Silence And Noise

Last December, as I was wrapping up my book promotion and getting ready to celebrate the holidays with loved ones, I made a decision.

I decided that, in 2016, I didn't want to produce clickbait. I didn't want to make noise. There are so many distractions bombarding us from all our devices, and I was feeling how being a producer and consumer of words/ideas/information/opinions was shaping my own internal landscape. I was becoming a predetermined set of reactions, or a Pavlovian dog--hardly able to focus on finishing a single thought before some notification would direct my attention to something else.

I didn't like it.  And I didn't want to make other people feel that way.

I decided that, unless I had something important to offer, something new to contribute, I was going to sit back and listen, observe.

It turns out, this year was a weird time to be quiet.

2016 has been the internet on amphetamines.

We're a little more than halfway through the year, and think about everything that has happened in 2016: We lost Bowie. We lost Prince. We lost Ali. We watched Republican nominees drop out of the presidential race like naughty children in Willy Wonka, to be left with a real life, tyrannical, bigoted, womanizing Oompa Loompa barrelling his way towards the White House. We watched the Democrats have an identity crisis. We watched violence abroad with attacks on Nice and Brussels --and the UK's exit from the EU. Here at home, we bear witness daily as men and women lose their lives for the color of their skin, for who they love--or for being at the wrong place at the wrong time when someone who shouldn't has a weapon that belongs in war.

It's reached the point where every morning I brace myself as I reach for my phone, wondering--what injustice or tragedy went viral while I was sleeping? What kind of world am I waking up to, today?

There have been days when the news has been too much for me to bear and I feel split open--and that's when I want to write.

I can't begin to count the hours I have spent this year--particularly this summer--staring at an empty document to post on my blog, or even on my personal Facebook, and having no idea where to even begin. By the time I finally had something intelligible to share, our collective attention would move onto the next big thing.

That's what happened in June--I felt compelled to join the chorus of voices that were speaking out about Brock Turner, but by the time I was ready to post, Orlando happened. And by the time I had my head wrapped around Orlando, we had live footage of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being murdered by police.

It wasn't just the breaking news, but the aftershocks online that were overwhelming. With every event, there is an ocean of personal posts and think pieces that come pouring out. Every angle is explored, every perspective is offered. Somehow the internet is able to find just the right gif, or the most cutting sentence for a tweet. The speed and accuracy that everyone seemed to possess left me intimidated. Rather than asking myself, What do I have to say about this?--I was asking myself, Who am I to say anything about this?

I felt like I had no authority to speak about the issues that were happening in the world, even though I was feeling an overwhelming amount of sadness and concern. I realized that a line had been crossed from my self-selected silence, and instead my self-doubt was silencing me. And if a writer--with words and stories and tools at her disposal--couldn't stand up and say something, then who could?

If I was standing on the sidelines of social media as friends and followers were spouting their opinions, there must be others too, who feel just as silenced as I did.

I remembered how, in 2012, I canvassed for Obama, carpooling with volunteers to different towns and cities in New Hampshire, and knocked on doors every weekend, and how as the weekends went on, there were more flyers for both candidates stacked on doorsteps and in apartment building hallways--and how residents kept opening the doors when we knocked, even though they had been bothered the day before, and the day before that, and the weekend before that, with the phone ringing off the hook with volunteers asking them, Do you know who you are voting for? Do you have a plan to get to the polls? Are you able to volunteer? Can you help us get out the vote?

They were weary, but opened the door anyway, and I was afraid--because I didn't want to end up on the wrong stoop, but I kept knocking anyway. Even on Election Night, I was phone banking to voters in Iowa, and Ohio--an hour or two behind Massachusetts--asking voters if they needed help getting to the polls, reassured that, by then, everyone had already cast their vote.

I did it, even though I was afraid, because I didn't want to wake up the morning after Election Day, wondering--What if I could have done a little bit more to make a difference? What if my contribution could have been the tipping point, but because I let my fear get the better of me, I didn't take action?

The stakes are even higher now than they were in 2012.

Back then we had a candidate that cozied up to corporations and had religious fundamentalist principles--but now we are looking at a delusional monster, a dangerous failure, a thin-skinned bully, a media manipulator whose words of fear and hate are giving license to other people to perform acts of fear and hate.

We cannot afford to be silent. We can't stand by as this divisive, fear-based movement gains momentum. We need love to be louder.

What I had failed to realize as I stared at my blinking cursor these past few months, was that Now is always the right time to stand up for love--even if you can't get the words right. Even if you are repeating what someone else had already said. Even if someone had already said it better. Just because the media has turned its attention to the next big story doesn't mean that issues stop being relevant--just ask Diamond Reynolds. Or Erica Garner. Or the parents of Newtown or Aurora or Charleston or Orlando.

Your voice doesn't have to be timely, but you don't have all the time in the world to use your voice.

Especially with a presidential candidate who is barring the press from attending his events. We cannot take our voices for granted.

We each have a responsibility to reach past our fears to stand up for love--whether that is replying to a comment on Facebook, or knocking on a stranger's door to get out the vote, or writing a blog post--or even taking a moment of silence for some self-care so you can come back, stronger. We all have something to offer the world, and we are all connected, so you never know--especially with our technology today--what kind of ripple effect might start from an act of your courage.