Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sensing Space

I wrote earlier about my artist roommate’s comments about time. A couple of days later, it was about space. I think she had given up thinking I’d ask, so she made a demonstration about taking space for granted. Our apartment was in a converted old house; its door opened on the second floor and the apartment itself was on the third floor. I arrived home tired from the laboratory one night to find I couldn’t get up the stairs. I kept running into strings that were placed strategically across the stair well. First, I had to duck, then to step over a string, next to duck WHILE stepping over another string, etc. Needless to say, by the time I was up the stairs I was pretty upset.

My roommate was sipping a hot mint tea, sitting on the couch covered with an embroidered red Greek folk bed spread, watching my exertions with glee. “I’ll bet you’ll never take that space for granted again,” she said, getting up and beginning to disassemble the spider web of strings.

“Did you have to do this to me when I was so tired? I might have appreciated it earlier.”
”This is when you came home. I didn’t choose the time, you did.”

This experience made me aware of a staircase in an apartment, maybe not worth so much effort. But a lot of times since then, I’ve had a flash back to that moment, and taken in the details of a small, unusually shaped space in which I’ve found myself, the scraped paint, the way there is a little molding sticking out at the corner, the way the first flight is wider than the second one, the size and shape of the hickory sculpture at the turn, reminding me of a totem pole, its smell of furniture polish, the spot on the wall where she had killed a moth once and no one had wiped it off.

You don’t need this experience to become more aware of space, just imagine it happened to you, and think about spaces you’ve visited recently that could have had spider webs of string in them, and write.


Julia said...

I am going to try this! Thank you for sharing. It's absurd that it takes something so physical and intrusive to make us stop and notice the details.

Here, I like the specifics: the mint tea (vision is not the only way to perceive space) and the smushed moth. The latter detail also suggests how space changes with time--a lot of room for imagination there.

katwilkens said...

I enjoyed reading this detailed, thoughtful vignette. We do take space for granted. I like thinking about what interior spaces I feel happy in and which ones make me feel uncomfortable. Lighting is a major factor, yet light isn't space.
Are you still in touch with your former roommate? She sounds like a "high maintenance" friend.

Laura L. Mays Hoopes said...

Dear Julia,
Well, I'm hoping that the physical intrusion I went through can be purely imaginary for anyone else, since our imaginations are so powerful.
You are so right about senses other than sight impacting our perceptions of space. How far away can you be and still smell Aramis on a man passing by? I bet you know the answer!
Laura Hoopes

Laura L. Mays Hoopes said...

Dear Kat,
With your photographer's eye, you probably take space for granted less than most people, but what Julia said about smells might be fun for you to think about when writing about space.
Light is such a will-o-the-wisp concept, but it lives in so many artistic works, both literary and painterly. I was at Ghost Ranch recently and saw O'Keefe's Abiquiu house, with its carefully selected colors and paintings just as she left it when she passed away. The right lighting can change a scene from moving to garish, worth considering for sure! And comfort with lighting is a great idea to think over. Myself, I was probably a cave dweller by preference, because subdued light, with a slant of sunbeam, would be my best comfort. Of course, I'd be reading in that beam.