work in progress – Imperfect Beauty, Imperfect Writing, Imperfect Love – On Beauty, Identity and Creativity: Is beauty active or passive? #essay #beauty #gender politics #stereotyping #binaries #literature #writing #LiteraryR

This started out as an essay, and has morphed into a book-length thesis. I would like to thank an old friend, Mercy for commenting on the original drafted essay, when this was essay size and was an inquiry into whether beauty is active or passive; now as a result of Mercy’s timely assertion that beauty is passive, I have gone deeper into the complexity of what beauty is and may mean, drawing on research from diverse sources.

***

For many years I have enjoyed – if that is the right word – good looks (were I not writing a story, of sorts, I would have used the word endured here instead of enjoyed, my story would be over, and I might be accused of telling and not showing). You see I am skeptical about whether or not it is possible to enjoy being beautiful since my experience of this has been largely a negative one. I realise this is a provocative statement, and yet often what seems obvious goes unchallenged simply because it seems so obvious, when, in fact, the very opposite may be the experience; to exemplify, the belief that a smile is only the reflection of pleasure; a smile may be sardonic or depressed, condescending, fake, incredulous.

IMG_20180624_121004

For this reason I feel it is my duty to illuminate the difficulties of being classed or classified beautiful, or ugly; to interrogate received belief patterns about what this status is, does, negates, reinforced through close reading and relating to you my own experiences and life long battle with my own status.

***

The feeling that I had, when at the age of sixteen I turned from an ugly duckling into a swan, that I didn’t like being the object of the gaze has never left me; I didn’t want to be looked at and absorbed as an image and the psychological battles I fought with myself when people only engaged with me on one level, prompted me to look more closely at beauty and identity as the subject of a novel I was writing, a sequel to Jane Eyre entitled Bertha’s Journal: A Perfect Immelman Turn – amzn.to/2jC9CPZ Charlotte Bronte too had made looks – the looks of both Rochester and Jane – the subject of her novel. What did this all mean?

* * *

I was inspired to begin this essay partly when listening to Will Self begin a podcast, for radio 4’s program entitled A Point of View, with a negative suggestion about beauty; I suspect that Will Self would have gone on to oppose this negative view, since with most lectures, as we were taught as undergraduates, the speaker provides the thesis and then the antithesis, which is usually the opposite of his original stance at the beginning of his lecture; this is the point of lectures, or good essays, they are exploratory, and as has been suggested by many academics and writers, the essay as a discipline is a way of working forwards from a point of ignorance to a point of understanding; it is a process which begins with a question and undertakes to interrogate it from all angles in order to arrive at an answer; which is the beauty of the genre. However,  I will make no specific reference to Will Self’s lecture (or essay on legs), here because I didn’t listen to it. I switched the radio off immediately and went away to write this because his assertion, or opening remark, had provoked anger in me.

Consider the boredom of becoming the proverbial Ozymandias (a statue), people, come in to gawp and make comments like, “isn’t she beautiful”, as if that were the only thing about you worth commenting on, or “I want high cheek bones”, as though a man was able to concentrate on more than one aspect of a woman at a time. I had endured this superficial response to my presence working in an office and on the shop floor for three years now, and I was sick of it. I was a manager running a shop with several floors and managing a team of people and yet over and over again in my interactions with people either my age or my looks took precedence over my actions. For years this had the effect of making me shun eye contact as a teenager, and worse invent a phrase which got me into trouble with the head teacher when I was reported for saying to some adult that stared at me, “have a good screw”. Now I realise what a beautiful metaphor this was; then I had no idea what it meant; for me, it felt as though people’s eyes were drilling into my soul.

