the medicine of silence — Robin K. Crigler

Reblogging this beauty from my friend Robin Crigler. Best essay I’ve read in a while (and it’s my business to read essays).

—i— you are here for not twelve hours and you say “i want to write a book about silence”: this is not appropriate, it’s not in the spirit. 2,487 more words

via the medicine of silence — Robin K. Crigler


Writing these days

I have been writing! I say this with some triumph because it seems hard enough to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard every single day, much less produce something that exists as a piece of writing. But yes, I have been writing, and it’s become part of my life such that I don’t feel quite right if I’ve neglected a day. And I suppose I’ve produced some things that I like, or at least that I will like. But…… these days….. it kind of feels like I’m not getting anywhere.

I feel that now we’re settling into the doldrums of summer. If this were a naval adventure novel, we’d be becalmed. Getting agitated in the heat of the South Pacific’s sun, starting to hate the faces around us just for their familiarity. Mutiny might be stirring if we toiled under a tyrannical captain who applied the cat-o-nine-tails too liberally. Yet the worse agony would be staring out at the unchanging sea, wishing we were fish to at least feel the cool water moving against our scales. Will the wind ever stir itself and blow this July into motion?

Yesterday I got gravely stuck, and it brought me right down to the darkness under my bed (where at least it is cooler). I was stuck on this: why am I here? What is the purpose of all this doing and scheduling and trying to make my intellect move into work and writing, and my body move into anything but a sweaty blob indented into the sofa? Why am I doing anything, really? I always think to myself that the great purpose of life is love. But I’m rather alone, rather often. Love is there (it’s always there), but it seems a little distant at the moment. I feel purposeful when I work for my students, but my whole life can’t be dedicated to teaching work (especially during the summer). I hate the feeling of killing time. I hate days with nothing to do. If the purpose of a life is to make that life a happy one, why does that feel like so much work? Am I missing something?


The pay-off of having established a daily writing mandate is that when I got into this foul, self-doubting mood, I wrote something. I thought it might get me on better footing for the rest of the day.

That didn’t happen. I napped for like three hours. It was terrible.

But at least I wrote something! And I think, if I can once again perform my most famous trick of taking messy notebook writing and play with shapes and make it into something worth continuing, I might have an essay.

The idea would be this: sometimes it might be worthwhile to stop looking so clearly through the air for goals and signs and finish lines, and to instead live our lives underwater so that even if things are blurry, we are conscious of the watery world around us. We are submerged in life, and can move forward without waiting to reach something.

That’s an idea that might be worth writing.


Pink and yellow

Do you smile every time you see a flower these days?

I do. Maybe it’s because it’s early spring, after an interminable winter. It feels like forever since sun and warmth found us. There are the beginnings of growth all around me now, but the air is still cold and the season itself still feels fragile. It could snow anytime, but I’m hoping it won’t.

Maybe it’s a teaching thing– I feel like I need to smile and nod at these brave budding troubadours venturing their spring songs possibly too early. If I encourage them, they’ll gain confidence and keep going.

Maybe in addition to those reasons, I am starting to really feel the truth of the renewal that I’ve set myself on in the past month or so, and I’m so desperately happy that this is working.

Without delving too far into personal details here, things are changing for me. I’m enacting an invisible yet iron division between myself and certain groups of people in my life, for the sake of my own independence and mental health. I’m living alone now, and in the space that has been left behind, I have gained the clarity to really look at my life and examine my dissatisfaction with it. I’m lonely, and afraid of the future, and feeling all the uncertainty and searching that we apparently must hike through in our mid-20s. But I know myself (and I really like myself!) and I know that I am committed to being happy. So I’m making changes. Some small, some big.

One of those small changes is taking a walk every day. I like late-ish afternoon best for walks. These days the light isn’t dying but just – changing. I like the sensation of fresh chilled air on my cheeks. I like how long my hair is, and the epiphanies that come to me as I walk through my neighborhood. I like smiling at the people I pass.

