on silence

for the last few weeks, i’ve been working on a thing that lacks form– it may be an article or it may be a book.

it is, undoubtedly, a story in progress.

i’ve pursued it through haphazard writing and numerous conversations over expensive dinners i can’t really afford.

still, i do not know what it will be.

(via Getty)

i think it’s something though.

there is a there there.

of that i am certain.

(Chris Kleponis-PoolGetty Images)

i’ve not written like this before.

it’s a de-stabilizing way to write.

without form.


pitching one’s self off into the dark dark night, peering and squinting and straining deeply in, trying to make out the contours by the dim light of the half moon.

(i’ve spent a lot of time looking for jackie onassis; my astigmatism is not great.)

feeling the darkness.

finding the words.

i’ve an iron deficiency and i bruise easily right now but i’ve watched a lot of reality tv about climbing mount everest so i feel psychologically prepared for this moment.

i love it, thrive on it, even as i recognize this is an imperiling way to exist.

(AP Photo:Carolyn Kaster)

i’ve attempted to find stability, grounding, through reading… casey mcquiston’s red, white and royal blue, serhii plokhy’s chernobyl: history of a tragedy, deborah levy’s the cost of living.

these are uncertain times.

in my academic writing, i often write about the writing of people who wrote in uncertain times, people who wrote the story as it unfolded.

it is one thing to write about those people. it is altogether something else to recognize that one is one of those people.

to try to put into words the world in which one exists.

(via Getty)

either way, however it turns out and whatever it winds up being, the thing i am writing, the thing about which i have no clue how it will turn out, it is about mysteriousness.

the myth of mysteriousness, that myth’s construction and its attraction, its privileges. 

(via Getty : Pool)

i’ve written before about how there was a time in my life where i so frequently mentioned the unknowability of other people that my mother felt the need to preface all of her insightful remarks with but of course i know that we all have zones of obscurity within us, which remain obscure even unto ourselves……….

but yeah. we are mysterious, but are some of us more mysterious than the rest of us?

that is the narrative i am not quite buying. because i don’t think it’s true.


what interests me is how maybe the people we read as mysterious (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHEM…… [melania!]) are not, in reality, any more mysterious than all of the rest of us, but they get read that way and they are said to be that way and then we all read them that way and then, over time, that becomes their defining characteristic.

so that when we see that person (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHEM…… [melania!]), our immediate response is omg, she’s so mysterious and enigmatic and classy and [insert any of the euphemisms for Appropriate White Femininity here].

(via Saul Loeb:Getty Images)

not because we are stupid, but because– if we read certain publications and we watch certain channels– this is the story we have been primed to see.

our eyes have been coached.

and admit it: we do so long for a coherent story.

i am so not faulting us. this is the story available to us. and so we seize it. i get it. i too long for coherence.

i am above none of this.

and, as someone who has written about jackie onassis for what feels like 1,000 years now (seriously, how are we not all dead yet?!), i am here to tell you that it is really fucking hard to get around the story you’ve been primed to see.

it is like trying to learn colors for which the words do not exist.

(Mandatory Credit: Photo by Thibault Camus/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9972872v)
The shoes of French President Emmanuel Macron ‘s wife Brigitte Macron, rear blue, and first lady Melania Trump, front, are pictured on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, Saturday, Nov.10, 2018. U.S President Donald Trump is joining other world leaders at centennial commemorations in Paris this weekend to mark the end of World War I, WWI Centennial, Paris, France – 10 Nov 2018)

but stories are like earth. stories have layers. they stick around while time rolls on. they accrue. like a polaroid, they develop. and, like a bottle of fizzy water in your backpack, as you walk on, they get shaken up.

are you still with me…?????

or have i alienated you with my mixed metaphors?

(U.S. first lady Melania Trump, in high heels, sits in the front row as U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in hold a joint news conference at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

lately, i’ve been thinking a lot about space.

about claiming it.

occupying it.

taking it up.

owning it.

