a driveway that no longer leads up to the space where a house used to stand

Welcome to this interdisciplinary lament for the words that the English language lacks for lamenting. Just like grief, it manifests in a wide variety of surprising forms including entries, illustrations, and irl events. Oh, and there is a book version that you can buy.

Before you dive in to this ongoing project, you might want to read the guide, the introduction, or the dedication. Be aware that some entries deal with aspects of grief that may be uncomfortable or triggering.


Entries – 

Since these entries are as yet unnamed, they can not be organized alphabetically. Instead, ideas are grouped much more subjectively: in the order in which I found them or could face them. For this reason, I hope that you, kindly readers, relish randomness. People have asked whether I intend to create names for these entries. While I understand why people want this, I am more interested in highlighting how this lack of language influences mourners. If you have the gumption to work on names, please chat about them in the comments.

Sample sentences – 

As you can imagine, it is rather challenging to suss out citations for nameless words. Instead, you will discover purely, positively 100% hypothetical sample sentences. All characters and incidents portrayed in these sample sentences are fictitious but may resonate with you on a personal level. That is just the magic of negative space working on you. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred, however, if it makes you want to sue the author or its publishers.

Illustrations –

Illustrations can be found in a wide variety of media, e.g. photos, blog posts, field recordings, soundscapes, choreographic exercises, interviews, etc. If you are interested in submitting illustrations, please contact karen – DictionaryofNegativeSpace at gmail dot com.

Comments –

Please jump in with questions, comments, observations or alternative illustrations but please, please, please be kind and respectful. It is already challenging enough to have conversations about mourning and dying.  While this is a Dictionary of Negative Space, it is not a forum for negativity, hate, or harassment (There are more than enough other places on the interweb for that if that is what you desire).

* Editor’s note: If you have ever had a conversation with karen at any time in the forty plus years that she has been roaming the planet, you may find threads of your stories woven into the following pages. Don’t worry, her citations do not use names so your secrets are semi-safe. She has been mining everyone’s data for negative space long before Silicon Valley dreamed of monetizing it. Honestly, who knew that she had actually been listening to us all these years?



_____[90]– n. sensation of upward motion when someone’s spirit leaves their body: Her uncle sprang up from his chair when her grandmother exhaled for the last time as if he had been propelled by the_____[90].


Gentle reader,

Welcome to this abridged, online exhibition of entries and illustrations from the Dictionary of Negative Space, an interdisciplinary lament. (Psst…you can now purchase a hard cover copy of the first edition of the Dictionary of Negative Space here .) When tragedies alter the course of people’s lives, their suffering is exacerbated by the expectation that they will sprint through the marathon of mourning. Even that metaphor misleads us into believing that there is a finish line for grief or that it is some well organized endurance test. In reality, even the Barkley Marathon is a kiddie fun run compared to the haphazard, never ending obstacle course some survivors face.  Upon returning to the rat race, others hope that the bereaved will have the decency not to discuss what they have endured and continue to experience. If they absolutely insist upon acknowledging their losses, we are willing to wade through indulging their emotions only if their story entertains or inspires us.

As the number of natural disasters and terror attacks escalates, more and more communities are shaped by trauma and yearn for empathy. Survivors, however, often feel shunned and isolated. The statistics are unsettling – the suicide rate in New Orleans after Katrina doubled for five years, and in 2014 the Department of Veteran Affairs observed that ” an average of 20 Veterans died by suicide each day.”

It is time to  lift the veil and look grief in the face. We need to explore the negative space within the English language, the vast chasms of unnamed ideas related to mourning, trauma, and repair. By identifying these concepts, people will be able to articulate their experiences more accurately, recognize that others have endured similar ordeals, and find community rather than isolation. As the podcast Invisibilia so eloquently described in Season 3, Episode 1:

“And then he knew: This was liget.

The English words that best describe liget might be “high voltage”: a powerful energy running through and out of the body. Renato had no control over when this feeling would come or how long it would stay. There was nothing within the American palette of emotions or in mainstream books about death that helped him. He just knew he had to howl. And because Renato could now grasp the force and meaning of the word liget, he was able to make some sense out of the chaos. He was able to give his emotions form, and let them pass through his body.

He could begin to heal.”

I must confess even when fuller versions of this dictionary are published, they will most assuredly be incomplete. This is merely the first foothold of a much larger process of looking at the lacy spaces where our language needs filling in. Be on the lookout for irl events related to these dictionary entries: exhibits, performances, and publications to expand on this research. Until then, I look forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions.

With oodles of gratitude,


PS. I created all the photos, videos, audio and writing on this site unless otherwise noted. Please, please, please properly credit The Dictionary of Negative Space if you plan to share them.

PPS. If you find inspiration within these definitions and create something in any medium, please let me know. I do relish the reverberations of ideas.

PPPS. Feel free to surf away if these topics unnerve you but please be aware that only a tiny handful of humans skate through life without a significant loss at some point. I do regret to inform you that you will probably need knowledge of some unknowable percentage of these nameless entries as you sally through life’s sorrows.