the country of yes

Liminal is one of those words I never used very much until I started doing independent scholarship. It’s not just just that a lot of the work I do addresses, on some level, liminal space, it’s that it’s just one of those words academics really like. It’s a pretty way to talk about a whole bunch of different things that fall into a bunch of different categories, including the magical, the complex, and the vague.

But liminal was never a word that I felt like I owned particularly, until my friend AnnaLinden responded to a few of my posts back on LiveJournal with a certain intensity about the intensity with which I inhabit liminal spaces. It was pleasing to me, because it meant that I and the way I experience the world was being heard. But at the same time, why call it liminal? It was just my life, happening at the moment in an ugly New York winter, and not some existence in the mists of faerie.

But yesterday it occurred to me that this January 9 was the first time in years no one had wished me a happy birthday or given me an odd trinket for a lonely boy. See, my birthday’s in October. But Severus Snape’s is January 9, and among my friends that’s a thing that stuck with me for years. Because of course it was always sort of a joke. But it was also always a recognition: of childhood ostracism I still struggled with, of desires beyond my class and ken, of chin-length black hair and a body too thin. Of a particular relationship with filth. And of the way I’ve always looked to books to save me. So my unbirthday always felt a little bit like love.

When I talk about character and creation and writing and liminal spaces, I like to talk about Anne Rice. Lestat has been real for her in some way that I could try to explain or analyze for you, but that wouldn’t be very effectively. We’d digress into a critique of the work (“she may be channeling a real 300-year-old vampire, but he still needs a damn editor”) or, more unfortunately for the point I’m slowly getting to, an analysis of her mental health. The point is Anne Rice wrote some books about a vampire and she’s described the experience in interviews as him dictating his words to her; she has described the time she spends with him; she has described him as a real and true thing.

I read Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat as a tween and young teen, and they were books that meant a tremendous amount to me. They said that my intense emotionality, and my intense sentimentality, were not, as my parents reasonably frustrated by an odd and artistic teen girl said, lies. They were not manipulations. They were just how I experienced the world. So Lestat wasn’t just Anne Rice’s friend, he was mine too. Before I told other people to be grand, I would lay in bed at night and feel Lestat’s fingers brushing the hair from my face as he whispered to me to never, ever let anyone shut me up. He’s been gone from me for decades now, but I always remember my friends.

The thing about the liminal world, at least for me, is that it’s not a space defined by the things it represents a border between. It is not about whether Anne Rice channels a 300-year-old vampire or not. It is not about either/or. Rather, the liminal world is, as far as I can tell, the country of yes.

It is the place where when people ask if I am a boy or a girl, I can say yes. It is the place where when I fly alone I am still squeezing someone’s hand when the plane takes off. It is the place where I don’t dress up in certain costumes at cons anymore because the wounds I bear in those other lives have become too private. It is the place where I can feel the absence of people who never were. It is the place where I do not always remember, or have to remember, to speak in the third person about characters I’ve played on stage or written in stories. It is the place where my hand gestures shift when I’ve spent days deep in something I’m writing in a way that tells my friends I am not just me. It is a place of signs and signifiers that leads us, not back out of the mists, but further in, to whatever the mists are guarding.

Without the liminal world, time runs in order, stories only happen to other people, and I struggle, desperately, to be here now as fantasy and personal narrative threaten to call me away from stuff like work and laundry and remembering to eat dinner. But the liminal world, no matter how disconcerting or how much it seems like just play to folks that don’t also have this particular experience of desire, allows me to be present, both here and in the other spaces I have used to build myself.

The liminal world allows me to say yes and to slay dragons and not to fail at being a girl or a boy or a hero or a villain, because in the liminal space which is here and now and far away, I am only one thing, and it small and perfect, and it is yes.

15 thoughts on “the country of yes”

  1. This is so beautiful.

    I thought about it. But I wonder sometimes if the wizards and our own history and your current life make it too fraught a thing to address. This is me, always wondering if it is too weird to say what I’m thinking. But I think about it any time I’m using a tiny straw to fill a glass perfume bottle.

  2. Indeed a good place to be. I find little use in attempting to discern whether the various connections any of us can make with non-physical beings exist solely within our own minds or come from some elsewhere and instead just accept who and what I encounter and try to live a life that makes me happy. In any case, definitely one of your most powerful essays and one I will read several times.

