The Silence After Christmas

by Jeff Oaks

I’ve noticed recently that many of my friends are losing their nouns. I thought it was only me. Our sentences get just so far and then collapse, or perhaps I mean lapse, into a misty silence, where a simple word used to stand.

Hold on, I need to close the…..

I’m so tired I can’t even read this …..

Where’s the dog’s …..

Hand me the ……

The only word available is “thing”, but no one one wants to use it for fear of sounding stupid or, worse, on the road to dementia. We’re exhausted. Losses of daylight. An excess of what anthropologists call kin work. The uncertainty of bank balances. A culture so suffused with political maneuvering that it all becomes unreliable. We’re all becoming sharks, unable to slow down, afraid of stalling. I’m too tired, I say, the exhaustion of the city-state on perpetual high alert. The language we’ve spent our lives learning, absorbing, deploying, dancing with, begins to flicker with doubt. There’s a moment when my friends and I stand there, waiting for the sentence to finish. When the word doesn’t appear, we throw up our hands and say Whatever.

My writing, my inner life, feels like it wants to stay in bed, sleep and dream. It’s tired of being so professional. It wants to grow hairy again, clawed maybe, hoarse. It needs to sleep with roots, in wells, listening to the dead, for volcanoes.

One bit of wisdom came to me from a friend who confessed recently that, in order to sleep, she and her girlfriend have begun coloring pictures from children’s coloring books about an hour before going to bed. It reminds me of Lynda Barry’s advice in her books to doodle as a way to relax the mind. Steady, simple action. The quiet burn of crayon wax on paper. The assurance of lines. January might be a month in which we need to return to simplicities again.

I’m glad to have been asked to talk about some of my essential books for his blog The Poet’s Grin. I’ve been thinking about my essential books, writers, art, music, food this month. It feels like a good time to do things like this. What if I just read one book this month, I think?

Two years ago, when my mother’s health was failing, I began writing a series of short prose pieces here in the blog in an effort to get in touch with some of the necessary elements in my life, in the spirit of Neruda’s great Elemental Odes. I needed to know what would sustain me in the absence of a mother. Most of the entries turned out to be nouns. Maybe this year I’ll try to think about necessary verbs.