A Slack Tide: The Space Between

David Todd McCarty

A story about nothing

This is a piece about nothing.

On this day, I find myself in between — in a space of nothingness, void of ideas and passions, fears and anxieties, delights and goals. I’m not happy or sad, frightened or exhilarated, bored or entertained. It’s not a bad place to be exactly, but sort of disconcerting. We’re used to being either pushed or pulled in one direction or another. We’re rarely just sitting still.

The place where I live, the low country in the southernmost part of New Jersey, is not just affected by the tides, the coming and going of water; it is formed by it. We live on a peninsula known as Cape May, a patch of ground surrounded by water that ebbs and flows. It’s what feeds the earth around us, but as climate change causes the seas to rise, it’s liable to be the end of us as well.

A slack tide is a time in between, where the forces of gravity caused by an orbiting moon, either pushing or pulling the water in one direction or another, are exerting no perceptible stress on the water. Everything is nearly motionless, like water floating in space. The tide is neither coming or going. It’s waiting. It’s in between.

When I feel like this, I struggle to create anything meaningful because I lack all motivation. It feels terribly unproductive and a waste of time — time that is getting more precious by the day.

Star athletes have to rest and recover before they can perform again. Even God rested on the seventh day. Presumably, He figured He’d done enough, so he took a break to enjoy all that He had created. Sometimes it feels like maybe He wasn’t quite done and should have put in a little more time. Maybe could have tied up a few loose ends.

I’m what I like to call a sort of serial creator and all-around artistic junkie, almost always fiddling around on some project or another. Sometimes I find it productive, and other times it’s mere creative masturbation, designed to amuse me alone.

Obviously, I spend a lot of my free time writing, but I have also spent a great deal of time, energy, and money pursuing photography, filmmaking, graphic design, and cooking. This leads to all sorts of side pursuits, such as building websites and creative branding campaigns for things that may or may not exist in real life.

Writing is my preferred pastime of choice, mainly because I don’t need to involve anyone else in order to do what I want. I’m in complete control of all aspects of the process except publishing. This is where photography and filmmaking fall apart for me. It’s too expensive and requires too many other people. Branding is what I do for a paycheck, and that comes with clients with their own wants, needs, desires, fears, and opinions, which is why I spend time designing campaigns for brands that don’t exist. There’s no one to tell me what to do, and I can do the work I know is possible.

If I’m being honest, the publishing part is where the business of writing falls apart for me. It’s less about the skill of writing or even of the quality of your ideas and more about following the procedures and rules of a system designed to weed you out. It’s working hard to write something they want, not writing something you want to say, and finding an outlet for it. Plus, the bar is high, and publishers prefer to work with name brands.

I don’t like to work that hard for rewards that are generally pretty minimal. I don’t do all that well with delaying gratification. I write this today, and no one will read it for months, if at all? No thanks. I’ll just push it out to Facebook and Medium.

I’m a procrastinator of the worst kind. I’ll put off anything that doesn’t immediately capture my imagination or enthrall me, especially if the thing I’m delaying causes me anxiety or stress, which is a lot. If I think I can get away with not doing it today, I won’t. Then I do it in a panic that lasts all of twenty minutes, even though it probably caused me hours, days, or even weeks of anxiety as it hung over my head.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m far more interested in building something than repairing something. It takes a lot less skill to do something from scratch than to attempt to fix a cascading catastrophe of epic proportions. I’ve definitely made things worse before having to call a professional. Why bother with all the stress in the first place? This has its own anxieties because my wife thinks my job as the “man of the house” is to at least attempt to fix things. I point to my many failures as clear evidence to the contrary.

When it comes to creating, sometimes things have to incubate for a time before they’re ready to become fully formed. This is natural. But for me, this is when I switch to another art form. If I’m tired of writing, I take pictures. When I’m tired of taking pictures, I might design something. Occasionally, I get the energy and passion to create something larger, like a short film. Then I might go back to writing poetry. In between is a lot of information gathering, which mostly comes down to reading, watching videos, and listening to podcasts.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. That’s for amateurs. I can make myself create. I’ve hate-written plenty for work; Lighthearted, amusing, comical, or even endearing copy designed to cause an emotional reaction. It’s a skill using a muscle. I don’t have to be in love to write a love song. I don’t have to feel funny to write something funny. But it helps.

So today, I’m in between. My life isn’t falling apart or on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s slack, with no outside forces stressing me with a need to attract or repel. It just is. I don’t like it, but I understand how much worse it can be. It’s certainly better than a sharp stick in the eye.

The Eagles play the Giants at 1 pm today. That doesn’t seem likely to improve my outlook. It doesn’t matter much whether they win or lose, and it never really did. I’ll just be over here floating in between the spaces. But that’s okay because tomorrow the shit storm starts all over again.

Even dinner is planned for burritos which is just more leftovers disguised as something else. Heat up your tortillas and pile on the jalapeños.

It’s better than nothing.

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Writer, Director, Photographer, Designer, and Journalist. I am endlessly curious about politics, street food, photography, and garden gnomes.

Cape May Court House, NJ

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