(a thinly-veiled rant by Sera)
In the middle of my week-long workshop at shiny happy Esalen, my teacher made a suggestion that changed my life for, I hope, evah. Here's how it went down.
We spent the morning dancing (ecstatically). At lunchtime, she rang her little Tibetan bell and gestured for us to gather 'round the tealight votives. And then she told us she'd chatted with one of her students, who gave her a great idea for an exercise. This exercise, she said, was totally optional. But she felt it would help us stay with the stuff we were learning in the workshop - because we only work for four or five hours, and spend the rest of the day eating organic food and soaking in the hot springs and staring dumbly at the beauty all around us... and, of course, yammering on and on to each other about our jobs back home, our favorite yoga position (I like Buddha Reclining On Futon With Remote Control), the dubious merits of polyamory, our awesome therapists, the horror wreaked by Tara Reid's plastic surgeon, and whatever other topic best serves that universal Esalen pastime, flirting like it's 1968.
The idea, she said, was to Hold Silence. That means this: outside of the short discussions we have while working, no talking for 24 hours. Little stickies reading "In Silence" would be provided; if we wore them, everyone would know not to be offended when we mutely pointed at stuff. "Just see how it goes," she said. "It's optional. But it could be interesting."
Noise erupted in the Dance Dome. Excited chatter, with an edge of panic. I knew immediately that I would be grabbing the opportunity to be In Silence for 24 hours. God knows I've never done it before, and who knows when I'd ever get to try it again?
I've long been fascinated by silence. I keep thinking (and then forgetting) I'm going to google the phrase "silent meditation retreat," for example. See, I am a person who knows she talks A LOT. Words are my living, my fluffy pillow, my titanium shield, the fat marshmallows in my Ovaltine. You know those t-shirts that say "Jesus Is My Homeboy"? The English language is my homeboy.
This is so true of me that it deserves another paragraph or three. Y'all know I make my Very Hot mortgage payment by typing words in script form. Did you know that before I sacrificed my freakish ability at the altar of College Substance Experimentation, I was also a Spelling Bee champion? It's t-r-u-e. My seventh grade year, I was nine nerdy kids away from going to Washington to compete in the Nationals. (Remember that the next time you think you're the geekiest person you know. You know me.) I have this inner sense of words, their little motors and gears, the weight of their individual letters, how they came to be. When I first read Lolita I cherished it for what it was: porn. Not kiddie porn - though there are a couple of nice moments if you're into that too - but word porn. I could feel Nabokov rolling around in the English language like Demi Moore on a bed full of a crisp nonsequential bills. I saw a kindred spirit - hey, I ain't saying I'll ever write like the dude, I'm just saying I feel where he's coming from.
Back in the day, when I was a poor freelancer, I often churned out press releases and artist bios for Sime's Lovely Wife Julia, then an editor for Dreamworks Records. Those pieces were essentially two pages of interview quotes, each followed by a variation of the phrase "he said." Jules sent me a three page list of alternates for the word "said." Hazarded, relayed, quipped, elaborated, confessed. Some so useful, some so awkward, some so unexpectedly intimate. Oh, how tickled I was by that list of said words. I still have it somewhere. I think it is awesome. The fact that Simon and Julia understand my deep and abiding affection for that list is a primary reason we're such good friends.
So, yeah, I heart me some blah blah blah. But I also know that there's more to life, and more to me, than just pleasurable discourse. And I'm a curious kind of chick. I wanna know what's on the other side. So I grabbed a stickie and declared myself In Silence.
Full disclosure: I had a moment of oh fuck no, what have I done?! I couldn't figure out how I was going to shut up for that long. I've never even shut up through an entire dinner. Not even when pissed at parents or boyfriend - I always opted for the acid "pass the butter," at the very least. But I got a hold of myself. The anxiety passed, replaced my a warm, glowing nugget of excitement in my belly. I do love an exercise.
So, the next 24 hours were epic. I learned so much about myself that I could easily fill four or five posts - not that I'm going to, because a lot of it wouldn't translate. Well, that's a lie, it probably would, I just don't want to tell you about it. It's not that I don't love you - I do. You're so damn Hot, who could resist you? It's just... a lot of what happened isn't funny. It's not light, blogarific material.
