20110619

Megsy #15- Silence for 1 Week

For anyone who knows me, this bucket list item seemed the most absurd. And impossible. I want to say that I chose to do ‘Silence for 1 Week’ based on a spirituality quest but my motives were different.  I’ve always been pretty talkative. As a teenager, it was not unheard of me tying up the phone for hours at a time. Sometimes even now. But it was the Chinese character for the verb ‘To Listen’ that inspired me to do be Silent for 1 Week. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason…


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, as is crying (silent tears are ok)
4- Written communication is fine (pen and note-book/whiteboard crucial)
5- If any of the above rules are broken, the 7-Day time period immediately resets
6- And to really test me, a daily task is to be incorporated into this challenge.

So rather than a secluded retreat with likeminded people, I chose to do this in one of the busiest cities on earth; London.

Day 1 (Monday)

A day of running errands and a movie premiere

I had told my friends and colleagues what I was planning on doing a few days ahead of starting but their reactions were not quite as entertaining of that of strangers. Reluctance to sit next to me on the Tube, sideway glances, poking friends in the ribs, whispering or bursting out laughing, walking around London with duct tape on my mouth certainly drew attention. But in those initial hours as I was trying to go about my business, I felt ‘apart from’ everyone else. Like Sebastian said of his experience, I felt as though I was living in some kind of bubble. Noise existed outside of it. My mind though was a speedily spun web of thoughts. And before too long, my inner dialogue resembled that of JD from Scrubs; making silent comments on the people and things around me.

So Monday was a busy day full of errands. After filming my speech I went and had some more 100Things shirts made at a print shop in SoHo, I bought some dvds from a store in Oxford St and purchased a digital camera from my photographer friend Adam of Jessops, Westfield London. I also went to an Orange store and had the guys activate the ‘Check-in’ feature on Facebook on my phone to help with this task. In all of these situations I would have felt talking was essential but I was pleased that everyone, after jokingly trying to get me to talk to test my commitment, helped me along. What I found really interesting was that people initially communicated with me in silence, or whispered, or with raised voice in a slow-and-drawn-out-way. Once I reminded them via my whiteboard that they could speak, things flowed pretty naturally. 

 

I noticed that being silent I didn’t mind waiting to be served. Experiences that were typically brief with speech were now ‘proper’ exchanges.

As you know, I want to help raise funds for Camp Quality via a celebrity auction and so with dvds and markers in hand I headed to Westfield London for the movie premiere Larry Crowne with Academy Award winner, Tom Hanks. I managed to ‘sweet talk’ security into letting me set up in a restricted zone and befriended Grace, a kiwi new to London, who stood next to me who agreed to take photos. With duct tape still over my mouth, I ‘chatted’ via my whiteboard to The Only Way Is Essex’s James Arg Argent, ex Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair and ‘The Hoff’ himself, David Hasselhoff. Tom Hanks read my whiteboard, signed a dvd copy of ‘Big’ and wished me luck with my Item 15 – Silence for 1 Week, laughing when he learned that it was only Day 1. I desperately wanted to tell him how he helped inspired me to fulfill a long held desire to dance on that piano in NYC toy store FAO Schwartz but all I could manage was a thumbs up and pointing to my shirt, the dvd and him.




I headed home on the Tube with a grin, the outline of which was noticeable under the tape, from ear to ear. Day 1 was a success!

Day 2 (Tuesday)

Travel to Italy

I live in a fairly touristy part of London but it was still a challenge to hail a cab at 3:30am. I managed though and I arrived at Victoria Station soon afterwards. I bought a ticket for the Gatwick Express but accidentally caught the wrong train to the airport as the station guard misunderstood my mime for ‘Where is the platform I need?’As I already had my boarding pass, I was able to get through the airport without issue. I didn’t wear tape at this point, instead I silently mouthed to security that I was unable to speak and waved my hand in front of my throat. To save their awkwardness I was ushered through quickly and without fuss. I replaced the tape once on the plane which was enough for all on board to avoid all effort to communicate with me.

I wanted to challenge myself on this Item by travelling to another country- one which English is not the primary language. Would I be able to talk with my hands? Do Italians? Plus I wanted to do a mini ‘Eat/Pray/Love’ trip. So just after 10am, I touched down in Milan.

I headed straight to the hostel, ironically called Scream House. As luck would have it some guests were heading out as I arrived and so I didn’t need to use the intercom at the gate. The staff thought I was taking a religious vow of silence at first but soon played along once I ‘explained’ myself in a mixture of written English, French, Italian, Charades and Cartoon.

