Limbo, they say, is a concept whose time has passed, an unorthodox idea, now theologically debunked. But if that is true, why do I find myself suspended, lost, adrift, between? If a lifetime of Catholicism has taught me anything, it is that the experiences of this life are foretastes that prefigure greater truths that lie beyond the mortal veil. How, then, can we dismiss the very real experience of being “in Limbo” as something apocryphal and false?
This is what happens when I have no story to write: I become a street corner philosopher.
I do not write quickly. My novels – of which there have been many, though only one is yet published – take years to unfold. During that time, the characters infect me. Their lives become intertwined with mine. I abhor writing short stories because the process of intimacy I need to go through with my characters cannot happen in the space of just a few thousand words. I enjoy reading a good short story as much as anyone, but trying to write one feels like I’m forcing myself to trade a healthy friendship for a sordid one-night stand. Still, even a novel must eventually end, and then there is a void. My characters and I will always be friends, but when the time comes to drift apart, I am never quite ready to let go.
Then, too, there is the tantalizing seed of the next idea. It always exists, not developed enough to inspire, but big enough to taunt me. To plant it requires becoming vulnerable to new intimacy – and, even with fictional people, successful relationships are never guaranteed. Some of them will turn on me and refuse to speak. Some will prove to be too shallow to sustain. Some will be merely insipid; we will part ways with mutual disinterest. And underneath it all is the knowledge that I created these people, so if it doesn’t work, I can’t legitimately blame them.
Do you think God ever looks at us that way?
Here I sit – stranded – with a story that I can write no more still coating my mind in its residue, and another planted but not yet broken through its hull. Maybe Limbo is not eternal, but no one will convince me that it is not real.
Karen Ullo is the author of Jennifer the Damned, now available from Wiseblood Books. To learn more, go to www.karenullo.com.