Why writers need empty spaces

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friends, I know I’ve been annoying you with pictures and pithy quips from the sandy, sunny beaches of Hawaii.  I’m back to the doom and gloom of a Portland winter so I’ll stop being an irritant.  However, I hope you’ll bear with me for one parting thought about my vacation.

Vacations are important and amazing for all the normal reasons. We don’t work or clean our houses or do our laundry.  We don’t set alarm clocks or exercise or make grocery lists.  We play.  And there was lots of serious play on my trip to Hawaii, but there was also something else–EMPTY SPACE.

During the last week, I had chunks of time with nothing to do.  I didn’t reach for a book or a pen and paper.  I didn’t even let my mind turn toward the next scenes I need to write in the Angel Punk novel.  Honestly, I didn’t think about writing at all.

Instead, I watched people.  I got lost in movements, gestures, voices.  I stared at the sea and sky and sand and twisted lava.  I got drunk on textures and swooping lines, the way stillness and motion merge at the horizon.  I dove into my senses: the feel of wind and blowing sand, the scent of wet earth and papaya.

A whole universe was born inside a 1987 Westphalia Pop-Up.  My family of four lived for a week in the lovely Hula Wahini, cruising the islands and inventing new phrases for our own personal family dialect.  “Going Pahoa” and “Ghetto Wahini” and “Happy Camper” will forever be part of our shared story.  I rolled around in the new-oldness of my little team.  I revisited myself (because she’s been too busy to even grab coffee lately.)

Evolutionary biologists like to say that “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  (Variously attributed to Aristotle, Spinoza, and Parmenides, but I’m too lazy to track down the real source.  Sorry.)  What we mean is that any empty ecological niche will eventually be filled by the adaptation of some species.  There are no empty places because life is cramped and crowded on this planet and any chance of freedom from competition will be exploited.

My mind is often a cramped and crowded planet.  It’s jammed with to-do lists and calendars and works-in-progress and family needs.  We keep a wicked pace.

Yet, empty spaces enveloped me last week.   And, as the philosophers promised, the empty spaces proffered by Hawaii were filled–and filled with riches that I’ll draw on for a long time.  Now if I can just remember to go Pahoa, I’ll be fine.