When words aren’t enough

A stack of magazines waited patiently for their turn to be read.  Most still  had their protective covers attached.  Many times I lifted them to toss out, but hesitated.

How could I throw out publications I hadn’t even glanced through?

Somehow I felt the day would come when I’d have a few minutes to just kill time.  Then, surely then, I would open them and peruse the pages between the covers still glossy from being safely secured without danger of dust.

**If you have read my post at writingfeemail, you know about my recent knee injury.  If not, hit the link if you are curious about why I suddenly had that time.**

My office is upstairs and I wasn’t about to try to maneuver the steps on crutches.  And my laptop wouldn’t sit straight across the leg stabilizer.  I finished the ‘must read’ books on my kindle and then started digging through the magazines which had been piling up for about six months.

I ripped interesting articles from their spines as if tearing out hair by their roots.  Some gave easily, while others resisted, wrinkling up like a pleated skirt.

Three recipes later – as well as an agent looking for new clients, and a recommended tour route from Charleston, South Carolina to Murrels Inlet – I felt successful in my search for buried treasures among the offending pile.

But it was the July 2013 “O” – The Oprah Magazine, that had me thinking about my blog.  In it was an interview with Natalie Goldberg; author, speaker, and teacher.

Natalie Goldberg picture courtesy of Wikipedia
Natalie Goldberg
picture courtesy of Wikipedia

You might recognize her name in connection with her retreats in New Mexico, or her 1986 book; Writing Down The Bones; as it sold more than a million copies.

In this article she was introducing her new book, a follow-up to the previous one, titled The True Secret of Writing, and sharing a few of her tips to tease out the writer within.  There were six, but it was number five that spoke loudly to me.

Practice silence.

She said, “Behind writing, behind words, is no words.  We need to know about that place.  It gives us a larger perspective from which to handle language.  Silence can be the door to listening, which is one of the great cornerstones to writing.”

It felt as if she was in the room with me, speaking only to me.  I had been silent on my blog since my mother’s death, as if adding one more sentence would somehow indicate I was through mourning and all was normal again.

The title of the last post I had published was No Words...”

There was a symmetry to these two articles – hers and mine.  It went beyond coincidence.

J.K. Rowling often talks about her mother and wishing she could have lived to witness her success as a writer.  But then she inevitable adds it was her mother’s death that gave her the depth of emotional empathy to write so convincingly about Harry Potter’s grief over losing his parents and the scenes with the ‘deatheaters’ which she describes achingly as the cloud of depression.

The saying: “Nothing is ever lost on a writer,” is attributed to Donald Sinclair, though we have all heard that phrase repeated many times with many authors.  We store even the smallest of tidbits away in the locked vault of our souls which we will mine time and again for just the right emotion we are trying to communicate through our words.

I suppose the time will come when I’ll give a voice to the grief in my heart.  For now, I’ll stick with Natalie Goldberg’s advice and just crack the door open a wee bit, listen beyond the wall.

For the full article from Natalie Goldberg which appeared in Oprah’s magazine, click here.

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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  1. Beautiful and inspiring article.
    I understand your hesitancy. It’s hard to step wearily back onto the path of life, walking along knowing that up ahead, perhaps around that next bend, there’s going to be another event perhaps happy or perhaps sad. Yet, still we move forward, carefully at our own pace and not to be rushed.
    It was tough for me to get back to blogging after my husband’s heart surgery in November. I needed time to get settled into what we fondly refer to as our ‘New Normal’. When I felt comfortable that our new normal was fairly settled and all our proverbial ducks were getting back in a row, then I started blogging again.
    Take your time and come back when you feel you’re ready.
    My thoughts are with you.

    1. Thank you for understanding. Because I work during the week, my sister and I are going through the house – closet by closet, drawer by drawer – on Saturdays. That was the day I used to get caught up on all of the blogs I follow and really focus on new topics for posts. That alone has thrown me off schedule and off course. It is so hard to think in normal life terms when still immersed with the business of handling her estate. Hard. So hard.

  2. **I ripped interesting articles from their spines as if tearing out hair by their roots.**

    I’ve done this! Omgoodness.

    For me, mourning will last forever. I’ve just learned to incorporate it into my new life somehow…but I will never be who I was without my sister. I’ve accepted that.

    I’ve lost so much after her murder, but GOD allowed me to keep the “words.”

    After 2 weeks, I started writing about her…..but could not even drive or walk or say a complete sentence.

    When you are ready, dear, you will open the door “All The Way.”

    Not before.

    Superb post, Renee.

    Btw, I LOOOOOOOOVE Goldberg. I’ve read ALL of her Non-Fiction books & use ideas from her workshops for my own!!


    1. Beautiful comment! I’m not surprised you couldn’t walk or drive after the senseless murder of your sister. And your words have honored her and described your grief with all of its pain and anguish and injustice.

