From The Show About Nothing to the Column About Nothing

THE VOICE - September 18, 2002

From The Show About Nothing to the Column About Nothing

Seinfeld was a show supposedly about nothing. Is there really such a thing as writing about nothing? My mother used to say that there was no such thing as total silence: there is always sound:but is there a possibility of writing about no subject?

Maybe you wander, and perhaps you don’t really pick one subject to wax on and off about but does that make it nothing:per se? My mother was a writer (when she wasn’t paying bills as an executive secretary.) She wrote rather dry columns and a book with hilarious stories of our years living in many places. Indeed, I think she subconsciously wanted to fail but found herself occasionally succeeding. She took courses at the University of Alberta on writing. One instructor, U of A. actor/writer Bill Meilen asked the class to write a poem or short story about nothing. Many wrote what they thought fulfilled the assignment’s parameters. Ooops! Bill critiqued their submissions and the class would inevitably agree that it said something. Some students attempted to write something vague or murky but the murkiness became the subject. They couldn’t see it. They believed that because they did not name a topic, character time, or incident that they had fulfilled the parameters. But it does not.

What parameters does “nothing” have?

Hmm… It must not discuss a singular subject or idea. It can’t express an opinion about anything. So how do you write about nothing? I am actually choosing a subject – it is a debate on the subject of nothingness. The subject is there.

Consider the opening line to a Peter Benchley novel, “It hovered.” We don’t get the subject described clearly but we understand that the creature, or something, is animate and it is hovering. We don’t know where this “it” is but we are tantalized by those two words so that we keep reading. Or at least I did.

So what can you write to say nothing? Exactly what is silence? Is it the same as “absolute quiet”? I don’t think so. Indeed, I agree with the professor. I think Seinfeld was a show about multiple subjects. It pioneered a different writing style and it just took life, as it was, a jumble of happenings from people. But then again, wasn’t that the same plot for Leave It To Beaver?

And so, I am actually writing something, and there is no such thing as total silence and I’m not hovering to do it.

Laura Seymour first published herself, at age 8. She has since gone on to publish a cookbook for the medical condition of Candida. She is working toward her B.A. (Psyc).