Friday, April 30, 2010

The Said And The Unsaid

I once heard that we actually talk for a mere seven minutes a day on average. It's hard to imagine someone going around with a stopwatch to come up with this. That makes 1,433 minutes in silence; a long stretch to think great thoughts or more likely to just go blank in passive mode.

Some of us have a hard time being still in conversation. How much are we really receiving the other person and how much politely waiting our turn? Now there's something I don't want to talk or even think about.

I am now regarding my silence....there goes a dog across the street asserting himself in the only voice he has....and there's a motorcycle revving up its throat. The wind is strong and probably whirring to the dance of trees.

Peggy and I seem to have a lot to talk about yet we can also go for minutes at a time wordlessly. Many people get uncomfortable when the words stop as if its time to say goodbye. Yet what is music but the marriage of interval and instrument in a discernible pattern?

The genius of Jack Benny was his timing. He wasn't afraid to elongate that pause. Your money or your life, the thief said at gunpoint.............................I'm thinking, I'm thinking.

Silence is the dread in the room that chatter muffles. The Sidney Greenstreet character in The Maltese Falcon says to Bogie how he likes to talk to a man who likes to talk and then lets out his elephantine guffaw. He had plenty to hide and the body to hide it.

The vacuum created by silence is much like the visual space of this white page I'm smudging with words. We usually don't see the negative space in a painting but we're missing something as we fix only on the strokes. The subtext is what is not written or represented; the vivid unsaid or unseen.

Imagine a family gathering around the table. The unspoken agenda is the chair of the absent patriarch, upstairs in his final hour. An agreed upon hush.

How often do we divert ourselves with a meaningless image when the painter wants us to turn toward the vacated space? In our rush for something to chew on we can be like the watchdog munching on a piece of meat thrown by the burgler as he ransacks the house.

Look, I just filled up this page and haven't said much of anything. On the other hand never believe what I say when I say I have nothing to say.


  1. Dear Norm,
    This is a beautiful entry.
    Everything comes from silence and, as you say, timing is everything.
    I think the popularity of internet communication is that there is no waiting to respond and there is no need to consider all the details of the other person because we can't sense them and / or fear them. We are less careful on the internet because we just say what we want to say, not being inhibited by who is on the other end since the person on the other end is also writing what they want to write.
    I remember going to a silent retreat for 3 days. Afterwards, when we were "allowed" to speak, speech felt superfluous. I had felt closer to the people around me within our mutual silence than when the small talk and self-definitions emerged.
    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  2. Thanks, Bobbi, With the glut of words clamoring on the Internet this may be known as The Day of the Loquacious. Remedial silence is not a bad idea or, at least, some awareness and appreciation for the spaces around the noise we make.