Sail Happily On

Dear Leo and Miller,

You have both been very poorly and I have spent the best part of this week grappling with both of you, trying to keep you calm and settled. This has meant both of you being in my bed most nights – sometimes all night, sometimes just for a stint, always a struggle. Not much sleep has been had by any of us. Or reading or writing.

But now you are both back in nursery and normal life can resume. Or at least what has become our normal. I have not been wearing mascara for the last few days and I do that when I am tired or over-whelmed, and when I know I am most likely  going to cry at some point in the day so I just don’t bother putting on any make-up. At the best of times I feel as though I have been taken hostage by parenthood but when one of you is ill, all bets are totally off and I don’t know what I’m going to be faced with or how I’m going to react. The lack of control over what used to be a selfishly led life is still something I struggle to resolve with myself.

I read a very good piece of advice in The Telegraph at the weekend. Graham Norton writes a problem page for the Saturday paper. If you are familiar with his television persona (of which I have never been a fan) you might consider him an unlikely source of sound and sympathetic advice. But he is surprisingly compassionate and sensible. One letter was from a woman who thought she might be suffering with depression and he replied: “I understand your concerns for the future, but try thinking about this afternoon instead. Is there a pile of magazines you’ve been meaning to go through? A lampshade that needs to be washed? Stress and anxiety consume us when we feel the world is going to crush us, but the truth is that our lives are made up of moments. Manage them, enjoy them, endure them – you will get through them.”

These words rang true and I want you to remember them. Because there will be times when you won’t have it in you to bound through life enjoying every minute. There will be many times you’ll be lucky just to pick your way through without hurting yourself. And that’s alright. Do not compare yourself to other people who seem to sail happily on through whatever comes there way: some people simply find life easier than others. Do not be disheartened: it’s all a series of moments that don’t last. You must find joy in the ones you can and try to stand the rest.

Love Fa.

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Dear Leo and Miller,

In my last letter, I wrote to you about politics and so to balance that out I am going to show you two seemingly trivial articles that I read which changed my life. One is about tidying up and the other is about reducing the amount of clothes you own. Maybe neither of you will need this information but I want you to know that they helped me claw back a small amount of control and calm when my life was in the midst of chaos. Brought on by the perfect storm that is finding myself with two babies and not being a naturally tidy or organised person. I needed some help. Clear and practical instructions.

Also this letter needs to be short because both of you are off nursery (Leo you have chicken pox and Miller you appear to have sympathy chicken pox, so most of the symptoms but no actual spots) and I have no time to write more.

Love Fa.

x

God Bless America

Dear Leo and Miller,

Donald Trump is president of the United States of America. You will discover in your own time how this is an incredible turn of events that only 12 months ago seemed an impossible joke. Like Brexit, there is very strong feeling surrounding the subject and people are angry. One of the things being said a lot is “What kind of a legacy are we leaving our children?” and I am going to be honest: I don’t know. It’s difficult to not have some kind of political point of view and I have fallen out with good friends over both Brexit and Donald Trump. You can only speak as you find and we are lucky enough to also speak as we wish: that is the beauty of living in a democracy. I don’t consider myself a political person – I don’t know enough and I don’t make it a priority to know more, which is a failing. I live in a bubble: a tiny bubble that won’t be directly effected in any huge heart-breaking ways by either of these historic events. So I look on in wonder (mixed with a bit of horror and a battling hope) at the millions of people whose lives will very probably be turned upside down. Will the world be a very different place by the time you both come of voting age? Almost definitely. Will your generation be the one that brings about the changes this generation so desperately wanted to? Again, I don’t know. All I can hope for is that through more information and more understanding, you become better equipped than me to speak freely and boldly about what you find.

Love Fa

PS. As always, when I want to make sense of something confusing or over-whelming, I look to well-written words for a smoother path. No-one has the answers but some are better than others at making us think clearer about the questions. The following are some things I have read – in articles, on forums, on blogs. It doesn’t even matter who wrote them or whose side they are on: they just have something to say and they say it well.