(via Jim Watson:AFP:Getty Images)

i am occupying other people’s houses this summer, living in other people’s spaces, so this is rooted in personal experience, the preoccupation is not coincidental.

let’s be real: for the last year and a half, my space has been borrowed.

because, like every jane austen romantic hero worth his salt and mrs. bennett’s attention, i am worth approximately £10,000 per annum.

we’re all accustomed to living on borrowed time, but what about space?

space is an integral component of the american dream, non?

how narratively apt that my Summer of Borrowed Space coincides with the 50th anniversary of our nation’s colonization of the moon.

Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy Onassis who is wearing her Apollo 11 Moon earrings by LALAoUNIS. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)


a few years ago, the man i was dating then asked me about so-called “man repellent clothing.” and while i instantly knew exactly what he was talking about, i struggled to define it.

i knew when i was wearing it, mind you. but i lacked the vocabulary.

but, after that conversation, every single time i put on something i intuited could be classified as man repellent, i clocked it. and was tempted to send a photograph to him so that we could, together, develop a definition.

this was something i did not do.

[WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 10: The shoes of First lady Melania Trump, on the South Lawn of the White House, on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump is heading to Brussels for the NATO Summit. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)]

a few months ago, the guardian had a report on the new trend in women’s clothing: garments that take up space.

which is essentially man repellent clothing, though they called it “womanspreading.”

which, well, i linguistically resent because WHY DO ALL OF OUR REAPPROPRIATED WORDS HAVE TO BE SO FRICKING UNWIELDY, but i do love the concept.

because i long to take up more space than that to which i feel entitled.

i took that academic jargon quiz. i am heteroglossia. i contain multitudes. i am here. GIVE ME ROOM.

true story: i am, perhaps unsuccessfully, trying to merge two blog posts.

one on an unrelenting hunger to take up space, to claim and consume all the space that has been denied me thus far and my very deep longing to wear truly ginormous, like really fucking dramatically figure-obliterating dresses, in order to lay claim to both that space and my own body.

the other is on silence.

melania trump’s silence, specifically.

(AP Photo:Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

these are not unrelated.

though i am not entirely convinced that there is space enough for them in one blog post.

nor that i have the dexterity to bring them together.

(whilst i am deeply convinced of my genius, the rejection is wearing, and i am merely an occupant of other people’s spaces. people, i have no room of my own.)

(via Reuters)

in first grade, my teacher– the only teacher i would ever characterize as a nemesis– told me to stop asking so many questions. to stop talking. because it was more important that the boys should learn.

when i related this story in therapy, it was the only time that the therapist seemed to break the fourth wall.

the expression on her face.

that moment remains the first time i understood the unfairness of that statement.

and possibly the only time in my life in which i have experienced the full meaning of the word aghast.

(© SAUL LOEB:Getty Images)

bell hooks has written that silence is a white woman problem.

that white women struggle to speak where, in contrast, Black women, when they speak, struggle to be heard.

what i am writing about is a white woman problem.

(AP Photo:Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

the struggle to open one’s own mouth and speak on one’s own behalf.

a struggle at which i myself have, historically, sucked.


in college, i fed the correct answers to the cute boy who sat next to me in my english class. because i did not feel i had the space to speak and it was enough for me that my brilliance be filtered through him.

he was a white boy.

i am aware of how in the past, i have used white boys as a conduit for my own brilliance, how i’ve given them the answers, and a lenience, a limitless forgiveness they have, perhaps, not earned.

i am aware it is through the white boys that i have attempted to take up space.

in writing about silence, i repeatedly wind up at the idea of ventriloquism– the throwing of the voice– rather than plagiarism.

ventriloquism: an act of which i am aware i am guilty.

i have let so many men speak for me.


confession: my voice is terribly small.

it is so loud in my head, i swear.

because of my dud ear, it sounds like i am screaming all of the time.

but i’ve done podcasts, i edit audio files, i’ve seen.


i am so so so much more than that nearly inconsequential fine line.

i so want to be more than that fine line.

i am so afraid that that fine line is all i am.

