16 July 2010

Liminal Friday

It's Friday. I'm drinking a gin and tonic with lots of lime. I just oiled my picnic table and did some weeding and the second load of laundry is in the washer and now it's 8:20 p.m. and I don't want to do any more chores and I don't want to go to bed and my book choices are a novel that I'm not loving and Moby Dick for book club.

I was an anthropology major in college, anthropology and French. I was not a particularly good anthropology student, but I enjoyed my studies and there are a few great moments and concepts in my education that have stuck with me over the years. You know, the TWENTY YEARS since I started college, holy cow. Ahem. Anyway. The top three are 1) falling out of desk when I dozed off during the one and only night class of my career; 2) spitting into my hand upon being directed by a professor to do so, holding the saliva there for some crazy long time, like 20 minutes or more, then LICKING IT BACK UP; the lecture was on cultural concepts of disgust; and 3) the idea of liminality. I'm sure there's a fine Wikipedia page that I could link to about liminality, but as I understand it and all that matters for what's on my mind tonight is that liminality is the quality of existing between two states. You are neither A nor B, you are in the process of moving from one to the other and in doing so you are not wholly one or the other.

The bulk of my life has felt liminal to me. I've never been very comfortable with the idea of arriving at a state and just being there. I'm almost always on the way to another state of being, although I've been more grounded at some times than at others. When I committed to the Peace Corps, for example, the transition to being a volunteer was liminal for sure, but the time I served was pretty focused. I was present because I had made the commitment to be present for the time that I was volunteering. As the end of my service drew near, the liminal state began again during my search for what to do next, but the bulk of my active service was one of the most non-liminal times of my life.

I prefer to be in control in all areas of my life, although I've learned a lot over the years about what I can control (very little, as it would happen) and what I can't (a whole hell of a lot). I'm not change adverse, at least when I'm the one deciding to make a change. Liminality can be unsettling, uprooting, destabilizing, but when I'm making a conscious decision to enter a period of transition, I tend to find that time exciting, invigorating, and full of promise. When, however, the liminal state comes upon me not of my own choosing, I'm much less sanguine about the whole thing.

Like now.

I'm in love with so much of my life right now. I love Portland. I love four year olds. I love my job, at least to the extent that I'm going to love any job. I love living near my family. I love my bike! I love being in a grief place where I'm not angry all the fucking time. I love being financially stable. I love my friends. I love summer. I have a whole lotta love.

At the same time, I feel like I'm just getting to know myself. The lenses through which I define myself are there for me to choose. Or do they choose me? I've never defined myself through my job, although I do enjoy the work that I do. Parenthood is certainly a key piece of my identity, but is still but one facet of a larger whole. As Maddie and Riley become more independent and as the circumstances of my life allow me to regain more autonomy, I find myself stymied and existential: who am I, really? How do I want to present myself to the outside world? How does the outside world see me, and how does that compare to how I see myself? What kind of role model do I want to be for my kids? What do I need to be happy/complete/fulfilled?

It's not like I sit around on my couch eating bon-bons and thinking about how I define myself. I'm not looking to go on an Eat, Pray, Love-style journey of self-discovery. (OMeffingG don't even get me started on how much I hated that book). I do, though, feel unsettled and unsure of how to figure it all out. I'm trying to just be with the lack of being, but it's not an easy place for me to live. And it's not something I feel like I can talk through. I feel like it's one of those things that's going to take experimenting and false steps and learning through mistakes. Sounds a bit dreadful, to be honest. I'd hoped at this stage in my life to have gone through enough to obviate that for a while. But I guess that's not my lot in life. So for now I'm running and biking and dating (not much, I'm afraid) and talking and loving the things I love and avoiding the things that I don't. I'm trying to be patient. The hardest part is that there is no end date to this particular unchosen liminal state. I don't know what it is that will make it feel like it's over, make me feel like I'm settled, even if only for a while.

19 comments:

Emily said...

Oh please, please, please tell us why you hated "Eat Pray Love" :)

Billie said...

So beautifully articulated. I am in nearly the same place--perhaps it's an age thing? (I'm 39). I am loving the ages of my kids (4, 6, 8), my job, my husband, my home, my community...and there is something about all that that is unsettling. I think I've been in "survival" mode for so long, struggling to overcome or cope with (minor) crisis (for me, having very young children felt a little like a perpetual crisis situation), that I am struggling with life as a "civilian." I need something to fight against.

It seems that some of my sense of purpose, of who I am, was centered around coping or overcoming and in the absense of something to push against, I don't really know who I am, if that makes any sense. Now that there is relative harmony in my life, and nothing to push against, I feel adrift, like I'm living in zero gravity. I tentively push against something, out of habit or boredom or because I have adrenaline with no outlet, and intead of offering resistance, either the thing I am pusing against or I just float away.

I am finding myself wanting to stir things up, to sell the house I love and swore would live in forever, and buy a beast of a fixer upper, just to have something to tackle. I find myself wanting to adopt again, but an older child, a child with more special needs, something to throw my life and family into disarray so I can focus my energy on the challenge of making it all work. I find myself wanting to move overseas, to things that are unknown, so I have to rebuild a life. Am I just bored? Am I crazy?

I think some of this is just having enough energy and quiet time to even have these kinds of thoughts. And, as I said, some of it is our age. Whether we are consciously thinking of it or not, we are pretty near the mid-point of our lives, and the knowledge that I only have one life to live (my belief) is weighing on me and I am asking myself if this is who I want to be, how I want to be, the impact I want to have on the world.

