An ode to Jane Austen

I really ought to put pen to paper and send some thoughtfully composed lines to friends. My handwriting, alas, has deteriorated significantly over the years. These days, I must concentrate to make my scrawl simply decipherable, let alone artistic, though mine never compared to the wondrous curves of one friend’s cursive or the modernist angles of another’s. The latter friend attended school in Switzerland when we were teenagers and I delighted in receiving her well-travelled letters, living vicariously through these chapters of her overseas escapades and eagerly awaiting the next instalment every few weeks. Her personality illuminated the lines on the delicate stationery, the tales coming to life as the blue ink cast a shadow through to the other side, now part of a cinematographic dream sequence in my memory.

Letter-writing has of course long been a literary and film device, with dramatic deliveries of news from afar, invitations to effervescent balls, or kiss-offs sealed dramatically with red wax, which, once broken, forever change the plot and fate of the characters. Imagine a Jane Austen novel without letters! It was the catalyst of understanding between Lizzie and Darcy, for pity’s sake! Or that heartfelt – though dreadfully late – letter of confession from Thomas Hardy’s Tess Durbeyfield to Angel Clare, which stays ominously hidden, quite literally kept under the rug, and becomes a clear harbinger of doom.

There is both a literal and figurative – and certainly tactile – difference in the nature of electronic communications that is dramatically less satisfying, even with stylized fonts. And indeed, a whole generation of young people has never experienced the exquisite pining wait for a piece of personal handwritten correspondence. Nor have they enjoyed the anticipation and elation of unfolding the stationery to reveal the physical beauty of the written word and the romance of the art that someone took the time to create just for them.

The idea of waiting for anything in this world of rapid-fire discourse is perhaps what is really at issue. We’ve become addicted to the immediate gratification of the latest buzz of electronic snippets. When I’m in a cell dead zone or my battery is out of juice, I sometimes feel the adrenaline shoot through me and the fear grow in the pit of my stomach that I must be missing something important, whether relevant to my existence or not.

Eventually I succumb and put the phone away, defeated. Next time this happens, I hope that I dig out pen and paper and write a letter about it. Perhaps I’ll even do so in a park under a tree. I know of a bench that has a metal plaque with the apt quote: “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” Yes, those are indeed Jane Austen’s words. Who better to inspire a letter?

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A few words about poetry

The words of ancient poets danced and droned as they spun tales of delight and dread about gods and goddesses; fight, flight and plight. Legends were borne brilliantly through metaphors, dreamscapes and visions, illuminated by wit and wonder.

Language was precious then and remains precious now, but for different reasons. In this day of short attention spans and information overload, what place has poetry?

In our glut of words, we need to find a new efficiency; an essential epiphany. Those lines that stay with you – that provide the visceral, evocative, poignant and resonant meaning to create a lasting impression – are the essential epiphanies. This is how poetry can help us cut through the clutter in an art of language that creates understanding and connection.

Here, too, less is often more. It’s not about absence, but intensity; where themes and ideas are expressed through the eloquence of essential meaning. Here are a few reminders from 100, 200 and 450 years ago…

dickinson

auden

keats

shakespeare

 

And one from me: Demarcation: A Riddle.

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An ode to the classics

There was a time when people kept up appearances. Things could get a bit stuffy, even. Then along came the great soul-baring revolution of social media, which pretty much obliterated the idea that some things, perhaps, should remain off limits.

Fashion is no stranger to this tell-all aesthetic with its almost competitive sport of hemlines, second-skin cuts and see-through. The once half-smile relish in a certain je ne sais quoi has become a wide-eyed stare of incredulity.

But with the decline of mystery comes the decline of elegance and the unique narratives told through subtlety and charisma. The signature look is going the same way as the cursive signature itself and what a pity.

This is not a plea for Victorian necklines, but for a renaissance of the classy and the smart – a wardrobe that evokes intrigue and allure through tailoring, hints and suggestions, such as ballet-neck styling instead of fashion reminiscent of other kinds of dance. Remember Audrey Hepburn? Grace Kelly? Right.

1. Mini-skirts always seem to be on the menu, but here’s the test: upon sitting, if the fabric of the skirt doesn’t cover your knickers, it is too short. Pencil skirts and A-line midis, on the other hand, are always chic, whether the hemline hits just above the knee or just below.

2. The sheer layer is meant to be worn over another layer, such as a tank or camisole. This trend comes and goes but common sense should not.

3. Tunic shirts are shirts, not dresses, and require some kind of leggings or trousers. Please don’t skip your trousers. Similarly, leggings are meant to be worn under something. 

4. Oh, those pesky lines! What you wear underneath should be your own business, regardless of posh brand.

5. What will it take to stop the madness of super-skinny jeans? Slim-fit jeans are one thing, but can we please bid adieu to those that leave seam indentations all the way up your legs and incite other unintentional and unflattering results?

6. Super-short cut-off jeans or shorts? Unseemly, even with tights underneath, and the cause of much personal injury to the hapless souls following up the stairs. A minimum three-inch inseam should be maintained at all times. (Preferably five.)

7. Zippers should serve a functional purpose and for most pieces, be hidden or downplayed (i.e. blend in with the fabric). The look-at-the-giant-zipper-running-down-my-back thing is distracting (not in a good way).

8. Neon should be for signs or for your aquarium, not your wardrobe.

9. There are high heels and there are running shoes; never the twain should meet in a bizarre hybrid.

10. Pyjamas in public? Is it such an ordeal to put on actual clothes?

There are so many phenomenal fashion designers in the world and beautiful, flattering, and yes, elegant pieces to be found at every price point. It takes a bit of effort, but so does getting to know someone. Imagination is so underrated.