Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Foggy Thoughts from the Margins

You might well be wearying of my consideration of the liminal space, or spaces, I perceive myself occupying these days. I'd be the first to acknowledge that it's a privileged Liminality, particularly now when so many millions are displaced so tragically by conflict or environmental disaster. The margins I contemplate myself moving along, the thresholds I debate crossing, are all, so far, safe ones, places and spaces in which I'm housed, fed, and clothed comfortably, with most of my loved ones nearby, all of them well sheltered also. Many of the margins are ones I choose to stay on, for fear of losing parts of my self by immersing myself fully in his community or that. However lonely, even occasionally painful, the resultant alienation might be at times, the choice itself is a blessed luxury, I know.

That said, having mea culpa'd my privilege, having tried to push past narcissism to thoughtful self-reflexivity, I have to remind myself, and you, poor patient readers, that this blog is undeniably no more than the maundering and witterings of one particular woman, at a certain (late-ish) stage of her life as woman and as mother, wife, grandmother, retired academic, traveller, with a plethora of interests. One of whose most pressing current interests is figuring out the oddness of this whole retirement gig, one day at a time.

So I'm afraid we're not done with Liminality here at Materfamilias Writes, but you might be pleased that I've found a new word to help me putter about with. It arrived courtesy of @occasionalscotland's comment on my Instagram posting yesterday of a "foggy Vancouver." I'd already begun mentally composing a post about the Liminality effected by fog, but I'd been grimacing a bit over the potential heavyhandedness and overuse of the word. Still, it seemed to me that the alchemy performed by fog allowed us to glimpse beauty or strangeness or latent potential of various qualities in scenes we generally ignored as backdrop.

 

As does being on the margins, at some remove, whether deliberate or accidental. Whenever we have the chance to see the familiar suddenly as strange, as uncanny, whenever the Naturalized is revealed as Cultural, we stand to learn more about ourselves and our place in the world. Yesterday morning, as I ran into a bank of fog rolling in the opposite direction, I couldn't help but hope that some of the displacement and puzzling I've been experiencing lately might also be transformative, lifting eventually to reveal new conceptions.

 

And as I was thinking of the fog and my current state of mind as rather uncanny, Freud's Das Unheimliche ("the opposite of what is familiar" one definition has it, but it's just as much about something that is strangely familiar, or something familiar made strange), Linda left a comment in which she called my photo a 'depaysement' shot for its rendering of Vancouver as (of) another world. I hadn't known this French word, although it's easy enough to figure out, the word for "country" stuck right after the undoing of the "de" prefix. So something about being un/de-countried.

 

But wanting to make sure I'd got the word's connotations as well as what it more precisely denotes, I wandered a bit and discovered this paragraph (in an interesting and relevant post on a new-to-me blog that, sadly, hasn't been added to for several months now): "Depaysement is one of those words that doesn't have a direct English translation. I dig words like that. It's a French word whose quick definition is 'disorientation,' but the more elegant definition I just learned is this: 'The unsteady feeling you get when you are away from your home country.'"

 

Isn't it great, then, that Linda connected my photographs of fog's effects with my disorientation, or unsteady feeling, on coming back to my home country after travel and beginning to contend with what a different place home is for me now? I am experiencing the fog of depaysement and if I look carefully, I may recognize it for the transformative and wondrous experience it can be, while being careful not to lose my way.

 

And then this morning, another IG friend @soulclaphands posted this excerpt from Mark Doty's "Fog Suite," (a poem I must get to know better, being already a great fan of Doty's work):

What I love about language / is what I love about fog: / what comes between us and things / grants them their shine. Take,

For instance, the estuary, / raised to a higher power / by airy sun-struck voile: / gunmetal cove and glittered bar

hung on the rim of the sky / like palaces in Tibet--- / white buildings unreachable, dreamed and held

at just that perfect distance: the world's lustered by the veil.

In the next poem in the suite, the speaker wonders if fog is "visible uncertainty." And after Doty's lyrical and insightful riffing on fog and uncertainty and language's effect on our relationship with the world, I'm going to leave the uncertainty shimmering in the fog, step away from the keyboard, and leave you with his words and my photographs. If anything resonates, I'd love your comments.

 

 

29 comments:

  1. Dear Frances,the photos are superb,I am speechless in front of their beauty. Like paintings.
    Brava!
    I'll be back later
    Dottoressa

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    1. You're too kind, but thank you. I wish I'd had my good camera with me...

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  2. The photos! I would love to live with at least three or four of these. Just so mysterious, beautiful, layered. I went to a noted photographer's exhibit the other evening and I prefer yours.

    Once when I was whirring and overthinking and I guess caught up in "self-reflectivity" a wise elder said to me" "It isn't that long a stay. Do what you dig, do some good, and always say yes to a milk shake." He is no longer alive (he was at least 85 when he said that) but his words have stayed with me and guide me now, 25 years later.

