When Words Stop

September 16, 2014 § 7 Comments

beth_taylorA guest post from Beth Taylor:

For a while I stopped writing. Words, for me, stopped coming. I didn’t feel so compelled to report or narrate. Was it age? Or exhaustion? Or a revelation?

In my silence, I mused defensively, “Words are just words; stories made of words are just constructions. Are they really so necessary?” I seemed to forget what I had once known about words. So I forced myself to remember:

I believed in Ursula LeGuin’s naming: you just need to name what it is to know it, to own it, to become it.[1] I believed in Biblical narrative as essential metaphor for the ways of all life. In the beginning was the WORD. I saw what words could do – how words could woo love, guide knowledge, calm sorrow. And I saw how words could wound, start a war, kill a marriage.

I remembered too, the intrigue of research, the journeys of drafting, the pleasure of publishing essays and stories about interesting people. And I remembered how, off and on for a whole decade, I felt compelled to give words and voice to my own family story. But, curiously, the words of that story – once so three-dimensional and constant in my mind – now seemed like a long ago movie, images flickering, dialogue faint. Perhaps in the making of that story I fulfilled my own journey of the word. Afterward, it was good, but it was gone, and I felt empty in a pleasing kind of way. As if I had shed a skin.

And now I could rest. Be quiet, inward, peaceful. Every story of my life seemed muted and no longer so pressing – the scenes from a 30-year marriage with the usual contradictions (he said, she said); the scenes of our boys, now grown men, whose lives, I realized now, didn’t look like the stories I imagined for them. (How did I ever presume that my words for them might become their words?).

Recently, I have made peace with my silence: The words of my past are gone, but I can remember them fondly. Once they felt glued to me, held me together, defined my outline and my story. But now they have lifted from me, floated off one by one. I feel like a feather, like air, like I am slowly becoming translucent as I age. I am not unhappy or displeased, just aware of how fertile a silence can be.


Beth Taylor is an essayist, the author of The Plain Language of Love and Loss: A Quaker Memoir, and a co-director of Brown University’s Nonfiction Writing Program.

[1] Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

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