Increasingly, I find that I’m living my life in the liminal places–in the spaces where life and art intersect.
I’ve been fascinated by liminality since I began studying St. Brigid of Kildare as an M.A. student in the last year of the last millennium–a liminal time if ever one existed. St. Brigid herself is a liminal figure–a girl child in a male-dominated world, born to a Christian slave and a pagan king. Born as her mother stepped over a threshold at dawn, Brigid embodies all the complexity and messiness and contradiction of a time of flux between old and new ideas and ways of living. She’s not a saint in the way that women are supposed to be saints–she’s transgressive, challenging, cantankerous, and she’s not a virgin martyr. She may not have even ever lived at all. Brigid may just be a story, a way of understanding a pagan goddess morphed into a Christian saint, a symbol of change. But I like to believe that she was real, because she makes sense to me.
I’m living at intersections right now (maybe we are all always living at intersections, whether or not we realize it). Intersections are crossroads, and crossroads are transgressive by nature. In the Middle Ages, suicides, the ultimate transgressors who took God’s law into their own hands in the most final and devastating way possible, were buried at crossroads. I wonder if something about crossroads, about the way they explode into possibility and force decision, is frightening to us. At a crossroads, choices must be made, some options put aside forever. Of course, once we’ve started out on one path, we can always turn around and come back. But by the time we’ve realized a mistake and started back to the crossroads, the paths will have changed, if only subtly. We will have changed, too.
I’ve felt dissatisfied for a while with The Way Things Are. This dissatisfaction has prompted me down a new path lately, toward minimalism. I’m shedding what I don’t need. I’m giving up obligations that didn’t mean or produce much if anything. It feels liberating, and, like all revolutions, whether large and external or quiet and internal, it is deeply transgressive.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a minimalist (I’ve heard the word “essentialist,” too, and I like them both). I don’t think I can claim that, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to do so. But I’m at the crossroads, looking down the roads that stretch before me, and I am making decisions.
It’s become increasingly interesting to see exactly how transgressive this space really is. On a societal level, of course, I’m a weirdo. I don’t carry credit card debt. In the language of the credit industry, this makes me a “deadbeat.” When people ask me what I’m up to, I usually reply, “Not much.” This isn’t strictly true, of course. Inside my heart and mind, all sorts of things are happening. I’m writing. I’m growing. I’m imagining. I’m loving. I’m changing. But these are not things I can quantify in any soundbite kind of way. If I were to tell you what I was doing at any given moment, it might take me half an hour. It might take a blog post. But by any normal modern recognizable standards, I’m not doing much at all, and it’s fun to watch people’s faces when I say “Not much.” Because we’re supposed to be busy. We’re supposed to be doing things, all the time. Rushing, running, checking our phones, checking our email, going here and there, buying stuff, consuming stuff. When you stop doing these things, you cease to fit neatly into the complicated socio-economic fabric we’ve created.
This isn’t to say that I don’t buy or do stuff, or that I don’t go places. I’ve just gotten a lot more selective. I’m spending a lot more time thinking and being and growing. And now, I’m trying to figure out exactly how all this informs my life as a writer.
At this crossroads, I have more time to write, to work on stories, to sit with ideas. More time to observe. More time to spend on the things that give life meaning, and more energy and present-ness to collect the little jewels of daily experience that transform, through the alchemy of storytelling, into Truth and Beauty. I’ve never felt like I “fit in” with the mainstream flow of life. Now I feel like even more of a mis-fit, but I’m suddenly much more comfortable with that. I remember the wisdom glimmering in my grandfather’s eyes as he told me once, years ago, “People say, ‘Go with the flow.’ Only dead fish go with the flow.”
I am swimming upstream, Granddad, and sometimes, like right now, in this moment, I am caught in the current. I am pressing against water rushing past me, and to an outside observer, I look like I’m getting nowhere. But I am here now, in this in-between moment, in this liminal place. With me, I am carrying the story of an Irish saint. I am carrying fairy tales and the stories of our past. And I am carrying your words, Granddad, on my journey back to the beginning.