Our culture has a strange relationship with space. I’m not talking about outer space or inner space, but space in the sense of emptiness. The empty cup, the space between objects, undeveloped lands, things we perceive as being empty bother us.
I need to be careful here. Whereas, I recognize that our desire to fill the emptiness is a utilitarian urge; it is also, a short-sighted one. There is more to learn from the space between things than there is in satisfying our desire to fill all the emptiness.
The space between things is important. It is where all of the possibilities wait. When you have emptiness, everything you can imagine is there in its potential form. Though, once you decide to create something, all of that potential begins to collapse into just one thing. The problem we end up with is not the things we create, but the absence of space to create new things.
When I was growing up there were trails that ran through the woods around our neighborhood. At the age 7, those trails were places were we made tree forts, and played games. When I was twelve, it was were we rode our dirt bikes –while younger kids filled the gap we left, using our old forts and clearings to imagine new games. When we got older, we parked our cars in these same areas to make out with our girlfriends.
I went back to my old neighborhood a few years ago and all of these places had been developed. There were new neighborhoods. The space had changed from being this uncontrolled space where children’s imagination determined its purpose, to homes for new families.
All of the dead ends I remembered riding down, hiking down, parking at, no longer had trails. They were opened up with new roads. New neighborhoods had been carved out of the woods.
Driving around my old haunts I was gripped by a sad wonder. Where did all these new children go to play? Where were their forts; where was their uncontrolled space; where did they go to imagine?
It is no secret that America & other western countries, are suffering from a ‘creative crisis’. Since 1990, our young people have become increasingly less creative than previous generations. Newsweek did a great job outlining this issue back in 2010 in their article “The Creative Crisis.”
You may not think this is a problem. Though when “a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEO’s identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘needed leadership competency’ of the future,” I think it’s time to consider what we’ve taken from the lives of young people to make this an issue.
Personally, I don’t see this as a ‘youth issue’ as much as a ‘cultural issue.’ We have diminished, eroded, and outright removed space in our culture. Cellular, wifi, and bluetooth signals permeate into all human areas. Suburban sprawl pushes into every space that can be developed, and what remains is designated for vacation and fitness. Where is there space to just wander, to imagine, to break free?
The space between things is where we go to tap into our natural creativity, our innate sense of potential. It is where we find “The wildest dreams of wild men,” as Henry David Thoreau so deftly explains in his essay “Walking.” And, it is one of the crucial elements we need to begin to cultivate if we are going to meet the creative needs of our world.
Whether wild and undeveloped, or abandoned and being reclaimed by the wild, the space between things holds no human purpose, and is then free to engender all potentials. It is simple, unforgiving, and without restraint. Entering such an uncivilized place gives us permission to imagine beyond the civilized.
In varying degrees ‘the space between’ has always had value in the human world. It inspired the early Taoists, ancient Greeks like Pythagoras and Heraclitus, as well as Wordsworth, Shelly and other European Romantics, and can be found even today in writing from Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” to Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian.”
The question that remains is, “Can we cultivate ‘the space between things’ in our lives?” Or, is it a product of the natural world, and destined to go extinct?