“Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”
~Richard Swenson, M.D.
In 2016, Cork and Bottle Publishing Company published Sensible Wellness for Women, the book I co-wrote with my friend Andra. Writing with a partner is interesting because you must each make accommodations to create a cohesive project. Andra and I didn’t always agree on which sections should be included or cut. We did not see eye to eye on the cover art or the Oxford comma (I’m pro Oxford, she is decidedly against). We squabbled good naturedly about the font. But there was one thing we wholeheartedly agreed upon.
Former librarians and life-long readers both, we love a good margin. In a book, the words themselves create the fullness of the experience. A page needs whitespace to border that text. Too many words on a page and all the words become meaningless. We wanted plenty of whitespace so that the reader could fully absorb our words without becoming overwhelmed. Space to jot down their own thoughts as they read. And plenty of corner space to dog ear pages, because it’s a lie that librarians hate dog ears. Dog ears tell us that you read the book and liked it enough to come back and finish it. Or, even better, you were so moved or inspired by something that you needed to return to that idea again. It became a rallying cry when we would meet with our editor. “More margin!” we would scream, delirious at the thought of some future reader writing in the margin of a book we wrote.
It’s as useful in life as it is in prose. The word margin comes from the Latin marginem, meaning border, comfort, or cushion. The margin is the cushion between the load we carry and the limit of what we can haul. Leave enough space and there is comfort. Cram too much in and nothing makes sense.
And we are wont to cram too much inside. As Paula Coelho so aptly wrote, “We humans have two great problems: the first is knowing when to begin; the second is knowing when to stop.” We’re better at saying yes than no, preferring a green light to one flashing red. Margin isn’t something that happens automatically. It’s a conscious choice and not an easy one in this fast-paced world. We all have so many demands on our time and energy.
Creating more space in my life has been a theme this season, but I’m struggling with making the dream a reality. I intentionally created more whitespace in my weekly calendar. But the dog is due for his shots. I need a mammogram. And a colonoscopy. And a haircut. The quarterly taxes are due. Izzie has a learner’s permit and still needs to be driven to guitar lessons, to sewing camp, to the doctor. All of this on top of the normal, yet never ending to-do list of bills and payroll and monthly reports and trips to the grocery or the UPS store. I know I should be doing less, but I just can’t seem to slow it all down.
Is it possible to slow down and still get things done?
Maybe we’re just out of practice after the forced slowness of quarantine. It seems that the very moment that restrictions were lifted, life was catapulted into hyperdrive. But perhaps our nervous systems weren’t quite prepared for cramming that many things so quickly back into our days.
And then I remembered our mantra. More margin. When a book is published, the margins are set first and then the words are stretched or hyphenated to fit cleanly inside. The whitespace surrounds the text. The comfort lies in the border.
I must accept that this season of my life is a busy one, that there are many things to do each day as a mother, wife, and business owner. But I can control the edges of those days. So I lengthen my day by half an hour. I figure if I am less stressed while awake, then my sleep will be deeper and more restorative so I won’t miss the half hour. I give myself fifteen extra minutes each morning to sip coffee in the swinging egg chair on my back porch. I watch the sunrise and pet Cat Stevens and ignore my phone. I plan the other fifteen minutes for sunset, same swinging chair. I think about my day and count fireflies. A margin that I can live with.