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In Between

UnknownAs I’m working on a review of Betsy Warland’s Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity and Ideas (Dagger Editions, an imprint of Caitlin Press) for Room Magazine, I’m struck by the perfection of this book’s timing in my life. It’s not unusual for me to go to the books when I’m looking for answers, advice, or just comfort; it’s wonderful, though, when the right book seems to find me when I most need it.

Oscar of Between is a genre-bending work of lyrical prose that explores through raw, immediate, what can only be called thought-impressions the condition of being between – that is, being someone who does not fall easily into conventionally established and accepted categories. These categories may include notions of gender and sexual orientation – and much of Warland’s memoir concerns these kinds of categories – but her work in this memoir so readily applies to any experience of not fitting in and to the need to find ways to be at ease, at peace in that liminal space.

We all experience threshold moments in our lives when the categories we identified with no longer suit us, if indeed they ever did. For some, the threshold may be lifelong, as it seems to be for Warland, and I suspect for many writers and artists. In some ways, a creative life is really about continually pushing against those limiting categories and those who would assign us to them. But we also impose limiting categories and labels on ourselves without the help of anyone else, something I’ve thought a great deal about lately in my own life. Why do we box ourselves in, defining ourselves according to our jobs, our roles, our skills, our resumes, our addresses, our bank account balances, and so forth? What happens when those familiar, safe categories disintegrate? It’s often when we’re in between things – jobs, relationships, homes – that we are most free to create and reveal something closer to our real selves because we have nothing and no one to answer to. No limiting definitions or expectations. No rules to play by, or consequences to suffer. Warland plays with the idea of camouflage throughout her memoir and the ways in which we disguise, intentionally or not, our real selves in an effort to go unnoticed, unremarked upon by others. To remove one’s camouflage is to upset the unspoken agreements that we have all made to accept and adhere to our prescribed categories.

For me, I’m finding that in my late thirties I no longer easily fit into some of the categories I used to when I was in my twenties and early thirties. I’m not comfortable these days with identifying as a teacher because, while I’ve been at it for nearly fifteen years, I’m more unsure now than ever about what teaching should be about and who, especially in our current reality of education-as-commodity, it really benefits. Once fairly certain that I would teach for a long time, I feel change coming. I’m also having trouble identifying with the roles I have played with friends and acquaintances in my life. Where I might have naively trusted implicitly in the past, I’m now more cautious. Looking for more depth and meaning in relationships now, I’m more readily detecting disingenuity in others – a gesture of friendship made for the purpose of gaining something I have to offer. This undoubtedly makes me sometimes a challenging and even difficult person to know, and I’m learning to be comfortable with that.

So I’m in between identities, as a worker and as a friend, not to mention as a creative person (a whole other story!). Nothing quite fits these days and it can be awkward, frustrating, scary, and isolating. And I think more of us than not are feeling it. Oscar of Between is very timely, and it’s a book I’ll likely return to often while hanging out here, for now, in the between.


Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Reviews, Writers and Publishers.

Copyright © 2016, Dana Hansen. All rights reserved.