I am fascinated by places that are on the edge – either of landscapes, like the shoreline and the horizon, or of buildings, like doors, windows and gates. Places where our surroundings change, and we get a glimpse of something different.
They can be mysterious, such places. What lies behind the door, over the horizon, on the other side of the sea? What will happen to us if we venture over the edge? Should we step out in the unknown, or stay comfortably where we are and rely on hearsay and imagination to explore the other side? Of course, sometimes staying where we are is not comfortable, or not an option, but whether we must step out or choose to do so, we may do so with regrets, or without ever looking back.
I recently learned that the word for such places is 'liminal' – spaces or processes which are transitional, on a threshold – spaces where we move from one place – or one state of being – to another. Such transitions, of course, can be emotional and even scary – the child's first day at school, the bride at the church door, a new job, or the final transition at the end of life. But we cannot linger long in liminal spaces – we must walk bravely on, or turn and hurry back to the familiar places and states of being – although always affected, to some degree, by our brief experience of being on the edge.
Some years ago I started to research my family history. I'm not sure why – probably too much time spent watching 'Who Do You Think You are?'. And I'm not sure what I thought I'd find, although I didn't expect any big surprises – no connections to aristocratic families, great inventors or infamous criminals. In this I was not disappointed – my family are North Country working class as far back as I have managed to get. Which, in the case of my paternal grandmother's family (’the Yorkshire branch') is 9 generations, back to the late 17th century,to my 7 times great grandfather Robert. (Parish records of the time are much better for tracing men than women: wives, if they are mentioned at all, are often not named.)
I don't know anything about Robert's occupation, but the next five generations all worked with textiles, as tailors or wool dealers.
Most of my other ancestors came from South Lancashire, so no surprise that many of them worked in the cotton industry, mostly in spinning mills. Then there is a hatter, and several dressmakers: it seems to be what my foremothers did when they were widowed – or, in the case of the wife of the hatter, when her husband became 'incapable', in the words of the 1871 census. Presumably he was 'mad as a hatter'.
So what has all this to do with 'footsteps'? Well, as someone who works with textiles, albeit from choice rather than necessity, I feel a strong connection with all these textile workers amongst my ancestors. When I pick up fabrics and thread, or a ball of wool, I feel I am following in their footsteps – although I think they might be a little surprised at what I do with them.
Am I fearless? Certainly not. I am afraid of (amongst other things) heights, deep water, confined spaces, sticking my fingers in electric sockets, rat poison – and wild rats, but not domesticated ones.
When I Googled 'fearless quotes', the majority of those I found implied that being fearless is a good thing, but I'm not so sure. Very small children can be fearless about things like flames, knives, and the aforementioned electric sockets – which is why we try to protect them from these things. Fearlessness can be a result of ignorance. Soldiers who go to rescue wounded colleagues are not fearless – they know what they are risking, but they do it anyway. That is courage, not fearlessness.
The sensible person is afraid – or at least cautious – about things which they know are potentially harmful. The knack is, surely, recognising what is genuinely dangerous, and what is merely scary, and dealing with each appropriately? So rat poison, if handled sensibly, is a better alternative to sharing your house with wild rats.
As an artist (and just writing that takes courage) I have learned that stepping 'bravely' out of my comfort zone leads to better art. Not 'fearlessly', I feel fearful, but 'bravely' because I am facing down my fears.
So, no, I don't agree with all those quotes about fearlessness being a good thing : it may just be foolhardiness. Courage is another matter.
Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
Today's WordPress photography prompt was to post a photograph inspired by a poem, song or story, associated with the theme of 'half-light'. Of course, being me, I did it the other way round – looked for a photo and thought about what it meant to me. I love photographing evening light, so I was spoiled for choice, but this one instantly brought to mind the first couple of lines, which I often say when I see rooks or their nests.
Of course, I couldn't remember where it came from, but Google was my friend, and turned up this rather dark quote from Macbeth, where he is planning dark deeds for the night. And the photo does have a threatening feel to it, I think, which matches the tone of the quote.
Joyfully chasing bubbles.
An international symbol of love, but not from the usual angle.