On Beauty, Identity and Creativity: Is beauty active or passive? work in progress #essay #beauty #gender politics #stereotyping #binaries #literature

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 enquiry into whether beauty is active or passive; now as a result of Mercy’s timely comment, I have gone deeper into the complexity of what beauty is and may mean, drawing on research from diverse sources.

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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.

***

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 programme 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. I will make no specific reference to Will Self’s lecture 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. I’ll list some off these books here, and discuss them.

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Invisible Pain – My diabetes avoidance blog – May, 2019

Dear reader,

I was thinking about this blog, and the fact that I need to communicate something, but how to go about it.

I arrived in my usual coffee shop, and found myself standing behind a woman with crutches. The barrista, on seeing her disability, offered to carry her coffee to the table. She declined. She wanted to get on with it.

Of course, when we’re not operating at our usual par, we all do this. We ” soldier on” as the phrase goes. “It is what it is.”

I felt like asking the guy to bring my coffee over and telling him I have invisible pain, but didn’t. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.

Yesterday, I was supposed to be visiting my partner’s daughter in hospital. She’s just had a baby. I was looking forward to this. Who doesn’t look forward to holding a newborn in their arms? Of course it will be even more special when the baby is a direct descendant; there will be comparisons and the joy in my children’s eyes, and the relief of knowing that they will finally understand something of what it is to be a parent, and perhaps with that experience, develop more empathy for my imperfect mothering. I don’t feel the same weight of responsibility with my partner’s daughter. I wanted to see her, out of kindness, consideration, care. I found I couldn’t because a wave of tiredness washed over me, as it has, continuously, since the biopsy. We were cycling there. We love cycling and this wouldn’t usually be out of my comfort zone. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped 3 times, at one point pushing my bike. I caught up with him ( he often waits for me; I’m not as fast on hills), and told him I was going home to bed. I texted him and asked him to explain, I was in pain from my biopsy. When he returned, I found he hadn’t told them this. I felt wounded. My pain wasn’t worth acknowledging. He told me it was “only a biopsy”. They’d only taken a tiny piece of my body away. By way of consolation, I suppose, he said he’d done my washing for me and he loved me.

Still this blog is not about psychological pain but actual physical pain.

I’ve been amazed at my own ability to give up sugar. I think this came about because of a medley of lessons. I watched a programme on junk food diets, I was told I was at “high risk” of diabetes; my son disabused me of the belief that doctors were in charge of my health, when he firmly informed me ( as you know he’s a med student), that doctors can only advise you, they cannot make you do anything. (It isn’t that I don’t know my health is my responsibility, it’s just that when diagnosed, I thought, at that point, they must take over, but they don’t.) They advise. And, in my ignorance, I aquiesed. I agreed to the biopsy.

I’ve been in pain  on my right side (my right, your left, as you face me), on and off since 2014. The pain is dull, not sharp, and it comes and goes. I had many blood tests then, ultrasound, trans-vaginal whatever it was. They didn’t find anything significant. The pain went on and I learnt to live with it. Which was why, when I became unwell this year in January, and once again submitted myself to some tests “to rule things out” – and scrutiny, I was surprised when the gynaecologist asked me whether I had any pain on my right side (my right, her left). Of course I had. I’ve got used to it. It’s nothing.

When we deny pain, deny our right to rest, deny our feelings, deny our fragility, deny our mortality, deny our need to be heard, we diminish ourselves. We are whole only when we acknowledge every aspect of ourselves, including our pain.

Love you all immensely,

Hermione Laake

My Accent, and yours?

They speak like me, those people who call themselves elite and believe THEY are the saviour of the world. They share my accent. I do not share their views. Their extremism is aimed at crushing other extremes. They have seen extreme violence, and THEY meet it with a quiet violence of their own.

They speak like me, those people who call themselves downtrodden and believe THEY are the saviour of the world. Their voices are written; they write as I do, and yet they meet my words with a twisted violence of their own; their words are torn from experience, even though they barely admit it.

They have NOT done the work, as I have. It takes years; reading, meditating, until you are literally reborn. Jesus spoke about this, but it was crushed; heathens, uneducated masses wouldn’t understand.

