Time in the Belly: Imbolc Season and Creative Waiting

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. In part, this is because I’ve been editing a book that centers around a time loop. I also had my birthday this week, which has me reflecting on how time pushes us forward whether we like it or not. In my fourth decade on this earth, the awareness of time passing weighs on my mind more than ever: how to spend it wisely, how much of it I have left, what I want to do with it.

It’s not necessarily a bad or fearful thing, though sometimes I get frustrated with myself for taking so long to get here, to a place in my life where I’m actually chasing my dreams and sometimes even catching up with them.

(Please ignore how effed up my lip is in this picture and pretend I look great. Thank you. Signed, a habitual lip chewer to rival the most stereotypical YA heroine.)

But sometimes we need time to gestate our best selves. Whether in writing or in life, sometimes waiting is part of the work. Marinating is part of the work. The small changes that happen under the surface, unseen and uncelebrated, are arguably the most important of all.

And here at the end of January, facing down six more weeks of winter, ’tis the season for it.

What is Imbolc?

One interesting thing about staying consistent with social media posts, seasonal marketing, etc., is that I am forced to pay more attention to my calendar. In these strange days it can often be hard to remember just what day of the year it is, but I actually love calendars. I love cycles. I love the Wheel of the Year.

February 2 is Groundhog Day, of course, in the U.S., but it’s also the old Irish and now neopagan holiday of Imbolc.

The etymology of Imbolc/Imbolg is unclear. The most common explanation is that it comes from the Old Irish i mbolc (Modern Irish: i mbolg), meaning ‘in the belly’, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes at this time of year.

“Imbolc,” Wikipedia

If you are Christian, the analog is Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation, or St. Brighid’s Day if you’re Irish Catholic like many of my ancestors.

As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year.

“Imbolc,” Wikipedia

And no, this is not a lead-up to a pregnancy announcement, unless we’re talking about a book baby or two. But it is about tenderness, about softness, about nurturing the little things, the quiet underground energy of germinating and gestating, the work of waiting.

Calendar as ritual

This is the work of Imbolc: a point of suspension the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, a quiet holiday that holds the power of potential, waiting for the return of light.

I don’t really consider myself a practicing pagan these days, for many reasons, chiefly that I am a heretic at heart who finds organized spirituality of any kind ultimately unsatisfying. But some things work their magic regardless of belief, and such is ritual. It’s faith at its most practical, a practice that works.

For me, ritual transcends dogma or belief. You don’t have to believe anything in particular to seek a ritual or to benefit from it. A ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle, washing your face, writing in a journal, or sitting down on a yoga mat. It can mean setting aside time every day to work on a creative project, or sitting down with your spouse at the end of a long day to relax and watch something together.

Rituals have the power to bring ease to difficult processes and transitions by building familiarity. They give you the motions to go through on days when the will is weak, so you don’t have to think every moment about what to do next. My focus on finding ease in consistency this year has me testing and modifying my habits, trying to find the sweet spots that will carry me through the hard parts.

Keeping my eye on the calendar is one such habit. Beyond the practical uses, marking time and tracking the seasons feels simple and universal. Even in times of unprecedented division, even when days and months seem to blur into each other, humans can mostly agree that time inexorably drags us all forward and forces us to grapple with the unknowable.

In that sense, the calendar is a grounding ritual that makes the unknowns of the future and the weariness of waiting easier to face.

Time loops and Groundhog Day

Bill Murray asks "Didn't we do this yesterday?"
The downside of daily practice…

I didn’t know this until I started poking around February calendar dates, but Groundhog Day also has its origins in Irish Celtic myth:

It hasn’t always been a groundhog – or a badger – often it’s any creature that makes it’s home underground – serpents, rabbits, even insects could be used here. And so, that shows us this is about a “representative” of the Underworld, poking their head out and testing how much time is left for the Underworld to “hold sway” in the Overworld.

And here is the real connection. The folk tales say, if the weather is cold, gray, overcast, cloudy, snowy, etc., it means Cailleach has decided to stay in bed or stay in her house. This means, in turn, she has not gone out to fetch more firewood, which means her stores will run out sooner, and Winter will end quicker.

Meagan Angus, “Imbolc and Groundhogs Day”

Thanks to the classic movie, I associate Groundhog Day with one of my favorite tropes, the time loop. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again, until he learns enough from that one day to progress forward. He’s in a kind of psychic underworld, a limbo if you will, where nothing changes around him. The important change is quiet, slow, invisible, and seismic, and it occurs inside him.

He doesn’t know it, but what feels like a curse—being stuck with going through the same motions day after day—is actually the magic that forces him to stop and take stock. It’s a gift, that limbo. It’s tedious in the moment, but ultimately it’s transformative.

It makes a fascinating character arc, but it’s also fundamentally about practice and how daily repetition can bring about deep internal change. As Jonathan Larson says in Tick, Tick…Boom, which is about an artist haunted by a sense of not having enough time, sometimes you have to do a thing over and over and over until you get it right.

An incredibly powerful ode to the power of practice and its challenges.

This is the grind of creative work, the repetitive nature of it, the place where the rubber hits the road. Here I am with much going on beneath the surface but nothing much to show for it at the moment, no big news to share, plugging away at my edits and then going back to “write the next one.”

