I’ll Be Wearing Ribbons Down My Back This Summer…

It occurred to me yesterday that I was all wrong. For years, I have been saying (like many I know, similarly disaffected) that I live my life like I am from another century. That’s not true. I exist in a century that -doesn’t- exist, a made-up amalgam of customs and courtesies and costumes.

I prefer hand-written letters (16-19th), use powder of violets (18th), dress for work in pencil skirts and pumps like a secretary from the 50s (20th), listen to opera from the 19th century and symphonies from the 18th.

I avoid television, write stories longhand, wear ribbons in my hair and fret when people tease me about it. I study etchings and engravings, dream about writing a Paul Helleu catalog raisonne and a book about Austen’s life. At work, there’s a running joke that Anna goes home on Friday night and reads Shakespeare…which is occasionally true.

I am hopelessly sentimental, read poetry aloud, cry unabashedly at movies, wear my heart on my sleeve so any idiot passing by can poke a hole in it. It comes down to a longing for a time that never existed in the first place.

This fairytale of a prettier, gentler time…I blame it on too many Merchant-Ivory films, on too many Austen books, too many Wilde and Coward plays, too many musicals with happy endings…a diet of comedy of manners and soft-spoken romances.

I know very well that if I had been alive at that time (usually the 18th or the 19th century) and privileged, I would be a very different person. Yes, I could sit alone in the elegant splendour of my drawing room. I could spend my days writing letters and playing the piano, sewing (well, maybe not) and spending hours on my toilette to make myself as decorative as possible (in contrast with the days that I wad my hair in a bun).

I could also not vote, not own property, not even necessarily own myself in the sense that I could marry as I please. The corset of my life would tighten around me until I could not even breathe, as the choices dwindled to nothing. The constraint of manners and societal expectations can be a smothering one.

Not that the exact opposite is necessarily desirable. I occasionally refer to ‘basic human courtesy’, which may be a contradiction in itself. Humanity always has its dull, cruel, ugly and disenchanting aspects. Manners are the armor in which each century cloaks itself and our century has shown up like the Emperor without clothes.

The noise, the brutal noise, of everyday life has been hammering at me lately. The jackhammer working on the bridge, the piercing voice of the passing trolley guide, the obnoxious roarings of a cavalcade of motorcycles, the sawing and the shouting. After the leaf blowers and the stentorian church bells and the car alarms, I just want to go in my room and plug my ears with my fingers.

Since I cannot hide, I just have to accept. For now.

I may at some point have to go off where real life cannot find me. You may stumble upon me some day there, tucked in a little cottage in some wild countryside, living out my life in the century that -I- want to be in…with ribbons in my hair.

[Repost – ed.]

Secret Garden

The Secret Garden by Tasha Tudor

When I was younger, I had a copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The cover had a single illustration by Tasha Tudor (above). I used to lay on my bed and stare at this picture. I wanted to discover a secret garden, more than anything. I was a plain little girl, just like Mary, and with a smart mouth too. I wanted a walled-in mystery, blooming in secret.


/ Come spirit, come charm
Come days that are warm
Come magical spell
Come help him get well /

Whenever I envision my little cottage by the sea, it always has a walled garden, with tangled wild roses behind ivy-draped walls. Never mind that I have no skill in gardening or even, really, the ability to keep potted plants alive. Apparently, the invisible gardeners will tend to them. The same ones that rake the paths and mulch the beds and weed and spray for bugs.

This garden should be behind an overgrown door with a rusty lock. The kind that only opens with a key hidden away. There should be stone benches beneath sagging willows and gurgling fountains ringed in green. There will be wild lavender and herbs and reckless overgrown roses and the smell will be transcendent.

On late sunny afternoons, when the shadows are long on the lawn, the only sound will be the buzzing of fat, self-satisfied bees, and the tinky-trickle of the water and the rush-rush of the wind through the branches.

There, the only other sound is the beat of my heart and I will be able to write to its content.

/ I need a place where I can go,
Where I can whisper what I know,
Where I can whisper who I like
And where I go to see them.

I need a place where I can hide,
Where no one sees my life inside,
Where I can make my plans, and write them down
So I can read them.

A place where I can bid my heart be still
And it will mind me.
A place where I can go when I am lost,
And there I’ll find me.

I need a place to spend the day,
Where no one says to go or stay,
Where I can take my pen and draw
The girl I mean to be /