"Let nothing disturb the silence of this night."—St. Teresa of Ávila
I don't know a lot about St. Teresa of Ávila but I know about silence, and I crave it. She sought silence to pray, and I seek it to write.
Undisturbed silence is hard to come by. Silence in which I am not resisting silence is even more rare. The mind chatters. The imagination looks for what else there is to see and think about; it looks for what comes next. What will be the next distraction to lure me away not only from the physical place of writing but also from the willingness to write? I'll be unable to let the whole world go on without me, unable to be fully in that sentence, word, place.
In the restful purity of silence there is no word, no sentence, no names for things, only the things themselves. There is neither thought nor analysis, no what-ifs, no conversational squeezing dry of an idea. There is only the un-named thing developing. I'm alone in the silence. I'm not bothering myself.
Clement Greenberg once said, "Let nothing come between you and the art." He spoke as an observer and interpreter of visual art, but his statement articulates what is difficult about being any kind of artist. A great treasure of vital demands stands between the writer and her work—love, family, the necessities of food and shelter, friends; hardest of all there is her restless, noisy self.
I've traveled many miles to find the silence I need—to a borrowed beach house, to an empty farmhouse still full of its winter mice, to a suburban house in Oregon where I set up on a wobbly wicker dressing table. The inconveniences of the journey prepare me for work. If I'm going so far, disrupting a perfectly nice life, then I must be clearing the way for that essential silence. I must in some way deserve it.
St. Teresa also said, "Let nothing make me afraid." There's plenty to be afraid of once you start thinking about it. A word doesn't have to become a sentence, nor that sentence a paragraph, nor that paragraph a page. Who says that one page will follow another? This paralyzing truth eats away at the hopefulness I need in order to write.
The antidote for envy is gratitude. So what is the antidote for acknowledging that the silence of real work might never come again? It must be gratitude also, in this case gratitude for the happiness of knowing what silence is.