by Jessie Liang
(CW: the following article contains themes of racism and strong language.)
Are you in a liminal space too? Oh good, phew! I thought it was just me.
Or maybe you aren’t. Maybe you have found your place. You’re planted firmly in the here and now. You are supported by the soft earth beneath your feet and you feel gently embraced by your community. That’s wonderful! It gives me hope so please, by all means, enjoy it and take up all that space.
Not that I feel hopeless right now; I don’t. I know Hopelessness intimately and I’m grateful this isn’t it. And it’s not even a “what” will happen or “how” – those questions used to be so important to me… Used to be.
At this point I should offer you some context. I have been a guest on these lands of so-called Vancouver for 8 years, living in Canada since 2008. Prior to that, I was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. My parents were both originally from Taiwan and I attended an American school throughout my formative years. “Where do I belong” or “who do I belong to” are common questions you’ll find in the starter pack to being a third culture kid. As is experiencing mild panic when trying to answer, “no but, where are you from, from?”
I’m writing this article on June 2nd, 2023. In exactly one month, it’ll be 2 years since Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued me a letter confirming the receipt of my Permanent Residency application via the federal self-employed program. An application that I began officially with my lawyer in December 2020, and wrote a 39-page business plan for (not including the other 500+ pages of proof that I am a full-time working artist). As of now, it all cost me over $18,000. It’s definitely shaved a few years off my life expectancy too.
Do I seem stressed?
Yeah, thanks, it’s the stress!
I know you’re wondering how it’s possible that I’ve been in Canada for 15 years, and still don’t have my citizenship yet — because I’ve wondered that same thing every week or so since Trudeau became PM. I also know that I’m very privileged to even have the choice to be here. That is very clear to me and I do not take my freedom for granted.
If you’re still with me (thank you), may I be honest about what it’s like being an immigrant in my experience? Because it’s exhausting.
I’m so tired…
of the romanticization of the struggle;
of juggling 2 to 3+ jobs at any given time;
of chasing a dream;
of having to prove my worth;
of losing jobs because I’m not a Permanent Resident;
of being barred from joining acting unions because I don’t have my Permanent Residency; of it taking 45 minutes to print my boarding pass at YVR because neither of my TWO valid passports are Canadian;
of being told I can’t be understood because of my “accent” (even though it’s not even an accent, it’s a rhythm difference, but do I want to bother explaining that every time? no);
of the fact I have been told “go home you fat fucking chink” while strolling down Stanley Park’s seawall; of being pointed at and yelled “bird flu” while waiting for the bus in my neighbourhood (and still hear, “but Canada is so much better than Brazil, right?”);
of not being seen in this society beyond a label, or a category, or a statistic;
of not being seen. End of sentence.
Okay. Deep breath. Drop the shoulders. Relax the jaw. Rant over.
So I’m floating in liminality. I literally have no idea if or when I’ll be granted a new status by the IRCC. Past me would be crying, a messy puddle up on the floor. (Is there a better place to cry on?) Except, living in this perpetual state of “pending” has actually been a beautiful teacher of mine ever since I graduated the bubble of theatre school. I’ve learned over the years to accept Uncertainty as neutral, or scary-but-exciting because it’s a lot more spacious than other states. (ie: Success, Disappointment, Busy.)
Now, the Uncertain is a playground to be explored.
A mirror for where I’m not facing myself. Will I nail the next audition? When will I book the next paying gig? Can I write this play? Am I going to enjoy directing? What else have not tried yet, but am curious about?
As uncomfortable as it is to realize just how vast the Unknown is, or how unknown we are to ourselves oftentimes… Isn’t it also an invitation?
Like being on a dance floor full of strangers, sober AF, music you don’t recognize blasting. And now you have to choose:
B) Pick some toxin, to numb or for courage.
C) Stand. Still. Very still.
And you wait.
You do an internal check-in, kinda like when you feel for whether you need to pee. You don’t know HOW you know. But you know if the answer is yes to bathroom, or no, or not-now-but-soon.
The thing is: We don’t do that often enough. We’re so busy, so tired, so conditioned to hustle that we don’t check-in. So we atrophy. And then we second guess what we want. Even worse, we outsource what we want. We cross-check our impulses with our friends, partners, parents, social media, and so forth, until we convince ourselves out of what we wanted in the first place.
To be clear, options A through C are all valid in our hypothetical and intimidating dance floor. And so are options D through Z. It’s just… That can be a lot, right? Analysis paralysis is so real. What I’m advocating for here is that all it takes is to start with C) Stand. Still. Very still.
Because the same way that you were invited to dance, you can invite the dance to join you in your stillness.
I mean, you can’t tell me that isn’t the beginning of spectacular choreography!
One of my favourite human moments is asking artists a question and watching them attempt to answer it, until finally and honestly, they arrive at “I don’t know.” Ah! You brave, beautiful souls. That is the start. Your start of your brand new journey.
I know, I know. Sometimes we don’t want a new journey and we just want to sleep. Burnout is also very real. I would know.
Would my life be easier if I got the piece of plastic officially granting me Permanent Resident status? Yes.
Would I feel more secure if I booked a big role that paid me bucketloads of money and kept me working for the next foreseeable years? Yep.
But truthfully, do I need it? Is the guarantee of a stable job a validation of my career? And do I need an institution to feel that Canada is my home? You and I both know the answer here is: No.
Not at all.
I draw parallels between these areas because for every obstacle I’ve faced in one, I’ve used that learned resiliency to overcome barriers in the other. And now, more than ever before, I’ve been seeing this theme pop up in the collective.
I have friends that have been wanting to quit their jobs for months (if not years), but haven’t. Others that need to break up relationships with friends or clients or partners or relatives. Some that need to move away, some that are being asked to move in.
And then, yesterday, I attended Derek Chan’s Happy Valley. The rawness, intensity, and grief Hong Kongers are currently experiencing (and have been for many years) is the epitome of heartbreak, resistance, and perseverance.
There’s something in the water and we’re being asked to drink.
I want to see more of this in our city. I want more stories in the liminal. I want more change in our industry. Luckily, I know theatre and live performance is the perfect medium to handle the viscerality of incertitude.
So for those of you also experiencing Uncertainty: I’ll take your hand if you’ll take mine. We’ll stand here, in the liminal, and just wait. We know nothing. Yet. Until suddenly, we will.
Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Jessie Liang has appeared in a variety of theatrical and television shows including Netflix’s The Night Agent and Virgin River, The CW’s Supergirl, and Arts Club’s 2020 touring production of Kim’s Convenience. More recently, she was the Assistant Director to Redbone Coonhound (Arts Club). Jessie’s play, Surrender, was workshopped as part of vAct’s MSG Lab 2022-23, as well as presented at Ruby Slippers’ Advance Theatre Festival 2023. A Studio 58 acting alum, Jessie also coaches actors and teaches Business of Acting workshops. You can connect with her @jessieliang21 on social media.