Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Horror Vacui*




“Drawing for Horror Vacui,” 1988 Mixed adhesive plastics on Mylar with iron frame, 103 3/4 x 124 inches. Collection of the artist. © Judy Pfaff


March came in like a lion. Bitterly cold, snowy, and windy. I’ve been camped out on the couch next to the fireplace, reading, and playing on my tablet. Not much to do, no place to go. Safe and sound.

Blessings, right?

Of course, my mind wanders to what I could (i.e. should) be doing with the vast swaths of time before me.

  • The floors need vacuuming. As you know, I hate my vacuum cleaner.
  • Maybe I’ll make a batch of cookies. Nah, then I’d have to eat them.
  • Write something? Nothing inspires, these days.

As I find excuses to dismiss each suggestion, the warmth from the hearth and the comfort of the couch lull me to sle….


Saved by the bell. It’s a friend from the Women’s Institute. She asks, “How are things with you?”

I tell her that life is good. I’m enjoying my retirement. So far, winter is not a hardship, even with the near blizzard conditions. Yes, cabin fever looms, it’s approaching the threshold, I’ll admit, but so far, it’s not a problem.


I tell her. “Even when I was working I was aware that I “should” be productive with my spare time. Put it to good use, be creative, or at the very least, keep the house in order. Now that I have all the time in the world, those judge-y voices are getting louder.”

As it happened, she had just been listening to a radio program. The show featured a recently retired fellow who struggled with his new retiree status. He too felt the pressure to “do something,” something grand, something earth-shattering, something meaningful. His solution was simple. Allow yourself to be happy with what you are doing, even if it is nothing at all.

Wow. Give your self permission to be happy.

I’ve been mulling this over ever since, trying his advice on for size, as it were.

And I’m resisting his words.

Do you want to know why?

Blogging. Damn it to hell, but everything I think about is processed through you guys, my audience. For better or worse, you guys are my witnesses; my confessors. Just as my WI friend said, blogging is like Frankie and Grace’s self-talk therapy. Talking to, and recording yourself via the iPhone.

So, welcome to my stream of consciousness:

Give your self permission to be happy.

I mean, sure who doesn’t want to be happy? 

But if I write that I’m happy, doesn’t that disregard, if not dismiss those who are struggling?

If I write that I’m unhappy, doesn’t that make me a whiny, self-centered first-worlder, and further diminish those who are truly struggling?

Wait: is this what survivor guilt is all about? Making it, “succeeding” when so many or struggling?

GAH! I’m over-thinking this, right?! I’ve always been over-thinking! Ever since adolescence and Nights in White Satin, when over thinking was the default mode for my crowd.

… and so on.

The term “nature abhors a vacuum” comes to mind. I’m sitting in a big, wide-open space at the moment, and waiting for nature to fulfill its lawful mandate. The Latin, Horror Vacui, is apt, if you interpret the first term literally. The horror of silence. Of emptiness. Of sitting still with nothing to do.

I’d say cabin fever has crossed the threshold, wouldn’t you?

***   ***   ***

In physics, *horror vacui, or plenism, is commonly stated as “Nature abhors a vacuum.” It is a postulate attributed to Aristotle, who articulated a belief, that nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill the rarity of an incipient void.

With many thanks to Elaine.

Categories: Personal Growth

Tags: , , ,

56 replies

  1. I retired early. At first, I felt that void. Then I learned the benefits of a nap. The feeling passed.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow that’s me. Right at this moment. No Blizzard, but all the rest. Always thinking you have to do things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If nature abhors a vacuum then I’d say you’re off the hook re: vacuuming, right?

    While I was away in Mexico I went to a Buddhist meditation gathering. I was a meditation virgin and I have to say, for a first timer it was pretty darn good. The lesson of the day, forcefully given by the resident messenger, (I don’t know what the person is called who leads the group so I’m calling him the messenger) was the importance of relaxing. Joyfully doing nothing. I’ve tried it. I’m not there yet, but I’m on board with the idea. Relaxing, it turns out – as you’re discovering – is hard work!

    My husband, also retired, is an ace relaxer, although he has given himself over to being the household chauffeur, driving me and the daughters where ever they wish to go, so he does have a “purpose”. But he can plunk himself on the couch and read for hours and never see the need to vacuum. We can learn from him.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Oh yes, I’m off the hook all right – hubby usually hauls out the hoover. His tolerance for dust bunnies is not as great as mine.

      My friend at the library suggested mediation, too. I’ve dabbled in the past, and agree that it is beneficial. There’s something about it, though, that I resist. Maybe the hard work you mention!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I contend we’re all permitted to piss and moan, even about trivial things. I don’t much care for those who say otherwise. I contend we’re all permitted to brag and boast, no matter the cause. I don’t much care for those who say otherwise. Life, any human life, all human life, is a series of ups and downs and we react accordingly. Regret is a waste of time and guilt is only helpful when it’s felt as a matter of conscience. There are entirely too many people caught up in the vortex of their own emotions, far past the point of seeing outside themselves.
    Say what you want, do what you want, write what you want — live purposefully, with measured intent.

