Urge to yammer

birds on wires

I’ve been housesitting for friends who live in a very quiet, very bucolic part of the state. It’s been restful in many ways, most of which are probably obvious: no traffic, no city noises, cleaner air, singing birds, some of whom sound weirdly like my iPhone’s alert noise, which tells you all you need to know about how often I get out of the city and into quiet.

What’s been a bit surprising, and not a little alarming, has been discovering how much noise I’ll generate to mitigate against all that glorious silence. After dark, for example, I tend to like having Netflix or Hulu on to keep me company, not a habit I’m particularly okay with, but my current policy on this kind of stuff is to slow down and observe rather than act out of the alarm and try skipping over to good habits. Because when I skip steps, nothing sticks.

But the other other (and far more disturbing) thing I’ve noticed is how often I catch myself talking out loud to nobody. I’ll observe something silently, that it’s getting dark, for example, and that I should shutter up the house for the evening, and then I’ll say, “It’s getting dark, I should shutter up the house for the evening.” I mean, I will voice EXACTLY what I’ve just thought.1

I’ll ask my shrink and report back to you on that. In the meantime, here’s what the wide gulf between all that quiet and all that chatter has also pointed out to me: how much quieter I’ve gotten around other people. Not in a being-shy or expressing-my-inner-introvert’s way: in a listening way. In a being-okay-with-quiet way and a give-other-people-room way. I was raised to be really, really “on”, in my family, the wittiest monkeys tended to get the prime resources. “Off” didn’t happen unless I was off by myself (and believe me, I worked hard to get that “off” time.) The worst feeling I could have was to be around people and not feel comfortable enough either to talk (usually because I was either intimidated by their superior knowledge or their quicker monkey wit) or to let there be quiet (more complex, but obviously some deeper thing about safety).

These days, while there is still often the urge to natter on, to rush in and fill that abhorrent vacuum with yammering, just as often I’m cool with hanging. With letting other people natter on or, if they’re interesting, of drawing them out with questions. And yeah, yeah, I know the whole thing about the most sparkling conversationalist being the one who shuts up and lets other people talk about themselves. In my early days of learning the networking thing, I tried to consciously apply that technique. Now, it’s different; now, it’s more of a genuine curiosity. Who are these people? What stuff do they know that I don’t?

Or, if it’s about me (and yeah, it still is, because I’m still a selfish, self-involved, terrified little hairball much of the time), then it feels good to be quiet and to note the feelings and impulses that float up: Wow, I’m getting really anxious and my breath is getting shallow; or Dang, I really want to tell this guy what an effing incorrect blowhard he is. More often than not, I’ve been happy to shut up and listen. Or, when I don’t, to learn something from my not being able to.

If I have a point, and this is a baby idea, so I’m not sure that I do, it’s that clutter takes many, many forms. And word-clutter (surprise!) is one of them. In the past, just as I’ve rushed in to buy more crap to fill empty spaces, I’ve filled empty air with words. Finally, I get the power of “empty” space, of quiet. Years after having it illustrated during countless power scenes in acting class (for a crash course, watch The Godfather, part I or II.) Decades after I first  tried (and failed, and failed, and failed) in silent meditation. Because the space is not empty: it’s filled with silence.

Beautiful, powerful, completely whole, utterly terrifying silence.


1If I’m in a playful mood, I’ll add, “I know it is; I’m you.” So yeah, I’m probably a little nuts. On the other hand, if you know you’re a little nuts, perhaps you’re less nuts than if you don’t know. Or maybe there’s just a little more hope for you. Or maybe you should just ease off the caffeine a bit.

Image by Bùi Linh Ngân via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Oh God can I relate to this post. Both the constant narration of life (to myself) as well as the realization that a lot of time I’m talking just to fill space. In my case (yours too?) I think it’s a way to quell anxiety – too much silence makes me nervous. Not sure why and must explore with shrink. But I, too, have been trying to talk less lately and see what happens…thanks for this. Verbal clutter is now officially part of my lexicon.

    Delia Lloyd

    1. I think you’re onto something with the anxiety analysis. For me, I think it’s feeling overwhelmed, and talking—narrating, really, much of the time—is my way of exerting control. (Am learning a LOT about my control issues as I research codependence—another topic for another day.)

