Liminality

I hate endings. Well, not all endings, but endings can be sad at times, and so sometimes I hate them. I was thinking about this earlier because I just finished the whole run of a podcast I’ve dearly enjoyed, Ghosting Around. I’ll talk a bit about the podcast and why I love(d) it so much, and then we’ll talk a bit more about endings, liminality, &c.

The hosts tell ghost stories about various cities and places across the US (and sometimes abroad), and it’s just delightful. The hosts are John Cason and Kathleen DeRose. John was an editor on the excellent TV show Drunk History (RIP, what a great show!), and DeRose does standup comedy and other fun things as far as I can tell. Both are wonderfully funny, with sarcastic, dry humor, but John also is pretty much the pun king, and actually made me like puns again.

I only knew about the podcast because Karen & Georgia of My Favorite Murder fame (another wonderful podcast!) gave them a shoutout on one of their episodes, and I was immediately intrigued. Georgia knew John from working on Drunk History, so there’s the connection. In any case, I started listening a few months ago and fell in love with it immediately. They have some funny segments generally, lots of in-jokes and callbacks as they build a relationship with their listeners, and it’s just fun. I especially enjoyed the “Li’l Spookies,” which start with the sound of sizzling meat (Li’l Smokies?) and a wacky intro; these episodes either involved smaller stories or listener stories provided via email.

The episodes that will stick with me the most are the quartet of Disney episodes, though. John grew up in the Orlando area in Florida, and also happens to be a huge Disney fan like myself, so that’s cool. They did a Disneyland episode, a Li’l Spooky about California Adventure, and then three Disney World episodes to cover pretty much all the parks and even some hotels there. There’s just something terribly spooky about Disney hauntings and ghosts, and I really loved those episodes. Most of the research for those came from a great book on Disney ghosts and hauntings called Death in the Tragic Kingdom by Carter Moll. I told my wife about the book, and she bought a copy for us shortly after that. I read it in a couple of hours one night; it’s a quick read but really fascinating.

In any case, it’s a great podcast and well worth listening, and hey, it’s a finite amount of episodes to listen to, so you could probably blow through it fairly quickly. I did. There may be some new “unearthed” lost episodes coming out sporadically, but for all intents and purposes, it’s done.

That’s the impetus for me writing all this. I was feeling sad that the series is over, that I won’t have that to listen to most nights or weekends, &c. Any time I finish a creative work, whether it be a podcast series, book, TV show, or movie, there is a bit of lingering sadness. We spend so much time with characters, hosts, with whomever, and get to know them, their idiosyncrasies, their highs and lows, and once that’s gone, the afterglow is bittersweet at best. We want to recapture that warm feeling of spending time with them. Of course, you can listen, watch, read, whatever, again, but it’s never quite the same, even if you revisit it after a long time away. Endings are painful, endings are difficult — in life, in fiction, in general. Anyone who’s ever loved and lost should definitely know the feeling, too.

Memory is a powerful thing, though. I’ve been proselytizing Ghosting Around to everyone who will listen lately, and hopefully I can get others to see how fun and amazing it is, too. I’m that way about most things. If I really like something, I want to be able to share it with people and spread the love, pass on the joy. I like seeing others find joy in things, and of course I enjoy it when people are able to get me into things they love in turn.

It’s funny, because as much as I said I hate endings, I also love them, whether well-rounded, complete, and satisfying, or not: sometimes ragged, jarring, shocking, horrifying (non-)endings can also be beautiful. I am actually fascinated by unfinished works of all kinds, genres, and time periods. Think about the Aeneid and its unfinished nature: it’s a marvelous work, even with its occasional half-lines, and the stark horror of the ending, where Aeneas breaks character and pietas entirely, is both terrible and wondrous. Similarly, Lucan’s De bello civili, which abruptly breaks off in book 10, is also wonderfully unfinished. Thucydides, as far as I hear (I haven’t finished the book, even in English), breaks off mid-sentence in book 8 of his History of the Peloponnesian War. There are many other ancient examples; some are truly unfinished, and others are lost to the ravages of time.

