Sam Wilson

The copper taste of silence

2004-11-08 12:53

I am constantly amazed by people who have mastered silence. I don't just mean cloistered religious people who gesture once a day for a bowl of gruel - for that kind of commitment is just thoroughly beyond my ken - I mean the more social, everyday kind of silence.

Take the concept of the "companiable" silence. I see it sometimes when I go out to dinner: couples sitting at other tables and happily eating away together without needing to exchange more than a few words.

They seem so... serene. Indeed, sometimes I watch such people and am extraordinarily envious of their calm, their shared smiles, their intertwined separateness.

Usually when I feel this, I am midway through some horrendously personal anecdote that my brain can hardly believe my mouth motoring out.

I am one of those people for whom silence is a direct personal affront. A dinner table pause of even a few seconds is enough to trigger some form of weird reflex to share large and uncensored tracts of my life and experiences.

It makes my head ache to think of how many people out there know much more about me than they would like. (You, for instance.)

Intellectually, I can understand why silence could be golden, but for me... it simply leaves a panicky copper taste in my mouth.

"Quick!" I think as the table goes quiet, usually because everyone else has a mouthful of food. "Say something?"

And I invariably do. Even if my own mouth is full at the time.

"This is a common enough problem," you may think to yourself, "and nothing to get too het up about. Try to say things that are vaguely on topic and, if you are lucky, you will manage to be only mildly annoying."

This might be so, if it wasn't for my associated problem of having absolutely no internal monologue. It appears that thinky bits that generally stop at some hippocampus-type filter for other people, bounce out of my brain before either of my lobes can label them "gobsmackingly rude" and tuck them thoughtfully away.

Out my brain, out of my mouth... and clang, right onto the table.

"I don't think I am, necessarily, being monumentally boring," will come the aggrieved reply, for example. It is all very shaming.

My partner Andreas has long had entirely the opposite problem. If disinterested in the conversational goings on, he can quite easily withdraw entirely into his own world, completely oblivious to those around him. The best bit about this though, is that his facial expressions tend to be even more damning than my tongue.

"I believe in capital punishment," someone will drop winningly into conversation, at which point Andreas will roll his eyes about in horror, slump onto the table and take several fortifyingly noisy slugs from his wine glass.

"What?" he'll say afterwards, when challenged. "I didn't say anything."

Which is worse? I have no idea. All I know is... we must be funny to watch in restaurants.

  • Sam Wilson is a strategist for a customer publishing company and a columnist for a variety of magazines.

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