Posts Tagged ‘liminal spaces’

It is April 1st, and I have officially moved. All my stuff was in one place, and now it is in a different place. It is mostly in boxes, which is admittedly sad for me. But it is here!

Meanwhile, I am completely exhausted. I want to lie around and do not much for the next several weeks at least. I am not going to do that, because I have a novel to write and stuff to remove from boxes and place in spots that look purposeful. But it sounds like a lovely idea.

Nala and I, collapsed on the floor.

Nala and I, collapsed on the floor.

I gave up the keys to my old place yesterday, and I did feel a pang. I tend towards the sentimental, and even more so when I’m tired. I was only living there for one year, but it was certainly an eventful year, not to mention a year surprisingly well documented with photos. I have many happy memories of time spent in that condo.

It’s strange how leaving a space feels like leaving something more intangible behind. I’ve heard people reference the memories that live in the walls, and I suppose that is some of it. But there’s also, I think, the more pervasive feeling of change. Now that this one major part of my life has changed, how are the ripples of that change going to spread? I’ve talked before about being in a liminal space, and moving certainly triggers that experience, of transition and being in between.

I think maybe that’s why I’m so tired. Okay, realistically, I’m so tired because moving is a huge amount of work and expense and stress. But I also feel slightly off balance, like things are in motion but I’m not quite sure what all they are or where they’re going.

It’s somewhat comforting to consider, then, that my priorities remain much the same. Nala, my novel, my friends. Settling into the new place and getting my body back to its normal state after all the moving strains. Thinking interesting and challenging and wonderful thoughts.

Things change and things stay the same, all in a strange concurrent muddle of life.

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This weekend, one of my closest friends had a heart attack. He spent most of the day Tuesday in surgery. On Wednesday, soon before I sat down to type this, he started breathing on his own again. The surgery went well, I think.

I am so relieved and grateful.

My "pretty princess" nails in support of Ferrett.

My “pretty princess” nails in support of Ferrett.

I originally became friends with Ferrett because of this blog, and in fact, he is the single person who has had the most influence on it. I came up with the idea of the Backbone Project because of his blogging advice, and in characteristic Ferrett fashion, he threw himself behind my idea with enthusiasm and support. And so we became friends.

Over time, we became better friends. And he was the first one who was there when life began to crumble apart. He was the one I could show the cracks and imperfections, the confusion and the doubt. He understood what I was trying to do, and he believed in my ability to do it, even when I couldn’t believe in it myself.

We were talking about what to do when we falter on Tuesday. If you’re lucky enough, having a friend who believes in you with all his heart can be a powerful thing indeed. And Ferrett has one of the biggest and most generous hearts of anyone I’ve met.

He’s also taught me what it means to be a friend. In a healthy, supportive, and non-people pleaser kind of way.

Through these last few days, when I’ve been mentally in a hospital in Cleveland even though I couldn’t be there physically, I’ve been reminded quite strongly of what’s important to me. I’m always big on priorities, of course, but there’s nothing like a life-or-death kind of event to give you a little extra kick and provide some perspective.

I’m in a liminal space right now, and I don’t like it. I mean, it has its advantages and interesting parts, and it is completely necessary, but it’s a hard place for me to stay for an extended period of time. But I realize that even in this space, I can and am focusing on the things that matter to me: the people I care about (and one very adorable little dog); my writing and creative work; maintaining and improving myself (physically, mentally, and emotionally); experiencing joy and wonder in the world around me.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I want. But that is not actually true at all. I know exactly what I want. I just don’t always know the form it will take or the balance it will require.

Ferrett wrote a post for his blog the day before his surgery. He said: “There is a small chance that these will be the last words I ever write on this blog.  And if they are… let them be thanks and love.”

It doesn’t look like those will be his last words on the blog, thank goodness. But if they had been, they would have been very fine last words indeed.

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I’m back in novel immersion at this point, as I push to finish revisions, and my head is full of my characters and their plot arcs and a plot hole that’s going to be annoying to fix. It is hard to pull myself out of that world and back into this one.

So I’m going to talk about liminal spaces because when I’m having trouble leaving my fictional universe, that’s what I think is going on. I’m existing in a liminal space, partly in the world of the novel that my imagination has forced into being, and partly in the world in which I have blog post deadlines and dinner to make and errands to run.

Let’s talk about the word liminal. It wasn’t strongly in my radar until I read Farah Mendlesohn’s interesting Rhetorics of Fantasy a few years ago. She divides the fantastic into four categories, and one of those is the liminal. In liminal fantasy, she posits, “the magic hovers in the corner of our eye.” An example of this category is Joan Aiken’s Armitage family stories, which I enjoyed reading quite a lot.

But liminal means a lot more than a category in fantastic literature. Liminal is about being in between, about being in transition, about being both and neither at the same time. In anthropology, Wikipedia helpfully tells us, liminality refers to “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

Being in a liminal space is uneasy, uncomfortable, possibly awkward. Standing at the threshold is not without its dangers.

Audience or specter?

I went to see Sleep No More while I was in New York, and one of the things this performance art piece does quite well is create a sense of liminality for its participants. Are we an audience, or are we spectres? Are we invisible, or are we obstructions? There is nowhere I am supposed to go, and yet am I where I am supposed to be? There is a narrative being created, and yet there is no narrative visible.

Traveling can also create a liminal experience. I can be both in a place and not of a place. If I travel to several countries in quick succession, I can wake up in the morning uncertain about where I am, what language is used here, what currency. There is a clash between what I know from my world and what I experience in this new place.

Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, and literature about dying talks about it as a liminal state between life and death. In fact, liminal states exist in most major transitions in life. Coming of age stories often rely heavily on the uncertainty and turmoil of the liminal state between childhood and adulthood. Waiting can be involved in liminal states, too: waiting for the results of the pregnancy test, waiting to hear what colleges have accepted you, waiting for the answer to your question, waiting for the hurricane to hit. And what about that strange state between waking and sleeping?

Liminal spaces are challenging, and yet they can also offer freedom. The spaces in between offer us opportunities to recreate ourselves, to see the world with fresh eyes, and to drill deeper into the experience of being human. When we’re no longer sure who we are or what labels we’re claiming, we have room to explore who we want to be.

And critically, when we are standing in the shifting sands of liminal space, we are sometimes able to see more clearly what is important to us and what we want our priorities to be.

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