liminality

I’m working on a collection of short stories.  In truth, I’m not the best short story writer…my stories tend to roll down that river and keep finding new bends to move past, ever searching.  The reason why I wrote my first novel was because of this – my stories were often rejected due to their length.  I figured, perhaps the novel form was more my speed:)  And I definitely believe this is the case.  But, I do love the short story form – precisely for what can be left unsaid…if it is written well enough!  (It’s funny because I’m a song writer as well, and this demands a certain compression, if you will, of language, which I embrace whole-heartedly.  Somehow it’s more challenging in the short story form for me…) anyhow…

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I’ve come to understand that so many characters in literature, films, short stories, songs…the pulse that keeps us watching them, reading about them, following their narrative, is due to the place they find themselves in – the liminal space.  The in-between space.  The neither here nor there, space.  Sound familiar?  Generally, when I find myself struggling most, it is because I have been unable to locate myself in a particular place or position – instead, I’m straddling the “in between” unwilling, or perhaps unable, to commit to either side.  Hence, I’m stuck – right in the middle. This can be an uncomfortable place to reside, but, I would suggest that this is an incredibly useful and necessary place to exist at times, for it is a place of germination, a place of “metamorphosis” really, where we begin to intuit how we will proceed, which side of the fence we will to stand on, how we will move forward as we claim our position.

liminal heads   This “in between” space is what drives our       liminal headscharacters  and makes their stories meaty, interesting – it is this conflict that drives the story forward, demanding resolution.  The character “Raymond” in my novel The Burden of Light is an example of this “liminal” quality – deeply conflicted and unable to place himself squarely inside his own life, he wanders in search of an answer, as though one exists, somewhere “out there.”  Again, sound familiar?

Perhaps the draw of this “liminal” space is its allowance for us to NOT have to decide.  To not have to be the one in charge of the direction of our own life.   I am currently reading Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks, and he squarely places Owen Brown (the son of John Brown, who narrates his father’s story) in this murky space of liminality through his refusal to reside precisely where he is.  I am early into this tomb (only 100 pages into this 671 page masterpiece) and I expect that Owen will not always stand “in-between” but will come to understand what he believes in, and fight for it. As our characters must eventually do.  And dear friends, as we simple humans, residents of planet earth, must do as well.

9a5f2d911d096b779ef83dc1db9b011dIf you find yourself stuck, allow yourself to reside there for as long as it takes to “see” where you must go.  Allow yourself this same gift, as we allow for our characters:)  I recall a very challenging and difficult time in my personal life when I disappointed those who loved me, and gravely disappointed myself as well.  I wanted to hide, to not be “seen” by others, certain that they would think This was who I was.  I hid, took off traveling around the world for nearly a year, and worked through my “stuck-ness”…and guess what, when I finally began to face myself, my real self, my “where I am right now” self  – I made progress!  I began to forgive myself, and slowly, the “liminal” stranglehold that choked me, began to dissipate, and I began to Act.  I moved forward, and found my “side” of the bank that made sense to me, one that I could be proud to stand on, where I could build myself and my life.  This resolution is at the end of the Liminal rainbow, our characters get there…we get there…one step at a time.

forward thinkers

I’ve been deeply inspired recently, about our path toward the future – for us, the planet, and hopefully, many (if not most…a girl can dream, right?) of its inhabitants.  Two of my favorite magazines have featured a couple individuals that are re-thinking the status quo.  One of them is turning the world of recycling plastics on its head – and one is challenging what qualifies sushi as sushi while taking on many of the invasive species in the Northeast.  Both these guys rock and are people I would readily call, Heroes.

