Charlotte Linton

I have an established weakness for scarves and they're generally one of the few places in my wardrobe where colour gets free rein. I especially love when patterns that are figurative when unfolded become abstract when tied, creating prisms of colour and only giving glimpses of strange zoomorphic creatures, landscapes and pattern.

Charlotte Linton was a recent discovery and it's love at first sight. I love that her collections are tied to geography; each collection named for its inspiration - Scotland, Greenland, Himalayas, Java, Madagascar. I'm excited to see where in the world she goes next...


Book report: Rereading Middlemarch

I've been rereading Middlemarch for months now. Walking to and from work means my reading has slowed; my old commute time was always used for reading. And maybe it's because of this pace, or perhaps it's because of Eliot's prowess, that rereading Middlemarch this time has had a profound effect on me. Eliot is sympathetic to all her characters, but in her plain portrayals there's a mingling of light and a shadow; we're shown what each person is at their best selves and how those same traits can lead them to be their worst. Fred Vincy, Lydgate, Dorothea, even Casaubon have daubs of deep and distinct humanity that yield just as many moments of sympathetic exasperation when they undo themselves.

Perhaps I was craving a moral story too: with ideas of good character, of nobility (moral not class) and of holding oneself accountable to a standard rather than simply relying on an unarticulated and roaming sense of goodness. Whether it's external or internal, each character in Middlemarch holds a moral compass that builds into a system of ethics by which they live and shape their lives. They do so imperfectly. When the real world and real people meet a code of conduct, there's inevitable failure. But Eliot doesn't let the inevitability of failure undermine the endeavour.


And while my quiet moments have been spent with these characters and in gentle regard of their foibles, I turn online and find moral outrage blaring at me. I see it on my Twitter feed, from Gamergate to Gaza and everything in between. It is fully justified a lot of the time. We should be outraged, we should use our voices. But it's also a constant negative articulation; we're all hyper-aware of what we find offensive. We're all sunburnt by certain words and ideas, ready to flinch as soon as they're mentioned. And, while the outrage is often an appropriate response, I can't help but wonder where's the positive counterpoint?

Perhaps it's our agnosticism or relativistic sort of morality that means we don't articulate our positive moral goals as much. Maybe it's because we're so steeped in skepticism. After all, these are times when ethical concepts like "authenticity" are transformed into hollow marketing terms... articulating something as positive as a description of a "good life" might seem naive, pitiable even. Or maybe we're just selfish - focused on what we want and need out of the system, that we don't think about what we want to put into it.

But why not frame something positive — like saying out loud how we think things ought to be, or describing the moral code by which we want to live — in ways that actually hook up to our actions? So that, for example, instead of voting strategically to prevent the worst outcome, we vote for the candidate we actually want. And instead of spending our days offended and outraged, we keep some energy for doing and saying and contributing to how we believe things ought to be.

I don't mean to say we should lie to ourselves and only speak when we have something nice to say. But I don't want us to forget that passive outrage doesn't move us closer to a "good life". I, for one, have felt so intermittently jaded in recent years; cynical about successful people, bitter about the kinds of endeavours I see thriving, at times lost in my own malaise, feeling stacked against because I'm a woman, an emigrant, single, childless and unwealthy — all things that make me feel voiceless in certain contexts (and, yes, at the same time acknowledging that I'm also very privileged because I'm white and European and living in Canada and have free healthcare and gainful employment and so many nice things).

I can't put my finger on precisely how reading Middlemarch made me think about all of these things differently. But some of its effects include a trivialization of materialism, a newfound patience for the things I want, a tempering of daydreams and romantic idealism. The timing of this reading has been a factor too: This isn't my first read of Middlemarch and while I've always loved it, it never moved me quite as deeply. It s a mature book and, at 38, I found something in every character to love, to admire, to pity. And, perhaps, what I'm really talking about is really just that; seeing the world with those same sympathetic eyes. Knowing that it's how I would like to be seen too, for all my many flaws and follies, past, present and future.

P.S. I reread Middlemarch this time after reading Rebecca Mead's wonderful My Life in Middlemarch, which I also loved.

Image credit: Pierre Mornet, The New Yorker

In October

And just like that we're a month into fall. Though it seems like I'm still waiting for it somehow, its noumena hasn't fully unfurled yet -- the leaves haven't fully turned, the ravine not yet a carpet. I've been gathering little things; conkers in my pockets. I roll them between my fingers when I walk, nuggets of beauty to be held and regarded.


