How To Be A Lovely Woman

She has such elegant, effortless posture, I imagine her as a little girl being taught to sit and walk with a book on her head. She smiles and speaks gently, kindly, to everyone she meets. You can depend on her to be punctual, careful, trustworthy. She is a lovely woman.




But her loveliness is not in her elegance. It is that she takes care of herself by holding her body safely, comfortably. Another woman with a sore back or troubled legs will stand differently (or perhaps even be wheelchair-bound) and still be lovely because her self-esteem, and concern for her well-being, resides above society's judgment.

Her loveliness is not about make-up, being a particular size, or wearing certain clothes. It is self-kindness and reverence for the resource a woman has been given to experience this life: her body, with all its unique beauty and tender needs.




Neither is her loveliness in her voice. She might be gruff-toned, a whisperer, or even mute, and still prove lovely. It is in her kindness towards others, her consideration, and her sincere recollection that they are people with fragilities, wonderments, fears, dreams, just like her. She uses manners as an outward expression of inward grace. She does not unfairly judge others, but is sympathetic and compassionate (although sometimes she might have to remind herself to be, since loveliness doesn't automatically mean perfection).

Nor is her loveliness in her nice etiquette. It is in her character, that she will not unthinkingly let herself or you down, and that she will be responsible out of consideration rather than a set of rules.




The lovely woman, or the woman striving for loveliness, values it not because of some social ideal or etiquette goal, but because she believes it is the best way to be, and she respects herself enough to want to be the best she can be - and she respects other people enough to treat them the same.

Being a lovely woman is quite simple. Be a loving woman, that's all. Loveliness in its countless forms will flow naturally from that.


art by henry ryland

A Letter from Sarah

Dear friends,

it's been somewhat of an eventful week for me, spent largely away from home, and social media consequently fell by the wayside. In one challenge, my computer broke. Miraculously, I was able to get another, and have now achieved a long-held dream of owning a pink computer. I lost some work on my current manuscript, despite regularly emailing it to myself as a preventative of such losses, but that was the very smallest of my concerns. However, yesterday's evening sky was an exultation of golden light, the moon softly kissing the world, a new bird singing at the unseen edges, all of it offering peace and love. A friend recently told me that if the world is material then Mystery is essential to balance and complete it, and when I look out my window at such everyday wonderments of nature, I think mystery is surely born in love.

I am returning slowly to my usual routine, thankful for the opportunity to rediscover what works well and what is in need of a change. Throughout the week, I was reading several Anne of Green Gables books, and I do believe that the moments I spent amongst their pages, suffusing my spirit with beauty and wholesome thoughts, made it possible for me to land so gently on my feet. It's always a little embarrassing to mention "wholesome thoughts" - we're supposed to be grittier these days, aren't we? But there it is, I'm hopelessly old-fashioned.

I hope your own week went well and that when you look out your window you see love.

Warm hugs,

Sarah


photo by Carolyn Aiken




The Homes of Anne of Green Gables

I have been dipping into my collection of Anne Shirley books, usually in the evening, to bring peace to my mind and gentleness to my perspective. Something I've noticed along the way is how deeply the various homes affect me. They are equal in my mind to the human characters in the stories. Today I thought it might be fun to share my favourite homes in the Anne series, and maybe you have favourites you would share too in the comments section. I know this is a rather bloggish thing to do, but I'm deep in composition mode for two manuscripts, and haven't much creativity left over right now for blogposts, I'm afraid.




1. Ingleside.

I adore this home so much, I often daydream about living there - although I would not have a Susan in residence, nor hopefully mice in the pantry! An old family home of this kind - a mellow house, as Anne says - has such a warm character, and is full of domestic magic, joyful memories, which make me feel cosy just thinking of it. And I am in love with its garden (although I agree with Anne about the calceolarias.)

2. The House of Dreams.

This little house was infact the original inspiration for Deep in the Far Away. I was happy when Anne and Gilbert moved to Ingleside, and I wouldn't myself want to live in such a faraway cottage, it seems to me to be an interlude, a honeymoon, a dream of a place whose charm is that it is only to be enjoyed for a little while. Nevertheless, I love it.

