I once wrote about my daughter learning to let go in order to experience new things, and I made the statement that when we let go, we are left with open space and that open spaces make us nervous.
My daughter is walking now, and her new challenges involve bending over to pick up an object and standing up without using something for support. She is learning how to function in the middle, in open space, rather than at the edge, where all she has to do is hang on. Our challenges with open spaces start early in life.
My first job was as a disc jockey at a little AM radio station in Monroe, GA, W-R-E-D. The station’s signal was generated from a transformer that buzzed and popped and had pull switches that looked like something from an old black-and-white Frankenstein movie. The signal didn’t extend much beyond the parking lot of the strip mall that housed it. However, the manager of the station impressed upon me that the single greatest tragedy that could befall the station was dead air—silence, open space on the airwaves. So, when the transformer would suddenly stop its crackling and hissing, my heart would skip a beat. To this day when I “hear” dead air on a radio station I still gasp. Does silence over the airwaves catch your attention? Do you wonder what is wrong when you notice it?
White space in print is another attention grabber. Dead air on television is the same. And, we certainly can’t seem to leave an open field or forested area undeveloped. We continuously develop, fill, expand and take over every natural area like syrup running uncontrolled off a stack of pancakes, usually making just as big a mess. As a society we clamor to fill every space physically with print, advertisement, sound or concrete, and we clamor to fill every space of time with activity. We are inherently uncomfortable with open space and unfilled time.
Because of our discomfort, we notice the open spaces. With my daughter, loud noises are not what my husband and I notice; silence sets off the alarm bells in our minds and brings us running. Novelists and screen writers have repeatedly capitalized on our fear of the open space. One of the most memorable examples is the movie Poltergeist. The dead air of the television—the open space—brings the horror. How many times in tales of horror does the terrifying come with the silence of a dead phone line or lost radio signal?
Speech writers, too, take advantage of open spaces. The pregnant pause in a speech is often where the big points are made. In college I took photography and learned about negative space. Since that time I have marveled at the way artists so effectively use the places where the picture isn’t to draw the viewer in. They see the open spaces that we seek, that we crave.
And we do crave the open space. We anticipate vacations and weekends when we can flee the city for the open spaces of parks or lakes and the open spaces of unscheduled time. Unfortunately we get bored after about ten seconds of unscheduled time because we are so unaccustomed to thinking creatively and listening to our inner voice. Instead we listen to PDAs, iPods and cell phones at every opportunity.
We have lost our ability to play in the middle, in the open space, because we have spent so much time living life at the edge, propping ourselves up with the latest gadgets and the fullest calendars, concentrating on keeping up with the Joneses rather than living life on our own two feet in the in the middle of the open space with the gifts and talents we’ve been given.
As my daughter learns to dance in the open space in the middle of the room, she reminds me to come back from life at the edge, to put down the crutches of technology, career ladders and the high life, and play in the middle of the floor.
© 2008, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.