Betwixt and Between

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, however, the picture serves to inspire the words (though perhaps not quite a thousand) rather than as a substitute for them. Seeing the leaves of this tree in transition from vivid green to reddish gold, and pondering their pending detachment and descent, turned my thoughts to the seasons of change of which, unlike the four we associate with weather, number only three. I will call them static state, liminal state, and new static state—hardly a sexy set of terms, but sufficient for the purpose they serve.

It's the liminal (or threshold) state that I find most interesting. There's not much to say about the other two. As I looked at the tree, words came to me: "betwixt and between," a dated phrase for being conflicted, unable to choose between two competing or radically opposed options. We all know what between means, but contemplating its companion, betwixt, inspired intense curiosity; like learning someone you've known all your life has an identical twin you've never met. Was betwixt merely between with a twist (or twixt)? I had to see. I've always been fascinated with etymology (the origin of words), and betwixt did not disappoint. What caught my eye in the etymological entry was the phrase "in the space that separates." The word "space" sits in the exact middle of the phrase, literally separating the words on either side and establishing betwixt (and its sibling between) as a space with borders of its own, not just a line. The implication here is that change, no matter how sudden it seems, occurs in stages, that moving from one state to another includes a crossing over into the between space, a space where, for a moment or measure of time, the thing (or person) changing is neither here nor there, neither vivid green nor reddish gold, neither dead nor alive.

When someone cannot process change, such as the intense grief of losing a loved one or the intense shock of severe trauma, we say they are "beside themselves," suggesting they are in a between space—no longer the same person they were but not yet the changed person they are about to be. Trauma survivors often describe the experience of leaving their bodies during trauma, standing to the side or floating above, watching what is happening to them with an odd sense of detachment, because the terrible thing can't be happening to them and must be happening to someone else.

While trauma pushes us into the dark side of the liminal state, the act of creative expression pulls us into the light, a shimmering space where anything is possible, because our imagination has no boundaries or limits. The art we create in this space changes us, often inducing feelings of surprise ("I didn't know I had that in me," or "Where in the hell did that come from?"), familiarity ("I had forgotten that image or experience), gratitude for the muse's visit, or simply wonder. Similarly, our art changes those who encounter it, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. Think of how many great people's paths were altered by something they saw, heard, or read. Inspiration is the catalyst that sends us into the liminal space, where we are free to engage, even indulge our imagination and create something original, valuable, transformative. Seeing the tree and associating it with the phrase "betwixt and between" brought me into the space where I could write the words here, releasing creative energy that would have otherwise remained stored in my brain.

I suppose the ultimate liminal space is the shoreline, along with its companion, the horizon. On the beach, where solid land meets liquid sea, the waves are in a constant state of motion, and if you take them in their entirety, neither coming nor going but endlessly lapping, defining and erasing the space that separates, a space that exists as the absence of water as much as the presence of land. The horizon is different, and yet the same. It seems to be a specific, measurable distance away, but that distance grows as fast as we cover it, suspending us in infinite travel, our destination eluding us because it is not a destination, only the space that separates what we can from what we cannot see. The very same space where imagination hovers, vibrating with magic, not an end but a means to an end, not a distant continent we reach and conquer, but a kingdom of air we inhabit through the act of giving chase.

Come find out more about how we’re helping people enter the creative space at Christmas Lake Creative.