How many words do you suppose an algorithm records wrong? Why do you suppose this is? Shall I explain? The algorithm only learns from its limited experience, and that is dangerous. Shall I say that again?

The algorithm only learns from its limited experience.

Biopsy

Call me niave but I had a biopsy on Monday, and I’m not sure what they took a piece of. I mean it felt like they took a piece of my ovary.

I had a pain there, recurring, on and off, but when they said they would investigate I didn’t realise they meant take an actual piece of my body. I know what a biopsy is; I just thought it would be small.

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An essay and intellectual inquiry. Sex and the menopause—what exactly is it? Does it exist? How do we know?

The history of the menopause would be interesting to research. Right now I am waiting to begin an MA at Kingston School of Art. It feels good to share this with you dear readers, not least because a few months ago, I would never have believed that I could feel like this again. I feel great. Let me repeat that; I feel great. How good it feels to say that.

I want to thank all the mediums that have taken the time to connect with me during this difficult transition into the person that I am. It has been a metamorphosis, no less; a complete rebirth; it has not been easy. I feel, finally, that I have fully embraced the whole person that I am; the masculine and the feminine. Both aspects of myself have been difficult to understand and to love. The feminine, strangely, has been the most difficult and has been the aspect of myself that I have rejected the most as I have explained somewhere else, in an essay entitled On Beauty and Identity, which I am working on transforming into an academic book; but more of that later.

I am sorry if you do not understand my willingness to connect with psychic energy, it is a part of myself that I have had to acknowledge in order to connect with myself as a whole person. I also believe that psychic energy and pre-conscious energy (something Freud identified), is an aspect of every writer and of creative energy.

What I wanted to write about was vaginal dryness as a menopausal symptom or a myth. (I have a med school son, but you cannot just slot that into the conversation.) Because there are many things that have been spoon fed to me and that I have instinctively disagreed with over the years, by society and books and magazines and newspapers, and journals, and through word of mouth from both women and men, that I have wanted to challenge but have felt unable to and not just because they might serve women; after all I am non-binary, but because they will serve men too. So here we are then. And let us start with a story, which is where it always begins, especially for me, with a story.

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My diabetes prevention blog – I am so over you, Chocolate—May 2019, not Eats Shoots and Leaves but, Eat shit and die; tell the truth

A note before I continue. I would like to take the opportunity of thanking Rowena for all the encouragement she has given me over the years. I know she will be reading this later; sorry this is late Rowena; I have a good excuse….,Hermione….

I’ve stopped counting the days, weeks and months and have resigned myself to the realisation that this is a lifestyle. I am grateful to my daughter (number 3), for reminding me that you can enjoy a massive salad with lashings of cucumber; I had forgotten how much. I am grateful for all my daughters and for them showing me the way back, after I completely lost my way. Divorce is like an illness….

Two years ago, my eldest daughter came to stay with me and was horrified at my diet of fast food from the supermarket. I was in one of those comatose states you get into when you are in denial. I knew what I was doing, but because, perhaps, I felt powerless to do anything about it, I did not want to hear about it. So, I must apologise to my eldest daughter. I am sorry. I have been a complete idiot. You are right. You were right. I didn’t used to be that way.

Two things that I have done differently this week:

Yesterday, I discovered some lovely Thai curry in my local Costa; I had retreated in there after being asked to cover a sickness at the last minute, and needed a 12 minute break from the shop I look after—(it’s a bit like babysitting), to stare into space, mostly. That was when I saw the pot sitting there nonchalantly, as pots do, and daring me to pick it up. I did, and was pleased to notice that there is only 2.6 % sugar per 100 grams. “So that’s a lot”. This could be my new mantra. You will only get this joke if you have been reading my tweets on twitter. I mean it isn’t a lot; my ah ha moment, or yours….

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Seeing is believing – My diabetes prevention blog – #amdieting #amwriting #diabetes

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I promised to remember to tell you about the day with my daughter. We swam, we tried on clothes for my son’s forthcoming wedding, we ate a mahooosive salad, with quinoa which she made for us with kidney beans, tofu, cucumber and lashings of pepper. The high when your children cook for you….

I thought the quinoa might bloat me, and it did the next day, but I drank some water with lemons, and that has cleared it.

