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.