life as told by seven unrelated facts

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My thoughts have been scattershot lately. Ribbons of this. Shreds of confetti of that. I wish I had more of coherence, of weighty substance to write, but that’s not where I am at. So here’s this. This is what I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Swell sharks—Cephaloscyllium ventriosum—live along the Californian coast. They are called swell sharks because they can bend their bodies into U-shapes, and, with their cadual fins in their mouths, can swell up to twice their regular body size. This wedges them into hard-to-reach places, intimidates predators, and makes them harder to bite.

We released our two swell sharks into the ocean a month ago. Small, babyish things that have only ever known enclosures. We released all of our marine animals into the ocean because with camp shut down, we could no longer care for them.

The tank now sits empty and quiet in the middle of the mural-splashed room.

2. The Three Gorges Dam spans the Yangtze River in China. Finished in 2015, the dam has 32 main turbines and is constructed of enough steel to build 63 Eiffel Towers. The estimated cost of the dam was $22.5 billion, which was recovered in full by 2013 due to the dam’s productivity. So the dam paid for itself before it was ever finished.

NASA calculated that the Three Gorges Dam would increase the length of Earth’s day by .06 microseconds and also slightly alter the shape of the Earth in its entirety. It seems insignificant—what can anyone do in .06 microseconds and who cares if the Earth is a wee bit more round?—but that’s not my point. My point is that we shifted time, we changed a planet. My point is that things we took for stable, concrete facts changed by our own actions, and that maybe everything around us is mutable. Maybe everything is just an idea, susceptible to prying minds, pushing fingers. Maybe things don’t have to be this way.

3. I have a note saved in my phone from a month or so ago, wondering if elephant seals ever get lonely. This is less a fact and more a commentary on my own maudlin sensibilities.

4. Coined by Achille Mbembe, necropolitics is the use of social and political power to dictate who dies and how. It is both action and inaction. People in power exposing others to death and doing nothing about it from their glass castles.

Perhaps the existential question I return to the most is about the innate goodness of humans. I watched the protests in Ohio and Michigan of angry white workers demanding that businesses reopen and then I read the Twitter threads from New York City EMTs saying how everyday is 9/11 and I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.

5.  I often think about the physics of a water droplet on a car window (“often” meaning when I’m sitting passenger seat and it’s raining and my head is everywhere else but inside the car). The formula for the direction a droplet would travel once dislodged looks something like:

I have no idea what any of that means, but the formula itself possesses a sophisticated, precise beauty. That happens a lot these days—I notice something, ask questions, and don’t know the answers. Sometimes I don’t even understand the answers when I find them out. There is so much I don’t know, and that is good, great even, and I think it’s OK to not know and just wonder, and to describe cows on hilltops using only similes, and there are so many ways to exist in this world, and no one knows the best way to be, so just do it all anyway.

6. Ice plant—Carpobrotus edulis—was brought to California in the early 1900s to stabilize sand dunes. Like a lot of invasives, it crowded out native species, creating monospecific zones. It’s bad for the ecosystem, but with its yellow and purple flowers, its tender succulent leaves that turn orange and red like deciduous foliage, it’s beautiful. So many things that are bad for you have beautiful faces. So many things that start out as a good idea end in colorful wreckage.

7. Shizuka Yokomizo has a collection of photographs taken through a window. She left notes on people’s doorsteps, asking if they’d be OK with being photographed through their own window at a specific time, and, if they consented, she came back and took a picture. Preserved in that photograph is a single moment, but also so much more. People let you see more of them if you ask, if you are willing to take the time to look deeply. People want to be seen.

I think most people in our lives are like those in Yokomizo’s photographs. Fleeting glimpses. Small moments. There are so many people we will only touch the veneer of. But then there are others whose lives we walk into like a house and there we stay, we reside, with comfort and love and the feeling of home. Those are the people to cling to the hardest. Remember that.

liminal spaces

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thinking about NYC a lot these days

Liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. Threshold, among other things, means the level or point at which you start to experience something, or at which something starts to happen or change.

It’s like this: You are water. Blue and blameless. Ebbing and flowing in a tide pool. Heat begins to build, and you, beautiful humble droplet, start to quiver. The sky is tugging at you now more than ever. And you want to go. Up and up and up into the vast and beckoning blue. On the threshold of becoming vapor. Blue and blameless, quivering tender droplet.

And that is all. There is no next. You are a droplet caught in a freeze frame of almost-could-be-motion.

Liminal: something starts to happen

A liminal space is a narrow slit between existences. It is a sense of stagnation always on the cusp of becoming. It is a pause. A reckoning with existence. What am I doing here? What does any of this mean?

To exist in a liminal space means to exist untethered, unbound by future. It is to be stripped of work and obligations and normalcy, to be naked of every value society has dressed you in, to be adrift in your own ocean mind. It is to look at your hands and wonder what they are for.

Liminal spaces exude a particular sort of frustration. They are all of the build-up with none of the climax. You can hope and plan and daydream all you want, but you are still stuck in your house, and the future is still estranged. Everything is thought bubbles and finger pads. All motion is arrested.

Sometimes other people can write my own feelings better than I can. (Is that why we consume art? To be understood? To see our internal labyrinths laid out in visceral form?) And when I think of liminal spaces, I want to envision an actual space. Jonathan Safran Foer did that with love in Everything is Illuminated: “If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it heavy walls, and we will furnish it with soft red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler’s felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does.” (What an excellent passage, right?)

Here’s what my liminal space looks like: It is sunny but not quite warm enough to do what I want, which is to lay outside and roast in the sun long enough that my skin sprouts wildflowers. Everything smells of lavender. The walls are here, but you can’t see them, which is true of most things in life. I am free and tethered, wild and caged. The Monterey pine out back finally toppled and our peregrine falcon died, and yet it is still sunny and my skin is still soft, and nothing smells as good as the slowly ripening tomato plant. Everyone around me is chiseled from the same stone—blue schist and chert and pillow lava, the Franciscan melange. And me? I don’t know. I keep thinking of that one flower in Big Sur and how I’ll never remember its name, its smell.

Liminal: of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold 

What does your liminal space look like?