Sisterhood of the World Q&A

Lovely Fiona of Hi Fiona Potter has nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers’ Award! And I believe in sisterhoods (also in answering questions whenever possible), so here, slightly delayed, are my answers to her very well thought-out queries.

  1. What were you afraid of as a child?

Masks. Halloween was a time of absolute, blind terror, even as I also hoped to be asked to go trick-or-treating with someone. (Halloween is like prom for children in that respect: if you don’t have plans, you’re officially friendless.) There was something about not being able to see someone’s face—not just that, but seeing a face that wasn’t theirs at all—that absolutely ruined me. The same principle explained my unmitigated fear of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Smokey the Bear, sports mascots, and clowns.

2. Why did you choose to live where you live now (be that country, city, house…)?

The presupposition of choice here is interesting to me. I chose to live in Oxford five years ago because it was where I was going to university, which was wonderful. I chose to stay last year because there was nowhere more reasonable for me to go, and I’d signed a lease. I stayed in Oxford this year because I got a full-time job here, and I’m staying til the end of 2015 because, even when I switched jobs, the post remained in the area. My choice of house had a little more autonomous decision-making behind it: it’s in a part of town I know well and love, the rent is very good, and the people are friendly, if mad. Also, it has a (small) back garden and a very nice dining room table (though the latter is often hidden under piles of unironed pants).

3. What do you think is one thing that politicians forget too often?

That the decisions they make are not theoretical; anything but. You can’t afford to be making policy in deference to a principle or a paradigm if the cost is human. Judges forget this too, I think. They’re not primarily “creating a legal precedent” or “obeying sentencing guidelines”; they are, primarily, dealing with a person, and they must respect that.

4. Have you got a favourite flavour of tea?

Sort of! I’m not particular about black tea—anything’ll do—but I love chai, peppermint, and lemon and ginger for kicking a cold.

5. What’s one hairstyle you wish you could pull off?

All of them. Any of them. It would be nice to have a polished updo for once, like a French twist. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, a messy braid. I’ve never been able to make a messy braid look cute; it always devolves into sheepdog-in-a-hurricane.

6. Is love an emotion?

I want to write, like, a whole book on this, although people already have. I think love is less emotion than it is action. It’s what you do when you enable the growth of someone else’s soul, and when you let them do the same to your soul in return. You don’t commit those actions because you feel like it; you commit those actions because you can’t not, or because you know them to be things you must do. In that sense, love is a knowledge, too.

7. What’s your favourite kind of rain?

When I’m inside, it’s the slanting, slashing kind of rain, where the clouds are dark and louring. To enjoy this kind of rain, it’s essential that your indoor environment be just right: you must have a comfortable place to sit (or rather recline), a nearby kettle and power source, and a very engaging book close at hand. In some circumstances, a steady fire in a pub with a large wine or whiskey can be an acceptable substitute. When I’m outside, I like it to not rain. If it must precipitate, a fine mizzle tends to be nicely picturesque without completely destroying your hair.

8. Who is your role model in terms of womanhood?

I have never consciously adopted a role model, but framing the question in terms of womanhood makes it easier to identify the women—all in my family—whom I try to be more like. My mother is the very definition of gentleness with an armature of steel: she’s kind and softly spoken, but there are undercurrents of pure weirdness and caprice in her character that I love and admire. She’s very strong: adaptable, of course, but I have never seen her even try to pretend to be someone she isn’t. Her sense of self inspires me. My grandmother is so fully integrated into her village community that she seems to know everyone; I’d like to belong somewhere that completely, someday. And my auntie, my mum’s younger sister, is funny and cheeky and beautiful, makes everyone laugh, and does pretty much what she wants, which, of course, is its own form of inspiration.

9. Where would you like to turn up without a map and just explore for an off-the-cuff weekend?

I’ve been thinking of doing this for months. Some of the most immediately accessible places from Oxford are up North, on the Crosscountry trains, which of course would be wonderful: I’d like to try Edinburgh, in particular. There’s also Bristol and Cardiff, both of which I’m immensely curious about. If there were other forms of transportation available to me, I would be very happy to hop a flight to Amsterdam or one of the Scandinavian countries without much planning.

