Limbo

“Resurrection of the Flesh” (detail), 1499-1502, Luca Signorelli 

The most optimistic depiction of the state of in-between may be in a painting in Orvieto’s Duomo by Luca Signorelli. As its title implies, Signorelli’s “Resurrection of the Flesh” imagines a happy outcome. But more interesting to me than the heavenly resolution is the act of transition from one state to another, which we see in bodies wriggling out of perfectly formed circles. (They always remind me of holes in a slab of pale Swiss cheese:  Italian-Swiss, certamente.) 

If I remember my catechism correctly, the naked are emerging from the nebulous zone of purgatory. Depending on the sensibility of that year’s religion teacher, we were told that in purgatory you suffered from being deprived of the sight of God; or, more perversely, that your body would be tormented by demons and fire. In either case, we were assured that it was all temporary. But temporary was the tricky bit. For a big part of either punishment – the soul scrubbing necessary for its corporal reunion – was not knowing how long it would last.  Even the nuns didn’t try to second-guess that. 

The pain of ‘not knowing’ is an apt (okay, grossly exaggerated) description of my current state of mind. The time between projects, between deadlines, is supposed to be a time when the brain is germinating. Actually, it’s more like being maybe-pregnant, wondering whether it’s possible to conceive anything (really good) at all. 

The palliative du jour is distraction: dealing with years of printed course readings (I know as soon as I toss one I’ll want it), sorting my books (and the ephemera stuck in their pages since who knows when), and personalizing essentially identical letters to librarians (in hopes they’ll acquire my new book, due out any day now). Then there are the short commitments, which can be completed fairly quickly, but are important enough to be list worthy. Lists are another way to ward off the fear of not-knowing. What’s-next just hasn’t been crossed off yet. 

All of this feels a lot like housecleaning, the socially sanctioned busy-work that I only do really thoroughly for special occasions. (Baking is the exception because it’s domestic addition  – you get cake; not subtraction, like dusting.) The difference is that, as yet, I don’t know what I’m cleaning for. Just that I’m waiting for a knock on the door. Or something to come up through a hole in the floor.

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