A Study in Liminality

Blackpool: a study in liminality was the title of my dissertation at University. This concept of liminality has followed me through my subsequent years, and I often come back to it at times like these to ponder transitions, precipices and spaces where the normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Liminality means ‘on the edge’. In the case of Blackpool, it is literally on the edge, where the Irish Sea meets the land. It is also a place on the edge of society. It’s one of the last remaining places in the country where you can go and ballroom dance to a real Wurlitzer organ. The ballroom is open daily, and well used. People travel from all over the country for the chance to dance in this beautiful room. Ballroom dancing used to be the norm, but despite a surge in popularity with the reintroduction of Strictly Come Dancing, it’s still a pastime from a bygone era.

But writing about Blackpool isn’t my intention.  I’m not in a physical liminal place, but a temporal one.  Where time feels different.  It stretches, folds and turns upside down.  I’ve not experienced the time when someone I love is dying, but I can imagine this feeling is very similar.  The anticipation of huge change in our lives.  For me, the change is that I’m waiting to have my second baby.

I’m 38 weeks pregnant, which means the time left is short before my baby is here.  I remember this strange time from my first pregnancy.  The feeling of wanting to prolong this time, to enjoy and savour, but wanting to meet the baby who rolls in my belly.  Knowing that my world is about to be tipped upside down; but not yet.

Pregnancy insomnia is one of nature’s greatest jokes.  At a time when you should be banking as much sleep as you can, you’re making constant bathroom trips, and your body clock wakes you at 4am.  My summer baby came with light mornings, and to wake up to the sunrise was nearly pleasurable.  This baby, being born after the clocks have turned back, has meant waking when it feels like it’s the middle of the night.  It is the middle of the night.

This morning when I woke at 4am, and tried in vain to return to my dreams, baby started hiccupping.  The regular pulse in my tummy, accompanied by the rolls of her getting comfy put pay to me going back to sleep quickly.  When she settled down, the thunder started.  My stomach, deprived of food for eight hours, started complaining.  Rolls of a different type. Complaining pangs of hunger.

By now, my mind had given up on dreams, and instead was beginning to occupy itself with all manner of important thoughts.

“I wonder what time it is?”

“What was the last thing I ate?”

“This time is so weird, maybe I should write about it.”

When I started composing this piece in my head, my husband disturbed by my fidgeting, I decided there was nothing for it, but to go downstairs.

So here I am on the sofa under a blanket trying to capture this feeling of wanting to meet baby, but dreading the sleep deprivation.  Feeling ready and not ready.

When you are pregnant, you have a secret life.  There’re things only you and your baby experience.  Mostly in those quiet moments in the morning and evening, when the business of the day is yet to start or falls away.  That’s when she starts to move, and you tune in to what she’s doing.  You imagine elbows, legs stretching, turning over.

You talk to your baby in your head all the time.  You think about what she’s going to be like, whether she’ll have blue eyes like your husband and son; whether she’ll be calm, or active like her big brother.  You imagine the life she’ll lead, the things she’ll experience.

You think about yourself too.  How you’ll adapt to being a Mum of two.  How you’ll cope.  You think about giving birth a lot. Whether it will be like last time; whether it will start the same way.  Trying to remember the sensations – the surges coming like waves, the noises you made, the things you want to be different, the things you want to be the same.  Trying to remember that feeling when you reached into the water and picked up an actual baby.  One with hair and eyes that open, rather than a nebulous creature living inside you. 

You are acutely aware of your body.  Every twinge and ache.  You check every time you go to the toilet.  Are there any signs?  You google early symptoms of labour.  You are ready, but not yet.  You’re not full term yet.  One more week until then.  Three more days of work.  Counting down until this date, then this one. 

So here I sit in this limbo land.  A mother to two, but not quite.  Waiting is always hard, but I want to enjoy this time when I can still do things without a baby in tow: eat with two hands, nip to the shops.  But I’m looking forwards to being able to turn over in bed without it being burdensome, like a beached sealion getting comfortable.  I can’t wait for a nice cold glass of white wine, and to be able to exercise hard enough to release endorphins.  That time will come.

So, for now, I’ll enjoy the hiccups, try and nap when I can and be in the present with my baby while she’s still inside and I don’t have to share her with anyone.

Too many ideas, not enough time

I’ve got a very busy mind to put it mildly. I constantly zip from one thing to another. Sometimes it spills out to what I say. Most people who know me have been baffled by seemingly random mid-conversation direction changes. It makes perfect sense to me, but most people don’t make an immediate connection between say, a ball of wool and a witchdoctor.

When it comes to writing, I have no shortage of ideas. I have notes written to myself about dreams I’ve had, podcasts I’ve heard and people I’ve seen. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head seemingly from nowhere.

Stories usually start off with a picture in my head. I can vividly see an entire scene, and from that I describe the setting and people. That only gets me so far. It’s the making it into a story that people want to read bit I find more difficult.

Luckily, I’ve never really had writer’s block. I have many, many ideas. Even during NaNoWriMo, when I wrote 1666 words a day for 30 days, I still managed to keep going, only occasionally struggling for the next event to occur. I did it without planning too. It’s not a very good piece of writing, but it has great nuggets of ideas.