Some of it (lucky you!) is blog-friendly - like when I got busted in the Dance Dome in the middle of the night by an irate Australian Esalen employee in a strange hempy hat for doing various [redacted] things with another workshop member. And then there was dinner in the packed, buzzing dining hall, In Silence amid a sea of blabbing folk, unable to shut out their gobsmackingly inane conversation with the sound of my own voice. Around the third time the guy at the next table repeated the key phrase of his disturbingly meal-inappropriate tale ("I was so disgusted with myself that I just vomited. I vomited and vomited and vomited!") I started laughing hysterically and simply could not stop. Tears rolled down my face. My In Silence dinner companion stared at me with benevolent confusion before finally shrugging and returning his full, rich, intense Silent focus to the brownie he was consuming with near-erotic concentration.
Anyway, a lot of my experience can be summed up by saying: I had a few of the best conversations of my life.
I had no idea people would keep talking if I didn't punctuate their tale with "mm hmm"s and wry observations. Turns out - people will talk. In fact, if you just wait long enough, they'll tell you the thing they really wanted to say all along, the thing they were scared of saying, the thing they were half-hoping you would cut them off before they got to (and half-praying you wouldn't). Because I wasn't speaking, my only job was to listen. I did a fair smattering of nodding, too. And I cried a bit - I had a conversation with a woman that lasted over an hour, in which she told me some pretty deep and serious personal shit. She spoke simply and clearly about being scared, and my heart broke like a loose pill in a handbag. I felt helpless and honored. Afterwards, I thought about how I ordinarily would have tried to give that woman advice. But what do I know, really? Doubtless nothing she hasn't heard before. All she really needed was someone to listen. So: yay for that In Silence Stickie. It helped me do what, under normal circumstances, I am probably not mature enough to handle.
Why am I telling you this? Well, this morning my well-meaning neighbor stopped me while I was walking Mojo.
"I heard on the news," she said. "Tough break."
I asked her what she was talking about. She said she'd just heard a report indicating that the WGA strike might go on for another year.
I assured her it was all rumor. No one knows how long the strike could last - that's the nature of striking. A year... well, that is serious doomsday predicting. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm just saying it's not fact, and it's upsetting, so why spread that around?
I know a lot of you distractingly sexy people have found this blog because you are TV fans and you are looking for info, any info - even, in the absence of something better, speculation from a random producer on a show that gets ratings that would cause Shonda Rhimes to stick her head in an oven. So I would like to take this opportunity to say: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
By no one, I mean people who are not media moguls. If you are not hearing the gossip from Peter Chernin, you are doing the strike-time equivalent of feeding Britney another frappuccino. No good will come of it. And at this point, we are all getting tired. Tired people are vulnerable. They get upset more easily. I work off my strike hours these days at WGA Headquarters, cleaning out the musty, musky vans and pulling staples out of wooden sticks. I stand in a room stacked high with picket signs, listening as a half-dozen or so increasingly tired and vulnerable writers speculate. Optimism for up to fifteen minutes devolves quickly into resigned exhaustion - teetering dangerously close to raging hopelessness. Luckily, we have electric staple guns into which to channel our frustration. BAM! BAM! Another sign successfully constructed. Take that, AMPTP! By 7:45, the conversation magically turns to this year's object of writer player-hate, Diablo Cody. I'm not kidding - this happens every single shift I work. Someone disparages the authenticity of her stripper background and says people don't talk like Juno. Which is apparently unacceptable because... Juno is meant to be a searing look at the cold hard reality of the word choices of plucky preggers teeny-bops? Since she was going to be writing about it, Diablo wasn't really all up in the body odor of the lapdance-ee of the moment, but rather safely ensoconced in The Matrix? (Hey, Diablo - if you're reading this? Just between me and you, I think you deserve the hype. I checked your box on the nomination ballot the WGA sent. And yes, you can buy me a coffee.)
Anyway, whilst the night shift of bespectacled writers duct-tapes splintery sign handles, bitches pithily, and prognosticates like a bunch of balding Cassandras, I think you know I am telling the truth when I say: I say nothing.
