Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silence is the new conflict

This guy is an environmentalist named John Francis. In 1971, he witnessed an oil spill in the San Francisco bay, and he swore off motorized transportation for 22 years. But--more amazing to me--in 1973, he decided to be silent. FOR 17 YEARS, with the exception of 1 phone call to his mom after 10 years. No writing, even. He taught himself Indian Sign Language, then realized nobody spoke it, then just used gestures and touch and pantomime. 17 YEARS, FRIENDS. I couldn't do it for 17 days , even though I desperately want to right now. But teachers/writers don't get very far without communicating. And--get this--the guy completed 3 college degrees (including a Ph.D.), all in silence.

John Francis matters to me right now because of two things: 1) I need a conflict for my next novel, and I can see a teenage boy refusing to speak for long periods of time; and 2) he was a black man who carried a banjo (see above), and this intrigues me. Of all things--a banjo. Francis said that if he *didn't* carry his banjo, then he was a tall threatening black man. If he *did* carry his banjo and play it, then he was a friendly guy with a banjo, not a tall threatening black man. I admire his ability to hide and/or change stereotypes with a goofy instrument, though it sucks he had to think that way in the first place.

John Francis claims he set out to show one person can make a difference. His Planetwalker organization continues to work for environmental change and goodness, which is fantastic, plus he made a difference to me--he gave me a conflict for my character (at least an initial one, though we know how revision changes things, grr). I'm going to study this dude some more.

Tell me, friends: could *you* be silent for 17 years?


  1. Great character conflict. 17 years - I can't believe that!! Guess that would really put a damper on your dating prospects. :)

  2. I think he got married in that time, too! I know he has a wife and kids, anyway.