Upon placing the query “What is Nothing?” into an Internet search, I am given a presumably socially-decided-upon description of Nothing as a pronoun subject, the absence of a something that one might expect or desire to be present or the inactivity of a thing or things that are usually or could be active, or as a state of nonexistence1
I had to make some changes, because the description feels inadequate and frames Nothing as some sort-of depersonalized pronoun or reduces it to an essentialized state of being, ignoring the personal implications of Nothing.
I mean Nothing as a noun; as a person, as a place, as a thing, as an idea - all with inherent specificities and complications.
With that, I keep coming back to two ways of thinking about Nothing:
Nothing as not Nothing - a person, place, thing, or idea that might represent lack, but isn’t lacking2 Nothing as No Thing - a person, place, thing, or idea that might represent or enact a withholding or a refusal to react.
Still, I can’t say with any great specificity what this reconsideration of Nothing might or might not do to how or to whom or what one pays attention...nor would I want to. Answers that only beget more questions feels more in the spirit of Nothing than pretending to know “what Nothing is” or “what Nothing ain’t” while hopefully avoiding the same claustrophobic specificity that prompted these thoughts.
1. Wikipedia defines Nothing as a pronoun subject, the absence of a something that one might expect or desire to be present or the inactivity of a thing or things that are usually or could be active, or as a state of nonexistence.
2. That is, not without function or value, but existing beyond these limitations; it’s not so much that these ever-present Nothings don’t have anything to give, but that their simple existence might be as fundamental as air and water.
“we painted the walls with our breathing. we painted the walls with our breathing. we painted the walls with our breathing and found they were not walls at all. they were the forests of our forgetting, beautiful and dark with medicine. we marveled at the patience of the trees” - Alexis Pauline Gumbs, M. Archive.
For the next three consecutive evenings, beginning at 8p Eastern Standard Time, let’s remove or turn-off any potential distraction. Choose a length of time that feels personally suitable. Add 10 more minutes…
As that length of time passes, consider your Nothing and what makes it it as it is in the moment. How does your Nothing smell or sound? What are the Nothings that surround your Nothing? Look at them then let them return the favor while sitting in shared repose; a withholding holding while being held with, even if only for a few brief moments. Nothing doesn’t demand much, only the time it takes; asking us to stick with it a while, lest we forget that even walls and bridges both sway and swing when they need to..
And might this moment of withholding and being held, even in the presence of hardest Nothing, be porous and delicate and precious? Can that same moment find itself filled with softness and mutual reverie?
When the time you’ve set for yourself with your Nothing has ended, you can choose to tell someone about it or keep it to yourself. It’s no thing.