A friend of my brother’s just started an interesting new blog, Little Hunches, with his musings on books, podcasts, and various other cultural phenomena, and the way they cast shadow and light on the stretches of life between his encounters with them. He has a light touch–a playful and casual way with words–and the keen observationist tendencies of an ornithologist. One of his recent posts was about the pauses, spaces, gaps, silences in art. There is much to say about this and a lot of it brought to mind the volume of Rebecca Solnit essays I just finished (and P.S. — I shared some thoughts on her comments on dreams as a space where nothing is ever lost but the dreamer), about the experience of being lost, about liminal spaces, about the smudge of blue depicted at the horizon line of so many landscape paintings, representing “the great beyond.”
But mainly it called to mind my father, a man who has perfected the art of silence. Though he has a remarkable way with words (see his note to my daughter on the day she was born), he has always used silence to great effect. Mr. Magpie often tells the story that, during one of his first encounters with him, my father reportedly said: “You know, silence is one of the most powerful tools in negotiation.” And then calmly settled into a stretch of silence, studying Mr. Magpie from across the coffee table with an impenetrable stare. (And man oh man does my dad have a killer stare. You do not want to be on the receiving end of that stare. It cuts right to your core.) This was early in our days of courtship, and — though I continue to find it shocking that my kindly father would ever “kick the tires” so forcefully — Mr. Magpie squirmed and laughed anxiously and filled the gap with nervous chatter, effectively proving my father’s point. People are uncomfortable with silence. They begin to negotiate with themselves, offering new information or lowering rates or flailing towards other extremes of self-admission.
And then there was the time when my father had just finished outfitting his home study after employing the services of an interior designer, his wall-to-wall bookshelves stocked with impressive historical tomes and old leather-bound Cambridge Classics, and his windows flanked by draperies with a masculine duck decoy print, and the centerpiece of the entire effort was a massive leather-topped antique desk. This was all a Big Deal because my father is not normally nearly as effusive or interested in interior design, and he was Very Proud of said home office and especially of its crown jewel, the obscenely expensive desk my mother had (I believe) procured from the Christ Child Opportunity Shop in Georgetown, a high-end consignment shop donating proceeds to those in need, and where she and my grandmother routinely volunteered.
My younger sister and I were three and five, respectively, at the time, and we had been playing on the floor of his new office when my naughty little eyes caught sight of a stack of those adhesive, fuzzy furniture pads you apply to the feet of chairs and desks to protect hard-wood flooring. I can’t exactly divine the logic or recall the precise sequence of events that followed, but suffice to say that my mother found us sitting on top of his leather-topped desk, applying these little stickers in a chaotic pattern across its supple surface, absolutely destroying my father’s precious antiquity.
I knew instantly that I was In For It. My mother banished us to our rooms for the afternoon, and I lay there, staring up at the canopy of my childhood bed, sobbing in misery and anxiety over what form of punishment lay ahead of me. Would it be a bar of soap in my mouth? A spank? No movies for a week? A canceled birthday party? I wailed and wailed, hiccuping and wiping my eyes in the window as I watched my father’s maroon Cadillac (this was the late 80s, people) steer up the drive after a long day of work. My father always loved when we would run out to the car to greet him, but this day involved no such gaiety. I stared down at the front drive, watched him crossing the asphalt towards the kitchen door. I futilely strained to hear my parents’ conversation, and then waited in agony for his feet on the stairs.
They did not come.
I waited and waited and eventually my tears subsided and I distracted myself with books, pausing every so often to muse over what was happening.
After what felt like an eternity, my mother came to my room and let me know that my father was so angry that he didn’t want to speak to me. I sobbed anew: this was the worst punishment I could have ever imagined — my father so upset with me, he would exercise silence for a full day. And I would writhe in misery, worrying about our first encounter. Would he be angry? For how long?
I can’t remember what words were exchanged when we finally spoke, but I’ll never forget the incident, because it taught me — at a very young age — just how powerful silence can be.
But silence is not always a tool for punishment or negotiation at his hands — it has also been a kindness. I particularly recall the many hours my father sat a few feet from me earlier this year while I recovered from minimagpie’s c-section, occasionally offering commentary on the reading material perennially in his hands, but more often than not, offering quiet companionship, his gentle presence reassuring me. And there were those moments on the way to my wedding, in the black Town Car, the cold air conditioning blasting on us, when we sat beside each other wordlessly. My nerves were all over the place, and he knew that it was best to just coast. And he was right. And there have been road trips to Charlottesville and evenings on his beautiful front porch in N.W. D.C. and hikes in Aspen, where we walked together or sat together or drove together in peaceful quietude: nothing needed to be said as we took in the scenery and enjoyed one another’s company. And maybe it’s because we’re both introverts, or because my mother engrained in me a deep appreciation for quiet time (from 1-3 PM every day, we had “quiet time” in our childhood home: we could nap, we could read, we could color, but it was not time to play or chat), but there has been something reverent and special about the many moments of silence we’ve shared. It’s been said that the true test of friendship is when you feel just as comfortable sitting together in silence as you do in conversation. If it’s an accurate test, my Dad and I pass with flying colors.
Cheers to my Dad, today, for yet another life lesson. (So many more of them mentioned here.)
I thought it fitting to conclude this tribute by sharing my top picks for THE shoe of the moment, a perfect transitional showstopper to tide you over from late summer to early fall: the mule. I find it appropriate because my father hilariously refers to every shoe he dislikes as “a clog” — i.e., “she looked nice, but her shoes were really ugly — they were clogs” — and a clog is a type of mule and I’m sure he’ll find all of the shoes below equally appalling.
I, however, do not.
Pick No. 1: The Row’s Coco Suede Mule
The Row’s Coco mule ($795) is a serious IT shoe, and they’re selling like hot cakes (?). I know I’ve showcased these in the past, but I think they’d be the perfect pair for a Parisian chic pea, or wannabe. The great news, though, is that Nordstrom carries a phenomenal lookalike for $109.
Pick No. 2: The Gucci Princetown Mule
I’m excited to dig out my Gucci Princetowns ($650) for a second season in a row (P.S. — they were SUCH a great maternity shoe! No laces!!), and I kinda covet the fur-trimmed ones, too. But, if Guccis aren’t in Le Budget, these pink suede beauties are a great substitute ($128), and I also kinda dig these tweed ones from J. Crew ($128) or these patterned scarf-print ones ($129) — #librarianchic.
Pick No. 3: The Aquazzura Pom Mule
Pick No. 4: The No. 21 Satin Mule
I continue to die over these No. 21 mules ($655 — or $735 for the palm print ones) in all their loud, slightly garish, and uber-trendy glory. What a great way to take a simple all white look to new heights. And P.S. — Intermix has a great heeled pair of No. 21 mules on sale for $389, plus an extra 40% off!!!
If the price is a little steep for something so flashy and destined-for-fashion-regret-territory, consider these $160 Sam Edelman lookalikes instead:
Pick No. 5: The Embroidered Aquazzura Mule
P.S. — Not a mule, but how amazing are these Del Toro loafers, each with a feminist message on the toe?