Every year on New Year’s Eve/Day the SciFi channel (now technically called SyFy for a reason I still don’t understand) shows a Twilight Zone marathon. When I was a young girl, I used to be obsessed with watching them all until I decided one day I probably had in fact seen them all. Still, my family and I catch a few episodes on New Year’s because it feels like tradition.
One of the episodes we watched together this year is a classic called, “The Silence,” where a supposedly rich man bets a rather talkative young man that he can’t remain silent for a whole year. As part of the bet, the young man lives in a glass room for that year, complete with microphones and someone monitoring him at all times in case he speaks. He’s allowed visitors and he can communicate through writing.
The amount of the bet was $500,000, which was a pretty big deal in the ’60s and my brother suggested that would be like 2 million dollars today, which made him proclaim that he would take the bet, which made my dad laugh and insist that he would fail because no human could do it, which igniting my competitive side and made me shout, “I could totally do it!”
Maybe it’s because I’m poor or because with school about to start again, I’d really like some more isolated time to write, but I found myself thinking seriously that I would, actually, totally do it. Imagine all the writing I could get done. And for the most part, no one would bother me. And if I consider that I’d get a free place to stay with furniture and everything for a year (and let’s also assume that I get food thrown in there too), well this is actually starting to sound like a pretty good deal. I would do it for less than my brother’s proposed 2 million. Even the original $500,000 seems like a lot to me. If I could get my betting guy to throw in internet and access to books, well I’d probably still do it for, say, $100,000. Maybe even $50,000.
But there was my father on my right, insisting that nobody could do it. (Spoiler alert – the man in the episode wins the bet because it turns out he had surgery severing his vocal chords before officially starting the bet.) But my dad thought living in a tiny room for a year would drive anyone crazy, not just the not talking part. But isolation didn’t really scare, especially if I could have visitors. I could even get a plant to take care of so I could still feel connected to nature.
But none of these theoretical conditions really mattered if I couldn’t be silent. But surely being silent was the easy part, right? I love silence. I love characters who are silent. Like Paul Dano’s character in Little Miss Sunshine. And religious people take vows of silence all the time.
I spent all of my alone time the next day trying not to speak. I got some writing done. I made myself a sandwich. I was golden for about an hour until it started to go down hill. I read a poem by Kathy Fagan and found myself making that stereotypical poet groan of appreciation and envy. While I was debating whether or not that counted as talking, my cat jumped in my lap and I instinctively started making playful gibberish cat noises. I also realized later that day that I react vocally to a great deal of what I watch and read (and not just poetry). I yell things at the TV like, “What???,” “Nooo!,” and “Bitch!” I subconsciously make noises (such as, literally, “la la la”) when performing simple tasks like washing dishes. I laugh a lot when I’m by myself, sometimes even in response to things that just happen in my head. And, admittedly, I cry about once a week, and sometimes there’s noise involved with that too.
Ok, so maybe I would fail the bet. But maybe my competitive nature and self awareness would kick into overdrive and I’d still make it. Maybe? I don’t know, but for $25,000 plus room and board and internet and food, I would certainly be willing to try.