  2. “But the other other (and far more disturbing) thing I’ve noticed is how often I catch myself talking out loud to nobody”

    If you get a dog or cat (or bird or gerbil or iguana or …), that won’t seem so weird anymore ;-)

  3. I am SO with you in this, coming from another McTribe of the-quickest-monkey-gets-the-most-‘whatever’ …

    I’m back home in Spain today and realise another reason why I felt like I was yelling the whole time I was in Scotland – the volume in an Andaluz conversation is set WAY higher than other parts of the world. Not only yammering, but yammering LOUD!! sheesh…..

    Sometimes solidarity is all it takes to lower the volume though, thanks! ;) (and yeah, just the 2 coffees helps)

    1. I think I was with my ex-husband for five years before I adjusted to Italian-speak. As I finally made him understand, if someone in my family raised his voice to the levels that his family used in regular dinner-table conversation, it meant he was so raging mad you probably wouldn’t see him for five years.

  4. Hey, Colleen!

    I’m with M Wms about the pet (or pets-I now have two cats). And having a baby kitty (about five weeks old, I figure) has reminded me that they both listen and talk back. The only problem is that they often change the subject, or tell me I’ve gone batty because I’m talking to them. ;)

    When you get used to it, silence can be wonderful. I had a hard time getting there (I’m disabled and often housebound), but for me the problem was I felt like I ought to be “doing more”; as if the silence indicated I wasn’t doing anything at all, though I’m often reading or writing. Now that silence and I are friends, it aids me with my creativity as if I could only hear my inspiration when all the noise was gone.

    I’m glad you’re letting others talk and that you’re hearing them. I still wander off on my own sometimes during conversations, especially when someone’s repeating a story I’ve already heard, or whining.


    1. OMG—whining! Soooo hard to stay focused during that. That’s from the advanced dharma class, for sure.

      I look forward to learning from my new animal teacher, whenever s/he arrives. Until then, well, I’ll just keep on practicing on my own.

  5. This is a little trippy–I had a dream last night about being with someone and thinking that I should be talking more, and then realizing that I didn’t need to force myself. So it’s like my Real urge is not to yammer and then there’s a layered urge to make myself yammer? Maybe I can remind myself about this lovely bit: The space is not empty: it’s filled with silence.

    Part of my joy in having a dog is that the talking-to-yourself neurosis has a handy cover. Except sometimes I talk to him when he’s not around, which probably doesn’t count. But responding to yourself? Totally counts.

    1. So it’s like my Real urge is not to yammer and then there’s a layered urge to make myself yammer?

      Something like that. I think the real urge is to be okay with whatever. And then fear creeps in and does its fine and efficient work and, well, you know what happens next.

  6. You’ve perfectly expressed how I feel about Twitter lately. I’m content to sit there, listen to what others are saying and not really respond much. Perhaps it’s social media fatigue or perhaps I’m tired of “talking”.

    1. I didn’t mention it, but my own dismay over Twitter—or rather, the blatherization currently in vogue in social media, as exemplified by Twitter—is what prompted me to write the post. I struck out mention of it (and am somewhat hesitant to bring it up even now) because there is still a great deal of good in all kinds of social media. But the signal-to-noise ratio is massively out of whack.

      It is heartbreaking, b/c I LOVE MY INTERNETS and what they’ve brought: so many wonderful friends (like you, my wonderful friend) and so much great help and information. But my god, it’s like we made this beautiful paradise and then decided to see how fast we could crap it up so it was just as noisy and awful as the world we were supposedly escaping from.

      I’m relieved to hear someone else whom I know and respect but who is not a cranky-butt say this. B/c I know and love a lot of them, too, but YOU know.

      Oh, well. Nothing lasts forever, right? And change is what brought us this. So. Excelsior!, and shit.

