Thursday, 2 July 2009

I hate it when they're right

My father has recently graduated from what must be the longest PhD in the history of mankind. During his research, which was sort of in the area of palliative care (and also sort of bibliometrics, and hospices, at which point I kind of stopped counting) he became very enthusiastic about a number of different concepts. At one point, when he probably should have been writing his thesis, he wrote a conference paper about the etymology of the word 'care', which I read, and it was very interesting, and he also knows more than any human should know about the relationship between editorial panels of palliative care journals and their content. But, without a doubt, the concept that will stick with the entire family for the rest of our lives as his major obsession is one thing: Liminality. In fact, my siblings and our spouses and I developed a code of saying "liminality", and then rolling our eyes as some kind of shorthand for meaning that Dad is being crazy again. (Hi, Dad, if you're reading this - you know we love you). Even my mother, who is the very model of a devoted wife, would probably be happy if she never heard that word again.

For those of you who haven't had someone telling you about this idea for the last nine years, liminality is the idea of being in an 'in between' place between two different states. It became interesting for my father because in caring for dying people, they inhabit a reality that is somewhere between life and death. Not yet dead, but their former life is already over. It's safe to say that my Dad has talked about this concept a lot in the last few years, and I have yawned a bit and let it all wash over me. But now - suddenly, I can see what he was on about. I was sitting outside yesterday, feeling a bit miserable, and suddenly I realised that a lot of this tension is because I'm inhabiting a liminal space.

Here's the Wikipedia definition:

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"[1]) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes (.....) In the anthropological theories, a ritual, especially a rite of passage, involves some change to the participants, especially their social status.[3]

The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed - a situation which can lead to new perspectives.

People, places, or things may not complete a transition, or a transition between two states may not be fully possible. Those who remain in a state between two other states may become permanently liminal.

Does anybody else in this adoption-loss-infertility-fertility treatment-blogworld recognise themselves in that description? The sentence that really gets me is: The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Ugh! Yes! It does! It really does! Am I a mother yet? Well, no, obviously. But my shelves are full of parenting books. I have a baby carrier. I'm trying to plan my leave from work. Our cupboards have child locks. But despite all this - we don't actually have a child. I really am trapped between two states, and not only am I sick of waiting, I feel like I don't know who I am.

So anyway, I probably should have phoned my Dad and said "You were right. LIMINALITY IS REAL!" But clearly that's not going to happen, so I did the next best thing and I ordered this T-shirt:

(from here, if you're interested in this or other posy, ironically faux-intellectual merchandise).

My brother found this online ages ago, and emailed me the link in a 'ha, ha, as if you would ever buy this!' kind of a way. And at the time we both really wondered who on earth their target audience was. I mean, it's kind of a funny idea to play on STATE, as in, you know, STATE, but as if it was a STATE? Like a college, called Liminal STATE? GET IT? And then it could have a TEAM? But who would actually BUY it?

Well, me, as it turns out. I'm pretty sure they weren't intending this for waiting adopters, but - I've realised that for the time being, Liminal State is where I live.
I might as well own the T-shirt. So: go, Bobcats, I guess.


  1. I need that t-shirt. I have been in a liminal state for ten years.

  2. Dammit. I finally got rid of my 25-year old high school pom poms when Mom moved in December. They were blue & gold, they would have been perfect.

  3. Oh my god. You have shined light on my crazy situation. I find it hard to talk to my friends. Hard to read my books. Difficult to pick a place to eat. I stare. I breathe. I wait and stare at my phone. I look at the 2nd bed in Eva's room and picture a girl there who isn't there yet. My friends are wondering why I don't hang out or call anymore. I am most definitely in this state, and truly, I feel a little more normal now that you have wrote about this. How can I order this shirt too? We are such a good team. It could be our team shirt until we get our children home. All of this crazy state of mind.

  4. it sounds like your dad and I have been in the same Death and Dying classes and workshops...I too have written on the liminal space but honestly it never crossed my mind to think of this transition as liminality...but now, your insight - this makes substantially more sense doesn't I sit here at my desk having yet another crappy f'ing moment with my boss, finding this all so very intolerable, I am overwhelmed with this realization that it has been the erosion of identity has given birth to this smothering suffering sense of disorientation...but how does one move from one place to another, and what side do you pull to, and why am I experiencing it in every single aspect of my freaking life right now, why is my whole existence, professional, personal, family - this place in between...did I put myself here? did I choose it? I am past 'new perspectives' and square in disorientation, and trying desperately to figure out how to move forward in some way...instead of finding peace in accepting the liminal space - I am know beating against the walls of what I fear may be a self-imposed box of confusion, every decision has been wrong...I think it is fair to say I am having a bad day, week, year, but maybe this is what I needed, I needed this awareness,but god help me I can't take this space anymore - no more. perhaps, I should just by the shirt..."go, bobcats, I guess..."

  5. Never commented before, but I have to say that this post on liminality was fascinating!!! I think I may want to have coffee with your dad : )

  6. Oh Liminal space...I know it well!

    I have been enrolled at that State for some time...go Bobcats!!!

  7. OMG, I love this post. I want to have coffee with your dad, too. Not only do I love your take on it regarding the IF/adoption stuff, but it hits me in another way (and I won't hijack your blog about it) that really resonates for me. Plus, I am a nurse. In a nursing home for veterans. So your dad's take on liminality is extremely intriguing to me. I have witnessed this state so many times. Thanks for these great thoughts and your dad sounds wonderful.


  8. That shirt is so..... perfect!! I hope you don't have to wear it for long though.

  9. This is too perfect of an explanation for this life "transition". To see where we want to be, make decisions based on what "will be", and begin to live our lives as best we can for what we think our future will be without actually having all the pieces there is a hard place to stay.

    I hope you (and all of us) are Bobcat alumni soon.

  10. I love your blog because your writing is just supreme. And liminality - it's bizarre that I'm just reading this after my post today. I think I know someone going through that right now as well, but not involved with adoption.


  11. Fantastic shirt, fantastic post.

  12. I love your post. Connecting Liminal to IF/adoption is brilliant. I have tried to describe it as flying in an 8 year holding pattern. Liminal is much better. So I wonder, how long can one live in Liminal before suffering irreparable damage? Is recovery possible??


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