Liminal States

Recently, I came across a blog my college roomates and I had kept throughout the last semester of our senior year. It was, largely, a cooking blog, and small-ly, a walking blog, because I was not at a stage where I could give anybody advice about cooking that didn’t start and end with a microwave. I read through the archives, which started with my and my roommate Emily’s joint birthday party and ended with a walk I’d done from my then-office in Times Square home to our apartment in Cobble Hill. The penultimate post, also by Emily, struck a similar chord to me as it had when I’d first read it, at 22. It was written shortly before our graduation, and, in addition to oatmeal cookies, it offers up some really f**king poignant end-of-an-era-now-what??? feelings.

The other night the kitchen was cluttered, it was filled with canned goods and rice and dirty dishes and my computer and shredded coconut and the millions of water glasses I am currently going through.  The next morning it was a little better, as all cluttered nights feel better after you sleep on it. And I think as the week goes on, it will most likely stay on the cluttered side, but I kind of like that. Life is never a shiny, clean kitchen. Especially when you’re graduating.

Emily titled the post “The State that I am in,” and the short answer was a liminal one.

The phrase “liminal state” has been clanging around my head all summer. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin limen, “threshold.” It’s a very pretty word, I think — it sounds like a skip. Nowadays, I don’t know if there is any word with as high a ratio of metaphoric:literal as threshold, though back in Roman times, maybe that wasn’t the case.


I have my own liminal state, but I’m seeing them everywhere. You could call the Upsidedown in the Netflix series Stranger Things an alternate world but I’d call it a liminal one, attached to the rightsideup like Peter Pan’s stockings. I fell asleep and dreamed our bedroom had grown mossy cumuli and a suspended haze.

Last night, I rewatched Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, which is such a lovely, unshowy little movie, in the vein of Before Sunrise, about the sort of friendship that can become something else. There are so many scenes in Drinking Buddies where the central teeter, in words but often in gestures, on the brink of that something else; they burst with liminality.


A liminal state is a bit of a Shrodinger’s cat: neither one thing nor the other, or both, or their bleeding, shrouded edge. It is not necessarily a bad state, though it can feel so — but then again it can also feel deliciously close to a desired outcome, without all of the responsibility of owning its results.

In a liminal state, we are none of us terminal cases.


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