The Gift of Silence From a “Hemulen”

by Katy on December 14, 2009 · 9 comments


In today’s interconnected digital world it can near to impossible to allow oneself the gift of silence. There’s always a tempting e-mail to check, phone call to return or Facebook to update.

Sometimes when my kids are at school and my husband’s at work I am overwhelmed by the silence in my house. And as much as I appreciate the calm, it can be hard to concentrate with the vast nothingness of a quiet home. (I suppose this is part of why I’m able to be so productive while listening to audio books.)

I was reading a chapter of Tove Jansson’s Tales From Moominvalley aloud to my younger son at bedtime tonight, and this passage jumped out at me:

“The Hemulen threw himself headlong into the green, friendly silence, he gambolled in it, he wallowed in it, and he felt younger than he ever had before.”

And suddenly I craved nothing but that vast nothingness. I wanted to “gambol in the green friendly silence.” I wanted throw myself into silence. Me.

It’s easy to become addicted to constant stimulation and input, to never have that cushion of quiet to let ideas swirl and take form. I have a tendency to come up with great ideas while showering, and I know it’s because there’s nothing to do except think. Nothing to look at, nothing to listen to, no tasks to perform.

Even activities that used to serve as space cushions of silence no longer perform as such. Drivers chat with friends, pedestrians listen to their iPods and even the brief wait in line at the store becomes an opportunity for one more quick phone call.

My mother grew up the fourth child in a family of seven, and she can’t concentrate if it’s too quiet.  She’s a writer, and when she needs to buckle down and finish a chapter, she heads out to a restaurant. I have many childhood memories of sitting with her at the Newberry’s snack bar, while she put the finishing touches on an article. I, on the other hand, can’t write if there’s chaos around me. (Which is why I do almost all my writing after 11:00 P.M.)

I had already decided to take a break from Facebook until the end of the month, and may actually extend that. I want my thoughts to be enough. I don’t want to rely on constant stimulation. I want to gambol in the “green, friendly silence.”

Do you find that the cacophony of the external world is making silence the exception rather than the norm? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

365girl December 14, 2009 at 1:38 am

Just wanted to say I also have my best ideas etc when in the shower. It probably is the total solitude – the fact I can lock the bathroom door!


Linda December 14, 2009 at 4:30 am

In our world of constant “hum”, I love it when we lose our electricity! It is amazing how silent it becomes when there is no hum of the refridgerator, no water pump humming in the background and certainly no tv on! Silence is a good thing. I sometimes drive in my car without the radio, just to be alone with my thoughts and the rode.


Kat December 14, 2009 at 6:20 am

Despite working in a University library, which are certainly not quiet, I can’t wait to get home and experience actual quiet (until the cats want attention). Though it’s not necessarily quiet, I like to go for bike rides when I need to think. There’s no one talking and once I reach a trail there’s no vehicle traffic to worry about. I can think through a problem with minimal distraction and the endorphin boost from exercise helps me see the bright side.
My favorite kind of quiet happens on the weekends when everyone is pursuing a hobby or project but the house is quiet. That always makes me happy.


Shannon December 14, 2009 at 8:28 am

I want to do the same thing! I went about 3 days after Thanksgiving with no blogs or facebook and really it was hard. I know that the more media I consume, the more I want to buy stuff, but it’s really hard to give up. I’m trying to be choosier now…only reading my favorite bloggers, and not so much of the facebook.


Angela December 14, 2009 at 10:33 am

I get ideas in the shower, and when I take a walk.

I feel like a freak or an anamoly these days- I don’t use an ipod and prefer to notice what’s going on around me, talk to people, think, etc. When I write, I prefer silence and often don’t even listen to music. Facebook I could not even do- it was too much nonsense for me.

But I’m not a Luddite- I do enjoy email and blogging and checking other blogs. And I would be lost without the Internet and google.


Lisa December 14, 2009 at 11:18 am

Silence truly is golden! I deliberately seek it as often as possible. With it, my life feels serene and manageable.


Carla December 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

Give me silence, please. And I, too, love it when the electricity is off and it honestly, truly becomes silent. No hum (low roar?) from the air system or refrigerator. Nice.


Lilypad December 14, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I’m a pretty quiet person by nature and in my college days, I had to have either complete silence or my favorite classical music when I was writing a paper. I could not for the life of me write in the library or a cafe or whatever. Later on, I had jobs where the cacophony of co-workers, clients, and office machines just wore me down. Sometimes I had to literally hold my ears shut to hear myself think. Nowadays, I’m home with my son (8) as we homeschool. He has Tourette’s syndrome, which means he has facial and vocal tics which he can’t control. He whistles, he sings, he chirps, he clicks, he clears his throat constantly, he talks to the computer, he talks a blue streak to me and my husband. It’s been hard to get used to (the symptoms have become much worse in the last couple of years) but I didn’t realize how much I’d acclimated to it until Thanksgiving Day, when he wasn’t feeling well. He was silent almost all day long, and wrote notes instead of talking. I don’t know how it happened, but he didn’t have any vocal tics that day either. It was eerie! I told him I missed his sweet sounds so much. And the quiet, when he’s out with his dad for a day of “guy time”, is just deafening to me now. On days when all the sounds are driving me crazy, (I get huge headaches, don’t tell me somebody up there doesn’t have a black sense of humor, giving migraine girl a kid who can’t stop being noisy!), I try and think about how soon he’ll be grown and out of the house and I’ll have plenty of silence then. And I’ll be so sad!


Loretta December 15, 2009 at 12:48 am

I don’t have a mobile (cell) phone, which is cause for much comment and consternation amongst my friends. I hate the idea of being in constant reach 24 hours a day. I don’t use Facebook, and stopped blogging a couple of years ago (after having 2 blogs over 2 years). Now I have space to think. Silence is truly golden!


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