What is the relationship between silence, creativity, fear, doubt, death, and missing voices — especially in terms of art and literature?
To explore this provocative question, we turned to our mutual friend — and one of the most gifted and articulate writers of our time — Jessica Mesman Griffith.
It’s very difficult for me to be in any kind of silence.. I love being out in nature and not having the iPod. When I take my long walks every day, I don’t take my iPod, I don’t listen to music, I don’t have earbuds, but the sounds of nature are not the sounds of my own body. It’s the sounds of my own body I think that terrify me. — Jessica Mesman Griffith
Jessica Mesman Griffith is an award-winning essayist and memoirist who honestly and fearlessly explores the intersections between religion (especially Catholicism), art and creativity, mental health, and social justice. She is the founder of the Sick Pilgrim blog (www.patheos.com/blogs/sickpilgrim), described as “a space for the spiritually sick, and their fellow travelers, to rest a while.” Her books include Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters (co-authored with Amy Andrews), A Book of Grace Filled Days: 2016, and Daily Inspiration for Women (co-authored with Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Vinita Hampton Wright, and Margaret Silf).
Jessica’s authenticity is revealed from the first minutes of our conversation, when she discusses how silence seemed unsettling to her as a child. Musing on the relationship between silence and the fear of death, or the link between happiness and conviviality, and even the anxiety that comes from the noises of her own body, she muses on how she has discovered different “types” of silence (the silence of nature seems different from the silence in a suburban home).
Good writing is having an ear… Having an ear for how something sounds on the page, for the rhythm of language… The best writers have an ear for where something falls flat or doesn’t sound true. — Jessica Mesman Griffith
The conversation goes on to explore the questions of the relationship between silence and creativity, privilege, and the body. Invoking poetry, horror movies, music, narrative nonfiction, we look at silence from many angles, acknowledging that the human experience of silence is messy and multivalent — pretty much like the human experience in general.
Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:
- Jessica Mesman Griffith & Amy Andrews, Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters
- Jessica Mesman Griffith, A Book of Grace Filled Days: 2016
- Jessica Mesman Griffith et al., Daily Inspiration for Women
- Thomas Merton, Love and Living
- William Friedkin (dir.), The Exorcist
- Wes Craven (dir.), The Serpent and the Rainbow
- Tobe Hooper (dir.), Poltergeist
- Tillie Olsen, Silences
- Barbara Holmes, Joy Unspeakable
- Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec
- Tyehimba Jess, Olio
- Rosalie Morales Kearns, Kingdom of Women
- Rosalie Morales Kearns, Virgins & Tricksters
- George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
- Flannery O’Connor, Spiritual Writings
- Walker Percy, Signposts in a Strange Land
- Thomas Merton, Essential Writings
- Vinny Flynn, Seven Secrets of the Eucharist
- John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings
- Vincent Katz (ed.), Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art
- John Krasinski (dir.), A Quiet Place
- Neil Young, Harvest Moon
- Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
- Yoko Ono, Grapefruit
- Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
- Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
I think we’re certain that it [silence] means death and then we’re terrified that that’s what death is – that that’s all death is, the silent darkness. So in Christianity we revolt against that by making it as loud and hideously ugly apparently as we can, at all times… This is our ultimate fear–that there’s nothing. — Jessica Mesman Griffith
Episode 23: The Silence of Missing Voices: A Conversation with Jessica Mesman Griffith
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Jessica Mesman Griffith
Date Recorded: May 18, 2018