I’m sitting in my new home in Vienna amidst piles of stuff, deciding what to keep and what to throw away as I unpack into my new home. Spread over my desk, splayed on the floor — heaps of it taunt me, daring me to shuffle it away into a new, carefully selected hidey hole for the next few years of my life. There is nothing quite as humbling as being confronted with your own clutter. Each object becomes a mirror into the past; your past, reflecting a desired future that did or did not come to be. Those books you never got around to reading and wonder if you ever will; the unused oil paints and cheap brushes from years ago that you’ve guarded jealously like some unrealised potential; journals filled with scribbles of poetry, the inklings of ideas waiting to be breathed into life; the too-tight dress you said would fit some day that never came. Hopes and dreams trapped in objects: waiting to be unleashed, or ready to be discarded? Easier just to keep it all, stuff it in dresser drawers and cupboards, hide it under a duvet at the back of the linen closet, until one day, through some trick of fate, it ceases to be invisible again, and you’ll think about what to do with it then.
Since writing the paragraph above I’ve done a bit more reshuffling, a bit more reflecting in the magic mirror of my clutter and feel that, through its reorganisation and careful consideration, I am being recreated while it transforms like so many atoms coalescing from chaos to order. On the surface this seems like an inappropriately materialistic perspective, like I’m imbuing all my stuff with far too much significance. It is, and I am. But it’s also much more, just as you know that your stuff is also much more, and just as we live in this material reality but know that there is far more to it than meets the eye.
At the center of my efforts to sift through my possessions, like a wetly pulsing heartbeat, lives an ever-urgent question: who am I? Am I these interests, these intentions, these dreams realised or un-realised through the objects to which I am custodian? Am I my dress size, my shoe size, this smiling photograph, these birthday cards from friends? Am I who I was or who I want(ed) to be, or was there never a difference between the two? What once was material, miscellany, baggage, is transformed through my gaze into the filling, ingredients, the serious subject matter of life.
At the center of this question lies its answer. In asking, we tap into our essence — a raw potential to redefine and recreate ourselves as we shift over thresholds in our lives. I am speaking now to everyone, of course, but specifically, also, I would like to address my fellow recently graduated members of the class of 2019 for whom this question likely feels especially relevant now.
Looking back at my years in Berlin, I can’t help but feel these were not my years, but ours, as we each featured in each other’s experience. The set was BCB, the script our curriculum, and the play rendered predictable by the natural inclinations of the college-age student. There were the cursory changes of hair cut and colour, the revolutionised wardrobe, the piercings and stick ‘n poke tattoos that seemed like a good idea at the time and maybe still do; the change in attitude, interests, friends; the unforeseen extremity of the highs and lows of young ‘adult’ life. The (re)discovery of the joy of reading, and (hopefully) of thinking. These are the tropes, of course — not true for everyone but mostly true for some, at least.
It goes without saying that we are continually being recreated. If we did it right, our studies and professors played a vital role in this most recent recreation, but everything I list above did its part, too. For some the recreation expressed itself externally, while for others it played out privately. You might not be totally sure how much agency you had in the process, or if the change was for the better. Still, for all, it is inevitable.
Earlier this year, round about when I was finalising my thesis draft, I had a (few) moment(s) of crisis. I realised that the decision I would take regarding my next ‘step’ (to study further, to find a job, to take a break) could lead me down the ‘wrong’ path. It sounds trite written out like that, but the felt experience of the possibility that one could let one’s own potential go to waste, that one could change not for the better, but for the worse, is … terrifying.
I share this because I am certain I am not the only one who had this experience, just as I am certain that the experience will repeat itself in the future. Without dwelling too much on the inevitable pain and difficulty of life — even in a life as protected as my own — or on the fear of becoming permanently bitter and resentful at the injustice of the world, I’d like to draw attention to the positive aspect of this realisation: our choices matter. Not just to and for ourselves, but for what we do, how we engage with society. A single choice — of what to keep and what to throw away, let’s say — is likely not the be all and end all of the world, but together the choices add up.
I called this piece “Shifting Thresholds” because it is intended as both a goodbye to the blog and to the BCB community and a (hopefully-empowering) reflection on the inevitability of change. Embedded in the goodbye is a heartfelt thank-you to my professors and all those who formed part of the dynamic BCB community over the years I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with, as well as to the many members of the blog team I had the privilege of working with. While there is nothing as constant as change, there is also no one as reliable (and humble) as Irina, who will continue to oversee its inner workings; though my passionate and capable associate editor, Elena, and I will no longer be a part of this beloved platform, the blog is left in good hands as Allie and Claire step up to the helm.
“Shifting thresholds” refers to how some of the thresholds we must step over in our lives will seem to cast themselves out ahead of our feet, no matter how many steps we take, and to how there are thresholds we will indeed be able to cross, only to be confronted by another. Many of these thresholds live inside of us and have a lot to do with what we have and what we want, who we are and who we would like to be. They are also shared, as with a graduation date; and physical, as with moving house. Through the theme, I’d like to honour David Kretz’ heartwarming goodbye from three years ago on how we are all just “Passing Through,” and all those who travelled the journey with me until this new beginning.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
— Irish Blessing