    1. Back when i was in medieval history grad school, i was the only one I knew in the program who wasn’t catholic, ex-catholic, or in the process of converting. when we atudied people like christina the astonishing, the other students would really freak out over whether or not she was real and this stuff was true.

      Me, i didn’t much care about if it was real or true, as it was unprovable. What i cared about was what her story meant for medieval people.

      Sometimes we get so caught up in is or isn’t that it’s hard to see meaning anymore.

  3. Oh, Lestat! And Louis, and Claudia, and Armand… of COURSE they were, and are real, even if they don’t spend much time with me any more either. And even if Lestat DID need a damn editor.

    And Severus Snape, how else. He lived in MY head for at least a year, too, and he and I understand each other, and I still can’t watch the Worst Memory scene with my eyes unobstructed, because that’s one of the reasons we understand each other.

    I used to tell myself, when I was quite young, that the pond I could see from the schoolyard was Galadriel’s Mirror, and that if I just prayed hard enough or was good enough or SOMEHOW found the secret to it, one day I’d wake up in Middle-Earth instead of having to go back to elementary school and its torments yet again.

    It wasn’t until I was older that I learned how to unlock the door for myself.

    1. Lestat saved me, but Armand was always my favorite.

      Also? When Patty and I stay at B&B’s with elaborate wardrobes, I still sometimes crawl in to feel around at the back all of them, just in case.

      1. It was in trying to cosplay Armand that I learned that my face *will not* read as male, even if I disguise my hips and bind my breasts. I wanted to walk around as him *so badly*, but it just didn’t come across, and I had to shift over to being Jesse, who was nowhere near as important to me.

  4. I can really only offer envy. I’ve a petty prejudice against liminality, simply because the word is thrown about with little thought to its proper implications – not a charge I’d breathe against this post. I’ve never functioned well in such spaces and probably never will, but at least I get some vicarious delight…

  5. I’ve been calling myself liminal for more than fifteen years, but then, until I got really sick, i often refered to my life as performance art.

  6. Though I’ve had different friends than you did, I’ve had the same kinds of friendships. It’s so nice to find someone who understands, so I don’t have to betray the strange child I was (and in some ways still am) in order to seem “normal.”

  7. Most excellent and beautifully written to boot. I never really grasped the concept of liminality when it was used in my theatre courses, but your use of it makes perfect sense. Then again, I never got Derrida either, but now that I’m not trying to use his work with my professors’ rules it’s easy.

    I suspect that I’ve always lived in liminal spaces, only I didn’t define them as such. I’m quite content living between the lines, it has always been where I fit in.

    A punk, but too fucking smart, and more feminine than my peers; a girl who loves dresses and heels but can’t style her hair or apply makeup to save her life; one of the smartest kids in school, who skipped classes daily, didn’t study, partied all night, and still screwed the curve; the young woman who came from money but never really had any, who went to private school in shredded stockings and mis-fit uniforms; the 44 year old with a cane who still goes out dancing with the freaks as often as possible.

    I seem to take comfort in living a life of contradictions and not meeting others expectations. To some extent I know this is a conscious choice; but there are points where I could dress and act to fill the part and I’m still in a state of limbo because that’s not who I really am if that makes sense.

    Anyway, thank you.

  8. There are writers who talk with their characters as separate and writers who see their characters as never-born, never-dead puppets. Some of the latter are excellent writers, but I’ve never understood how they can do what they do without ever looking a character in the face or sitting under her skin.

    At least for me, all writing comes from sitting under someone else’s skin, and eventually needing to write it out so I can keep that person safe and whole while still getting OUT to breathe for myself. After the break-up of a relationship that had grown in tandem with a story relationship, I had to consciously create a safe mental bubble for them, lest the dynamic transfer over to them, which would have been a cruel thing to do to my creations.

    I swore at Lestat. A lot. Especially when he made fun of us for waiting up for him with our velvet bookmarks. My bookmark had a silk tassel and was of Captain Picard, so there.

    1. As I think you know, my main creative partner, is also my ex-lover. When we broke up (like 5+ year ago now), we were in the middle of a piece that because the skeleton of the novel we’re working on now, and about 5 minutes into the break up we both were like “BUT THE [characters] AREN’T BREAKING UP” “OMG NO!”

      I remain so grateful we were able to preserve not just our friendship, but the work. Not just because I see great success for it outside of its original (fannish) realm, but because those other people that we were and were not, deserved not to be torn apart by our own shit.

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