The Space Between

Claude Debussy is famously credited with saying ‘music is the space between the notes’ and, listening to a piece like ‘Clair de Lune’, one can certainly hear what he meant by that.  Every note in that piece is crystalline, specifically because there is space to hear them.    I thought about that quote as I began a binge-watch of the BBC crime/mystery show ‘Shetland’.  The show is set in (wait for it) Shetland, with forays onto the outlying islands (I had NO idea Fair Isle has fewer than 100 permanent residents – so who’s knitting all that fabbo stuff??) and the scenery is shocking in its beauty.  People don’t say a lot – there’s  brooding and general just sitting around and the solving of the murder is almost always a bit pedestrian (which I love)… and often, the po-po are all ‘wth?  wait. YOU DID IT???  I thought you were just going to tell me where Bob was on Thursday!’ But even then, it’s done in garden-variety quiet, not a lot of hollerin’ background music or scenery-chewing.  In one episode  a woman is given a letter from a dead lover – and we watch her read the letter in complete silence.  No exposition, no narration.  Just a woman reading a letter.

It’s one of the most compelling series I’ve ever watched.  Until  Season 5, where DI Jimmy Perez spends a lot of time in Glasgow and things start getting a bit more Sexy Cowboy.  Sigh.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll go back to Shetland, where folks don’t talk a whole lot… here’s hoping.

a whole lotta quiet

anyhoo, so.  the quieter the show got, the more compelling it became.  The vaunted Brian Cox (above), as Magnus Bain, says maybe 100 words through the entire first season’s episodes – yet he eats that screen ALIVE with his presence – and his silence.  The space between his notes is …… well.  Go watch it, you’ll see.

I also thought about Debussy and Miles and Magnus Bain et al as I began the hard task of reworking my garden.  Y’all know how much I love gardening but the last 5 years or so I haven’t really loved my garden.  At first I chalked it up to  El O – but he’s gone now… and early Spring I realized I still didn’t love my garden. So.  I did what any rational person would do:  I sat.  And I was silent.  And I listened to the noise and I realized that what I wasn’t loving was:  there was no space between the notes.  The last several years with El O were so low-frequency miserable that I thought if I just jammed a bazillion things into that garden it would silence the deafening clamor of my unhappiness.  But all it did was add to it!

So this year I decided to take advantage of the pandemic’s enforced isolation (and free time) and rework the space.  Space is the optimal word here – I gave my garden Space.  I started with pots.  I have 234, 000 pots, some fab, some hoi-polloi.  But, betchabygolly I would’ve had ever. stankin’ one of those pots filled with Something Flower and set upon every available surface.  Not this year.  The Hill Border wall?  I thought I would take half of them off; I took ALL of them off.  The pavers in front of the greenhouse?  Clear. The fountain now has 3 large dahlia pots instead of 14 .  And so forth.

Pruning and thinning.  Hey, guess what?  Ain’t nobody got time for 448 Cleome.  Nobody!  Bees and other pollinators are just fine with 100 of the thorny little snipes.  So.  Thinning.  A lot.

And guess what?  Because I did all that, the flowers I do have are now the stars of the show!  All 100+ lilies are standing proud, being actually seen rather than fighting for attention amongst the other crap.

And my eyeballs and other senses have places to rest, so I can focus on… well, so I can focus.  I think this is a reflection of my current state of mind.  I no longer have to distract myself so now I channel Chanel and Take One Thing Off.  My garden nerves are settling down because my IRL nerves are settling down.  In art (as well as other disciplines) it’s called ‘curating’ – and it’s also a reflection of my place in the world now. When young, few have the ability (or even the desire) to curate – we fall in love with ______ , want ALL THE THINGS  _____, and it’s not until we’ve sated ourselves with the amassing of it all can we step back and say ‘wow.  that’s a whole lotta lotta’ – and that’s when you still yourself and begin to curate.

A friend is currently curating her nail polish collection, which is wonderfully vast – but  can you really enjoy that particularly fabulous iridescent green when you have 30 others very similar.  And why would you have 112 pink polishes when you hate the very sight of pink!?  My lily collection is next to be curated.  I’ve had a few revert to an orange parent and it’s a blistering color, quite unsuited to the bed it’s currently in.  Come Autumn I will lift them and probably put it along a fenceline – but lift  I will. The more is not always the merrier.

This is part Kondo, part Swedish Death Cleanse – these disciplines have always been around.  Collect a lot, then get sick of the clutter and pare it to the things that are of intrinsic value to you.

