Negative space

I am getting deep here, and maybe a little uncomfortable in talking beyond what most would feel is my area of “expertise”. Bear with me. I am a frequent insomniac, not the up all night kind, but the kind that wakes at 3:30 and falls back asleep at 6:00. That area of wakeful un-productiveness has often been the place from which most of my deepest thoughts come. Sort of a positive production from a negative time. Old cliche’s apply about making the most of the time between sleeps or making the most of the dash between the date of birth and the date of passing on a tombstone. But my insomnia is more than that. It’s a subdivision of time outside the regular time divisions of days, nights or even hours. Did I lose you yet?

Recently I have been pondering over the productivity of  these negative spaces. I recall one of the best lessons that I have learned was back in high school. Ms. Graham’s art class and she wanted us to draw a still life by not drawing it but by drawing the negative space around it. Bringing the image of a chair out by drawing the spaces around that chair that was not the chair. I loved it. I realized how those spaces were what really defined the chair-ness of the chair. (Whoa, I know. That’s hippie talk). As the spaces of non-chair defined the chair than so wouldn’t also the spaces between time measures define the time? (Whoa again?)

One of my favorite bands is Rush. I read how Neal Peart, one of the world’s greatest drummers, on a quest for improving his craft took lessons from a jazz drumming guru. The concept of the greatest in the world seeking out lessons is a whole other post and I can’t even begin to explain how his quest to improve makes him even greater in my eyes, but regardless; that concept is not my focus here.  Peart was instructed on how to drum better by not even picking up the sticks, not even sitting at his kit. He was told that the drumming, the keeping of time is very 2 dimensional and won’t ever change, but the art of rhythm is the space between hitting the beats. The third dimension of drumming then is the negative space between drum beats and it should be a graceful dance. Outwardly the rhythm may be the same; inwardly the art is increased 10 fold. Many fans didn’t notice the post lesson difference in Neil Peart’s drumming, but his band mates said it was a whole new dawn for Rush. They felt the change.

In gymnastics (yes all things return to gymnastics for me) it is often the space between skills that sets one gymnast apart from another. It’s what happens in the negative space, the space between the gymnastics that makes one gymnast a champion and one get hardly noticed.  If you watch gymnastics you will have a different understanding of that statement than a person who has done gymnastics or someone who coaches. But suffice to say that coaching for over 30 years has given me the fortunate position to see things a little differently. Even among other coaches I have always been a little different, I admit that being so is something that sort of gives me pride. When I think of training kids to do gymnastics ,I of course, think about winning and developing a gymnast to perform at their potential; which in turn makes them win. This includes the skills and the spaces between performing them during a routine. But at a whole different level I often find the true value of what I do in the negative space around the training. The unexpected and unscripted bonuses that come with training; the friendship, the respect, the appreciation, the appreciation of others, and the maturation of young kids who grow up and become good people.

Sometimes I sit in awe of the children I have seen pass through the gym or other gyms where I have coached. Some of the proudest moments I have in my life are the re-introductions to former team/class kids and seeing how wonderful they are. It’s that space outside and around the gymnastics coaching that has defined the coaching for me. It’s certainly a different way to see things but it is gratifying to know that our program and our sport have made such an impact. I think these things through and it makes me smile.

So outside my usual perspective? yes, but from the negative space around wakefulness and sleep sometimes comes clarity.

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