I spend a lot of my time reading the news. I’ve learned to pick and choose the types of articles I read in order to avoid a constant inundation of updates on a certain global pandemic. One of my favourite news sources is The Atlantic because it presents thought-provoking columns on relevant and controversial topics—and once you scroll through your daily list of articles, you’re rewarded with a snippet from a poem. For example, today’s feed features a piece on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an exploration of the QAnon movement, an investigation into the dangers of Tik Tok, and an argument for why the Big Ten are risking playing football during the pandemic. And a poem, of course. Today’s poem is from James Parker and features this line:
“A person stands before you, unknown, a complete stranger—and the merest everyday speech-morsel can tip you headfirst into the blazing void of his or her soul.”
Arthur C. Brooks is one of many contributing writers at The Atlantic and his biweekly column tackles questions of meaning and happiness. One particular article caught my attention: The Clocklike Regularity of Major Life Changes. He discusses the difficulty of transitional periods in life and the idea of “liminality,” which is defined as “being betwixt and between social roles and/or identities.” As a recent graduate, this hit close to home. I’m five months into my gap year and the feelings of liminality are undeniable. Transitioning from a structured routine to a life with more questions than answers is simultaneously terrifying and exciting. Even though I planned to take a year off, I’m still uncertain about what I’m supposed to be doing with my time and I miss the familiarity of school. My life is no longer planned in four-month chunks and I have no idea where I’ll be in half a year, partially because COVID-19 has forced me to avoid making any concrete long-term plans. I’d say this absolutely qualifies as a transitional period in my life.
Despite the uncertainty, I find comfort in Arthur’s editorials. He explains how transitions have more net positives than negatives over time. Although the sense of instability may seem overwhelming, it also allows us (or forces us) to adapt and grow—and growth is always a good thing. Research has shown that periods of uncertainty and suffering make us feel as if our lives have more meaning, and we can choose to take our pain and turn it into something useful. The pain of transitions can manifest in greater creativity and higher productivity, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept and process the discomfort that accompanies a life transition. It’s far easier to embrace life changes and learn to be comfortable with them—life is nothing if not a series of transitions.
It may be helpful to know that life changes are regular and semi-frequent (every 12 to 18 months, according to Bruce Feiler). Once I accept that transitions are inevitable and unavoidable, it becomes far easier to embrace (or at least acknowledge) the temporary pain that may accompany a life change. I find solace in knowing that being betwixt and between is a normal part of life and that the temporary discomfort of today will bear fruit in the distant, or not-so-distant, future.
To finish, here’s a line from A Supermarket in California, a poem by Allen Ginsberg.
“What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?”
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.