Number 29- Stay Silent for 1 Week

An eight- day journal.

One week without making a noise, simple yet so complicated!

Humourously it was a choice between practicing silence at a quaint meditation retreat surrounded by tree’s, monks and waterfalls, or in the world’s busiest city; New York- surrounded by people, cars, music and mayhem.

Of course comedy took precedence and here I am New York on September 28th, wearing tape across my mouth on Day 1 of this challenge!

The rules:

1- No oral communication of any sort (this includes whistling or umm’ing)
2- Sneezing, coughing, burping allowed (but only naturally)
3- Laughing is not permitted
4- Written communication is fine (pen and note-book crucial)
5- If any of the above rules are broken, the 7-Day time period immediately resets.

Day 1-

“Good”- one word that cancelled out an entire day of silence.

It quickly became apparent on Day 1 just how important talking actually is within our society. Without words, you immediately feel a huge bubble form around you. It feels so real that physically you can almost touch it.
Wherever you might be reading this, there are probably people all around you talking. Now as a little test for the next one minute, just try and stay silent no matter what happens. Straight away your jaw tightens and your mind races. A mental set of hand cuffs form around your mind and your inner voice becomes immensely louder.

Throughout Day 1 I filled an entire notebook with written words, questions and answers, all just so that I could order lunch, give my address to a taxi driver, drop clothes at the laundromat and get through other tasks that normally seem particularly easy.

Working for an entire day in a finance office (a 2- week deal that I have) proved hilarious for many co-workers and even prompted a competition to see who could trick me into speaking.
One lovely lady on the subway home even felt so sorry for me when I wrote on a piece of paper; “How do I get to 29th street and 8th Avenue?”, that she held my hand and walked me to the correct platform as if I was somehow blind.

I had been silent for 23 hours and 1 minute when I returned home to be greeted by my flat-mate who kindly asked how I was. “Good” I replied. DAMMIT! Deafening silence filled the room as I looked at my feet in anger. I had spoken!

“You can talk now?” asked Liz.
I shook my head side to side. Instead the clock had been re-set. I had to start 7 days of silence again. My whole day of awkwardness was useless!

So here I am on what is now effectively Day 1 (again!) worried that this may actually take a lot longer than 1 week!

Wish me luck today!

Day 1 (again!)-

A true test- attending a Comedy Club !

Technically my 2nd day, ‘Day 1′ saw the purchase of a new White Board! After burning through a whole note pad yesterday, a white board was the ‘green’ way forward (it’s also a lot more fun!).

One thing I am finding is that because writing is obviously a lot slower than talking, I have a huge lag of roughly 2 minutes behind everyone else in any conversation I am involved in! This means I have to forget trying to be witty because something that may be funny if mentioned immediately only makes me look like a complete idiot when presented on a white board 2 minutes further into a conversation which has moved on rapidly. As a result my conversational capacity has been reduced to one-liners and head nodding.

Buying food again proved tricky today, but I did notice something quite funny. When I write down on my white board that I can’t talk, the server will for some reason presume that I am also deaf and will immediately starts slowly mouthing words back to me whilst trying to use hand signals. At first I would write that there is no need for this as I can hear, but I have quickly grown to love these awkwardly silent transactions and now have fun trying to encourage the most ridiculous of actions from staff. Chicken is my favourite (picture chicken-dance!).

A lady approached me in the street today and asked me for directions to a place I knew exactly how to get to, but in silence all I could offer was a terrible map which forced her to stare at me like an underachieving kindergarten child who had drawn a horse with three legs. She moved on and asked someone else. Having said that however, two particularly lovely ladies did donate $5 and $6 respectively so thank you to them if they are reading! This means I only need to raise another $89 for this task.

On the plus side, I have become very popular with any girls that I already know! Without the ability to talk I can’t help but be very good listener and the majority of my day is consumed listening to female friends venting their frustrations. I offer them something that is rare apparently, a man who listens! Word of this is spreading and I fear that soon I will notice a long queue of emotionally charged ladies waiting outside my office ready to unload all on me.

Finally today we decided that a comedy club would not only be a good test of my silence, but it may also offer some laughs, albeit silent ones.
Armed with the trusty white boards, the only way I could show my appreciation was through writing “Ha Ha” but this seemed to work well!

Day 1 was a success and now i’m getting the hang of this silent thing… i think?

