The In-Betweens

There’s a lot that no one tells you about change. For one, it takes longer than you think. In the movies, change happens in an hour or so. I mean, whole lives shift in an hour. In a movie the heroine gets divorced, moves to Italy and renovates a villa in an hour. A WHOLE VILLA! In real life an hour is less productive. It takes me an hour to go to the store to buy more packing tape for the boxes. And I haven’t even started packing yet.

Maybe change feels even more slow in this day and age because we can travel so far, so fast. I can go to Anchorage or Azerbaijan in a day—which creates an illusion of the speed of change that is possible. But in terms of life changes—I am not flying. I am not driving. I am not even taking an oxen cart. I am walking. In real life change you can only go as far as your legs will take you in a day.

The other thing that no one tells you about change is that the middle feels nothing like the beginning. When you begin any big change there is energy and excitement and possibility. You can imagine how good it is going to be. Ok, maybe you are a bit anxious about it, but that theme music playing in the background keeps you on track, doesn’t it?

So you set off- you start the journey—you jump in with both feet. And. You end up in the middle. The middle of change. Where suddenly you have absolutely no memory of why you wanted to make this big change in the first place. Whose big idea was this?! You can’t feel the excitement anymore, you can’t see the ending anymore—you can’t even hear the theme music. All you want is to go back to where you came from- the old familiar place—a place that suddenly looms solid and safe in your imagination. The middle, where you currently are, feels like some midnight bus station. Where you want to go has been erased by thick fog.

You are suddenly in the land of In-Between. Neither here, nor there. In-between the familiar you once knew and the future you just bet your big leap on.

It’s obvious that there needs to be an in-between. You can’t let go of one shore and get to another without a swim or a boat ride in the middle. For whatever reason we think of the journey feeling like the beginning, but most of the journey, if we are honest, happens in-between.

Sometimes this journey has been a purely internal one—leaving old habits or defenses behind and risking new ways of being. And sometimes these changes happen on a more worldly plane. And sometimes it feels like you are combining the two. Right now I am in the middle of moving. Cleaning and putting one house to bed, awaiting its new owner. And unpacking boxes in the new place. While my belongings have moved, my soul hasn’t yet. It is not for lack of desire or choice. I wanted to move. I chose to move. I worked hard so that I could. But 21 years is a long time in a place and the change hasn’t caught up to me. As lovely as the new place is, I find myself saying, “How on earth did I get here?”

And what I mean by “here” is probably not the new apartment—but this space in-between. The space between the familiar and the new future. The space that has not become yours yet. The space you have to grow in to.

As a child therapist I would often use a game called ‘The Squiggle Game.’ It was created (or more likely quantified) by DW Winnicott. The game is wonderfully basic (and is perfect when you are stuck in a waiting room or an airport with kids)—You simply take a blank sheet of white paper and you scribble a squiggle on it. Then you hand it to the child and tell him or her to turn the squiggle in to any picture they want using the lines. The squiggle turns into a duck or snake or face or whatever the child sees. Then you have them make a squiggle and it’s your turn to make a picture out of it. You can go back and forth for a long time.

It might be the best metaphor for The In-Betweens. The squiggle is the beginning. But the process of turning the squiggle into the final picture—well, that’s the whole point of the game. That’s the fun part. The not knowing. The figuring it out. The fun of surprising yourself and your partner with what you came up with. In the Squiggle Game, the beginning is nothing. It’s just a squiggle. It helps you see beginnings for what they are—just a place to start.

The other beautiful thing about the Squiggle Game in child therapy is that the picture that is created is also a picture of in-between. The space between two people. The picture neither wholly belongs to the child, nor the adult. It is co-created—it only exists from the work done by both. And our change is a lot like that. The In-betweens are there to connect who we were and who we will become. Our old self draws the squiggle and our growing self works to make a new picture out of it. That space in-between is how we grow.

And it’s also helpful to see that if you are willing to play, to take a risk, that change never ends. When that picture is done, the self-you-became will draw a new squiggle and the self-you- will- become will once again pick up the crayon and start creating a new picture.

I wish I could hang on to this wonderful view of The In-Betweens. But, as was said of Alice in Wonderland, “She gave herself very good advice (but she very seldom followed it.)” I often lose sight of my good advice for days a time, and then I am lucky enough to be caught by something lovely or sweet or both. Today it was lilacs. On my way home from a run I ran past a big stand of lilacs beginning to bloom and was knocked over by their scent. I found myself longing for my old lilacs, which in truth, even at the old house, were no longer there. They were a memory in every sense of the word. And as I ran to my new home, I realized that the lilacs I could see from my kitchen window didn’t belong to the neighbors. They were in my new yard—so I ran up to them and took them in. A memory and my future connected. For one moment, not in-between, but here.

© 2015 Gretchen L Schmelzer, PhD

For more on Winnicott and the Squiggle Game.

Psycho-Analytic Explorations
By D.W. Winnicott