18 09 20

His­to­ry is full of people who just didn’t. They said no thank you, tur­ned away, ran away to the desert, stood on the streets in rags, lived in bar­rels, bur­ned down their own houses, wal­ked bare­foot through town, killed their rapists, pushed away din­ner, medi­ta­ted into the light. Even babies refuse, and the elder­ly, too. All types of ani­mals refuse : at the zoo they gaze dead-eyed through plexi­glass, fling feces at the human faces, stop having babies. Classes refuse. The poor throw their lives onto bar­ri­cades. Wor­kers slow the line. Ensla­ved people have always refu­sed, poi­so­ning the feasts, abor­ting the embryos. And the dili­gent, flam­boyant jay­wal­kers assert them­selves against traf­fic as the first and fore­most visible, dai­ly les­son in just not.

Saying nothing is a pre­li­mi­na­ry method of no. To prac­tice uns­pea­king is to prac­tice to being unben­ding : more so in a crowd. Cice­ro wrote “cum tacent, clament”—“in silence they clamor”—and he was right : only a loud­mouth would mis­take silence for agree­ment. Silence is as often conspi­ra­cy as it is consent. A room of other­wise live­ly people saying nothing, sta­ring at a figure of autho­ri­ty, is silence as the inchoate of a now-ini­tia­ted we won’t.

Some­times our refu­sal is in our staying put. We per­fect the loi­ter before we per­fect the hustle. Like eve­ry other todd­ler, each of us once let all adult com­mo­tion move around our small bodies as we ins­pec­ted clo­ver or floor tile. As teens we loi­te­red, too, requi­red “secu­ri­ty” to dis­lodge us, like how once in a coun­try full of free­ly roa­ming dogs, I saw the pri­ma­ry occu­pa­tion of the police was to try to keep the dogs out of the public foun­tains, and as the cops had moved the dogs from the foun­tains, a new group of dogs had moved in. This was just like being a tee­na­ger at the mall.

Anne Boyer, « No », in A hand­book of disap­poin­ted fate, Ugly duck­ling, 2019, p. 9–10