In Praise of Quiet

Black and white photograph of woman's back in mirrorWhen I was younger, New Year’s Eve was a slightly fraught affair. After the lovely and much-appreciated coziness of our traditional family Christmas, my restless young self was desperate to throw on something sexy and stay out until dawn. It didn’t matter if I was sick, (I went out one year running a fever so high I paid for it for two weeks), or over-scheduled to the point of needing to be in three places at once. I just had to escape – to throw the old year off and run full tilt at the new one.

Then one year, when I was living in L.A., I found myself unexpectedly alone on New Year’s Eve. I’d been up in San Francisco for Christmas, but had had to leave early because I couldn’t get the full week off, so I was back in town and scheduled to work on New Year’s Day. My friends were all engaged in plans that would take them out far too late for me to have any hope of functioning in the morning, so I decided to go it alone for the first time in my life.

I took myself out to dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant and people watched through the whole meal, something I’d always loved to do, but hadn’t indulged in for quite some time. Then I went back to my apartment and opened the bottle of Veuve Clicquot my brother had given me for Christmas, feeling like I should be sad, though I wasn’t. I felt calm and quiet and good.

I put on Miles Davis and opened my window onto quiet courtyard, with it’s lush greenery and never-used pool. Just down the street, Melrose Ave. was a party, but I felt far from that as I perched on the sill and lit a cigarette, (I was still smoking back then like it was 1945), and slowly sipped champagne hours before the ball dropped. I thought about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I was reading at the time, and how beautiful the prose was, and how deeply, peacefully satisfying it must be to sculpt with words. I thought about the broken heart I was still nursing, the empty threesome I’d had the week before, the gnawing, nameless anger I hadn’t stopped to acknowledge but which, I suddenly realized, was eating me alive. In the quiet of my small, dark room, I listened to the traffic in my head for the first time in years. Then I stubbed out my cigarette, got down from the sill and started to write.

I wrote a dark, angry directionless scene about a man and a woman trapped by circumstance and victimized by their own sexualities. I wrote it in one sitting, until my wrist hurt and my hand cramped. It wasn’t what anyone would call good, but it was the first time I allowed myself to follow the impulse to write, because it was the first time I’d been quiet enough to hear it. Over the years, I’ve found that, more than anything, I need quiet in order to properly be myself.

I went to bed shortly before midnight that year, exhausted by the writing and the realization that, though I had moved to L.A. to escape a series of mistakes, I had not started over. I had nourished the damage rather than myself. I woke up sober, clear-headed and rested. I moved back to San Francisco less than three months later, and started the honest and difficult process of creating a real life. And all the while, I kept coming back to the scene that I’d written New Year’s Eve. I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know how. That’s when I stopped scribbling and began to teach myself to write. I set that scene aside for nearly fifteen years, until it finally became a story – “Bound / Unbound,” which Rose Caraway narrated earlier this year.

I rarely go out on New Year’s Eve anymore. For me, Christmas is the social time, the time to pack in memories with family and friends, and talk to people that I love, (or at least like a whole lot). I love Christmas – I love the social rush and the sweetness of being active in the world. But New Year’s is for quiet. For thinking. New Year’s is for nurturing that insistent ball of energy that pushes me forward and refuses to be sated. New Year’s is for me.

This time last year, I hadn’t yet written my first post on this blog. Now, thanks to all of you being kind of enough to read, I am shaping a professional identity that I could only have dreamed of fifteen years ago as I perched in that window, listening to the whirl in my head. So thank you for joining me in 2014, and happy New Year to you, however you happen to celebrate. May we all have success, love, happiness, and enough quiet to suit our needs, in the year to come.

19 comments

  1. aside from the gorgeous image that accompanies this post, i often just want to lick your words and images because they are so tactile and alive, they are nearly edible…so beautiful and how lucky we readers are to behold my friend…

    1. Thank you so much! I love that image too. It’s in the public domain, but I’ve been trying like mad to source the photographer. I’d love to see more of his / her work. And thank you for the beautiful words too. It makes me very happy that you feel that way.. xo

  2. I feel like every year I see some event for New Year’s Eve that sounds cool. Then I remember what comes of trying too hard.

    2000–I was 21, and my boyfriend had dumped me right before Christmas. (He didn’t have to get me a present–bonus! /sarcasm) We were going to be “friends” in that delusional way you do when you have no self confidence and don’t think you’ll ever do better (on my part) or are planning to enjoy the sexual availability of your ex (him). It was my first NYE “of age” and I was determined to ENJOY MYSELF, DAMMIT. I went out, got hammered alone, and ended up making out in a portapotty with a hockey player from Northeastern University. We adjourned to my place and had some of the worst sex in my life. I told myself it was all worth it because when my good friend, the ex asked me what I did for NYE, I was able to respond “a hockey player.” Which was a good comeback, but in no way changed the train wreck that we would continue being for months. Also, it was bad sex that I hadn’t really wanted to have, except I was determined to be the “fun” girl and do NYE “right,” whatever that means.

    2003-I was 24, and I was living in New York City pursuing what was proving to be a terrible choice of graduate school/program. My friend, her brother, and her then boyfriend decided to go to Times Square. The closest we could get was Central Park. It was freezing and we really couldn’t be sure which of the lights in the distance was the ball. And a bus passed in front of us, blocking out view when people were counting down to zero. I can say that I’ve done NYC on NYE…in the same way I can say I did the Macy’s parade in person but will never do so ever again.

