Living in a Liminal World

Because we don’t know what’s in store for us, people are starting to freak out.

Can you feel it? Everything is different now, and none of us can figure out where we are going. For the past 6 or 7 years, we’ve been in this transitional state, somewhere between the land of “How Things Used to Be” and the land of “God Only Knows What’s Coming.”

It’s an unsettling place to be. We seem to be spinning our wheels. We can’t get any traction. We can’t seem to move forward, but it’s impossible to go back. We’re on the verge of something. We’re on the brink. We’re passing through this ominous borderland where the ground is shifting beneath our feet and we’re unable to see what’s on the horizon. Who knows what the future holds? Everything seems so unexpected and random.

We are living in a Liminal World. I feel sorry for the younger generations, because this is all they’ve ever known.

liminal
adjective 

lim·i·nal | \ ˈli-mə-nᵊl \ 

1 : of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response. // liminal visual stimuli 
2 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional. //in the liminal state between life and death.

So many things have happened that we never anticipated.

  • A worldwide pandemic that would become senselessly politicized and therefore rage on to kill millions.
  • People so rarely sign their own names that their signatures are being questioned.
  • An insurrection in our Nation’s Capital only slightly less shocking than the war of 1812.
  • The election of a president (thankfully for only one term) who bragged of his penis size while campaigning, talked of grabbing women’s pussies, and claimed that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and still be elected, and it turns out he was right.
  • We find ourselves teetering on the edge of WWIII.
  • A pandemically-induced employment deficit is giving workers negotiating power for the first time in living memory.
  • It is becoming increasingly evident that we’re destroying the planet, and yet we aren’t doing anything about it.
  • Billionaires are going to outer space rather than dealing with the problems right here on earth.
  • Conspiracy theorists are taken more seriously than scientists.
  • Bitcoin.
  • Social media has exposed our gullibility, ignorance, hate and violent tendencies.
  • People are forgetting how to read maps and analog clocks.
  • Teens no longer rush to get their driver’s licenses.

Do I sound like a grumpy old woman who no longer feels she fits in the world? Well, yeah, I’m that. But this is much bigger. It’s more all-encompassing. People are starting to freak out.

Personally, I’ve been functioning under a level of stress that’s so intense that I’ve kind of forgotten that it’s stress. It’s time to do something about that. It’s time to find some solid ground again. My stability needs to be restored. Liminality is not a state where I thrive.

The thing about living in a liminal world is that it provides infinite opportunities for change. Change is scary. But we can insist that change be positive, rather than allowing it to be infused with selfishness, greed, and hostility. There’s untapped potential, here, to make the world a better place. We can break all those rules that haven’t served us well, and create a new way of living. The problem is that we can’t seem to figure out what that would look like.

Any ideas? Because I’m not going to lie. I’ve got nothin’.

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A Seven Year Reassessment

Sometimes I’m astounded that this is my life.

Seven years ago in August, I decided my entire life needed a do-over, so I packed up my two dogs and the rest of my stuff and moved 3100 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I had never been here before. I knew no one. I was 49 years old, and had absolutely no idea what the future held for me. I only knew that my present was dismal and I couldn’t imagine that any change could possibly make it any worse.

Fortunately I did have a job waiting for me on the other end, because the prospect of homelessness held no appeal. I also had a rental house, which I’d only seen in pictures. But other than those two solid-ish things, I felt as though I were jumping into an abyss.

During the 5 days that I drove across the country, I spent much of the time asking myself if I had lost my mind. One of my cousins (who knows me not at all) accused me of running away. I preferred to think of it as running toward, because what I was leaving behind was nothing of value, except for a few really close friends with whom I knew I’d keep in touch. My future in Florida was of me running on the same desperate, depressing hamster wheel I had been running on for the past 40 years. It had gotten me nowhere.

So, with equal parts trepidation, excitement, and hope, I approached the Emerald City, wondering what adventures it held in store for me. The not knowing was the scariest part. The not knowing was also the most exciting part.

I don’t think I realized what a culture shock I was about to experience. Seattle still feels like a foreign country to me to this day, although I’d like to think I’ve learned the language somewhat, as well as the lay of the land. Now I feel like an established expat. Back then, I felt like an alien from outer space.

I had to get used to driving on hills. I had to learn to dress appropriately for the seasons. I had to figure out which grocery stores to shop in, and while a lot of the products were identical, they had different brand names.

