The Blank Page

For many people, a blank, empty slate is a disturbing, threatening thing. There are no instructions whatsoever on how to fill it. There are no lines to fill in, no prompts or questions to start you thinking in the right direction. There is just you and your pen.

For others, a blank page presents the possibility of endless opportunity. You get to create your own story from scratch. There is nobody to tell you what you can and cannot say. There are no pre-existing story pieces that might hold you to a particular narrative arc. What you write, what you say, and what you draw are completely and totally up to you. There are no rules and no limitations other than those you impose on yourself.

Surprisingly, many of us actually do come to blank pages with pre-existing, self-imposed limitations. We write our words in straight lines, instead of circles. We start at the top left, instead of the middle. We hold the page in a landscape orientation instead of diagonally. We write in black ink, use paragraphs, and other agreed upon stylistic norms.

This is because we are afraid to be set adrift with no sense of direction or what to do. By carrying with us the limits of "what can be done with a blank page" we give ourselves a safe framework within which we can work without fear of breaking any taboos.

Thinking Outside the Box; Thinking of Spheres

But the whole point of a blank page - a truly blank page - is that anything can be done with it. You could fold it into a paper airplane (or a paper swan) and tell your story that way.

Life is the same way. Every day we are presented with a new, blank page. But every day, we start by drawing a small box in the middle and keep all our doodlings inside it. Or maybe we start our day by ruling our blank page, so that all our words come out in neat rows. We wake up and instead of gleefully reveling in the infinite possibilities, we limit our possibilities so that we don't have to feel bad about not taking them.

You can do anything with your day, if only you have the persistence to make it happen. Often, the difference between a magical day and a humdrum one is a few miles by car or train. Often, it is far less than that.

It pays to ask what we're missing out on by assuming the existence of behavioral rules that don't really exist. A friend of mine pointed out that her boss expects all employees to be at work from 9-5, regardless of their workload. She has tried to institute a change of policy that the emphasis should be on work completed, whether that happens before 9, during working hours, or at midnight. But this is so much out of the norm that it is unlikely to ever happen, even though it would save the company money and improve their output, as well as make the employees much happier.

Make Every Page Count

Lately, there have been some events in my life that have made me question how I'm using my blank pages. Someone very close to my family has contracted a terminal illness. Combined with the loss of a good friend earlier this year, I've been wondering why we throw away so much of the time given us.

I seem to be leaving a lot of empty space in my days because I follow the normal rules of daily time use. Or rather, the extra space gets filled with pointless babbling rather than meaningful sentences or coherent pictures. When I have a free moment, I will browse Facebook or my blog feeds instead of running through my Kenpo techniques, despite the fact that I'd much rather do the latter.

There are millions of people vying for my attention online. All of them are trying to get a shred of my blank page, and it all adds up. Little by little, the distractions eat away at the space I have to compose my own thoughts and ideas, leaving me very little room to write the story of my life.

It is certainly safer and easier to fill up your pages with other peoples' ideas or tiny, meaningless snippets from various sources. There are millions of places to get these little doodles, and they are premade and more than happy to take up your time. In the end, however, you are left with little more than a book of pointless babble that says nothing and means even less.

So take pen in hand and start writing your story. Only put in other peoples' words if they are really meaningful and contribute to your own narrative, but mostly, leave the space for yourself.

- (**