To be continued…

Day 2-

The stolen pen…

I am now officially exhausted of writing on my white board! There is only so many times you can write ‘Yes it’s tough not being able to talk!’ or ‘Honestly I am not a freak! I’m doing this for charity’. One lady even wrote me an email late yesterday confirming the strange vibe that apparently I can’t help but create as I wonder silently around New York:

“You wrote to me on the subway today on your second second day of silence. Honestly, I was scared you were going to ask me to donate and I’m unemployed…but your story is awesome! Proud to say I don’t have a list but I’ve already done a few of these things :) Best of luck on your adventure – I’ll buy the book when it’s out!”

I think I’m getting fairly used to not talking now, but the hardest time to control my silence is when faced with a sudden situation or feeling. Accordingly as a way of maintaining my silence, I have to try and stay as low-key as possible. Often it comes across that I have no personality or emotion, kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator.

I did have the pleasure of having lunch with a girlfriend of mine, Imelda, today and yet again my failure to speak complicated an already tricky conversation. Two hours after starting lunch, my white board had endured a smorgasbord of topics that verbally could have been addressed in 20 minutes! Never the less, everything was covered. Imelda left with a smile on her face while I left with a cramp in my hand!

Today I also managed to catch up with another good friend of mine, Marcus, who I haven’t seen in almost 2 years today! Tragically however, all I could offer was a hug and a written ‘Hey Mate!’. We’ll have to wait for another 5 days to catch up properly.
Of course as a successful stand-up comedian, Marcus seized the opportunity of stealing my pen when I left for the bathroom at a restaurant we were eating at. He then insisted he would not give me the pen back until I tried to order two beers from the non-English speaking waiter. Needless to say everyone had a good laugh at my expense!

5 days to go!

p.s if you want to see more of Marcus and his annoying jokes, check him out atwww.marcusryan.net

Day 3…

The Move…

Have you ever tried moving into a new apartment and introducing yourself to your new flat in silence? If not, let me advise against it. Not only does it create a weird tension as you sit on the couch and scribble on your white board, but it also extends those awkward silences. Hopefully I’m allowed to stay past Tuesday so that I can explain myself in speech!

Needless to say I’m moved in, and what better way to be introduced to the building than by a terrible joke told to me by the doorman on reception, fittingly it’s about a man who can’t talk:

“There once was this bar with a sign in its window.
It read, anyone who can make my horse laugh will have all ?the drinks they want on the house. So this guy who can’t talk walks in and writes on a piece of paper that he would like to give it a try. The bartender laughs and says sure.
The man who can’t talk then walks out back to where the horse is and again writes something on a piece of paper. The horse reads it and starts laughing hysterically. The guys?walks back in to the bar and the bartender reluctantly serves him the drinks for free all night long.
The next night the sign has changed to making the horse cry. ?The same guy who can’t talk goes out back to the horse again and a few minutes later he comes back in. The bartender checks on his horse who is now crying hysterically.
The bartender says ‘o.k. you can have your drinks but first tell me ?what you did to make my horse laugh.’
The man who can’t speak says, ‘I wrote to him that my genitals are bigger than his.’
‘O.K. but how did you make him cry?’ replies the barman
The man says, ‘I proved it to him.’
I told you it was bad!!
It’s amazing how differently people react when they realise that someone does not speak. Here are three examples from today alone:
1/ Thank you to man at the deli who I ordered dinner from tonight. He gave me an extra serving of meat because he felt sorry for me. A very kind gesture!
2/ Thank you to Steve from the office who donated $20 towards Camp Quality, the charity I am raising money for! (We are now almost at the $2,500 mark!)
3/ Thank you to the couple who walked straight past me on the street today as I gestured for directions whilst pointing to my white board. I presume you thought I was asking for money and you really made me feel stupid! I hope the restaurant you walked into served you terrible food! (I don’t really, but at least make eye contact next time)
That’s me for the Day 3.
4 days of silence to come, and a Salsa Class tomorrow. I’m excited!

Day 4…

Salsa 101…

There’s only one thing harder than staying silent for seven days and that’s learning how to dance Salsa. You can imagine then how tricky Day 4 was after I managed to combine the two!

As you may know, in Salsa the man is responsible for leading the dance. This meant that I would be leading the lovely Anne. Now as part of this lead role, there is counting involved. This counting usually becomes an issue for a beginner, specially one that has a tape stuck over his mouth. Luckily for me, Anne, with the patience of an angel, was able to put up with me throughout the lesson and by the end of our 60 minute session, we actually looked better than OK!