We also made biscotti (an Italian biscuit). She’s been baking on her own, and like I was, is putting way too much sugar in her sweet baking. We reduce the recipe sugar by half. I still found the biscotti too sweet when we ate them.

I’ve resisted chocolate, most days since my last blog. I’ve taken up eating a baby tub of tuna (they sell it In Tesco for a couple of pounds for 3 baby tins) with cheese for breakfast.

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Type 2 diabetes avoidance blog – “Pure, White, and Deadly” – and annoying word algorithms on tablets that auto-correct! your correct spellings!

Pure, White, and Deadly is the title of a book I read about 20 years ago.

The book made a big impression on me. I stopped buying biscuits because of it.

I love biscuits; we grew up with them always in the house. Yes and biscuits were like a small meal to us. You rarely got nuts in those days, except at Christmas. Mum always laid out a plate of bourbons, rich tea and custard creams. Sometimes there were fig rolls. How I loved those. Still I gave them up after reading Pure, White and Deadly, because it was a compelling read then when I was a youngish mum in her twenties with young children and meals to plan. We still had a biscuit at the coffee morning each week, but it was more like a treat then.

I don’t wish to imply I had a poor diet as a child. My strongest memories are of mum’s home cooking. In the summer There was always a saucepan of jam or marmalade brewing on! the stove ( I have taken to putting an exclamation mark after on! to prevent the language algorithm from changing on! to in every time I type the next character…..).

There were times when I was very hungry though. My tummy was always rumbling. In those days the meals were smaller, and I was a very active “tomboy” as my dad called me.

I left home at 19 years old, and bought my first house with my boyfriend. There was lots to give up in those days. we didn’t have a holiday for 7 years, because we had bills to pay; utility and the mortgage. Yup at 19. I read a great deal about parenting. I was keen to be the best I could be. To read whatever I could find on! the subject. We were told alcohol was bad for the foetus, so I gave up alcohol as soon as I found out I was expecting my 4th and 5th children. Before that I had been teetotal! for 9 years.

I was already teetotal with my first 3 because I’d got badly drunk at a party aged 18 and was so disgusted with my slurred voice and inability to speak, I decided I wouldn’t touch a drop ever again. This lasted 9 years.  I didn’t take up drinking wine with my meal again until I was 27 in 1993, after my first 3 were born.

We gave up beef because of the CJD scare and the funeral  pyres of cattle. We were vegetarian for about 7 years. I used to enjoy making home made pasta and pate, and my own cakes with reduced sugar. When the children were growing they loved stirring cake mixture, tossing pancakes, and cutting up ingredients; later they became proficient cooks in their own right.

It was difficult to socialise then as vegetarians and in the end we relaxed this. Everybody ate meat.

I was reminded about the book on sugar because I was unwell, and after several blood tests, I was told I was “at high risk” of type 2. I’ve always enjoyed chocolate. Apart from taking responsibility for your bills, as an adult you can buy as much chocolate as you like, or at least it seems that way until you become unwell.

Since the warning from my GP, I’ve been reading the labels on chocolate to see how much sugar they contain. I’m amazed at the amount of sugar in my favourite chocolates. It’s often over 50% per 100 grams. If you buy a Yeo Valley yogurt instead (I love these, but decided to forgo them because I was on! a low income whilst studying to support teaching), it’s only 10% per 100g. That’s a quick and easy way to lower your sugar intake.

Bye for now.

Eat well

Hermione

 

(Spoiler Alert ) – review on Jane Eyre

I’ve updated this insight into Jane Eyre for you, dear reader.

hermionelaake

Charlotte Bronte went by the nom de plume Currer Bell. Cur means courage in Latin, and the character Jane Eyre is courageous. From the start the child in the adult reader is drawn into Jane’s lonely world by dint of empathy with her opressed life; even when she is merely hiding beneath a curtain with a book she is attacked by John Reed, “He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder…” (Jane Eyre, p. 14).

Her admission that she is lonely and devoid of something, or someone to love, “To this crib I always took my doll; human beings must love something…” (Jane Eyre, p. 35) tugs at the heart of the reader who has experienced loneliness.

Eyre’s tantrums are frequent, because she is abused, and she rails against this abuse, never losing her her indignant power. Bronte went by the nom de plume…

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