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Filler Spaces and “Eureka!”s

By Leslie Graff

I’ll admit it; I love a good old Adam West Batman KAPOW! I wear red patent shoes, and love the thrill of boarding a plane with my passport in hand. I can’t deny having  a crush on excitement and new things.

Still, for every pair of hot shoes, I have stretchy black yoga pants and a ubiquitous Gap T shirt. For every exotic day, I have 200 days of laundry and phone calls. An average day in my life is a lot more like the Persian film Secret Ballot (a day in life of an Iranian woman traveling around to remote rural areas to collect ballots for an election) than Batman.

Last summer I came home from vacation in a “groove.” Feverishly painting from the moment I kissed my children into their beds, until 1:30am when I’d force down my still frantic paintbrush so as to avoid a next day painting hangover, I churned out eight paintings in a new series in five days. Then, as suddenly as the creativity had burst into my life, it was gone. Two nights later my husband rolled over to me in bed. “What’s bothering you? You seem pensive.” Hmph! Pensive indeed. That amazing creative energy had dissipated and left me back to the normal monotony of the day, and it was depressing. I wanted exciting back!

Sometimes I feel rather saturated in the restless, unexciting portions of life, in those in-between spaces. For every epiphany and “Eureka!” light bulb moment there seems to be interminable spaces of un-“eureka!”s. For every groove there is a funk. There is lot of irresolution, ambivalence, normalcy, and uninspired moments. For those 30 seconds of a rollercoaster ride, there is the interminable hour of standing in line with colorful characters in the oppressive sweaty heat.

The seemingly unsavory reality is that life has a lot of lateral movement, meandering, a lot of “filler spaces.” Last year, I read “Spiral Jetty,” an essay by Lance Larsen. As I discussed it with friends, it resonated with me, the sort of meanderings, the lateral movement, the lack of quick resolutions, the hanging of presence and expectation. It reminded me that we think of life as events rather than journeys; in this we often fail to find the meaning in the lulls, the in-between spaces. As a self-labeled accomplishment junkie, I am trying to be more content and embrace discovery in those times of seemingly lateral life.

In art, we tend to focus on positive space, but an essential element is the negative space. It highlights the forms, it gives balance to a piece; it’s often the unappreciated element that makes the composition. When I look back on that high school trip to Elitch Gardens Amusement Park, I remember far more the Red Hot Chili Peppers song that piped through the speakers, as we stood there for an hour and a half. I remember how we observed gum collection and made silly jokes as we swung on the rails that corralled us into serpentine lines–and yet, I remember nothing of the actual ride.

What have you learned from the ebb and flow of life? How have you gained appreciation for the filler spaces?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

13 thoughts on “Filler Spaces and “Eureka!”s”

  1. I recently read the Screwtape Letters and your post reminded me of a couple of quotes that touched me about the rhythms of life:

    * "This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks."

    * "But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. . . If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas."

    I love both thoughts and think they complement each other well. We have both constant change and within that change, a sense of rhythm.

    I know your post wasn't really about trials and tough times, but for me, that's much of what the rhythms of life bring. After each deep trough or trial, there's often a season of peace and joy and I'll start to think that life will always be that way. Sooner or later, though, the troughs come again and in the midst of them, I also tend to think life will always be that way. It's good to remember that both states comes to pass, not to stay.

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  2. "As a self-labeled accomplishment junkie, I am trying to be more content and embrace discovery in those times of seemingly lateral life."

    I'm working on it. A lot. Sometimes I will notice that I am doing a good job just enjoying things. But mostly I have to remember to stop striving quite so much. To be happy and content now. Content is my goal word.

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  3. To me, you will always represent "KAPOW!"
    I salute the negative space that happens between your opportunities to carry a passport and wear hot shoes, and appreciate that everyone must fill lateral space with the mundane things of life. Even if my connect with you is laundry and dishes, I'm glad to have it.
    🙂

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  4. I loved this! I hate routine, yet with a house full of small children, those "filler spaces" constitute 98% of my life.
    I find three things help me deal with the doldrums:

    First, mentally group portions of my life into projects. Right now I am busy with "Help Oldest Daughter Navigate Junior High" and "Civilize the Twins," etc.

    Second, remember that life is a test. The "Kapow!" days are the breaks. The routine days are the ones where I prove that I will be faithful to what I believe. When I look at it that way, it's a lot easier to find meaning in the mundane.

    Third, take a break once in a while. Only 10 days 'til my next Personal Day. Counting the hours.

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  5. Leslie – this is wonderfully written. I loved your intense moment of creativity contrasted with its brisk escape. So true of life. And my other favorite line: "For those 30 seconds of a rollercoaster ride, there is the interminable hour of standing in line with colorful characters in the oppressive sweaty heat." So ironic isn't it, if we live only for those few seconds of speed? Loved the post. Thanks for your wise insights.

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  6. Thanks for this fantastic post Leslie. I too love the 'kapow!' moments. I love Stephanie's ideas– "Teach My Third Grader Responsibility" sounds much better than nagging about practicing, checking homework and sniffing his hair to see if he used shampoo in the shower this morning. 🙂

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  7. Leslie, great thoughts, thanks! No doubt about it: the "Eurekas!" are awesome. But, for the last two years I have intensely been focussing on enjoying the filler spaces and not waiting impatiently tapping my foot for the other; I have to say–I am a much more content and happy person.
    "Enjoy the little things, for one day you might look back and realize they were the big things." (Robert Brault)

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  8. This topic is one that has always interested me from the first time I encountered a sort of tangential idea in reading "A Gift from the Sea," by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This is what she said that puts me in mind of your subject here:

    "For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant–and therefore beautiful. A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side. A candle flowers in the space of night. Even small and casual things take on significance if they are washed in space, like a few autumn grasses in one corner of an Oriental painting, the rest of the pages bare."

    After pondering her words and then living with them for a couple of years, I wrote the following poem:

    ©2003 by Susan Noyes Anderson, His Children, Vantage Point Press

    Beauty cannot enter where we do not leave a friendly space.
    Poems began as empty pages, masterpieces as a trace.

    Every note must stand alone before it makes a lullaby.
    Every tree has greater stature viewed against a naked sky.

    Life is simple; letting go creates a place for hopes and dreams.

    Barren walls and open floors make room for ever-changing themes.

    I think the reason that we have periods of lateral movement and filler spaces in life is to make room for the next creation. We have to let it come to us as it will, rather than trying to drum it up for ourselves. And that requires letting go, clearing out, and letting there be some unfilled space for a time. I feel as if that place in my soul where creation takes place has to be emptied out before it can be filled. When I try to rush things, I end up with a result that feels forced and heavy instead of light and life-giving. It just makes sense to me, which has made me less critical of the "lateral movement periods" in life.

    =)

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