The Sound of Silence

Written by Rachel Howzell Hall

I have something to say.

At this moment in time, I have nothing to say.

It’s been difficult, coming up with a blog post. The fourth novel in my Lou Norton series is out, and it’s a doozy—church corruption, elder abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, love at last. All the issues I’d been wanting to write about but couldn’t before then, found its way into City of Saviors. And I didn’t want to revisit those issues in this post. So, I’ve been trying to come up with something meaningful.

Until this morning, I was having a hard time.

It’s not because I’m not outraged. Because I am. Mystery writers of color remain few and far between, and continue to face barriers in attention and readership. Women’s lives are being literally manhandled again, and we’re all now living in a mashup of 1984 meets The Handmaid’s Tale. Black folks continue to die at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. An iceberg the size of Delaware is about to break off Antarctica at any moment.

I’m outraged and fatigued from being outraged.

It’s weird that my usual go-to for expressing that outrage—the written word—cannot capture my feelings right now.

But today, I’ve wholly accepted that being a writer also means embracing that need to not say or write one word.

“Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.” – Muhammad Ali

And right now, I can’t think of a good answer to the Crazy swirling about me. I don’t know what to do about our threatened democracy. I don’t know what to say about feminism and how it often leaves out the experiences of Black Women. Right now, I’m not walking outside because wildfires are burning all around the Los Angeles Basin and it reminds me of growing up in the 70s with Smog Days and never seeing the Hollywood sign. I don’t want to write about any of this in a word-road trod upon by so many others.

Writing just to say that I have written is pointless. You, dear reader, would roll your eyes and say, ‘that’s a shame,’ then take the next Buzzfeed quiz about the true color of your soul. Writing for the sake of writing is like buying a knock-off Louis Vuitton purse. The outside may look authentic but if rain, travel and spilled goldfish crackers hit it, the damned thing melts.

Words should not be counterfeit handbags.

To write 90,000 words for a novel (or 500 for this post), I need to feel it. Tingling fingertips. Pressure in my chest. Butterfly fluttering near my heart. The fear of failing. Afterward, loose knees, easy breathing and slowed pulse—and still that fear. I’ve published close to a million words, so I know those feelings.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams

I know what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling, but right now, I can’t capture that. And I’m okay with that. Instead, I ‘like’ and re-Tweet the words of others who’ve captured all that I’m thinking. That doesn’t mean that my mind has stopped working. Take my work-in-progress, for example:

I was hiking trail near my house days ago. My mind was doing that thing that writers’ minds do, when it pushed out solutions I didn’t know needed solving: Munchausen by proxy syndrome and… the police were already there and… a single braid discovered on the pavement.

Another example:

I was sleeping. Once again, my mind was doing that thing that writers’ minds do when not actively writing. I’d been struggling with ideas for this post and my mind woke me up at four in the morning, and said, ‘Here you go. Write about not writing. Write about being quiet.’

“If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Being a writer means wandering the barren land, picking herbs, kicking rocks and looting crates, figuring out if you’re a Warrior or a Mage or a Rogue or a mix of all three. (I’m a gamer, can you tell?) Being a writer means enjoying a silent retreat before you’re required to wield your sword (or pen) to fight the Big Bads. That’s what I’m doing right now—picking berries and searching for gold coins. Once that pressure in my chest builds, once my breath comes in sips and spots swirl before my eyes…

Means ­I’ve powered up. And the world should watch out cuz it’s gonna be a helluva story.

Until then?

Ssh.

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Find Rachel Howzell Hall online on Twitter and her website.