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.


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 cannot be constricted, reduced like a commodity to contain only the thing 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, in the same way, as music is born from other music and perpetually refers back to it, and references it in the same way that it does poetry.

I will attempt to interrogate and discuss several 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 “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”

A town in Bristol city

Photograher, Hermione Laake (young mum of 24 years, writer and ex-retail manger, 1990).

I thought I would write a Coronovirus diary, as I read one blog on behaviour from Toronto and found it interesting from a psychological perspective.

Here, in our small town we have over four coffee shops; all are shut down and have been for a couple of weeks. There is a sign on the Coffee 1 store which reads “we know you wanted us to keep going” but they decided it was best to close. I suppose they must have made this decision before the government advice came into force. I don’t know because way back on the 12 th March I was visiting my former home town, Shaftesbury and visiting relatives when I became quite upset. At the time the general consensus seemed to be that this was an old person’s disease, or that the elderly were more susceptible. There was a lack of clear knowledge. My son, a trainee doctor, rang me on that day and suggested I tell his grandmother to go into complete self-isolation. He is level headed so I knew this was serious. I rang her straight away, and she went into immediate lock down. I’m sharing this personal story/ history because I feel it’s important.

I never returned to the coffee shop, even though before that I’d been a daily visitor. Like Ernest Hemingway, I found it stimulating sitting in a coffee shop to write.

Here, once the advice was changed and clarified, everyone, bar the odd person, has been abiding by the rules of social distancing. All coffee shops closed a couple of weeks ago. There are few shops open, just essential shops. People only go out to cycle, or for essentials.

I agree with the suggestion that things will alter when this is all over. Something has to change. It has seemed to me, for a long time, that employers and agencies are perpetuating a full-time work mentality. This is a form of subtle control. I’m sure that many mums like me would prefer to work part-time, 30 hours a week, not wall to wall working, which prevents you from seeing your family. I was fortunate to raise almost all my children as a stay at home mother and writer, except the youngest. I went out to work full-time once she was eleven, and starting secondary school. I had to work in a cafe before that because of the lack of part time work.

Yesterday, I applied for a role which was advertised as flexible, and involved some night shifts, because I thought that this was better than nothing. The agency manger finally replied with the message, ‘this is a full-time role. We have a cleaning position which is part-time.’ This agency manger knows I am an English Graduate and experienced manager.

I’ve been looking for part time work since October last year. In July, I got a job as a Sunday deputy manager. I worked every Sunday from August until February. I left this role for reasons I won’t go into here, but it shouldn’t be the case that I have to work Sundays because there is a shortage of part-time roles for professional, experienced and educated people like myself.

I really do hope the culture changes. I was reading an article in The New York Times about the mood in Wuhan this week. Family is now more important than work. That sounded promising.

It is truly tragic that our young people feel compelled to work 24/7 to keep rooves over their heads; this has to change.

Curve? Discover Prompts

Hello dear readers,

How do I know I’m a writer? Take just now, outside my front door there is a growing group of women sitting in chairs. They can do this because it’s a cul-de-sac; no ‘through’ traffic. They are keeping 2 metres apart.

We’ve had very dry weather, and I’ve been watering the plants much more often than usual as I noticed that the tulips grow better with water. I’ve lots of tulips out the front under the birch.

One of the group invited me to join. Possibly she’s an introvert as she is the latest edition (a Freudian slip perhaps), I’m turning her into a book. For any non-native speakers, I meant ‘addition’. I have just written a short story for my MA in which the protagonist is subsumed by a book, so the slip is perhaps understandable, like when you read old English or German and forget how to write in standard English.

I like watching the growing group; still, while I may enjoy talking to her, as I suspect her conversational style will be one that I find more stimulating, I declined. My polite excuse, ‘I’m a writer’.

