Imagine this: you’re back at your old middle school. You’ve gone to an evening event in support of some younger sibling or cousin, and you have to get up halfway through to go to the bathroom. The bathroom closest to the auditorium is locked, so you wander through the hallways in search of one that the custodians might have neglected to close during their rounds.
The hallways are dark and empty. As you tread from one bank of lockers to the next, motion-activated lights flick on above you, illuminating student artwork and trophy displays in eerie fluorescence. The soft thuds of your footsteps are the only noise you can hear. You think back to your own time at this school – to racing through the halls with your friends, yelling across a cacophony of LL Bean backpacks and plastic folders – and it becomes impossible to reconcile that nostalgia-painted scene with this strangely lonely trip to the bathroom. You start to wonder if you’re not looking for the bathroom after all but for some feeling that has long evaded you – happiness, perhaps, or love.
This middle school hallway out of time is a common example of what many writers (and aesthetic bloggers) call a liminal space: a place that seems to exist in between one conception of reality and the next. You may have experienced liminal spaces before without quite realizing it – maybe you went to an empty rest stop on the freeway, a rooftop in the early morning, or a subway platform at 1 am and felt an inexplicable chill run down your spine.
A couple of days ago, I experienced this feeling in Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. I had arrived particularly early for a marching band rehearsal, on the fourth floor of Horace Mann, and found myself with half an hour to spend alone in the building’s hallway. Nobody else was in the building because all TC classes had been cancelled, due to the winter storm.
I sat down with my back to the wall. I opened my laptop, played one of my favorite songs, and was then struck by a strange urge to get up and dance – to literally skip up and down the hallway in my socks, skidding along the linoleum.
I think Teacher’s College is a liminal space. Perhaps I’m biased, because as a result of the timing of band rehearsals and performances, I almost always go there when there are few TC students in the building – but there’s something about those wide hallways, interconnected buildings, and the odd placing of bathrooms that cannot fail to raise goosebumps on my arms whenever I am alone there. In particular, it’s incredibly difficult to exit TC from the band room during off-hours; you have to take the elevator all the way down, trudge through a particularly well-heated basement, then climb back up into the outside world.
So, if this building (or, more accurately, set of buildings) is liminal, then what are the two versions of reality it spans? Why, every time I go there, do I feel as though I’m searching for a feeling I’ve lost? And what the fuck does it say about the marching band, that we rehearse in a liminal space?
All of these are questions for another Bwog post. For now, the only thing I can concretely say is that if I go missing in the middle of the night, you’ll find me in the bowels of TC.