In the Fall when I return to university, I always find myself looking for quiet space, private space, space alone. I am looking for physical space away from everyone else. University campuses are often so crowded with students, cars, and things that it can be hard to find a relaxing space to study, eat lunch, or even think, let alone a space where I can be alone. Eventually I give up trying to find this space that is isolated while still being within the community. I end up eating my lunch off campus, and studying at home or late at night when most people have left.
I am the kind of person who needs physical space, a personal bubble, if you will. I know that this is who I am. However, I am also the kind of person who doesn’t like to take up space.there are different ways a person can take up space. There is the physical consumption of space. Think of the woman in the library with her books spread out on a large study table, or the man on the bus or train that is sprawled out across two seats, or maybe even three, depending on where they are resting their arms. But there is also a nonphysical space that we all share, emotional, metaphorical, intangible. Think the person who always manages to be the center of attention, or the coworker that always has something to say in meetings. This is the kind of space I hate to take up.
Secretly I tend to be jealous of the person who is always the center of attention, or the person who is getting praised. I often times do wish that it was me. I wish that I had thought up that brilliant idea, or done that amazing thing that everyone can’t stop talking about. But when it is me, when I am the focus, I tend to want to hide. I want to not be occupying so much space. Part of it is being shy, not wanting to be in a spotlight, but part of it is also that I am overly considerate of other people and don’t want to make anyone feel bad, if I get something that they don’t.For me taking up space in the world is a very tricky thing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this metaphorical space that we all share. I’ve noticed (or maybe I noticed before and it’s just starting to bother me now) that there are some people, especially in the classroom, that take up excessive amounts of space. In one of my classes there is a man who has something to say about everything. Literally. Now, I’m sure he is a nice guy, but he is super annoying in class because he’s like a walking Wikipedia article. No matter what we are talking about, he feels the need to add some factual information, share his opinion, or correct somebody else. He even attempted to take over the presentation from the teacher. I’m happy for him to be so knowledgeable (or think that he is), but does it really benefit the other students in class? Being that it’s hard for me to take up space and insert myself into a discussion, especially as a student in the classroom, I find his behavior insanely frustrating. I’m sure someone could say that if I want space then I just have to take it. It’s my fault for letting him have all the classroom space. This could be true. I could try harder to voice my opinions, but I also think everyone in a classroom setting (even a work setting) should be conscious of how much space they are taking up and allow other people the opportunity to voice their opinions without having to force there way in.
I’ve also noticed in the classroom that a lot of times taking up space can be about marking territory, and proving you have the biggest dick. I’ve seen this a lot in my classes where there are only a two or three men. It seems that one man will say something, asserting that he is a man and therefore has a dick (and I swear it’s usually a comment that makes him look tough), and then another man will have to say something to one up him and assert that he has a bigger dick. It’s not always about who has the most masculine ideas, lifestyles, opinions, but these comment battles (back and forth, back and forth, back and forth) tend to lend themselves to proving in someway that someone is the better man. I have found that women do this as well, but in less over ways. We’re not battling over who’s tits are bigger (it’s pretty easy to tell just from looking at two different women), but we are battling for attention. I’ve noticed that girls tend to either turn bitchy and take up space by bossing people around or asserting their harsh, cynical and often times downright nasty attitude, or we turn stupid and flirty and beg for attention that way.
This is by no means true of everyone, or every situation, but I am seeing this happen more and more. As a person who has a hard time taking up space, I look at these battles for space, dominance and attention in awe. I’ve come to understand that I play the part of observer. The one that fades away and allows everyone else (hands everyone else) space. To be honest, I’m not sure why I do this. It’s always been hard for me to participate. I’ve always been shy when it comes to groups. But when people take excessive amounts of space for themselves it become even harder for me to force myself to take space. It seems like more of a struggle.
As a teacher, I’ve found myself on the other side of students who take up too much space, and I haven’t quite figured out what to to about it. I scan the faces of the other students in my class to see if anyone is frustrated (rolling their eyes, looking away, zoning out) when a person who tends to talk a lot is yammering yet again, but usually they give away little. I highly doubt that I am the only one conscious of the space taken up in our classroom. As a teacher, I feel that it is my job to control it, to allocate the fair sharing of space in a discussion or class activity, but sometimes I am relieved when someone takes up excessive space, when someone really gets into it. It’s less pressure on me to try to pull something out of students who wouldn’t ordinarily talk. I don’t have an answer as a student or a teacher, but it is something I can’t help by think about.