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…
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.
This “in between” space is what drives our characters 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.
If 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.