Curiosity About What Is and Is Not

A few months ago I wrote a poem I entitled Negative Space. Immediately, the morning i wrote it, I posted it here, on this blog. I commented about it, giving myself a combination of accolades and criticisms. Until this morning, I doubt I gave the poem nor the post in which it was embedded another thought after that day last August. I came across the poem while searching for a phrase entirely unrelated to it.  That sort of thing happens with a degree of frequency; while searching for a word or phrase I think I might have used in an earlier blog post, I get sidetracked. Something else I wrote becomes the “shiny object” that draws my attention away from my original query. The experience is not limited to searches of my own writing; a post on Facebook or an article on or extracts of a paragraph included in a marketing email I receive that trigger the same sort of diversion. Sometimes, I think it’s my curiosity run amok; other times, I attribute the distraction to flaws in my thought processes. The reality probably includes a bit of both, along with an innate tendency to lose focus. That having been said, I remember a psychology graduate student telling my mother, after the student administered a series of psychological measurements to me, that I had an extraordinary ability to maintain my focus while problem-solving. Apparently, either he was wrong about me or that ability did not survive my maturation.  I vaguely remember that the experience took place when I was in my early teens, when I spent a summer in Austin with my mother while she took  post-graduate course at the University of Texas. I recall very little else from that summer…or most other summers of my youth. More evidence of my uncanny tendency to erase huge swaths of time and experience from my memory. Perhaps my brain is inhabited by microorganisms that feed on physical components of memory—when those creatures consume slivers of my memory, those memories transform into the organisms’ own recollections. Imagine a tiny parasite remembering an outing with my/its friends as we rode bicycles across a bridge in Corpus Christi; the poor beast probably would be convinced he was hallucinating.  Back to the poem: I believe these two mid-poem stanzas reveal much about what we know—and don’t—about life:

Experience often is defined by negative space.
Love by its lack, truth by its omission,
interest where there is none, knowledge by its dearth,
and certainty by decisions left unmade.

The whole of one’s life unlived is a study in negative space.
Romantic relationships that could have been, but were not.
The unmade bed, the garden not planted, the journey not made,
children not conceived, and job offers never received.
What could have been, but was not, is as important
as what was allowed but should have been prevented.


Curiosity is an attribute I value. But only by encouraging it in oneself—grooming it until it becomes almost an obsession—does it reach its potential. That obsession is missing in me, as I’ve mentioned many times before. I lose interest or, more likely, something else draws my attention with more strength. I let the original curiosity freeze in time; not withering, but not blossoming, either. I wonder whether that process is driven by fear that I will never be able to fully understand the objects of my curiosity…better to stop cultivating interest, than to learn I do not have the capacity to fully comprehend them. Or laziness; unwilling to invest the energy in something whose return on investment may be deeply disappointing. That process may be what keeps me from pursuing writing more seriously. Silently asking myself “what if” my creativity is strong at the outset, but plunges as I forge ahead. Fear of realizing one’s own potential inadequacy is more powerful than others’ critical judgments, I think. But, then, I have never been willing to explore the idea as deeply as would be necessary to truly understand whether it is valid. Worth thinking about, within reason.


Mi novia and I continue watching an episode or two at a time of Killing Eve. With the exception of the occasional truly deviant episode, the program is fascinating. Last night we watched one of those deviant episodes. I hope the remainder of season 4 is more engaging. I would hate to despise the program after investing so much interest in it.


Today is Saturday. But it could be any other day of the week and it would matter just as much.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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