birth pains

Lillie and I walk home from school together. In the past six months she has undergone a staggered transformation: she has grown breasts, her hair is highlighted with careful swathes of gold. Every so often she will press a hand to her stomach at break-time, face pulled taut in exaggerated discomfort. “Oh, it’s that time of the month!” And the others of our group will cluck in knowledgeable sympathy, proffering tampons like batons.

I have yet to experience any time of the month. Time as it is has taken on a strange quality for me. At school it seems to stretch out immeasurably, like the elongated earholes of women in African tribes. I look at the clock, it is five minutes to three; I look back to my workbook, write about the metaphors in Romeo and Juliet, breathe deeply and slowly through Emily and Blaise’s whispering, the way that midwives on TV tell mothers to breathe through birth pains; look at the clock again. One minute has passed. It is only once I am safely out of the front gates, away from the crowds, from Lillie, from all lingering remnants of the day, that time regains its normal speed and I feel like am moving through air instead of treacle.

Today it is raining, so we are huddled together under Lillie’s starry umbrella. She gets most of the room, as the umbrella is hers and her hair frizzes in moisture, but I don’t much mind; I like to feel the droplets on my face, passing down through the corners of my eyes and continuing their journey warm, like tears.

Lillie says, “You ought to be friendlier to people.”

She has always said things like this throughout the trajectory of our friendship; her instincts veer towards what needs improving, in herself, in an outfit, in me. Lately, though, these comments have started to hold a more anxious weight. She has begun to realise that I, like the red on her lips or the colour in her hair, am an extension of her reputation. Though she never says that I am bringing it down, she doesn’t need to.

Every day it is more than implied.

I chew my lip, a bad habit that I have picked up over the past year, in the same way that Lillie has taken up painting her face, and say, “If they don’t like me now, I have no interest in being friends with them.”

There is a beat in which I watch my feet stamp the ground in their sensible black loafers. Tides of water spray out from around their tread. Lillie draws a breath, and I expect it to precede agreement; reassurance of my validity, of the others’ bad behaviour, followed perhaps by a mitigating “but”, which I have the option to ignore.

This doesn’t come.

Instead, she says, “You can’t have that attitude.” She says it regretfully, chidingly, as you would to a wayward child. I tear a strip of skin from my lip with my front teeth, taste blood, swallow it. Say nothing. I know that she will read this as agreement.

We walk on in silence and I watch the puddles form on the tarmac, cradling water as grey and hard as the stone lodged in my stomach.

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Oops, I did it again.

By ‘it’, I refer not to my ongoing bad habit of over-using exclamation marks (!!!) but rather to my equally serious, rather more long-standing habit of saying I will do things and then misplacing my motivation.

In this instance, I refer to my declaration, way back in October of last year, that I was going to update this blog regularly with writings and ramblings and ruminations. Yeah. That didn’t exactly happen.

In my defence, this has been a busy year. Also, I think only one person actually follows this blog, so it’s not as if I have an eager denizen of readers weeping into their soy lattes at the lack of updates. But still; I made a commitment and didn’t stick to it, and for that I apologise into the void.

Had you spoken to me ten or so years ago, when I first started writing ‘in earnest’, I’d never have imagined that I would one day struggle to write. There was a time, a very long time, in fact, when writing was just about the only thing that I could do with any consistency.  When I was extremely unhappy, the only outlet I had, in the absence of a vocal voice, was words on a page (I should mention here that I had big issues with depression and bulimia in my teens, as well as a smattering of elective mutism). And so I wrote like mad, I wrote when I was mad, I wrote because I had no idea how else to deal with the mess that was me. I wrote because the only time – and this is still true – that I felt like I knew all of the steps and nuances and lyrics of myself,  was when I was putting down words on a page and letting their colours mix (have I mentioned that I have synesthesia?)*

Long story short, I wrote more than I spoke and consequently I got good at it, because I had to.

