I’m just finishing up a book called Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, in which a teenage girl deals with the loss of her uncle to AIDS. He was an artist and much of the story revolves around a final portrait that he painted of the narrator, June, and her sister. One of the great poignancies of this novel is that June thinks she knew and loved her uncle best in the world, only to learn in the aftermath of his death that there was so much she didn’t know about him, or about herself. There’s a brief conversation in the book about the concept of negative space, which is a term often applied to art, photography, and design. It refers to the area around the main object of any composition, and the significance that space often has. Sometimes there are even objects that have been deliberately embedded in the negative space, that our mind registers even though we may not consciously see them. One of the best examples is the Fedex logo; take a closer look at it and you’ll see an arrow in the blank space right in the middle of it.
So much of this book is centered around loss and regret that it made me reflect on how often we only learn the true depth of our feeling about a person, a place, or a situation when they are no longer in our lives. How often do you pick up the phone to call someone that you can no longer call? How often do you wish you can return to a place in your childhood that no longer exists? When these thoughts occur to you the emotion of the moment is often overwhelming, and it can bring back a level of grief that you thought you’d moved on from. To me, the absence of someone or someplace you loved is very much like the negative space in art. While we have that person or place with us we’re often focused on a million other things and our love for them sits in the background. As soon as we’re forced to change our perspective we see very clearly how much they meant to us. Our feelings were always there; we just weren’t registering them on a conscious level, and once this realization hits, we may be filled with regret. Did we appreciate the person or place enough? Did we tell them how much we loved them or thank the universe for bringing them into our lives as often as we should have? Sometimes we feel like the answer may be no, and it brings us great sadness.
There may be no real remedy for that sadness other than to use it as an awakening type moment, where we shift our perspective and consider the negative space that surrounds our current everyday lives. Are we living mindfully enough to be aware of everything that matters most, or are we consumed by daily details that take center stage? Are we holding onto something in the past that we wish we could change, or so anxious over what the future may hold that we’re really almost never aware of the present and how quickly it could be taken away from us? There are many, many things that we’re encouraged to do that can help us be more present and mindful. We could practice yoga or meditation, we could write in a gratitude journal, or we could bring more spirituality into our lives. These are all wonderful things, but I’m suggesting we could simply start by focusing on the negative space. What is currently with us everyday that we’re just not seeing, or appreciating, or cherishing? How much regret or sadness would we have if it were suddenly taken away from us?
How on earth can I relate this to a cocktail? Well, the concept of shifting our perspective is in many ways related to thinking outside the box. We all fall into patterns of thought and behavior, simply because that’s where we’re most comfortable. Sometimes we have to literally force ourselves to think or act differently in order to have a real moment of clarity or appreciation. I tried to do that with today’s drink. I wanted to make a cocktail that could be served in a Collins type glass over crushed ice. The first thing I did was to shift my focus over to spirits that I wouldn’t ordinarily consider. I landed on a wonderful bottle of Copper & Vine brandy from Cooper River Distillers right here in Camden, that has a gloriously warm flavor that’s enhanced by being aged in NJ wine barrels. I had a TRUE tonic syrup that I’d been wanting to try, which would definitely be an unusual match, so I added that in next. The drink was moving in a bitter direction so I amplified that by going with Genepy des Alpes, which has bitterness for sure, but also has some floral notes as well. Now I needed a sweet component, and I really, really wanted to use something citrusy like a lemon peel simple syrup, but I stopped myself and reached for my bottle of Tait Farms pear shrub instead. A splash of lemon at the end and a topping of club soda were all that I needed to complete the drink. The final result is full of surprises. You’re hit with the bitterness first, but that gives way to warmth and sweetness, and maybe a realization that we need to look at things a little bit differently and a little more deeply to see what’s really right in front of us, and what really matters most. And that is exactly what I was going for.
The Negative Space
Add all the ingredients except the club soda to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a Collins type glass over crushed ice and top with the club soda. Garnish with a lemon peel. Live in the moment, see the negative spaces in your life, appreciate what really matters. Enjoy!