their pet, their invisible alien friend or the cabinet.
I know myself well enough to know that I’m likely destined to be one of those people that others point at some day (luckily for now my invisible alien friend Choochie and I are only just learning to speak each other’s language so there is no harm in me making a fool of myself in public yet until I fully grasp their basic vocabulary). But not speaking for days…to anyone??? I may lose what’s left of my mind! I called up the retreat to book my room a few weeks ago.
Here’s how the conversation with Mary, the lady who took my call, went:
Me: I’d like to book four days at your retreat.
Mary: Okay dear. I’ll just take down a few bits of information and we’ll book you in.
Mary: Yes, dear?
Me: I, uh, well I just want you to know that I’m coming up there to finish writing my second novel. I’m a writer.
Mary: Oh, that’s nice dear.
Mary: Yes, dear?
Me: Well, I have to tell you I’m a bit scared out of my mind to be doing a silent retreat.
Mary: You’ll be fine dear. Don’t worry.
Me: How exactly do you explain a silent retreat to someone if you can’t speak?
Mary: (giggling) We’ll explain everything to you when you arrive.
Me: I see.
Mary: Would you be interested in the spiritual guidance we offer?
Me: No. I’m sorry. I hope you aren’t offended. I just want to write. But I fear that I might spend the entire time in the fetal position crying instead.
Mary:(giggling) I’m not offended, dear. It’s quite alright.
Me: Okay, then I’m excited. I can’t wait!
Mary: Oh, and I should probably tell you that our meals are silent as well.
Me: What if I chew too loudly? Will you ask me to leave then?
Mary: (fully laughing) Oh my! You are a funny one. I do think you might have a bit of a hard time after all. But you’ll be fine. Don’t worry.
But I am a bit worried.
Truthfully, I’m more excited than anything else to see what will happen to me when words are taken away and I am left alone with my thoughts and only my thoughts…
The anticipation of this time at the silent retreat got me thinking about words from a different perspective than the one that most writers look at them from.
Words are so valuable to us as human beings. We sometimes throw them around without truly meaning what we are saying. Clichés are a dime a dozen (See? I just did it!) and we tend to spew them out when we’re cajoling someone, counselling someone or coercing someone. But what happens when those words are taken away and you are left with only your expressions or hand gestures? Isn’t that what normally happens when you meet someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you do?
We tend to automatically use grand sweeping motions with our hands to indicate direction, or hunger or in some cases our very graphic need to pee. This last example reminds me of an incident I had in India when I couldn’t convey in any language that I was looking for a restroom and ended up signalling with my hands so that it looked like I was saying I had a penis and needed to void it (I figured squatting in the street to show that I had to pee simply wasn’t as ladylike). Instead of directing me to the closest washroom, the woman I was trying to get directions from handed me money and asked for forgiveness because she thought I was a eunuch and that I would curse her if she didn’t pay.
And speaking of women, (which I was, since I’m not in fact a eunuch) it is a statistical fact that women speak volumes more in one day than men do. A woman can speak 20,000 words in a day while a man will barely speak 7,000. Of my 20,000 words a day, I take most of them pretty seriously.
Recently, I was told by a therapist after one session, “You talk a lot” to which I instantly took great offense.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I asked. Clearly I have some anger issues to work out in therapy.
“Nothing. I was just making a statement. I was just saying you talk a lot.”
“Yeah? Well what the hell do you know? How else am I supposed to tell you my life story and what’s bugging me if I don’t talk? Do you prefer shadow puppets? I only have 50 minutes you know! You’re not a mind reader are you? Cause if you are, you should take that shtick on the road and give up therapy. You’d make a killing as a psychic.”
Clearly I have some other issues besides anger, but let’s not go into that in this blog post.
As it turns out, I left that therapist and I ended up ruminating on none of the other points he made about me except the fact that I talk a lot.
It really bothered me.
And once, in conversation with a male friend before the launch of my novel, we were discussing what the definition of sexy is and he said to me, “You’re a gorgeous woman but you’d never be considered classically sexy. You talk too much for that.”
I let him explain his point (stupid as it was) and in the end, I left him too. Even if he did call me gorgeous…Words can hurt.
We all know that from as early as kindergarten. Bullies do damage to our self esteem not just with their fists but with their choice of descriptive language. “Paki go home!” were some of the words thrown at me from a very early age. I never understood this slur since I was born in Ottawa and my parents weren’t from Pakistan. But somehow their taunts still stung.
Words can heal too.
They can empower and connect people. Especially the dirty words that I am so very fond of. I’ve never had anyone tell me that when I string a nasty descriptive sentence together that they think “I talk too much”. They usually ask me to keep talking….
And now, for the next few days I won’t be talking at all.
Not a word.
Not a single solitary word.
I’m excited and scared all at once.
I’m scared I’m going to bank my 20,000 plus words a day only to unleash them on some poor unsuspecting chipmunk in the woods should I lose touch with reality and finally snap after being muzzled the first 24 hours. And I’m excited to see what will happen after that first 24 hours when I no longer wish to speak and the time spent yapping will be spent focusing on the words I really need to say and choosing them wisely.
I guess it’s time to start packing for my retreat.
Now if I only I knew which colour straight jacket to take…