So, if you want to write something, and don’t know where to start, here are a few ways to generate ideas:

Look at newspapers, including the small stories at the end or obscure news outlets. Eric Carle wrote ’10 Little Rubber Ducks’ after seeing a newspaper article about rubber bath toys falling overboard from a container ship and washing up in Alaska

Make notes on your phone as and when ideas come to you – on my phone currently I have ‘acorn in pocket gets put away in child’s jacket. Later sprouted and grew through roof of house’. I transfer these ideas into my notebook or into a word document I have imaginatively called ‘ideas’.

Listen to snippets of conversation that float past as you walk along. My writing group friend loves hearing snippets from cyclists who ride past her house in the summer. I walked past a guy once in Winchester who said “You need to give him £30 on payday or you’re going to have to take a bang”. So intriguing.

Spot interesting people. I wrote a short story based on a man I saw walking along on a cloudy Autumn day wearing a suit, old fashioned black trench coat and sunglasses

Ask ‘what if?’ What if Miss Marple was a serial killer? What if everyone died in the car accident except one person? What if someone could suddenly understand the noises dogs make?

Flick through a magazine and choose a photo as a prompt. My writing group have written pieces on ‘red shoes’ and about a photo of a girl sat at the end of a jetty into a lake.

Open a book at random and stab your finger at the page and write something from the first sentence you see. Poetry books work well for this. I wrote a story based on this line from a book of poetry about birds “And all mankind that haunted nigh, Had sought their household fires”

Having ideas, however, is only half the battle. You need to actually make them into a meaningful story with realistic characters the reader can relate to, rich dialogue and a satisfying ending. No mean feat. Most of the pieces I have written are not finished, because I have a better idea, or go off on a tangent or think the idea is fully formed enough.

I don’t know whether it’s better to not have enough ideas or too many. My aim is to try and just make a note of any new ideas that come up and try and finish some of my pieces in progress. Who knows, there may be an idea in there that can win a competition or get published, neither of which is going to happen unless I stay with it, get it finished and submit it. Hopefully by writing this blog post, it’ll prompt (shame) me into actually doing it.

I’ve started so I’ll finish…

I’m a starter-finisher. I read one book until I finish, then I start the next. I knit one thing until I’m finished and then I start the next. I even get twitchy when I visit people’s houses and see multiple opened shower gels and shampoos in their bathrooms.

But then, I started writing. At first, it wasn’t so bad. I wrote short, themed pieces with a fixed word count for the first Saturday of the month when I met my writing group. Then I started branching out. I did NaNoWriMo in 2018 with no preparation and churned out 50,000 words compromising of two stories with the same theme and different characters. I stopped one and started another 18,000 words in as it wasn’t going anywhere, and I HAD to finish the challenge. Unfortunately, this behemoth of a first draft, whilst having great parts, was so messy, rushed and incoherent, that it would need drastic re-writing in order to get it to a semblance of a novel. It was also about 50,000 words too short. I battled with it for months. Adding scenes, fleshing things out, making huge to do lists and writing character profiles.

Then, I stopped writing. It was too much, I wasn’t passionate enough about the subject matter and I missed having the challenge of writing short pieces.

So, I shelved it, and embarked on a series of short stories. Some were re-edited old pieces, some new creations. But, I never actually finished any of them. I even submitted a couple to short story competitions. I got feedback on both, which meant that they were still not finished. I got to a point where I just got bored of each piece.

How do you know when a piece of writing is finished? It’s easy when you’re knitting or reading a book or even using shampoo, but writing? You could carry on working on each piece forever. Tweaking it, getting feedback and changing it, getting more feedback and switching it back. If you re-read it a few months later, you start messing with it again. Sometimes you forget what you were actually trying to say in the first place.

It’s a starter-finisher’s nightmare.

So, I decided to go back to novels. I started writing one, planned out another and decided a short story would actually be better suited as a novel, so started writing that. All of these are abandoned collecting digital dust on my hard drive.

I decided what I really needed to do, was start a blog. Full of enthusiasm, I published my first blog post. Then I started another. But… it’s more of an essay, and I wasn’t sure how to structure it, so emailed a friend to ask for advice. I tinkered around with it, doubting whether it said what I wanted it to say. I waited for my friend to email back. Used that as an excuse to not finish it. Time drifted on and I realised I needed to post something, anything. So here it is. A finished piece of writing. My first in a long time.

I know it’s a chronic lack of confidence that’s to blame. Crippling self-doubt seems to be a writer’s cross to bear. The weekly emails I get from the wonderful Writers HQ continually remind me that I’m not alone. I’m working on increasing my confidence in small ways, unseen from the outside. I’m challenging my anxious self to do things out of my comfort zone. I phoned and booked a table at a pub, I emailed back immediately to a colleague, I spoke up in a meeting. None of these actions are particularly extraordinary, but for me, they are micro steps in the right direction. Now I need to start work on my writing.

I’ve decided I need to try and focus on one thing, get it finished and send it off. That’s it. I’ve got a couple of pieces with great feedback that are on the brink of being finished and ‘enough’. Now I’ve got this blog, I’ve put it ‘out there’. I’m going to be accountable, and finish what I’ve started. One word at a time.