Warning for length, and unfinished nature of theory.
I write a small blog for The Lady Magazine. This week, I wrote about having had a rather happy Christmas, and that I suspected it might have been so delightful because I read no so-called lifestyle magazines.
I get cross about the word lifestyle, insisting furiously each time I hear it that I have a life, not a lifestyle. So this year I was quite proud of the fact that I referred to no glossy pages or celebrity recipes or interior designer’s decorating hints, but just made the thing up as I went along.
I developed this into a half-baked theory that the glossy mags can set one up to fail, since life is never as gleaming and perfect as in those pristine pages. I said something like: in my darker moments, I wonder if all these magazines and lifestyle sections only exist to make women sad.
It’s the kind of thing I write. I have a weakness for hyperbole, and I like the exaggerated ironical. It’s more interesting than the sensible middle ground.
The naughty subs at The Lady posted a link on Twitter with the tag line: The world of glossy magazines sets out to make people said, says Tania Kindersley.
This, of course, was not what I said at all, and I was about to blast off a bracing email to the offices in Covent Garden. Then I thought, well, they are trying to create a little controversy here, so let’s see what happens. I had work to do, and they are so nice at The Lady, and really, what could it matter?
No great argument developed, after all that. One woman wrote: DISAGREE. And that was about it.
But it started me thinking. There is a blog I absolutely love, written by one of the first cyberspace friends I made when I started this venture, called Miss Whistle. Miss Whistle is a British-Norwegian countrywoman, with Scottish connections, who now lives in Los Angeles, with an enchanting set of dogs, horses and children. She has a great eye for beauty, and her blog is filled with lovely things – gorgeous recipes, delirious pictures of Dalmatians in Laurel Canyon, snatches of poetry, and her own ravishing writing. (She does profound and beautiful things with prose.)
The other day, I went along to her blog to find a heartbreaking post about the end of her marriage. She has a lot of loveliness in her life, and a lot of sadness too, and she generously shares both of them. But someone, apparently, had accused her of living in a fantasy.
It was an odd thing to say, unkind and unfair, I thought, immediately defensive of my blogger-in-arms. But it brought me circling back to the glossy magazine theme. Magazines exist mostly to sell stuff; they could not survive without their advertisers. They are selling, too, an impossible dream: if only you had this kitchen, or bought these shoes, or applied this miracle cream YOUR LIFE WOULD BE PERFECT. They are edited to smooth out the rough edges, the grey areas, the knotty life questions. Everything is fine and gleaming and glittering. The ordinary woman can feel a little second-rate by comparison to that high, shining perfection.
Amateur blogs do not sell anything. There is a great purity to the good ones. They are a simple expression of one person’s life. But even here, there is editing.
Miss Whistle does not live in a fantasy. One of the things I admire about her is her unflinching honesty. She fills her blog with beauty to lift the soul, not to make people feel inadequate. (My other great blogging friend, Lou at Lou, Boos and Shoes, does a similarly wonderful thing.)
Yet every writer, in every medium, even one as new and loose as blogging, edits. Every decision about which photograph to include, what sentence to write, which emotion to express, is an editorial decision. However honest one is, some things get left out. It is not fantasy, but it is not every inch of the whole truth, with its warts and all. I do not pretend my life is perfect, because that would be wrong and mad, but most of the time I do show you the better side of it.
The regular readers will know that I include occasional black moods, and moments of melancholy, and furious frustrations and small, sometimes self-indulgent wails. But I am careful not to give you too much of that. This is mostly because I do not want to bore or demoralise. This should be a place of escape and entertainment, after all. It is not bloody Dostoevsky.
I choose the photographs particularly carefully. You see Red the Mare and Myfanwy the Pony at their sweetest and best. You get Mr Stanley at his most handsome, in the most flattering light. (Actually, he is so damn suave that he does not need a lighting director.) I ruthlessly delete the pictures of myself looking like a manic bag lady, and concentrate on the ones where I appear most presentable.
I tell you of my successful betting days, not the ones when all my idiot accumulators go south. I mark the high word counts of book, not the mornings when I cannot write fuck on a dusty blind, as my friend the Playwright likes to say. I gloss over the burnt soups, the days when I cannot find a single pair of clean socks, the nasty little puddle of unspeakable brown liquid that mysteriously appears at the bottom of the fridge.
It’s not that I want to show off, exactly, although that was my great childhood weakness. Look at me, doing the tap dance. But I suppose, weakly, pathetically, I want not only to live a good life but for people to think I am living one. I am slightly revolted by this thought, and wish I had the moral fibre to resist it.
I am proud that I do not fall for the glossy magazine fallacy. I know very well that a new frock or a volumising mascara will not transform my existence. Yet in some way, perhaps I make a little glossiness of my very own, right here. Look, look – the beautiful horse, the soaring hill, the ravishing dog, the raging Scottish light. It is as if I am hedging myself about with insurance policies. If I have All This, then everything must be well. If I can show it to you, then you will confirm the wellness: you are my witnesses.
I admit this is, as with so many of my tangled notions, a fledgling theory. There is nothing wrong with a bit of editing, after all. Most humans edit every time they open their mouths, otherwise we would all be the most crashing dullards. I’m not suddenly going to put up the bad photographs, just in the name of authenticity, or talk you through every sinew of my knottier moods. The blog will not be shaken with inner demons or riven with dark thoughts. I do want people to be able to come here for the light.
I just think that, as in all areas of life, one must step with care. It’s not a competition. My hill is not better than your hill, literal or metaphorical. A lot of the best of my days are recorded here, and I am glad for that. I like to be able to look back and remember and smile. It is also a gratitude thing. I have a great good fortune to be surrounded by so much natural beauty, and I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
One of the things I love most about keeping a blog is that, each day, as I take the camera out to forage for images, I must open my eyes. Even on the most dreich morning, I shall find a bit of lichen for you, or some moss, or a fallen leaf. I snuffle for beauty like a truffle hound.
Mostly, you do see the shinier side of it. There are shitty days and muddled days and days when I don’t know what it’s all about. There are days when the hill is lost in the cloud, and I cannot see the light. Mostly, those are the days that hit the cutting room floor, and that is probably where they belong. But they do exist. I cannot edit them out altogether, however much I might wish to try.
Today’s pictures, edited as all get out:
My mother has a fenced garden, where I may let Mr Stanley off the lead and watch him run free. He has the most glorious action, from his greyhound side, and when he drops his belly to the ground and goes flat out, it’s like watching Frankel in his pomp:
My lovely Red:
This slightly wistful look kills me. You might think it was because she was contemplating the Universal Why. In fact, she is wondering why I am making her wait for her food:
Sometimes, in her role as boss mare, she leads the little pony round the field in Indian file. I find it oddly touching:
Reading through this now, my finger hovering over the publish button, I think: this is a load of absolute nonsense. I am just meandering about all over the place, making no good coherent argument at all. I stare beadily at the delete button. But I’ve got to go and do the horses, and I have no time to start all over again. And perhaps a bit of a goofy, wandering, unformed theory is in the good spirit of imperfection. So, off it goes into the ether, to live or die.