I’ve always been quite a symbol-orientated person (which kind of sounds like I just love a good asterisk). When I was smaller and a bit more mad, I used to dress up like a druid and wander around in the woods behind my house carrying a candle (dangerous) and mumbling incantations to myself (odd). As they say, give me the small girl in a long black cloak wearing so much jewellery she can barely move and I’ll give you the woman.
Luckily, or perhaps unluckily depending on how you feel about modern day druids, these habits of looking into that world that we can’t quite see but can feel, humming there out of sight, were watered down into just about normal patterns of superstition. I recite that poem about magpies to myself constantly, I read my horoscope and I firmly believe that wind is a good sign, which is handy when you live in one of the windiest cities in the UK. ‘It’s a sign!’ I whisper to myself, almost blown sideways by the exact same wind that attacked me yesterday.
Looking for signs is just another way of saying that you are looking for guidance and for comfort. If you believe that there is some rubric, placed on top of seemingly normal every day occurrences, it makes you feel like the world makes sense. Which is handy if, like me, you have very bad anxiety, which is essentially fear of the unknown.
Symbols and signs are also very important if you’re a writer. My fiction is full of repeated motifs, foreshadowing, and those little moments where someone’s whole life is turned upside down by the way the person they love hesitates before answering a question. And, hopefully, that makes my work good. But I’m starting to find that when you have anxiety, and you believe in signs, and you write, these three facets of your life all bleed into one another until you aren’t sure if you’re a person, or a character in a novel written by someone with a wicked sense of humour.
Narrativising your own life is very reassuring. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ we cheerfully assure each other after someone is wounded by life for no apparent reason at all. Suggesting that your life is following a narrative arc implies that you have to be on the lookout for these illusive moments of foreshadowing that allude to the horrors that are going to befall you on the next page.
When you’re transfixed by this opaque world of secrets, it’s hard to let go of it, and it can be incredibly toxic. I hold myself accountable for the unpredictability of life because I’m convinced I should have known, should’ve seen it coming. You also feel like you are privy to information that other people just don’t notice and that’s very hard to relinquish, even if it means you spend a whole day convinced that your dream about Nicholas Cage definitely meant something, and probably not something good.
Terry Pratchett once said ‘you choose your own omens’, which could very easily mean, omens are meaningless and you’re a bit of a misery for thinking otherwise. But it could also mean, look out for the good ones, if you can, because they’re in there as well, and often the bad ones are just there as B-story plot points and have very little to do with you. Life makes absolutely no sense, but if you want to pick a theme for it, pick a good one.