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    1. More kind words about my photos, thank you! I never think of getting the iPhone photos printed, but maybe I should try a few and frame them together.
      Your elder's words have a pithy, engaging wisdom, but they're a bit reductive to help me when I'm sorting how what I dig or having to let it go, when I'm trying to sort how much good to do and for whom and what if my idea of good is not the same as the recipient's. And so on. And I can only really say "Yes" to a taste of my husband's milkshakes or my jeans start to feel way too snug😉. The reality is that I tend to be introspective and reflective, but I have a wide practical streak to balance. I suppose that one of the things I "dig" is thinking, theorising aspects of my life, along the way....

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    2. I was just invited to work, part-time and intermittently, with a business I love! Exciting and will still give me loads of free time. Sometimes you can think, think, think, and then something happens and boom, there it is.

      And do I ever agree about the milkshakes... my wise elder was one of those "can't keep a pound on" guys!

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    3. That's wonderful news! How exciting! And I know that the business is lucky to have you working with them -- congratulations!

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  3. Those are beautiful foggy photos. Did you ever read Miguel de Unamuno's Niebla? I would agree with La Duchesse. BUT I am still trying to figure out how I can "do some good".

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    1. I read it in Spanish in a class at UBC way, way back and sadly, but not surprisingly, can't remember anything about it. I have a copy around somewhere though and reviving my Spanish is on my list...but it's a long list...and the Spanish is a ways down..
      Yes, there is much good to be done, but what is most needed of our particular gifts (and might do us good as well)?

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  4. Yes, Mater, this is it! This is the very problem beautifully summed up and fog is an excellent metaphor. But just remember - you are already on the way, not looking for it though the edges and the way ahead are shrouded in that brilliant luminescence which means that light is all around. I think that makes sense. As they say in The Go-Between, "the past is foreign country; they do things differently there". Again, I think that makes sense....

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    1. I'm wary of the metaphors, though, that work too neatly, and of course some kinds of fog are more dangerous, less beautiful (I've been alone in the boat before when it descends and I can assure you I wasn't taking photos. Nor would there have been anything recorded on the lens...
      I thought of that very quotation when writing but thought I had enough layers already. But it's another kind of depaysement, isn't it, just the process of growing older...

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  5. Those fog photos are so beautiful, Frances. I love a foggy morning on our river. Makes me feel wrapped up and safe from the world, and somehow given permission to stay still, and read and think. With respect to "disorientation" I remember a morning camping on a large lake. I was still sleeping in the tent and Hubby went fishing in the canoe on his own. As he drifted into a bank of fog, he said he became so disoriented that he slid off the canoe seat to sit on the bottom of the boat because he was not sure he could tell which way was up and which down and he was afraid he would dump the canoe. A kind of fog induced vertigo. That's how I felt when I retired and Hubby suddenly became ill. I really didn't know which end was up... so to speak:) Lovely to have the time to thoughtfully reconsider one's next step. though., isn't it?

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    1. It's true, there's a lovely muffling effect from fog when you're home and cosy. But like your husband, I've been alone in a boat (on saltwater, though, and not likely to tip) and it can be very eerie. I can imagine (though I don't like to!) the vertigo of a husband suddenly ill. I have to be honest and close by responding that while I know it's a privilege, I'm not entirely sure the retirement is lovely nor that there's as much time for consideration as I might have hoped.. .😉

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  6. How lovely to include a poem. As an ex-pat of almost 20 years, I really relate to the term "depaysement". Gorgeous photos, gorgeous writing, a poem and a new word- thank you!
    I love you intelligent Canadian bloggers: you, Duchesse, A Bag and a Beret...Is it cultural that I think you are the most interesting and simultaneously fabulously frivolously festive bloggers out there?
    Thank you for making my European sojourn so much more interesting.....

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    1. I have actually met materfamilias and she is exactly like her writing (but of course more of her qualities come out in person.)

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    2. The two of you are very kind! I love being thought of as part of a Fabulously Frivolously Festive blogging crew!

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  7. I agree with the beauty of the photos.

    I would love some fog right now. At the end of the semester arguing with a couple of students who clearly have not done the work they should have done, but want credit anyway is making me wonder once again why I stay in this space. It's voluntary now (and I realize, like you, that I am privileged) so perhaps my impatience is telling me something. Or perhaps I'm just tired.....hard to know and hard to know when it is time to go.
    Lynn

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    1. Oh Lynn, I just got so tired of that aspect of the work, so I know exactly what you mean. I got tired of trying to convince too many disinterested students of the value of literature, of what I love. Too many taking courses because they have to, simply for the credit. So much I loved, as well, that kept me trying to hang in there, but finally, I realized that it was time to make a choice that I was fortunate to be able to make. Every time I begin to regret or to wonder, I remember just what you're describing. Just another few weeks and you'll get that break, though, and get enough energy to see you through spring (although I know that the break is first full of exhaustion, then Christmas, then frantic prep for next term. . . .