Listening & Watching: David Naimon interviews David Mitchell | Mothers of Ireland (I love Peggy) | RTE 2-part programme about Heaney | BBC 5-part about Beckett | Best singles of 1984

Reading: A Kevin Barry short story (to read online) | Bad Art is Good for Us All | I Start & I Finish (and yes, Colm Tóibín has a new book) | So lots of Tóibín | Caring About Clothes | "Madewell rifles through its non-existent past, desperate for borrowed heritage + authenticity" - via | And more David Mitchell | Jeff Koons | Everything Mark O'Connell writes | Things to Be Cognizant Of

Loving: The Row | &Daughter | Facial massages | This cleanser | I haven't shampooed in 3 months (using this, trying this next) and my head is happy | Pink walls | Moon coasters | Colourscopes, via Anabela

I feel shy being here after so long, though there have been moments when I strained to come here, to tell you my tales. But I've got used to my own silence. I write posts in my mind sometimes, walking up the ravine, but by the time I get home the urgency is gone. Stephanie shared this article recently. It has stayed with me.

End of summer

The last two weeks, I've walked home with a growing anticipation of fall. By the end of summer, I usually feel like a wrung-out dishcloth, so autumn is always a welcome reprieve. But this summer has been different, milder in ways that go beyond the weather, and I've loved it. On Thursday, I lingered longer in the ravine, sitting under the trees and I felt a strange and not unwelcome sadness that summer is ending.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know these walks have shaped my days this summer. But I've wondered if stepping back from the blog has also helped me be more present in my world. And, coupled with that, the feelings that I wrote about in my last post. I've increasingly come to think that what makes me happy isn't necessarily loving myself, but simply knowing who I am.

While my own days have been green and easy, the world has become so hard of late. I don't think it's appropriate for me to try to wrap my arms around news like Gaza and Ferguson and Ukraine in some blog post because these discussions are the opposite of neat end-of-summer discussions. But that doesn't mean that my heart and mind aren't stunned by what we're still living through. There are days when I walk home and despite the verdancy of my Instagram pictures, I feel world weary. 


"The best piety is to enjoy - when you can. You are doing the most to save earth's character as an agreeable planet. And enjoyment radiates. It is of no use to try and take care of all the world; that is being taken care of when you feel delight - in art or in anything else" - George Eliot, Middlemarch

Which is all to say that we're lucky to live with that duality; where our hearts are ripped asunder but we still go on living out pretty days, with coffee and walks and phases of the moon on your mind. It's easy to think people who aren't constantly warbling about issues on social media aren't engaged with what's happening. It's too easy to admonish people for carrying on with their pretty little lives while others share the headlines that cut things in two. But the complex ways we each decide to carry on, or just to irreconcilably vacillate between carrying on and feeling and thinking and doing, are not always visible; not always worn like badges or shared in blog posts or tweets.

And the over-riding truth is that life does goes on and we each find our way of caring and being engaged that also let us assert our own lives, with all their silly and serious wonder. And somehow, I find myself thinking, isn't that the point of all this anyway? So, here's to a fall full of golden and gorgeous wonder and hopefully happier news.

August

This summer has been a good time too for me to take a step back from my blog. There's a quietness in me now that I think is probably connected with age. But letting go of that habit of feeding the blog machine has allowed me to dig deep into my days and really feel it all.

So many things seems suddenly simpler. I see that I've got so much and I want less. I've been living somewhat frugally and it has made me reset that spending instinct. Not constantly looking at stuff helps too. We think we can look at products with abstract admiration (I like to think we can too). But it does also create and perpetuate this gulf; what I have, what others have. Sometimes the only way to quiet that is to stop with the looking and admiring of what others have.

And it's funny that when you stop looking regularly, the stuff becomes boring to look at occasionally. I flip through lifestyle content now and find myself entirely outside of it and unaroused by it, when before it used to fuel and fizzle in me.

That said, my sense of acceptance is also connected with a sense of accomplishment. I'm no longer starting from scratch and building something out of nothing. I look around my home and it feels right; not necessarily planned top-down, but every thing is a decision I made, an object I fell in love with. To want to undo and redo that because of some interior spread would feel like a kind of identity-stripping extreme makeover.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have much appetite for reinvention these days and that drains a lot of the allure of lifestyle content, which seems to deliberately make us want to be wholly other.

And this isn't just about home decor, but fashion and body too. I'm altogether less hung up on the seemingly innate idea that one day I'll be emerge into something I wasn't before. I'm more interested in how walking to and from work every day makes me immediately feel than how it makes me look. I've let go of the unrealistic expectations of all of it; expectations fuelled by magazines and by comparing myself too much to others.

Like I said, this feels connected to age. I notice myself becoming more and more invisible and, in some respects, that's freeing. But I suspect this has more to do with my own eyes than with those watching or not watching me. I've finally realized that self-consciousness that gets in the way of doing the simplest things is a juvenile feeling for a woman in her late thirties. That letting myself grow up in this one regard outweighs all the dreaded things about aging.

I've also been thinking about being single and all of this. I'm still learning to live on my own, which is strange because I've been alone a long time now. But it's not what I expected for myself when I was young and there's still that voice that measures present me against what past me expected, even if that's an outdated idea. I know more and more that coupledom isn't for me; that I would contort like heated metal under the expectations and pressures of it, that I would break it because I was afraid of losing myself in it.

