Princesses are an interesting subject. I have come to realise that there are apparently two distinct camps in real life and not just in fairytales: the adoring subjects and the hostile opponents. In the first camp are the parents and their little girls who relish the stories, the images, the songs, the dresses - indeed any kind of product stamped with a princess - and are attracted to them like magpies to jewels. They are loyal adherents to princesses, and certainly see nothing harmful in them. And in the second are the parents who battle this imagery on a daily basis and cultivate a strong contempt for all things ‘princess’. These are the parents who wince at princesses on cereal boxes and at birthday parties, and believe that these sylph-like figures stand for all the wrong things.
I wanted to share a few examples of novels that have stirred me up and opened my eyes. When this happens, I feel even more strongly how important it is to read books. Like most activities in life, reading can be for the moment, or it can be enriching and purposeful longterm. I am wary of a particular word so often linked to the pleasure of reading: ‘escapism’. It feels like a disservice to all that the the writer has done, to all that you can do. Surely reading is not about shutting down, but about opening up. It is not intended to distance us from life, but to draw us further into it, to enable us to taste its flavours and, at the very least, to understand it better. Below are a few examples of writing that, in my humble opinion, have the power to do this. (NB my wish isn’t to allude to or review the stories, but rather share what impact the effect of these stories had on me).
I’ve learned a lot from a friend of mine, and I wanted to share some of the thoughts and inspiration that have grown out of conversations with her. She is one of the most conscious, truth-seeking mothers I’ve encountered. She thinks about everything from the impact of her words on her child every day, to the benefits of magnesium salts in his bath. She has made some very difficult decisions concerning the health and education of her child, and all of them have been weighed carefully - according to spiritual principles and in consultation with others. And yet, despite this heightened consciousness, she is the least judgmental person I know. She once told me that she will never judge another mother’s choices because she knows from experience that almost every single thing she herself ‘thought she would do’ she has had to reevaluate/not do - and do some of those things she thought she never would. Motherhood has been a profoundly humbling experience for her, and as a result, she genuinely feels she has no right to judge another parent’s decisions.
I had already decided to write on this subject when I sat down in a cafe and saw something that pained my heart. A woman in her early forties drank her coffee at a small table, fidgeted, twiddled her hair compulsively, and looked so very agitated. Every now and then she would pick up her phone or press a single button so that the screen would light up and tell her something, or nothing. She was physically in the cafe, but so intensely internalised in her condition that she could have been anywhere. As I reflected on ‘isolation’, I realised that our society is now harbouring so many expressions of this that it is hard to even identify them. We are long passed the familiar example of an elderly person sitting at home in loneliness - although this is in no way deserves less urgent attention. But isolation, in all its forms, is impressing itself on all of us every day. Individuals can now venture out of their home into a public space, and essentially remain veiled and separate from their environment, like puppets in a show, heedless of the set change behind them. They notice little, and are noticed little. Of course, sometimes we leave our homes and feel alive and conscious of it all - the weather, the sky, the sounds, the people passing at that moment, but even then the experience is so easily very solitary. At other times, we can rush from thing to thing out of habit and necessity, and rarely engage with present reality at all - we are thinking about what’s happened or projecting to what hasn’t. Perhaps worst of all is when we desire to interact with others but somehow feel so stifled by convention and our culture of isolation, that it is difficult or even dangerous in our minds to do so. As the roads fill with cars, and the malls with shoppers, and the beaches with bathers, we all become more and more alone, and less and less confident to connect.