So that’s me – next up is moving (in sections) a Miscanthus the size of a VW van.  It’s in the wrong place (EVERYTHING THAT’S IN THE WRONG PLACE IS YUUUUUGE!  why is that?).  And it needs to be divided anyway – might as well start digging now, little bit by bit, so that by September I’ll have it out (and planted along the fenceline, where it belongs).  If you’d asked me a year ago  about removing that Monstro I would’ve blenched and said I’d rather salt the earth.  I predict There Will Be Blenching.  But I’ll get it done.

What about you guys?  Are you in curating mode?  Swedish Death? Kondo?  Or are you ‘feck it!  they can put a match to it when I’m dead!!!’

Anybody watch ‘Shetland’ (or the even broodier ‘Hinterland’)?  SOOOOO much soulful gazing.  omg.



  • Portia says:

    Hey Musette,
    Good luck with the garden. It’s a never ending story, eh? I really don’t miss all the work of the big house (and we had a gardener)
    My TV watching has slowed right down as I revert to reading. That has been a wonderful outcome of killing APJ and having a C19 lockdown. Fingers crossed it continues.
    Portia xx

  • Claudia says:

    Shetland was one of my husband’s favorite shows. He’s been gone since January and I’ve been decluttering too. Your post felt like it was talking directly to me. ?

  • Maggiecat says:

    Thinking seriously about some more purging. I like variety, but, for example I’ve noticed I could probably late my earring collection down to 6 or 7 pair and be totally fine.
    Enjoy your garden!

  • Ann says:

    ALSO… I will have to check out Shetland, it looks like it’s not on Amazon or prime so will have to seek it out… But I remember Douglas Henshall from “twice upon a yesterday” a British movie from 1998 also starring Penelope Cruz… Approximately 1 million years ago – it seems like yesterday and he was a young man – I can’t believe I am looking at the same person!

  • Brigitte says:

    I watched Shetland and Hinterland quite some time ago. Loved both.
    Am also very interested in paring down and have done so over the past several years.For me less is more.

  • Ann says:

    I too love everything about this post. Living as we do with access to so much stuff, you have to be ruthless to not be overwhelmed by things. Death cleaning and Kondo are great – but we need more reminders and I need constant encouragement, so thank you for this.

    • Musette says:

      hey, doll! I think it has to be as Dina C suggests below – ongoing, rather than trying to do it all in a weekend. I think ‘quiet ruthlessness’ works better than a big trumpet of purging. way less exhausting and traumatic. xoxoxo

  • Maya says:

    I enjoyed Shetland very much. I also watched and enjoyed Hinterland when I was in a “broody” mood. Like attracts like. 😉 They are both very well done shows.

    • Musette says:

      Hinterland drove me crazy, even though I loved it – it’s like he only had one emotion: misery. And even MORE ‘sitting and staring’ than Shetland! LOL!

  • Patty says:

    OH, and I need to watch Shetland, that sounds amazing!

    • Musette says:

      it is! At first it’s like ‘wth are these people SAYING?’ but once you get into the rhythm of it, it’s way lovely – the Shetland tongue has a Scottish/Scandi twist to it, way different from our English.

  • Patty says:

    Can i stop by and pick up your culled things? I have space. I need some things that will fill space – some of it. I love spare, you’re right, things need space to fill in, space to become, especially plants. I planted a few gypsophilia last year. They bloom so much earlier here than in Colorado. But the little things that were barely there last year are monstrous this year and expanding. Cleome, I pull that stuff out! They multiply at a rate that frightens me, so I don’t let any of it stay. And they hurt my hands once they get to a certain point! So I’m putting in other things for the pollinators.

  • Dina C. says:

    I’ve watched both shetland and hinterland, but I haven’t watched as many seasons of shetland as you have. I love its quietness, like you do, but boy! is that landscape sparse and barren. Not much to look at, which is calming I suppose. And I happen to love Debussy and Clair de Lune, too. I believe in curating and decluttering thoughtfully, a little bit at a time, on a constant basis, rather than trying to do the whole house in one weekend. That’s insane.

    • Musette says:

      Babe, you ain’t NEVER lied! It’s like that Miscanthus That is In the Wrong Place. I just measured it: it’s 43″ in diameter. I’m going to go at it like you’re supposed to eat risotto, from the outside in. By September I’ll have it out and replanted, without a lot of sturm und drang. Can you imagine me trying to haul that thing out in one day!?


  • Eldarwen22 says:

    All I have been doing is trying to use up my 40 strong candle collection and working on thinning out some of my perfume collection by wearing it. In the next week, I will start part 3 of the clothes cull. I am just trying to get rid of stuff because I want more space.

    • Musette says:

      I think ‘using’ is a vital part of curating – what’s the point of having a candle if you don’t burn it, right? or perfume: if you don’t wear it, why? I’m wearing ALL THE THINGS! and actually burning my own candles (which I was loathe to do). Feels lovely – and the house smells divine! xoxoxo

  • March says:

    I f’ing LOVE this post. I love everything about it. And I have gotten SUCH joy from watching you work through this in your mind and on the ground. Trying to create some more “space” here in the house, now that it’s summer and I’m working from home and the boys are here, it’s kind of a low key mess of clutter.