Wouldn't you like to join me? In saying a little more nothing? I think we could all use the company, because it is difficult to sit still with agitation. Any good Buddhist will tell you that - trying to cope with anxiety and worry is why a whole shitload of 'em dumped their previous church of choice and picked up meditating to begin with. I'm not even a bad Buddhist, I'm a secular Jew who eats bacon and mostly dates gentiles, yet I know this truth with the same deep certainly with which I know that the word for something way uncool to religious people is not spelled the same way as the word "religious" (i.e.: "sacrilegious," a word that totally would have sent me to Washington if I'd gotten it instead of stupid, stupid "tectonics." Not that I'm bitter.)
It is difficult to just be with the Not Knowing. Actually, the word "difficult" is too mild. It is totally fucking hard as shitballs in the Sahara to just be with the Not Knowing.
But the other option - spinning rumors, worrying, kvetching, trying to turn suspect information into a cohesive grid - doesn't help. Just because a theory is logical doesn't make it true. The true thing is that we little guys, writers and viewers alike, have next to zero control over the strike. We can choose to picket, send pencils to moguls, write a blog. But we can't tell either side's negotiators what to do. We can't make the big shit happen, or stop happening. We are along for the ride. Sucks, but it's true. Now you know how 99.9% of people felt during any historical event you ever read about. Honestly, if you set your mind to it, you can probably have more impact on which candidate lands the Democratic presidential nomination than on the outcome of this strike.
I've been contacted a few times since the new year by various fan site administrators and journalist types, asking if I could verify a rumor that the show I work for has been cancelled. Apparently the rumor is strong and pernicious. I'd like to use this rumor briefly, as an example of why we should all put on In Silence Stickies. Here goes.
If a network TV show was cancelled, it would be in the legitimate press. And before that, it would almost certainly be scooped by the likes of Nikki Finke - who herself is so sick of sifting third-hand info that she just took a week off. It wouldn't happen in secret. It couldn't. Nor would a network in wartime want it to - cancelled shows are pilloried for the masses, their gruesome severed heads set up on stakes. The better to freak out striking writers.
It's natural to want to feel some sense of control in crazy times. To search for a fact, any fact, to quell the insecurity. But I got bad news: what you're clutching to your chest ain't a fact. It's a crazymaking little rumor. It's about as good for you as snorting a pound of pixie stix.
So, in the absence of grasping at straws, what are we left with? Good question. Here's what I know - and I am a supreme expert, because I spent an entire twenty-four hour period in silence, which, I'm not sure, but may be some form of worldwide Jewish record.
We are left with listening.
Not listening to the rumors - that's almost as bad as repeating them. They're like... let's pick a good metaphor here, shall we? They're like mosquitoes. They bite you. What they carry gets in your blood stream. Swat 'em, yo.
But listening to people - even the people spouting streams of totally unverified crap - is pretty damn fascinating. You learn a lot about a person by how they tell a story. By what they latch onto. By what upsets them, what energizes them, what they need reassurance about. Any time your friend opens their mouth, they are giving you the opportunity to get to know them better. No matter what they say. Same with your parents; same with that disgruntled Hollywood florist fearing for their job; same with WGA Commander-in-Chief Patric Verrone. Slap a mental In Silence Stickie on yourself for a hot second. Wait. See listening as an exercise less in grasping for something to comfort your harried mind and more as an opportunity to learn a little something about whoever's doing the talking.
I don't mean to sound all teacher-y about this. All kidding aside, I consider myself to be a near-total novice in... well, a whole fuckload of things having to do with human interaction. I didn't become a writer because I was so genius at understanding people; I did it because I was so confused by people that I figured if I reconstructed their behavior on paper, I might be able to make better sense of it. I'm sharing because a)I am over the fear-mongering, and wanted to announce it publicly; and b)the above-suggested attitude adjustment has turned this time of grand weirdness, ick and uncertainty into a fun experiment for me. Talking people are the test subjects, the strike is the lab. If you want to come talk to me, I'll be in the corner with a clipboard, taking notes. I'm the Jewish one with all the hair. You know, the one with her mouth shut.