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Silence: More Malleable Than Evolutionary

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While brainstorming what to write for this second web event, an image, similar to the way Irene’s bedroom struck me, kept popping up in my head from the mural arts tour in Philly.  It was the mural of the iron butterflies protruding and ascending up the body of an African-American man holding fire in the palm of one of his hands. If I am not mistaken, the mural was created on the back of a men’s shelter that no longer existed and the butterflies symbolized the great changes—the metamorphosis—the sheltered men made in their own lives. I, too, had written about the concept of metamorphosis and had described the role silence had played in my life as an evolution. However, as I began to think more about the nature of the word, metamorphosis, I grew dissatisfied with my word choice in describing the role of silence in my life.

The word, metamorphosis, to describe the males is fitting. I am assuming that their positions in life did nothing to advance them upward  and so, with the help of the shelter,  they morphed into beautiful, bright butterflies whose wings afforded them more places to go and more possibilities. Similar to the word metamorphosis, when I think of the word, “evolve,” I understand it as “the becoming of something better and becoming more immune to threat.” Thus,  I concluded that to evolve meant to become something better. However, when re-reading the words of my first paper, I realized that my relationship with silence was nothing like that. I had written that before the arrival of my step-father, silence “…never felt oppressive and…it felt intuitive.” But after reading my words more closely, it was evident that as my step-dad became a stronger presence in my house, silence had, in fact, “un-evolutionized.”  What was once a powerful symbol of my role in Haitian culture was now symbolic of a time when I felt powerless. So in this paper, I hope to find a better-suited word that characterizes the role of silence in my life as a child.

From the first assignment that required me and my classmates to find an image that best represented silence, both Irene and I acknowledged that silence was often times devoid of noise. However, in Irene’s post, by “noise” she meant people. To describe the picture of her bedroom, Irene writes, “I chose this photo because it's intuitively devoid of sound because it's devoid of people… interesting how we tend to associate sounds with people.” Thus, it seems that she only acknowledges man-made sounds and humans to be the only source of noise that disrupts silence. I, on the other hand, wrote about silence along the same lines but I stressed that silence, usually characterized as being devoid of all noise, was not possible because noise of some sort was always present. So, I chose its antithesis to represent it by using photos of young people rallying and visibly yelling.

When I think about how I had chosen to break my silence through “excessive yelling” at my father, if, instead, I had chosen to use silence to be the “bigger person” like Michaela had done, I don’t think the weight of silence on me would have been different. Whether I yelled or stayed quiet in defiance, noise would have never escaped me—through yelling I had to deal with the noise of both my step-dad and I going at it, through silence, I couldn’t escape thoughts of anger and betrayal alone in my room. Therefore, I still believe that true silence can and will never be devoid of noise. Moreover, I have come to the realization that no one is truly powerful when using silence as a form of defiance or to exercise control—it just may be that silence has more power over us.

For insntace, silence enabled me to speak up just as it allowed me to be quiet around adults. Similarly, silence had enabled Michaela to be defiant just as it had enabled the religious group to yell offensive epithets. Although we both had “control” over silence, in the sense that it took on the form we wanted it to, I think that there is something quite powerful about how it has the ability to take on what we want it to be by muting other noises around us. Michaela was never going to fully understand the religious group, not that she had to, because she allowed silence to protect her with a shield of defiance. Irene was not going to hear the creaking of her walls or the brushing of the wind against her windows because she characterized silence as only man-made sounds and people. And I had never even thought to develop a sophisticated voice as a child because I had accepted and wanted silence to be a large part of my identity.

So, when I think about our class, I now imagine that we are all, subconsciously and consciously, molding the presence of silence in our classroom. It is taking on our greatest fears, hopes, insecurities, etc and spewing it back at us, which sometimes results in misunderstandings, connections, and even “silenced dialogues.” In exercising our ability to affect silence, we are giving it the power to become a projection of the parties involved; therefore, filtering out seemingly unrelated noise in any given moment.  Silence is not an evolution and does not signify an upward trend. For now, I am more comfortable saying that it is a malleable presence that is constantly screening what we choose and choose not to hear. Thus, silence can be a metamorphosis or evolution but to limit it to these two words would mean distorting the impact it had on my childhood.