The first two years were particularly hard. I spent most of the time just going from work to home and back again, with occasional solo outings to explore the city. I was so lonely it was physically painful. My skin felt like it would atrophy due to lack of touch. That, and the supervisor of my bridge was a full-blown psychopath. Administration knew it and no one did anything about it. I was clearly in it alone. Work was hell, and at home I had nothing better to do than stew about work. Many’s the night that I cried and said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But throughout that dark period of adjustment, little glimmers of light kept creeping in. I loved the exotic sounds of morning birdsong, which was nothing like the birdsong on the east coast. I loved the changes in season. I loved the lack of bugs and the absence of oppressive, soul-sucking, sticky heat. I loved the flowers and the fruit and the neighborhood in which I lived. I loved the views from the bridges in which I worked. And I adored the paychecks. Union strong!

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re in your 50’s. People my age usually have established friendships and set routines. That, and the general vibe out here is very reserved. People also seem to be a lot less reliable. I got stood up a lot. I still do. That takes some getting used to.

But I discovered I had some really cool neighbors, and I picked up friends here and there. It was such a relief being able to count on the fact that most people here had my politics. In Florida I felt like a liberal turd in a republican punch bowl.

I joined a few groups and took a class or two. I even tried internet dating, but that was an unmitigated disaster. (I can laugh about that now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.)

Little by little, day by day, I built myself a life. The psychopath retired. I published a book. I bought myself a house. I found myself someone to love. And now things are so good that they hardly seem real. Some mornings I wake up and I’m astounded that this is my life.

The other day I had a party. I invited 4 friends over to paint rocks and do crafts. We sat on my patio, my favorite room in the house, and laughed and hugged and commiserated and talked about reality TV and insulted anti-vaxxers and ate guacamole. We also talked about what an amazing husband and home I have.

At one point, and I hope nobody noticed, I got tears in my eyes. Happy tears. It’s just that my life has come so far in the past seven years. There were times I would have despaired of ever having a get together like this. It all felt so completely out of reach.

And yet, here I am, feeling the serenity and painting solid, colorful rocks to prove it. It was all worth it. Life is good and the future is bright. What a difference seven years makes.

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I Wish I Were Older

That’s a sentence I haven’t uttered since childhood.

Now that’s a sentence I haven’t uttered since childhood. Sadly, though, it’s true. The world is going to hell, and I genuinely wish I were a little closer to dying peacefully of old age after having led a full life that was full of love and abundance. I really don’t enjoy witnessing us circling the drain.

Megadroughts. Floods, Wildfires. Unrelenting heat, horrific storms, and deadly winters. This is just the beginning of our downward spiral. I am terrified for my grandnephews, who will experience the stuff of nightmares at the rate we’re going. Mass extinctions. Food and water shortages and the wars they will cause. The die off of pollinators, and the permanent die off of many crops.

Another thing I’d rather not stick around for is the justified recriminations that younger generations will direct at us for having brought all this on ourselves. Make no mistake, we’ve all had a hand in this.

Our primary crime is that we’ve done nothing about the abuses of big corporations, which continue to do 70 percent of the global warming damage. If we could bring them all to heel, like, tomorrow, we might still stand a chance. But we all know that’s not going to happen, don’t we? Greed will kill us in the end.

If future generations want to know how I felt as we crossed the point of no return, I can say I felt frustrated, helpless, angry, and terrified. I feel like we’re all being pushed toward a cliff, and I don’t know what to do. It will no longer be possible for this pilotless cruise ship to avoid the iceberg, but we can still mitigate some of the damage. It can be done. We could still be okay. But no one seems to be doing enough. Recycling is nice, but it isn’t going to cut it. We need leadership with a backbone.

Soon, certain foods will become a faint memory for my nephews. Berries, and their related pies and jams and juices. Berries are already withering from the heat and becoming scarce as I write this.

We will also stop growing luxury crops that are not essential for human survival, because there will not be enough water for them. Say goodbye to coffee, tea, and tobacco. Chocolate and sugar will be a thing of the past. And no more beef. Adios to almonds, pistachios, and wine. We might actually be healthier due to many of these losses, but our diets will be bland.

It breaks my heart to watch all of this go. It scares me to look into the future. It makes me weep to think of the way children today will be forced to redefine and ratchet downward their quality of life.

We could have stopped this. We didn’t. We just didn’t. Our ignorance, greed and selfishness are how we will be remembered.

Our Uncanny Future

Things are changing so quickly.

