Photograph by Ebru Yildiz
Author Jordan Kisner’s recently released essay collection Thin Places: Essays from In Between takes its title from a Celtic proverb that says, “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.” The book treats, with satisfying clarity and detail, regions where, as she puts it, barriers of one kind or another wear thin and become porous. Between places, between people, between a person and her affliction, even between belief and its opposite.
Meditations on heterotopias cover
Kisner lives in New York now, but she grew up in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, so one might expect her to put our local, porous stretch of national border under her scope. But no: she travels instead to the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo Metropolitan area, “a city that’s American on its north side and Mexican on the south,” because someone mentioned to her “a documentary about debutantes on the border who dress like Martha Washington. Which isn’t actually true” — the debutantes dress up as part of “America’s most elaborate homage to its first president,” put on by the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association — “but I was so taken aback by the sentence that I made a note of it. The more I looked into it, the more curious and strange and resonant it sounded.” The essay notes that 96 percent of the city’s population is identified as Hispanic. “I thought it spoke so beautifully to the way that identity becomes more muddled and yet somehow more polarized the closer you get to the border. Notions of America and what it means to be an American start to feel higher and higher stakes — even as they get more and more confused — as you start to move toward the geographical point beyond which you are no longer in America.”
The thin place provided by her San Diego days lay not to the south, but to the west. “It was formative living on the edge of the ocean. I got to grow up near this sense of vastness, spending time looking at the horizon. I think the happiest I ever am is when I’m swimming in the ocean, but I was terrified of it as a kid, and obsessed with it, and loved it. I found it to be everything that the world was: a little scary, and exciting, and unclassifiable, and totally unpredictable.”
When it comes to the current crisis, “I’m finding a lot of resonance between the mood we all seem to be occupying and some of the moods I tried to describe. The first essay describes waiting as a kind of thin place, being stuck between a world you’ve known and one you can’t quite see yet. It feels like the waiting we’re doing globally. It’s uncomfortable, and transformative, in the way that thin places tend to be. I’ve been thinking about something I wrote about how subway platforms got easier to sustain once they put in a clock that told you how long until the train would come. Now we’re waiting with no assurance of how long the wait will be, or what’s coming on the other side.”