Having not as yet been out into a busy venue under silence, I was then invited to a lavish birthday party being held in lobby of an exclusive hotel. With roughly one hundred people present, I gripped my white boards tightly and pursed my lips with excitement.
Being introduced to everyone as ‘the Australian who doesn’t speak’ certainly catches your attention. My white board and I spent the next hour scribbling stories, thoughts and hardships to a captive audience of onlookers. Ironically, more people listen to me when I don’t speak!

Anyway, the night soon led me to a bar where I was to meet a person I had never met before. His name was Dave. A close friend had suggested I meet Dave as he thought we would get on and after all it never hurts to know people in a foreign city. As I walked to the front door of the bar in which he worked, my white-board simply read “Dave? Tall Lanky guy?” (that was the description I had been given).

“The man with the white-board!” replied the doorman. I had found my man. A beer quickly found its way into my hand and over the next few hours my silence was tested under a new influence, that of inebriation.

I write to you at the end of Day 4 saying that I still have not uttered a word, and am confident leading into Day 5.

To be continued…

Day 5…

After a late night in a crowded bar, I decided today to slow things down with a relaxing visit to the famous Guggenheim Museum. Surely here I would find an environment where my silence would go unnoticed.

I walked in holding my whiteboard whilst sporting my 100Things black t-shirt. I didn’t think I looked particularly formal but I must have as one member of staff, presuming that I worked there, grabbed me and ushered me though the entry point before I had a chance to pay the entry fee. Confused, I kept on walking with a grin on my face, not only had I got in for free but I had avoided a huge queue! Moments later, a huge hand tapped me on the shoulder. It was a security guard,
“Do you work here, sir?”
Without the luxury of speech, I took a deep breath and nervously pointed to ‘Yes’. Without actually speaking I convinced myself this was not technically a lie. A long glare from the security guard was followed by a “Carry on then, sir”.
The Guggenheim is a unique gallery in that as opposed to having large viewing rooms sitting side by side on one floor, it instead boasts a long spiral incline which winds up 5 or 6 levels within one large building. It was clear then that I now had a challenge; I had reach the top level before it became clear to the security team that I was a fraud, who would then ask me to leave.
The spiraling walkway took me past Picasso, Monet and Dali masterpieces which even at a brisk walking pace looked magnificent if not a little blurred. I did manage to take a quick picture before fleeing the scene under threat of an advancing security guard from behind. The picture so breath-taking in fact that I was left, well speechless.
Thirty minutes later I had reached the summit of this magnificent building and soon after left the Guggenheim unscathed.

The white board is no doubt crucial to me in getting through these days of silence, I’m able to convey simple messages without too much trouble. Perfecting my blurb on what I am doing and how I am raising money for charity, another lovely lady donated $60 today in the middle of a hotel reception. If you are reading this (I didn’t catch your name sorry!), thank you! With online donations combined, we have raised $186 for this week of silence!

Thanks to everyone.

Day 5 complete, I can sniff the finish line (10.04 am, Tuesday)

In the name of excitement, it’s been decided that tomorrow we will introduce a new 24-hour rule, I will not be allowed to write anything down. This of course rules out my closest friend, the whiteboard.

Wish me luck!

Day 6…

All by myself…

Without the ability to write, today was always going to be hard.

Without any way of communicating with people, you really feel alone. In a book store, instead of asking (or writing) where a certain book was, I literally had to search for 45 minutes. You are essentially by yourself and need need to be on top of everything. If you feel brave, why not test yourself today by trying to order food from a cafe without speaking or writing. It is actua;;y quite embarrassing! Getting someone’s attention is a whole different kettle of fish again and often ends up with you having to run a huge arc so that you end up in front of the person. Tiring work.

A morning run clears the head!

Thanks to Jack (my room mate) for coming to Lunch with me today. Although the conversation was fairly one-sided, at least we laughed when I had to pour salt on the table and shape it into letters to relay a drinks order to the waitress (who no doubt will not forget this ridiculous scene). The orange juice was lovely in case you were wondering.

Waiting to meet a friend in Union Square this afternoon, I had 20 minutes to kill so decided to approach a small Asian man seated at a fold-up table. On the table lay a rustic chess board already set-up to play. For $5 a go, the man accepts challenges. This I thought would be the perfect way to spend the next 20 minutes; a battle of the silent minds vying for intellectual dominance. Two and a half minutes later I had lost the majority of my pieces in a gruesomely one-sided battle which ended up in check-mate before I knew it. I reluctantly handed over $5 and walked to a near-by lamp-post where for the remaining seventeen and half minutes, I waited for my friend in defeat.

1 full day left in silence….

Day 7…

We did it!

Well, technically we have to wait until 10.04am tomorrow morning, but you get the point!