On reflection it’s more complicated than that. Yes, I am a writer and I do process things slowly and better in writing, and through reflection I gain deeper understanding of things. I’ve learnt this about myself through a gradual process of hard work, determination and rejection. However, what I really wanted to say is really only something I’d say to a close friend who knows me well and who has built up a modicum of trust with me. You, dear reader, are like a friend. How do I know this? Well, let’s just say that’s every writer knows this. It’s what he hopes for (he was in standard use when I was a child and meant male or female so I’m deferring to it now for ease).

Still, what I really wanted to say was this; I am an introvert, I prefer a deeper, more thought out conversation. I don’t really want to know what you think of Covid or what you’re having for dinner, or what annoys you. I’ll be weary from sitting, and yawning in a moment, if I sit down. I’d rather go and write a blog, respond to a blog, or finish a short story I’m working on.

I also wanted to say, ‘do you see any men here?’ (I should add that since the age of ten I’ve not believed in binaries, which makes me sure there are some feminine men that would love to join in.)

Perhaps the men will join in a month or two, and maybe then I’ll succumb. You see, I’ve always felt like so much more of a man than a woman. Of course, when I was growing up this wasn’t acceptable.

My father knew it, and graciously christened me tomboy one. Perhaps he knew he was destined for 7 children, although non of the others achieved this accolade.

Roots. Day 7 Discover prompts, ‘Below’

Below the ground.

Roots seem to merely lie.

After all roots are invisible.

They are sometimes colourful, but mostly take on the dull brown of the earth.

What point in paying attention to roots?

Of course roots are everything

They speak of your past, which affects your present and your future

You may wish to escape your roots or put down new roots of your own, different roots from your parents, friends, relatives, you may strive to improve your situation

Or you may learn from your own errors through living wild and free and not keeping still, not putting down roots.

Still, I’ve noticed that this tree remains rooted in the ground, here, exactly in this place, where it was planted or where it seeded itself, either way, both ways surfice.

Each season, this tree springs to life and sustains and I wonder whether that is simply a result of putting down roots

And the birds sing like never before

Creative Power

Naïve art painting, by Hermione Laake, painted in1991

While the rest of the world is playing catch up to the power of creativity, I thought I’d write a short blog here for you.

Today Linkedin announced they are offering mindfulness advice for people working from home.This is a good way of being aware of your feelings, and mindfulness does help you to feel more in control.

As part of a learning development team, we worked with students and offered them strategies to manage exam stress, one of which was mindfulness classes.

Colouring in pictures is a form of meditative practice that you can indulge in to relax if you don’t have access to a garden.

Gardening works in the same way, allowing your mind to relax as you concentrate your thoughts on the plants.

There is another way of processing thoughts, and that is creative writing.Writing your thoughts down helps you to process them. Even if you are not someone who wants to write creatively for a living, this practice helps you to avoid worrying thoughts going round and round in your head.

If you want to avoid talking about worries with relatives at the moment, then writing them down at the end of the day is a good way of processing them. It is also a way of leaving them to one side.

Another positive that arises from this practice is that, should you have questions, often the answers come to you when you share them, if not with friend and family then with yourself on paper. You may be surprised at how you gain insight from reading back what you have written.

Some useful ways of writing down painful thoughts are to distance yourself by writing as though you are an animal or an inanimate object, such as a chair or a pen.

Another useful way to express your feelings is to write as someone of the opposite sex. This method can give you surprising creative freedom if you are a writer and you may produce some interesting work.

Pink Moon and the metre/meter meadow

Tonight we experience a pink moon.

Usually I blog this on my other site, hermionelaakeloveslavender@wordpress.com – I thought I’d blog on here for a change, since so many of you seem to enjoy my writing.

Pink Moon gets its name from Wild Ground Phlox, a North American spring flower.

Below are some other pink flowers, which I planted two summers past, after finding them reduced in my local garden centre.

For now, since we have no Pink Moon flowers, I offer you a short podcast of birds singing and me watering the flowers, blessed by a delicate evensong for your patient hearts.

The garden centre have a resident robin, or should I say, visiting robin?

They feed the robin meal worms, and it has become quite tame, flying over the heads of customers confidentiality. This confidence is unusual for robins.

