Thursday, 18 January 2018

Liminal Spaces - by Lu Hersey

The end of January feels like a liminal time. Liminal literally means threshold – leaving one place and not yet through to another.

The days are getting lighter since the winter solstice, but we’re not really through to spring, and I’ve been thinking a lot about liminal spaces. Between times, between places. In folklore and shamanic traditions, dusk and dawn are liminal times, between night and day. The seashore, hedgerows, the edge of the forest, are all liminal places. These times and places are where worlds meet, and have a strong association with magic. Places you’re most likely to encounter faeries and elementals – at times of betwixt and between.

As it happens, I’m about to move house. I’ve already packed (mostly) and I’m waiting, trying not to panic about bills, legal forms and forwarding address. I have nowhere definite to move to. I’ve also chosen this time to leave job security behind and become self-employed as a writer. In this sense I’m currently in a liminal space. 

Anyway, I was thinking about this as I walked into town early one morning this week, wrapped up in thought and feeling slightly anxious about everything. I came to the big roundabout leading to the main shopping centre in Bristol, known as the Bear Pit. It’s a place I generally avoid at night if I’m on my own – it's a place of fights and muggings down there, and I’m not a fan of underpasses at the best of times.

It was still half light, as the sun takes so long to come up in winter –  but I decided to take a risk, as it’s much quicker to go down through the Bear Pit than walk all round it. Also, it was freezing cold and I was already running late for an appointment.

As I hurried through, I suddenly came across something really extraordinary. A young woman in her nightclothes (admittedly very warm, thick nightclothes and probably with jeans underneath) was sitting up in her bed - down in the underpass. Maybe the bed was made up of pallettes, but it really looked like a proper bed, with sheets, quilts and everything. The woman was drinking a takeaway coffee and surrounded by a group of three homeless men, sitting on crates around her bed, listening to her talking animatedly about her plans for the future. She had an aura of a faerie queen surrounded by her seelie court, and seemed so full of life and enthusiasm, she was practically glowing.

I couldn’t stop, and it seemed rude to stare, so I just smiled and dropped some coins on her bedside table (seriously – she had a bedside table. Okay, maybe just another crate with a cloth on...) and walked on, thinking about liminal spaces. After all, underpasses are liminal spaces, thresholds to other places you want to get to.

I did half wonder if she was real – making her bed in the urban equivalent of a hedgerow, or a seashore – and she did look a bit like Titania (probably just the hair). But it made me think about living in a society where thousands of people, not just young women like her, end up sleeping in doorways and underpasses. In liminal places.

I’d been worrying about moving from one comfortable home and finding another – when here was someone who lived in a freezing, drafty underpass in the middle of a roundabout. Yet she was filled with life and laughter, and I was in danger of becoming a moaning minnie.

As we get closer to Imbolc (the Celtic fire festival at the beginning of February, which marks the spark of new life and creativity), I can't stop thinking about the plight of all those stuck in liminal places. I don't have any answers to the massive problem of homelessness, but am left wondering what change we can bring about, and how we can do it. Very few homeless people look as happy as that faerie queen and her seelie court.

And surely everyone deserves the basic right to cross the threshold, if they wish?

Lu Hersey


Joan Lennon said...

A moving piece - thank you, Lu - and good luck with the house hunt!

LuWrites said...

Thanks, Joan! I'm currently wasting far too much time on Rightmove :-)

Rosy said...

What a wonderful post, Lu, and very timely for me too! Xxx

LuWrites said...

Thanks, Rosy - hopefully not because you're currently sleeping in an underpass! xx

Steve Gladwin said...

Thank you Lu. It also tunes in very much with what I'm writing, (faeries,seelie and unseelie) and makes me take the pause we all need to to remember that compared to some people, we don't really know we're born. And when you think about it, what a very odd expression that is!

LuWrites said...

Ha! Isn't it? Glad it resonated with your faerie writings, Steve! :-)

Anne Booth said...

Thanks for this post. I am also trying to move house, and in the midst of the stress and budgeting and clearing clutter it is good to remember that I am contemplating moving from one warm shelter to another, whilst others don't have that luxury.

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely post. It bewilders me that there are so many homeless people in a country as wealthy as ours.