Because of this unwanted attention, I became interested in beauty and Its impact on life and I wanted to read writing on beauty and to know the effect of it. Gradually, as I read more, I stumbled upon various literary works that had made beauty the focus of their plot and had explored it in depth and with insight. Having read and enjoyed Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, which title must be a deliberate satire of the work itself, because of course to limit is to contain and creatives cannot be contained, I humbly offer you a list which, of course, as many academics have observed before me, is not intended to ever be exhaustive. To return to the idea; creativity  cannot be contained,you constricted, reduced like a commodity to contain only itself. The very existence of structuralism undermines this idea. Because out of structuralism arises post structuralism, which challenges its birth mother’s authority, splits up and deconstructs, as art arises out of the art or movement that came before it. And as music is born from other music.

I will attempt to interrogate and discuss these select texts, briefly in the next few pages of my denouement. Perhaps through them I can deconstruct the idea of a fixed idea of beauty.

Continue reading

What we read as children

We read the Bible

It was the centre of our universe

God was “jealous”

Jesus was kind

He upturned a table once, to show controlled anger…

He was the son of God

The way Greta is the daughter of the Eurovision song contest

I’m sorry if this makes you feel uncomfortable

Music has saved  me so many times-

That i’m beginning to imagine it might do so again

I did buy books; I bought them for the shiny covers, and the restrained sexuality of the horses on the covers; they had titles like, The Silver Brumby’s Daughter-

But I didn’t read them

By then I was used to the Biblical language so I gravitated to myths and Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Books seemed to me to contain truths

But you had to read them like they were hiding something

People are like that.

Warning, sensitive material, here – London life today – Tweet from Cutter Streeby (@CutterStreeby)

Cutter Streeby (@CutterStreeby) Tweeted:
Performance Poetry: Luke Further’s “Avocado Blues” Luke Further
Avocado Blues
A poem

 what’s death doing here on a middle-class sunny afternoon street?
outside my favourite vegan patisserie
another dead teenager lies in mute https://t.co/p5LA4Jd6f0 https://t.co/nQx85mmxeS https://twitter.com/CutterStreeby/status/1179160839791636480?s=17

Notes Creative MA crossover project, week 2-

I’ve chosen:

Little Red Riding Hood: Grimm’s (not attributed to a specific author, but plot line copied by authors such as Charles Morgan, Bronte…).

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte

Under the Net : Iris Murdock (I found this hilarious), or The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing (unconventional meta fiction) which affected me so much that I’m writing a tribute to it. (Various men and women attempt to vicariously “rescue” both protagonists.)

I want to add another story by a songwriter, called Gilbert O’Sullivan: Nothing Rhymes to this list because it touches me to the core of my being. Wordsworth wrote that writing had to be felt, and it is feeling empathy with characters that always drives me and, I believe, readers, to continue reading.

All these books are chiefly about “women” who are overpowered by “men.” They need, or are imagined to need a “male” authority figure to help them out of a fix.

The song is the exact opposite. It is about a “man” who cannot do enough for “women”. Doris Lessing famously expressed annoyance at “women’s”/ media tendencies to take up The Golden Notebook as a banner for a particular kind of feminist movement, and in this sense perhaps Nothing Rhymes might be read as a feminist text on the radical side; ie, involving men in this binary.

CONFLICT:

Popcorn falls to earth, and it seems she is in a fix; needs rescuing.

RISING ACTION:

“Emergence and complication” (Vaisey, week 2). (Our heroine might easily be rescued, but passively resists.) There are two “male” figures hovering on the periphery; Popcorn sleeps/daydreams through attempts to rescue her. We are compelled to read on by the intelligence/enigmatic character/loss of the protagonist.

CLIMAX:

Popcorn has to go it alone, without her father. This might be a metaphor for a generation that gave up “male” dominance to facilitate “female” agency.

Except that Brook (non- binary), intervenes.

Hearing, seeing, understanding and empathy.

Dear readers,

I’ve been thinking lately about age. For a few years now my hearing has been changing. I can trace the biggest alteration back to when I became an audio typist for a hospital for a year and a half, and wore headphones in my ears 5 days a week for 6-7 hours a day. That was 5 years ago, and I’m still suffering the side effects. Of course I have no proof and, to be honest I’d already had a severe ear infection which made me sympathise with that guy who tried to cut his ear off, a decade earlier when I was silly enough to do my son’s paper round for him because he was ill and I didn’t want him to lose his job. I had a newborn baby at the time so I guess this shows you the length and breadth of me.