I was able to buy a Metro ticket via a machine but ‘asking’ for directions was more complicated. I took my whiteboard with me on the Metro, with words and basic phrases in Italian. But rather than being an aid, the whiteboard was hindrance. I became a magnet for disapproval and even disrespect. People assumed I was a beggar and treated me with disdain. I empathized with those who rely on the generosity of strangers to survive – it’s not easy when you are dismissed constantly. I could have worn duct tape but my face was tingling from wearing it the day before so I chose to go without. I ditched my whiteboard. I used the sign language sign for Thank You and mouthed the word Grazie. People smiled at me as I signed. I heard the word ‘muto’. People were much kinder. Sympathetic. Generous.

I went into the city centre and looked around Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where I indulged in some gelato (EAT) and visited Il Duomo (PRAY). I truly savored my sorbet, not being able to articulate only seemed to intensify the flavours through thought. I stood in awe at the cathedral adorned in art. I wandered the streets aimlessly, absorbing the sights and the sounds of the city. It was here that I became aware of my mind slowing. It became ‘clearer’. It was like I was in a constant state of meditation. Maintaining silence somehow seemed easier now, not more difficult.

I decided to send a postcard. Something as mundane as going to the post office was now enjoyable. I was able to learn Italian numbers within a matter of minutes as they called out ticket numbers and the clerk told me in broken English that being unable to talk I was the perfect wife! I was approached by two men in Milan, one a tourist who wanted to take me for a coffee and talk to me about 100 Things (I declined in favour of sight seeing), the other determined to frighten me by threatening an attack. I was even more determined not to break my silence but knew I could if needed. I hadn’t thought of the possible dangers before or how they impact upon the unique needs of hearing impaired and vocally challenged people. Thankfully I was in a busy area and so the risk was minimized.

To end my day in Milan, I went to a restaurant for dinner. Sans whiteboard, staff assumed I was a deaf tourist. They sent over their most fluent waitress but she was at a loss when I tried to mime ‘Can you please come back in 5 minutes?’ while I was deciding what to order. I decided it was best to point to the cocktail menu rather than mime a drink with sexual connotations. Not being understood is both funny and frustrating. People are generally patient and well intentioned but what would ordinarily be a social event (there was a great atmosphere at the restaurant) felt pretty isolating and lonely with no interaction other than having my order taken. I spent the time watching others from the corner of the restaurant. Great food though!

 

Day 3 (Wednesday)

Verona

In the morning I awoke to find a different staff member at the front desk of Scream House. Georgiana had been warned about me but she still seemed confused by my silence. We ended up having a deep ‘conversation’ about her life, a hard one that I can barely fathom and cannot go into detail. However, she told me that she is gaining on her goal of freedom. When ‘asked’ what she will do once this happens she said she had never thought about it before but because of learning of 100 Things.com.au, she will try to devise her own bucket list to aspire to.


Before lunch I purchased train tickets to Verona. I wore tape, mainly to see the difference in people’s reactions from my day in Milan. I think people thought I was some kind of political protester and so I removed it once I arrived in Verona’s main square. Besides, not wearing tape was challenging in itself as it took more concentration not to make a sound.
 

I came to Verona to see the balcony belonging to Juliet Capulet (LOVE). The forecourt was awash with tourists but I approached a guard to take my photo while I was doing my best silent plea for Romeo to find me.  Lots of finger pointing to myself, the balcony, him, the zoom, the button to press etc. I took time to read the graffiti left by lovers which was found on every writable surface! Saying the name of the person you love to the statue of Juliet is meant to be good luck so I guess I will stay single for a while yet! Verona is achingly beautiful and should come with a warning! I wanted to gasp at the architecture a few times but managed to keep it in.


I returned to Milan late that evening and had a late night pizza from the restaurant over the road from my hostel. They were extremely friendly there, shaping my pizza into an oversized heart.  Jil my Moroccan waiter spoke to me in a blend of English, French and Italian throughout the evening. The place was buzzing with a gathering of families and children running about, some of which would smile and stare at the foreigner who was speaking with her hands. I was invited back for Thursday but I was leaving for London in the morning.


Day 4 (Thursday)

Comedy

I overslept and had to hurry to get to the airport to make my flight. Without being able to ask for directions for where to catch the express transfer bus, this was beyond difficult. Armed only with a tourist information brochure and lots of frantic waving and flapping, most locals gave me a wide berth. One woman sensed my distress and walked me to the bus stop. I managed to arrive at the airport with minutes to spare and again passed through all security checks without uttering a sound by signing and miming.


Rebecca of the EasyJet crew took note of my ‘lip speak’ as I boarded the plane and came to check up on me. When I ‘told’ her about 100 Things.com.au via my whiteboard, she organized a photo with the flight attendants and the pilots in the cockpit!
   
