Filling Up the White Spaces




I’ve recently hired a desk in an arts hub. It’s warm here and very white. There’s nothing wrong with that – here it’s winter so I’m grateful for the heater – and the white is seems safe and new and clean.

My desk is white, the filing cabinets and lockers are white, the walls are white and have the texture of walls that have been painted over and over as the room has been put to different uses. The ceiling is white and the neon light there seems to give off a whitish glow, as does the sunlight through the window.

Fortunately the carpet is a deep maroon-like purple. That’s where I pull my ink from.

So I come into this room in the morning and start my battle against the blank. First, I spend some time smearing actual ink on the paper I brought. The scratch of pen on paper is reassuring. I just write something, anything, keep my loping hand travelling until I feel as if there’s enough scrawl on the white to make it possible to start the next phase.

I pull out my laptop and I start with a screen as blank as the whitewashed wall. My job is to fill it. My job is to put some words on the screen. That’s what I do. While I write, my white fingers on the black keys, I only make the sounds of clicking and breathing, and even then sometimes I hold my breath. The white walls recede a little bit.

Sometimes in my reflection I notice some of this white has landed in my hair. I resolve to brush it out later, but now I concentrate on the words against the white.

The thing is, in the rest of my life I work towards the white. I am a patron of whiteness. I am the white’s own slave. I work at cleaning up mess and sorting things out to create more space for the white to reside. I wash and wash clothes and sheets in the hope that the white will come back. I wipe the white cupboards of muddy little handprints to rectify the white’s rightful place in the kitchen. So it’s strange to come into this pristine room and write words of my own onto the white white screen.

The heater hums and I write down lists of things I will do later. People who expect things from me. Things I must tell my husband. Things I have to buy for the family. And then I look up at the white white wall with all its history and I imagine the lost young man who found a place to rest here in the dormitory this room once was. How he had his shoes and his shirt and a small bag that his sister had sewn him from a flour sack which had a knitted hat (from his mother) and a folding knife (from his father) and the key to the old back door of the family’s farmhouse inside it. Why is he here? What does he dream? What did he say to the warden and the sound woman at the desk? I am still thinking about that.



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