HALLIE: My father used to say that my sisters and I were all vaccinated with phonograph needles and that explained why we never shut up. So I was fascinated when novelist Anne LeClaire (Entering Normal and The Lavender Hour) shared with me her practice of choosing 24 hours of silence every other Monday for the last 17 years. (photo by Christopher LeClaire)
The Cape Cod author’s new book, “Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence” (HarperCollins) is a memoir and a meditation on her experiences and on the power of silence.
Jungle Red is pleased to welcome Anne LeClaire to Jungle Red. Anne, what happened 17 years ago that set you on this path?
ANNE LECLAIRE: It was a gorgeous January day and I was walking on the beach. I do that every day, but that day my best friend’s mother was dying and I was in a tender place. I watched some eider ducks dive for food and noticed how long they stayed under water. I thought, how amazing that these little creatures with lungs about the size of my thumb could stay submerged for longer than I could hold my breath.
I think there’s something about when we’re tenderhearted we open to the universe, which is one of the roles grief plays in our life, and I thought about the many things I was grateful for. I thought, I love my husband, friends, and I have enormous privilege of doing what I do for a living. It’s not as if I haven’t known loss and grief but even that I’m grateful for because of what it’s taught me.
As I was thinking about this I teared up. I didn’t know what do. A man behind me on the beach said, “Sit in silence.” I turned around and there was no one there.
Nothing like that has ever happened before or since. It was so profound and real it called me to attention. What could that mean? And I thought maybe it just means: Be quiet.
HALLIE: So you did?
ANNE LECLAIRE: I went home and told my husband, “I’m not going to talk tomorrow.” I spent the next day in silence. That experience was so profound in so many ways, just stopping cold in this mad roller coaster of life and spending a day alone with myself in my normal world. It was life changing, and I don’t use that term casually. My writing that day was very smooth and focused. I heard things in myself that normally there’s too much chatter to hear. The day slowed down in a delicious way. I felt so restored and rested at the end of the day.
I liked it so much that I decided, two weeks later, that I’d do it again. I began to see what happens when we make space for creative thoughts to rise up without the noise we usually have. I began to read about sounds and how artists and musicians talk about need of resilience in the creative process. I knew I wanted to do it again.
But the next Monday came and it was awful. I was very anxious, I wanted to stop. At lunch time I took a walk and I realized a very old sorrow had risen up. I thought, now I see what happens when the noise stops. All the things I’ve been running from will catch up. Silence is not always a place of peace. I sat with it and didn’t push it to the place that we cover with noise and action. I began to think a lot about why we have a life so filled with noise, why silence can be so uncomfortable.
Since then, I do this twice a month, every first and third Monday. Silence has taught me to listen to myself and to the people around me and to my characters.
HALLIE: How did the book come about?
ANNE LECLAIRE: A friend who was writing a book told her editor about my silent practice, and she asked me to write about it. At first I said no. I didn’t have the time. Then I put down some ideas, a 17-chapter breakdown. I wanted to write about the correlation between silence and creativity, how silence teaches us to listen. What it does for us physiologically and psychologically.
Then the editor left that publishing house and I put the project on the back burner. My agent said one day, “It’s time for the silence book.” I sent her a few chapters and an outline. HarperCollins was enthusiastic.
HALLIE: When it was published, did you feel as if you’d struck a nerve
ANNE LECLAIRE: It’s been so generously received. Every day there’s a letter or phone call from someone. What it speaks to is the understanding we have on some level that we do need silence. Now I present workshops and seminars- as well as longer three day retreats – exploring not only silence but also listening and why it is so difficult to both listen and hear. Why we’re afraid of being open to what people say without our own agenda, and why we are afraid of silence and need it.
HALLIE: You were open to the possibility of silence.
ANNE LECLAIRE: I often think that day on the beach, what if I’d had ear buds and an Ipod playing. How many moments do we miss because we’re not in a place of silence.
HALLIE: Anne will be visiting Jungle Red today, so belay the silence for the moment at least and please share questions, comments, or what happens to you when you turn off the noise.
Labels: Anne LeClaire, Living Below the Noise, Silence