 
UK Customs usually ask me a stack of questions re my visa/work situation but didn’t ask one, other than where had I travelled from. Another silent gesture that I couldn’t speak and I was through.

I put the duct tape back on and on the walk home from the Tube, I passed a café shop. One customer , Bill from Oregon, stopped me to find out more about my Item 15 – Silence for 1 Week attempt and insisted I stay for a ‘chat’. We spent 90 minutes shooting the breeze.


Afterwards I headed into Southbank for the Udderbelly Comedy Festival where I watched Aussie comedian, Will Anderson perform. Poor guy. I sat front row, dead centre, 1 1/2 metres from the mike in a room of 300+ people. He absolutely nailed his set and I came the closest yet to losing this challenge. I had to try and preempt the punchlines to myself to stop from laughing as well as pressing my tongue up against the back of my top teeth as hard as possible. The good sport that he is, he agreed to pose for a pic to verify I didn’t lol.

 
I missed the last Tube and so caught a night bus and walked home. I did not expect to be asked to give directions to a drunken lost tourist at 2:30am and so I literally dragged him by the sleeve to the 24 hour convenience shop for them to help.

Half way to completing Item 15 – Silence for 1 Week!

Day 5 (Friday)

Scary Bears!
I started the day at the Blood Donor Centre just off Oxford St. I had made an online appointment to donate blood and filled in the questionnaire at the centre. Staff were very supportive however there was a problem with one of my answers. I was unable to donate blood because of an outbreak of West Nile virus in NE Italy. Anyone who had visited Verona in the past 28 days was excluded from donating. As much as I wanted to help, and as little as the chance of me being exposed to this flu, it was too risky to proceed. If I had the flu virus, it could prove fatal for a person requiring a transfusion. This was disappointing but a necessary task fail.
 

Not to be put off, I went and did something equally as scary. I bought train tickets and travelled to Thorpe Park – an adventure theme park – to ride a rollercoaster in silence! Kirsty and the Thorpe Park staff suggested SAW-The Ride, the world’s largest freefall rollercoaster, where I could be filmed for the duration. My heart was in my throat and my stomach not far behind. I deliberately skipped eating up until this point, just in case. I sat in the front row, tape over mouth, next to a couple who were screaming the moment we began to move! I had my eyes closed for part of the ride but braved it to open them too. Again, my tongue was pressed firmly up against the back of my top teeth and I counted slowly in increments of 10. I pressed my lips together for the freefall but managed to stay silent for the whole ride! I was aware that the woman next to me was screaming but strangely it felt miles away as I was in my own mind over matter mantra. I expected this to be the most impossible of the challenges yet, for fear of an involuntary noise but I’m seen punching the air in triumph on the dvd at the end of the ride having done it in silence. I was brimming with pride and wrote on my board ‘I rode SAW The Ride in SILENCE. Can you?’ holding it for all to see. Honestly, if I can do it, so can you!


I had wanted to mime a karaoke song that night but I was not feeling well by the evening and so passed on it. Maybe another time…


Day 6 (Saturday)

Protest

I hailed another taxi with my whiteboard to take me to Picadilly for a protest. Slutwalk was a demonstration, originally starting in Toronto Canada, to protest comments made by a police officer who ‘advised’ a group of women to avoid being raped they should not dress like sluts. The protest highlighted society and media’s blame on rape victims for what they are wearing rather than blaming the rapists for their crimes. This event attracted approximately 4000 participants and thousands more lining the streets to Trafalgar Square where a rally, with many shocking statistics was revealed.  For instance, in the UK an estimated 95% of rapes go unreported. Those that are, only 6.5% of rapists are ever convicted. Add to this UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is proposing cutting prison time for rapists who plead guilty. And as most people would already know, women are raped wearing all manner of clothes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DE0UlaMmwM
I cried today as I listened to speakers brave enough to share their experiences. My tears were silent but the emotion was very real. I was completely drained by the end of it and went home and slept solidly.

Nobody asks to be raped by its very definition. It’s time to blame the rapists and not the victims.


Day 7 (Sunday)

Ouch!

During this week I have wondered under what circumstances I would most likely make a sound. I’ve done things that have embarrassed, excited and frightened me. What about physical pain? Would I be able to control an involuntary sound? Therefore on Day 7 I decided to go and get waxed. I needed one of my flatmates to ring on my behalf to make the appointment, which was embarrassing for all concerned.