Ever since the first of the pandemic lockdowns, I’ve been experiencing this free-floating sense of unease that I can’t shake. Some moments are worse than others. Most of the time I’m completely functional. But there’s this underlying feeling of being totally creeped out that seems to have become part of my status quo.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with having to look at my fellow human beings as disease vectors. That’s a shift in reality that I hadn’t anticipated. And I don’t think that will ever go away completely, pandemic or no pandemic. I was so innocent, once.

But I’m really beginning to think it’s much more than that. Things are changing so quickly. It feels as though the future is barreling toward us at such an insane rate of speed that we can’t get a proper focus on it. For the first time in my life I can’t even speculate as to what life will be like even 15 years from now. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it will be exceedingly strange.

I mean, self-driving cars? Who is responsible if an accident occurs? Can the cars prioritize risk based on passengers? If two driverless cars are speeding toward each other, and one contains a family with three small children and the other contains a 78 year old man, should the cars be able to decide which group gets to live? (Read more about this ethical dilemma here.)

And scientists have created bunnies that glow in black light. It doesn’t seem to harm them, and somehow this breakthrough is supposed to make it easier to create affordable medicines. But maybe me might want to consider not fiddling with the natural order of things too much, for fear of unintended consequences. (They created these bunnies by injecting jellyfish DNA into a rabbit embryo.)

Now it’s possible to create chicken meat in a lab, without chickens involved, except for the single cell. There’s something unsettling about that. It puts me in mind of a book by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, in which she talks about a chicken-like thing that’s kind of a blob that grows spores with bulbous ends (that in retrospect look a lot like a coronavirus). These spores get chopped off and are chicken meat. They’re called ChickieNobs. Shudder.

And there are weird environmental things happening that no one can explain, such as starfish wasting disease, in which the starfish’s legs basically crawl away from their body, and then the central disk dissolves into this white, gelatinous muck. What a way to go.

Then there’s human behavior, which is becoming increasingly unexplainable. There are still people out there, wandering amongst us, who think the Capitol Building Insurrection was no big deal at all, and/or something to be proud of. There are people denying climate change, and others, heaven help us all, who think the Republicans have their best interests at heart. It boggles the mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe, strongly, that we need to make scientific advances. I also believe that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But how far is too far, and how fast is too fast?

The fact is, we have no idea what the world will be like in even the very near future. Things are changing. It’s impossible to keep up. It’s utterly unpredictable. Even the positive improvements are hopeless to divine at this point.

And that gives me the creeps.

ChickieNobs

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2224

Gigantic digital balloons of animals that no longer exist.

A woman sits alone in a darkened living room, watching a holographic parade pass her by. The colorful digital floats include digital people and gigantic digital balloons of animals that no longer exist. As she moves her camera up and down the length of the parade, other viewers wave at her from their living rooms and wish her a happy Thanksgiving.

Her son wanders in and plops down on the couch beside her. “What are we watching?” he asks.

“The 300th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a tradition.”

“Who’s Macy?”

“Macy’s was something called a department store, back when people used to physically go places to do their shopping.”

“Wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Yes, but they didn’t know that at the time. People used to gather in large groups on the streets in New York City, too, to watch the parade.”

“That’s crazy. And since when are there streets in New York City?”

“Remember that gondola ride we took? That was on what used to be 5th Avenue. Before the water rose up, all those canals used to be streets.”

“Wow. I didn’t know that. Will we be eating soon?”

“Sure, honey. I’m going to show you how people used to cook. And then I’ll show you some holograms of what turkeys used to look like back then. You’ll be shocked.”

“Cool!”

Was I the only one who found the Macy’s parade bittersweet this year?

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Sanitizing My Sanity

I need to stop letting certain things get to me.

I need to stop letting certain things get to me. To wit:

  • Situations over which I have absolutely no control.

  • Stupid people who are in love with their own stupidity.

  • Stress surrounding arbitrary deadlines that I’ve imposed upon myself.

  • The endless pursuit of nonexistent seals of approval.

  • The fear of missing out.

  • Bitterness regarding the unchangeable past.

  • Anxiety regarding the unknowable future.

  • My inability to feel as though I fit in.

  • My weight, which will most likely never change.

  • My appearance. Same.

  • My frustration over constantly being misunderstood.

  • My inability to get others to care about the things that I care about.

  • The secrets that I know are being kept from me.

  • My failure to convince people of the potential that I know that they have.

I need to wash all these things away. I need to sanitize my sanity.

washing_away_by_kotmorda-d2zg800

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Crossing Paths with Futures Past

Peeking down a parallel timeline.

