Friday, January 9, 2015

"In Praise Of Nothing"

Seinfeld was famously attributed to be “a show about nothing”, which, of course, it wasn’t.  It was a show about everyday concerns, and not about “My best friend moved in because they’re fumigating his apartment and he’s driving me crazy!”  Meaning tedious, situation comedy clichés.

This post is not concerned with the Seinfeldian version of “nothing.”  Instead it is about the actual nothing.  The real “non-deal.” 

I am writing today in praise of the magnificent and in my distorted carnival-mirror view of world highly under-appreciated “Void.” 

I have mentioned a recent “dental panic”, wherein I was experiencing acute and prolonged irritation in the gum area between my two back teeth on the right side of my mouth, both the tops as well as the bottoms. 

Jumping ahead to avoid the part where I embarrass myself imagining “horror stories” concerning invasive dental procedures followed by a Vicodin-placated recovery process (which I shall probably unveil on another occasion), it turned out that I had Thanksgiving Dinner food stuck between my back teeth that both vigorous flossing and intense rinsing and spitting were unable to dislodge, but that a dentistically-supplied gadget called the “Go-Between” did. 

Now my mouth is (temporarily) okay.  And that’s what I want to talk about.

What does it mean for my mouth to be (temporarily) okay?

What it means – providing the focus of this exercise – is that, the oral crisis having abated, the sensation in my mouth can now most accurately be described as…


And what a wonderful feeling that is!

I had a pain in my mouth, and now I don’t.  Described otherly:  I have successfully proceeded from a condition characterizable as “something” – an uncomfortable and scary irritation in my gum-line – to a condition resulting from by its absence that is currently characterizable as…


“Nothing”, he hopefully persuasively proclaims, is a highly underrated situation.  Underrated, because it is generally entirely overlooked.   

“How do you feel?” people commonly inquire.  And the responses comes back,



“Can’t complain.”

“Top-of-the-world!” for the overly effusive.

Nobody says, “I feel nothing.”  Except perhaps like a psychopath, who is nobody’s idea of the “Behavioral Ideal.”  Also, maybe, some formerly depressed person taking their “meds” might offer such a response – “I feel nothing” – fully aware of their capacity to feel immeasurably worse.  I would never write that reaction off, but it is a meager accolade at best, as in, “‘Marking on the curve’, feeling ‘nothing’ can feel pretty darn good!”

I am talking today about “feeling nothing” as “the thing to shoot for” as a greatly desirable condition of existence.  Not all the time, of course, but as a generalized baseline. 

Following my heart surgery of five years ago, my most cherished aspiration was to feel “normal” again, experiencing no trace of the after-effects of a serious operation.

How does “normal” feel in that situation?  It feels exactly like “nothing.”  You check yourself out, and “head-to-toe” – and especially after heart surgery, “chest” – you do not feel a thing.

The appreciation of “nothing” may sound like an unusual perspective, but think about it for a second and you may well come to notice that the desirable standard of “nothing” is, in fact, pervasive in all of our lives.

Think about cheese.  (Not the overly pungent variety, the middle-of-the-spectrum cheeses.)   You take the cheese out of the fridge and, if it’s been in there a while, you invariably smell it, to see if it’s still okay.  What is the standard you use to determine if that cheese is okay?  The cheese is okay, I submit to you, if it smells like…


You cannot smell it at all?  That’s a good cheese.

The same goes for meat, and the same goes for milk.  “Bad” milk smells like something.  “Okay” milk smells like nothing.

“Nothing” is traditionally discounted because “nothing” is the opposite of Front Page News.  It is simply the status quo.  But from a certain perspective, one in which the status quo is compared with the status unnatural and I hate it!, “nothing” can be one of the greatest feelings in the world.  And it is unfair, says I, to treat it so dismissively.

Being late makes me feel jangly.  So I make a point of being on time.  And when I am, what do I experience?  Not satisfaction or relief, but a glorious sense of indescribable “nothingness.”

I watch a rerun of SVU, an episode I have already seen but I am unable to remember the ending.  Some people might think I am wasting my time.  But to me, I feel cozily enveloped in comforting – say it again, children – “nothingness.”

It’s like taking a breath.  We take taking a breath entirely for granted.  Because it’s “nothing.”  But at the same time, the writer loftily suggests, it is everything.  And, therefore, justly deserving of our acknowledgment.

Am I against the occasional “High Point”?  Of course not.  The heart-pounding exhilaration of going on stage.  The excitement of beginning to write something without any idea of where it’s going.  The delight and connection of family and  friends.  When the Leafs win the Stanley-frickin’-Cup. 

These and other deviations from the norm – like a magnificent sunset or a cool and refreshing glass of water – are all welcome exceptions.  But for my overall preference, as an everyday reliability…

Give me “nothing.”

“Nothing” may not be everything.

But it is way better than most people think it is.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Fish, especially, should smell like nothing.


Marathon Man said...

Did you have to visit the Go-Dentist to benefit from the Go-Between? I don't recall seeing such a tool hanging in the dental torture section at the local Rx.