Empty Spaces, Blank Canvases
by Alex Falconer
“Where are you?”
“What? I said, where are you?”
“I assumed so much. What are you doing?”
“Looking for empty spaces.”
“Don’t know what that means, just be home for dinner.”
It was the end of a long day and the beginning of a longer week, the first of many. With the death of summer came the dreaded birth of the school year, an ugly little bastard, and I was looking for empty spaces. Spaces to think, observe, reflect, and unwind.
I began this tradition upon obtaining my driver’s license, scrounging around the backstreets of McLean and Great Falls for the perfect empty parking lot or open pasture. Whether it was getting out of the house or simply killing time between commitments, spaces were waiting, their vastness helping to put things into perspective. Life could just get too loud sometimes.
At first, this routine took place purely in solitude. I’d watch local businesspersons file into their offices to the tune of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, like some sort of bizarro-world synchronized swimming display. Voyeuristic, sure, but fascinating nonetheless.
As I soon managed to get my friends on board, we turned our sights towards more natural vacancies; forests, creeks and places of the like. The places we inhabited became our own, where we were free to do and say as we pleased. We were a misanthropic Dead Poets Society, minus the ceremony and pretense.
Topics of conversation ranged between hip-hop purism, Hunter S. Thompson and hamburgers, with a revolving array of characters participating in the oft-weekly gatherings. However, after spending many late afternoons in one particular space I’ll call Old Faithful, a change of scenery was in order.
And so on this early Tuesday evening, we searched. We searched, and we searched and we searched. Homework would have to wait.
As fate would have it, we soon entered a familiar neighborhood on the border of McLean and Great Falls. Hounds howled and children played as we crept through the otherwise-silent streets. Reaching the end of a cul-de-sac, we laid our eyes upon something grand: a secluded lake hidden within a gathering of tall trees, long bench included.
The search was over.
We ignored the private property sign (badass, I know!) and allowed ourselves to take a closer look. It was a sight that’d make Thoreau shed a tear, our very own Walden Pond. Lime green algae layered the lake’s surface, giving it an otherworldly look, as deer pranced back and forth through the surrounding forest.
We sat in silence appreciating the scenery. An old Lou Reed lyric came to mind as I contemplated my column: “There are problems in these times, but none of them are mine.” Simple and true, that’s Lou.
So what could I write about? I didn’t care for Recession-talk or who Kanye would interrupt next. A cutesy, anecdote-laden current events column just wasn’t my style. And while I cared for the environment in an aesthetic sense, I found concrete and asphalt just as appealing; it was the absence of people that counted. To top it off, I lived in a neighborhood, city and state that I never took the time to invest myself in, never cared.
Hemingway came to mind: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada… Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” No wonder he took a shotgun to the head.
I had my friends, my family, my music, movies and books, football…
And I had my empty spaces.
Everyone has his or her adolescent memories- images of home, high school or a friend’s basement burned into their brains. But what really sets one town apart from another? I never really considered it. I thought I’d move on, forget everything about Great Falls, everything about McLean. Lost in the shuffle for good.
But maybe not. I think I’ll remember those spaces, spaces that are no longer empty. We filled them. Filled them with words, with laughter, with memories, a cigarette butt here, an empty bottle there, maybe a favorite jacket or sweatshirt. All ours.
The world handed us a blank canvas and we painted a picture.