an investigation

DVreeland quote (from a Facebook post by Rose McGowan)

To date, nearly 12,000 people have liked this quote and almost 60,000 people have shared it this Facebook post from Rose McGowan. I found out later that the quote wasn’t from Diana Vreeland.  What led me to investigate was that somehow it didn’t quite ring true for the personality of Diana Vreeland that I had read about. That quote had the twinges of sour grapes.  Diana Vreeland would have been far too intelligent for that.  As a fashion editor, she found something good and attractive in everyone she met. She had the knack of highlighting a quality or physical feature that an art director with less imagination might try to hide (for example, focussing on Barbara Streisand’s nose for a Vogue cover).  That quote made no sense to me at all. I tried to see if it made universal sense ( just try substituting prettiness with ugliness and female with male) and no, it didn’t.  I asked myself, ‘What if a person is born pretty?  Or wants to look good?’ Even animals have an instinct to groom and look better.

Diana Vreeland said in her biopic, ‘The eye has to travel’ that there is only one good life- and that is the life you want and you can only make it yourself. She made the best of what she had and the best out of the people she worked with- models, photographers, art directors etc.  She was a hard taskmaster and sometimes not a pleasant person to work with.  Her own children resented her neglect of them and her husband was off having affairs.  However as far as attractiveness went, she knew the way.  She herself wasn’t born pretty but she made the best of what she had and is remembered for her striking looks and fashion sense.  So I wondered why would have said something like that and investigated it via the ‘Quoteinvestigator’-

The truth is that quote was actually lifted from a 2006 blog post, ‘A Dress A Day’, by Erin McKean, (included within the original context of what Erin wrote it will all makes sense)- “I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.” I agree with Erin McKean.  Prettiness is a subjective quality and should not be an obligation.  Health and happiness are far more important.  A person’s real beauty comes from within.  Diana Vreeland loved life and was extraordinarily curious- that made her beautiful. Why compare yourself with another and judge your looks- follow the example of Diana Vreeland and accept yourself.  Just be happy to be who are- you are not your looks! PS- And always question things you see on Facebook- that way you learn a lot!


acceptance and art


I was very fortunate yesterday to hear Annie Fennymore speaking about her process of creating art.  Annie gradually went blind as a young woman until she lost her sight completely in her forties.  At the age of 49, she lost her grand daughter which turned to be the last straw but also proved to be the start of her career as an artist.  Her husband gave her some quick drying DIY putty and using the long ‘ropes’ made with putty, she created her first painting which she is holding in the above photograph.  This painting of a cottage is very simple, almost childlike-but for her this was a huge step forward.  In the years following, she developed her style to a mature style of abstract colourful paintings that she says reveal her passion and love for life.  She has exhibited all over the UK and has won awards including a commendation for Helen Keeler International awards.  A selection of her works are exhibited at the moment at the Moorfields eye hospital in London where I am am outpatient too, with my eye problems. Do go and visit if you can.


Initially Annie depended on her memory for colours and shapes. Today she uses a number of electronic aids (colour identifiers) for the blind all of which have the software that converts all text into speech. These gadgets enable her to label her tubes of paint using a system which tells her the colour of the paint or the surface. She uses her finger tips to ‘paint’ on her colours after realising the painting in her head. Using ‘glue tack’ she outlines her painting just as someone would use a pencil and then she colours it in.  Annie jokes that her adorable guide dog, Amber, often emerges out of her studios covered in paint!  The drawing on the right is of Amber.  Annie uses putty, PVA, paper and even toilet paper to create textures on her paintings.  The painting on the left was made on driftwood.

I have written about ‘blind art’ before but Annie made me realise something very deep about being an artist.  She said that she accepted her situation, she did not fight it.  Instead she funnelled that energy into creativity.  Now, I have spent a lot of my life fighting for things, fighting on behalf of other people.  As I grow older and with increasing ill health, I see that sadly that energy could have been spent creatively instead.  However, it is never too late to learn.  Today, with great humbleness, I accept many of the situations I find myself and have decided to move on, concentrating instead on revealing my creativity and following my heart.  Thank you, Annie!