Some more modern examples might include Kafka’s multiple unfinished novels (The Castle; Amerika; The Trial)… I am trying to think of other novels at the moment but can’t. One of the saddest Wikipedia pages I’ve ever seen is “Lost (literary) work” — all the things we’ve lost, even in modern times! οἴμοι!

Speaking of that, I adore the scant fragments (~600 lines of what used to be 18 full books) of the Roman poet Quintus Ennius (ca. 239-169 BCE), the “father of Roman poetry,” who adapted the Greek hexameter for Latin poetry. I have been eyeing the definitive critical edition of the fragments of his Annales, edited by Otto Skutsch (1985), for the greater part of a decade, but the volume has a list price of $510 and is out of print. I was poking around the Internet, looking for a text, translation, and commentary of the Greek author Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica, a manual for dream-interpretation, but the best text of that is $200-300 at minimum. Just for fun, I looked up Skutsch’s volume, my “white whale,” so to speak. Amazon had a copy marked down to $220, a 57% discount off the list price of $510, and had 2 copies left. I saw that last night and debated, and thought I’d sleep on it. This morning, it was still there, miraculously, for that price, and I pulled some $ from savings and had my wife grab it for me with her Amazon account. After she bought it, I looked at the listing again, and lo and behold! The one copy left was back to the $510 list price. I am floored that I got that for such a deal, even though it is still rather expensive for a book (even a 700pg book!). Super psyched.

I would even mention TV shows, too, which are, for whatever reason, ended before their proper time. Often a creator doesn’t get a chance to play out the whole story the way they want to, storylines are rushed, or the show just ends abruptly sometimes, with remaining episodes unaired and simply released on home video. Twin Peaks is particularly dear to my heart, and I remember after seeing the Season 2 finale, it was a really horrifying way to end the show, with no resolution in sight. Fire Walk With Me attempted to remedy that ending, but left us with even more questions. Then The Return came along, refusing to tie up most of the loose ends, and generated even more questions and confusion. But I love the messiness of all of that nonetheless. I love how unfinished the plot is left, how almost nothing is tied up neatly with a bow. I almost feel cheated when a show is tied up so tidily that no room is left for conversation or questions, even though it may be satisfying at the moment of the finale. Same goes for movies, but we spend far less time with movie characters, so I feel like it means more in a show.

This is where liminality comes in. Latin limen means “threshold,” and liminal refers to something being like a threshold, being in between the outside and inside, between worlds, whatever you want it to be. Liminal refers to being trapped between worlds, neither here nor there. The word eliminate literally means “to turn out of doors, eject from the limen/threshold,” also. I love works that explore the interstitial spaces, pass through, between, and back and forth across that threshold, whatever it may be (universes, atmospheres, life/death, you name it). The Roman poet Lucretius called spaces between worlds intermundia (inter, “between” + mundus, “world, universe”); I always loved that noun.

I was thinking about it earlier, and when an ending is tied up so neatly that it leaves no room for doubt, questioning, or anything, that robs us, in a way, of the ability to continue the conversation, to keep engaging with the work beyond the confines of the plot. I see the allure, in some ways, of people writing fan fiction, as they want to continue the story, to keep living with the characters and inhabiting that world. I am not saying that the conversation is closed entirely by the ending; people dissect pop culture, literature, &c. endlessly and always will. Imagination triumphs. Even though the plot is finite, maybe someone wants to engage with a secondary character and look at the plot through their eyes (cf. Madeline Miller’s Circe — what a fun book!). Endless opportunities abound.

I am sad Ghosting Around is over, but I am sure I will come across another work that’ll make me feel a similar way, will fall in love with it all over again, then when/if it abruptly ends, I’ll continue the cycle. It’s OK. Everything has to end sometime, and it’s OK if it’s not a perfect ending; that’s life.

I am not entirely sure where I was going with all this. I just had some thoughts on endings, especially abrupt and unexpected ones. There is beauty in abruptness, beauty in imperfection, beauty in messiness. Life is full of it; perfection is death, perfection is stasis, staleness, sameness. To be perfect is to be complete (Lat. perficere, “to finish, complete,” lit. “to thoroughly do, do it through [per-]”), but sometimes being incomplete is enough.

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