October 23, 2023

Navigating the Gray: Mastering the Art of “In-Betweenness.”

I’m spending a few days on the quaint Island of Hydra in Greece.

It’s mid-end October and we’re watching the island slowly shut down. In other words, shoulder season.

Walking the sunlight-dappled streets, we’re met with wafts of bougainvillea and fig. On first glance, it seems like summer, but signs everywhere indicate the transition.

Each day, one of the five beaches packs up its sun loungers until only a single one remains. The restaurants that line the water’s edge are only open for lunch, not dinner, and that too has petered out by the end of the week. No longer peak and not yet off-peak. We are in the ‘”In-betweenness,” the quality or state of being between two things.

Back home, I am living in a half-renovated apartment. Because I live in London and the space is “petite,” every time I work on an area, I have to perform a life-size version of Jenga to shift and maneuver everything from one room to another so I can decorate that space. Dust sheets, sandpaper, paint brushes all mottle together as one giant mess. The dried paint spills down the sides of each tin so I can see the kaleidoscope of colours that decorated my house—Smoke green, Cornforth white, and my personal favourite, “Sulking room pink.” Don’t we all need a sulking room?

I digress.

The floor is marked from where I’ve tried to lift things that are too heavy, leaving a scar behind, a permanent reminder that sometimes we really can’t “do it all alone.”

Sometimes I do silly things like walk around on exposed floorboards with bare feet, my toes pierced by splinters. The pain causes me to trip and spill paint, which I don’t notice immediately, and it gets walked into the carpet. I spend hours scrubbing the carpet raw to remove the paint and realise in the meantime my dog has stepped in it and now doggy paint footprints decorate the freshly laid bathroom floor. Sigh.

Betweenity: a state of in-betweenness. Susie Dent in her Emotional Dictionary describes the concept of “Betweenity”: “this suits both the banal and the important whether it’s an indecisiveness over what to choose from a menu, or the act of treading water while waiting for something significant to drop.”

In Greece, the sea temperature at this time of year is higher than the air temperature, so here I am trying to stay warm treading water both literally and metaphorically. The “betweenity” inhabits every corner of my physical and emotional life, having been suspended in limbo for the best part of several years.

There are times when I feel that there is nothing to get me out of bed in the morning, nothing juicy to get my teeth stuck into. I feel useless, atrophied, uninspired. I forgot what “good stress” feels like. Forget direction or a north star. I have no idea who is driving the boat, not least which direction the boat is going.

As I sit in my in-betweenness whilst treading water, waiting for something, anything to happen, I think of the Cheryl Strayed quote:

“One of the basic principles of every single art form has to do not with what’s there—the music, the words, the movement, the dialogue, the paint—but with what isn’t. In the visual arts it’s called the “negative space”—the blank parts around and between objects, which is, of course, every bit as crucial as the objects themselves. The negative space allows us to see the nonnegative space in all its glory and gloom, its color and mystery and light. What isn’t there gives what’s there meaning. Imagine that.”

In this way, the negative space is of equal value to the subject itself—without it the positive space cannot be observed or appreciated. The areas of my life that are currently unformed sit in contrast to the areas that are already fully shaped—the spaces work in tandem to achieve balance within the composition. It is this concept that’s led me to think about how we might best navigate an extended period of in-betweenness and here’s where I’ve landed.

In-betweenness is not waiting.

We all know the waiting.

That wretched feeling of sending a message to someone, only to be left hanging…sometimes forever.

You look for the person and they are never there. Then you bump into them when you least expect it, no make-up and unwashed hair.

You wait for the parcel that never arrives. The second you stop thinking about it, the doorbell rings.

The thing you think will play out never does.

We know a watched pot never boils.

Negative space is not a holding space, but it does shape both space and time.

In-betweenness is an experience worthy in and of itself.

It is standing solid with both feet in the here and now while the tides shift and turn around us.

We provide the contrast while things form, breakdown, and re-form around us.

It is being present in the current experience whilst using imagination to serve as a form of inspiration to help us dream.

And we can always stay quiet and present in the ordinary whilst dreaming more, dreaming bigger.

And how we do anything is how we do everything. And of course how we choose to approach negative space says everything about how we will show up when we suddenly find ourselves on the other side, in the positive space.

In-betweenness is not letting fear drag us into the waiting room but having the fortitude to play and explore the dream space, the realm of imagination.


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