Liminal Spaces

Your absence is my constant companion.


I have a great deal of affection for liminal spaces.  I think, as an artist (especially a performing artist), you have to.  “Liminal” translates to threshold in Latin, and refers to a state of transition, neither where you came from, nor where you’re going.

Performing artists spend a great deal of their professional lives in liminal spaces, in a room on a set that was designed to be temporary, in the company of a cast and crew who will never exist in the same room at the same time again, once the show has ended.  I spend a great deal of my professional life in liminal spaces simply through the virtue of doing most (if not all) of my work in theatres, schools, and hotels.

For the past 12 years, I’ve worked for URTA, the University/Resident Theatre Association.  Every winter, just after the holidays, I spend a week bundling myself up against the winter chill and taking the train downtown at some ungodly hour to stage manage hundreds of potential grad-school theatre candidates.  I once calculated that I had lived over a month of my life in the Michigan Avenue Westin hotel, and I’m creeping toward that at the Palmer House as well.

In many ways, URTA (and presumably, other theatre conferences like SETC) serves as the ultimate fantasy for theatre professionals.  We get together, all in the same room, over and over, year after year, sometimes for over a decade.  Some of us only see each other once a year.  Every year, without fail, recruiters ask me “Why didn’t we have you in LA? at LDI?  In Vegas?  At SETC?”  …Because I live here, of course, and because, while I am now the longest tenured employee of URTA, I don’t *technically* work for URTA.  Only one week a year.

The thing about existing in this space, at Roosevelt University, in the Westin, stalking the hallways of the Palmer House like a cat in heat, is that the normal rubric for creating relationships with people outside don’t apply.  They get locked out in the snow.  You see people three days a year, but embrace them like your oldest friends.  You wait up in the lobby or close down the hotel bar with your conference friends, and sometimes you forget each other by the next year.

And sometimes, someone stands at your registration table, and they nudge your arm, and the entire world tilts off its axis, and five years later, it’s still never gone back to the way it was before.  Sometimes you meet someone, someone you’ve known for a decade and are simultaneously 15-day strangers, and they change the entire trajectory of your life.  They fundamentally alter you.  They rewrite the stars.

But I know liminal space.  I spend so much time there, and I’ve seen Last Tango in Paris, and I’ve seen Lost in Translation, and I know how things like this end.  Liminal space lies to you.  It takes the stakes of your life and it pumps them through the roof.  And knowing about the lie is sometimes the only thing that I can hold on to when I’m sitting in the Palmer House lobby deciding that I’m going to leave everyone and everything I’ve ever known and escape halfway across the country to chase down someone whom I’ve known for ten years and fifteen days who doesn’t and won’t ever want me.  I’ve made that decision at least 15 times now, one for every day I’ve spent in his physical presence, and hundreds more in his ever-present absence.

I’ve tried to feel differently.  I’ve tried to compartmentalize.  Every year, without fail, I’ve packed him up in a box in my brain, wrapped carefully in tissue paper and tied with string, like all other precious things, and set on a high shelf that I hope to not see or think about for a year.  And every year, without fail, that box springs from its shelf, scattering its contents across my consciousness in February, and July, and October/November/December, and I spend the subsequent time gathering up his smile and the sound of his voice, and that ridiculous orange puffer vest and shoving them haphazardly back in the box, all the more quickly to forget.


You’d think it wouldn’t matter, since he’s gone for good this year, and, when he asked me “can I hug you?” with his arms all full of boxes last January, the little voice in my head that knows the future said “you need to hold him long enough to last you the rest of your life”.  But liminal space magnifies every tiny thing, and nothing so much as my feelings, until I feel like I’ve gone insane, trying to articulate how I feel about someone I don’t even know, and likely never will.  Trying to make sense of why every firing synapse tells me this is it, the most important thing in the universe.

And because, unlike everyone else, I really never leave some semblance of liminal space, the feeling persists.  Neither where I came from, nor where I’m going, just a state of perpetual existence.  Falling through space, continually toward you.


The photos that accompany this post all come from URTA through the years.  Some of them from the Westin, some from the Palmer House.

One of them (this one, below), is from the night the world tilted off its axis.  I’ve been taking URTA selfies for Instagram that long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *