Volume 23, Number 4

Negative Space

My high school art teacher taught me to always see the negative space: the painted air between leaves, the hollow of a pitcher handle. She said notice where it looks like nothing is happening. That space defines the art.

Sometimes our tongues are frozen lakes, but this does not mean we are not speaking. A smile on the street whispers thank you for existing today. A blank stare on the bus says sit here, if you really want.

Once, my mother, after watching me crawl across the top of the monkey bars, scolded me for not using the equipment the way it was intended, but if you do not fill a space with instructions, it will be interpreted beyond your control.

It is learning to conduct not just a mouth, but an untamed orchestra of nerves, harnessing the accent of every inaction. It is settling to be someone’s marionette for fear of being our own trumpet.

I have never said Please, treat the people I love like they are disposable or It’s okay to call her that name or I’ll let this slide the first hundred times but my silence said it for me.

I sculpted myself out of head-nods and hollow eyes, was an obedient echo. How easy it is to assume that we can make no mistakes simply by making no sounds.

—Miles Walser