    • Musette says:

      thank you, darlin’ – that makes my heart sing! I was walking through the garden last evening and reveled in the calmness – that hardscape of the wall really gives me a place to focus.
      Pandemic Mess must be a THING where folks are together all the time- I’d lose mah MIND! Luckily it’s me, The Girl and it’s Tuesday. Nothing much else has changed. She’s still leaving the same amount of blonde hair on my dark floors – and I am still happily dustmopping it up 3x day. Life is Good!


  • rosarita313 says:

    Ooh I’ve had Shetland on my watch list for ages, it sounds excellent. As far as “stuff” goes, I’ve been unloading things all of this year. My favorite thrift store is still closed so I’m not accumulating more of anything right now. I enjoy your writing so much, Ms A.

    • March says:

      Shetland is really, really good, for all the beauty and quietness Anita says. I’m loving the virtual vacation.

    • Musette says:

      That makes me so happy, Ms Other A 😉 I do enjoy writing these little weird posts!!

      I took advantage of the downtime (now gone, blessed be) to winnow out some stuff – but I tend to do that on an occasional basis anyway, so it wasn’t that dramatic. Feels good to do so, though.


  • Bee says:

    I’ve been gardening and it’s less about planting and more about a constant battle against brambles and bindweed that work their way in from next door’s unkempt gardens. I also ruthlessly culled my perfume collection and arranged it nicely …but ebay keeps tempting me to fill in the gaps. I’m such a sucker for a pretty vintage bottle.

    • Musette says:

      oh Bee –

      You know that A Garden is a Thing of Beauty and a Chore Forever!! 😉 I’ve got a Cobra weeder and omg! It can take out a patch of bindweed or Creeping Charlie before you can blink!


  • Tara C says:

    I haven’t watched TV in many months and have no cable/netflix/etc. But Shetland sounds like a soothing show, I’m big into silence. Perhaps I’ll look into the books, although I think seeing the scenery would be half the fun since it will be at least two years before I travel again, if ever. Still stuck in my urban apartment, dreaming of a house in the country with a garden. I tend to go wild and buy too much stuff, then feel oppressed by the excess. I really want to move and get rid of half my stuff in the process but my hoarder husband would have a fit. Some day.

    • Musette says:

      I have been ruthless in paring down – I have a storage room that still has a few totes of china, etc – and I will be mortified if it’s still there in a year’s time. I’m ready to use or lose – having it stored (for no reason, since I’m not in reno right now) feels like congestion. El O was a hoarder of sorts (lots of wire/cable/old equipment that never got used). It exhausted me!


  • Cinnamon says:

    I currently don’t own a TV. The few things I watch — that’s done on computer. Once I return to the house-house perhaps I’ll buy a new telly. We’ll see. But Shetland sounds worth watching. And so interesting on garden stuff — as garden stuff but also as emotional reflection.

    • Musette says:

      I spent 10 years without a television and loved every minute of it. Got SO much done. However, if you do telly-up, Shetland will be worth your time, I think. xoxox

      and, yeah, the garden is pretty much me and my emotional evolution. Weird… but there ya have it! xoxo

  • Taxi says:

    I love Shetland. Perez has interesting relationships with his stepdaughter Cassie, Duncan, & of course the faithful & diligent Tosh.
    Ann Cleeves wrote the books on which both Shetland & Vera are based.

    • Musette says:

      I think his relationship with Duncan is the most interesting thing I’ve seen in awhile.
      I’m holding off on the books until I get through the series (IF I get through the series. The ‘trafficking’ episode is wearing me out – and not in a good way – and a lot of it has to do with the setting. I prefer the more local (almost cozy) murders on the islands.

  • Cee says:

    Shetland! Even this old lesbian loves DI Perez. ??

    • Musette says:

      LOL! Inorite? At first glance (for me, anyway) he’s about as sexy as a loaf of Wonder Bread. I like mah men with a bit more darkness – and darker eyes – but then… as his character evolves (and I can figure out what the hell it is he’s actually saying, when he does talk)… I dunno… .. who’dathunkit!


      • Dina C. says:

        Definitely have to watch with the Closed Captions on in order to be able to understand what in the world they’re saying. That goes for pretty much all those British shows. 🙂

      • Cee says:

        I had a British girlfriend for 11 years so I quickly got the hang of the accent and the mumbling. lol It also helps that the fair haired, light eyed one always turn my head. That was a great show and I’d love to see some new seasons. Great post, Musette! Thanks. : )