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  8. Very unselfish and brave from you to share your thoughts about liminalities,fogs and deconstructions here,thank you,I am thinking,learning and analizing my decisions,too,enhaced by your post!
    Fog includes mysteries,dangers and new paths as well. Good to take some time for rethink and deal with a new orientation,it needs thinking out of box to save oneself if needed. Or stay where you are,fog has the promise of the sun ,too.
    Dottoressa

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    1. You know, that's a really good point. Sometimes, in fog, it's better to wait until it lifts, wait for the sun to return. . . . Thank you. . . and it's good to know that what I write might be helpful. I feel as if I need to do it, but I worry that it might be too indulgent, perhaps tedious. . .

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  9. Oh dear, I have a feeling that you are not very happy right now. I am so sorry! You appear to me to be not only "de-countried" but also under some kind of pressure to take decisions, to chose a path. And, to return to Robert Frost as I understand him, the very fact that we have to chose is sad and a motive for melancholy and longing for the other options we have to renounce. Is there some reason for hurry? Maybe you need some more time to look down the Road(s) not Taken. And it might also be a good idea to follow Dottoressa's advice and quietly wait for the fog to lift. Be good to yourself.

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    1. Eleonore, thanks for your concern. On the contrary, I'm actually quite happy, very aware of my good fortune, revelling in time with my family, time to be creative, etc. But. I'm also puzzling about how to make the most of the time I have left. And I don't mind sitting with uncertainty while I sort that out, recognising that I might never do so -- Life has a way of intervening, with surprises! ;-)

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  10. I m also sorry you seem to be unsettled, maybe even a little unhappy at the moment. Like Eleanore, I think that Dottoressa's advice to quietly wait for the fog to lift is a good idea ...I m sure it will and sometimes when it does we see the sun shining on something unexpected that brings us happiness.
    Take care .... be kind to yourself
    Also, I have really enjoyed looking at these pictures ..... I've gone back to them a few times! So atmospheric
    Rosie

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    1. Maybe just a little, and just a bit too often, I'll admit, but there's lots of Happy in between, and ample contentment. Some big changes in lifestyle and priorities and attitudes, and they seem worth recording in the interest of honesty. But I will take your advice and be kind to myself, thank you. And so pleased you enjoyed my foggy photos. ;-)

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  11. Hi Mater. Fantastic post. Reflective and thought provoking. I want to keep it as a reflection to keep coming back to.

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    1. So kind of you to say, Moonboots, and it's good to hear from you. I know you've been busy with your new job and all your Tri-training.

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  12. Yes in the face of those photos I'm speechless. Well, almost speechless.

    What IS one's country, now? Where do we live? Depaysment - the shock and thrill of the news. How much of our selves do we bring along?

    And you too have experienced a mother with dementia. I keep wondering, what is the entrance to that fog?

    Ah well. Sending hugs. And wishing as always for a long visit in person.

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    1. Ah, you know...and I wish, too...I think I'll make it happen in 2016...

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  13. Hello, at last! I'm astounded that my little 'depaysement' comment on Instagram was so in tune with your thinking at the other side of the world. But I'm a great fan of feeling de-countrified. It sharpens everything. Proust knew that habit was the enemy of perception, and as a former Proustian I try always to bear that in mind.
    My discovery of your blog holds a parallel symmetry, because I will be in your state of liminality come June next year. Perhaps I'm already in it, prompted by your thoughts on the subject. I'll be taking early (very early!) retirement from working in an ancient Scottish university for 29 years. As yet I've had very little time to start working things through in my mind (manic pace at work, father in hospital 170 miles away), but I think I'm looking forward to the state of transition. I wonder if it matters where you've come from as you approach the transition? I haven't felt that my current career has been a good fit - I fell into it rather than choosing it heart and soul, and it has never felt authentic to me. So the state of transition at the moment only feels positive. It may be different once I'm further into it. I look forward to further conversations!
    Despite searching I can't find the quote that your Paris windows reminded me of. But it was something about the nature of desire 'your shoes were only beautiful in the shop window' (except it was in French and thus sounded better!)

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    1. I'm generally happy about the transition possibilities, but there are aspects of my working life (and identity) that I do miss. I just didn't have the energy anymore for the negative stuff, which seemed to grow...
      I love that quotation, its implications, and I can imagine that it would have been even more evocative in a French cloak. . .
      I remember Nancy Huston speaking about the value of living in another language (in a talk I heard her give in Montreal several years ago, shifting from English to French as one can do there). Like you, I don't feel that fogginess, uncertainty unsteadiness, depaysement, are bad things, although I do like a healthy dose of heimlich as well...;-)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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