Liminal (adj.): of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, transitional
This morning, I took a personality quiz that said: ‘Check here if you conceive of life as a battle - one that you intend to win.’
I checked it, of course. Who wouldn’t? Even sitting in Coffee Lab I was fighting on multiple fronts, trying to concentrate on my Art History midterm (Hah! Taking distros in Senior spring is a recipe for sweet disaster) while beating down an impulse toward Facebook that a decade of notifications-induced-dope has amplified to addiction. I gave up on my battle with sugar long ago, so the sweet flatness of my cinnamon-chip scone lay thickly on my tongue like a sore. On top of all this I felt the thick, knotted cord of longing coiled in my chest for a person I shall not name until the day I die.
Then I did something many of my fellow seniors are starting to do. Sick of 'leaning in' I leaned out - and in doing so, I toppled into liminal space.
I admit this is not the first time I have entered the realm of liminal space, defined as an intermediary between one state and another. In fact, I have spent most of my time here since I said goodbye to 'digital dualism' in 2006. It’s where I exist when I’m waiting for a TapRide, or for Reddit to load, or for Google Maps to tell me where to go. It has begun to feel uncomfortably like home base, even though it isn’t even a place on its own, just the gap between axons and dendrites where the cortisol floods in, or the dead air between screens, activities, and hours through which I hurtle, a firefly smashing between the walls of a glass jar.
Yet liminal space isn’t all bad; in fact, according to 'creative inspo sites,' it can be the perfect battlefield to wage war against weakness and indecision. The trick is - paradoxically - you cannot fight. If you can sit deeply and comfortably on your own frontlines, you will expand into a place where you are nameless, undefined. Learn how to exist in liminal space, the experts say, and you will never fight again.
At least, I hope that’s true. I wish I could make that statement from a place of experience, but I’m about to graduate college, and in the most liminal space of my life, and I feel like I’m forever trapped in Matilda’s chokey. In the last three months I have applied to over 20 jobs, and almost took an unpaid internship that probably would have killed me. Meanwhile all I want to do this summer is romp around the American countryside and live out of a backpack like a modern nomad. The friction between the life I lead and the one I want is tearing me apart. In the last three months my diet has gone from something approximately human to Americanos and baked goods. I do not sleep. Instead I hunch myself against my wall and refresh my Facebook feed until the wee hours, exhausted and awake, my head buzzing with a million reasons why I shouldn’t be digging myself into a black hole.
I wish I could say I was alone, but recently I’ve noticed many of my friends are also trapped here, like that big group of tuna fish in the Finding Nemo net. Senioritis might not be senioritis; sometimes I think it is liminal-space paralysis. As we prepare to graduate with these amazing selves developed in college, the fear of not getting ourselves recognized by a corporation or professional achievement or cap and gown stripe rips those selves we’ve built asunder, tosses them in chunks into the hurtling whirlpool of What’s to Come without a thought for whether we’ll need those selves to breathe in the Here and Now. The way we treat ourselves is not pragmatism, it is not self-respect. It’s nothing we’ve been taught, per se, just the way we have to exist if we want to keep moving in the spaces we’ve been put into.
I’m going to call it the “wine bottle” phenomenon. Forget who you think you are, student, friend, human: you are a wine bottle. You are your label, your price tag determined by your year and the valley in which you grew up. You are how well you can filter through someone else’s system and above all, you’re just one product in a liquor store, your worth determined by sophisticated critics who have built their lives on analyzing your flavors and naming them degradingly. As I prepare to graduate, I feel like a bottle of three-buck chuck. I have studied journalism, which is to say I’ve learned little except how to spell everything. I have studied playwriting, which is to say I’ve studied how to throw myself into tense imaginary interpersonal exchanges.
Most of the time at Northwestern I feel like I’m caught in a web of enmeshed insanities, of workaholism and striving for an unattainable immortality. Yet within this sticky web I have glimpsed the glimmerings of another liminal space, this veiled world that nobody ever tells us about but nonetheless is ours for the entering. This world is as beautiful as the dying murmurings of prayer, as the butter-yolk rim of the sun rising up from Lake Michigan on the first day of school, which for the last four years I have spent wrapped in a sleeping bag with my friends sharing life stories and generating gut butterflies for the year ahead. And that’s the thing. If you lean back and let yourself feel a little sick, this other kind of liminal space can soothe your mind like a wet rag.
As my mom said when I called her panicking over the phone, unable to relax between interviewing with my dream job and waiting to hear back, “Liminal space is where everything happens.”
I’m trying to lean back.