(Yuri Gripas:Reuters)

i am struck by the fact that there is no passage in the bible where god bequeathes to man and woman a voice.

they talk back to the lord, yes, but a voice is something with which they are both created.

(Brendan Smialowski:AFP:Getty Images)

susan sontag had some thoughts…

Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself. (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.)


So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has with an audience. Silence is the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate, that ambivalence about making contact with the audience which is a leading motif of modern art, with its tireless commitment to the “new” and/or the “esoteric” Silence is the artist’s ultimate other-worldly gesture; by silence, he frees himself from servile bondage to the world, which appears as patron, client, audience, antagonist, arbiter, and distorter of his work.


The exemplary modern artist’s choice of silence isn’t often carried to this point of final simplification, so that he becomes literally silent. More typically, he continues speaking, but in a manner that his audience can’t hear.

[U.S. first lady Melania Trump’s leopard patterned shoes are seen as she walks from her motorcade vehicle to her plane while departing Washington for a tour of several African countries from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri]

i do wonder: what does it mean to remain silent?

specifically, what does it mean, as an immigrant, to remain silent?

i ask this as someone who tried and failed to be an immigrant, someone unable to attain any security in the foreign country in which i lived.

two things…


i’m tempted to say oh but it’s so so hard, so precarious, you do not know. it’s ghastly, living with that uncertainty, that sense of not belonging, that feeling of having to bend your whole self to pass as someone who fits in.

but then, i was there for five years, and i spent four of them working with immigrant populations, trying to do something to ensure their safety, sitting alongside them in their vulnerability, comforting them as they sat there while the police circled holding their passports aloft while i held their trembling hands in mine.

(REX shutterstock)

two… in the shape of a pocket, in a passage i read during my own relatively minor immigration travails and which has stuck with me since, john berger writes:

The mouse enters the cage to take a bite. No sooner does he touch the morsel with his teeth, than the trip wire releases the door and it slams shut behind him, before he can turn his head.

It takes a mouse several hours to realise that he is a prisoner, unhurt, in a cage measuring 18cm. by 9cm. After that, something in him never stops trembling.

(Morris MacMatzen:Getty Images)

After that, something in him never stops trembling.

dear people, i am here to tell you this is true.

i was forced to leave britain a year and a half ago, and i have not felt safe since.


i had hoped to discuss all this in therapy but my therapist was a trump supporter and not particularly professional so all she wanted to do was talk about why hillary is so untrustworthy and what melania’s jacket meant.

this did not bring me peace.

(AFP PHOTO : Aurore Belot)

i worry i am giving her too much credit.

my work lately has been about how we all give her too much credit.

based on my own experience of navigating visas, i remain unconvinced of the legality of how she entered the country, so i can see not wanting to draw any more attention to that.

but it’s a fine line between acknowledging that someone is a human being and allowing that, accordingly, their motivations may be complex and constructing them as the most mysterious person who ever lived and, in the abyss of uncertainty that creates, imagining their motivations are entirely benign.

yes, no matter how precarious your own position, it’s peak privilege to get in and shut the door on everyone else.

but it also seems rather naïve at this point to expect anything more.

[Mandatory Credit: Photo by Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10104076j)
Donald Trump Ivan Duque Maria Juliana Ruiz Sandoval Melania Trump. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez and his wife Maria Juliana Ruiz Sandoval in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington
Trump US Colombia, Washington, USA – 13 Feb 2019]

2 thoughts on “on silence

  1. Pingback: i am here to talk about kim kardashian | finding jackie

  2. Pingback: incredibly detailed but nonetheless vague scrambled memories stemming from silent lunch [life-writing, 2] | finding jackie

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