Thursday, January 3, 2008


It's winter recess in New Haven, and it's cold out there. But there's something consoling about the cold, or is that only because I associate it with what I think of as "between days": that little trough of time after one thing is over and before the next thing begins. In this case, it's the interim between semesters, but the phrase carries a lot of association for me -- because "days" can even be "years" -- in other words, a space of time of no fixed duration.

There's a temptation to think of "between days" as elastic, as a period of bliss and flow, cut off from the dreary specificity of the past and the future. Like that summer when you got out of high school, or that year after college, or that space between the girlfriend who dumped you and the next one that . . . well, you fill in the blank. It could be that period between jobs, between pregnancies, or when you were still choosing between that one, or that other one. It's that sense of the present as not fixed, as not defined by what you were just doing or what you're supposed to be preparing for.

It doesn't last long enough. In fact, "between" should be seen as almost wholly illusory. Whatever was just happening hasn't ended, whatever is about to happen has already begun. That sense of not being either here or there is one of those lovely illusions that our temporal sense gives us. Like the time between breaths or heartbeats: you know it's there but you'd rather not think about inhabiting that space . . . time . . . indefinitely.

I like to think of it as "limbo" because limbo -- or, for the Catholics, purgatory -- was the only version of the afterlife that had a terminus. It started when you died and it ended -- sometime later. The saved and the damned were what they were for all eternity, but those folks in purgatory knew one thing: there would be a change, eventually. Those are the lucky ones, I think. Of course, limbo, without a purgatorial sense, is simply something other than punishment or bliss -- a locus poenitentiae perhaps, a place to think about what went wrong and -- you can't change it -- try to decide how to think about it so that you no longer need suffer from it. In other words, limbo is the place where you overcome the past. However long that takes. It may take as long as it took to write the goddamn Recherche, but it's bound to end sometime.

I like to call Connecticut Purgatory. I joke that I must remain here till I atone for my sins -- I never thought I had so many! Ha ha. Joke's on me, I guess. But it strikes me that the real truth of the jest is that I must remain until I overcome the past. That's the purpose of limbo, and that's what this is more like.

Regardless of what you call it, when I was walking through those wintery almost entirely empty streets watching the bronze light fading off those faux Gothic buildings and creeping along Hillhouse and up Prospect I felt good about it: I imagined that some day I'll be somewhere else and I wondered if I would remember these days when winter where I am finds me, would I feel the pressure of these days the way I for a moment today felt the pressure of a long line of winter days stretching back to those years -- when were they, how long ago? -- when it first felt good to be out in the cold. Who knows? It's here, it's now -- it's winter in New Haven.

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