Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Sound of Silence March 30

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live the life of a nun and take a vow of silence. For a chatty girl like myself with a penchant for very non nun activities, I’ve often looked over that grassy knoll and wondered if it is in fact greener in the nun’s world.
Then I found myself in Venice experiencing it for myself. Sister Wendyl arrived full of glee and excitement at the prospect of spending two weeks on her own, finishing that difficult first novel and within one hour realised that for the next 336 hours I would have no one to talk to, no one to drink with, no one would hug me and on top of it all I was determined to stay on my self imposed dietary restrictions which limited the intake of pasta, buffalo mozzarella and proscuitto, which some may argue is the only reason to go to Italy.
“Oh God, what have I done?” I muttered to myself as I gazed out of the window at the San Trovaso bell tower. “How will I ever get through two weeks of this?” I challenged myself as I peered miserably at the gently lapping canal which was enjoying an unusually high tide. “That’s it, I’m going home, this was all a huge mistake, I am obviously a complete nutter,” I thought to myself, having realised that there was no point in talking out loud anymore as I could hear myself perfectly clearly in my head.
My problem is that I have never been on my own. The single life, just me, hanging out and enjoying my own company. From the age of 18 I have been in serious relationships with the longest time in between men being a massive three weeks which was spent in such a haze of alcohol and “good times” I have only a very dim memory of it, which is probably a blessing. And from the age of 24 I have always had children around, who are great providers of hugs and silly conversations when the man of the house is away, distracted or getting the silent treatment.
My husband pointed out that this lack of single time may turn out to present a few problems in Venice. He has always thrown his single time out there as some of the best years of his life. I’ve never been sure what part of working two jobs, doing the ironing on Sunday nights, going to the gym and learning to cook casseroles out of recipe books amounted to the best fun a man can have. When I met him he used to put a list of the meals he was going to cook every night of the week up on the fridge, every Sunday after the ironing. I told him that my lack of single time has never presented itself as a problem before and I doubted that wearing crisp white shirts or making lists and putting them on fridges was a skill that a person really needed to survive on their own. But I did accept that I was rather unusual, and my relationship addiction is something I will deal with one day when I have to. Maybe when he’s dead, if not before.
So when I entered my Venice nunnery I had none of the skills necessary to survive. As the power of speech left me completely and I simply conversed with myself through my brain, I hit on it. Routine. It works for small babies, it works for troubled children, and surely it would work for Sister Wendyl.
And there I was sticking a list on the fridge which gave me regular times to write, times to go for walks, and times to have meals.
I felt much better and then totally ignored it. I started smoking. Then I drank whisky, which was neatly slotted into the 2pm to 6pm writing book slot, and I conveniently lost my appetite. It seems that Sister Wendyl only likes cooking for and eating with, other people.
And then one day, when my mouth’s only exercise for 14 days had been inhaling smoke and swilling Johnny Walker, I finished the book.
“Well done you,” were the first words I spoke in weeks, feeling that they deserved to be formed and spoken out loud, rather than reduced to a thought process.
Finishing the book was great, but what I really meant was “well done you” for learning to be on my own.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

No comments: