11 March 2012

Live as well as you dare

On Thursday I received a postal invitation to an old school friend’s imminent nuptials to her beloved. I have to RSVP to her parents and buy something from a list at John Lewis. [I am also going to a baby shower in a fortnight, the invitation to which came loaded with baby-themed confetti – I made the mistake of Googling ‘baby shower etiquette’ as I don’t have a clue how one behaves at such a thing, but I was lead to lists of nauseating American sites that referred to the ‘mommy-to-be’ and allocated time to ‘ooh and ahh’ over tiny baby-gros. I laughed then I cried]. Thursday happened to be International Women’s Day. It was also the day we were sent a promo book at work entitled ‘Please God, Find Me a Husband’. I was on the cusp of repeatedly banging my head with my Women’s Lib placard and copy of ‘The Female Eunuch’ so that I would fall into a calm unconscious and therefore be a quiet and pliable woman, but then I took a closer look at the book.

It is a graphic novel by Simone Lia. The Simone Lia who is loved by my father and who wrote a very witty book called ‘Fluffy’ about a bunny rabbit in denial. This new novel follows Simone herself. She is dumped by email so asks God to find her a husband. This leads to her ‘Adventure with God’. She stays in a nunnery for a spell, goes to Australia in search of a hermit, finds a guy named Brett instead who makes her feel like Penelope Cruz, and ultimately discovers that she should stop whining about being some kind of spinster. She dances and sings with God, asks Jesus what his favourite fruit is (figs), and has a heart that wears an eye patch and has a wooden leg. So the book is actually pretty cool, despite the Bridget-Jones-does-Catholicism connotations of the title. And the woman has some kick-ass drawing skillz.

The fact that this book cropped up entirely unexpectedly was pretty weird as I went and saw Karen Armstrong give a talk just this Monday gone. The question was ‘What is Religion’. The answer…well, the answer was lots more questions. She was a clued-up and interesting speaker, but I wanted more about her. She had become a nun in her teens in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, then left her order seven years later. I read her account of all this in her autobiographical work ‘The Spiral Staircase’ many years ago, devouring it as though it were a very good novel. I’m going to re-read it, but differently this time, with a ‘mature and critical eye’. Now she’s all about the Charter for Compassion, which focuses on the commonalities in all religions, namely The Golden Rule.

A little while ago, I came across a letter. It was written in 1820 by Sydney Smith, addressed to a Lady Georgiana who was feeling out of sorts. I looked up Sydney Smith and found that he was the son of an epileptic mother, had a lively personality due to his French blood, and that he was reluctantly compelled to take holy orders. As a preacher he possessed vigour and liveliness, drawing crowds to Albermarle Street to hear him speak. He scorned enthusiasts, dreaded religious emotion, and was a great supporter of the education of women. He also had a rhyming recipe for salad dressing.

Anyway, here’s the letter:

Dear Georgiana,

Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have—so I feel for you.

Here are my prescriptions;
1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to you friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.

Very truly yours,
Sydney Smith

Well, I agree with some of the points (amusing books and blazing fires are, of course, excellent things), but I do not agree with avoiding poetry or emotion. These are important. Especially for living ‘as well as you dare’.


Ma said...

It's number 18 that I find most perplexing - is it for the cold, or to display a raging emotion or for something to do?

Mike said...

You International Women's Day showed that there are a lot of different women, doing a lot of different things. Who would have thought?

What would happen if we had an International Men's Day?