Mr. Magoo Land

Liminal, interstices. I love those two words. Liminal for the way it plays on my lips and tongue and for the images it brings of edges, borders, lake shores, horizons, beaches. You can think of words for years, letting them play back there in consciousness, and then one day, out of curiosity, you bring them to the fore and check out dictionary entries.

Liminal relates to a transitional or initial stage of a process. Marginal. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. So says the dictionary, though I don't know how at and on both sides of can mean the same thing.

In anthropology, liminality is the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms of conduct and dress.

Limnology is the scientific study of bodies of lakes and ponds.

An interstice is a small gap between things. One on-line definition gives as an example, "the sunlight fell through the interstices of the arching trees."

But it could be the gap between childhood and adulthood, the long liminal period of adolescence. Or the space where understanding happens, between true comprehension - the literal - and the commonly assumed. I call it Mr Magoo land and it happens when people nod and say "I know," when what they mean is that they get the gist, which remains indefinite; could be this, could be that. Or when two people do not speak the same language but communicate by gestures and pidgin English, French, Chinese, what have you, and in this way more or less come to mutual acknowledgement of a situation. Watch this in foreign countries. I once got in trouble by thinking I "got" it, when the person who was proposing something to me was operating according to a completely different definition of the phrase we were using.

The same vagueness arises from people who forget words. Could be an especially busy and distracted person, an older person, a person whose language centre does not operate normally for any number of reasons. "Oh, yeah, I know," you might respond to a term they are trying to communicate, and most of the time you will be right or close enough. At least you will have satisfied their need to be understood and so allow the speaker to settle back and gently rock in the cradle where all knowledge sleeps; it's just a matter of waking up the right word or fact, the right memory in time for the job.

Mr. Magoo land is also where people's lives are fluid to the extent that any plan, even so-called firm plans, can and do change at any time. I know a few people like that and I never count on their dinner invitations, for example, because they will more often than not remember another engagement or have to be working late or need to do something else. This has gone on so long it isn't even irritating. Some of these same people, and others, have explanations or histories that change with each telling. It is as if the interstices in their memory shift and they find their way to another, just as plausible a story. Truth, reality, isn't it all relative anyway? Mr. Magoo was a cartoon character whose nearsightedness offered a different and often comic view of the world, but things usually turned out just fine for him regardless. Mr Magoo land is a liminal place not a destination. This interstice between the definite is best regarded with that other definition of understanding: tolerance, sensitivity, forgiveness, humanity.