    What I came to realize is that I’m genuinely too introverted to find going out with a ton of strangers enjoyable. That I don’t owe anyone, including myself, some epic tale of adventure. Quiet evenings in have become the far more enjoyable norm. Yay, quiet!

    Happy New Years.

    1. Oh, Delilah, I am with you 100%. You said it perfectly – “I’m genuinely too introverted to find going out with a ton of strangers enjoyable. That I don’t owe anyone, including myself, some epic tale of adventure.” I’m introverted in the same way. There is nothing wrong with quietness, and though I kind of admire the extroverts that get out there and throw themselves into the mix, I’m really happiest watching them from a window sill. Happy New Years to you too πŸ™‚

  3. I feel like I’m following your serial memoir, with this being the next chapter after “We Don’t Do That.” My heart breaks for the young woman you were, but in this chapter we see her turning her life around, taking charge of her own destiny, and taking decisive steps toward a bright, promising future. I’m also continually amazed that you haven’t been blogging for years, as you are *so good* at this. You are right: vulnerability draws us in and captures us. You have a distinct professional identity, a strong voice that is decidedly your own, and yet speaks to those things we all keep deep in our hearts. I read your words and want to cry out loud, “This! Yes! Yes!”

    1. Lace, thank you so much! Your comment just made my day! It’s funny, I was thinking about this post after I wrote it and I realized that it is, in a very unintentional way, another piece of the puzzle in what could eventually be a memoir. I love the idea of what you called a serial memoir, and I want to give it some serious thought because something about the notion of that form has a deep appeal. In the meantime though, thank you so much for your beautiful compliment. I feel like I’ve been doing this for much longer than I have. I’m not sure why that is, except that I might have accidentally stumbled into something that I should have been doing all along. Thank you, as always, for your insight, perspective and support. You’re wonderful, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what the new year brings for you.

  4. Marlin, I like that you explore things in your articles; a so called Long Read, almost? So much of the material on the net is designed for ‘brief attention’ and then encouraging the reader move on to the next.

    A quiet New Years Eve…

    .. Yes.

    Not that I’m a New Years Eve Grinch or anything but I’m sort of over it too. I used to hit the town hard and judge success by the number of people I’d get to hang out with, the amount of money I’d spent and the degree of hangover I had in the morning. We would party till dawn, and then run a mad dash home so as not to get caught out in the first rays of days light.

    How times change. Now I’d much prefer to goto bed early with my wife, indulge in each other, and wake at 2 or 3am and write till my kids get in the way at 5 or 6. Its the only way I get things done. With a clear mind.

    So, New Years Eve… it will be a quiet one, spent cross legged in front of the Hymalayan Salt Lamp contemplating the year ahead; and hopefully I wake up to in the wee hours and indulge in esspresso with double cream and one brown sugar; staring out at the darkness from the study window, in silence, without the computer, without light, and withouth interuption, imagineering scenes and images till the words materialise in my mind, and I decide to tap them out on my keyboard.

    Yes. A quiet New Years. I’ve grown to love them.

    Enjoy.

  5. Happy New Year to you lovely Malin. 2014 has been all the more lovely for gaining you as my friend and I truly mean that.

    As for New Year’s Eve I am with you on that one. In my teen years I remember ‘searching’ for that exciting thing that is portrayed in so many movies and books but they always left me feeling flat and empty and so I stopped. As the years have gone on I have found the most important thing is to spend it with someone who you like being with and yes, on some occasions that has been myself. The last few years though we have started a bit of a tradition and now we have a small dinner party for our friends. Nothing fancy, just nice food and good company and it is a very special.

    Mollyxxx

    1. Happy New Year, Molly! I feel very much the same way – in a year full of unexpectedly wonderful surprises, one of the loveliest things was becoming friends with you. I hope you, DomSigns and your family have a beautiful New Year’s Eve. I’m so looking forward to seeing you, (hopefully!), in January xxx

  6. I’m surprised this blog is only a year old – but I’m really glad you started it. You are a writer’s writer.There’s the beauty of your language, and then the introspection behind it.

    Right now my NYE looks like it will be loud and adventurous, but I’m definitely going through the introvert’s post-holiday exhaustion. Too many people and parties, not enough solitude. A night of reflection sounds perfect.

    1. Thank you for that – that’s one of the best compliments I could ask for, particularly coming from you. You are also a writer’s writer, which is one of the reasons that your work grabs me and doesn’t let go. However you end up celebrating tonight, I hope it starts 2015 off right. Happy, happy New Year πŸ™‚

  7. You might not believe it, but I am still reading quietly in the background, often. It’s hard not to, because you write so well. I love this, and it resonates more than anything I’ve read in months. I hope you have a happy new year and a good 2015.

  8. I love your writing, Malin. You are one of the writers I try to emulate – but I am still on a long learning curve. Like you, I enjoy the solitude to think and to write, and spending time alone is a luxury, and not a hardship. I have been single now for many years, and have often spent NYE alone, even though it is also my birthday. I now look after my ageing father, who has a much more active social life than me, and I am now his +1 and chauffeur. We are going to supper at friends tonight, but I shall be happy to come back and spend the early hours of the New Year reading and writing. I look forward to continuing to read your posts in the New Year. I hope that 2016 is a good one for you.

    1. Rachel, thank you so much. That’s incredibly kind of you to say, especially as I’ve been enjoying your work too! I hope you and your father had a lovely supper, and that your New Year’s Eve was full of the reading and writing you mentioned. It sounds like the perfect way to start a new year to me. I hope that 2016 brings you nothing but good things.

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