All month I’ve been craving sun - sun to soothe me, sun to bathe me, sun to heal me. But it turns out sun isn’t the only thing that heals. Silence does, too.
The silence is what struck me most about our three nights in Point Arena, hidden in a redwood grove on a private property a few miles inland of the Mendocino coastline. The airbnb rental was aptly dubbed the “Thoreau Cabin” with the headline “Write Your Book.” Sold.
Floor to ceiling was covered in volumes and volumes of journals, giant clipped manuscripts, old classics and short story collections. The husband and wife who owned this cabin were readers. And writers. Which came first? It was hard to tell because for as many books as they had stored away, dog-eared and well-worn, the woman had an equal number of her own published works next to tattered leather-bound journals. Journals containing scrawled notes, pasted quotes, clipped photos.
The journals were movie-like in their nostalgic quality. Like a room of treasure maps that some kids had come upon in an adventure tale, wiping dust from decorative covers to seek some secret of the past. Some clue. Her documents were romantic, they were raw, they were inspiring. They reminded me of the journals I kept when I was younger: a mix of sketches and collages and letters and memories. Back before smartphones and Evernote and Siri - back when everything was preserved in books, or lost forever.
Today my compulsion to document with pen and paper has been watered down by Instagram and Facebook and texting. Why take the time to keep a leather journal, textured with all the words and images of your life, when I can instantly upload it online and wait for the ‘likes’ to roll in? The art of hand journaling has been lost. The art of handwritten letters and scrap booking is a thing of the past.
There was something powerful about the presence of all those books and all those journals. So much wisdom and knowledge, so many stories and recollections. Sitting in that quiet cabin, with only trees and books as my witness, I felt a deep love of words arising in me. Looking around those shelves I felt in the company of friends. Even completely alone, miles from another living soul (besides my husband sleeping in the lofted bed, and perhaps our blue jay friend outside). The room was silent and it was full at once of the voices of so many talented, interesting, opinionated, fascinating, and genius minds.
I thought of my grandmother and something she had said last time I saw her.
“I can’t tell this to most people, but I just want to sit inside and read all day long.” She was on her knees digging through the bottom of her bookshelf for a title to loan me. “I know I’m supposed to be more active but I’m perfectly content curling up with a book.”
“Me too,” I said. “I’ve been giving myself more time to read lately. For awhile I felt guilty spending hours with a book, but now I’m calling it research. I’m remembering that reading can add a lot to my work.”
“Not just to your work!” she looked up. “Reading adds to your whole life.”
In the quiet of our cabin after dark, my husband started complaining of boredom but I felt myself coming alive. I luxuriated in the absence of TV and wifi. I was inspired by the void. Lack of noise, lack of distraction, lack of stimulation. The absence of external distractions gave room for my own thoughts to come to the forefront. My own creativity, imagination and curiosity became the stimulation. It felt sacred, it felt true.
I had no idea how much I missed the silence until I had it. At home, I’m tired at the end of the day and easily resigned to watching TV or a movie. It’s easy to check email and get sucked into Instagram. It’s easier to give in to media - the colors and the images and the sounds. They are designed to draw you in and make you forget. Make you forget that within you, there are stories to be told. Curiosities to be fed. Media of your own to create. Imaginations to be explored.
What’s not easy is to separate yourself from the TV room, to separate yourself from the noise. To remove yourself from the current of technology and sit with the spinning head on your shoulders. Wait for it to settle down, like a dreidel, and then report what you find. It takes incredible dedication to find alone and quiet in the grind of daily life, especially when it’s a city life.
So what did I take away from my weekend in the Thoreau Cabin? Silence. Inspiration. Books. Pen and paper. I want to reawaken my love of journals that are part sketchbook, part scrapbook and part memoir. I want to revive my love affair with books. Books for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I want to remember the beauty of silence. The peaceful void that calms everything else in my life; that smooths out the kinks, that holds the uncertainties. The silence that heals.
Photos courtesty of Dana Shaw.