Have you ever run into someone you once thought you’d have a bright future with, but it didn’t work out? It’s a very disconcerting feeling. You are standing there in your present, getting a glimpse of a life you could have had. You’re peeking down a parallel timeline.

It’s a very bittersweet feeling. It reminds me of that scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand runs into Robert Redford with his new love and says to him, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” That movie always makes me cry. Memories…

But such encounters can also be a stark reality check. On more than one occasion I’ve come away from them thinking, “Whew! I dodged that bullet!” Because it’s blatantly obvious that the person in question is not in a place where I’d want to be. Perhaps their health has deteriorated, or they’re now abusing a substance, or they’ve moved to a hellish location, or they’ve become inexplicably obsessed with collecting traffic cones. No thanks.

If you’ve been pining away for that person, absorbing this new reality into your worldview might take some time. But what a relief to no longer pine. Pining takes a lot of energy. (That, and the sap is hard to get out of your hair.)

I suggest that when confronted with loves past, you take that opportunity to assess, and hopefully appreciate, where you are now. Now is your reality, and hopefully it is your gift. Your life could have unfolded in a multitude of ways, but here you are.

Having done that, resist the urge to tell that person, “This happiness could have been yours, you big dummy.” It might be satisfying, but in the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Life has a funny way of going on. (And for all you know, he or she is thinking the same thing.)

Most of all, crossing paths with futures past should make you aware of how many options you have. You can’t control other people, of course, but you have a multitude of opportunities to write your story in the best possible way, even if it isn’t going the way you once predicted that it would.

Good luck, dear reader!

The Way We Were

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Discouraging

How dare you?

Recently, someone I know spent a great deal of time trying to talk a friend out of getting a divorce. She was convinced that this divorce would be the worst possible thing her friend could do. She applied a lot of pressure and created a ton of doubt. The jury is still out as to whether she changed her friend’s mind.

But the whole time this was going on, I was thinking, “How dare you?”

First of all, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors in any relationship. And it’s not for you to decide how someone else is to live life. Even if what that person is doing seems like a monumental mistake, it could be the catalyst that brings on greater things for him or her in the future. At the very least, the experience may be an important life lesson. The choices one makes are what shape that individual. You don’t have the right to determine someone else’s shape.

In my opinion, the only time you should try to intervene in another person’s decision-making process is when that person is contemplating suicide. Because that’s the one choice in life from which one cannot turn back. Give your opinion about other things if asked, yes. But don’t get all definitive unless someone is about to step off a cliff.

I came by this belief the hard way. Once, I was in a relationship that was making my life so miserable that I decided it was time to move on. I had all my stuff packed. I had decided what to say. I was ready.

And then I made the mistake of telling my oldest sister. And she screamed at me. Because she liked the guy.

At the time, my self esteem was so low that that was all the discouragement I needed. Maybe she was right. Maybe this was a huge mistake. I mean, he was a nice guy. A great guy. Was it his fault that he left me feeling unfulfilled and alone? Was it his fault that I felt as though we had no common goals, that we were working toward nothing, and that our future would forever be exactly the same as our dreary present? Was it his fault that I felt more like his mother than his partner? It’s not like he beat me or cheated on me. What were the odds that I’d wind up with anyone better?

And so, with tears in my eyes, I unpacked. And he never knew. And we stayed together for another 12 long, miserable, unsatisfying years. What a waste. What an unbelievable waste. For both of us, because he certainly deserved more, too. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

Discouragement is an interesting word, when you think about it. It basically means that you are taking away someone’s courage. No one has a right to do that. Ever.

Discourage

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Communism, Fascism, and the Plight of the Redshirt Guy

So many people think Communism and Fascism are interchangeable.

It happened again the other day. I heard someone use “Communism” and “Fascism” interchangeably, like they are the same exact thing. And that thing, in that uneducated person’s mind, seemed simply to be a synonym for “bad”.

I can’t criticize oversimplification. I tend to use that crutch quite a bit in this blog, and could arguably be accused of it in this very post. But I’d like to think that I shy away from utter ignorance and stupidity. Most of the time, anyway.

So to break it down for you into nice bite sized pieces, I’ll start by saying Communism does not equal Fascism. If you have any doubts on this subject, read up on the Spanish Civil War. (But that can get pretty darned complicated in and of itself.)

