Tell me about your practice: SILENCE

Tell me about your practice: SILENCE

I recently read a really lovely post on Brain Pickings by my new best friend Maria Popova.* In true Brain Pickings fashion, it touches on a lot of things, but the one of those things that really struck a chord with me was silence- including its role as a necessary catalyst to creative acts and deep searching.

In a 1986 paper about ‘Wait Time,’ researcher Mary Budd Rowe found that by increasing the wait time (or teacher-silence) after asking students a question by just a few seconds had tremendous changes on both students and teachers. Students answers grew in length and complexity (sometimes as much as 700%), while teachers became more flexible and began to refine their own questions to be more thoughtful and intentional.

Silence comes up in my own teaching practice all the time. To be able to follow student interest or accurately gauge the reaction of an adult learner to something said, I need to be a good listener. I’ve found silence to be a great tool to help build this skill (which makes sense- how can I listen if  I don’t shut-up now and again?). It’s empowering to learners to have the power to co-construct a conversation but more selfishly, it feels good as an educator to know that it’s not up to me to fill time or perform.

That’s not to say that silence is always, or should always be, a zen-like contemplative experience. Sometimes Frequently, we find silence to be uncomfortable or even downright scary. My own completely unscientific hypothesis about why this is is twofold: First, when we pause to listen, we get a chance to hear our own insecurities and small voices, ‘Are they listening? Are they zoning out? Am I boring?’ Second, and even more unsettling, though, is that when we allow for silence we open ourselves up to the Unknown, and to the human mind, little else is as scary as what we don’t know.

Cartoon Network’s miniseries, Over The Garden Wall uses our fear of what we don’t know/can’t see to great effect. It’s also the manifestation of everything I love. Go watch it so we can drink tea together and freak out about how good it is.

In contrast, in the Reggio Emilia approach, foundational to my own approach to working with children and adults, self-enforced silence is seen as selfish. If the aim of education is to foster community and engagement with the world around us, then keeping your thoughts to yourself is selfish- you’re withholding from the group insights which could enrich the conversation.

As with most things, I have two opinions (‘Do  I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself…”) Silence is good. Silence is bad. Ultimately, silence is a tool, and like any tool there are times when it’s the tool that’s useful and times when it’s not.

This is true in the home studio as well.
Sometimes I need noise:


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and sometimes,  I need silence:

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What about you-

What audio or ‘visual decibel’ do you need to be successful is it always the same? And if not, then how do you know when it’s time to change?

*No, we haven’t met, but seriously, Maria, if you’re ever in Columbus hit me up- I will buy you Jeni’s and we can talk about books. Or you can talk and I can just listen in wonder- whatever works for you..

What I found in the silence:

  • That I want to be better at writing
  • That I want to be better at coherently explaining my process/intent behind my work
  • That these things happen through practice
  • That I am not adult enough to practice either without the element of shame and accountability that come with a public forum such as here.

 

To these ends, I added some weekly writing time into my morning-studio mix. My rules* are simple: Publish something– once a Wednesday, every Wednesday, preferably with a few sentences of actual writing (by me) involved. Picture-only posts should be used only as a last resort. Following the Elizabeth Gilbert Principal of Creative Work, the something doesn’t have to be great, or even that prolific, what matters most is that I show up and keep showing up until I’ve tricked my habit-driven plodder of a brain into thinking that this is what we’re supposed to be doing. (My art practice really is like a big obsessive compulsive slow-moving beast of burden)

This past month has been full of internet outages (both frustrating and refreshing and entirely what I needed), ill-timed Wednesday morning meetings and intentional self-imposed-rule breaking as I get deeper and deeper into making for Remnants. But that’s the point of self-imposed rules, right? Looking to get back into the habit of stringing together scraps of English on a regular basis as the project continues to coalesce, and I turn my attention towards a) writing a statement and b) figuring out how I will answer when a loved one looks at the piece and says, “So….?”

In the meantime, let’s get excited about blue skies and the return of the sun:

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*because I have to make rules, even if they exist solely to be broken. It’s worth noting too, that these are totally personal and arbitrary. Feel free to steal for your own purposes or disregard entirely

sorting materials and ideas

…as both start to slowly coalesce around a central gravity.
(When I told this to C he said I’ve been watching too much Cosmos. I’ve only seen three episodes, but as this conversation came on the heels of a dream that involved trying to watch Cosmos on the old set in Neil Degrasse Tyson’s seaside vacation home, it’s possible I’ve been watching Cosmos too intently .)

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Pausing in the ‘messy middle.’*

From Jacinda (who says it better than I can):

…I have tried to reconcile this, deciding if it is worthy to pursue (or too insular), but I can’t stop thinking about it. The concept refuses to fade away and I keep taking photographs. I may post a few of them over the next week or two while I formulate the words to describe what this means.

 

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*the ‘messy middle’ is a concept I first read about via Nina Simon. As a total completionist, I find this idea fascinating and scary, and have been experimenting with this concept.