I’ve been noticing (again) how deeply uncomfortable I am with empty space.
This week, I’ve been vexed by empty space in my calendar. It’s totally neurotic, but I feel an urgency, a compulsion, to fill it up. I worry that I’m being shiftless and selfish for not already having filled it up.
I took a couple of days — my official days “off,” mind you — to not do much of anything. I watched tv. I loitered on social media. I had naps. I spent hours trying out karaoke tracks on Youtube. Nobody would criticize me for taking it easy like this.
But I didn’t enjoy it much, because I had a nagging sense throughout that I was letting everybody down by squandering precious time. I should’ve been busy — the house and yard certainly need attention. There were a gazillion things I could’ve been working on — planning and organizing, at the least. Getting ahead before things get hectic again. Imagine what I might have accomplished if I’d applied myself! (That last sentence I recognize clearly as my Mother, who lives large in my head).
It’s ridiculous. And unnecessary. I don’t need to be spurred into productivity. But there it is. The empty spaces in my schedule loom like accusations…
But this space anxiety isn’t limited to my calendar. No indeed. It’s also physical spaces. I can barely abide an empty shelf, countertop, storage container, or desk. An empty notebook begs to be written upon. And I am just as quick to fill emotional and mental spaces, too, with strong feelings and opinions about everything and everyone. What is space for if not to be filled?
It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Well, nature, you’re welcome — because I am more than ready, I am perpetually eager, to pack every empty nook and cranny you’ve got.
So, I was noticing this about myself, and trying to breathe into it. Attempting to breathe into the space between my thoughts (another space with which I have a hard time), trying to soften my bustling urge to get busy… When there appeared in my inbox a helpful message from marketing guru, Seth Godin. He wrote:
The empty part of the drawer is what makes it a useful tool.
Same goes for a filing cabinet, a toolbox and a calendar.
Slack is underrated.
In one way, it seems totally obvious — of course, what makes a drawer useful is the space available in it. Nevertheless, obvious or not, it is utterly contrary to the way that I usually conceive of myself and my life. I judge my worthiness and value according to how jam-packed everything is, how overstuffed I am. Never how roomy, how spacious.
Most often, space reads for me as “something’s missing.” As lack. As if I’m forgetting something. I should be doing something. Life’s short. Time’s a’ wasting.
Space could, however, mean: availability, opportunity, possibility.
In the overused glass-half-full or glass-half-empty metaphor, the half-empty sensibility is usually described as pessimism. The optimist sees the glass as half-full. It is assumed that fullness is the ideal. Empty is lesser.
But this fails to acknowledge that a glass full (or even half-full) of undrinkable sludge, full of overextended exhaustion and resentment, isn’t such a great shake.
Another metaphor: when I was googling “slack” for ideas and inspiration, I came across the difference between tight-rope and slack-line walking. They’re similar. Both require a tremendous amount of strength and balance, carefully walking along a cord stretched between two anchors. But while tightrope balance is about poise and lift and as much stillness as possible, slackline balance seems to involve much more sway and shift and give.
I’ve never tried either, so my impression of the mechanics may not be entirely accurate. But at any rate I really like it as an illustration of different ways to get from here to there.
Tightrope is like my usual approach — rigid, scheduled, controlled, with little room for deviation or error. Slackline still requires one foot in front of the other, but how that foot’s gonna be placed depends upon a host of variables — moving extremities, bouncing and rebounding, a combination of tension and looseness… I don’t need to set either one up as better than the other. But it seems helpful to remind myself that slack does not necessarily mean wasteful, squandered, or ineffective.
My generation, X, was the first to be referred to as “slackers.” Thanks, boomers. It’s not a fair generalization by any stretch of the imagination. But unconsciously I did take it on, I think, to the negative degree that I don’t ever, ever, EVER want anyone to describe me as a “slacker.”
But maybe I should try embracing the idea. I know that my inclination is to overcompensate for fear of not living up to my potential. But what if I took on the objective to create as much slack, as much space, as much availability, as possible?
“Slacker” as a pejorative suggests indolence, aimlessness, lack of commitment. I’m not advocating that. Perhaps, though, we might think of a slacker as one who intentionally creates and holds space for herself and others. One who cuts himself some slack. One who gives others room to be, and breathe, and relax, and express. Ahhh…
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, July 2. 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. With the divine Patty Stephens. XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves