I am about to embark on a little experiment and I hope that you will be good enough to join me. I have absolutely nothing to say at the moment, and wonder if it is possible to write about that subject.
My initial thought would be that a completely blank screen might be the perfect way to write about nothing, but then that wouldn’t really be writing, now would it? So we will have to try another way.
I guess that the first task is to decide just what “nothing” is. It is common to say that “there is nothing left in this jar of peanut butter”. But that is not strictly true because there is always some inconveniently small amount of peanut butter that has somehow escaped the knife that has spread the jar’s contents upon many pieces of bread. We think of this as nothing but it is actually something that is simply not worth the effort to retrieve, particularly when there is a fresh unopened jar of peanut butter in the pantry.
There have been times when after sustained physical activity I have thought to myself “I have nothing left inside.” But again, is this true? Because it seems to me that in those times I a have actually replaced whatever is normally part of my personality with exhaustion and the sour narcissism that tends to accompany it. Which is something. Not a good something, but something nonetheless. Nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.
It has often been said that the old Seinfeld television show was a show about nothing. Except that it was really about finding the ridiculous in boring everyday (if exaggerated) situations. I could say that Seinfeld reminds me of nothing, but that would not be true. For example, whenever I think of Seinfeld I remember exactly what I was doing during the show’s final episode.
Earlier in the day, one of my toddlers had a diaper failure which led to some unauthorized waste disposal on the family room carpet. As luck would have it, the illegal dumper’s mother happened upon the situation at the exact moment that the youngster stepped where he should not have stepped. We will never know if Mom’s shriek caused the youth to begin his sprint across the floor or whether that sprint would have occurred with, well, nothing to cause it. I have never been much of an outdoorsman, but my tracking skills were at least up to this basic level.
What does this have to do with the final episode of Seinfeld? The wisecracker in me is tempted to answer “nothing”, but in fact I spent the entirety of the show on the floor with a bottle of carpet cleaner/disinfectant/deodorizer, a bucket of hot water and a scrub brush. This was not nothing, let me assure you.
Perhaps there is no such thing as nothing, at least in our everyday human world. What we think of as nothing may just be when we do not see what we want to see. When I want to see that jar at least half full of peanut butter and find one with just a few whisps of it clinging high up the sides I think there is nothing there. But what about the memories of the sandwiches, cookies and even spoons of the stuff that have made life just a teeny bit better. Or the memories of having the only young children in the Western Hemisphere who didn’t like peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches on Wonder Bread. Who were those kids, anyhow?
I guess it is time to come to terms with the fact that unless we are going to insist on some kind of scientific definition, nothing isn’t really nothing. Instead, it is some combination of those things that are normally covered up by the more common. Strip away what you expect to see and perhaps there is just more there, but more of something else, something that is just a little harder or takes a little more patience to see.
So, where are we with this project? In setting out to write about nothing, we have covered peanut butter, Seinfeld, unpleasant parenting experiences and a bit of something that the unschooled might confuse with philosophy. It appears that I have failed completely. With perhaps two exceptions.
First, I have generated something for you to read here in this space for this week. For those of us who wrestle with deadlines this is far from nothing, I assure you.
The second involves an accounting of those things of value I had planned to complete or otherwise accomplish during the time when my attention was diverted from them by writing this little essay instead.
And the answer to this final question my friends is – (pause for great triumphant flourish) – nothing. Absolutely nothing. Mission accomplished. Kind of.