10. What’s a poem that moves you?

This question is phrased very well: not “what’s your favorite poem?”, but “what’s a poem that moves you?” Most of what Philip Larkin wrote moves me unspeakably, particularly “An Arundel Tomb” and the poem about killing a hedgehog with a lawnmower: “we should be careful of each other,/we should be kind,/while there is still time.” Instant tears. Most of the metaphysical poetry set by Parry in his Songs of Farewell also moves me, particularly Donne’s “At the Round Earth’s Imagin’d Corners”: “Here on this lowly ground/Teach me how to repent/For that’s as good/As if thou’d’st seal’d my pardon with thy blood.” Partly it’s the music the words are set to that gives me the shivers, but partly it’s the way the words convey the idea. Rilke is also incredible for this, particularly the Duino Elegies, which I first read translated by Mark Doty: “Beauty’s nothing/but the start of terror we can hardly bear.” That moves me very much. The nice thing about poetry is that so much of it can move you; it seems unfair to pick just one poem.

I would like to nominate Laura at Reading In Bed, Cathy at 746 Books, and Victoria at Tales From the Reading Room (no pressure, ladies). Here below are my questions:

1. What’s the best trait you’ve inherited from your parents?

2. What fictional world would you live in if you could, and what character or position would you occupy within it?

3. In what situations, if at all, is it acceptable to talk through a movie?

4. Do you think it is moral to have children?

5. What is the unkindest thing you have ever done? (If you feel uncomfortable sharing this, what is the kindest thing someone else has ever done for you?)

6. What practical skill do you most wish you had?

7. Tell us about an epiphany or “lightning bolt” moment in your life.

8. What is the first thing you do when you get home from work?

9. How do you feel about writing in books?

10. Do you miss your hometown?

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10 thoughts on “Sisterhood of the World Q&A

  1. Congratulations on your nomination and thank you for your thought-provoking and beautifully-expressed replies. Yes, go to Cardiff – a happy relaxed city with a great university – but above all else, come here! And indeed you are very welcome to come and stay in the Northern Reader Stronghold (contact details on Book Club page of blog)

    • So glad you enjoyed! I love the North. My mother was born in Scotland, raised in Haxby, and attended uni at St Andrew’s, and my uni boyfriend was from Penrith, so I’ve spent a good deal of time up there anyway, but every time I go, I never want to leave. And thank you for your kind offer! I may just take you up on it one of these days 🙂

  2. I loved reading your answers! It was a special treat to reach the end and read Rilke’s name. He’s one of my favourite German poets, and my grandmother has given each of her granddaughters a book of his poetry on their sixteenth birthdays. I wrote my Extended Essay on him and keep coming back to him; recently I’ve started reading the Book of Hours. The Duino Elegies are so dense you can spend a lifetime with them, I hope never to think I understand them. I also love ‘Archaischer Torso Appollos’ and ‘Buddha (als ob er horchte)’.

    As for messy braids, I think it’s all a big conspiracy. If you google ‘messy braid’, all those hairstyles would look poofy and messy on a real person outside of a studio, red carpet or a catwalk!

    P.S. When I was in Switzerland a few years ago, I set a day aside to find Muzot, the house where Rilke finished the Duino Elegies and wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus. https://hifionapotter.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/35-the-family-poet-der-familiendichter/

    • Oh, my goodness, he’s so wonderful. Realistically I am unlikely ever to learn German and so will always have my Rilke mediated by some translator, but Mark Doty does a beautiful job and that’s part of the appeal, in a way. Really cool that you found Muzot! (And, yes, hairstyles are a myth. The Toast did an article on this a while back; they’re right.)

  3. Well for rather obvious reasons I know nothing about sisterhoods – but I still enjoyed reading the questions and the answers!

  4. I’m finally getting caught up after a week’s holiday and am delighted to discover I’m part of the sisterhood – yay! Love your fiendish questions. I’ll be answering them in a few days’ time. I particularly agreed with your comment about what politicians forget, and I join you in being a sheepdog-in-a-hurricane…. let’s declare it an unfairly underrated look! 😉

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