Spaces In Between

When I think of spaces in between:

I think about the space between one culture and another, the space that is created from travel, the space that opens up in oneself from traveling within and understanding different worlds.  I think about what it means to be a “third-culture” kid, as my cousin once named it, to have grown up between two countries, sometimes feeling like I did not belong to either, struggling to feel like I belong to both.

I think about sexuality and the ways in which sexuality cannot be defined by only gay and straight.  Though many people do identity one way or the other, many more fall somewhere in between.  For me that was a difficult space to inhabit for a long time, and bisexual doesn’t capture the complexity that is sexuality, attraction, desire and love in the space between gay and straight.  I am comfortable now with that ambiguity, fluidity and identify as queer because of its possibilities and openness, though I know that for many it is a painful/contested word.  (Depending on context I will choose other labels that will be better received/understood by my audience).

I think about family and friends and the ways in which these lines blur and cross-over, and how biology and non-biology are both a part of this, and also irrelevant in many cases.  What is it that holds relationships together? The shared histories and futures? Interconnections and responsibilities? What is it that hangs out in the spaces in between bodies/people? I think about love for each other and memories, laughter and tears.

I think about what happens at dawn, the space in between night and day, the waking of the world, the settling of the night.  I think about what happens in those transitions from one time to another, from lightness to darkness and back again.

I think about the space that is created after a loved one has passed away.  They are gone, but not gone, as their memories are still so close, so vivid.  They continue to exist in a space between life and death.  I do not believe in an after-life, a heaven, but rather that we return to the earth, the universe, that we become part of all that is around us.  And so our loved ones are gone, but also here, part of the natural spaces around us, and always in our hearts.   I think, also, about the pain of grief, of learning to live with that loss, to realize that there is no “getting over” or “moving on” from a death, but that over time the pain gets easier to carry.  It does not become less, but it becomes easier to bear, less likely to cut so deeply.

I think about the ways in which what is memory, what is family-story or legend, what is a dream, and what is fabricated from desire can be hard to tease apart.

I think about how it is sometimes hard to tell truth from fiction.

I think about the way that our lives and our selves are not only about the big events that happen that mark time’s passing—birthdays, graduations, jobs, trips, holidays–but also all the time in between where we live the day-to-day moments of life.  Getting up to run with the dog, watching the birds on the feeder outside, swinging in the hammock to read a book, checking facebook, teaching a discussion section, watching a storm on the porch with my Dad, going kayaking with my Mom, tracing the path of one of my baby snails up the side of the tank.

I think about the fact that the world is not black and white, that while we might want to make things simple so much of the world is what happens in the spaces between what might be considered right and wrong.  It is about teasing out the nuances, the complexities, the messiness and understanding that each one of us holds onto a different piece of reality and that only by viewing them together do we get an idea of the ways in which power, privilege, oppression, and equality work.



  1. Jessica, that is a quite beautiful piece of writing. How well you express and convey how so many areas of living (including death, for it is for all of us a part of life) are about spaces in between. I particularly liked the thought that we all one day return to nature and become therefore part of a cycle and thus are always with those we lose. And they are always close as long as we remember. There is a paradox here about pain and memory that I would like to discuss with you sometime. I also think how true your assertion that only by viewing our different realities together do we come to a genuine understanding of the other. I look forward to your next blog on the spaces between and will try to focus on a few myself.

    • Hi Grandma, I am so glad that you enjoyed this post, and even happier that you commented! I hope that we get to talk soon and I look forward to talking to you about the paradox that you point out between pain and memory. Also, I’m going to pass the post along to Chris and Viola. 🙂

  2. Indeed, like we do.

    I have long thought–or the thought has been long in coming to me–that one of the things we homo sapiens most fear and have such difficulty living with–ambiguity/contradiction–is actually the motherlode of inner wealth. I remember a music teacher who taught me that music is the spaces in between the notes. I remember reading that “meaning” in poetry is in the spaces between the words, even between the syllables. I remember–and this I know and feel intimately–the play inherent in the spaces in between eighth notes, those impossibly subtle distances of audio space that will distinguish a Latin rhythm from swing or from zydeco or from super slow bebop.

    And by the same token, I have come to regard life itself as a space in between. I think of a “wave” among the crowd at a stadium. The wave is not an “object” that moves around the circumference of the throng, but an action, a verb–actually, an idea–transmitted from individual to individual, faster than any “thing” could be passed.. The fan sits, sees the wave approaching, jumps up, sits down, then watches the wave continue around the stands. She/he hasn’t moved an inch horizontally; she/it has merely accepted an idea, acted on it, and transmitted it by jumping up. Life kind of works on wave theory. It moves like a wave through matter. Matter becomes animated, then returns to its inert state. Life is not me, nor you. It is not my father, nor my son. It is in between us. It is through us.

    Thanks so much for including us in this profoundly thoughtful exchange.


    • Thanks Chris, for reading, and for leaving such an insightful, profound comment. I really like the analogy of the wave–it is an action and a verb–as is life. Also, I think that sometimes we try to define things, want life to be made into tangible objects, and yet it is more complex than that. (This is something I am trying to teach my students, life doesn’t break down into simple blocks that we can define and categorize. It is messy and complicated). The wave is not entirely knowable by description alone, it is not an object to hold.

      The idea of music being the space between the notes is also something I had not considered before. And I am completely on-board with you about ambiguity being at once the thing that we fear most, and also a vastly important wealth that we have.

      I am reminded now of a conversation with one of my professors about how important it is to pay attention to the “gaps” in our knowledge and knowledge worlds, (a conversation brought up by Anna Tsing’s work on “gaps”) as it is in those spaces that we come to know what we know and why, and why we do not know other things. When we pay attention to the gaps and also to the moments of boredom we can see more clearly what we are forgetting, what gets ignored or simplified.

  3. We humans suffer massive anxiety, anger, and fear when the nature of things denies us delineated and immutable answers. Our suspicious and restless primate nature recoils at “in between,” leading to phobias, religions, witch hunts, crusades, wars, even genocide. I think it takes huge effort and courage to overcome our primitive, instinctual horror of living with ambiguities, ironies, and contradictions. To do it, we have to face death–not deny or defy it, but really face it as part of life. We have spent trillions, built hundreds of thousands of cathedrals and temples, sacrificed countless children, and extinguished entire civilizations all for the sole purpose of avoiding this, the most obvious of all questions. My dog is naturally closer to grasping this, in his own existential way, than I am.

  4. Resonant piece, and things about which I often wonder and ponder. Ambiguity, contradiction and paradox seem to to be the only real manifestations of a kind of truth, and living easily with them requires a letting go – a habitation of the spaces in between false truths; dogma, belief, attachment, allegiance – islands in the river to which it is all too easy to gravitate – and become stranded. We do indeed, as a species, fear ambiguity and paradox, and letting go is always hard, but 58 years tells me that the space, light, peace and open horizons between the crowded clamour of myriad claimed certainties represent the most rewarding and fulfilling territory in which to roam at will.

    • Thank-you, Mark, for stopping by, and for your eloquent comment. I like the idea of dogma, belief, and other false truths as islands in a river where we can become stranded and that living with ambiguity requires a letting go.

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