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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.