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Don’t Fill The Void


I’m sorry. Ann can’t come to the phone right now, she’s busy filling The Void with popcorn and social media scrolling.

Lately I’ve been pondering an idea of a void and how I fill that void. I don’t mean a void in the sense of a gaping wound or a need never sated, but rather my tendency to fill an everyday/many-times-per-day void, when a healthier choice might be to leave it empty.

The Void came to mind the other day, as I watched my inner-critic wreaking havoc on my inner-peace. I had this epiphan-ette: When I’m mean to myself, those words only appear to fill up The Void. I wondered what would happen if I acknowledged the critic merely as a function to fill an empty space, rather than giving any weight to the words themselves. What if instead of pouring self-hatred into my head, I just hung out in that space empty—like a Phish fan swaying to one of the band’s nine-hour-long hit-singles, but without illicit substances or Phish’s music for that matter.

Suddenly I’m noticing many ways I fill the void with constant input. When I worked in an office building located more than eight steps from my pantry, I ate my meals and rarely even considered snacking. I socialized with people in the office—probably too much—but that meant I took breaks. I didn’t “surf the net” as they said back then, so I more easily focused on my work when I worked at a computer. The division between productive and not productive was easier to detect before my internet life, mostly because when you made a personal call you had to fake a business accent, although wedding planning did lend itself well to an air of efficacy in the workplace.

I eat and drink all day long at home. I work at a frantic pace. In fact, so frantic right now, during my busiest season, that I have to give an extra effort to humanizing my emails–actually addressing people by name and adding a salutation or two–so I don’t sound like a total prick. When I exhaust myself, instead of taking a break or going to bed, I often spend another 45 minutes toggling between social media accounts, doing exactly nothing with a sprinkling of self-sabotage on top. More input for The Void. Probably followed by a bedtime snack for The Void.

I do have some periods of sitting in The Void; when I go to yoga, I experience moments of sitting and breathing through discomfort, trying really hard not to anticipate how many more seconds until I can collapse into the next position. When I run, occasionally my head actually clears. Even if meanie-voices descend, I envision my body like a filter for my brain, leaving the mental clutter on the bike path, alongside errant baby socks. When I write for pleasure, I experience the void, but not without challenges. Increasingly my “creative” writing only lasts for the duration it takes for me to pound out a paragraph or two before I check-out to my email—another indicator of how easily I avoid The Void.

I know it would be good for me to experience more of The Void, through meditation and mindfulness yes, but mostly through making different choices. Instead of eating or spacing out on social media, this week I tried doing laundry or housework for a few minutes—nothing overwhelming but enough to get my butt out of this chair and give my head a few minutes to clear. I forced myself to edit and finish this essay, even though I tried dodging the piece after only a few tweaks.

It’s easier for me to handle The Void when I’m really busy. I’m happier when I’m busy, because I spend less time facing The Void. The challenge comes when the busy season ends and the pressure lifts–a scenario from which I seem to continually and deliberately abstain by adding more commitments, more projects, and more work. That’s where the true work lies waiting for me. Not to mention plenty of buttered popcorn.


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21 comments… add one

  • Kim Tracy Prince April 2, 2014, 10:43 am

    Wow, Ann. You and I are very alike in this way. If I am not busy, the voices in my head make me crazy. I get hyper-accomplishment syndrome. Even though laundry and housework suck, tackling them makes me feel like I’m still being productive even when I am taking a break. For me, though, it’s a cycle of piling up more tasks to be busy, then getting overwhelmed and finishing everything so that I have more time, then getting overwhelmed by all the time (and silence?) so I pile it back up again. And so on. Sometimes it is nice to just take a true break and just *be*. Easier said than done…

  • lisahgolden April 2, 2014, 11:03 am

    I love this. Guilty!

    I have actually had to relearn how to watch TV without having an open laptop in front of me. I still don’t have the hang of it. And I mean, it’s watching TV, not reading a book or having a conversation.

    Baby steps.

  • Barb Best April 2, 2014, 11:07 am

    This is so true of many “creatives.” I find exercise and meditation help quite a lot, although Trader Joe’s Olive Oil Popcorn is hard to beat.

