A few months ago I began using the phrase ‘The Paralytic In-between’ to describe how I was viewing my life. I did not really know what I meant by it but I was using the phrase with such regularity that I thought it qualified for some investigating. What was this Paralytic In-between that I spoke of? Why did it seem to neatly summarise the headspace that I found myself within, whilst still being ambiguous enough to confuse me?
The phrase first tumbled out of my tired, quivering mouth as I had just finished an intensive year on a masters course and was in the final stages of disentangling myself from a traumatic and manipulative relationship. Shortly after both of these ended I realised that I needed to relocate to my childhood home. Up until that point I had been living in London where the speed of life moved at such an accelerated and unquestioned velocity. I had assumed that I would stay and after countless hours of graft and searching, would unearth a path that seemed suitable enough to follow relentlessly like all the other graduates, past, present and future. But due to material realities such as the extreme cost of rent and immaterial realities such as exhaustion and anxiety I decided a return home was best. I am fortunate that I had this choice and I returned to a safe home. However, with the clear decision to retreat came an undulating sense of guilt that I had somehow not survived. That even with all of the changes I should not rest as I had not achieved the right to do so. Rest was only granted when worked for and as I continued to find work, the stasis in-between had to be worked through as well. Rest was not permitted to those who were not productive. In short, I was exhausted. Shorter, I was lost.
It was on the eve of my 26th birthday when my ‘in-between status’ felt fully consecrated. Lying in my childhood bed with the same half-read books collecting dust on my bookshelf, the same wardrobe heaving with clothes that ‘I might wear one day’, I began to feel an overwhelming low. I had naively assumed that I would be somewhere in the sprawling streets of London, navigating my deep descent into a drunken birthday stupor. Yet instead I was listless in bed and riddled with shingles. It was the inability to do anything in that particular moment that made me realise the extreme pressure I felt to always be doing something. I realised that my conception of this Paralytic In-between came from my dismissal that the place I found myself in was related to, or even part of my life. It felt outside of it, just the space between the action, an interlude not the show.
The Paralytic In-between both functions in relation to space and time. ‘Paralytic’ implies that one is immobilised. There is no progression and this is negative as it functions within a capitalist logic. There is no forward movement yet the world continues, meaning that one is out of sync and out of time; a pause feels regressive. The ‘In-between’ implies that it is demarcated by something and that something is different to the In-between. If, in this case, the exterior is life then the In-between appears to be an unfamiliar place in which one can get lost.
In his beautiful essay, review and provocation ‘Please return to your base reality immediately’, Joseph Constable unpicks how we experience time in modern day, as he introduces the process of ‘undoing and unknowing’ which require a certain slowness. He remarks how ‘the dominant understanding and experience of time is typical of what one could call our modern-day velocity, or the speed that drives our labouring selves both as productive forces, but also products ourselves – human capital.’ In order to survive we align ourselves with the tempo that insists upon productivity that is positively masked with the notion of ‘forward’ progress. When I think of the In-between I realise that so much of the overwhelming sense of being lost came from the belief that I had to constantly do. That if I was not doing, I was not living and thus the In-between would always feel exterior to life as it was accepting the not doing. It was allowing myself to survive in an alternate universe of no progress, which was considered positive. Citing Elizabeth Freeman, Constable introduces the term chronomormativity which is ‘the use of time to organise individual human bodies towards maximum productivity’. On reflection, I realise that my thinking was so rooted within this very understanding and possibly still is. Self care was not actually care or rest but done in order to gain further progression in later doing. I’ve caught, and still catch myself listing the remedies for my various anxious aliments as if a military operation. Hours later, I will lie in bed ticking off the list, feeling a sense of achievement that I’ve done something before the disheartening realisation that I was not meant to be doing anything to begin with. Moreover, self care has been co-opted by capitalism. Devoid from any substantial nourishment of the self it is marketed as a means to buy a better version of oneself, as the current one is pretty haggard by the same system that supplies you the new one. This is not a new point of discourse, but one that I find plays out with unyielding regularity when in the In-between.
