Time of the season

Living in liminality

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Phoebe Bridgers released a surprise Christmas EP. Naturally, I spent the entire afternoon in gray misery with her record at full volume. After all, the sun had set at the dismal time of 4:30 p.m., exactly 30 minutes before my lectures ended for the day. 

Our apartment was cold, the heater beyond repair, and Phoebe’s cryptic crooning sent additional shivers down my spine. It seemed like every exhale of mine was a deep sigh; I slinked from my desk to my bed, where heavy blankets welcomed me into their weighted fold.

As the days have grown darker, the wind acquiring a certain bite to it, the streets have lost their liveliness and even the park by my house emptied out by midday. From my spot perched on the corner of my bed, looking out on Telegraph Avenue, the one tree that fills the view from my window has shaken off last month’s autumnal shades of orange, its leaves falling to meet the cold pavement. I myself feel my body grow heavier with each passing hour through the day as if I will eventually sink through my chair to the wooden floor, which by late afternoon is eventually covered in crumpled clothes and miscellaneous magazines and books.

My seasonal depression manifests itself through a series of sighs and limbs lost to the weight of a world unknown. I think it peaks right around sunset when I can really feel my sense of actuality slip through my fingers until I am left to languish in liminality. As the space outside my apartment turns to darkness, it’s as if my own reality turns Burton-esque, with my cheeks going hollow and skin growing ghastly. 

Long gone are our days of summer, when I would take breaks from class to bask in the sunny richness of each afternoon. Now it takes a great effort to leave the house after sunset, as my bed beckons me into a nightly hibernation session. Each time I crawl under the covers, it’s as if I depend on the blankets to keep my body from floating upward and dissipating into dust. 

My bed has become my regular old stomping ground; if my French doors are ajar, I typically fixate for long periods of time on the hallway. After all, it is donned in a ferocious wallpaper, a mix of mustard yellow, olive green and darts of purple and brown woven into the strange floral design. In random spaces, white, blinding plaster fills what once were dents in the fragile walls.

The awfully kitsch, slightly amusing design was the first thing that greeted my roommates and me when we moved in this past June; we thought it perfectly charming at the time. But now without a stream of light in the afternoon from my bedroom window, the wallpaper mirrors my distance from delight, and the shadows in its pattern grow darker. Much like myself, color drains naturally from the wallpaper, replacing its previous variation with mundane shades.

The wallpaper is much akin to one of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s late 19th century short stories. I read the fiction piece in high school and looked at the female subject — who spun into madness and hysteria in part due to her anxiety-driven obsession with her room’s yellow wallpaper — with an air of scientific observation, as a researcher looks at their clinical trial patients.

But now, looking at the kaleidoscopic paisley-decked hallway from my bed, I find her infatuation with her walls not only understandable but also beautifully haunting. She floats in the liminality between reality and the fictional fantasy her hysteria produces. Eventually, she is pulled to one side of the binary and loses herself to the haunting harrows of her walls and the spiraling vertigo of her mind. 

In this way, I’ve never been more thankful for liminality; at least, I am not yet giving into the physical wallpaper in the hallway or the manic patterns that form in my own mind. For now, the wallpaper in our frigid apartment remains a point of fixation for my monotonous, dreary afternoons, capturing my attention instead of letting me sink into stillness under my covers. 

I wish I could say that after a month or two, I’ve broken forth or grown accustomed to this time of year. But it’s easier said than done, to find coping mechanisms or clear-cut methods to grapple with moments when ceilings seem to come down and wallpaper shrinks inward. I suppose it’s time to find comfort in it, the liminal space giving me a place to stay for the winter months, perhaps offering some sort of twisted clarity to the winter season with its early darkness and cabin fever. 

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.