  7. Hi!
    I’ve done a few things in the past to deal with an intermittent ‘urge to yammer’ (if no ones told you lately, you have a lovely turn of phrase). They’ve all bern varying degrees of useful depending on which issues I was dealing with at that point. Of them actually, spending a weekend at a silent retreat was the most long-standing life changer. The one I went to, and fell in love with, was called Mary House in Western Mass. It is technically a religious retreat, and I am not religious At All, (even if I was, it wouldn’t be that one), but it wasn’t an issue at all. I was lucky enough to go with a small group from a Comparitive Religion class and we did silent meditation, silent meals, silent dish washing, etc. It was incredible, informative, and very freeing — after the first few hours, which were gang buster hard.
    For several months I once tried not saying anything unless I had something to say, it’s hard at first, but is also cool, and eventually you get sick of it and stop of your own accord, but it makes for sticky social situations, and so is better tried on beach vacations etc.

    1. I am so far from being ready to sign up for a silent retreat, it is to laugh. I’m glad you brought it up, though, esp. b/c you did such a good job framing your circumstances leading up to it, and giving us—me—a good idea of who you are.

      And I *especially* thank you for bringing up the “it was religious even though I’m not” thing. I try to be sensitive to other folks’ need for their faith, but I’m getting pretty sick of some of them not being sensitive to my need to walk my own particular path.

      If I get into Yaddo, maybe I’ll check it out. Do a whole East Coast-y thing this coming year. An East-Coast-y, not-talk-y thing.

  8. An important post, for your Readers (Me! Us!) at least, probably for you too, missy — I so hope you write more on the topic of yammering, silence, and everything in between.

    As you do, you’ve tapped something many of us are thinking about right now. [Personal connection you can skip and need not address, just can’t help it]:

    My quiet beau (of 16 years) goes back east to jam with old buds for 5 or 6 days every year and this year I SO look forward to having the place to myself (8/19!) because last year I discovered that I never spoke while he was gone! Now — I’m a color-commentary 24/7 news channel, kids, the poor man doesn’t get a moment’s peace or quiet — and forget him having room to speak if he wanted to… (proud member of the clever monkey tribe here, too, @Lindsay!)

    But without him here, I was silent. No bitching at the newscaster for melodrama, no harping about the yapper across the street, no observations, no opinion, no constant stream of narrating every single pointless thought that ran between my ears… just, ahhh. A small fraction of the usual TV, only my favorite B’way albums or revisit-heartbreak songs, nothing that I didn’t really want to listen to.

    And that made me aware in a BIG way, so I try to “be good” (respectful of his aural privacy), but the yammering is so automatic from me. Plus I’m funny as hell, terribly clever, quite useful, interesting, supportive and I know where he put his keys without looking. Being a laugh-whore, it’s tough to remember to shut the fuck up like I should.

    But your post has done more than remind me to be aware. It’s birthed the poetic idea that silence is here and needs room to be, too. Your writing, your baby idea, your written musings about your sound-void filling has clarified that if I choose silence when I’m alone, I should respect the BoyPie’s option to choose silence the other 360 days and nights of our constant togetherness if he wants…

    Oh man, it’s exhausting, the way you make me think.

    PS: My younger sis takes her little girl to a So Cal Silent Retreat each year, too, just for 3 days, but smart for a 5-6-7-8 year old, eh? (Like @Pamela’s experience, it was religious but not pushing anything, which is cool as it allows spirituality. I’ve got neither, but it’s good to expose kids to stuff besides Auntie Mame, right?)

    PPS: Here-here on the Twitter noise, which is why I only follow a small %. As much as I love the thing, I might be aging out of it (early-adopter), since it’s all seeming like reruns to me lately… Time to shift circles a bit?

    1. Being a laugh-whore, it’s tough to remember to shut the fuck up like I should.

      I had a brain flash: egg timer! We set an egg timer or an alarm for a certain time of day to STFU! Good, right?

      Oh man, it’s exhausting, the way you make me think.

      I’d feel for you, but I’m so exhausted being myself. You see.

      PPS: Here-here on the Twitter noise, which is why I only follow a small %. As much as I love the thing, I might be aging out of it (early-adopter), since it’s all seeming like reruns to me lately… Time to shift circles a bit?

      Excellent theory, and one I’ve mused on myself. I think the dealbreaker for me is that even the FUNNY stuff feels stale and recycled. Not all of it, but a lot of it, esp. if you head over to Favstar.

      Really, at the risk of sounding like a complete snob, it hasn’t been the same since Dean shut down FAVRD. Which I’m more and more admiring of his doing, as the months roll by.

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