Biddle with his plastics
Biddle with his plastics

In a recent issue of Popular Science (either February or March) an in depth article was written on a fellow named Mike Biddle.  Biddle has discovered how to recycle plastics down to their base element.  Click on the Popular Science link above to read the whole article (I encourage you to do so for an eye opening view of recycled goods).  Also, click on the link for Mike Biddle and check out his TED talk.  But for now, here is a paragraph for you from the article:

…Biddle had quietly achieved what most thought impossible: He had discovered how to separate certain mixed plastics completely. This was no mere down-cycling. Biddle could take the plastic from, say, a laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a computer company to make another laptop. What’s more, at his facility in Richmond, California, Biddle could produce recycled plastic with as little as 10 percent of the energy required to make virgin. In a world where people use 240,000 plastic bags every 10 seconds, where passengers on U.S. airlines consume one million plastic cups every six hours, where consumers in total discard more than 100 million tons of plastic annually, closing the loop on production and recycling could reduce global dependence on oil, the source material for virgin plastic. It could conceivably influence not only the price of oil, but global flows of trade as well. And it could dramatically reduce the wholesale smothering of communities across Asia and Africa with hazardous e-waste. If Biddle could convince people to give him waste rather than dump it around the globe, he could conceivably change the world.  (taken from the Popular Science Magazine article)

I want him to change the world!  Imagine not having to produce any more plastic.  We can use, and re-use, and re-use again and again, all the while using less energy.  Awesome.  This sounds like improvement, at last!  This reminds me of my dear grandparents…perhaps yours as well, yes?  The way they let nothing go to waste.  Everything was re-used or re-purposed: old nylons tied up the seedlings in the garden; dishwater was collected in a tub and dumped over the flower bed; coffee cans held nails; old clothing was cut down into swatches of cloth and blankets or quilts were made out of them; egg cartons were seedling starters; left over vegetables and foods were buried into the garden soil to build the biggest earthworms ever! that caught the best fish ever!…you name it, they did their best to re-use it.  I love that we are heading back in this direction – of thinking about how we can re-use and re-purpose.

Bun Lai eating his catch
Bun Lai eating his catch

The other inspiration found me yesterday afternoon, as I took a lunch break and read my new Outside Magazine (this magazine rates as one of my serious favorite reads – pick it up if you haven’t before!  click on the above Outside link to take a peek at their online rag).  The article features Bun Lai, a sushi chef in New Haven, Connecticut who owns a restaurant called Miya’s…only the sushi he is serving is what some (probably most) would call, unusual.  Bun Lai is all about taking on the invasive species that are taking over the waters in his neighborhood, and turning them into delicious, palatable food…sushi, to be exact.

Read this excerpt from the article:  Six years ago, Bun Lai blew up his menu.  He didn’t want to feel bad anymore from putting foods like white rice and sugar into his body or anybody else’s.  And he didn’t want to feel bad because he was serving the last bluefin on earth.  He began to wonder if sushi could be used to heal bodies, communities, and oceans.                                                                                             First, he swapped white rice for brown.  “Then, he says, I started taking ingredients away.  First octopus, then sea urchin.  I knew that would be easy.  I wasn’t killing it with sea urchin anyway.  Then the big stuff started going.  Unagi.  That pissed people off.  Then I did yellowtail.  Then tuna.  When I told my waiters I was removing tuna, they started hyperventilating.  For them it can be really, really difficult to explain what we’re trying to do.” 

Instead, Bun Lai began replacing these delicacies with items he hunted locally.  He began foraging the invasive species (seaweeds and animal life) that were taking over the Atlantic ocean, and nearby rivers, as well as greens that were devouring the grounds all around him, greens that were invasive to his region.  Every time an ocean liner crosses the oceans, they bring along “passengers” on the underside of the ship, and these “passengers” land in new waters, breed, and begin to populate, and often, take over.  (this is only way these invasions occur…there are many other ways as well…but it’s something to consider when we decide to buy an item that has a stamp saying “Made in China or Argentina” or whatever distant country).  There are many many examples provided in the full article of what happens when new species are introduced to unknown climates, waters, etc. and it brings a very new perspective to the way we do business in our world.

The article reminds us that “the America we grew up with (the gen-x generation on up especially) is history. It’s been clogged by zebra mussels and snuffed by snakeheads. It has been swallowed by Burmese pythons and smothered by kudzu.  It has been swarmed by crazy ants.  Forget the notion of stable ecological communities that have existed for thousands of years; what we have now is an endless war zone where invasive insurgents go from building to building, routing the locals.”

Bun Lai replaced his sushi tuna with sustainable options, like smoked Connecticut mackerel, and Mississippi catfish.  There was backlash at first, but after a challenging decade, his restaurant now has a loyal clientele who eagerly devour his unusual sushi, and praise him for what he is doing.  As do I.  Lai remains dedicated to eating the overlooked options that are all around his territory, and making them a satisfying, delicious solution for how to proceed, and re-imagine, our meals.  

