194. empty space?


Every time I begin writing a post, I am filling empty space, not totally but significantly. As the black words spill onto the barren white background, my eyes fix on the black foreground and release the snow white canvas behind. I’m on to consciousness making and doing language– constructing words into phrases and sentences, mapping something new. That’s where the pay off is, right? In the black ink of communication. But today I’d like to focus on the empty white space and celebrate it. It’s gonna be hard, I know, to let go of the black documentation of reality and slide into the slipstream of other consciousness. But that is what I am proposing; so loosen your security seat belts. And before departure, Blogaceans, you might ask yourselves “Why would I want to go there?” Perhaps because the black ink reality has worn you thin and has squirted into your eyes like an octopus’s escape trick. So read on.

Let’s begin with the margins around this entry. If there were no margins, your eyes would have a hard time finding where to start. They would fall off the page’s edge, so to speak, into frustration.  But I bet you forget them just as soon as you have found the first word in the upper left hand corner of the page. Your anxiety does not rise because you have found the start button and you can maintain cognitive control. Otherwise you could have something like a pane of glass that has no top or bottom, no front or back to it, or so it seems.  In any event you are only going to look through it and not gaze upon it, so what difference does the orientation make?  That’s what I’m talking about, Bloggisatvas, the awareness of the transparent, unfilled space.

Imagine the Grand Canyon. We think of its deep walls and the Colorado River crashing through it. Think again of the air, the gap, the clear margin between walls that allows you to see the millennial record carved into stone.  It is this gap that was once an eroding riverbed washing away to silt in the Gulf of California. Helicopters and birds fly through this space now. This void, however,  is the vehicle for our astonishment as we look through it unconsciously. And I want to meditate on and celebrate this space that may be empty but is not lacking. To fill this void would destroy it. To pave it would reverse the narrative of time, and warp nature. No one would do that, would they? How about damming the Colorado River so we can use every drop of water out west? Unthinkable… wait, that’s happened over and over again. But, but wait a second, no one would do that to the Grand Canyon, would they?

Years ago the movers and shakers of my little town were financially aroused enough to develop the last piece of open ground within the limits of our humble town. It lay there empty and fallow from their lustful perspective, simply behaving like agricultural land when it could be fertilized with tax breaks and rerouted roads and turned into glorious shopping malls and housing tracts and fast food restaurants that would employ thousands in low paying jobs. For many years the adjoining township refused to allow the construction of an interstate ramp, which would have opened up the development of this last piece of empty space. The townies fought in court for many years against the townshippers as the land continued to escalate in value. In a last ditch effort the township supervisors obtained a historical landscape designation that would temporarily disallow development. I believe such designations are used to keep Walmart from building a superstore in the middle of Gettysburg Battlefield or in front of Mt. Rushmore. The local township view was lovely but not so historically valuable. Eventually its special status was overruled. Financial lust won again. Is anyone surprised? Law almost always sides with money.

Today in that empty space we  have the ubiquitous  type of strip mall that has flourished in the last fifteen years. It has the Staples, the Pet Smart, the Kohls or Gap or Old Navy, the Red Robin, the TGIFridays, the Panera Bread template that you see off of every interstate highway in the country, arranged in the same order so no one gets confused, i.e., has to think or evaluate. I’m sure you recognize the layout because there is bound to be one of these strip malls located near your town, wherever you live in the USA. This sort of development continues to be the rage, but I would compare it to strip mining. It’s all about the now and lacks respect for the past, the downtowns across America that were not tax free zones, and the future, when the next fad turns these strip malls into old Hollywood fronts. When the grass grows through the forgotten pavement of these ghost malls, your grandchildren will ask you what that ghastly thing was. Will you say, “It was a good idea at the time”  as they blip and bleep on their electronic devices in the back seat of your Denali? Suburban blight, rural ruin, big bucks…. One thing is certain: the next great idea will storm through, and corporate America will happily sell your children’s heritage back to you for a good price along with a long term service agreement.

For me, I want to refocus into the amorphous void. I don’t need what Madison Avenue is selling. I never did. When advertisers persuade you that your view is empty, your canyon void, your space wastefully wide open– stop them there. Just before the carpeting pitch, the mall dream, and the highest good to the highest bidder argument comes spewing forth on forked tongues.  Instead, just fade, surrender to the white space canvas of peace. Sanity lives in the margins, the gaps,  the greenways and the voids we hold dear.

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