3. Echo Lodge.

This house makes my heart ache, because although Lavender gets her happy ending, the house seems filled with quiet sorrow and then, when joy finally comes, everyone leaves and the house is abandoned to silence for most of the year. I know they all come back for summers, but to think of its loneliness through the winter actually almost brings me to tears. I wish for better happiness for it, because really it is such a beautiful house, so full of magic and quiet wonderment. It deserves a contented family, a dreaming girl, an abundance of laughter and romance. As I get older, this is the home I would love best to live in, but not alone, and not too far from the rest of the world.

4. Patty's Place.

I first read about this home, Anne's student digs, when I was a student myself, living with several flatmates. I always envied Anne her comfortable cheerful situation, as my flatmates weren't kindred spirits, and I had no Gog and Magog by my fireplace.




5. Windy Willows.

This is another home which inspires my personal creativity. I've drafted a story concept from my vision of the house and its quaint owners - who knows, maybe one day I'll write it. I especially love the tower room and have spent many an afternoon there in my imagination, gazing out the window and dreaming. I've also walked the roads of Summerside and breathed in its eloquent breezes. While I long to visit Prince Edward Island, Summerside is not a place I'd like to see, because I know it will hold little trace of the town Maud created for her readers. (I know in some versions the book is known as Windy Poplars, but Maud herself prefered the Willows title, and I'm lucky enough to have a British publication which honoured her wishes.)


Green Gables is not on my list because I don't particularly like it. Which is to say, I wouldn't turn my nose up at it, but I have never managed to resonate with that house as fully as the other homes, perhaps because I read Anne of Green Gables itself fewer times than the rest of the series. It feels like quite a dark home to me, as if most of its curtains are kept shut during the day and too many of its rooms are unused.

(And lastly, please don't ask me if I've watched the Netflix version of Anne, unless you want me to shout at you. I think that show is a betrayal of all Anne stands for, it hurts me to remember its existence, and I am happiest dwelling instead in the charm of the first Megan Follows series, and of course the books themselves.)




A Book Can Be A Treasure Chest

The other day I was heading out for a place where I knew I'd be sitting waiting for several hours, so I took Anne of Avonlea with me to pass the time with loveliness. I seldom read this particular book from page to page, because I don't much care for Davy, but I do love to dip into its gentleness and magic, and then let my dreams carry me on. Some of its sentences are my favourites out of the whole series.




Last night, I read a few pages before going to sleep, and concluded that I should make it my regular practice to read a little of a lovely book every day. As the heroine in my own current work-in-progress says, "It seems only sensible to fill your mind with beauty, since you can. I'd rather remember pieces of poetry than scenes from a horror film."

Do you have books which you keep as reservoirs of loveliness and peace? Or a treasure chest containing wonders and exotic dreams of the world? Or a key to your own dreaming soul?





The Sins of the Modern Feminist

There's as much magic in the little violet as in the greatest pine tree.

(from my current work-in-progress)





I recently participated in a conversation about womanhood, during which we got to confess our sins as modern feminists. Several women admitted to still shaving legs and armpits. Others said they liked prettiness. I said, amongst other things (for I have many sins) that I liked old-fashioned gentlemanly respect towards women, wearing dresses, romantic stories, motherhood, tea cups; that, in short, I liked being feminine, and was tired of apologising for it.

Another woman added that she thought the sadness of modern womanhood was how so often we are made to feel ashamed for being womanly. Of course, we have always been made to feel that way - it has been enshrined in laws and cultures for centuries. But sad indeed that now women have more freedom and equality (note the qualifying "more") we still carry within ourselves that sense of shame. So many of us try to develop the qualities traditionally held by men in order to succeed and be acceptable in the world. I'm talking about the Western world, of course. I can't speak informatively on the serious issues facing women in other cultures.

There's nothing wrong with a woman being manly if that's what she wants. But there's also nothing wrong with a woman being womanly.






I believe womanliness can be all kinds of wonderful things from fierceness to softness, from warrior to pearl-crowned princess. To clarify, what I'm talking about today is the concept of femininity which can also reside in men. The nurturing, the love of beauty over functionality, the opening-up and drawing-in, the hand rather than the sword. I personally think that one of the greatest misunderstandings of our time is that being a proper feminist excludes women from being feminine. And I think it's sad how the spirit of femininity, even considered separately from gender, is dwindling from our culture, and I think that's a shame because it's about shame - same old, same old, the belittling of the gentle feminine force, even in women's goddess spirituality, even in feminist circles.

