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Doing not seeming - a mantra for life

When I was in my early twenties I read a book called My Life on an African Farm but the South African feminist writer Olive Shreiner. It was an old book - written in 1883 - and dealt with the constraints on women's lives as they grew up.

An unusual book, a book written through rage and published under a male pseudonym, it is one I return to again and again.

In it one of the characters, a young woman called Lyndall, sums up society's different attitudes to men and women - to men society says 'do', to women it says 'seem'.

Seeming and Doing, Doing and Seeming - those words have been following me around for the past few months and I've tried to work out exactly what causes my vertiginous unease about the way we present ourselves.

And I realised this week that a lot of the dissatisfaction I was feeling - especially with social media - is to do with the high level seeming and the low level of doing.

We no longer live in the world of C19th; women are no longer primed solely for marriage and motherhood, we are not valued primarily for looking attractive and keeping our clothes clean.

We have, as people, opportunities that were unimagined for Schreiner - we women can be 'the doctors and lawyers and lawmakers' that she dreamed of if we choose. Yet so often we fall into the trap of being satisfied with seeming rather than doing. I'm particularly worried that it may be something that women cling to, the restricting perfection of the surface rather than doing things and showing them in all their complicated messy reality.

A few years ago we visited Los Angeles on a family holiday, we went to Mulholland Drive to walk down into Runyon Canyon. As we changed our shoes a young woman in gym gear got out of a jeep, along with her photography team. She arranged herself, one leg up on a boulder, branded sports drink to her lips - her make up was touched up, photographs taken and they all got back in the car and drove off. Later that evening she posted her instagram photo about her tough hike up to Mulholland that day and how the sports drink kept her going. Seeming.

It is easy to dismiss this as just part of that 'social media influencers' thing - the way that commerce can warp what we think we are seeing, who we feel connected to - but I think it seeps further down too.

Into the resharing political posts, but not actually taking any action, into the removing all signs of life from our homes before we photograph them, into the hiding of neglected seedlings from a greenhouse shot and focussing on the ones we remembered to water, into the using Facetune to blur our wrinkles.

None of these things are terrible, I'm not saying that at all, there is no shaming going on here. I've certainly done the seedlings thing myself - I mean who wants to see half dead plants? - but bit by bit by bit, as we elevate the value of seeming - seeming neat, seeming competent, seeming in control and kind and liberal and wrinkle free - over the reality of doing we surely lose something of life. We scoot along the surface of life, tense and careful like a pond skater, because that is what we feel matters.

So this is my new mantra - Doing not Seeming - the thing I will use as a measure of everything I do and show from this point on. I shall be seeking out other doers. I hope that you will hold my standards high.

Comments: 3 (Add)

ALESSANDRA DA LUZ MONTEIRO on June 11 2019 at 14:24

Thanks for the amazing post! This is my new mantra too.

Claire Chalcraft on June 11 2019 at 14:51

Dear Jane
What a thought-provoking and beautifully written piece ... you have made me see how very naïve I am about social media! I had absolutely no idea that these kinds of thing were common place... Fancy pretending to hike somewhere just for the photo?!! Quite ridiculous! I haven’t ever been confronted by this sort of deception. I don’t have a TV and am not a consumer of a wide range of social media as I see only those I follow. I admire what you do and your thoughtful and intelligent approach to running your business and sharing your thoughts and ideas. Like you, I think I am drawn to « doers » rather than « seemers », life does seem better that way and the friendships and connections are real and rewarding - warmest wishes and grateful thanks for making me think xx Claire

Marianne Garrity on July 5 2019 at 14:03

Your beautiful , strong soul shines through your writings. I learn from you each time i read or see your work. On, on....

