Lost and Found

Lost and Found

In my college drawing class, the professor gave us an assignment that baffled me for a long time.  He placed a chair before the class.  “Ok,” he stated.  “We’re going to learn about negative space.  I want you to draw the space around the chair.  Don’t draw the chair – draw all the places where the chair is not.”


I remembered this exercise in graduate school, the first time I read Wallace Stevens.  In “The Snowman,” he writes about “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”  Reading Stevens, I nostalgia_by_macilic-d31a4b1felt the itch, like a song playing off in the distance that sounded familiar, but maybe not.  In Stevens’s terms, I did not yet have “a mind of winter.”  I wondered what it would feel like, to have that mind, and if I would know when it happened.  Would I be nothing then?

And then, several years ago in a memoir workshop, Patricia Hampl looked across the table where I sat earnestly taking notes and talked about the importance of blankness.  “The white space is the place where a reader enters your story,” she explained.  “it’s your breathing space on the page.”

hauntingSometimes absence becomes a presence, and many times, emptiness is a real and tangible thing, force to be reckoned with.  The negative space – the loss – presses itself on you more intensely than the world that’s still there.  It’s the ghost pain that people feel, a throbbing in the limb that has already been amputated: the leg is gone but that old ache in the knee, it remains.  It haunts you.

A little while ago, I lost an earring.  It was brand new, a gift, a delicate thing, so beautiful.  I loved it.  When I looked in the mirror and saw that it was gone, I thought, oh, no.  And then I thought, But it’s not really gone.  It’s just not mine anymore.  It’s gone from me.  I walked around for an hour, searching the ground, trying to call it back to me.  I’d only had it for such a short time, and I loved it so much.  But it was lost – still out there in the world somewhere, but lost to me.

© 2018 kathy * writes