Day 22, empty space
(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published March 30, 2020)
We begin our fourth week of a nationwide lockdown. The other night our Prime Minister addressed the biggest question we all have with humility and honesty: I don’t know. I don’t know when we can return to “normal”, when the restrictions will be reduced. We’re working every day to understand the situation.
I’ve settled into this as best I can, as most everyone has by now.
In contemplating this near-global pause, I’m toying with this question today:
Why rush to fill empty time with something busy, something activity-like?
My daily life hasn’t changed all that dramatically. I go for walks in the mountains, I go to my studio; I come home. Mostly I have felt fortunate in this. There is a part of me though that has begun to feel envious of the empty space that’s been created in a lot of people’s lives by the order to stay at home. I think, when I see the lists people have created to “stay busy”, that they’re missing out on something wonderful. Enjoy the empty space! I want to say. And here I am filling space that might be empty with my usual activities, and, worse, extra ones: more time on the news, more time connecting with friends and family, more time together with my partner; more time on social media. The connection can be invigorating, and it can be draining. Of course when I say, Enjoy the empty space!, I’m talking to myself.
My artistic practice is deliberately monk-like. Empty space is essential to me. “Doing nothing” is a state rich with possibility: daydreaming, observing, contemplating, resting: just being. Deprivation from distraction heightens the senses. Numbness diminishes and all the quiet things, the things that move under the surface, become bolder; more important. Small voices finally have a moment to be heard. Small feelings get a chance to be witnessed.
In my studio now there is an empty space, blank canvas. The idea I started with isn’t one I want to follow in the end. Sometimes it’s like that. Not every idea needs to be realized. Some that are realized maybe don’t need to stay realized; they can be painted over. This blank, open space can be terrifying: What if I sit here with this blankness and nothing happens?? It can be overwhelming: So many possibilities!! And it can be thrilling: There—something is happening!! I’m making something!!
And there can be doubt: What if it’s terrible?? A total failure?? Thankfully, returning to the blank canvas and starting over is always an option, as is being kind to oneself.
Maybe all of creation is like that. Maybe during the long pause of winter things are hiding that are terrified of springing forth, or are daydreaming about how to be born; or listening for some guidance on how to emerge.
Maybe in this national, even near-global, pause there is something to be learned from surrendering to the empty space and not being so intent on filling it. What happens if I let myself rest, let my senses reach out for the quiet things?
There is one comfortable chair in my studio for days like this, for listening to a blank canvas and learning what it might like to be.
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I added this blog as a way to share some thoughts and experiences around the impact of Covid-19 on my life here in Southern Italy. These posts have been a near-daily practice during this time and are largely unedited, most having been first posted on Facebook. They are of course in order with the most recent entry on the first page. I invite you to explore previous posts or even start from the beginning.