There won’t be a lot of words in this blog, but you’ll notice the ones that aren’t there.
We grow into our skills and understanding in life, and some we develop sooner than others. I was pretty good at observation even as a child. When I was 12 I told my mother there were two kinds of memory: primary, when you’re in the story you’re telling, and secondary, where you’re watching yourself in the story. Clever, perhaps. But noticing what wasn’t there was a skill that took me longer to develop.
In 1992 I was an adult and the movie A Few Good Men came out, one of Aaron Sorkin’s early scripts. You can’t handle the number of truths it provided in the form of quotable quotes, and it provided a fascinating military mystery as well. The mystery was in part solved by what the victim did not have in his travel clothing. What he would have taken, he didn’t — and it meant he didn’t go.
Over the years what’s absent has become more and more interesting to me. In a novel, it can be the wearing of her wedding dress by Miss Havisham that horrifies the reader and sums up all we need to know about her. When I was a journalist I had a tendency to babble and cured it by learning to ask a question and then STOP talking. People told more secrets that way. Conversely, that led to learning in my personal life that you’re more effective if you say something once to your children, or to anyone, ONCE — and fall silent. Not easy, but it works.
In some cases an absence reveals a terrible trait: a famous comedian uses drugs or a famous radio personality uses violence, neither of which were ‘necessary’, to ‘seduce’ women, when the celebrities were likely famous enough to seduce some of them without.
In families, what’s absent can the most important stuff. Not telling a lover you’re more casual than he or she is about the relationship. Not talking to a brother for years. Ignoring family mental illness. Shunning. Or in my family’s case, drinkers in previous generations who absolutely and successfully relied upon the choking inability of the rest of us to point out what they were doing.
Families also provide the best, the very best, moments we give and get as we grow older, the looks that say we understand one another, each other, without words.
But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?