Liminal time

Melbourne has been in Stage 4 lockdown for a few weeks now. Exercise once a day for a maximum of an hour; shopping for essentials once a day and only one person; only within a 5 km radius. And a curfew from 8:00 at night to 5:00 in the morning. Businesses have been severely curtailed, with only essential work to be carried out and workers needing a permit to show they are essential.

Mask-wearing has been mandatory for about a month, and most people are complying.

Our borders with NSW and South Australia are closed.

Fortunately these very strict measures seem to be bringing the numbers down, although our elderly in residential care have had a very tragic time. You might like to read my last post about our Elders.

And me? Thank you for asking! I feel that I have been doing this for ever, and indeed it has been a long time…..Day 47 today. My postcode was one of the hotspots that had to go into Stage 3 lockdown on 2nd July. A little over a week later there was a Melbourne wide Stage 3 order. Numbers weren’t coming down so Stage 4 restrictions were put in place. So 47 days of sheltering at home.

Even looking further back, there was never a time since the end of the first lockdown where I felt really comfortable being out ~ although I did have a chance to meet up with my Mum in June, and that was delightful. So I feel like I have been inside my house since mid-March.

It has been a very odd time. I am sure that every single one of us feels the same ~ this strange time, this between time. This liminal time.

Liminal time is a concept I have just come across, but to me it sums up this time so well, and in a strange way gives me consolation.

Liminality is the state of being between, being just on the verge of something, understanding that this time and place feels out of the normal. It is leaving the known, the familiar, but not being in the new.

Long haul air travel (remember that?!) is an example. Once you walk through the departure gates you experience liminal time, where the old has been left behind, but you haven’t arrived at the new, your destination. You are in a between time, way beyond your familiar.

Richard Rohr says it is “when you have left, or are about to leave the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.”

So the coronavirus has forced all of us to experience liminal time, even those who are not now in quarantine. We have been forced to let go of our old lives and plans, but we have no idea of what our ‘new normal’ will be like. What will the economy be like? Will there be jobs? Will there be my job? Will my lovely Melbourne ever be lively and bustling again? Will the familiar patterns still exist? Will we travel overseas again? Will we ever be free of this virus? Will we……? The questions go on, because we have no idea.

Our sense of time has changed. How often have we said “What day is it today?”? Time feels like wading through sand and yet skidding over the top of the waves. Even our language to measure time is different ~ when this is over; when we have flattened the curve; when we have slowed down the spread, when we are back at the footie/concert/ballet. Or, as I am doing, measuring the time as days sheltering at home, rather than the days on the calendar.

This in-between time is a very difficult time for many people. It is riddled with anxiety, uncertainty, an unsafe time. Someone I read said that maybe this is why humans have built extensive rituals around these times ~ rites of passage, the change of seasons, even things like 21st birthdays, and graduations. The rituals are often guided by the elders and done in the community. To use that very overworked phrase, these are unprecedented times and so we have no rituals to soothe us.

My experience though is a little different. I am not going to loose a job, or be evicted, or be forced into bankruptcy. At this stage everyone I love is safe and secure. I have a comfortable, warm house and I can shelter in place with lots of things to keep me occupied. I feel safe, even though my future is unknown, and unknowable.

But not always easy. It is a sombre time. It is winter here in Melbourne, so the cold, grey, still days have perfectly matched the time. It’s a quiet time and a reflective time, but an anxious time.

It seems to me that liminal time is not limbo. There is movement and change, we just can’t see the final outcome. Like the pupa stage of a butterfly’s life. Which is not to say that at the end of this there will be a beautiful butterfly. Life at the moment is a shit-show and what emerges from the pupa could be mean and ugly. Or beautiful. Or a mixture. All we can say is that it won’t be the same.

It is understanding that I am in this strange between time that anchors me. The familiar has become the unfamiliar and will turn into the unexpected. Strangely, knowing that gives me some comfort, which I think it comes from relinquishing control. All I can control is me, and even that requires some letting go. I am thinking of the shape of my future life, although, because I am in liminal time, it can only be the vaguest of outlines. However, to reach the end of this lockdown I have reduced my expectations of myself ~ things like finding comfort in creating, doing simple drawings and sewing, things that feel right; laughing every day; being in the fresh air; connecting with others. Celebrating making it to end of the day.

I hope you are doing okay in these times. Remember to ask for help if you are not. If you are interested in knowing more about liminal time, just ask Lord Google. You may even come across liminal space, spaces between, like stairwell and schools after everyone has gone. Those places that have an odd feel to them.

