This week, I’m doing something I’ve never done. I’m off on a personal writing retreat, to create my liminal space.
In anthropology, liminality is a transient, ambiguous state between two rituals, such as those between childhood and adulthood. An Aboriginal adolescent would have been sent out into the outback for ‘walkabout’, before he returned to be welcomed back into his tribe as an adult.
More recently still, it’s been used to describe societies going through transition or particular challenge. It’s a time associated with destruction of some kind, or chaos. But it’s temporary. And it leads to transformation and the creation of something new.
We create in a liminal space
This is exactly what we do when we create or innovate. Nearly all creative acts take space in a private space, away from observation and judgement. The performance theorist Richard Schechner writes about theatre taking place in a liminal space, between the actor’s preparation time and their return to the world, and where transition between the stages need to be consciously and carefully managed. The theatre becomes a space where time bends, and in the audience we talk about being ‘carried away’. We’re likely to experience something similar when we’re deeply engaged in creative work that fascinates us: all sense of time and even self can fall away when we’re fully involved.
Intuitively, we all create our spaces. Artists have their studios, writers their sheds, or the anonymous space behind their laptop in a coffee shop. Even the most collaborative acts of creation take place in a dedicated area, from which outsiders are often excluded: the rehearsal studio, the ad agency creative offices, the research community based round the lab.
Essentially, creation starts in our heads, and that’s the most private, liminal, secret place of all.
Creation means transformation
And what are we doing there? We’re creating order out of chaos. We’re destroying, sometimes: breaking down old ways of doing things, expectations, or our own beliefs about ourselves. Creating is deeply personal and often risky, and it almost always demands that we make ourselves vulnerable. We’re experimenting and learning. Essentially, we’re trying to transform something: to make an idea into a state it can be used or understood by someone else.
My liminal space, then, feels a little daunting, a little overwhelming. But that’s as it should be. It’s also full of promise.
Biscuits, tea, laptop. And go.