What They Lack

The other day, I listened to the acclaimed author Amy Tan discuss a new creative pursuit she embraced during Covid:birdwatching and translating those encounters into art. She spoke of learning to focus solely on the bird, patiently waiting for it to reveal itself amidst the garden’s clutter. As she filled in the background, the bird’s form emerged with remarkable clarity.

This resonated deeply. While I may lack artistic or musical talent, I’ve heard that great composers grapple more with the silence between the notes than the notes themselves. It’s a reminder that in any creative discipline, it’s often the negative space that defines the object.

This principle extends far beyond artistic pursuits. Consider how we often describe our relationships in terms of what they lack. “He’s slow to anger,” we might say about a boyfriend. “She’s not arrogant,” about a friend. Even in the workplace,we might praise a boss for “not abusing his employees.” These descriptions, while seemingly positive, define the relationship through absence rather than presence.

What if, like Amy Tan with her patient focus on the bird, we shifted our perspective? Instead of defining our connections by what they’re not, what if we celebrated the positive qualities that give them shape? A supportive partner. A loyal confidante. A leader who inspires trust. By focusing on these aspects, we create a richer, more meaningful picture of the relationships that enrich our lives.


About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


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