Unknown: “For well over a year, many people including myself who have been wary with Trump’s rhetoric have relied heavily on media to make sense of it all. But media did a great deal of disservice to public by shoving itself up so high into Hillary camp that they started mixing their bias with actual events, mostly by highlighting trump’s palaver and ignoring people’s sentiments. Media has voluntarily taken the role of going after trump, and promoting Hillary. But the majority of the country has spoken, and the outcome of Trump’s presidency is a smack on Media’s chosen position. Media is the sore loser now for betting on the losing side. People need to distance themselves from the self-serving and click mongering media, and support the president that the majority have chosen and act as one America, just like what we all did with past presidents.”

Emily Henderson, American stylist, author and TV host: “I consider myself a liberal because I strive to care about all people, equally, and I believe that left to our own devices, we are innately all selfish and will put our needs, our wants, our dollars in front of the greater good. It’s not that I don’t think that conservatives care about people, I know they do, my parents care more about people than anyone I know, but like another commenter said liberals value equality over freedom and conservatives value freedom over equality. Both are good, its just a matter of what you want to place in front of the other…” You can read the full blog post here: https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/voted-trump-comments-helped-grow

Toni Morrison, American novelist and professor: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Tennis and Dressing – for beginners

Dear Leo and Miller,

I am writing this on my new Mac Book and for some reason the letters are tiny and I can’t make them any bigger which is quite appropriate as JS used to write in very small hand-writing. A throw back from when he was too poor to afford paper so every square millimetre was utilised.

Miller, you went off to nursery in a dreadful mood today. You were crying and wailing in the house and terribly clingy with me when I tried to leave you. Leo, you were never like that – you couldn’t get away from me fast enough.

But then every day is different and the only thing consistent in your behaviour is its inconsistency. Tennis is usually one of your favourite activities Leo, but yesterday, about two minutes into your class, you looked up at the balcony where I was watching you from, and your face just crumbled. I had to drag Miller downstairs with me and come onto the court and try and reason with you to carry on. I think you were cold and that was the problem but you were adamant that we go. Which was a shame because I enjoy watching you play tennis. By play tennis, I mean swing a racket around at a ball that is thrown at you: the two elements are yet to make contact. I can’t decide whether you have any natural ability for the sport but you certainly look the best in your class. I put you in all whites because I want you to look like Roger Federer. White polo-shirt or t-shirt, white shorts, white socks with a blue stripe and proper white trainers. I said to your teacher – “Leo may not turn out to be any good at tennis but he definitely looks the part.” I think he appreciates the effort: I always think it’s a mark of respect to your host to dress up for every occasion. Miller – I cannot wait for you to start ballet.

Love Fa.x

immediately, instinctively, spontaneously

Dear Leo and Miller,

Something you need to know about me is that I am obsessed with clothes and the fashion industry. It is what I wanted to do when I left school and what I went off to do in London when I finished university. There are many stories (good and bad) from that time. I never wanted to be a designer: I just wanted to play with clothes and write about clothes. I quickly realised that styling wasn’t going to be my calling. The stylists were the beautiful peacock girls who always looked incredible and were streets ahead of everyone else. They wore the clothes you wanted – about two weeks before you realised you wanted them. And then they were on to the next thing. It must be exhausting being that current. I was never going to be that directional or bothered to be first- I am inherently a lazy, lazy person (and deeply uncompetitive) and just want to copy how well-dressed people dress. But I could write about clothes and fashion as a subject all day long. I first knew that I was good at it when I was on a placement in London at a national newspaper and the ‘notes’ I was asked to write for the fashion writer were used word for word in her published articles. I would go above and beyond every task I was asked to do. So the ‘notes’ were polished and finished articles which I thought she might chop up or pull to bits and use some scraps – but more often than not, they went straight into the article untouched. I couldn’t have been happier. And I actually didn’t care that it wasn’t my name on the page – I knew I had written it and that’s all I was bothered about.

