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the power of negative space

June 22, 2011

My monthly book club met last night.  June’s selection, Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, is a satisfying story of the redemptive power of chosen family.  Wanda, a character in the novel who emerges as a talented artist, is about to create her first work – a mosaic.  Once she has laid out the tesserae, she is convinced her composition is worthless… until she applies the grout.  Wanda’s realization?  It is the addition of blank space that brings her piece to life.  Negative space creates order, animates color, and unifies disparate pieces.

When I consider this Chasing Maybes project, this belly-flop into worlds I’ve previously dismissed or ignored or chosen not to explore, I usually think about action.  What can I do, I have wondered (figurative chin in figurative hand), to push beyond my known limits, to entertain the scalloped edge around my little landscape, to prevent my circle from contracting?  My nature, really, is to do.  I’m driven crazy by the endless discussions that seem to accompany both my profession and my volunteer work, those facilitated, flip-charted, strategic planning sessions where nothing actually gets accomplished.  Most of the time, I just want to shut up and do something, already.

Wanda’s epiphany about negative space, though, had me asking myself, “What can I not do?”

Regarding this month’s Chasing Maybes sub-project, it occurred to me that what I don’t do for entertainment might be just as important as what I do.  I mulled over how I spend my precious leisure time — my entertainment minutes — and cataloged what feeds me and what leaves me wanting.  Glowing  red on my list of time-sucks, with a shiny neon sign dotting its “i,” was one word:

Shopping.

Before you imagine me sailing through Nordstrom in movie-star sunglasses, imperiously shouting, “Put it on my card!” as I hurl designer dresses at unsuspecting salespersons, allow me to clarify a bit.  I don’t actually buy much stuff.  If you followed me on my previous project, a gift a day, you learned that I had amassed quite a collection of accessories over the years, many of which I gave away.  Now, my closet is pretty lean.  Our house is pretty lean, which is exactly how we like it.

“So, if she’s not buying stuff,” you wonder, “what the heck is she doing shopping?”

This is a valuable question.  Like many of you, I get a bajillion emails a day, many of which announce some supersonic sale of the don’t-miss variety.  I read several blogs, many of which extol the virtues of this, that, or the other product.  Frequently, I open these emails and follow the links on these blogs.  I find myself, half an hour later, having browsed every bathing suit and cardigan on the Anthropologie or the Gymboree website with absolutely nothing to show for my time.

“Okay, but other than being a time waster, online shop-surfing is free entertainment,” you assert.  “It’s not hurting anyone.  Why bother letting it go?”

Here’s the thing:  The more I think about it, the less I am convinced that online browsing is a victimless crime.  Imaginary shopping distracts my focus from appreciation to want.  At least on some level of my consciousness, it plants a sapling of desire for an upgrade.   This blog post from the Frugal Girl calls that desire “looking up,” a designation that resonates with me.  While I may find it entertaining to peruse beaded belts or running shoes for an hour, I wonder what effect “looking up” has on my vision.  I wonder if, after staring too long into the hypnotic riot of colors, I will be unable to appreciate the negative space.  I don’t want to lose sight of what is real.

Some of you will find this entire post ridiculous.  Some of you may place it on your “just don’t get it” list.  Having unsubscribed to all of the retail culprits in my inbox, though, I already feel lighter.  I’ll let you know how things look once the grout has set.

Here’s to loving the space that holds us all together, and to looking anywhere but up.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    June 22, 2011 5:22 pm

    Does this mean that I can throw away all of the catalogs straight out of the mailbox?

  2. June 22, 2011 8:32 pm

    Covetousness aside, I really prefer not to have my email inbox clogged up with tons of store ads! Saves time. 🙂

    • June 22, 2011 9:59 pm

      Hey Kristen! Thanks so much for stopping by… and I agree with you. I can only imagine what feats I’ll be accomplishing with a cleaner inbox. I am looking forward to it :).

  3. Robin permalink
    June 23, 2011 9:26 am

    This is totally off the topic of “shopping” and more to the point of how we spend our time. Make no mistake about it – we are SPENDING it. Weekends, for a lot of people, are a time to relax, do something fun and entertaining. We plain, flat out don’t have money to spend on entertainment. We don’t have gas money to do the free stuff. Our gas money takes my husband to work, us to church and one trip to town a week for groceries and errands. PERIOD!!! By choice, my husband and I have chosen to live on his income. We made a very conscious decision five years ago for me to quit my low-paying job and live a frugal lifestyle on one paycheck. We have a mortgage and pay our credit card in full every month. We drive older vehicles. We struggle – BUT GOD IS GOOD AND FAITHFUL TO PROVIDE!!!

    And now to my point. Several weeks ago it was one of those gorgeous weekends where you are so grateful to be alive and want to just go have FUN!!! Motorcycles, campers and boats are whizzing by on the road in front of our house and I am soooo jealous, because it is another working weekend for us.

    For years we have neglected the upkeep on the exterior of our home and now it is rotting in places. We have had to take Retirement Funds to do the work ourselves. So, here I am on this most glorious weekend, with a wire brush, being instructed by my wonderful husband, (who has made ton of sacrifices and physically works so hard, so I can be at home) on how to scrape the paint off window frames. He bought me the cutest little roller to paint our new porch posts and this time we have REAL porch posts, instead of landscaping timbers.

    I had a HORRIBLE attitude. So bitter and angry that once again I am working hard on the weekend. But somewhere (very quickly) God did a major overhaul on my attitude and I started having fun. I was so out of my comfort zone. I hate to paint. But I honestly had a blast. I quickly got the hang of what I was doing and did a super job. The results are something I can point to with pride. My husband kept giving me positive comments all day long. And he was so grateful for my help, because it freed him up to lay brick for the new steps we desperately needed.

    I can honestly say that was one of the BEST Saturdays I have had in a very long time! I had FUN and didn’t have to leave home, or spend a bunch of money to do it.

    For me, I have had to redefine a lot of words and experiences. My husband and I are in our 50’s and almost everything looks, feels and is experienced differently than when we married twenty some years ago.

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