L’appel du vide

L’appel du vide is a French phrase for ‘the call of the void.’ It refers, literally, to the feeling we get when we’re high up, looking way, way down, and feel an urge to jump into the abyss. Maybe you know this feeling. It’s not a desire for the consequences of that jump, simply the magnetic pull of taking a leap out into the open. I’ve felt l’appel du vide a handful of times, mostly standing on cliff tops, manifesting in an absurd optimism that it is possible to defy gravity and fly if I only trust in the clear, thin air. I always give a little thanks to my prefrontal cortex in these moments of tension between imagination and corporeality.

There have been plenty of moments away from cliff tops that I’ve felt l’appel du vide, too. Sitting down to write a new show, cooking freestyle without a recipe, or committing to a collaboration with someone I’ve never worked with before. In each of these instances there was a safe path available (like, get a 9-5 job, open a cookbook, or only work with friends) but then there is this call from the nothingness that currently exists- the empty abyss where I *hope* a surprisingly new show/meal/game will be. Moreover, there is a strong pull of gravity at play, even with mental leaps. There is no safety net in creation; either I make a surprising new show/meal/game or I don’t, and the more ambitious the project, the more it’ll hurt to hit the ground. So I can’t hit the ground. I have to build a show/meal/game while in freefall, pulling the pieces from thin air while the wind rushes past my ears and I wonder why I insist on doing this time and time again. I know the moment I answer to l’appel du vide that I’m stepping off a cliff into an anxious and uncertain journey, and I do it anyway. All creators do. And I’ll say this for the void: the view is incredible on the way down.

There is a siren song of the abyss that is alluring to creators. It may be nothing but thin air now but if we follow that call there will be something soon, out of sheer necessity, in however long we have to make it happen.

I sit down to work everyday at 9am and everyday at 9am I stare at a blank page and my heart starts racing. Sometimes I feel nauseous, other times I want to bolt out of the house and never return. It’s a bit dramatic considering I’m sitting down to do what I love, but for better or worse, what I love is to be challenged, so the work I’m sitting down to do demands something of me- it demands that I start working without a concrete idea of what words or thoughts are going to show up on the page or if they’ll be in an order that will reach people the wayI hope they will, but I set my fingers to the keyboard and fall into the work.

I usually tumble for about five minutes, writing only how much I hate starting things and how I am not ready for this much unknown. So I jot down what is known: I am embarking on this project because I care about X. I’ve been excited to explore Y for ages and this is a perfect opportunity to do so with folks I adore and admire. Come to think of it, I just read this other thing about Y that had me thinking it might be cool to… etc. And there, from the thin air I was falling through just moments ago, there is something to hold onto; an idea, a curiosity, an excitement, and then it doesn’t matter what’s known and unknown because useful ideas and words are coming straight from the unknown right this second and in doing so they make themselves known.

It becomes clear as the process continues that the unknown is as fleeting as it is permanent. It’s hard to stay in the discomfort of falling into the abyss and doing nothing so we do something, just like we did yesterday. We fill space almost as a habit, which is how the last draft of the script got made, and the draft before that, and the one before that, too. We pull together words and ideas we didn’t even know were on the tips of our minds and, once again, we are creating something out of nothing. The air in the abyss is thin for a reason- it is where the veil between creation and chaos is most permeable, and, just like yesterday, and the day before that, we have to be in the nothing in order to access that something.

We don’t have to go far to practice being in the nothing. ‘The call of the void’ is all around us. We are constantly staring down space and possibility, choices and other choices. Sometimes the call is a gentleman one- something like picking up a book by a new author you’ve never heard of before, or it can be as big as moving to a new country or starting a new business or choosing to fall in love. L’appel du vide shows us where there is a thin but meaningful gap between what we have and what we desire. It tells us that now is a moment for something new- something that doesn’t yet have a form to it- and the only way we’ll ever understand the form of the thing that doesn’t exist yet is if we make it ourselves, using all the tools the void has to offer. All it requires in return is the agentic sacrifice of our closely held sense of stability and safety.

To tie back to the post a few weeks ago, taking this leap is an act of faith. It says ‘I trust that I can make something happen, even though I know not what.’ We are not at the mercy of the void, we are guests there, welcomed, invited, and taken care of. By believing ourselves worthy of the tools the unknown has to offer us, we become so, and when we get close to the ground and the tool we need is a gust of wind to lift us back up to the top so we can do it again, that gust is there, and not a moment too soon.

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