Wistful windows

Living in liminality

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On a slow Sunday, we found ourselves draped over each other on a bed, talking about yearning. As you do. 

We were an awkward sculpture of stacked limbs, sitting in the stillness of our silence, lazily swiping on our phones with thumbs accustomed to the motion. The three of us, my two friends and I, agreed that the algorithms on our various apps seem to always dump us, rightfully so, in the genre of yearning. Where creators cater to an audience who loves a good wistful stare out the window of a train carriage, looking to somewhere, thinking of someone. 

Our versions of yearning were all different from each other. There is the Romantic Yearn, as we categorized it, the corset-bound titillation that beckoned for a stare out a window. Think Elizabeth Bennet as she sat on a swing for months on end, spinning in circles. Or perhaps Heloise as she stands on the edge of a cliff, her full green skirt catching in the tumultuous sea breeze, wishing to run but anchored down by responsibility. 

Up next, there is the Contemporary Yearn, suited for a solo session on a sandy beach at dusk. We compared it to scenes in “Moonlight” or “We Are Who We Are,” where sexuality and identity is grappled with and fleshed out in intense moments of solitude and silence. Or even when characters mope around their universities in bleak weather, their gaze cast down at their shoes as they walk on cobblestone streets. 

And finally, sandwiched between those two categories was the Midcentury Yearn. Well, perhaps not entirely midcentury — we just wanted to pay homage to the times we emulate Elio as he stares out a villa window, in a state of bored yearning in the afternoon heat. 

With yearning, comes liminality. Yearning is an active inaction of wishing for a conclusion. Stuck in a space between internal desire and external pursuit of that desire, there is the waiting period. During this time, desire thickens as it hangs in the web of liminality, growing heavy with every additional passing hour. 

I recalled a tweet once that labeled yearning as the gayest emotion; from there we claimed liminal yearning for our queerness — at least, for us specifically in that afternoon. We rejected the association of liminality with confusion. We rather saw it as an opportunity for fluidity, for expression and for identity exploration. 

Our queer yearning icons in media and film come into themselves in the liminal space, even if it means waiting around for something to spur them into action or to move their storyline forward. For us in our own yearning, we took on their roles to begin with, hoping to arrive at their stage of emotional desire or ambivalent nonchalance as we look out our own windows, albeit far from their European environment or historical setting of instant emotional depth. 

These characters just seemed to get it, to get us. Maybe that was our projection speaking, but regardless, we latched on to their emotional yearning and treated it as our own. They embodied emotions about sexuality and about identity that we had, but didn’t know how to express. What was crucial about their expression was that it wasn’t external; they didn’t know how to express it either. So emotion and identity manifested in yearning, which hung in the liminal space. 

I happen to love a good yearn, especially of the midcentury genre. From the edge of my bed, I may sit with my window cracked open and look out at the sycamore tree on the corner of the street. I treat it as my small claimed corner of the world, spinning myself into a somewhat silly state of yearning. 

I understand the frivolity of this all, to have the time to waste away yearning. To insert ourselves into the titular role of the main character, to take on the plot of another. But it’s my guilty pleasure, to slip into solitude and explore identity in this manner. Liminality arises in the passive action of yearning, where emotion is neither ignored and shoved under the rug, nor transformed into radical action. 

This period of processing is worthy of our attention, and frankly, our respect. To yearn allows oneself the time to slow down, to sit in silence and consider, even wallow, in the weight of our emotions. It doesn’t even matter if there’s a clear conclusion, one that gives you a sense of direction of how to translate yearning into action outside of the liminal space. 

Back to that afternoon, we three were beautifully bored. But in that boredom, lying there inactively, liminality allowed us to simultaneously project and reflect in the best of ways. 

Francesca Hodges writes the Monday A&E column on exploring liminal spaces within art and identity. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.