Thursday, 14 December 2017

Missing Miss: The Search for a Truly Genteel Maiden in 21st Century London

Dear readers,
Today I have a post lined up that I have been planning for a while, and it is very exciting to see it come together right now on my blog!

I shall be interviewing a dear friend, whose perspective I have always found very intriguing. Through a message on one of my blogs, I met Sara* earlier this year in late spring, and since then we have corresponded very often.
Hailing from Italy, she has travelled around the world from a young age and found that her heart belongs in London. One of the first messages we exchanged detailed her fascination for period details that The Old Smoke holds, from Victorian architecture to the hustle and bustle of popular and affluent areas such as Sloane Square and Portobello Market.
Furthermore, she explained her love for all things refined, elegant, and proper, so it was no surprise to hear of her penchant for all things to do with the noblesse and sophisticated ladies of previous eras. What really struck me was her longing for the etiquette and lifestyle of the Victorians; or, to be more precise, the strong feeling that one does not belong in this century.

Mademoiselle Irene Cahen d'Anvers, by Pierre Auguste Renoir

But it isn’t living the life of a noble that interests Sara. Rather than bustle dresses made of fine silks and pearl parures, or debutante balls and morning receptions at the country manor or London townhouse, it is the life of a servant that she desires: to look after and be a companion to a young lady whom she refers to as “Miss”. Unfortunately, due to the invention of a time machine evading us for the time being, the life of caring for a refined young lady has eluded her so far, this century seeing personal servants as frivolous and such positions hardly existing anymore.  Other ways of finding somebody akin to her idea of elegance, to take care of and serve in this century, has been a topic that has mercilessly puzzled and intrigued Sara.
Instead of giving up, we talk of the reasoning for the wish to find that Missing Miss – a refined young lady whose outlook and grace resembles that of Victorian times, but who occupies 21st Century London – what Sara’s ideal lifestyle looks like, and the tumultuous journey that she has taken in pursuit of this dream.

The Captain's Daughter, by James Tissot

E: Now that I’ve introduced the concept behind this interview, would you mind telling me about yourself in your own words? What is your current situation in life?
S: You have written a lovely introduction, thank you so much! I've been living in London on and off for about 5 years now, and I love this city as much as when I first arrived -- or even more! At that time, I was 18 and had only been working as waitress, but here in England I decided to do something different. In fact, it was in this very city that I got a clearer focus of my aspiration and started to look for ways of getting close to it. I began working as au pair for families, and then for the past two years I've been working at private schools.
The second one, my current job, is at a fine central-London school, where I work primarily in the kitchen; helping with the preparation of food, serving lunch, cleaning, washing up, setting up for functions... I really enjoy working there, even though it's hard work. It is even an elegant period building with wooden panels and an amazing hall, and from the windows you can see views of Victorian mansion blocks, so you can definitely bet I love it! Of course, my work is only about food though, so there is not much chance to interact other than that. I'm still missing the opportunity to relate with Miss more closely.

E: Since your job is primarily about food and you don’t have many opportunities to interact, what would your ideal job and lifestyle look like? Dream big!
S: Well, the basic idea is very simple: I would not only like to make delicious food for Miss/Misses but also to keep her/their house nice and clean, wash and iron clothes, make beds, help with shopping... In other words, to take care of the domestic side and assist them in their requests. The sort of work that an au pair/housekeeper usually does for a family, but done for a young lady or -- more likely -- a few young ladies. What makes my aspiration a challenge is the fact that there aren't many situations where a group of young ladies may require the help of a domestic. Yes, there are boarding schools and (a few) female student halls, but it’s too bad that they no longer employ live-in servants to look after the young ladies. An option could be a house shared by female students or professionals, however I have yet to find one who may be interested. If there was one, that would be my ideal lifestyle. And if I have to dream big, I'll picture a group of genteel young ladies in a nicely decorated Victorian house. :D

E: We have an idea of your desired duties, but would your ideal Miss, or Misses, be like themselves? Have you an image in your head detailing her interests, personality, routine, or even looks?
S: I picture a well-spoken, ladylike, dignified young lady. In Victorian times, Miss would have been like the ones portrayed in those amazing impressionist paintings with frilly dresses and parasols. Today, Miss may be a classy young lady like the ones I see around London or where I work -especially in the winter, when fashion is more interesting and modest and you even see some ruffles and bows.  I can imagine Miss enjoying reading or writing, or playing the piano, horse-riding, ballet, French, fashion... I once found all the above and more listed on a blog as the typical interests of a Classic Lolita, so it seems that the keyword is "classic". And indeed, I suppose Miss would tend to study things such as Classics, Law, Languages, Art, Music...
As for her whole personality, who knows. From sweet to bittersweet, reserved or outspoken, smiley or sulky, everyone is different and personalities are a fascinating discovery. One cannot predict when they will click, but I would think that as I am someone captivated by all things classy, someone who appreciates having things done for her might actually get along quite well with me.