Still, I wanted to discuss hearing, not lay blame.

It has occured to me many times that what we call hearing loss is really compensation. So that my ears were compensating for being blocked. There was, of course, a practical reason for the plugs in my ears, I was typing medical letters, but hey nature doesn’t know about such things.

What I mean is that as you grow older you are able to hear conversations across the room. This isn’t so that you can evesdrop on anyone, perhaps it is an in-built mechanism so that in hunter-gatherer times we could hear danger approaching. Of course this doesn’t work anymore because there is other background noise we can hear, like chatter, music, sirens, coffee machines, etc, which hamper this wonderful new skill.

Still, it should be recognised as a skill, and not derided and laughed at.

I’ve never liked the catch-all phrase, “deaf” – it’s become derogatory and should be purged along with other euphemisms, such as the word “lazy”, which, as teaching support “worker”, I came to view as meaning “different” – learns differently from you; has different learning “needs”, again this should read learning “abilities” which your binary system does not recognise or cater for, which is why there was a need to invent a catch-all phrase to define it.

Perhaps (again I have no proof), the creative mind thinks differently, hears and sees differently; with empathy, which cannot be measured, especially not when empathy is neither valued nor understood well enough to be incorporated into the curriculum.

Thanks for reading.

All my love,

Hermione

Cycling Around to Lift your Spirits & help others…

A couple of years ago, I started cycling again. I’ve cycled for years, ever since a friend gave me her old bike because she was moving to Kent and didn’t want to take it with her. I gave the bike a name, Trusty Steed. My friend’s name was Mercy, and we found oneanother again on Strava (a couple of years ago), which is an interactive app for cyclists, runners, walkers, any sports enthusiasts.

I’ve been committed to the cycle 300 miles for cancer ride for 2 years now. This September was particularly challenging because I fell off my bike in February and afterwards I decided to cut my distance (I was averaging 100 k a week), by half. So in September I had to step up and double my kilometres.

The elbow had been cut to the bone and took 10 weeks to heal completely. To be honest, as I cycle alone most of the time except when on holiday abroad with my beau, I sometimes now feel a little scared, because I know, like last time, I’ll have to get back on my bike and cycle home, regardless. My fall was so bad in Feb’ that I had spasms in my leg when I got home and could hardly walk. I’m sharing this with you because I know some of you have had much worse injuries than mine and you’ve kept going, which is inspiring.

I love challenges, especially when someone else joins in the fun, which is why I like the Strava app. You can encourage your friends and relatives and give kudos, which is a thumbs up sign.

Yesterday I battled through gale-force winds, rain and icy hale to finish my 20k target for the day. It was very tough. Here are some pictures of my expression.

This hale actually hurts.

It’s difficult.

I should imagine a cancer patient feels like this most days.

Cancer Research is an important cause to support because vital research helps people like my mum, who ate salad every day her whole life, and breast fed all 10 of her 11 surviving babies and still managed to contract the disease, which is still not understod well enough to prevent. This resulted in chemo and led to her having her lymph nodes removed and then a mastectomy. She is still with us. She was lucky enough to survive, and was diagnosed early.

You can read her story on my cancer research funding page.

Everyday someone wakes up and finds they are on a journey they didn’t plan, a fight with cancer; my fight (the easier one), to cycle 300 miles is over, but their’s isn’t. It’s just beginning.

I hope you will support me.

Apart from paying attention to my own 5 children, and my work, i’ve been mostly writing and cycling the past two years, so my friends are mostly virtual and long-distance, like you.

If you’ve enjoyed my blogs and essays, perhaps consider paying it forward by donating £5 to my page. It’s an easy site to donate to.