Snapdragon social

This is my current work in progress.⁠⠀
It will eventually be a big cabled throw - the silk I'm using is pretty chunky so it should be a fairly quick knit. ⁠⠀
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The preparation will take longer though.  I wanted to make something for our home that is really connected to this place.  Something dyed with the plants that grow here.  Something slow.⁠⠀
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The yarns in the photo were dyed in early September with plants from the garden - the yellow is dahlia flowers, the greyish green is dahlia leaves with some iron, the paler blue grey is woad (next year I shall grow more to get deeper colours). The linen cloths were dyed with avocado.⁠⠀
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This afternoon I plan to cut some willow to soak for another hank.  I have 12 hanks and a wound ball in total.⁠⠀
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I found the silk in a giant yarn stash that lives at my Mum's house, I can't remember where we got it but it would have been bought in the late 1980s when we led each other astray in yarn buying sprees.⁠⠀
Do you ever find echoes of your childhood home in your current one?  If so, do you find it a bit like realising that you've begun to sound exactly like your Mum?⁠⠀
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I grew up in a house with a butler's pantry - it was a small corridor like room between the kitchen and the dining room.⁠⠀
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One side of the room was all cupboards, where plates and cutlery were stored, the other side was one of those amazing curved metal 1950s English Rose sinks.⁠⠀
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The butler was, of course, long gone. ⁠⠀
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Last month we redecorated our own 'pantry' - a small room between the open plan kitchen and the bedrooms.  It is really more of a large alcove than a proper room, there are no windows and only 3 walls.  It was a squalid mess 90% of the time as people dumped things.⁠⠀
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I decided that proper storage was the answer - we got the red dresser I posted last month, we relocated shelves and tables from elsewhere in the house and then we put up this antique glass fronted wall cabinet for the china and glass.⁠⠀
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As I walked past this morning I recognised the feel - I had made a little C19th butler's pantry in my 1980s bungalow! ⁠⠀
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I could, of course, do with the butler.
Small things that mean home.⁠⠀
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What is the first thing you do when you get home from holiday?⁠⠀
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On Sunday when we arrived back  from holiday I took my snips out to see what I could find in the frosted garden to put in a vase by the front door.⁠⠀
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It's nothing fancy - some starry bright common asters, deep pink persicaria, scabious and dill - all set off with blousy Japanese anemones. But for me it is a beautiful distraction from the piles of laundry and unpacked cases.⁠⠀
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The engraved glass plate is by @janeraven ⁠⠀
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It’s the last day of our holiday - by lunchtime we will be back in the air and headed for London to catch up with our girls over dinner. 
For the past two weeks we have been staying high in the mountains, about half an hour from Split in Croatia, an area of stunning beauty - It is the end of season, the verges are baked to straw, the trees full of olives and pomegranates, paths are lined with a white flowered thyme. 
For me the fortnight has been a game of magic eye, squinting against the sun, suddenly spotting drifts of ‘love in a mist’ seedheads, the remains of white scabious, sweet scented clematis a few flowers on their second bloom, delphiniums, euphorbia, lambs ears and great spikes of campanula growing from the rocks. All wild, all natural, all in just the right place. 
It has been a wonderful break - and now I’m looking forward to getting home and making plans and getting everything out of my head and onto paper.
Yesterday, taking advantage of my calm, clear, well holidayed head, I wrote down a 3 year goal along with the 3 things I need to do consistently for it to happen and I emailed it to some friends who I know will root for me, keep me on track and cheer each time I get a step nearer. ⠀
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Having lots of friends who I absolutely know will be happy for me when something goes well is a relatively new thing. In many ways I think friends for good times are more difficult to find than friends for bad. ⠀
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Who are your cheerleaders? ⠀
Back in my previous life as a flower grower and wedding florist, this time of year was the most stressful. Economically it was essential, but the borrowed time, watching the garden slow down, waiting for a night cold enough to turn everything black was tense. ⠀
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I rarely agreed to October weddings, but sometimes I was persuaded, because when they work they work so beautifully- the vulnerability of the flowers somehow glowing through. ⠀
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This mug - officially Autumn meadow - is ‘Christine’s mug’ in my head. A mix of teasels and echinacea rebloom, some startlingly tall blue forget me nots on second flowering, and damp fennel seed heads, put together to decorate a tiny stone church 12 years ago. ⠀
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The mug comes into the ‘we forgot to put it on the website’ category - that has been rectified now and you can get to it via the link in my profile.
Overwhelm 
It seems to be something that creeps up, tangling your feet, muddling your head- not all that noticeable until you begin to break through it. 
Or maybe it is visible there, as a shortness of breath, a tightening of shoulders, a fear of crowds. 
I am spending this weekend untangling my head by the sea in Croatia . Swimming and sitting still and decluttering my mind. 
And in the place of all the numbing fears and doubts, the undermining feelings that nothing makes a difference anyway, have slid in clear plans and steps and intentions. As if by magic. 
Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  What do you do to shake it off?
These are the kinds of dahlias that I'm going to be planting more of next year. ⁠⠀
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They are described as blue (which is obviously not the case - oh those lying insta filters!), they are pretty useless as cut flowers, they get easily damaged in the rain.⁠⠀
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But, oh how the bees LOVE them.⁠⠀
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So, therefore, do I.⁠ ⠀
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We begin our beekeeping course next month - making sure we have some good basic knowledge before the bees themselves arrive in the spring. ⠀
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I’m very excited. Are you planning to learn anything new over the winter?
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About Snapdragon

At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here

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