Negative Space

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Negative space is a concept that I (eventually) learned about in relation to visual art… There is power and image in the unfilled space.  It is part of the art work, a choice made by the artist, as much as the shade or depth or even shape of the pigment used in the ‘positive space’. What does it say about our culture, (or at least my way of approaching art, which is common for the uninformed), that we focus first on the obvious, what was ‘put there’, not what was created by leaving space open?

Okay, I’ve demonstrated my limitations when it comes to ‘understanding’ visual art. To return to: negative space. My primary association with the words is using them to express my feelings, when I have entered or chosen to be in a negative space. Where the view, the attitude toward pretty much everything is relentlessly negative. That is how I felt about my writing and about the section of that writing that I posted yesterday. Bilious, as in bile, as in vomit. (I went back this morning and took much of it out…)

However, there is another way to look at the idea of space, which was gifted to me by this piece of writing, which I happened upon: Fat Bitches Don’t Sit On Trains: How A Crappy Morning Commute Doesn’t Have To Ruin Your Whole Day

The entire piece caught my interest, as you might expect, seeing as how it deals with the prejudging and treatment of a fat woman in public, as well as the author’s use of writing and ultimately sharing the story as a response. Been there and trying to do that. But there is one small (hah!) section of the piece that I want to focus upon. She captures in detail the effort many women, especially us XL types, but I think it’s a pretty standard behavior for many women, the effort we make NOT to take up space in public.

I sat down as I usually do when it’s a middle seat: I positioned my butt on the edge of the seat and gingerly slid back as far as I could without infringing too much on the space of the riders beside me, keeping my legs locked and my shoulders squeezed in as close as possible.

This offers another layer of meaning for the words ‘negative space’. How small can we make ourselves, in order not to offend, or in order to fit in? A daily practice for me, passing by animate objects, like people, and inanimate objects everywhere I go, even in my own home. I’ve become quite adept at assessing space visually and knowing whether I will fit. When it is within my power, I arrange the world so that it works for me. Passageways in my small home are as wide as they can be. I push back against my family members when they ‘forget’ and I feel blocked, constricted (disrespected) in my own space.

I can’t change the width of the center aisle on an airplane. I know when to turn sideways to move through a narrow space, although sometimes the repositioning is pointless, since ‘round is round’ and I am only choosing whether I put my belly/butt or my hips in the lead as I pass through the insufficient gap. In restaurants, I automatically gauge the space around and between tables, pre-planning my exit, seeking dignity in moving past others. I have become increasingly bold about moving empty chairs out of my way or saying an assertive ‘Excuse me…’ when asking someone to move their chair so that I can pass by. Actually, it is annoying just to think of it that way; that it is bold to behave as if I have the right to move through space!

I recently returned to my car in a local parking lot, to find that the thoughtless driver of an oversized vehicle (hey, I drive a station wagon, I’m not taking a Mini Cooper or Prius superiority attitude here) had parked so closely beside me (I do love how we identify with our car, referring to it as me) that I could not open the driver’s door wide enough to get in. I tried and wrenched my back for my efforts. In the end, with a surprising sense of humor and lack of shame, I stopped a young man who was passing by. I explained the situation. His first words, endearingly, were “I just had a beer…”. I said he just needed to back the car up about five feet. Which he did and we both laughed and he went on his way.   I wonder what he thought and if he mentioned the experience to anyone later?

I guess that is an example of when I could have moved into a negative space and I did not. Hmm.

It was suggested to me that I could try a poem in these daily blog posts. Here goes: it’s an old one… (With apologies for excessive spacing; I can’t seem to fix it.)

“We call them thigh peg chairs:

The ones with front legs that poke above the seat”,

I say to her, speaking to and in spite of her smallness.


Sharing vocabulary from the other side:

Booth bulletins, cushion updates,

Reports on seat depth and…



Chair arms that discomfit while dining,

Leaving bruise-like marks on ample thighs.


Airline seat-belt extenders,

Narrow seats with immobile arms

That cut into soft flesh.


Theater seat arms that

Wedge and take the fun out,

Giving an edge to recreational pastimes.


I wonder…

‘Why do I go there?’

‘Do I forget?’


The fact is

Normalcy tricks me,

Beckons to me, seduces me.


Why must I announce,

To friends & strangers, over and over,

That I don’t fit?


Am I misshapen or is it the chairs?

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s