The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?– page 4, A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar, it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ – the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.
A lot of my writing focuses on edges and boundaries. I like to work in the liminal spaces where one thing is almost another and certainly not entirely what it seems at first glance. Anything that marks a transition of some sort is liminal; doorways, hedges, walls, crossroads, rivers, lakes, mountains, roads, birthdays, weddings, New Year’s Eve…. They are not places to dwell in but places to move through and they are state changing, whether that change is perceptible to the naked eye or not.
A lot of folktales tell you what happens when you step off the path, or walk through the doorway, or cross the water; you often end up in a place quite different to the one you thought you were in. You stepped off the path and into the fairy realm, you walked through the doorway and found yourself in the underworld, you crossed the water and found yourself in Avalon. Often the wanderer, unaware of what they have done, commits some faux pas or crime in this new world that puts them into the power of whomsoever rules that place. They only get to return home once they have paid for their transgression in full or if someone else comes to their aid.
For me the most powerful and yet uncomfortable of the liminal spaces are those that do not, without human belief, exist at all. All the they are is vested in them by us, not the world itself. We draw the property, county and country borders onto the maps, we decide that this bit belongs to this person, this to another, and then create penalties for those who cross them without the proper consent; liminality born of a social construct.
When I look at country borders I see them mapped in blood. Just how many millions of lives have been lost in the claiming or defence of what amounts to, in the life of the universe, a line drawn fleetingly on the face of nature because someone wants ‘dibs’ on a particular resource? What is it about us as a species that makes us so desperate to delineate “ours” from “others” and, so often, then decide that “others” should really be “ours”?
I don’t have any answers to those questions, not really. I just have a myriad of stories, each of which hangs on some small thought about edges, boundaries and divisions, each exploring just one tiny part of this complex whole. I’m telling them to myself in the hope that if I keep creating them I might find a sensible, coherent way of talking about them effectively with others.
And I continue to wonder if it will work.