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Probing the Peripheral

There's something to be said about the mundane. I tend to measure the worth of a writer by how well she can make the mundane seem magical, maybe even other-wordly. Or at least interesting. The same with photographers and artists. Think about the painter Edward Hopper and Nighthawks. What's so special about a few lonely people sitting at the bar of a cafe? Everything.


I came across a blog post by writer/artist Austin Kleon last month that probes this concept. The post is from March 2018 and is called "Community and creativity in mundane retail spaces". Here he quotes other authors who write about the Taco Bells and Dairy Queens in small towns. Not much, to be sure, but often a keystone in the local social structure. I enjoy the take that these boring, shallow places have deep value but mostly I just like the look of them. I think for me this aesthetic gets to something akin to Americana nostalgia; when the world gets too shiny, too high-tech, there's always the Denny's down the street. Somehow, it's a sanctuary.


There's a Twitter account called Liminal Spaces (@SpaceLiminalBot) that I've been following for some time. While not capturing the same point on the mundane as Austin, the account features photos of empty places: a lonely road, a room with one empty chair, a playground at night, a vacated store or amusement park. Some of the photos are a little creepy, if you let yourself stew on them for too long. But mostly I find the photos captivating, making me wonder: where is this place? Why is it empty? What's the story behind it? Or in front of it?


But liminal isn't the same as mundane, is it? Not according to the dictionary. (And this laptop insists, with its red squiggle, that liminal isn't really a word, surely I mean criminal or nominal or minimal, right?) One definition that seems to fit is: "in-between, transitional". A Dairy Queen can be that, I suppose. You're enjoying an ice cream on your way down the interstate. You're getting a Coke while debating that Big Decision. Maybe you're simply waiting. I can start to see how these places can be in the in-between.


This is a long-winded way of getting to the goal of today's post: sharing with you a picture of my dad, the day after Thanksgiving 2021, in a Dunkin Donuts in Connecticut.


Dad at Dunkin, Nov. 2021 Photo by: Anna O'Brien


Maybe I just like pictures of open spaces. They seem to suggest breathing room, not loneliness, to me. And, anyway, the donuts were good.


Have a good week.

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