Clara Barnhurst

For the first time in two years, I got myself embroiled in a gaming project. It’s a typical bit of number crunching. The sort I would do throughout the thirty years I’ve played tabletop roleplaying games: see how this dice mechanic could improve that game system. A relatively simple thought experiment. A cognitively neutral one. A blank space.

I haven’t been able to write anything but the blogs for the past few weeks. It’s a worry. I’m always writing. For me to stop is a bit like a pet going off their food. I just don’t have the emotional space, so I blog and hope it’s enough.

Writing doesn’t require any particular mood or frame of mind. It doesn’t really need anything but to be in the habit. One drawing class, a professor told us that drawing wasn’t a skill so much as a habit: you did it or you didn’t do it. Writing is quite similar. Once you’re in the habit, it’s pretty easy to keep writing.

What writing does require is the emotional space to delve into oneself and express things that ring true to other humans. Reaching people is a skill, even if the medium is more of a habit. I haven’t had the space. I need blank spaces.


There are a lot of reasons my emotional glass is full, and the two year mark of life as I understood it ending is a big one. The specific events I’ve shared elsewhere; I won’t get into that here. Suffice to say I don’t have the space for any new things. So I’m mucking around with game mechanics because it’s neutral. Pretend, in a way that is removed from me: it’s just numbers and convention.

Small things throw me. The other day, I lost an earring. It was a nice earring, and sentimental - my mum gave them to me as a coming out present. But it’s a thing, and things come and go. It’s a shame but it’s not the end of the world, right? Right. Except when the emotional glass is full. When all ready skipping stones across the watershed of overload, losing an earring is the same as losing at life. Naturally I fell to bits.

Tension is a wonderful thing. Much of what people learn when they try to reach people is how to build and maintain tension. When to release that tension, and what will make that release meaningful. Tension makes us care, in a way. It gives us a question to dwell on.

In creating things, there is a point where the tension just needs to be let out. After a point, a person releases the tension on their own: they can’t maintain that tension any longer, even if the work is asking them to. They give up and disengage from what’s in front of them. They enter a blank space.

That happens because maintaining that emotional tension is tiring. When a person’s emotional glass is full, they are tired. Exhausted. They have no energy to manage the little inconveniences of life. They can’t do it because they are constantly maintaining the background tension of life - the white noise is too much to deal with the specific. When new things happen, they lose their grip.


Anxiety is an aesthetic experience: all of a person’s senses are operating at their peak. Unlike most aesthetic experiences, anxiety has no moment of release. No catharsis. All the pathos, none of the closure. When a person loses their grip, they do it all kinds of ways. I lost my grip over my earring by hiding under my duvet, not getting dressed, and reaching out to friends because I felt alone. It’s only an earring, but my senses were already working as hard as they could and now there was a new stress.

A person who is reaching out in this way is not seeking attention. We are seeking outlets. Sometimes we have specific people we know we can use in that way, I’m lucky to have a large friendship group that will let me vent at them. Some folk just need to call out into space and hope someone answers. They are stuck there with all their senses working as hard as they can, and they need someone to help them leave the aesthetic space before it kills them.

And it will kill people. We can’t manage that kind of tension all the time. That amount of strain will damage a person for life if they don’t kill themselves to make it stop. We need blank spaces. We need these cognitively neutral tasks, friends that will let us vent off extra feelings, and systems around us that can act as a safety valve when it becomes too much.

Maybe people find it tiring to help hold a friend up that’s stuck in that space. That’s actually OK, but it’s important to be kind about it. It’s important to examine one’s own feelings and not make it that person’s problem. If a person has to disengage, that’s fine. Sometimes the feelings come out too quickly and with an intensity that those around us can’t deal with. Sometimes a person needs to call out for help several times over a period of time - it’s OK if you don’t respond. Not everyone will be in a space to help. Just be honest and say so; we all need blank spaces.

My blank space is still half formed. I haven’t found the neutral point I need to start letting the tension drop on its own. I’ll keep looking. So I’m working on my little number game, trying to leave the aesthetic experience. Trying to let the watermark fall a little. Maybe learn something about what drives me over the edge? Maybe. I can’t let myself think that far ahead. The event horizon of my thoughts will expand as the glass empties. For now, I’m finding a blank space.


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