Today I came around a corner and was greeted by an exuberant rash of pink flowers– tender petals dripping from the rain that’s been falling all day, but so brightly pink that they shocked me into a big grin. I wish I was better with flower names or that I took a picture, but instead I just walked on with a spring in my step, crossing the street diagonally, thinking to myself that yes, things are going to grow now.

Snow Day News

This just in from Providence: Snow Days are excellent for reading and grading essays and armchairs and coffee and braiding and re-braiding my hair. I’m a teacher, and we’re nearing the end of the quarter, so I’m working from home today— should I take a selfie with my stack of papers to grade? I’m also taking time to myself to rest and renew and light candles.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “snowflakes dancing,” but have you thought about what this actually looks like? I was sitting cross-legged on my bed this morning and staring out the window, and I realized that the way snowflakes dance is not individualistic — sure, they bounce around and they’re cute, but the dancing part is more than that. As the wind changes direction, the snowflakes all swerve in unison, moving with a rhythm that is collective and graceful and known only to them and the gusts of winter wind. It reminded me of contra-dancing, which I learned way back in Virginia. A caller shouts out directions, and the group all changes direction or switches hands or swaps partners in parallel motion. It’s a dance you have to do with a bunch of laughing, jolly people, and it happens either in a big circle or in lines like the Virginia Reel. Snowflakes move like that, in packs. But there’s no caller telling them which way to waltz. Or maybe there is.

Maybe that’s what snowstorms are for: a reminder that there are forces bigger and more destructive or generative than us. Maybe we should take more time to marvel at that.



I haven’t written much this October, and so this November I need to come back to writing. Getting back to writing is an acknowledgement that writing will take me back. And that I have written before, I have been a writer, I AM a writer. Just one who’s drifted away.

Two nights ago the Northeast, where I live in a little city neighborhood nestled next to the water, was pummeled by a massive raging storm. All night I woke in cycles, hearing and fearing the hits of the wind against my windows. Damage, trauma, trees down, and then we slowly pick up and get back to work. Do we leave the leaves on the ground? Which branches are big enough to stop us, and which are just reminders of history?

I think often of the damage-inflicting events of our lives. Grief, war, addiction, violence, poverty, racism, abuse. Recently we’ve been talking about sexual assault (some readers may want to stop here) and the ways that it changes us and our ways of trusting and giving and living and being in our bodies. I am trying to listen to my sisters and brothers and hoping that they can pick up strings and tie themselves into their own strength. But I know it’s too much to expect for everyone to be okay.

Right now, I’m reading The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. She names her novel after the site of Geraldine’s rape, and she knows that she has to unfold the truth quickly. There’s been some criticism out there lately about authors using rape as a plot device, but that’s not the case here. The novel is about how to step back up into life after trauma. So far in my reading, Geraldine is not doing it– not resuming, that is. And that has to be okay; we have to suspend judgement. But we also have to want her and will her to get better. Erdrich’s narration forces us to do so from behind the closed door. Instead, we watch Joe, her 13-year old son, trying to go on and grow up. This is a far kinder and more beautiful way to write the book.

The Round House begins with an image of weeds creeping into the cracks of a house. An image, I think, of damage and trouble invading where they don’t belong, multiplying organically. Joe and his father, together, are a unified front against the little trees. Later in the book they carefully tend Joe’s mother’s garden when she won’t leave her room. They bring her cut flowers to show the nurturing they can do. They are gentle and yet fierce in their protection.


Outside my window right now is a prodigious tree made prostrate by the storm. It drapes like the willow it isn’t over the fence of the park next door. It is cracked into impossible angles, yet it still forms one entangled mass. It’s broken and someone will come to break it more and take it away and clean up. The neighborhood won’t be treeless; we’ll resume our ways. But I think it’s right that there’s a time to see it and let it be ruined and count its branches.

In my poetry class, my kids are making family trees. What are their branches? Which kid will hesitate before putting someone’s name down? Which kid will really kind of wish he could chop off an entire branch? Which kid will choose a symbol that’s NOT a tree? Which kid will be thinking about the ways her family could grow?

As for me, I’m letting things lie draped over and slightly broken, and I’m coming back to writing.