Three Decades of Silence … and Counting
I remember sitting alone on the edge of the soccer field, where the land turns up, hill-ward by the school fence. I remember letting the distant cheers and loud chatter of the others drown themselves out while i daydreamed and wrote stories or poems. The freedom to wander in my mind, there alone, was intoxicating. When i was new to the next school along our many moves across the country, in finding my essential solitude i would resort to sitting in a bathroom stall over lunch period, until weeks later when i would find a secure spot outside in the yard. I needed a safe place where i would not be coerced into playground games. I didn’t want to run and play tag or soccer. I didn’t want to hop scotch with the girls talking about foolish things. I just wasn’t that kind of child. Or perhaps it was the paralyzing shyness that prevented me from being physical in such a public place.
I didn’t know then that eventually i would become so dedicated to being a storyteller that i would one day enrol into the Native Theatre School in order to be seen and heard in public spaces to share stories. Though today there is only silence, this computer, and you.
My mother reflects back on my demeanour and my need for solitude as she recounts the story of our house in Yellowknife. Even then she understood mothering three different children meant three variations of mothering styles and for me meant unpacking the storage cubby under the stairs so that i would have a private, silent, space. I had a table and a lamp. I remember creating shadow puppet shows on its walls and once, only once, opening the door for my family to watch.
Not coincidentally, two events struck ground at the same time in grade six: my mother was cautioned i needed to work on my social skills; and i became a published poet.
After the flurry of sharing my poetry and short stories with children’s magazines, my teachers, and my family for two years, i stopped writing, much to my mother’s disappointment. (It was, after all, my mother who helped me work through spelling trouble by writing children’s books together. Through her own writing, my mother taught me to use words on paper to create our art.) The truth, however, was that i simply stopped sharing my writing as it was bringing me uncomfortable attention and expectations. I let the silence suck me back into being.
If it were not for that special kind of silence that i find addictive and nourishing, i would perhaps not be a writer.
Without another person forcing me present, my mind wanders and in that space the words form, like a painting. Sometimes the canvas is blank when i sit down to write, while other times it comes to me half-shaped while i’m in the middle of something else, like showering, doing the dishes, or buying groceries. When i was in my early adult life this was fine: an idea would come and i would pause to take out my notebook and sketch the phrasing out. I would hold the distant chatter of a public place as static noise while avoiding talking with people until i later returned to my apartment and finished the piece.
That certain kind of silence for too long in cities became a poison, turning too close to symptoms of depression. I was overdosing in alone-ness, in the static chaos of urban life. No longer were the boundaries clear between the healthy doses of solitude for productivity and those kinds that were gently suffocating.
For an introvert and a writer it is a bit of a leap to agree to share a life with another person, however, you do. We find ways of creating balance between sharing time and space but then also retreating into oneself.
Then i became a mother.
I lost my silence, my retreat, the freedom to let my mind wander and thoughts which map out stories and poems in unexpected moments. None of that existed for me any more with a toddler and a baby. The cost of something so beautiful, such as mothering, was to lose part of the fabric of my identity.
While my daughters were little my spirit was starved for that place my brain goes to write. People would offer to take care of the girls, but there was always a mountain of things to choose from that also needed my attention. Instead of letting my mind wander among a silence, it would be sleep-deprived, making practical plans, working, and worrying about my daughters/planning for their return.
I remember a day when i stole some time to daydream. Usually, i would stifle the words wanting to be painted with. But this day the girls were at preschool and i was working on a contract file, preparing a report. Yet other words were seeping in, arranging themselves in the back wall of my thinking and so i stood up, went outside on the back step in the summer’s air, and soaked in that special silence. I stood there without calculating anything else as though i were twenty again. I believe a smirk came over my face, a feeling of infidelity with a stolen luxury.
For years it was this way: stories and poems would die just after their birth while my daughters interrupted me, i was simply too exhausted, or other real life of adulthood ceased the flow of words. Not having access to creative silence was bothersome. Slowly, bit by bit, i would steal moments and instead of sleep i would write. Just a bit. Just to stay sane.
I have more access to silence now and i’m regaining balance. There are more opportunities to finish a thought from inception, through daydream layers and back again to end cycle—completed, and leaving me climbing off the narrative ride. I think i even still giggle a little when i catch myself free-floating.
Not every parent can be away from their young children for an extended vacation. I would prefer not to, yet here i am, having said yes to their family trip abroad without me. The house is cold without their voices that have grown integral to my world. I miss even their bickering and their calls in the middle of the night.
There’s all the silence i want but it doesn’t sound right. It’s not filled with their laughter outside as i’ve ushered them out to play. There isn’t the hum of their sleep while i stay up an extra hour before bed or get up an hour early. Our routine kept me focused, kept me connected. Their voices nourished me.
Now i’m overdosing in silence in the waiting. So here i sit. With you. My story.
my daughters fold hours of work and play
as art, philanthropists preparing
goodwill offerings for the wiklatmu’jk
they know must still be there
how empty the forest is without the people
how sterile our lives
my stories were once the birthing space, improvised
teachings, meticulous but careful
how much i pressed on, the seriousness of this art
some days the veil so thin between truths
animating what only mothers can
now i sit witness on the periphery
their abounding joy focusing their hands
while i’m mourning my own belief
an unraveling that comes with age
unveiling the earth’s tricksters misplaced
i have little magic left to cause
into my daughters’ malleable world
confirming mythology’s last umbilical cord
when too many days were mute
and my children asked
i could only but take them to the trees
it’s up to you to find a wiklatmu’j
maybe they’re in a different shape