What made my mind wander to this time in my life was thinking about how I wanted to attack these letters. What I wanted them to be. I think the very point of Steinbeck’s letter (and most of his letters, and him probably) is that it isn’t perfect or polished. He replied on the same day as he received Thom’s letter, the over-riding importance was getting back to him quickly as opposed to pondering over a response and making sure it was eloquent and impressive. And that made me think about something Miuccia Prada  said in an interview when she was asked about how she designs.

“Designing for me is a very complex process. There are many ideas that I want to express in one object, very often contradictory. The creative process in Miu Miu is completely different from that of Prada. Miu Miu is not as complicated or thought out as Prada. Rather than being young, Miu Miu is immediate. Prada is very sophisticated and considered; Miu Miu is much more naive. The solution, when I am working on Miu Miu, has to come immediately, instinctively, spontaneously with what is available at the moment. If I think three times, I stop.”

So staying true to that idea, I don’t want to think too much about what I am writing. Certainly not the grammar or spelling which will most definitely be appalling.* If I had hours and hours or days and days to prepare each letter, would they be any better? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the point. It’s the immediacy of them that makes them what they are, a sense of urgency to communicate my thoughts. And so, in that spirit, this blog is my Miu Miu and eventually, one day in the future, if I am asked to write a book (for large sums of money), that will be my Prada.

Love Fa.

x

* Steinbeck himself was particularly disdainful of grammar and spelling. Saying: “(sic) every nasty little comma in its place and preening of itself. I have the instincts of a minstrel rather than those of a scrivener. When my sounds are all in place, I can send them to a stenographer who knows his trade and he can slip the commas about until they sit comfortably and he can spell the words so that school teachers will not raise their eye-brows when they read them. Why should I bother?”

PS. I look very pleased with myself in the picture because the jacket I am wearing is an original YSL smoking jacket. It was given to me by a family friend and is my most treasured item of clothing: I have nothing cooler or of more value. 

Autumn

Dear Leo and Miller,

I am worried my letters are too boring and you won’t read them. But then I take comfort that JS also starts his letters like this sometimes: full of fear that what he’s writing isn’t interesting enough for the reader. My boring life and John Steinbeck’s boring life are very different however. He’s just come back from a research trip in California, has been in correspondence with the President of the United States about the migrant crisis and (from what I can gather) is just about to embark on an extra-marital affair. So he still has some fairly interesting topics to discuss. I have nothing, certainly nothing to (literally) write home about. At this rate I will have to do something dramatic in order to raise my subject matter.

It’s officially Autumn and this time of year is very special to me as it reminds me of when you were born Leo and life changed. At the time, we were living in a first floor flat that was surrounded by lots of trees and by this point in the year, out of every window, we were confronted with a riot of bright red and orange and yellow. The most beautiful view was out of the nursery window and it was a joy to do nothing more than sit and feed you just staring out of the window. I had read somewhere that listening to Classical music was a good way to create a peaceful environment in a baby’s room. Normally, I pay absolutely no notice to advice like this but for some reason I followed it and now I couldn’t be without Classic FM playing in the background at home or in the car or anywhere there’s a radio. I have learnt nothing about Classical music and couldn’t identify one piece of music from another but I am very attached to it all the same. It’s another transporter to a special and new time when everything became different and new and amazing overnight.

The flat I am talking about was my grandparents home and I loved that it still smelt like them – their furniture and polished brass and just the air in the place. It smelt grand and so grown up and it never lost it the whole time we were living there. It makes me sad that they didn’t meet you. They didn’t meet your Dad either. But I know how much they would have liked him. I think of them a lot and never more so than when I’m trying to teach you both manners. They were big on manners and things being done properly, in good grace. They were the best of people. I will tell you lots more about them.

Love Fa.x