What is the value in a journey? Elle Ayres discusses…
In our culture of immediacy, where the aim is a constant desire to move onto the next thing as quickly as possible, I’ve begun to appreciate how important the ‘in between’ can be. I was on the train to Brighton to stay with a friend when realised that as someone who doesn’t really enjoy my own company, I’ve always loved a train journey on my own, or being a silent passenger in a car looking out of the window, being the main character in the film cliché of my life. Don’t we all? I think it has something to do with the fact that when I’m journeying somewhere I am active even though I am not doing anything, and whilst I am on my own, I am on my way to see someone. It’s the perfect time to be alone, but not lonely. The transition is limited and it’s because of this that I can enjoy it and use it to reflect and think, to figure things out.
Travelling is a sort of mediator between locations; a timezone that helps create a mind-set appropriate for the space we are about to enter. It is prepares us for a different scenery, a new place. The train or car journey back from university helps me to rearrange my mind, to get ready for a different atmosphere from the perpetual partying, hungover, studying cycle of life there and to prepare for a quieter pace. Liminality is the transitional phase of a process and the feeling of this that travelling provides reminds us that we are in a place we are not going to be in forever and are not meant to stay in: for a beautiful while, we exist in the temporary.
Travelling gives such a good dose of spacial ambiguity because it is active and provides an outlet for reflection on a daily, contained and manageable level. Nobody wants to feel stuck in the between places, just as much as we don’t want to feel stuck in one single place. Train delays, cancelled buses and traffic jams irritate us because we are focussed on where we are meant to be, and are suddenly aware of the transition we’re in. Boredom hits, and that’s probably the first stop en route to insanity. Liminality is bad when it becomes a destination, but it is crucial in order for us to distinguish between different locations both literally and emotionally: to be aware of crossing a threshold between places and take advantage of the time between those places.
I hate feeling ungrounded in myself, ‘spacey’ if you will, but I enjoy being in a liminal or ambiguous space. I feel in control there; it’s like a journey, it gives me dedicated time to think and listen to music without a horrible bout of FOMO because as opposed to not being somewhere, you’re between somewhere. The journey gives us just a moment to think about all the information we’re constantly being thrown without worrying about being bombarded with even more. Looking out of the window of a moving vehicle and day dreaming is one of the only ways we can retain some romanticism without it being directly commercial and I think it’s important. Yes you had to pay an extortionate amount for your ticket (thanks England) but they can’t put a price on your thoughts that you will think as you pass those rolling hills or high rise buildings laced with graffiti. Sometimes it’s all menial, but sometimes a few hours in your own headspace can clear up things that have been on your mind for weeks. When you’re expected to be present in a moment with others, it’s hard to give your thoughts the time they deserve.
Sometimes we have to embrace liminality so that we can feel grounded in the spaces that book end the transitional; it’s too easy to feel like our lives are running away with us but a good journey can be a gift. It creates separate spaces. Some music, a good book, or even eaves dropping on a fellow passenger’s conversation are all elements to the art of a perfect journey. Inception style, it’s a journey within the bigger journey of life and whilst we can’t always control the bigger picture, we can control the little ones. Sometimes these are the most important.
Illustration: Alessandra De Cristofaro
Follow Elle on twitter: @AyresElle