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Oh…one more bit of fabulous, forward thinking news – San Francisco announced this week that it is banning all bottled water in the city!  They are the first city to do so…hoping this is only the start to a new trend.  Cheers to you San Fran, Bun Lai, and Mike Biddle – and to all you forward thinking progressives out there, looking out for our world – my heart is happier that you exist.

a hard truth

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Last night I had a “date” with my 9 year old son.  A beautiful thing, this – time alone with an extraordinary human who I love more than imaginable :)  We were walking to a restaurant in town, and he began to tell me about the drill that he and his fellow students had done at school earlier that day.  School drills are common place: fire drills, earthquake drills, etc… so I was expecting to hear something along this plane…not so.

He began by telling me that his new principal had told the students to do something really stupid – “She told us that if we were out on the playground and someone was on campus with a gun that we should lie still on the ground and pretend we’re dead!  That’s just dumb!  If someone has a gun and we’re just laying there, then he’ll just shoot us anyway.  I would run!” he said, and my heart hit my feet.

We walked in silence for a moment as I processed what I had just been told, that the drill they had practiced that afternoon (which meant our 6 year old daughter had participated as well!) was not for fires or earthquakes – but for what the students should do if a gunman was ever to step foot on their campus and begin shooting.  This is so horribly and despicably wrong…that our young children should have to be exposed to this kind of terror, to be “prepped” on how to act if they ever had to face this kind of terror.  The stresses of society are challenging enough for us adults to manage – and we have years of life experience to help us process the violence, bad behavior, and all the nonsense that we encounter, read about, or witness, on a daily level (though in truth, most adults aren’t capable of dealing with the stresses either because there are simply too many)…but our kids?

It is a terrible thing to have to engage in a conversation of this magnitude with a young child. And yet the sad, unfortunate truth is, that our children need to be informed and taught, so that they might be better able to protect themselves from an event as despicable as this, should it occur.  Last Christmas, my husband and I were on the east coast visiting family, and we made the drive to Sandy Hook to pay our respects and to honor those who perished, as well as those who had lived, through that terrible event.  We left our kids with the grandparents and made the nearly 3 hour drive.  What we saw in that town was heartbreaking, and exceedingly difficult to absorb, as you can imagine.  Our hearts, and the hearts of so many – who traveled from all around the world to leave their condolences – were broken.  It is a dire breach of trust to cause harm to the harmless, the innocents, to our children.  When my husband and I were kids, there was nothing like this in our vernacular, or in our imagination.  School shootings?  What?!!?  But now, they are common place – small blurbs over the airwaves, almost casually mentioning the loss of lives from some distraught person (sadly, nearly 100 percent of the time, male).   My son told me after we spoke that he wished he had been born back when his dad and I were growing up so that he wouldn’t have to learn about this stuff.  “Why are people walking around with guns anyway?” he wanted to know, and all I could answer was – “I don’t know.”

Our children are growing up in a remarkable time, but a time of much violence and uncertainty as well.  My husband and I don’t have all the answers –  but what we do have is the ability to try our best: to be good strong role models; to do what we say, and act as we speak; to treat one another, and others, with loving kindness and respect; to strive to be our best and expect our kids to do the same; to take responsibility for our actions, our goals, and our intentions; and to enjoy one another and our lives!  No matter what, our kids know that we will be there for them, no matter, and I can only hope that this helps to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses that must impact them, day to day.  

Our world is a rapidly changing world, and there are times when it can literally make one’s head spin.  The conversation between me and my son was hard – I had to tell him some rough stuff, graphic, difficult, ugly stuff – and I watched his young self absorb what I was saying, and store it away in that beautiful mind of his in case he ever needed to retrieve it (god willing, that will never happen…to any parent, ever again).

