Liminal Places #1

liminalityI live in a small town in a small country. It’s more like a sprawling village than a town. It’s hard to find on any normal map. It’s small enough for the local Mayor to hold occasional informal gatherings to encourage feedback and there’s coffee and cookies. And I live in a liminal place…

Liminal?

A threshold, a portal, a transition, an intermediate state… Liminal places are borders, frontiers, disputed territories, even crossroads – places or states that people pass through on their way elsewhere.

My small town is one that commuters pass through on their way elsewhere; my country is often overlooked as a final destination. Both are “thresholds” to different “elsewheres”.

You’ve all driven through towns like mine. And it’s the people passing through that were the problem.

Local Politics

I studied government at university. I am cynical about politics. But I always hope for the “good man or woman” who participates to promote the well-being of the community. So when the Mayor invited us along the other day, I thought perhaps it was time for me to toddle along for the free cookies. I would meet my neighbours and participate in the local democracy I strongly support.

Okay, I need your trust. I’ll own up. I was also hoping to find local “beta readers“.

A beta reader reads a written work, generally fiction, with “a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public.” (Source: Wikipedia) And they are all wonderful people!

Literary Language

It’s always good to find people who  – unlike family and friends – have no investment in your well-being, people who can be brutally honest about how good your writing is. It’s also valuable to find those who tell you the truth about how bad it is. But readers of English-language Speculative Fiction in the middle of Europe? Tricky, not impossible. After all, one-quarter of the world’s population speaks English to some extent. (Thank you, residual British Empire influence overlaid with by Hollywood and the pop music industry!)

In addition to the native English speakers here, most Luxembourgers and “incomers” are multilingual, with English as a second or third language. I am always impressed by the facility with which people here can switch language mid-sentence, to include – or exclude – a newcomer.

Actually, any moderate-sized gathering resembles a Biblical Babylonian disaster analysis team discussing, “What happened to that Big Tower Thing?”, with simultaneous conversations in a dozen languages.

The Quest

So, my questing was not totally futile. But like all good quests, the journey was fraught with obstacles.

The topic of the day was drivers using mobile phones while speeding outside the local school. I thought it was a bad idea and voted against it. But everyone gave their opinion. At length. Multilingually. Before and after the straw poll. Many proposed different ways of curbing it. At one point, someone – I think he was Swedish – pulled out the “Declaration of Human Rights” and read from it at length. I dozed off, so I am not sure if he was for or against the freedom to weaponize automobiles.

Afterwards, I shook some hands, smiled a lot, explained to a few English-speakers that I was writing in my retirement. In return, I was invited several times to join the Horticultural Society by various sweet, white-haired ladies who longed for “more men”. I hope I understood correctly. I was invited to volunteer for weekend rubbish clearing from the riverbanks. I escaped heated debates about agricultural subsidies and interrogations about Britain’s position on European Union membership.

How Was It For Me?

Maybe I’ll stick to family and friends, beta readers who boost my confidence by telling me good stuff…

But at least I’ll now know some of the folks down at the cafe on the lake. Who to drink with. Who to avoid. Oh, yes – community spirit and local democracy. I’m all for it.

And the cookies were rather good.

But people still drive too fast outside the local school while texting. Shame on you!

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