The art of margins

At the end of a chapter of a book I’ve been cherishing, a sophisticated but equally affable character died all of a sudden. The author I was admiring up to that point allocated a single sentence to describe his suicide and took off in haste, leaving half of a page blank.

She moved on, but I couldn’t. To come to terms with his understandable but unforgivable act, I needed that empty space. It actually felt comforting.

What appeared to be an irresponsible act of leaving a room was in fact an invitation. The muted space was another creation that amplified my emotion; it was big enough to contain my share of the story and also confined enough to hold the tension.

The art of margins also appear in the musical performance. Below is a part of the conversation between Japanese writer Murakami Haruki and Seiji Ozawa, the former conductor of Boston Symphony Orchestra, describing pianist Glenn Gould’s performance in the book “Absolutely On Music.”

Gould ends a phrase, takes a brief pause, and moves on to the next phrase.
Ozawa: Now that—where he took that pause—that’s absolutely Glenn at his freest. It’s the hallmark of his style, those perfectly timed empty spaces.
Murakami: Ordinary musicians don’t do it?
Ozawa: No near. Or if they do, the spaces don’t fit in as naturally as this. It doesn’t grab you—you don’t get drawn in as you do here. That’s what putting in these empty spaces is all about, isn’t it? You grab your audience and pull them in (22).

The genius of the work that involves heart-to-heart communications lies in the ability to pause at the right time and make a room for the person on the other end to chip in.

Leaving a space, not jam-packing it, completes a great work.

Margin by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0


우리는 그녀를 특출나서가 아니라 특별해서 좋아한다.

우연히 효리네 민박 2 라는 JTBC 프로그램에서 이효리씨와 윤아씨가 민박객과 함께 “특출나지 않다”는 고민을 나누고 공감하는 영상을 보게 되었다.

특출나지 않다. 남들보다 못하다. 혹은 내가 세운 기준에 미치지 못하다.

생각조차 하기 싫은 말이다. 옆에 있으면 뒤도 안돌아 보고 도망가고 싶은 말이다. 듣자마자, 느끼자마자 블랙홀처럼 온몸의 힘을 쫘악 다 빼앗아 가는 말이다. 특히나 커리어에 있어서 특출나지 않다는 사실은 불빛 하나 없는 암흑처럼 느껴진다. 숨이 턱 막힌다. 내게 상처를 주었던 말이고, 지금도 학교 오피스 앞에 앉아 나를 기다리고 있는 말이고, 미래에도 잊을때면 흘끔 흘끔 나타날 말이다.

그런데, 곰곰이 생각해보면 내가 특출나지 않은건 너무나도 당연하다. 이 세상엔 나보다 잘하는 사람들이 항상 있고, 나는 내가 갖은 것보다 더 많은 것을 바라기 때문에 언제나 부족함을 느낄것이기 때문이다. 그렇다면 너무나도 당연한, 하지만 불편한 이 사실에 항상 속수무책으로 당해야 하는 건가?

아니다. ‘특출나지 않다’는 사실을 그저 며칠 쓰라리다가 잊혀지는 paper cut 정도로 만드는 사람들이 있다. 바로 특별한 사람들이다. 남들보다 잘해서 특별한게 아니라, 자기의 개성을 잘 알아서, 자기가 더 좋아하는 것, 더 우선으로 하는 것을 가꾸어 나가서, 그리고 자기의 소신껏 선택을 해서 특별한 사람들이다.

이효리씨는 자신은 춤도 노래도 특출나지 않다고 했다. 하지만 우리가 그녀를 좋아하는 이유는 그녀가 특출나서가 아니라 특별해서이지 않을까? 특출나지 않다며 주저 앉은 사람이 있다면 ‘특출나지 않아도 된다’는 위로보다는 ‘당신은 이미 이세상에 아무도 똑같은 사람이 없는 특별한 사람이다. 그러니 특출나려 하지 말고 더 특별해 져라’ 라는 말을 감히 건네고 싶다. 김이 모락모락 나는 따듯한 차를 후후 불며 조심스레 건네듯 그렇게 말이다.


Photo by BK / CC BY 2.0

Fully grasping the Olympic spirit

“The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”  – from the Olympic Charter

When I first heard this principle, it didn’t make sense to me. Athletes participating in Olympics represent their countries, national anthems are played at medal ceremonies, and medal counts by country are regularly updated. So, how come the Olympic Games are not about competitions between countries?

Then, it didn’t take that long to realize that I had missed something paramount. Watching the Olympics highlights, I was gasping at the twists and turns of the snowboarders in their halfpipe runs and unable to take my eyes off of figure skaters who delivered the perfect combination of artistry and physicality. And I was completely oblivious of their nationalities.

Few things transcend the boundaries of culture, generation, nationality and gender. Few things can be communicated not through languages, but from heart to heart. One of them is admiration for people who keep pushing the limits, persevere even after countless failures, and deliver the best in high-pressure situations. That is what the Olympics Games celebrate and that is why they are competitions between amazing individuals, not countries.