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Ode to Words (Part 3): Silence

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Upsplash

My father taught me the value of silence. It was from him that I learned it takes more strength to hold your tongue than to loose it. Daddy was always the quiet one in our house. My mother’s voice was the dominant, reasoning soundtrack. My brothers’ voices were like murmurs on the wind .I was the noisy, unruly, talkative one. I was “like a clapper bell from hell,” my quiet father insisted.

I spent my adolescence resenting my father’s silence, my twenties and thirties trying to understand it, only to discover in my forties that daddy wasn’t intentionally silent: he only spoke the words that needed to be spoken. By the time I entered my 50s, he ended nearly every phone call with “I love you.” He used his words sparingly, saying only what needed to be said. If he told me over and over that he loved me it was because he knew I needed to hear he loved me.

For me, noisy kid that I was, my father’s silence was particularly jarring when set against my mother’s loquaciousness. Her words like foot soldiers ran onto the battlefield only to trip on the cliff edge and tumble into the abyss of his silence—at least that’s how it seemed to me in my fevered writer’s imagination: an endless, tireless army of words tumbling into the abyss of silence.

If you’ve read any of my early work, you may have noticed that one of my recurring themes is “silence.’ This is hardly surprising given my stories are nearly all grounded in truth, in my lived experiences. A big part of that lived experience was the quietness of my father.

The excerpt below, from one of my short stories, “2 Rivers,” is one of my favorites, in part because it was inspired by my parents and how I saw them at the time:


My mother was a professional florist; she orchestrated stunning arrangements in priceless porcelain vases for people with no sense of beauty or smell. She talked constantly, compulsively. To my father. To herself. To her minions of flowers. Her voice filled the empty rooms around her like sunshine after a rain. Her words tumbled over each other, reaching, grasping air, plunging hysterically into the void of my father’s silence. Her voice entertained him, seduced him, very rarely elicited his laughter, sometimes accused him.

My mother’s voice underscored my childhood memories like a Max Steiner score. It was, of course, her voice that welcomed me home, wafting down the stairs, “Luke, is that you?”

Her voice greeted me at the front door, embraced me, backed away holding me at arm’s length, then pulled me to her bosom and escorted me through the house. It was as if her loquaciousness could compensate for his resolute silence. Or did it perpetrate it? For even if he had been inclined to speak, he would not have been able to get a word in edgewise.

In that house, the scent of flowers suffocated me. Like my father’s silence. Like my mother’s voice. Her words, serfs that had once done my bidding—cajoling me out of a mood, entertaining me, comforting my distress—now rose up against me, their feudal lord. An army of words, taking up arms, striking down the nation of me.
I had to leave, had to get back to Seth, to make him understand. My mother’s voice escorted me to my car, hugged me one last time, wished me safe passage, urged my speedy return.
—From “2 Rivers,” Damaged Angels

Conceptually, I see writing creative fiction as a way to create art from found objects. Thus, everything around me, finds its way into my work as a found object; I don’t so much invent as retell, observe, and detail.

I’ll be at the AWP Writer’s Conference in Tampa, FL next month where I’ll be joining fellow authors Alan Lessik and Kathy Anderson on a panel discussing “Writing LGBTQ Fiction Based on Real People.” My father will almost certainly come up. I hope you can join us for the discussion.

Workshop Description

Novels and short stories are often shaped by real events happening to real people that they know. Three LGBTQ writers will talk about the real people within their stories and how the creative process changed both the characters and ultimately the authors themselves. For LGBTQ writers, exploring these stories become an exploration of our larger community and the known and unknown histories of our lives. Each of our writers will discuss these themes and read from their works.

Workshop # F124
Room 11, Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
9:00 am -10:15 am


Missed Part 2 of this post, Ode to Words (Part 2): Word Soup? You can read it hereMissed Part 1 of this post, Ode to Words (Part 1): One Line Wednesday? You can read it here.


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