GALATEA’S PARADOX and the power of time

I feel compelled to note here that calendars are not a new obsession for me. One of the first things I ever wrote for my science fiction novel, GALATEA’S PARADOX, was a meditation on time and the way we measure it. Researching and writing that book taught me how intimately our perception of time is tied to this planet we live on, its particular spin and orbit, its speed through space itself.

In imagining a galactic society, I had to also imagine how life on different planets – or in the darkness of the Void, as my characters call it – would affect how time is measured and understood.

I wrote about this understanding as a kind of scholarly forward, authored by a character who is only briefly mentioned in the book as it stands now. The forward was cut for words and because it was probably much more interesting to me than it would be for a reader.

For the curious nerds, here is an excerpt:

The ever-adaptable (some might say “fickle”) human psyche sets its clock to whatever sun dominates its personal sky. It made little sense to interstellar frontier settlers that they should organize their work periods by the spin of a war-torn, dying world left light-years behind by their forefathers….

For the academic scholar, of course, a thorough understanding of standardized chronometry and a working grasp of local time conventions are both essential. Just as language presents an evolving record of a community’s experience, a society’s unique attitude toward the measurement of time can provide valuable insight into their culture and their history. It can tell you where a civilization has been, and where it is going.

— Matr. Imani Adeyemi, PhD, MDIV, “Sociology and History of the Colonies” (New Oxford University Press, 4th Ed., 2889)

Original Forward, GALATEA’S PARADOX

Time is such a strange constant, relative, relentless, repeating. It’s the river in which we swim, the current pulling us forward. It’s bigger than us, but it can be comforting too, the knowledge that this world we share will keep on spinning and Spring will come again.

Orpheus and Eurydice of "Hadestown" dance together
“Your [novel] can do all that?” “Yeah, but it isn’t finished yet.”

(When I set out to write this post I swear I didn’t intend it to be about showtunes that reference the creative process, but here we are.)

January wrap-up, February goals

Okay, enough bloviating. I’m proud of myself for meeting my January goals: thirty days of yoga, thirty days of showing up for myself, consistent blogging and social media presence, and turning in my edits to my agent on GALATEA’S PARADOX!

In the first half of February, I’ll be working on first round edits for CAMBION’S BLOOD. I also want to outline a new book, which will hopefully become Cambion Book 3, to prepare for drafting in the spring. Meanwhile, I’m preparing to go on sub with GALATEA. “In the belly” tasks indeed. Things are moving under the surface, and hopefully at some future point, they will begin to show.

Moving into a new month, I’m examining my short term goals and asking what I want to nurture going forward. I’m going to repeat my yoga goals this month and see how I feel about redoing the same thirty day series, because unsurprisingly time on the mat has brought me a lot of benefits. Writing questions on Twitter have also sparked some great conversations and allowed me to connect with my creative community, so I’ll be continuing those on weekdays.

In the writing and social media realm, maintaining this blog continues to be one of my most rewarding forms of online presence. It reaches fewer people than some of my other platforms, I think, and it does require quite a bit of time and effort to produce content, but it equally feels more weighty and meaningful.

I deeply appreciate it every time someone reaches out to let me know that something I wrote touched them or validated their experience. That genuine connection is why I write. Live, laugh, longform 4eva.

A graphic with beautiful gold swirls on red and tan background that reads "Live, Love, Longform"
Created for me by the lovely and talented Thalia Ishvari!

I’m struggling more with managing my Instagram presence. In January, I followed through with my goals of scheduling five posts a week there, as well as posting spontaneously on weekends. But while scheduled content has generated engagement as predicted, I have yet to find a sense of ease with it. It feels performative, much more so than Twitter, where I feel like I can be spontaneous and engage more genuinely.

To that end, I’m thinking of scaling back my scheduled posts there to 2-3 per week (book and blog promos) in February, while leaving some days open for more spontaneous, less curated content. Of course, this could mean more stress on those “spontaneous” days.

It’s also possible Instagram just isn’t my jam, so I’m leaving that possibility open as well. I’m trying to expand my comfort zone this year and find more ease in spaces that haven’t always felt comfortable, but are there some places where ease isn’t possible? And if so, what do I do with that?

I guess I’ll be marinating on that this month, too.

Have a great February!

If you got this far, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts this week. I promise something more substantial next week. A retrospective of my Pitch Wars showcase experience one year ago along with some thoughts on managing professional jealousy/envy are, well, marinating.

In the meantime, I love hearing from you! How did your January go? Did you learn anything you didn’t expect or discover places you wanted to shift your goals? And what habits or rituals are you building to nurture your creative practice this coming month?

2 thoughts on “Time in the Belly: Imbolc Season and Creative Waiting

  1. I loved this post so much, your writing is SO GORGEOUS! And your ruminations on time really resonated with me as I try to find my own ease and routines/rituals. This Imbolc has felt like New Year’s for me actually, since I caught covid over christmas and had to postpone plans to see my family. I just got back from that rescheduled trip, so now I can really lean into my new routines and resolutions. I’d love to start a consistent yoga practice too, and get back into a daily writing session. I can’t wait to hear about all of your gestating projects coming to fruition!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It is Lunar New Year too so you are fully justified in treating it like New Year’s. And Imbolc is a great time to clear the way and start over. I’m glad you are feeling better and thank you so much for reading! 💖💖💖

      Like

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