Today without doubt was the hardest day. Until now every day has been different and exciting, whether it be learning Salsa, attending a comedy show or simply working, but today just seemed normal! Add to the mix the fact that my last marker pen also ran out of ink (meaning yet again that I was without a white-board) and things took their toll!

Highlights today:

- As a mute, there is only one thing more frustrating that being in taxi whilst having to direct the driver, and that is being in a taxi with a speaking friend who also doesn’t know where to go.

- Phone calls from friends on the other side of the world have increased dramatically this week. Sadly though, they are not calls offering support but are instead cunning ploys to get me to say something. Who needs enemies when you have friends like mine!

- One friend even took to bribing me today in order to break my silence. His offer of $20 simply to name a certain part of the male anatomy was generous, but I declined.

- Skype sessions with my family are refreshingly different. I feel like one of those toy-dogs that sit on the dashboard of some cars, just nodding away.

- Can I also add a huge apology to Hayley. Now Hayley and I went to school together in Sydney years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in probably 2 years, until today, so you can imagine the excitement this afternoon when we coincidentally bumped into each other on the always busy 14th Street. Given my silence, you can probably also imagine the confusion on Hayley’s face when I wrote that I could not talk to her (didn’t I feel stupid!). So Hayley, I hope you manage to read this as I would have loved to catch up properly!
And just to answer your first question, albeit slightly delayed, no, the silence is not in any way related to Yoga (I can’t even touch my toes)!

The excitement to talk again is growing with every minute that passes now, and I still have no idea what i’ll say first (this seems to be a common question I get a the moment). Perhaps this experience has taught me that speech is a powerful tool that is often over-used, I mean I made it a week without using it once, but then again perhaps my pent up thoughts and feelings will explode in a magnificent spray of undecipherable noise at 10.04am? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I’ll be filming it and will post it tomorrow!

Sweet dreams!

NUMBER 29- 1 WEEK OF SILENCE…. COMPLETE!!

I think there is something to be for being silent. Sure it was a funny and interesting experiment and one that i’ll never forget, but in many ways i think I think I learnt a few things.

Through the seven days, I was helped, nurtured and encouraged by not only friends, but also complete strangers. The lady who took my hand and walked me through a subway, the three people who donated to charity on the street, the man at the Deli who gave me extra portions of food, and even the man who let me in for free at the art gallery, all in some way showed me that even without a voice, the power of community and compassion will get you through. It left me with a very positive feeling.
On the other hand, I also saw people snub me, avoid me on the street and subway, and even become angry when I could not respond. This lack of understanding is something that confused me at the time but I suppose that some people are simply not willing to accept things out of the norm.

In silence, my mind at first raced at a million miles an hour. My inner monologue became frantic and constant. However, after a few days of this, this intense mental concentration slowed down to a point where finally I noticed clarity. I found that in silence, I could process things easier and become more aware of my surrounds. Somehow after the initial awkwardness of not being able to communicate freely, I became ridiculously more receptive. I found that I could hold peoples attention more so in silence that I could with words. In response, people opened up to me more and often I found that the words I wrote down on my white board were words of support and counseling. My body language naturally became more animated and I realised I could produce a smile on the face of a friend not through words, but through actions and gestures.

Coincidentally, a few days prior to starting my 1 weeks vow of silence, I met a Jehovah’s Witness who was practicing 10 days of silence. I told him of my plans to attempt 7 days of silence and so he wrote me a letter as a gift. Half way through my week of silence I sat down and read the poem but it made no real sense to me. Only now after having completed 7 days can I understand at least some of what it says (certainly not all!). Having said this, there are parts, as you’ll see, which not only confuse me but scare me!

“Greeting Sebastian,

Grace and peace be upon you in your travel.

Everything becomes harder in silence. Lines for food, startling moments and even the desire to talk to yourself.

The world is cast into confusion by the speakings. They are made dark from it. Spiritually, the speaking is wine and people partake this, even to darkness.
But the authority to restore order is in the pen. Here we see the bread according to spirit. This makes man sober. In your silence you’ll be forced to this at times to communicate.

But in all conversations, the bread (writing) and the wine (speaking) is our meal by which our spirits are nurished. to escape death is to master the art of eating righteously at this invisible table. As the age of death nears, all shall live as they ate.”

I wasn’t to keen on that last part, but certainly I can see how speaking although crucial to communication, can at times be overused, and in fact used as a means of hiding.

A week i’ll never forget.

100Things… What’s on your list?

Share this!

Blog Archive
What's On Your List
Camp Quality
Donate