I also found this podcast with Alain de Botton really interesting and surprisingly positive. One of the things he talks about is ‘constructive pessimism’ ~ bringing our worst fears into the power of the light. Instead of saying “It will be okay” ask “Will I be able to get through this?”, “Will I be able to bear this?” and “Will I be able to endure the worst?”. The answers will probably be “Probably”.

Stay well, stay safe.

Well, here I go again….Lockdown #2

The northern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, have seen a disturbing number of COVID-19 cases over the last week or so, most of them coming from community transmission. Compared to many other places the numbers are still low ~ in the 60s and 70s each day ~ but still enough to know that it must be brought under control. We can see from other countries how easily low numbers can increase to numbers that overwhelm.

So the Victorian Government has declared that 10 postcodes (zip codes) are to go into lockdown. My postcode is one of them. And I am perfectly fine with this. Action needs to be taken now, and we know that isolation works at suppressing transmission.

It is interesting to think about why Melbourne has been affected, as the other states have either very low or no new cases. This is my interpretation of the information I have gleaned from the authorities…..

International arrivals, ie returning citizens, are quarantined in hotels for 14 days. Quite a few of these arrivals seem to have come with the virus. In Victoria security at these quarantine hotels was farmed out to a private security firm, while in other states it is the job of the state police. I suspect that some of the security guards caught the virus from returned travellers. That was compounded by breaches of hygiene protocols by these security guards. Sharing a cigarette lighter has come up a few times, as well as crowded tea rooms and lack of protective equipment. So, a couple of the security people caught the virus, and inadvertently took the virus to their families.

At this time restrictions were being eased and families could gather in groups of 20. We love our families, and I can imagine how exciting it was for these families to see Grandma or Grandpa or cousins for the first time for ages. It is hard (but necessary) to maintain that 1.5 metres in a loving family gathering. So the virus was shared around. Then it moved to other family groups, and so it spread.

Now we have too much spread and these 10 ‘hotspots’ have to go into isolation.

We can only go out for the usual four reasons:

  • shopping for food and essential supplies
  • exercise
  • care and caregiving (this includes medical)
  • work and education if you can’t do it from home

It all feels very familiar.

And comforting in a weird way. As restrictions were gradually being lifted I felt a little confused. Not confused about what I could and couldn’t do, that always seemed clear to me. Rather I was confused about assessing the level of risk. Should I go to the hairdresser? I answered myself “No”. Should I go back to pilates? Probably not. Would lunch at a restaurant with friends be okay? Yes, as there were only 3 of us, and I knew they had been very cautious. I assumed the restaurant had the right protocols in place. Each venture out needed to be weighed. Now any dilemma has been removed ‘cos there is no option to go out!

The other thing that strikes me about this lockdown is that my level of anxiety is lower. Were you like me back in mid-March, or whenever your lockdown began, worrying about all manner of things? Will the rubbish still be collected? Will supply chains hold up? What happens if our electricity supply can’t cope? Would I have enough food? I even remember wondering if the parklands would be maintained. And I didn’t even have the worry of job losses or loan repayments or how to keep a business afloat.

I know what this quarantine period will look like, and that I can deal with it. I am confident that things will hold up, that the rubbish will be collected and the lights will stay on. And I know that there are others, like my wonderful family, on the ‘outside’ who are there cheering me on.

We are still at the beginning of this pandemic, and numbers in many countries are frighteningly high. So uncertainty is our new normal, our Covid normal for quite a while. We know what we have to do ~ practise excellent hand and respiratory hygiene, socially distance (at least 1.5m, please), wear a mask and don’t go out if you are feeling unwell. And if you do have to go back into lockdown, please do it.

On the practical side, the exhibition where I had two pieces hanging has been put on hold. The Incinerator Gallery has been caught up in all of this. Disappointing, but that’s how these things go.

Let me finish on my lovely librarian. You know how I love my library, and how happy I was to have it open, even though I couldn’t browse. I went in yesterday, before the lockdown, to confirm that they had to close. The librarian asked me if he could select a bundle of books for me to borrow. So between us ~ me standing behind the desk and him at the shelves asking if I like this author or that style ~ I borrowed a stack of books. I wouldn’t have chosen some of them myself, but I will certainly give them a go.

So, between my art and my book supply I feel that I am well equipped for another month at home.

Stay well.