Painting by Vladimir Gusev

E: Do you know what led to your interest in taking care of this kind of young lady? Was there a moment in your life that made you realise your dream?
S: The short answer is: nope, I don't, haha. But I can say that serving is a feeling for me, a calling, something part of my nature. It is spontaneous and makes me feel fulfilled, in the same way as dancing, teaching or pursuing family life may do for other people. I fully realized it though at about 17, when I left school to go and work abroad. And even more so when I moved to England, which is no doubt the best place for my aspiration.

E: I understand that you have searched high and low for such a person, and I know how difficult and discouraging it has been. Would you mind telling others of the options you have looked through to find such a person?
S: Yes, I'm somebody with the "follow your heart" persuasion, so I've been doing my best to put my aspiration into practice. At first, I had the very naive notion that my interest for other girls meant I was a lesbian, so I thought it was a good idea to look for a lesbian partner who was a bit dominant. Funnily enough, when I met actual lesbians I soon realised that we were interested in very different things: sex and romance on their side, service and devotion on mine. It was then that I started to realise that I'm asexual, and many things became clearer (as you know, it means experiencing no sexual attraction towards either gender).
The same naivety led me to think that my desire to serve might find a venue in the world of Dominance & Submission, only to find out though that such a world isn't about elegance and emotional affinity, but more about sex and money, and that there are no so-called young "dommes" interested in a female domestic anyway.
So I thought maybe I should focus on elegance and have a look at groups for lovers of Victorian fashion and style, and it turned out that it's an interest almost unknown among young ladies. Many girls love Lolita style though, so that's an option worth exploring, even though the liking for frilly dresses is often a curiosity for an exotic fashion rather than a disposition for all things refined.
Then, as I mentioned, I offered my help to young ladies sharing a house, and I was either ignored or only got replies from single men.
Other than that, I have definitely tried to live my aspiration through work. It's obvious though that neither families or schools can provide any meaningful interaction with Misses: in fact, you hardly ever talk with them.
So, it's a long story, and my aspiration has yet to be fully matched. As you know, I do think it's a big waste, haha.

E: Unfulfilled dreams can be crushing, I know. What do you particularly think is a waste?
S: For both Miss and myself, not being able to enjoy this kind of relationship. Which is a different relationship than between friends, lovers, or colleagues, and it has its own richness and appeal. I personally think it's sweet, interesting, and fun. I am lacking the fulfilment of caring for someone I like and respect, and I suppose Miss is missing out on something that could be of value to her, such as having someone you can trust who is dedicated to carrying out your requests. To be honest it would really surprise me if all the educated young ladies who are sharing houses in London would be happy to cook, clean, wash and iron by themselves, or with the impersonal help of a cleaner 2-3 hours a week. I'm pretty convinced some would value the service of someone like me, who sees this more as an interpersonal relationship than as a cold job vacancy. Too bad we don't seem to have ways of coming across each other.

On the Quay, by Vladimir Gusev

E: What are the next steps you are going to take in your search? Do you have any current ideas?
S: I'm not really sure what the next steps could be. Job wise, my current one is likely the closest I can get to serve elegant young ladies. On a more personal front I'll keep an eye out of course, but I can't think of anything I haven't already tried. Suggestions are welcome, haha.

E: Is there anything else you'd like to say about your search for Miss?
S: Yes, I would like to thank you for coming up with such a great idea as this interview. It's really nice to be able to talk about my aspiration somewhere. And to do it on the page of a fine writer and Victorian seamstress is the best one could wish for!

Painting by Vladimir Gusev

Thank you very much, Sara!  It was intriguing to hear more about the ambitions you have, and I wish you luck.
Please feel free to leave a comment, as I can pass any words on to Sara; there is also a contact form, if you would like to get in touch.
Also, let me know if you find these kind of guest/interview posts interesting – it has been fun for me to explore and I might consider doing more of them in the future!


*Sara is a nickname.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Monthly Log: Realistic Goals, Dusting off Childhood Relics, and University Ideas

November hasn't been too bad at all this year. Usually November is my unlucky month, probably due to the weather being miserable, the lack of daylight, and the association of bad memories and low-mood that psychologically causes the month to become unfortunate for me, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One thing that didn't go as planned, however, was NaNoWriMo. Less than a week before November, I cracked open my "Ready, Set, Novel" book, filled out most of the sheets that I found relevant to my story and creative process, and naively believed "Yeah, I think I can write 50,000 words in a month". Sure, Morris. Sure.
Not only did I find myself slightly unprepared (not majorly though - I just needed to spend more time on research and putting together information sheets on Scrivener that I could easily flip back to, as I found myself annoyed at the lack of everything being in the same place) I forgot to factor in that my productivity is varied at best, unpredictable and sometimes non-existent at worst.