Anyway, I didn't mean to write my own blog entry here, but you really got me thinking and trying to articulate what I've been feeling. Thank you. Billie

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

I hated Eat, Pray, Love too! God, I just could not stand how self-involved the whole thing was. (I KNOW it was somesort of a memoir but come on!)

I am just about to finish another memoir: Devotion by Dani Shapiro. I think you might really like it, Snick. It's a book that Eat, Pray, Love could have been if the author wasn't such an annoying, self-involved idiot.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I want to know why you hated Eat, Pray, Love, too. Gilbert was self-involved, but that was sort of the whole point of it. I'd love to hear what you hated.

SarahB said...

One more for your take on Eat, Pray, Love. I found it almost too pat. Like, you decide to leave your husband and you can afford a year like that, have someone there to pay you to write a book about it, and find the man of your dreams at the end of it? Really? How is that supposed to help the rest of us? And, yet, it seems to have inspired many women.

kathleen999 said...

I found Eat Pray Love really interesting. I know, it is very much "all about me and my needs" but I think it was really a book about growing up and that's WHY it feels that way. She was trying to figure out who she was. It probably resonates with a lot of people because many of us would like to travel all over the world and only do things we think would benefit ourselves. Lucky her that she got to get paid to do it. But every book is not going to appeal to everyone.

Jill said...

I think this is why I will always be in school of some kind. I don't know if, while trying to have a baby, I got used to fighting for something, or a challenge of some kind? But now I need that edge in my life, and school fits that bill nicely.

anita said...

aww, I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love as an escapist, beach type of read. And I absolutely love her Ted talk on Nurturing creativity. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

Mariella said...

I understand what you are saying about liminal states; I have never heard the term, but I most definitely have had them, and it's nice to have a name to put to it ;-)

I found that I lived too much of my life looking ahead instead of living in the moment. For me I found that an unsatisfactory way to experience life. It was like was so focused on where I was going, that I was viewing my life through a rear view mirror, because I wasn't present enough in the moment. If that makes any sense.

So I made a conscious effort to change that. My motto is now 'life is the journey, not the destination'. This means that I plan ahead less, and some things that I ran around trying to get done all the time I now let slide a bit. I expect perfection from myself on far fewer things.

But for that which I focus on, I'm getting the most out of. Even the simplest, butto me important things - the beauty of a sunset or a silly moment with the kids.

Anonymous said...

I like Gilbert's writing style, as an easy "summer"-type read, and she's pretty likeable, I think, but I always find myself wondering, given that she appears to be quite bright and had a seemingly happy childhood, why she was *so* lacking in self-awareness for so long. (If you read her second book, the sense of this is even more acute). For example, she and the man she fell in love with didn't want to get married because they had both been through horrible divorces, but I don't understand why they couldn't just get a prenuptial agreement rather than make the guy leave the country every three months to renew his visa. Am I missing something important?

Watercolor said...

oy vey I can so relate. I realized recently I have nothing I am passionate about anymore and my life is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago. And I'm tired.

Emily said...

Hey Snick - such an interesting post with so much to think about, and yet here I am, too, with the "I also hated hated hated Eat Pray Love" post. Just wanted to chime in there, too. :)

mary said...

I haven't even READ eat pray love and have already decided that i hate it. I mean seriously?

anyway, loved this post... because i just read your next one and i was like need to control. check! living off of drama. check!

seriously though, i think i read about al-anon on here before and it must have entered my mind subconsciously because when i needed it, i sought it out. it has been a lifesaver!

i don't think being liminal is necessarily bad. =)

django's mommy said...

Maybe it is an age thing, like Billie said. Hm. I'm feeling similarly these days- still 'grieving' Josh, in that quiet way, but living my life, going to work, happy with my lot... but feeling the void that I think does stem somewhat from not having to be in "survival" mode anymore. And I agree with you- this is not really something that can be talked out- it will have to be felt, experienced, mistaked (mistooken? eh, still need more coffee to establish well-fitting neologism). I think what I continue to struggle with is that these mistakes that I may or may not make will impact my son- and how do I handle it if it's a big fucking mistake to move across country? I guess I just say I did the best I could with the information I had at the time? Sigh. I think I just miss the sense that I had it all figured out, even though I didn't. Anyway, I like the idea of ice cream and bed. Can't hurt.

megan said...

I was okay with E.P.L until the part where she makes a commitment to herself to not sleep with anyone for a year, tells the man she just met about said self-commitment, the new guy says, "oh, come on now, don't be ridiculous," and she jumps into bed with him. Um, you tell someone about a commitment you've made to yourself, they belittle it, and you think that makes them a good prospect for a husband? Eek.

Anonymous said...

I never tire of intelligent, self aware women discussing why we hated eat pray love. i hope a post is coming. this may take more than one post.

NanarocksWeen said...

So, now I understand what's wrong with me - though I have no more idea of how to "fix" it. Liminal. Hmmm.
I read the comments, and something really struck me:
"nothing to push against." I'm older than all of you - retired, in fact. Trying to accept that this is IT. However, this wonderful lady that swims every morning when I do is 86 years old - and she does more than I do. Sailed on the new Oasis of the Seas. Is going to cruise the Panama Canal next. Maybe back to England, after many years away, to visit old friends and old haunts. SO, if this isn't "it" - what comes next? What do I do when the daughters return to teaching and the kids to school? I used to "push against" my hated job. I'm an old rebel... so what do I push against now?

Sam said...

I came back to read this a third time because it's so funny that you fell out of a desk in college. Thank you for that.

LauraC said...

I hope you get comments by email or else you will miss this.

I felt the same as my twins were close to 4. I took this online dreaming class called Mondo Beyondo and it changed my life. I feel like I know myself so much better now at the age of 36 than I did a year ago!