Robert Spellman

I can't recall where I first saw the work of Robert Spellman, but I remember immediately recognizing these watercolours as pictures of home. It's funny how little can trigger recognition in that way.

People talk about the way places get under your skin, especially their places of birth, but they seldom explain where that feeling sits. One day, I'll have lived in Canada as long as I ever lived in Ireland. But unless I also leave Canada, I'll never know if it's etched under my skin the same ways that Ireland is. I suppose this feeling is something so magnified it needs to be viewed from a distance — in the way so many writers see a place more clearly when they write about it from afar.

But I wonder too if certain places just possess us more than others. Ireland does seem especially haunting for its diminutive size. Perhaps it's the way the Irish wrap their language around certain scenes and feelings that captures the resonance of the place long after you've left it. Or maybe it's something inherent in the very land itself, in rain on flinted rock, glancing light through hurried skies, the call of the wild green sea.

All images from the portfolio of Robert Spellman.

Just nice things

I'm guessing that we all suffer the proliferation of gift guides in similar ways: So much product being thrust at us; a mix of fatigue and occasional delight, the dreadful feeling that this season is already too expensive and it's going to get more expensive yet.

Still, I would be lying if I said I don't like looking at nice things. And these are some of the nice things I've liked looking at lately - whether considered in a gift or non-gift or self-gift context.

Products: Lavender Quartz Lamp from Score & Solder | Equinox Ring by Immortalia by ManiaMania | Dark Side Moon Phase from ABJ Glassworks | Moon Coasters from Karen Kimmel | Beauty Dust & Good Night Dust from Moon Juice Shop | Clay Chambray Facet Cushion from Susan Connor

Discovered lately...

Remember when we used to blog, not for anybody was reading, not because we had created a machine that needed to be fed, but simply to remember? Lately I've been recalling the early pleasure of having a place to record the seemingly disparate things I encountered and latched onto fleetingly. I've been remembering too what it was like when a certain coherence began to emerge between those things and I became aware of having an actual style of my own.

A little time away from blogging and that space opens up again, where it's not about seeking but about recording, and where a little assembly of lovely things can be just a simple pleasure. These are things that have caught my eye of late.

Product information: Corriedale Wool Knit Stitch Blanket from The Line | Cliff Murale from Lambert et Fils | Candles from Maison Louis Marie | Skincare and bodycare from Grown Alchemist | Strata Study Wallpaper form Zak and Fox & Apparatus | Andrianna Shamaris Resin Cube from The Line | Pearl Earring by Yvonne Leon

Sunday best: What you already know

I think one of the reasons I like astrology is because it gives me symbols to articulate what I already feel, think, know. Some people have disdain for that - the need for symbolism: Use your words, use your reason, don’t lean on such flimsy notions, they might say. But the idea that reason exists in a cool, abstract clime, is erroneous too. Even our reasoned conclusions are guided by our emotional selves, by what we feel is true.

I believe in listening to my inner animal. The me that seems to know certain things a priori. The me that I often try to ignore or change or manipulate, but that’s there whether I like it or not, underpinning my self, my identity.

Now that I’m older I tend to think I’m wiser about a lot of things. But wisdom often isn’t an ah-ha moment of acquiring new knowledge. It’s very often a moment of coming to a deeper understanding and acceptance of something you already know, that you might have known from the very start. What is wisdom isn’t the information itself, it’s how you come to hold it in your hands over time.

Last weekend, I cleaned out my closet. What was left will hardly be a surprise to any of us: Black tunics and sweater dresses, silk, wool, leggings, flats; the uniform I’ve articulated over and over and over in Sunday bests and posts about the clothes I love. It wasn’t a new lesson, but I grasped it more deeply.

And of course, this isn’t just about the shape and colour of the clothes I like to wear. It’s about knowing who I am too and accepting that. My retail mistakes weren’t just moments when I made a rash choice, they were also moments when I rejected myself and tried to be something else, when I was fighting who I really am.

The exercise left me feeling calm, unwanting. It’s funny how less can immediately be more. My closet became an easy thing to open — a simple reflection of who I really am today, rather than a faceted mirror filled with past and possible versions of me (or perhaps not me). Still, I I can’t say that I learned anything new -- only that I held this truth in my hands differently this time. That I accepted what I already knew in a way I hadn’t before.

So, why the Sunday best? Because style isn’t a single snapshot moment in time - it’s something that moves in tandem with our days, our moods, our mutable selves. Even a style as narrow as mine is improvised on, changing slowly over time (though nowhere near as fast as the revolutions of fashion would wish it changed). I realize anew the power of these symbols, these talismans we wear on our backs. And what I already knew became new and exciting again.