Being Happy

Here is an amazing video that I discovered where Pharrell Williams is talking about life’s journey, about being happy and making others happy.  Although he is talking to school children, what he says is quite deep and philosophical. He says, “Happiness is not about the trophy, or the finish line. It’s the journey. If you enjoy your journey, you can enjoy your life”.  So much so that 20th March has been declared ‘International Happiness day” by the United Nations.  Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the Japanese philosopher said that our purpose on the planet was to be happy, nothing else.  After all, in the end we all die, so what other purpose could life have, apart from being happy the time you are here?  This is not to say we ignore the bad things around us.  However, as a friend and I noted the other day, bad news and gossip, seem to spread faster than good news and praise.  Perhaps if we pay more attention to good news and being happy, then there will be less bad things that happen in life?  You decide.

PS- also note that Pharrell Williams thanks the girls, because without them and others, the song would have been just inside of him.  Everyone made the song what it is today.  Gratitude=even more Happiness!

Happy invention

Daisaku Ikeda says “Everything passes. Both soaring joys and crushing sorrows fade away like a dream. However, the knowledge of having lived one’s life to the fullest never disappears.”

My life has been quite full so far and yes, I have done foolish things too and wasted time.  However, the time that I have spent following my heart have been the most joyful (including writing these blogs, which have helped me to understand myself).  Yes, I can to look back at the foolish stuff I have done, yet they were learning experiences, even though they may have been sometimes unhappy.  The present is the only moment to live, fully.  We don’t know what the future may bring but as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future is invent it.”

Happy invention today to all of you!


things to do, places to go and people to see

There seem to be so many things I could do- my brain, time and creativity seem to be stretched to accommodate everyone and everything.  I love doing lots but that is not necessarily productive or good- especially for my health and sanity.  So when I was feeling very tired and desperate from ‘constant doing’, I found some great advice which I would like to share.

This comes from the philosophy teacher of Tal Ben-Shahar, who has written a bestseller called ‘Happier’ and runs an eponymous course at Harvard University.  This teacher, Ohad Ramin, told him when he was a young graduate, “Life is short.  In choosing a path make sure you first identify those things that you can do. Out of those, select the ones that you want to do.  Then, reduce your choice further by zooming on what you really want to do. Finally select those things that you really, really want to do– and do them!”

This rang a bell for me when I started the journey of following my heart.  I really had to edit out many things in order to concentrate on things that mattered to me and really, really want to do.  In many ways, the way we mature in our lives consist of this constant editing, following our hearts and becoming happier as a result.

The empty space in the walled garden- chance, failure and hope

Image(the walled garden, Ravenscourt Park, London– photo by author)

Today was a ‘nothing day’- a day of doing nothing much but achieving a lot.  I went to a talk about gardens at my local garden centre.  The speaker described herself as a ‘lazy gardener‘.  But she is not lazy at all- she is of course a self taught gardener, the author of two best selling gardening books, a mother with a houseful of dogs and a small daughter and, judging from the wonderful cupcakes she brought, an amazing cook!  And she said one of the most wonderfully simple things I have heard for a long time- “When you are happy, things just happen!”  Heavily pregnant and glowing, she was an embodiment of that infectious joy as she described how her gardening happened through chance, failure and hope.

On the way back, I sat in the walled garden near the garden centre, taking in the beauty of wildflowers growing through chance, failure and hope.  In the centre of this garden is an empty pedestal- might have had a sun dial in the past but now it was empty.  I thought about how there might be nothing visible in the long winter and then suddenly these beautiful verdant shoots push through the earth or the dry boughs of the tree in the spring, taking a chance at life, unfazed by failure and unfailing in their hope in life.   Nichiren said about nature and life- “Winter always turns to spring.”  Hope is a part of nature- it must be ours too.

I reflected on how, like that empty space in the walled garden, we must have an empty space in our lives too, a day of doing nothing in order to appreciate this bounty that nature gives us every year.  As William Henry Davies told us,

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”