The Power of Silence

When I perform, my favorite sound in the world is laughter or giggles or some sort of visceral response (ideally not a “boo”). I like to hear it. I like when everybody hears it. I like when people hear themselves.

I like that the organized noises I make with my mouth make other humans make noises with their body. It’s fun.

I don’t usually think of performing comedy like that. It’s a weird way to phrase it, sure. But I was thinking about it in the context of silence. Of pause. Of quiet. I was thinking about how I’m obsessed with responses. I want a giggle, even if holding off a little bit might get me a bigger laugh. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to pace myself more. To slow down. To enjoy the pauses. To…

…wait for it.

Sometimes when I see excellent performances, I’m reminded of how powerful pauses are. But over the weekend, I saw a show that was done by people who never actually spoke. I saw The Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. Without ever once saying anything, they made me laugh heartily for the full show (they did have a little monitor that spoke and a voiceover every once in a while to forward the bits).

It was magic.

Throughout the course of the performance, I often had to remind myself that they had said nothing. They communicated so much with their expressions and with the games they were playing and their physicality, that I was never at a loss for what was happening. And they relished in the silences. Maybe partly because they only exist in a curious silence themselves, the quiet doesn’t bother them. Or maybe cause they so trust in the show and in themselves that they know a little quiet is just a set up for a huge laugh. Whatever it was, it was pure delight.

There’s a ton of audience interaction in the show. The fact that they never once say anything makes the interaction even more satisfying. You know what they want without them actually asking it. And seeing people play along made my little imagination squeal with joy.

I even got to go onstage and interact with them for a while.

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One of the Blue Men kept eyes on me as they wandered the crowd. I was cracking up at it and said, in my head, “Yeah sure I’m down to play if you all want.” I guess he heard it because before I knew it, I was having a bizarro Twinkie dinner with the three Blue Men onstage.

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I know I was the only one talking. Usually I was just cracking up or saying “okay, okay, okay, sure.” But at no point did I feel like I was the only one communicating. Without saying anything, they got me to (attempt to) light a candle. They got me to open Twinkie wrappers for them and then subsequently clean them up. They got me to bop my head along to some music. They got me to eat Twinkie bites with them and even feed them Twinkie bites. And they even fed me some weird banana stuff that I tried not to eat at first then was like, “Yeah, sure I’m down to play if you want” (which happened to be the very thought that likely got me onstage in the first place).

They took a picture at the perfect moment, of course.

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After the bit was one, they helped lead me offstage and two of them squeezed by hand twice as a signal that I felt like was a “thank you” or “good job.” Whatever it was, I just played along and continued to enjoy the rest of the show.

When the show was over, we were meandering in the lobby and one of the Blue Men ran up dramatically. He smiled and I said “Hello! I’m married but that was the best date of my life!” He smiled again (maybe it was just with his eyes? I don’t think they actually smile now that I’m thinking about it. Anyway, we took a picture and then he turned to me, covered his mouth and quietly said “That was amazing.”

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That’s all he said. That’s all he had to say. Because he had spent so much time silent, the power of those simple words were enough. I felt like my goal of being present and playful was achieved if this Blue Man was willing to break his vow of silence to let me know the energy was appreciated.

I thanked him profusely for the opportunity and the incredible work they do. He just nodded and continued pictures with the crowd that had formed around him. I then showed off my blue paint to my husband and threatened to leave him for the Blue Men.

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My point is, I’m a talker. Sure, I’m expressive and use my expressive face to get my points across and make people laugh. But talking is my security blanket. It’s the way I trust myself most to communicate. And getting laughs in response to what I’m saying makes me feel safe. Drama is terrifying to me because you don’t get laughs, you get silence. Things where you have to wait for a payoff are terrifying because you don’t get immediate responses, you have to wait in the delicious silence for the gratification.

I guess right now my life is in a bit of a silence. I’m doing things, but it’s not making enough noise to get the responses I’m comfortable with. I don’t feel validated in the ways that I get to feel when I’m onstage and throwing out jokes or listening to people laugh at something I’ve created. I have to just trust in the process. As an audience member, I enjoyed the silences. I wasn’t thinking “when’s the next laugh?” I was simply thinking, “This is wonderful I hope they keep it up.”

Maybe I should start thinking of myself as both the performer and the audience member in my own life. Rather than desperately needing the immediate validation, recognize that there are times when it’s necessary to relish in the quiet. Sometimes a little quiet for a good set up means a bigger response in the future. So just sit back and enjoy it.

And, of course, keep working.

 

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Thinking Your Own Thoughts

I was on an airplane the other day having a hard time. I’m not a great flyer. The stress of nearly missing the flight did a toll on my body. I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was on a different timezone. The only food I had that day was hotel breakfast, coffee, beer, and some fried mac and cheese balls. I needed real food and space to move. My body was pissed.

I decided rather than trying to work or be productive on this late night flight where I felt like garbage, I’d just watch movies. I normally let a movie or a TV show on a flight be a treat rather than the norm. But on this flight, I needed to just keep my mind distracted from the various (understandable) whining happening in my body.

The only movie that looked interesting was “Leave No Trace.”

It was slow. The acting was great. The writing was refreshing. The cinematography was beautiful. And it was so different than so many blockbuster films I’ve recently seen. I loved it.

More importantly, it kept me from murdering my seat mate out of pure hungry rage. So that was nice.

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There was a line in the movie that stuck out to me and has been in my head since I heard it (the sign of a really good story). In the film, the father and daughter purposely choose to live on the outskirts of society, wandering in the woods and staying off technology. At one point, their circumstances change and they have access to more technology. The daughter, who has spent more of her life completely off-the-grid, is somewhat anxious about what this means for their relationship to each other and to the world. The father assures her that, even with the distractions presented around them now, they can “still think our own thoughts.”

That line resonated with me. I’m by no means anti-technology. I participate (albeit often begrudgingly) in social media. I have a phone. I take my laptop on every trip I go on.

But I’m part of that older millennial generation that grew up in our formative years without it. I spent a lot of time looking out windows, playing in my back yard, creating stuff for the fun of it.

This is weird, but whatever – you’re here and reading this so you deserve a fun little weird tidbit. I used to love to lay upside down on a recliner and imagine that the world was flipped and the ceiling was the floor and the floor was the ceiling.

Yes, really.

The point is, I spent a lot of time thinking my own thoughts. I let my mind wander. My brain grew up with the understanding that it’s important to be present and it’s important to formulate your own thoughts and choose to spend your time in ways you feel drawn to (rather than are accidentally addicted to).

Like many people my age, I was an early adopter of texting and cellphone technology. I’ve been on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram all almost since they started. I was even part of that generation that needed a college email in order to get a Facebook account.

Stories for another time.

The point is, I’ve let social media and technology interweave and change my brain and my lifestyle without much thought. And now that I’m realizing the repercussions of that, I’m trying to give it some thought. My own thoughts. Not the responses or reactions of other people that the web is inundated with.

When I heard that line from the movie, I realized that, out of habit, I tend to let my mind wander on other people’s thoughts and creations rather than letting it wander on my own musings and observations like it used to. I’ve swung the pendulum far too far in one direction and it’s time to come back the other way.

not a drill

A world without social media or technology isn’t a world that exists anymore. But I can choose to create a world that better balances its existence with my own priorities. I can create a world where I participate in technology but don’t let it control me.

I can choose to create a world where I still think my own thoughts.