In a call to action Constable states ‘it is through the slow, transitory movement of the silent transformation that we can locate an energy that resists linear determinism. It is the ‘good in not doing’’. Yet this feels so unfamiliar, in a world that binds us to ‘this toxic vision of quickening forward momentum and productivity’. On spouting the words ‘The Paralytic In-between’ I realised that the only reason that it existed was because I had viewed my life up until that point with this ‘toxic vision’ directing the way. Life had never felt like the present but preparing for the future. I had always shielded endeavours to ensure failure was impossible. Painstakingly considered all future options to achieve some semblance of success. And all had been executed at breakneck speed, as my brain whirred as fast as a motorised fan. Thinking that I looked together, windswept and glamorous, only to get my hair caught in the blades, the machine grinding to a halt, wrenching a chunk of my being out with it. Another person unable to keep up with the pace that dominant society demands. When I look back to my living situation in London, us four young women were barely surviving. We were exhausted, but pushing through, crying in the kitchen over a situation that perhaps if we had a little more rest and clarity of mind could have been laughed at.
The Paralytic In-between, although vague and vast, is also very much a space. It exists as an unknown territory in which familiarity melts away. I felt lost, unsure of how to proceed and where I was going. Before, I had been guided by incessant busyness, thinking ahead, planning my next move in order to survive at a pace that I could not sustain. The tempo of busyness acted as a refrain, a score in which I could choreograph my movement. But what is left when that tempo stops?
In A Field Guide to Getting Lost Rebecca Solnit unfurls the different experiences of getting lost and being lost both in physical and psychic states as she toys with the paradoxical nature of calculating for the unforeseen. Solnit remarks that much of the time people who get lost ‘aren’t’ paying attention’. I have been known to become monomaniacal about many things, so dogmatic that I lose sight of everything else around me. I allow myself to be engulfed by the intensity of a new relationship allowing my boundaries to expand in order accommodate for a being that I continually hunger for. I then find myself in new terrain, senses heightened and mind confused. I have thrown myself into exercise with such an obsessive rigour that I am blind to the destruction I leave in my wake because at least I am being productive. It is not that I have not been paying attention, but that I have been using every iota of that attention on one specific thing. When I look up, panting, bleary eyed and exhausted I discover that I’m not where I thought I would be. Yet, as opposed to taking a moment to enjoy this unknown and to allow the realisation of my lost state to settle, I charge myself with the same anxious energy to find the path I was on. To return to the state that I was comfortable within, even if it was that very state that was ruining me to begin with, because at least it is familiar.
There is a lot of negativity bound to the notion of being lost. Associated with a state of uncertainty and likely anxiety. Yet what I realised, when I settled into the discomfort of The Paralytic In-between was that in fact being lost is just a new way of existing in the world; a world that demands linearity, a path and a plan. Being lost ruptures this and for a moment, allows you to be fully present. This chimes with José Esteban Muńoz’s notion of the ‘not-yet-conscious’ quoted by Constable he states: ‘we surpass the limitations of an alienating presentness precisely through identifying and accessing alternative potentialities within this same present.’ A choice unearths itself. As opposed to beating ourselves to the same rhythm at the same unrelenting pace, we could even for a moment, chose to get lost.
Yet, it is undeniable that ‘choosing to get lost’ however well intentioned, sounds like a luxury. But continuing at such a momentum, Constable argues ‘assists the white supremacist heterosexual capitalist patriarchy in distracting us from having the time to think of what else could be possible.’ The world is structured in such a way that resting, or even slowing down is not possible for some. The structure we abide by demands productivity and linearity; time is organised as a means of trapping individuals in lives unliveable. There should not be a privilege in the ‘not doing’. My question for after this pandemic an In-between time for many and an exhaustive onslaught of labour for others, is how can we recalibrate collectively to resist this productivity driven momentum? A momentum that traps our thinking into notions of progress, when, for the majority, it is a perpetual state of individual regression. This is not to do nothing altogether, but to rethink the incessant drive of productivity for productivity’s sake. That is something I am considering, as I take a moment to get lost and imagine what other options there could be instead of the unsustainable path that my autopilot has been trained to follow. Because as Solnit puts it, ‘not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction.’