And so the summer I've felt all of this. Some of it as a burden and some of it as the most liberating idea. Sometimes, I've felt something like resignation or excess resistance in all of this and I've worried that I'm cheating myself somehow. But mostly, I feel like I'm accepting and letting go of voices external and internal, real and perceived, that tell me I would be better if I were otherwise.

Summer musings

Summer has been swimming by, its cupped hands pulling days of light and languor, flowers and lazy buzzing behind it. Progress gorgeously indolent and easily numb to pain.

I thought I’d pop back in to share some links with you, bits of things that have held a quiet resonance with me on my daily walks, with words that return in conversations with friends over coffee and other drinks. I have already read these pieces several times now, so that I feel now like an animal bedding down into grass when I return, circling until I settle into something soft and familiar.

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I've written a lot about home, the feeling of it and the physical place of it. The feeling of belonging somewhere you don't want to be day-in, day-out. Of loving something and seemingly rejecting it but still holding onto it. And how you must love it just as you must love yourself, even though you somethings hate yourself too. Mark's piece, which was written way back in May for the anniversary of Dubliners, captured so much of what I feel about my dirty old town.

"Dublin is a repurposed city, in the way of all postcolonial capitals. It is haunted by the fact that we are going about our business in streets and buildings that were originally constructed for the purposes of our dispossession. Much of the north inner city, where I live, is characterized by an air of discontinued grandeur, as of a place that has not been able to keep itself in the style to which it was once accustomed."

and

"The city that Joyce portrays in Dubliners has both receded into the distant past and remained insistently visible; Dublin, like all cities, is a sort of palimpsest, in which the past is always and everywhere legible beneath the surface of the present."

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A little obsessively, of late, I've been looking at trees. Thinking about why we fall in love with trees, how we can't help but personify them. The Flanagan coat of arms is an oak tree and I've often started and quickly stopped attempts to make a family tree. It becomes arbitrary too quickly, faceless names that could belong to any Irish character in any book set in Ireland. My grandparents are real to me though they're dead, while living aunts and uncles are strangers. Trees aren't always easy to climb.

I loved reading this by Casey N. Cep on Pacific Standard.

"It is only a tree. A tall walnut. Eighty or 90 years old and 40 or 50 feet high. It is the only one of its kind on our farm, but one of many around the Eastern Shore. My grandfather used to eat the walnuts from its branches; my grandmother used to milk cows under the shade of its leaves. My father calls it the tree from hell."

and

"I wonder about my father’s family, the one that gave him away. I wonder about whether I am more likely to get cancer or heart disease or any of the other things that one inherits from one’s family. I wonder about my temperament and temper, and whether they might come from that unknown branch."


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When little, I was once riding my bike up and down our cul-de-sac, which stopped at the top in a great circle. I went up one side, swooped the loop and came down the other side. Over and over, blissed-out at having the street all to myself. Then a neighbouring child came out and she saw how I was playing and joined in. I remember faking a happy-go-lucky spirit of the-more-the-merrier, but the fact was, I was bummed when she joined me.

Now, I often have to remind myself how happy I am alone. That the idea of necessary coupledom I sometimes feel bearing down on me is optional. That others may not understand why I am happy alone, that it might even grieve them. And that sometimes I myself don't understand it and feel I want something I patently don't want. And that this confusion isn't just mine, that I'm inundated with narratives, fictional and real world, that make me feel like my life is hollower than yours because you have another and I do not.

So, this, by Hannah Black for TNI, was very worth reading:

"[The couple] is the most reductive, exclusionary and precarious imaginable method of meeting the probably universal need to feel close to and recognized by others."


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Also:
- A cure for love / the ethics of a chemical breakup.
"...as our understanding of the biological and neurochemical bases of lust, attraction, and attachment in human relationships continues to grow, so will our power to intervene in those systems—for better or for worse."
- Denise wrote a book!
- Therapy is not an emergency procedure
- "The extraordinary should not be allowed to become ordinary, no matter how good it is", and this thought-provoking piece too
Made me laugh

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Last weekend, I met a friend for scones and coffee and we went to the farmers' market together. We parted then, each of us with a punnet of strawberries and I walked down residential streets that cut across the valley down to Casa Loma. I sat for a while in the gardens at Spadina House, chatting lightly with the gardener and admiring her foxgloves. In the sun, my strawberries were macerating in their own juices and my hands stained red as I ate them in the sun.

I walked out of the gardens and crossed the road to a townhouse that was for sale and I made a heartfelt wish to live there, to have days such as this one spanning seasons, with different angles of light, measuring the changes around a tree I would decide was mine.

I spent the afternoon imagining how I might decorate the house, where I would go for coffee and groceries, how I might use the rooftop patio to make cyanotypes for each season, leafy silhouettes swimming in aegean blue, and spend my nights gazing at waxing moons hanging in a cerulean sky. 


Summer musings are sweet. I hope your days are too.