But the cool thing, the great thing, about kids is that they can take things in and then move on…go ride a scooter or chase the dog, laugh and play as though nothing has happened.  By the time he and I got home to eat our meal, our discussion about the school drill was finished and he was telling me about some new music app that he wanted to try out, and I was just happy and grateful to be sitting there with him.  I remind myself daily to take nothing for granted, and count every day as the blessing that it is.   Bless us all, and all of our children…and may we someday learn to tend to one another with the grace, kindness, and love, that all living beings deserve.

Wonder

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The image above is a sculpture made by the artist Ron Mueck.  An incredibly gifted artist who is able to render the human form with profound authority; he captures the “experience” of what it means to live and imbues his sculptures with rich, emotional interiors. They radiate a captured “moment” that leaves the viewer wondering about their narrative: What is this couple dealing with, what kind of problem or news have they been discussing, what are they presently trying to work through, or understand.  They are at the beach, a beautiful day, and yet the emotional residue of their posture alludes to something “other.” The way this man holds on to what we might assume is his wife’s arm, as though an anchor…her empathetic smile of knowing, or of compassion…it is incredibly powerful, and deeply captivating, and causes an unlocking as we yearn to understand.

ron mueck

 

I am currently lucky enough to lead a book club in my son’s 4th/5th grade class, and we are reading a terrific book by the author R. J. Palacio, called Wonder.  The story is about a boy who is entering school for the first time at the age of 10 (the 5th grade).  He was born with severe facial deformities and has spent the majority of his young life in and out of hospitals, having surgeries performed to improve the quality of his life, and appearance.  The author touches lightly on providing direct description of Auggie (the central character’s name), allowing the reader to imagine how he might appear (by and large) through the reaction of others when they see him.   It’s a powerful book to read with kids at this age (9 and 10), an age when differences really matter, when everybody wants to be like everybody else, when “standing out” is cause for embarrassment or despair.  But there is still a “purity” to kids this age, an ability to “see” others without putting a lot of preconceived ideas around them…and a willingness to accept, because they want to play handball or soccer or freeze tag!  Their rules aren’t yet complicated, and by and large, they play things pretty straight forward.

And so Wonder…and the sculptures of Mueck.  The gift of this bookand of these sculptures, is the free license for us to stop and stare, to gaze directly, to talk openly, to engage in our curiosity, without feeling like we must cloak ourselves or our feelings.  In real life we can’t stop and stare at a stranger, it would be considered rude.  But here, Mueck stages “moments” that allow us the open window to stare all we like, to try and better understand our fellow humans: their struggles, their experiences, their sorrows, their being…as does Palacio, with her novel.  So much of life is mysterious, and I believe that we all feel, from time to time, this bewilderment of wondering and wanting to ask, and wanting to know, and wanting to reach out and better understand…but we stop ourselves out of fear of embarrassment, or appearing rude, or inconsiderate, or afraid that we might cause discomfort by bringing up the “White Elephant in the Room.”   The power of Art to transform is indisputable, and if we are willing to look, we can deepen the way we experience our own lives.

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Sometimes, in order to see the small, the minuscule (like an individual life), we need to see it bigger than it is, blown up in our face, so that we can experience the totality of this one mighty, and powerful thing.  An entire universe resides in the life and body of one being…one simple, ordinary, human being – one completely and profoundly unique human being.  Wonder, and Mueck’s sculptures, act as a mirror, providing us the portal to see ourselves in the “other” – and to see the “other” in ourselves.  To see the wonder, in who we are.

The discussions that I’ve had in my son’s class with these 9 and 10 year olds, about Auggie (the disfigured central character of Wonder) have been incredibly hopeful and uplifting; the students are open, accepting, and talk with compassion about what they think it might be like to look so different from everybody else. And yes, I suppose you could say it’s all theoretical – Auggie is only a character in a book, and the students have never had to face, in real life, a fellow student who was so deeply disfigured.   There is truth there.  But, I deeply feel that books like this expand their understanding of the world, and all the possibilities of it.

Because the kids are reading a challenging book about a challenging life for a boy the same age as them, I truly believe that they would be better able to engage with that individual, in real life – because they were able to explore this, safely, through Art.  Art provides safe distance, a way to talk openly and without reservation about challenging life “things.”  The doorway to Questioning is the Arts’ greatest asset…to question, to ponder, to think. Ultimately, we come to know more of who we are, and why…and that can, and will, elevate all of society.