For example : today a friend got on a bus but couldn't sit down because everyone had taken the aisle seats and left the window seats unoccupied, so that a person had to ask them to move if they wanted to be seated. The spirit of femininity, the womb-spirit if you like, welcomes others in. But more and more people are becoming closed down, which I think may be attributed to the increasinly ill health of our culture, the lack of nurturing, the loss of civility, the loss of community. So many people are too busy working outside the community, making money, serving the economy, to tend to its soul needs (except if they're being paid to do it).

I wish that anyone who is drawn to femininity may feel confident and comfortable in being that, and expressing it ... to have a soft voice, a quietness, to be a violet in the forest where everyone's reaching for the sky, to be nurturing and gently magical ... although I know in many societies it takes courage now to do so. We need it so much.



paintings by albert lynch

The Quick and The Undead




Today I watched Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (although I had to look away several times) and was reminded by it of a story I wrote several years ago about Regency era zombies, long before I knew anything about P&P&Z. (I've actually never read the book.) Infact, the story began as a short piece for an online writing club, and was later extended for addition into The Coracle Sky. I did flirt with the idea of extending it again into a full-length novel, but never got around to it, and now of course I couldn't as it would look like a cheap imitation of P&P&Z despite being written in ignorance of that novel. I guess there are only so many story ideas in the world.

I enjoyed the movie so much, I decided to publish The Quick and the Undead online while still in the cheerful zombie mood. You can read it here. If you enjoy it, please feel welcome to share the link. However, be advised it's quite different from what you may be used to from me - although closer in style and spirit to my current work in progress.



photo credit marta syrko



The Blog Writer

I am writing this with the aid of a clattery old keyboard attached to my laptop because yesterday I splashed water on the laptop keyboard and it no longer works. I'm in a rather numb state in lieu of staying truly calm. I suppose the situation will work itself out, or not.

I've been contemplating lately my comfort zone when it comes to personal sharing on social media. This week someone online attacked me out of the blue and then blocked me when I replied reminding them I am a real person. I used to share a lot more personally in years past but things like that stopped me; however, I wondered if it would have happened this time if my individuality was more apparent in my words. And yet, what does a writer owe to the public?




For the past several years, I have been dealing with serious health issues. The situation in America affects me in a deeply personal way for reasons I'm disinclined to share; suffice it to say, the daily news is anguishing. As I type this, another great and precious tree in my neighbourhood is being cut down, and because of such things I have largely forgetten what beauty feels like in the joyful mind. I can't contemplate climate change for more than a few seconds without beginning to hyperventilate. And then there are the nicer things - I am writing two books, one like the light of the moon and one like the dark; one a comedy, one a dream. (At least, I was before my computer broke.) I am building a tea cup collection I never thought possible. I have endured.

I am a real and ordinary person. But I don't want to write about that. I want to write magic, love, peace, hope. I don't owe the public anything, but I owe that to myself. 

Idling

I dream of a garden. It is surrounded by high hedges and old, brave, billowing trees. Flowers grow there, and weeds that should be known as flowers, and fruit trees that I keep mostly for their blossom. Part of the garden is its horizons: its shadowy hills and suggestions of a distant sea. I do not want to leave the garden and go to those wilder places, I just want to hold their wild mystery.

Every day in the garden a sun shines gently. Every night it rains. And there is no news in the garden, no people who feel they have to give you the benefit of their opinion, no people who think they can just barge on in. The only information comes by birdsong and breeze. It tells of weather, wishes, peace.

In the garden there is tea. And I can eat all the shortbread biscuits and ginger cake I want without having to worry. I can sit in white dresses, a big rather foolish straw hat, and write whatever I please. No one will call my work brilliant just because it's what they like to read. They'll tell me instead that my pen should echo my own heart. They'll want to read what's true from me. I have roses in the garden, lavender, a dog.

And at night the garden will sigh quietly, and lift its face to the moon-stung clouds, the coming rain. And I'll keep my windows open to the wind, the rain, the scent of garden song.

I am making a garden in my heart. No, you can't come in.




Staying Gentle In The Pain

Sometimes the hardest thing we can do is to stay gentle and tender in the pain. But it's also the most important thing. What can I tell you to give you the strength to be tender if you ever need it?




I can tell you that you deserve to have a warm and soft place inside of yourself, no matter how hard things are. There's no reason why most people in the world don't deserve that. I can tell you that you belong here with us all, in this mad and lovely life, regardless of what you love and who you love. The beauty all around us if for you as much as it is for anyone.