I’ll leave the link here,

https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/hermiones-cycle-300-fundraising-page-1?feed=5390cd8d-ec15-4488-a5bd-66450453

so that you have it in the morning, my time. There it is done.

Thank you for reading.

I’ve made it…

Whoo hoo,

And so did my mum,

For others it will be a long road,

And sometimes it will get ugly,

Painful and difficult to continue…

That’s why we all need help,

To get to the finish line…

Eat well,

All my love,

Hermione

My Diabetes Avoidance Blog

Hello again dear readers,

I had forgotten to mention that in addition to giving up chocolate, I have given up most yogurt. Quite a few yogurts too have ridiculously high levels of sugar.

I have written about low sugar, Greek yogurt somewhere. I was ranting about Tesco a few months back and they began selling large tubs of it, so I commented because I was pleased to have this option. I’m still buying it, but I’d rather it wasn’t in Plastic tubs.

Sugar hasn’t always been ubiquitous in our diets. It was introduced into it.

This got me thinking about how, surrepticiously, we accepted more and more plastic and began throwing it out in huge quantities.

Someone on Facebook posted yesterday about how here in Britain in the 1970s we used to recycle and use glass bottles, which is true.

I was thinking about this myself a few months ago, so I went into my local greengrocer and asked why they don’t use paper bags and why they use plastic and they gave the reason that paper blows away. I thought this was just about the most ironic statement I have ever heard.

I began to wonder whether we actually think anymore; are we completely brain washed by media and politicians?

I try to keep out of politics, but it’s impossible to do, completely, because it enters our lives, so to ignore it would be dishonest. Like ignoring a limb or a relative.

As those of you who read this blog know it’s holistic. Things affect other things, as we’re coming to understand.

We all heard Cameron tell us to get out our credit cards and spend to save ourselves from austerity or collapse. We didn’t all obey. I went on buying second hand clothes; I’m not being smug, because someone had to buy those clothes new so that I could buy them old, so I write with humility.

Old people, like me (I’m 53), were once young. Not everyone believes that time is linear. After all, right now it’s a completely different time in Canada than here in Britain.

It isn’t the 1970s Britain I grew up in anymore. The world has changed dramatically since I took a bottle of pop back for the small change it acquired and was called sonny by the shop owner.

We have become more intelligent. Or perhaps we always had that capability but didn’t know it. Jung wrote about how psychic wounds always resurface in another form, so perhaps anxiety was a result of a generation having to watch the rampant wastefullness of a society that had lost its connection with nature to such an extent that it almost wiped nature out.

With creativity it has been a different journey, because without art and books music and words we cannot survive.

Life without art and nature becomes rather like that of a famous protagonist lost on an island, endlessly working and barely looking up to appreciate what is around him. Which, for many, it has.

It seems to me that the answer to many of our problems is to work less, be happier with less, and look up more.

All my love,

Hermione

My diabetes avoidance blog, continued.

Sorry I’ve been less productive than usual with my blog and poems.

I started my MA this week, and, as we’ve all come to expect, there were some teething problems with the IT communicating with humans. Still, this is a universal problem. I’m qualified to say so as I’ve worked, unusually my life coach once told me, for private, public and not-for- profit.

I remained calm and assertive and we’ve managed to sort most issues out, mostly by communicating together and being supportive.

This blog is about being assertive enough to cut down on sugar, but that’s not all. I’ve learnt a great deal about myself as I’ve committed to the journey of writing it. I’ve wanted to give up, I’ve not liked myself, I’ve been faced with the grim reality of others’ weakness alongside my own; simultaneously, I’ve watched Greta Thunberg go through the same challenges, and I’ve watched her express controlled anger in a way that should be taught as a universal anger- management strategy. I’ve been challenged to change and I’ve challenged you and local businesses to change. In short, this diabetes blog has become something more than a diabetes blog, it’s become an holistic blog.

With that in mind, I thought I would share with you some of my cycling journey.

