SOL Tuesday Taking Up Space

We can choose how we take up space. Sometimes. We take up space by being, by existing. How much of that we experience as choice depends. Depends on what? On which spaces we’re talking about; depend on which boundaries and containers apply. On how that space or those spaces may be shared and with whom. What are the conditions for occupying space, for identifying a place as our own? Who gets to decide and when?

To write – that’s a way to take up space, to claim space on the page, I suppose, but ultimately and ideally in the mind of the reader. When we read we are offering space to someone or something. We create and occupy space simultaneously when we read our own words, I guess. How we may feel about taking up space definitely depends. On how we were raised, on what were told was our place and to what degree we accepted, rejected or negotiated those parameters. How we feel about taking up space is inevitably tied to messages we’ve internalized about who is entitled to more space and where we stand in relationship to them. How we feel about taking up space has a lot to do with being a boy, a girl, neither or both. How we feel about taking up space depends on our worst experiences more than on our best experiences I’m willing to bet.

It’s possible to create, hold and/or share space. I know. I’ve done it. Sometimes I might even be good at it. Who opens up space for you? Who welcomes you warmly into their space and how do you reciprocate? When do you recognize the need to create space by removing yourself? Where have others held space for you? How did it feel? I mean, sometimes we’re invited to take up space among or alongside others. On certain occasions we may be asked to stand in the center of attention; we are given the floor but we do not own the space. Which spaces do we/can we own and whom does it serve and how?

How do we choose to take up space in public? How do those micro and macro decisions come about? Taking up space in public is a social endeavor and therefore fraught. Place and space all have these intricately woven, visible and invisible structures/boundaries that are deeply contextual. How we show up in one instance may not translate well to a different instance. There are rules upon rules and still we make up our own to be on the safe side.

How I choose to take up space depends. It depends on what the stakes are. For me. Depends on the weight and composition of expectations that permeate the space and the occasion. Depends on what I believe I can afford measured against my fears of what I imagine an absolute failure might be. How I choose to take up space is always a calculation.

10 thoughts on “SOL Tuesday Taking Up Space

  1. You have made me ponder, and reflect, both metaphorically and literally. I’m thinking about the states of all matter (we matter?): liquid (taking the shape of its container), solid (shaped by its container), and gas (evanescent, present-yet-elusive)—and all you say here about the ways of being in this world. Thanks for this.

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  2. You leave me pondering about the question of space. One thing that comes to my mind is how much space it is possible to create for another person by being present and listening. .

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  3. I want to thank you for giving me space for letting me leave my blog on Medium years ago. I felt so welcomed. You do provide space for others — it is noticeable how reflective you are on your space, and the space of others.

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  4. I love the mathematical motif in this piece. Your questions about the open space and who holds this for you brought me to some painful memories and reflections. I also think about the space that I give others in my thoughts. Your ideas about the “micro and macro” has my mind in a tailspin as I consider the many possibilities of voice and thought. Thank you for taking the space to write this.

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  5. Somewhere around this line, “When we read we are offering space to someone or something. We create and occupy space simultaneously when we read our own words, I guess” I started to think about my students and their reading and writing lives. Then this, “How we feel about taking up space is inevitably tied to messages we’ve internalized about who is entitled to more space and where we stand in relationship to them.” And then you start asking questions, and I found myself asking along. In fact, I read this post quickly last night & then again this morning so I could think about the questions for a minute. I had long *wanted* to write, but I didn’t; I sometimes still wish to take up space and choose, instead, to make myself small. The questions you pose have me thinking – how can I hold/share space for my students? When should I remove myself from that space? Where else do I do this? Who does this for me? These are great questions to knock around in my mind this summer. Thanks for offering me the space to think about them.

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    1. Thanks for thinking along with me, Amanda. The connection to students is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking a lot about gender differences in how we allocate space, first internally and then externally. Definitely stuff to knock around for a while.

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