The women at West One Beauty laughed when I came in to the salon with tape on my mouth, not overly confident I could keep quiet. I’ve been waxed before and so I know what to expect; I expected pain! The receptionist read through treatment options and waited for me to nod in agreement to confirm what I wanted done before we got underway. The beautician left me to get ready before returning, knocking on the door to ask if I was ready. All I could do was nod. In the end I had to open the door for her as she was still waiting outside at the lack of an audible response. But usually during a treatment there is chat, peppered with wincing and laughter. I could hear the women in the room next to me chat, wince and laugh and wondered whether they had noticed the absence of same coming from the room I was in?

I wanted to be photographed and filmed in this task to prove that I didn’t cheat and so I quickly ‘explained’ this on my whiteboard. I removed my duct tape to reveal my closed mouth. The beautician just smiled and other than giving me directions on how to lie, she remained silent for the treatment also. I focused on the temperature of the wax, the placement of strips and the initial peeling. I would clench my jaw and bite down on my teeth as she ripped the wax off, the distinct sound of which seemed 100 times louder than normal. Yes, parts of it were painful and my eyes did water but being filmed was such a strong motivator to remain silent. Internally though I was saying Steve Carell’s lines from his 40 Year Old Virgin waxing scene to keep me smiling. Before too long it was over and I emerged to the congratulations of salon staff.


That night my other flatmate had returned from her holidays abroad. When I saw her she asked how I was but before I could answer she interjected with ‘Don’t talk!’ In that moment, I came the closest to undoing my silence as slipping into familiar situations almost overrided nearly a week of hard work. I reached for the duct tape and applied two strips instead of one, to remind me not to talk, as wearing one was beginning to feel ‘typical’. We smiled at how something so average compared with the tasks I had achieved came so close to bringing me unstuck before I headed to bed to avoid temptation to talk.

Just one more day remained but it was going to be tricky. It would be me doing something I always have done and therefore would be another familiar routine…teach!


Day 8 (Monday)

Teach

I had been on holidays for the majority of Item 15 – Silence for 1 Week but I felt like a fraud if for at least one day I didn’t work. So on the final day I taught my class of 20 seven year olds.

The morning commute was interesting, as is my experience eccentrics usually travel by Tube late at night between Thursday-Sunday. People were embarrassed on my behalf but by this point all shame had long since up and left so I happily wrote about 100 Things.com.au and my week of silent tasks to a carriage full of curious folk.

I had organized a day of silent teaching with my school and students’ parents in advance. The students were aware that I would be silent but many of them had forgotten over the holidays. They were genuinely excited and in full support when they saw me with duct tape over my mouth, as we regularly talk about going after our personal goals. Marking the register was fairly straight forward as calling names was replaced with a direct stare from me. Going through the day’s agenda is also part of our routine and so the children were familiar with this as well. Everything took much longer than I had anticipated and so two lessons were not taught. I set an online stopwatch timer on the interactive whiteboard to count down the remaining time and we referred to it throughout the day. We began our day by playing a game requiring movement to communicate what we had done during the holidays. I shared photos with the students of the tasks completed so far and one of them announced to the class that they should not ‘ruin’ my week by making me talk because ‘that would be mean and she would have to go and do all those things again and that would cost too much money.’ I typed out instructions for tasks and demonstrated lessons in a ‘hands-on’ way (Handwriting, Comprehension and Maths -fractions ½ and ¼). But I have to give a huge thanks to Angela, my teaching assistant, for acting as an interpreter, reminding the children to read my non verbal communication cues. My other colleagues seemed bemused that I was going through with a day of silent teaching. At lunch time I purchased my lunch from the supermarket before returning to school. Gaining access to the building proved difficult as persistent tapping on the intercom finally drew the attention of the office staff that eventually came to the door to let me in. I listened to half the class read before counting down the final few minutes. The children were excited by what my first words were going to be and had been asking me every half hour or so did I know what I would utter first.
This term we have been learning about Leonardo da Vinci for our Topic. On more than one occasion I have come close to saying Leonardo di Caprio by mistake and so I had long since made a promise to my students that if I had said his name instead, that I, as per their suggestion,  would run the length of the classroom like a chicken. Well, as a means to thank them for helping me reach my goal, at 3pm I did just that! The remaining 20 minutes of our school day was spent answering their questions about my challenges, observations and what I had enjoyed the most.
 

In the first 24 hours after the challenge I was aware that I was talking with my hands even though I could speak. I was on automatic pilot and couldn’t stop! I was surprised that my voice sounded slightly different and my throat was sore. I had a minor rash from the duct tape too. Finally thanks needs to go to all the people who donated to Camp Quality for this challenge. You helped me raise £72.32 for CQ.  But I’ve done it! The sense of achievement is massive! Item 15 – Silence for 1 Week (6/6/11-13/6/11) is complete!

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