Puella Limina

A friend was trying to find a phrase to print on her business cards, and as we worked through the obvious Latin (quis custodiet ipsos custodient, nil illegitimo carborundum), I tried to translate the phrase “gatekeeper” for a woman. I ended up with “puella limina”, which means “girl of the threshold.”

There’s something about that phrase that I love. The assonance is certainly part of the attraction, but I also have this image of a Roman woman, wearing a pala and a stola and standing exactly on the limnus, arching beige stone above her head and below her feet on the threshold of a city. She can welcome travelers inside, bring things from the city to the country and from the country to the city, or bar the gates when she must.

In Carpe Jugulum Terry Pratchett talks about how witches are liminal; they exist in the spaces between defined states. Whether a person is in a state of zugzwang or a happier one, the places and times of transition are some of my favorites. Moving from my internship with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to my new job as Polaris Project’s Online Outreach Specialist places me in a liminal position this weekend. I’m neither in Boston nor DC–this weekend is my one year anniversary with Matthew and we’re spending it in Seattle. Being married is nearly the opposite of a liminal state: there is no movement between states; I have my feet firmly and gloriously planted on one side of a threshold.

Seattle tends to be my liminal space: I stayed here for two weeks between finishing undergrad and starting my internship at Harvard, now I’m spending the weekend here before starting my first full-time job out of college. If being a puella limina is a vision I have of my life, then my marriage is the gateway I stand in and on and pass through with every change I make in my life. It is as important as any of the movements.

My job with Polaris Project is to mind and grow their online communities and help bring us all to a world without slavery. There, I will function as a puella limina by being a messenger, translating wonkish trafficking information to a wider audience and bringing news of that audience back into the policy city.

My internship with the Berkman Center was another way of being a puella limina: I transfered, leaving very little of myself in the work, a traditional intellectual property syllabus onto a new online platform. This was stiffer work than I expect to do with Polaris and had more to do with my intelligence than my personality. There were other tasks I took on which dug into those parts of myself I’ve worked to build up: I helped build a vision for the next step of the casebook software, edited a video explaining how fans can react to legal threats, and designed a module on fanfiction law for the online platform. But most of my job was to carry water, not cook with it.

I’ve found other metaphors for myself before, for the things I like to do and people I’d like to be. Some come with job descriptions I’ve been born to or worked for–sister, blackbelt, singer, partner, friend–but very few touch on everything that I am and hope to be. Puella limina isn’t everything, but it is a lot.

Inspirational Quote:

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”–Robert Heinlein

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