However, several birds do become accustomed to you in the garden. This year we had a pair of blackbirds visit the gardens; brothers. The female blackbird is brown, the male, black. At first they took flight everytime they saw me. One of them still returns and will now hop around me cautiously, when I’m sitting out getting a dose of vitamin D.

We planted a tiny meadow 3 years ago and I’ve noticed the blackbird likes that particular spot better than the rest of the garden, even though it isn’t more than 3 foot by 2.5 foot wide, so less than a metre wide both ways.

Pink tulips in April.

Dish – part two

We cooked together, the flour a sticky mess, and used the remainder to make papier mache`pinata.

Today’s dish:

Home made sauce for pasta, or gnocchi.

  1. Tomato puree
  2. Olive oil
  3. Garlic
  4. 1 red onion
  5. Rosemary
  6. Basil
  7. 1 stock cube


  1. Lightly fry the onion and garlic in olive oil; remove from the heat, stir in tomato puree, add water, stir
  2. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add to pasta, or gnocchi dishes.
  4. Use remainder to make a sauce with courgettes when in season.
  5. Serve hot.

Day 2. Open, your heart

“Have some compassion,” he said.

Me? I thought. Aren’t I the most compassionate person on this planet?

I said nothing. I deferred to thought. Slow to anger.

What I have lost is compassion. I realised that this means that I am least compassionate to myself.

I am angry with myself for finally failing to feed my teenager after 8 years of success as a single mum; I am angry with myself for being able to dress well on a pittance; I am angry with myself for being articulate and able to ace any interview; I am angry with myself for being slow, because people want speed; I am angry with myself for noticing flaws in writing: my own and others.’

“Your greatest flaw is sometimes your greatest asset,” said that polymath from IQ.

Seeing the flaws, I suppose, requires a dispassionate eye. It is not that I lack compassion, it is that I have been torn open over and over again, until (have you noticed this?),

the scar heals perfectly.

These Hands

these hands have held five babies, over and over and over again.

These hands have pushed trikes, bikes, chairs, swings, have combed hair, tied plaits, knotted shoes, scrubbed out the mud from football boots, held the handle of a hoover day after day after day, ironed, stirred, flipped pancakes, picked up ladybirds, ailing birds, and snails in the middle of the road.

These hands have held chess pieces, lit fires, clapped at concerts, and open evenings, poured water into paddling pools and planted trees, made homes for insects and ponds for frogs.

These hands have given ‘ holding time’ to one energetic boy child who always wanted to go his own way, after realising that smacking didn’t work on an 18 month-old that rolled over and got up everytime I laid him on his nappy, and a good thing too, since he’s now a doctor.

These hands have been held out for the cane aged seven or eight, until this person realised that the punishment of sitting on a chair was the better one.

These hands have penned 7 novels, 3 of them published,

These hands have held the hand of a dead boy, only 19 years, and placed a coat over another boy, this one not a brother but a stranger knocked down in a road in Spain.

These hands have signed documents of proof, and asked for references so that this person could go to university,

These hands have picked out tarmac from a child’s knee,

And held a book every single day for forty-something years.

These hands have drawn illustrations that may never be seen, except by a few small children,

These hands have typed over a thousand medical letters.

These hands have played jazz on a Victorian piano, and twinkle twinkle on the violin.

These hands have baked exotic dishes like biscotti, Victoria Sandwich and Gespatcho.

These hands have pruned, and planted, tended and passed, priced and tagged, clipped and mended, sewn and knitted, and still these hands seem unbreakable.

These hands

Ode to a dish

This plate seems ordinary,

Well alright then, extraordinary,

There isn’t one like it in the world

We painted it ourselves

It is green and red, a perfect watermelon,

Made with nature’s complimentary colours,

An art teacher once showed me a colour wheel

and said

Orange and blue

Yellow and purple,

Green and red

And now you are far away in London

And I have this dish

That we painted in 2008

This dish

The mud, the lotus and the pale golden blue.

John Wreford Photographer

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“Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu