Two years ago a very dear professor (awesomely) invited our class to dinner at his home. Maybe a tradition my British professor imported from the Isles. All I know is I felt like a veritable Harry or Hermione sitting at Professor Slughorn’s table, pretty sure I’d peaked cause, y’know, #SlugClub. He and his wife prepared a full meal for all of us: veggies, protein, carbs, dessert, soda, the whole shebang. They set a lovely table for us and we even watched a movie. I could probably just write a blog on how cool that night was and how much I adore that professor, but maybe that’d be digressing a bit from what I’d actually like to talk about, and that’s “participation.”
While speaking to my professor’s wife I learned that she and my professor had moved back and forth from England to the U.S. and this whole dynamic had made it so that their young children were schooled in both countries. I asked her what she thought of American and British primary school – what were the differences? Which did she prefer for her kids? “British,” she responded. “Why is that?” Little did I expect her next response to imprint on me as it did. “In the U.S. they’re always forcing children to speak. What do you think of this? What do you think of that? You must respond. In Britain, you speak if you have something intelligent to add. If not, silence is better.” I admit I’ve paraphrased, but basically, my professor’s wife said that she abhorred the American culture that made space for people to say stupid things and that preached that everything said had value…well, maybe it just doesn’t and we Yankees should learn to keep our mouths shut. (Maybe I shouldn’t even write this blog?)
So I got to thinking about cultural values, right. (Sorry, it’s pretty much instinct as an Anthropology Major.) The Brits have lived under monarchs for far longer than they’ve lived under prime ministers so it’s gotta be somewhat entrenched in their culture — to not have a say. I mean, as far as I know, monarchs weren’t asking the commoners for their opinions on policies. At least Shakespeare’s monarchs didn’t. And America’s a new country, based on the principle that no f***ing monarch is gonna rule us, we rule ourselves. We have an opinion, we make it heard, we vote, we protest, we organize – we’re in charge. The whole foundation of our country was built on the idea that everyone would have a say, so it only makes sense that we’d start enculturating our kids in pre-school and elementary school to have a say. It’s a way of maintaining our values. Maintaining our nation.
But what does that mean for me – and this is the hardest part: self-reflection. I can think about things outside of myself and try to come up with reasons to explain why things are the way they are. But asking how it makes ME feel, well that’s a bit harder…ugh.
Well, first, I’m half Brazilian. WE LIKE TO TALK. Blabber, jabber, chatter, words, words, palavras, palavras, noise, noise, noise. There’s no such thing as silence in my Brazilian household. I’m expected to talk, so I do.
My dad on the other hand is not Brazilian, and even for American standards he’s a quiet man. My fondest memories growing up of me and my dad are silent drives from southern California to northern California, to be with nature, where we could be quiet too. I didn’t have to talk non-stop, silence was okay.
So I guess I’m fine with talking, but I like to give my mouth a break too.
But what about in academia? For the most part, my classes are discussion-based and good grades DEPEND on talking. I absolutely need to have a voice if I’d like that A. Some classes make “talking out loud” 15% of the grade, and my theatre class is a spanking 30%. Showing up means you open your mouth, dammit.
I make sure I have something to say, but obviously, not everything I say has value. Like maybe I’m just chit-chatting/shit-shatting cause I just really need that participation grade cause I need that GPA to get to that MFA Directing program that I just really wanna get to. I think about my professor’s wife’s words often – am I just talking cause I don’t wanna get penalized, or am I adding something of value? LIKE MAYBE I JUST WANNA BE SILENT FOR ONCE. And not FEEL GUILTY when I am. ISN’T LISTENING A VIRTUE TOO? Doesn’t the artist need to LISTEN too?
In our Contemporary Drama Lit class, Ilana talked about how working out art in the room as its happening opens doors. She says it has this magical way of surfacing possibilities you can’t foresee. I know it’s true, transparency in the process is just being honest while you’re in the process and opening yourself up to solutions and potential magic, but the thought of private reflection being thrown out the window IRRRRKKKSSSSS MEEEE. Sometimes I’d rather think about something on my own, in silence, to compare pros and cons, and think about if certain actions fulfill the aim. Why does this have to be done in the open? Why does Tarell Alvin McCraney have to apologize for his instinct to privately reflect?
I want to be an active artist in the room. I want to contribute ideas and questions and possible solutions, but what if I’d like to contribute my SILENCE once in a while?