I can tell you that I don't know why the pain has come, but it does seem to come to so many people, probably all the people at one time or another. It's not myriad, for all that it has different degrees of bearability and comes in different coats. For some, it's illness. For others, it's poverty. Or a thousand different things. What, doesn't really matter. Pain is pain, and it hurts, regardless of its guise. You are entitled to call your particular pain quite utterly horrible. You are entitled to weep over it, and get a remedy for it. Even if it's all in your mind. Even if it's not as big, bad, ugly, as your neighbour's pain. Your suffering matters. Be your own caregiver, don't neglect yourself or laugh at your own suffering. Gentleness is the child of love. If you do for yourself what you wish a nurse might do, or a thoughtful counsellor, then it will help you cope better with the pain.

I can also tell you that I love who you were meant to be in this world, and the beautiful gifts you bring to share with us. You don't deserve to become the pain's creature. Stay true to your soul, as much as possible. Your birthright of tenderness dwells in there. If you must throw the pain from you, do it safely, so as to not hurt anyone else. Throw it into water, into softness, into the fire, into a scream. Get that pain away from you if you can. Just don't throw away bits of your beautiful self with it.

I am sorry if you're in pain. I hope it passes soon, leaving you tempered, wise, gentled.



photo fabrizia milia

Don't Wait For Beauty




Don't wait for beauty. Make it. Be it. 

Use the good chinaware, for everyone you serve, including yourself, deserves honouring. Buy the cheaper bread and spend what money is left over on little pots of flowers. Write not the story that scares you but reflects what you find most beautiful and inspiring in the world. Light the candles for yourself. Put flowers and pearls in your hair, poems in your mouth, a coin in the hand of the homeless person. Think of others' comfort - it takes nothing real away from you to do so. Plant where there is only ragged grass. Smile where people are dour. Make the prettiness you don't see. Show the behaviour you want shown to yourself. Be the change you want to see in the world.





The Woman At The Water



She went down to the water, because that's where dreaming women went. She was smoke and deep night stars, but they said water and so she went. She knew who she was, really, and still she felt she should look.

A small bird was singing, singing rain. No rain came - because in truth it was singing her name.

After a while she became restless, waterside, a little cold, a little bored. Or a whole lot. She went home, lit incence, opened her curtains to the dark velvet sky, the small white lights over hills. She drank tea with milk.

And her dreams were hill dreams, dark dreams, with no water in them. They were real dreams, just the same.




Flowers for Kindred Spirits

Yesterday I made the long trek from town back to my home beside the little river. It's a rather dreary walk, with a clutter of bored houses on one side and copious traffic on the other. I was just doing it, and infact reading on my phone as I did it - merely getting home. But at one moment luckily I glanced up, and everything changed. I saw the white jasmine.




I'd gathered flowers from this bush a couple of weeks ago, and so it was with the delight of a friend that I hurried to it again, shared heartsong with its leaves, gathered several of its gentle star flowers. Returning to my walk, I felt myself lighter with the happiness of carrying flowers.

Then I saw camellias. And the last of some frilly blue flowers whose name I don't know. I stopped to visit a lavender bush which has been so often my only friend on this walk. I caught sight of a pale pink briar rose in someone's garden and had to pause a while and blink back tears. Winter roses have a hallowed beauty, I think - as if the old cold goddess is dreaming of the young bride she will soon become.

I could not gather the rose, and am not sure I would have wanted to in any case - flowers from bushes are one thing, but not even I could take the last rose of winter. Besides, I had enough. I walked on to the village with my large bouquet of wayside flowers.




And past me went the ordinary people. In cafes sat the ordinary people. The people who do not gather flowers, nor tuck them into their hair. The people who give me strange looks because I do so; because I wear dresses and walk along with my nose in a book. I live in a land where almost no one plants flower gardens. Funnily enough, the only people I see reading on buses or in cafes are men (perhaps wanting to be hot dudes). No one hugs books, wears daisy chains, goes barefoot. Bouquets are things you obtain in the store, for the purpose of giving to hospitalised friends or to have in a vase on the dining room table. Despite many people telling me how much they love Anne of Green Gables, no one seems to show her enchanted spirit. I can't recollect ever seeing a kindred spirit on the streets or in the malls.

And so I ask those of you who love flowers - carry them. Those of you who love adjectives and linguistic graces and the old poems of the world - speak them. Fly your lovely flag, so that kindred spirits out there can see it, and know they are not alone.