Just came back from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema where my friend Lynn and I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once. Not the least bit sure I was prepared for that experience, and sitting in the front row at the Alamo, it was a fairly intense one.
I won’t risk spoiling anything about the film for you if you haven’t seen it but let’s talk after you have. It’s about encountering the multiverse and all that that entails. What is the multiverse?
The multiverse is a hypothetical group of multiple universes.[a] Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. The different universes within the multiverse are called “parallel universes”, “other universes”, “alternate universes”, or “many worlds”Wikipedia
It’s a space with loose parameters that are constantly changing and evolving. My husband was once in a movie called Philadelphia Experiment II, that posited a different world where Hitler had not been killed and had flourished. The premise of the movie was that radical shifts in the course of history were possible if events transpired only slightly differently. One need look no further than the radical shift in our country since the events of the 2016 election for evidence of the multiverse in action.
This week I was listening to a podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” and the host, Nora McInerny had produced an episode that was called “Matchmaker, Make Me a Match” and in it, folks were basically making their love pitches, putting it out there. There were obviously a list of questions or talking points they’d each been asked to address, but my favorite one was to share their favorite word. The 40-year-old physician whose favorite word was gossamer was an instant winner in my book. I imagined a sensitive, poet underneath his no doubt professional persona. Gossamer describes “a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs, spun by small spiders” or, if you look a bit further, a large orange monster created by Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese, who appeared in Warner Brothers cartoon, voiced by Mel Blanc with Bugs Bunny back in the 1940s, a richly ironic application of character to such a delicate word.
But the episode got me thinking about my favorite words. In the context of someone sharing one word to reveal something appealing about themself in a matchmaking episode, kudos to the doctor for finding the perfect word to invoke the risky fragility of the heart.
I have two favorite words. The first is liminal. As I mulled it over in my head this week while I walked around the reservoir, here were some of the examples that came to mind:
Liminal spaces are spaces of potential action:
- the space between myself and the young four point buck, his twitching nose sniffing to see if the white bag I carried held any carrots for him. Alas, my friend, it is garbage, not roughage. Is the liminal space the chain link fence? Or is it just on the other side? My side or his?
- the membrane of consciousness opening wider as I wake from my cell phone chime and wrest myself from the languor of my bed
- the space between me as an audience member, and the performers on stage. On Friday, I attended the production of King Lear at the Wallis Annenburg (yes, in spite of Charles McNulty’s review). Would that that space had been less porous between performers and audience.
Liminality is a place of potential. It is a hopeful, sometimes fearful space of not knowing. Of coming to the edge. It can be a physical space, or it can be an emotional space, or even a temporal gap. The possibilities in a liminal space are unlimited. Don’t you love that moment when you are sitting in the audience waiting for the play to begin? After the pre-show announcement, just as the house lights go to half, then black, then the pre-show lighting on stage dims to black. Sometimes I close my eyes to magnify the darkness, taking a deep expectant breath filled with the promising possibility that when the lights come up this performance may be the most exciting theatrical experience I’ve ever had. That moment is pregnant with potential. People ask if when I see a show I’m like a forensic accountant, surveying the lighting and scenery and discerning how things were done. Yes, I frequently admire specific production elements. But I also allow myself to become immersed in the emotional experience of the play. Judgement may come later, or equally possibly, celebration.
After my reunion, I spent a week in Washington, DC with my Dad and his wife. He played golf twice and I drove him to the course and rode on the golf cart and watched him play with his friends. We had a great time both days.
Another day, I drove to Annapolis to spend the morning with my best childhood friend, Liz. We took a nice walk at a park near her place, then went to the Chesapeake Bay shoreline for lunch before I drove back to town. We were accompanied on the walk by her very well-behaved and well-trained dog, Enzo. Talk about liminal – the moment between when the ball is hurled, and when he’s given the GO to fetch.
Liz and I grew up about a quarter mile apart from each other in rural southwestern Pennsylvania from about age 6 and 7 until we went off to boarding school at 14. I told her that when I was in the car driving to see her, I had a similar feeling to that which I’d experienced so frequently when my Mom would drive me to her house to play. Butterflies, excitement, wondering about what fantastical adventures we would create for ourselves in the house and gardens around her parents’ home. So much potential. What a happy time. We stopped at a garden shop on the way from the park to the restaurant. Liz wanted some kale for her garden. No luck there, but we spotted some beets which she grabbed. We dubbed them “Elsabeets” and I will follow their progress avidly.
The other words that popped back into my consciousness recently are palimpsest and its art history equivalent, pentimento. I had learned this term while a student of Art History. A palimpsest refers to parchment that has been scraped to be used again, which may reveal “underwriting.” A pentimento describes an underlying image on a canvas, one that’s been painted over but may still be discerned by restorers. When in DC, Dad and Sally and I had visited the Phillips Collection and seen a wonderful exhibit of Picasso’s early 1900’s blue period paintings painted in both Barcelona and Paris. One painting of the Crouching Beggar Woman was determined by x-radiography to have a strong image underneath which helped to shape the seemingly beleaguered beggar woman’s head. Really she was hiding a temple under the curve of her head.
As I move through my life as a newly single woman the potency of these concepts of liminal space and pentimenti are fertile. The possibility for my life path to change and grow is great, but the pentimenti are also impressively visible. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing shameful about wearing the images of a life of loving and being loved. They are just a part of the parchment or canvas I carry – well, that we all carry in our richly lived existences. We are shaped by our histories, influenced significantly by so many moments with so many different individuals.
Hopefully our interactions with the multiverse aren’t quite as dramatic as Michelle Yeoh’s. But I wait with breath bated as the lights dim for the next act.