  • alexandra April 2, 2014, 11:15 am

    “…humanizing my emails–actually addressing people by name and adding a salutation or two–so I don’t sound like a total prick.” This is my undoing: forgetting to even have a salutation. geez.

  • Jenni Chiu @MommyNaniBooboo April 2, 2014, 11:32 am

    Oh, look who just went crawling around in my life and brain, and then wrote it down – it was you!

  • Sarah April 2, 2014, 11:38 am

    Super thoughtful post. I think you’ve done a lot of the work on this already. Here’s to continuing the pursuit of moments of sitting in the Void. Progress, not perfection, love.

  • Wendi April 2, 2014, 11:45 am

    Wow, Ann, I relate to this completely. I was thinking recently how I had more writing ideas before social media was a distraction. It’s good to just sit sometimes and not have constant stimulation.

  • Leigh Ann April 2, 2014, 7:46 pm

    I was just about to say the same thing as Wendi. I find that I avoid doing a lot of real writing these days because scrolling through social media and crafting the perfect witty status update is so much easier.

  • Katie April 2, 2014, 12:26 pm

    I am going to echo all the other “ME TOO’S!” that everyone else has already commented. My life is on full-speed right now and I know it’s to fill the void of inadequacy. Thank you for writing this.

  • Arnebya April 2, 2014, 1:06 pm

    The people in your head have been conversing with those in mine. I HATE when they leave without permission.

  • Andrea April 2, 2014, 1:13 pm

    I feel it would be wrong to go get my secret stash of m&ms right now to comfort myself while I contemplate all of your fabulous words!

  • injaynesworld April 2, 2014, 3:52 pm

    Facebook is the anti-Christ. The only time I’m ever 100% present in the moment is when I’m taking care of or riding a horse. There’s something about that physical connection that demands all my attention and focus. I call horses my sanity maintenance. Nature abhors a void. It will always rush in to fill it, and not always with good stuff.

  • Erin@MommyontheSpot April 2, 2014, 5:34 pm

    I totally relate to this. Instead of maximizing the little time I have to write, i check email or twitter. I never thought of it as self-sabatoging because I was *busy*, but I think you are totally on to something there.

    Thanks for writing this!

  • Melisa April 2, 2014, 8:30 pm

    OMG this is ME. No wonder we get along so well.

  • julie gardner April 3, 2014, 9:49 am

    I would totally sway with you for nine hours at a Phish concert.

  • Liz @ ewmcguire April 3, 2014, 9:03 pm

    Yep, me too. I’m thinking about getting one of those apps that limits FB time. But first I need a padlock for my fridge!

  • Leisa Hammett April 7, 2014, 12:26 pm

    Bravo. Nailed it. And btw: I love you. So happy to be in the #LTYMnashville cast. xoxo

  • heidi April 10, 2014, 10:30 am

    Well said! So well said. Have you seen that Louise CK interview with Letterman where he talks about that empty space and how we fill it? It was profound and funny at the same time. I think it was a Letterman interview? Anyway, if you get a chance look it up.
    This is a good reminder for me. I want to be more comfortable with The Void. To leave room for quiet and thoughts that never get a chance to form. Really it’s about being more comfortable with me.
    Great, great post Ann. I’ll take this one with me today.

  • Elaine A. April 11, 2014, 4:35 pm

    I find myself having to take more breaks than I used to. It’s all too much. Sometimes I really miss the days when it was JUST my blog. And the things in my head to write there, not everywhere else. I get it.

  • Lady Jennie April 12, 2014, 9:28 am

    Ann! How did you get access to the inner workings of my brain? :-)

    Lovely post and so incredibly relatable. And I’m glad I’m not alone, though I wouldn’t wish The Void on anyone.

  • Wendi April 4, 2015, 9:30 am

    I know you’re going to laugh at me, knowing what I went through when Teddy was a puppy, but GET A DOG. It’s been such a great distraction/break to have Teddy around because I have to get up and take him outside, go for a walk with him, etc.

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