On the bus, I always preferred to be between the place I had come from and home. I didn’t want to go back but I didn’t want to arrive. I wanted to be always, forever, in the front seat on the top deck, clinging to that silver rail as we swerved between parked cars or veered left into urban bus stops, a schoolgirl mahout on some urban elephant.
On the train I was always afraid – of the other people, of crowds, of getting lost, of not being able to understand those great banks of destination boards, of not being able to hear the porter’s announcements over the noise of the train (those days are, thankfully, gone), of somehow falling asleep and ending up, like Marie Lloyd, at Crewe instead of Birmingham.
But still I never wanted to arrive. What I wanted was to be forever sat in the window seat, rattling over the rails, head resting against arm resting against tiny, mud-spattered window, my reflection ghostly. In entering the train I had become nothing, less real than the cows grazing in the fields, less real than the children waving at the crossings, less real than the city people in their long, thin back gardens, hanging out their washing to get covered in a fine film of soot. I was free. I was incorporeal.
I always liked motorway service stations – those times you stop to get petrol, to pick up a newspaper, to walk into a half-empty café full of formica-topped tables and buy a pot of tea and something-or-other with chips. Maybe it’s night outside; look up at stars and an alien moon. The hands on the clock have stopped. At this moment you are nothing, but could be anything at all.
Not till I became much older did I read about liminality. Originally it was an anthropological term and meant the mid-stage of rituals of passage, when the ‘old’ person had been destroyed but the ‘new’ person had not yet been created. It was a kind of standing on the threshold, a dangerous and yet a creative time, when anything could happen.
Nowadays the meaning has broadened out. It can mean, for instance, an engagement before a marriage, or the time between death and burial. It might mean the little while between the end of university studies and the graduation ceremony. It might mean the shady twilight zone, that space between day and night where – as we discovered from the TV series – anything may happen. It might mean New Year’s Day, or a dream in which some truth is revealed. It might mean a church, as a meeting place between ‘down here’ and ‘up there’. It might mean being stateless, or illegal. It might mean being transgender, or of mixed ethnicity. It might mean being a teenager, a cyborg or a shape-shifter.
I think we need liminal spaces, liminal states and liminal individuals for growth. In order to change, we… things… have to become plastic, vague. It seems to me there is rarely a sharp moment when things morph from one thing to another. There’s nearly always a space in between.
But still I wonder why some of us crave those silent spaces whilst others barely seem to notice them.
Anais Nin said this:
We travel, some of us, forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.
Maybe it’s that.