TAKING LIBERTIES WITH SPACE

This was first post originally posted 6-15-10.

There is something very daunting about a blank page. It’s so full of possibility but at the same time, there’s this almost ominous hint of expectation and a portentious sense of responsibility. There’s also the not so simple curiosity about what might come next.

A blank page can leave me feeling empty just looking at it. I have the inkling that it is the very emptiness of the page that causes writer’s block. If we started with a partly filled page it would be so much easier to write. I haven’t been one to suffer much from writer’s block, but when I have felt stymied, I’ve learned to just write anything. Even if it’s just something like… “this sucks…I have nothing to say. My brain is empty. This page is looming over me…” Suddenly, better words begin to flow.
Empty pages are like uncomfortable silences. You sit there wondering, “Should I listen for more, or should I speak now?” On the one hand, you don’t want to rush to fill every conversational lull… that can lead to a different blankness…the void of empty words. On the other hand, silence can build to the point where it is nearly impossible to speak.
Starting a blog involves facing a blank page and speaking into the eternal silence of something new. I can’t build on momentum…well, I could…I could go fishing for old rants and blogs written elsewhere and paste them in, but that feels like cheating. It doesn’t really address the problem of the empty page.
Of course I realize that a blank page is also an opportunity. After all, people like William Shakespeare and Mary Shelley must have started with blank pages. Unless we are scribbling on printed napkins we all must. The blank page can offer a vast, wide open plain of possibility that doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be freeing.
It’s like the almost surprising space that opens up after we finish a project. That space offers another sort of odd emptiness and opportunity. I’ve just had a space like that come up for me. I find myself hoping it won’t prove to be a sinkhole, but rather a verdant meadow that somehow suddenly appears in even the densest of forests—a fairy ring.
I suppose the slowly filling blankness of my first blog page actually emerges from this recently opened space of mine.
For years now I have had a project poking at me. I could see it pretty clearly in my mind but I simply did not have the tools to bring it about. So it sat with me. Every time I picked up a paint brush, or rezzed something new in pixels, or manifested a creative plan of any sort—there was that project sitting in my head and filling up a good section of it, at that. For all the world it was staring at me like a hungry dog wondering when his bowl will be filled. In a way, this is the opposite problem to the blank page. Instead of the emptiness of possibility this stymied project occupied the frustrated space of improbability.
My insistent problem involved an idea I had in 2003 when I saw a Jeep Liberty commercial. People were still reeling over September 11th back then and while it had finally become possible to uneasily joke about it, it was still a very sensitive subject. People seemed increasingly willing to sacrifice “some political freedoms and liberties” for security, especially if these freedoms belonged to someone else—after all, could the Constitution really apply to foreign nationals who just might be able to be labeled “terrorists”? Wasn’t it “our” Constitution? There were still more than the usual number of American flags flying, we were going to war against “weapons of mass destruction”, and we hadn’t quite put together the danger that our patriotic duty to shop might lead to all sorts of deficit spending we would eventually have to pay for. Giant flags still filled the malls, and there were so many creative ways for us to get the credit we couldn’t afford, or buy houses with no collateral and capricious interest rates that we imagined would somehow be easy to refinance in some distant future when they “might” suddenly loom large.
It was just so with our rush to buy oil hungry cars that were not just out of our price range but drained everybody’s future pockets, and sucked the Earth dry in the process. Somehow, into that red white and blue milieu some marketing genius got the idea that it would be great to show just such a gas guzzling vehicle—the Jeep Liberty—climbing right up Lady Liberty herself. It was the ultimate off-roading experience! But it did not go over as planned and people were so upset that Jeep pulled the commercial off the air.
I remember finding the “insult to Liberty” not just metaphoric but prophetic. People were not just taking liberties with our national icons but with the very tangible “stuff” these icons represented. We seemed all too willing to take liberties with hard won social and political advances. We had a President in office who seemed clearly just as willing to trample on Liberty as the Jeep company. While we were looking at those big signs reading “Mission Accomplished” not many of us were clear on just what the mission had really been. In the midst of all this, I kept thinking about Lady Liberty and the brain poking idea began. I wanted to grab images of the Lady from Her ubiquitous presence in disaster movies (which seemed very prophetic) to the trampling image of exploitation to be found in the Jeep commercial.
I just didn’t have the tech. There wasn’t any YouTube yet with its tons of “all imaginable content” out there. I didn’t have a clue how to get video editing software for free, or where to find the images and clips even if I could. So I told my idea…sorry…down boy. And I painted, and I created whole worlds that occupy pixilated Faery Rings in the cyber “betweens”. But Liberty still intruded on me. I began to keep mental lists of films and images of Lady Liberty. I imagined ways I could link together the disparate images. Ideas for this would come upon me at random, and I felt a growing urge to somehow realize this project.
Seven years later this had grown to such a frustrated level of occupied internal band-width that when it occurred to me that there was finally enough accessible content, along with the screen capture and editing software to achieve the project, I suddenly felt an overwhelming burst of creativity that could no longer be contained. I launched myself into a sea of liberties. I was taking liberties right and left, so to speak.
A few days ago, I finished my Taking Liberties project and found myself for the first time in years with a gaping hole were Liberty once stood. It felt a lot like the way a missing tooth feels to a child. The mental version of my tongue keeps feeling around the oddly empty edge of where my creative craving used to live. What makes this all the more interesting is that this project seems most appropriate to release into the world on Independence Day and it’s only mid-June. So even though it’s done, I can’t really share it with many people yet. And while I feel good about the accomplishment after all these years, I was left with that empty page.
So it seemed right to fill my new blog’s first empty page with this memoir of my hungry creativity. It’s a start at exploring not just the blankness but the newly opened creative space that now exists in this slightly more Outworld place of the “Sidhevair betweens” of pixels and electrons. I hope Lady Liberty’s light shines upon this particular spot in the “blogosphere” and whatever may fill it next.

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