Products: Maison Martin Margiela MM6 coat from Matches | Gravitation Earrings in Rose Gold from Pamela Love | Artist Dress from Elizabeth Suzann | Lip2Cheek by RMS from Cult Beauty | BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector from Sephora | TIFFANY T Wire Bracelet from Tiffany | Woman by Common Projects from SSense | Mansur Gavriel Bucket Bag from Net-a-Porter

Charlotte Linton

I have an established weakness for scarves and they're generally one of the few places in my wardrobe where colour gets free rein. I especially love when patterns that are figurative when unfolded become abstract when tied, creating prisms of colour and only giving glimpses of strange zoomorphic creatures, landscapes and pattern.

Charlotte Linton was a recent discovery and it's love at first sight. I love that her collections are tied to geography; each collection named for its inspiration - Scotland, Greenland, Himalayas, Java, Madagascar. I'm excited to see where in the world she goes next...

Book report: Rereading Middlemarch

I've been rereading Middlemarch for months now. Walking to and from work means my reading has slowed; my old commute time was always used for reading. And maybe it's because of this pace, or perhaps it's because of Eliot's prowess, that rereading Middlemarch this time has had a profound effect on me. Eliot is sympathetic to all her characters, but in her plain portrayals there's a mingling of light and a shadow; we're shown what each person is at their best selves and how those same traits can lead them to be their worst. Fred Vincy, Lydgate, Dorothea, even Casaubon have daubs of deep and distinct humanity that yield just as many moments of sympathetic exasperation when they undo themselves.

Perhaps I was craving a moral story too: with ideas of good character, of nobility (moral not class) and of holding oneself accountable to a standard rather than simply relying on an unarticulated and roaming sense of goodness. Whether it's external or internal, each character in Middlemarch holds a moral compass that builds into a system of ethics by which they live and shape their lives. They do so imperfectly. When the real world and real people meet a code of conduct, there's inevitable failure. But Eliot doesn't let the inevitability of failure undermine the endeavour.

And while my quiet moments have been spent with these characters and in gentle regard of their foibles, I turn online and find moral outrage blaring at me. I see it on my Twitter feed, from Gamergate to Gaza and everything in between. It is fully justified a lot of the time. We should be outraged, we should use our voices. But it's also a constant negative articulation; we're all hyper-aware of what we find offensive. We're all sunburnt by certain words and ideas, ready to flinch as soon as they're mentioned. And, while the outrage is often an appropriate response, I can't help but wonder where's the positive counterpoint?

Perhaps it's our agnosticism or relativistic sort of morality that means we don't articulate our positive moral goals as much. Maybe it's because we're so steeped in skepticism. After all, these are times when ethical concepts like "authenticity" are transformed into hollow marketing terms... articulating something as positive as a description of a "good life" might seem naive, pitiable even. Or maybe we're just selfish - focused on what we want and need out of the system, that we don't think about what we want to put into it.

But why not frame something positive — like saying out loud how we think things ought to be, or describing the moral code by which we want to live — in ways that actually hook up to our actions? So that, for example, instead of voting strategically to prevent the worst outcome, we vote for the candidate we actually want. And instead of spending our days offended and outraged, we keep some energy for doing and saying and contributing to how we believe things ought to be.

I don't mean to say we should lie to ourselves and only speak when we have something nice to say. But I don't want us to forget that passive outrage doesn't move us closer to a "good life". I, for one, have felt so intermittently jaded in recent years; cynical about successful people, bitter about the kinds of endeavours I see thriving, at times lost in my own malaise, feeling stacked against because I'm a woman, an emigrant, single, childless and unwealthy — all things that make me feel voiceless in certain contexts (and, yes, at the same time acknowledging that I'm also very privileged because I'm white and European and living in Canada and have free healthcare and gainful employment and so many nice things).

I can't put my finger on precisely how reading Middlemarch made me think about all of these things differently. But some of its effects include a trivialization of materialism, a newfound patience for the things I want, a tempering of daydreams and romantic idealism. The timing of this reading has been a factor too: This isn't my first read of Middlemarch and while I've always loved it, it never moved me quite as deeply. It s a mature book and, at 38, I found something in every character to love, to admire, to pity. And, perhaps, what I'm really talking about is really just that; seeing the world with those same sympathetic eyes. Knowing that it's how I would like to be seen too, for all my many flaws and follies, past, present and future.

P.S. I reread Middlemarch this time after reading Rebecca Mead's wonderful My Life in Middlemarch, which I also loved.

Image credit: Pierre Mornet, The New Yorker