“Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true,
does it improve on the silence?”
Shirdi Sai Baba
Every so often, my playwrighting coach would remind everyone in our workshop that every play begins in silence. So true, isn’t it? You could say, in a way, that every piece of writing begins in silence. Even if it is inspired by a word or phrase or story that’s overheard, still, the words that capture what was heard arise from the silence of the page. Sometimes I even think that the page shouts at me in its silence. Ever have that feeling?
Silence is on my mind tonight because I just attended a wonderful — a full of wonder — performance by Yass Hakoshima called “Arguments.” Yass is a renowned mime and teacher who travels the world, sharing his craft and passion for classic pantomime. At one point in the show I attended, he held a white mask in one hand and caressed it with his other, which was clothed in a long, lipstick-red glove. The gesture was so tender, so loving, that it took my breath away. The mask he held trembled as if it were alive, full of hope and despair at the same time.
It was a heart-filled moment of communication and it took place in total silence. Not a word was said, yet with his two hands and a few simple props, Yass created a whole world of meaning. This reminded me how full silence can be — and how important it is for us as writers to cherish and respect it.
So often, the things our characters leave unsaid — the gaps on the page where silence meets memory or fear or regret — can tell our readers more about who they are, what they want, and what they’ve lost than any words we might put in their mouths.
And perhaps when we look back over something we’ve written, a good question to ask ourselves might be: Does this improve on the silence?