Reeds growing in quiet water. In the great cacophonous, chattering clatter of the world, I've come to value silence. I do not value it above sound, just as I do not value clarinets more than violins, nor cherry pie over pizza pie. But as a frame of consciousness, as a describable quality that may be invested in a day, a moment, in an intentional space, silence becomes a surprisingly powerful and moving state of being.

Do not be misled. It's far too simple to regard silence is a mere absence of sound. The world is a noisy place. Children talk, birds squawk, cars honk, printers balk. Sound surrounds us. It informs us, carries us. Music becomes the apotheosis of organized sound, and as such defines its great potential. Language in its many spoken forms simultaneously joins us to each other and transmits information of all types. We define the boundaries of space and time by the sounds around us. In your own home you know sounds unconsciously, communicating subtle, vital details of your most intimate space. The heating element on that old coffeemaker emits a tiny tick as the metal subtly expands after it's been on for a while. The spring hinge on your front door squeaks in a certain way on the last third of its arc. The floorboards under the carpeting at the top of your basement stairs groan every time they tolerate the weight of a person standing there.

Sound is neither good nor bad. In its different manifestations, we are in constant dialogue with it, sometimes provoking it into existence, sometimes adapting based on what it tells us.

It's often intentional, too. It must be, because the natural state of the world is noisy, vibrant, loud. By seeking out moments of silence, or appreciating them when they're encountered, we avail ourselves of the creative person's most powerful tool: transformation. We must transform the world to make it quiet, and the act of transformation from any one state to another inevitably affords discovery through unexpected refraction.

Silence is different than our ordinary moments. Quiet spaces generally require effort. They must be created, or at least they must be pursued. There are different levels of silence. Sit in a quiet space for a few minutes, and you're likely to hear the sound of a distant ticking clock, rhythmically texturizing the space. Does that clock intrude, or does it remind you that there is no other sound? Silence is like that. It presents questions even as it offers opportunity.

Every day older, I'm aware of silent times more and more as they remind me of my own silent future, an inevitability that continues to approach no matter what I do. It approaches us all, and perhaps it's because of death's ultimate arrival in stocking feet that we spend so much time talking, singing, tap-tap-tapping out rhythms, as if to convince ourselves--prove to ourselves--that it's not here yet.

Silence offers clarity. As a condition that doesn't easily happen without intention, it provokes a byproduct of internal reflection. In a quiet space, along with your own thoughts, clarity of mind is all you have. For many, that clarity provokes fear more than anything else. No doubt it's the fear of clarity that sends many into endless pursuits of stimulation, of noise.

I'm not opposed to sound, even loud, raucous ones. To be so opposed would be akin to rejecting tarragon or garlic for no good reason. I may avoid putting garlic on my peanut butter sandwiches, but applied to other things, garlic is wonderful. Same for sound of wide and varied type. I cannot live without music. I love the chatter and thrum of a New York City sidewalk, the electric vibe of a movie soundstage, the steam and clinking buzz of a cool coffee shop with vital conversations mixing all around.

But with time's relentless evaporation seemingly accelerating, I discover a certain wholeness and rationality in silence. Then: irony. In quiet spaces, I find the whole world for me opens as an artist, a creative person. It is then I hear the music I want to write, the lines of poetry I want my characters to speak, the sounds of revolution and passion and humor that I hope will take up residence in my work as an artist. In silence, I am reminded how much I do not want to live there, even as I find a great desire to visit quiet spaces regularly.

That's because for me, silence often provokes the chorus of the universe to sing.


PS -- Yes, yes, here's where the good people of 1AU ask our dear readers to share what you've read with friends and colleagues. And here's the place where you think, "Oh, sure, one more imposition of my precious time." Well, we're asking. It's something we value above rubies, above gold: if you like an idea enough to give it a moment's thought, then consider giving it a measure of freedom. When you share an idea with another person, you release an idea to grow freely in the world. Like what you see? Set it free.

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