      There is a gift to dying peacefully at home in your bed at the age of ninety – she would have been 91 on the day I spent at Urgent Care.

  3. You are a writer: this is a great line “from their spines as if tearing out hair by their roots.”
    Thoughtful post. Nothing is ever wasted. And silence offers a great deal – so many never learn to cherish and embrace it.
    May sunshine, beauty, and wonder sit with you

  4. That’s right … Time is the healer and taking advantage of those little openings is the way. Meanwhile, because we’ll be moving, unseen magazines will not make the journey … otherwise, they would have patiently waited on me.

  5. A beautiful and moving post. People often forget that writers don’t always write. We observe, listen, let words and ideas percolate. My thoughts are with you.

    1. Thank you. Today I’ve just been observing the birds and listening to their grateful chirping after hubby filled the feeder once again. I hobbled to the window and snapped a few pictures. Snow is starting to fall and all feels peaceful for now.

  6. “Behind writing, behind words, is no words. We need to know about that place. It gives us a larger perspective from which to handle language. Silence can be the door to listening, which is one of the great cornerstones to writing.”
    I do not doubt for one moment that listening is very important. In a way reading can be a bit like listening also. Some days I seem to be better at listening and reading than other days. Has this to do with being prepared, being silent, I wonder.
    Wouldn’t you say creative writing is best done when you feel you just must write about this one particular subject? There may come the time when you feel you have to write about what the loss of your mother means to you. I get the impression you listen a lot to your inner self. This is then where your words are going to come from. Tell me, if I am wrong.

    1. I think you are very right Aunty Uta. It is getting easier even if only the tiniest bit. You’ve made an excellent point about reading. It is like listening to other peoples inner voices, even if fictional and only from their imaginations. Lovely thoughts here.

  7. Your writing is taking a turn. I read it and feel it in your recent posts. That huge chasm of silence when someone is no longer there certainly brings out our heart as if we can reach in our pocket and pull them out again.

    1. I suppose all of the events in our lives leave footprints on our writing. This is one of those events that will forever change mine, for the better hopefully. Thank you Georgette.

  8. Very touching, I can really appreciate this post…” as if adding one more sentence would somehow indicate I was through mourning and all was normal again.” Perfect way to express your silence. I’m glad you are finding your voice once more, and I’m sure everyone reading this understands that you are not done mourning. But you are processing, and finding a way to share your insights. Thank you for sharing this wisdom. ~ Sheila

    1. I’ve just received a writer’s mag where the editorial was from a writer’s metamorphosis after losing her mother. I felt so connected to it. She said she would never be the same writer she was before and that is how I feel as well. Thank you for your kind words, Sheila.

  9. Thank you Renee for sharing this. It seems to be a very valuable point.
    You now have me regretting what I did with my pile of magazines still in their protective plastic. I took them to a Doctors appointment one day and told her that her patients would probably prefer to read something from this decade while waiting their turn. She was very pleased to receive them.

    1. That is a very good use for them, even after reading them yourself. Also, giving them to nursing homes or long-term care facilities is much appreciated. I’m so glad you made this point.

  10. Very touching and emotive! The silence of the mind is more profound and peaceful than of the abstinence of speech.

  11. Renee – Somehow some of my favorite writers fell from my reader and unfortunately you were one of them. I jump for joy that I’ve found my way back. You’ve said so much, and with so much wisdom and a true gift from the heart, I can’t imagine not being touched. I live in my head much of the time as in his illness, my husband is silent for long periods of time. Others ask, how can you possibly cope with the silence? Somehow, the silence has allowed me to cope with the situation of his illness and continues to allow me to explore today’s world.
    I’m also caught up in the great adventure of trying to catch up on my magazine reading, but thus far, I’m lost in fascinating articles and editorials I want to investigate further.
    I cannot say I know how you feel about the loss of your mother. I was convinced my life had ended when my father passed in 2007. Not only was he my father but he was also my best friend.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. This blog is beautifully written.

    1. Thank you so very much. Most of us have lost someone whose passing just wiped us out. You do such good work, both on and off the blog. I’m so glad you found my blog again. I’ve had the same issues with my reader. People just fall off and it often takes me a while to find them again.

  12. This so touched me. I can relate to your words, JK’s words, Natalie’s words. I won’t go on, as I think I need to chew on all of this (mentally). As you said, no words.

  13. “Practice Silence,” as a writing tool and inspiration is so true and very valuable. It’s in silence when we hear our heart speaking. It’s in silence when we can concentrate and gather our thoughts. It’s in silence when we can truly hear ourselves. I hope and pray one day you get to speak and write about your grief and loss. For now, we are here with you sharing the gift of silence and letting you know you are not alone.

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Renee. I have a stack to read, too, but I don’t want to take the road you did to get to them!

  15. I am sorry for your loss – sometimes silence is the first step for inner healing, through internalizing our precious and loving memories and listening to their voice.

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