by Grace Ellis
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Yesterday I went upstairs to look for my notebook, walked into the room where I write, and couldn’t remember why I was there. It happens. Often. At this point in my life.
And, yes, it is comforting to believe that my mind is now so full of all I have experienced, all I have felt and thought, that it’s hard to access any kind of information—especially a recent acquisition in the cluttered library stacks of my brain. Still.
I read recently, somewhere—maybe in an AARP magazine, maybe on Facebook (source of quantities of information and misinformation) that one particular kind of memory lapse has to do with moving through a doorway, passing into a different space. A portal seems to cause the brain to push a re-set button, forgetting the recent past and starting over. Although my previous attempts at mindfulness and meditation have been unsuccessful, I am starting a new practice of chanting the name of an object or errand as I pass through a door.
I am thinking of all those stories about passing through portals into a whole new world. Alice walking through the looking glass or falling down the rabbit hole. The children entering the land of Narnia through a wardrobe. The van door sliding open to reveal the Delorean that will take Marty McFly back in time.
In ancient societies a threshold represented a major transition. Anthropologists have written about “liminal” spaces (a word derived from the Latin term for the board at the bottom of a doorframe). In rituals, such as the “rite of passage” from childhood to adulthood, there are three phases—the identification with the old status, the space between, and the new status. That space between—the liminal space—is unsettling territory, a test, representing uncertainty along with new possibilities, fear as well as hope.
In my daily life, I am not good at crossing thresholds. Once I begin an activity—whether it is working puzzles, pushing a lawnmower, reading a novel, or answering e-mail—it is hard for me to stop and move on to something else. If I get deep enough into the task of writing, I can lose myself in that place where I do not feel time passing. But eventually I need to get up, move around, and return to “the real world.”
I was not conscious of any previous fascination with portals and thresholds. But I now realize that the first play I ever wrote told the story of two girls who fell into the previous century through a door in the town depot. And one of my most recent plays is a variation on the myth of the heroine’s journey, tracing the small and large steps that a woman must take to move from one kind of life to another. Its title is “Rhonda’s Rites of Passage.”
At the age of seventy, I am aware of another doorway in my future. My brother and one of my best friends are now negotiating the passage from this life to whatever lies beyond. It is my hope that I will have several new spaces to explore before I cross that final frontier. If I can muster the courage and confidence to step across each threshold.
Grace Ellis taught English, primarily at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, NC, and Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC—with brief stints or adjunct positions at Montgomery Community College, UNC-Pembroke, NC State University, High Point University, Salem Academy, UNC School of the Arts, and Guilford College. She has written a composition textbook, plays, poems, magazine articles and theater reviews, as well as creative nonfiction. She loves reading her work at open mic night or watching an audience respond to her plays. Grace is a member of Winston-Salem Writers.
Founded in 2005, Winston-Salem Writers is a group of writers who write fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry, and who care about the art and craft of writing. They offer programs, workshops, critique groups, open mic nights, contests and writers’ nights out for both beginning writers and published authors. For more information, click HERE.