    PS: While I enjoy clean floors, and I heart my vacuum, I do not get INSPIRED to vacuum. I shall read about your vacuum now. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I’m thinking Nature abhors your vacuum cleaner, also, Maggie. It just wants you to sit back, be happy and know that the new season of Grace and Frankie starts March 24. Yup. My calendar is marked.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am happy. I really don’t think my – or your – happiness disregards those who are suffering at all. Must we all be equally happy or unhappy? That doesn’t mean that we dismiss anyone’s unhappiness, or don’t do what we can to ease their pain. Our happiness can lift others up too, don’t you think? So, Maggie, enjoy your down time, your not-very-productive time, the lull before the spring. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I try to avoid them as much as I can also.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you – in the clear light of day, your words are undeniably true. More so, it is revealing to note that I don’t apply the same standard to others’ writing – if someone expresses delight, yes, I’m delighted for them. If someone expresses pain, I commiserate and wish them ease. Good or bad, I am happy that they shared, that they spoke, and would never suggest they do otherwise.

      Why cannot I do the same for myself? That is a question that bears examination!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I can retire in 11 months, not that I’m counting (I am). That’s part of the reason I began my Blog a little over a year ago, to force myself to commit to some kind of a writing schedule. It’s worked to a degree although even now, working 40hrs a week, I have the time to write, but I find excuses not to.
    I love the vacuum metaphor, I can relate completely. Wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I think you’re entitled to moan a little. These things take time. Getting used to a new day at your disposal, figuring out what to do. Avoiding that vacuum. It all takes time. Oh, and go ahead and talk about how good you have it. Some of us who are nearing retirement are looking forward to those days.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Some of us are just hard on ourselves by nature (possibly picking up where someone else left off, or possibly just compounded by that). I too have a difficult time giving over to inertia without qualms. I know this: I don’t feel good about myself if I don’t have something to show for large blocks of time and/or if I’m not “keeping up” – and by the latter I mean more or less staying on top of things that support a life. I keep in mind also that an entity in motion tends to stay in motion, while one given over to inertia tends to stay there too. So I push myself (or I’d do little). But I also cut myself slack too.

    I don’t know why I was born middle class in a first world country with all its pleasures and possibilities, when so many people in the world have hard, short, painful, poverty -stricken lives. But I know there is no reward in guilt and suffering, not for me or those whose situations might prompt those emotions in me.

    Thanks for this post that got me thinking (my best activity too) Maggie.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Be patient. If you allow the space, the answer will fill it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I suppose the thing that bothers me most about retirement is that I waste my days getting into philosophical arguments with my mutt, Scooter……and he always gets the best of me.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You’ve described perfectly the internal struggle I live everyday … what I want to do vs ‘the shoulds’. When it is over-extended on the ‘shoulds’, I’m irritable and mopey.

    Right now, I’m irritable and mopey.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I predict you won’t keep much of a vacuum 🙂


  14. Massively guilt-inflaming shoulds is one of the times Jesus’ righteous real anger flared up for all to see. For example, He mentions more than once those shouldsters who put an incredibly heavy burden on unconsecrated unexalted others who were trying to do right/gain heaven. Anyway, do not be a shouldster with yourself. Put the checklist down. It is your time to do what you want to, when you want to! Don’t forget: you have earned this time! It is yours to call.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have a long-standing personal commitment to disregarding “should” statements. As soon as I recognize an inner voice is using “I should…” as the basis for its tone of nagging, self-doubt, or negative self-talk? I prize it out of whatever nook it’s wedged itself into and put it away.

    Lock all your shoulds in a closet and let ’em duke it out amongst themselves, that’s my motto. Maybe they’ll even get some vacuuming done, while they’re at it…

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Happiness is way too overrated. Now worry, that’s for me. If I don’t have something to worry about, it means I must be dead. If I am dead, then why don’t I worry about being dead? Like when I’m dead, what will I wear? You see what I mean. If you pass your time worrying, you know you’ve squeezed every ounce out of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I hear you Maggie. Loud and clear. I’ve been going through something similar. What’s the point of blogging when half the world’s starving? Why am I concerned about traffic to my blog when modern-day slave trafficking is a mega business? Why write when I could be involved in supporting human rights? Oh I could go on. My blogging friend Di came to my aid before I imploded. She wrote “Being our own joy, we create that in the world” which assuaged the demons. For a while.


    • Denzil: thank you, thank you, THANK you. Your comment perfectly illustrates Di’s statement – the ripples of positive thought from her, to you, to me. And now we will wait for the pendulum to swing to shade before the next burst of light.

      Bless you!


  18. I’ve been blogging (here and there, on and off) since 2004 and I know very well the feeling that the blog is an extension of your thoughts – “I blog, therefore I am” is a phrase to use, maybe. After a while, everything is processed in terms of the blog. As for relaxing and not feeling guilty for it, it’s an art I haven’t yet mastered either, though I no longer feel that my time or self is worth less than anyone else’s (except for the occasions, mercifully fewer than in the past, when I plunge into a depression.)

    Liked by 1 person


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