I became acutely aware that my life was stuck in the ‘in between’ one Tuesday afternoon when I received a gift from a friend in the post. Two oyster shells, still smelling of the sea and lacquered with gold foil, to be used as salt and pepper dishes. They’re beautiful. But I wrapped them back up in their pink paper. Like me, they’re in limbo, waiting to come into their own and establish themselves in a real home, one day.
Most of my things are in storage as I lodge with my boyfriend Mark at his family friend Brenda’s home while she’s living abroad. Just writing that makes me anxious, reminding me of the tenuous reality of my situation. I gave up my beloved but-too-small flat so we could cohabit during lockdown(s), so I sit by someone else’s fireplace, surrounded by their art and bathe in their tub. I’m technically at home, but also not: I’m living in the shadow of my future home as my partner and I try to buy our first one together.
T S Eliot wrote in his poem, The Hollow Men: ‘Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow.’ I lurk in this shadow in my relationship, as well as in my living situation. We met on Tinder – retro, I know – and started dating four months before the pandemic hit. Despite being together for a year and a half, we’ve never attended a work event together, never been clubbing, nor to a wedding or gig. Our relationship has existed in the spaces in between lockdowns, tiers and travel restrictions. Oh, and just when it seemed I couldn’t catapult my life any further into the sea of uncertainty,
I pulled up the final anchor when I walked away from my life-defining job at the successful literary agency I set up. I’m now between jobs, preparing to start my own business that, as of yet, has no URL or VAT number to speak of. I’m totally submerged in the tempestuous waves of instability, which separate the continents of my ‘real’ life. The panic of uncertainty rises in my chest each morning.
Sometimes we orchestrate these periods of ambiguity – we knowingly destabilise ourselves – but we also get made redundant, get asked to leave our homes or lose an important relationship against our will, and it can feel like bad luck, as if something in our lives has gone ‘wrong’. But what if we were to reconsider these setbacks and, rather than seeing them as obstacles, reframe them as a rite of passage towards the new version of ourselves we so ardently want to be?
The word ‘liminality’ derives from the Latin root ‘limen’, which means threshold. David Gray, author of Liminal Thinking, describes it as: ‘Periods of transition during which the normal limits to thought, self-understanding and behaviour are relaxed, opening the way to novelty and imagination, construction and destruction.’ That certainly sounds familiar. Covid-19 made liminality a universal experience, as we said goodbye to an old way of living and sat in our homes, still outside of life on the other side of the pandemic. But the experience of being betwixt isn’t reserved for a global crisis, nor is it reserved for someone like me who has allowed all facets of her identity to simultaneously merge, tumble and remould. It’s a place we all frequent throughout life: it’s the alternative reality when we are between relationships, broken up but not completely disentangled; it resides between jobs when we make a career change; and it’s in the disorientation of being between homes, having left one we’ve nurtured and perhaps loved, but not yet having established a new nest.
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