Monday Motivation: Where boundaries dissolve
I’m not sure where this is going to lead me today, but I’m going to take a chance and risk writing something that might end up going nowhere useful at all.
Bear with me.
Let’s start with the idea of boundaries. A few weeks ago I started thinking about boundaries and what they signify. Perhaps this had something to do with the war in Ukraine – and the fact that Russia refuses to acknowledge the primacy of the boundaries that demarcate its territory…
Or it could be that recently we spotted a species of duck we’d never seen before on Longholme Lake, which sits, curiously, between two branches of the River Great Ouse. It was a handsome bird which we learned is called a scaup… Britain’s rarest breeding duck. (Or, it could be it was the rather more common tufted duck: they look remarkably similar. We opted for the scaup.)
Now any given species – whether avian or any other – is defined at least partly by the fact that it can’t breed with any other species. There are, in other words, strict boundaries between species.
Except that… there aren’t. Birds from closely related species do indeed breed, and produce hybrids which may or may not be capable of reproducing.
But surely some boundaries are impermeable? Boundaries like that between fiction and non-fiction; between the products of the imagination, and facts which are, I suppose, the products of the material world.
Or is this boundary as impenetrable as we assume? We’ve learned in the last few years that for some people at least there are facts… and then there are alternative facts. Many of us – most of us, I fervently hope – would call these “alternative facts” lies, or at least fabulations.
And yet, and yet… The fictions so many of us consume, and that some of us produce, are also the vehicles of truth – the essential truths that make life worth living. Truths that concern doubt and courage, love and fealty (among many other qualities).
So what am I saying? That the sort of boundaries that we rely on for clarity are less reliable than we’d like? Or that every moral choice is much more complex than we’d hope it would be? Or that the boundary between good and evil is ambiguous at best?
Ambiguity in life is always slightly discombobulating. It means we can never be certain of another’s motives; or of our own rectitude.
But in fiction, ambiguity is to be welcomed, since the shadows are always more interesting than the spotlight; and what goes on in the wings is so often more compelling than what’s happening on the stage.
So when next you consider what separates good from bad, or cowardice from courage, or love from hate, remember that these contradictions are frequently only apparent and that, perhaps, writers interested in exploring the “truth” should concern themselves with this hybrid space, these interstices, where nothing is quite as we’d imagined it was.