Thresholds

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Here’s why I think a threshold is interesting: it can be a literal or a metaphoric division between two areas that may not even need separating. Thresholds are logical places to make divisions, yet somehow arbitrary as well. I write mostly about culture, mythology and technology, but every day I’m encountering cultural “crossings” that I find fascinating.

Let me give you an example:  My back door sticks when you try to close it, and unless you slam it so it can be heard in Australia, it is not officially “closed.” The fact that door won’t close is fretful to the household; “Did you close the door all the way?” is commonly echoing through our house, and we have been told by two different contractors that to fix this door would defy the laws of physics.  Now, let’s forget about home security and heating bill issues for a moment, and think about what this really means, and why it’s so upsetting. This door separates the inside of the house from the outside. If I want to go “outside,” all I have to do is cross over that threshold. Technically, I can step over that line, and say that I went out today.  How weird that if we built onto the back of the house, that threshold would be moved, and there would be a whole new outside/inside delineation. I have a door with a philosophical presence!

Now, let me explain to you what any of this has to do with mythology. Hermes is the “messenger god.” Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home. In classical mythology, Hermes’ influence ended at the threshold of the home, which is where Hestia’s influence began. Outside: Communication! Travel! New people! Inside: Warmth! Family! Security! Is that really true now? Where is the center of our home now? Where would a visitor of your home go to find its center? When you think about modern technology, the threshold between Hermes and Hestia has become much blurrier, don’t you think? Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a meal with someone texting, or talked on the phone with someone who was clearly doing email. Right.

Which leads me to think about the concept of “inside voice.” I’m trying to train my dog to respond to the command “inside voice!” which won’t work, because he’s a terrier and while he appreciates my responding to his noise, he will not be silenced. And most of us don’t step outside and start screaming. So I think this “inside voice” is a more conceptual idea, based on our cultural ideal that there are places where one should not be individually heard. If you hear kids yelling in play outside, they’re just being kids, but if they’re yelling in the library, there’s something wrong with their parents. In church, I used to be given a death stare if I opened my mouth at certain times, but was in big trouble if I wasn’t praying and singing so all could hear. How come I can yell, “Hey, over here!” while I’m trying to get the attention of a taxi, but that same proclamation earns me stares of contempt in the doctor’s waiting room? Thresholds, that’s why.

Anyway, that’s what I think about when the back door won’t close.