That, I suspect, is where the problem lies: it’s a lot harder to do difficult things when it’s no longer a matter of survival. Because writing is hard. An author whom I like, Helen Oyeyemi, once said of writing:

It’s as if every day you have to put a worm or something really wriggly on you, and let it crawl all over you, and then at the end of the day, you can take it off. It’s weird. It’s self- torture.”

When I first read this interview I was seventeen, and frankly thought she was being a tad melodramatic; the woman did write an entire book about a house that eats people, after all. Now, though, at the grand old age of 23, I really do see what she means. It’s that same feeling of discomfort, like holding a flame to your finger and seeing how long you can bear it, or spraying aerosol onto your skin, like boys used to do at school.

To employ a more relevant simile, it’s like sitting down in a room with a box of all of your issues and letting them out to play. It makes sense, I suppose, that back when all of my problems were right at the forefront of my life, expressing them through writing was a completely organic, necessary process. Now that they’re smaller and quieter and I’m bigger and louder, bringing them to the page is harder. They want to stay where they are. They want to sleep.

For the past five years or so, as I slowly recovered, so my writing slowly changed. It became less obsessive and it became less real. Once my notebook and hard-drive had been chock-full of poems; now I tended more towards prose, a craft that is a lot easier to hide untruths in. Once I wrote about my past; now I was drawn towards fairytales, fable, myths. At the time I just went with it, and I don’t regret doing so: it was good for me, it was a process of healing, for me to let go of angry spillages about playgrounds and school corridors and IV drips in bird-boned arms. I wrote instead about gentler things, and there was still darkness, but the darkness was grounded in a different place, was born of spells and swords, not words, not jibes.

I wrote like this for a long time, and it helped. It was, I think, my mind’s way of purging the poison without forcing me to re-live it. It’s a lot easier to write about persecution, for example, when it’s aimed towards a life-sized automaton and not a little flesh-foddered human.

But I think I’m done with that now. I think it’s time to get real. Or real-ish, anyway. The project I’m working on currently has been hiding in my head since I was sixteen.

I think it’s time to let it out of the closet.**

 

 

*This is entirely unrelated, but wouldn’t Synesthesia make such a good name for a character? OR TWINS! Synes and Thesia! I have possibly had too much coffee. I should definitely never have children. God help their hypothetical souls.

**You have no idea how hard it was to resist an ellipses here. NO idea…***

***Bugger.

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

To introduce myself, my name is Mary, I’m 22 and I’m a small person who’s generally much better at talking when the words are safely contained on paper (hence the writing aspirations.) I write a lot and read a lot, and when I was sixteen I discovered the madness that is National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org/) and fell in love.

So, it’s 2016 and here I am – once again about to embark on a month’s worth of terror and turbulence, as I attempt to write (some semblance of) a novel in 30 days.

(Why November? Why not a nice, normal month with 31 days in it?? At least it isn’t February, I guess.)

In the name of trying to depart from my usual writing customs of –

  1. Stress
  2. Stress some more
  3. Spend approximately five weeks working out character names
  4. Spend another six weeks exploring the ~~symbolism~~ of every single word of dialogue, both spoken and implied
  5. Stress
  6. Eventually, with much hesitation, begin writing!!
  7. Decide that the project is pants and discard
  8. See Step 1.

– I have decided to approach this month with only the vaguest idea of a plan, and let the story evolve from there.

What I know so far is that the story I want to write is about names – namely (hehe) the magic and the meaning of them, how language can lay down strong roots and weave itself into the sedimentary layers of our culture – and the impact it would cause, should those layers begin to crumble.

In short: it’s about magic and words and stuff.

With that attention-grabbing advertisement, I’ll end by saying that I’m going to be updating this blog over the course of November, hopefully daily, more realistically  every few (or many) days, probably with rants on the theme of “how did I ever think I could survive this with such total lack of planning??”

I may also post chapters as I go along, but that very much depends on how awful I think they are on a scale of ‘My Immortal’ to ‘Middlemarch’ (if I surpass ‘Twilight’ I’ll consider myself satisfied).

It’s going to be fun. Or hellish. Quite possibly both.

Here’s to finding out.