Silencing the Noise to Hear My Own Voice

What I learned about writing — and myself — after spending a summer alone in the woods

Emily J. Smith
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readDec 19, 2018

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Photo: jesadaphorn/Getty Images

HeHe made us lie on the couch in the small, dark apartment. This wasn’t just his favorite album; the work — from start to end — had changed him on a fundamental level. He wanted me to not just hear it, but experience it. My back against his stomach, his arms wrapped tightly around my too-small body. He suggested I close my eyes. His lack of embarrassment was astonishing, intoxicating. Several times I was on the verge of falling off the couch, but it didn’t matter. I had never believed in anything as much as he believed in this album. There was no world in which whatever came out of those speakers wouldn’t change me, too. I was already changed.

It was the Bonnie Prince Billy album, I See A Darkness — a cult classic for many, but especially for a certain type of secretly-sad-but-getting-by man now in his late thirties. These days, I’ve forgotten most of the album — but the third song, the title track, haunts me still. A staggeringly slow tune, with a heartbreaking crescendo; it will cut through anyone with a pulse. The lyrics mirror the notes, teetering between hope and sadness. The verses are pure poetry but it’s the chorus that stings. “Oh no, I see a darkness,” Will Oldham sings four times before closing out…

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Emily J. Smith
Human Parts

Writer and tech professional. My debut novel, NOTHING SERIOUS, is out Feb '25 from William Morrow / HarperCollins (more at emjsmith.com).