Two years ago I lost my job unexpectedly; for a while I moped. This was the 5th job I had lost in 3 years. I knew the adage about banging your head against a brick wall, or doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In the 90s I was attempting to come out of a depression and I read just about every self help book on the shelf. Books have always been my go to gurus, because they contain mostly lessons people have learnt the hard way.

I decided to get on my bike and cycle all the routes my lovely partner had taught me in South Gloucestershire; about 7, and add to them. I did this for a year, and racked up over 4000 kilometres. I was amazed; and even more so when I began to attain QOMs, these are accolades for PRs. A couple of times, by circumstances alone, I achieved 2nd worldwide. This taught me a lot about striving. Striving is hard work, and not always necessary. Sometime it’s easier to let go and accept help; of course I had already learnt this hard lesson as a divorcee with 5 children. It was a lesson in humility. Sometimes someone else is better at it than you are, and that is ok.

Being your best self is the best you can do. You don’t have to change to accommodate those who shout loudly. You don’t have to stop being amazing at something because it makes other people feel more comfortable if you are crap. You can speak up for what you believe and make a difference. And, guess what? Lately people have begun to listen.

My diabetes avoidance blog

I used to eat huge Toblerone bars of chocolate from Switzerland and laugh because I didn’t put on any weight. Now I know better.

I’d like to thank the doctor who checked me for diabetes and told me I was at high risk.

Did you know how much sugar is in chocolate? I didn’t. This is why I am sharing this with you.

I’m also admitting to a relapse this week. My daughter tells me I can blame it on her. She bought me a box of chocolate bars for my birthday in April, and yesterday when we were out gathering comkers and celebrating two special birthdays, she shared her fudge with us. This fudge was chocolate coated, and I ate it, suddenly realising as I swallowed the last mouthful, that I had eaten a chocolate bar ( I gave them up in April because of the high sugar content). I’m not going to blame my daughter, though, I’m going to take responsibility.

Lately I’ve been taking responsibility for speaking up about plastic in my local community. It isn’t easy. I’m an introvert, which means I don’t like drawing attention to myself. The problem for any writer who is an introvert (and many are), is that as a writer, increasingly, you have to be seen; you have to attend libraries, universities and schools and talk about your work. You have to learn how to behave in public.

Luckily for me, I was promoted to management at the tender age of eighteen. Luckily for me also this was in a department store as a concession manager, so I was able to make my mistakes quite privately by comparison to a higher profile management role, like running the country, and because I did make mistakes this made it comparitively easy to grow and make small changes, thus improving and as a result, being promoted.

For some reason, at the tender age of 18, I thought I was supposed to know everything; I soon learnt, by learning more and more, that this is not possible unless you are a polygot, or do I mean polymath? Still, realising you are not expected to know everything and you are allowed to make mistakes is a wonderful thing. It means you can learn. The stuff of learning happens when you make mistakes so it’s a good thing.

Still, here in Britain, our culture was predicated on the fact that we were not supposed to make mistakes, and this is confusing. How can we learn if we are not allowed to make mistakes? Any culture that wishes to appear beyond criticism and “perfect” must do all it can to maintain this act of perfection and must therefore employ more and more perfect people; if you follow this to it’s conclusion you end up with an automaton; except humans can never fulfil that role. We make mistakes and, hopefully, we learn from them. We grow. We thrive, we admit our errors, we prosper; we change. I’ve been on this journey since I was born. I didn’t invent it, but I’ve learnt to understand it, and to do my best to develop as a person with this in mind. It has been a tough journey, and I’m still learning.

I’m a work in progress; imperfect, and happy to be that way.

Perhaps, as we lose our beauty, our perfect unflawed skin or our long luscious hair, we become more perfect inside, as the superficially of our exterior beauty is lost we develop a more perfect interior; hard won and exquisitely delicate. Too comfortable to be shared. Instead we are silent, we smile, we nod, we allow others to travel on the same path to overcoming ignorance, and sometimes we speak up, guide others, and accept the burden that responsibility brings with it.