A big difference in the two ideologies, in OversimplificationLand, is what they worship. Fascists worship a past that never truly existed. They tend to use slogans like Make America Great Again, implying that America used to be just how they want it to be: A lily white land where everyone of “value” is rich and there’s no crime or conflict, and women stay in their places and everyone is heterosexual.

Communists, on the other hand, don’t worship the past. They claim to worship a future that can never truly exist. Their slogans run along the lines of Workers of the World Unite, implying that there’s some magical yet not-too-far-off place where everyone is going to agree on everything and play fair. They think we’ll all work as hard as we possibly can (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) and that we’ll equally share in the world’s bounty, as if greed and corruption doesn’t exist.

Indeed, Communism stresses equality in all things, in word if not in deed, as if no one is going to keep score and be resentful of those who they feel are found wanting. Fascists have a slightly more uncomfortable problem, because their unspoken truth is that they stress inequality. They don’t want minorities to have equal rights. They don’t want women to have equal power. They certainly don’t want homosexuals to lead equally comfortable lives. That’s what attracts people to Fascism: the idea that they deserve to be better off than others.

Neither ideology appeals to me. Neither one is realistic. Both require corruption and cruelty and lies to survive. They are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But we make the mistake of looking at the spectrum as a straight line to our peril. Because they are so similar in their evil intent to control the masses and get what they want and to hell with the common man that they bend that spectrum like a horseshoe. They are at opposite ends, and yet they practically meet up.

(Don’t even get me started on capitalism, here, which is also greedy, corrupt, and attempts to control the masses. Our ideology is complicit, too. What does that do to the shape of this hypothetical spectrum? It boggles the mind. Maybe it’s one big cloverleaf with greed at the intersection.)

Most of us aren’t on any team, and never will be. We won’t even be invited to play. We are cannon fodder. As mentioned in Galaxy Quest, we are the collective redshirt guy a la Star Trek. No one knows his name because he’s only there to die halfway through the episode to prove that s**t just got real. We serve our purposes. It might be fun to get us all riled up every now and again, but in the end, we only have bit parts in this grand power play.

But dammit, Jim, the least we can do is not use Communist and Fascist interchangeably. Yeah, in OversimplificationLand, they can be used as synonyms for bad, as can capitalism, but they’re different kinds of bad. At least get that right.

redshirt guy

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Guidance Counselor Horror Stories

“Give up, loser.”

It happened again the other day. A friend told me about the outrageous treatment she received from a high school guidance counselor. She was basically told to stay in her place and look for a husband. The nerve.

I’ve heard so many horror stories over the years about people in this particular field that it leaves me sputtering. Either they discourage you from pursuing your dreams and try to send you down another path, or they tell you to give up because you’re a loser, or if you’re a high achiever, they try to push you beyond what you’re financially or circumstantially capable of achieving. Some of them simply throw diagnostic tests at you and try to fit you into a nice little box based on the results.

This topic is so insidious that it has even spawned its own “Guidance Counselor Horror Stories” forum topic. I started to read it. I really did. But it made me angry.

Because really, how hard is it to tell someone that every human being has potential, and each one is unique, and with some effort, can find his or her calling? Why not say, “Go for it. Your life will be what you make it, so make it great.”

In most cases, their “sage” advice is ignored. Thank goodness. But occasionally their slings and arrows hit the target and they negatively influence someone for life.

Guidance counselors can be a force for good or for evil. If you are one of the ones who is a force for good, I sincerely thank you, and hope you’ll keep up the good work. I wish we could clone you. Unfortunately, based on anecdotal evidence, the bad apples seem to take up most of the space in the barrel.

It must be a heady experience, sitting up on your throne and predicting someone’s entire future. But the fact is, it’s about as accurate as soothsaying. Some people with really bad grades and unruly behavior in high school go on to be quite successful in life. And some valedictorians wind up in prison. You just never know.

Personally, I’m thrilled that I am no longer the person I was in high school. I don’t particularly like who she was. I didn’t even like her at the time, which was half the problem. If we met today, we would not be friends.

I was expected to become this super successful CEO of a fortune 500 company or something. Everyone thought I’d be a smashing success, and that’s what success would look like.

But that kind of life would have made me miserable. I tried for it, for a time. But I kept throwing up subconscious roadblocks in front of myself. Even then, I knew, on some level, that that wasn’t supposed to be my path.

Decades later, I’m not rich. I don’t own a penthouse or a fancy car. I won’t be able to retire early, if at all. But I’ve learned to measure success by a different yardstick. I’m content. I like my job. I’m happy with how I turned out.

And I still have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

Lucy

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