My Great-Grandmother - © Ellie Morris

Some days I can easily hammer out 3,000+ words and feel absolutely great about it. I can also do about two hours sewing and other crafts or hobbies in the same day, when I'm kicking my conditions' butts. But on others, I don't get out of bed at all, either due to all-consuming fatigue and pain, depression/paranoia/anxiety, general malaise, or because I'm overwhelmed with stimulation and looming tasks. Or, even if I do get out of bed, my head is so filled with fog and tiredness that the most I can do is prop myself up in front of the TV or go to my grandparents' house for a cup of tea. Alternatively, even if I am feeling good enough to write lots and lots that day, I have other important things to do that I've been putting off for days, or doctors appointments...
It was kind of unrealistic to expect that much of myself in such a small space of time, when the conditions in my current day-to-day life aren't ideal for a big undertaking like that. I know other people can manage 50,000 words in a month when they have far bigger responsibilities than me, such as a full or part-time job, education and studying, looking after children, spending time with friends, etc - some may even have health conditions at the same time as all that! - and I applaud them for it.
Someday I wish to be like that (to manage lots of things all at once, I mean, not the hectic schedule!), but for now I'm just trying to get through daily life whilst spending time on my favourite activities when I'm able to. I'm on my gap year for a reason, and that is to spend time recovering. I would do well to remember this when I start beating myself up for only achieving x-amount of things in a day!

If you have a physical and/or mental health problem (or even if you don't), you shouldn't feel bad about taking time off or not quite completing tasks either, especially if they are rather unrealistic to start with. As long as you're trying your best and taking care of your needs, whether that's managing pain, taking your medication or eating well, that is the main thing.
Of course, it is always good and very satisfying to get things done - and I find that even just starting the activity helps a lot as I know I've tried, and most of the time I get so involved in it that I end up carrying on regardless of pain or fatigue. It's good to challenge yourself, but make sure that any goals that are set are achievable and realistic. Realistic goals vary from person to person depending on time, means and circumstance, but for example, goals such as "sew five complicated ballgowns before Christmas" or "get fit enough to run a marathon in two weeks" would be very difficult, for me at least! Remember that you're human and not a machine or a miracle-worker, and you shouldn't expect yourself to churn out essays like a laser printer spits out paper, or turn water into wine.
I'll step down off my soap-box now, haha.

So, to put it briefly, I did not succeed in writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo this year. But there is always next year, and the next, and the next after that... Not to mention, although I did not reach the target, it did help a lot with my goal of getting back into writing, which was a brilliant motivation!

My next step is to get together all the information on my characters/settings/plot lines that I have, and further research the subjects that I'm not too clear on. Once my info sheets are ready, I'm going to plot every tiny thing out and block in all of the emotions that my characters go through. Also, more planning with my workbook! You can tell I'm a "Planner" and not a "Pantser"!

Aside from writing and other crafty things, I spent a week or two of the month clearing and tidying in preparation for Christmas, and to help "aid creativity" by having a better environment to work in. It's been hard work physically, but mentally I feel great now that I have clear surfaces, a tidy desk, and have sorted out all my old clothes! One thing that I had to do was make space on the shelves above my desk, which included... dusting off and placing all of my old Pokemon toys in a bag in the wardrobe... It was rather saddening, as I could remember all the times I played with them, the happy days that I received each one, my old birthdays, and how I would make little items of clothing for my plushes, such as a satchel or neckerchief in the style of Mystery Dungeon... It was almost like discarding my childhood, to replace it with art materials, jewellery findings and sewing fabrics, but I know that I'll keep them forever as Pokemon was a big part of my childhood. The colours did clash with the wallpaper though, and I needed space for all my craft/art/sewing/writing things, because I have more hobbies that I've picked up than brain cells.

Old Art Journal Page - © Ellie Morris

Another thing that happened this month, was that I went to a nearby University's open day. It is a really good university, both in the national reviews and from what I saw when I went, so I was filled with inspiration! Usually I feel dread with anything to do with school environments, as primary/high school and college were hard for me, even though I did well academically, but it was actually really good. I'm feeling - dare I say it - excited at the thought of joining the Creative Writing course; they do modules on writing fiction, poetry and scripts (all of which I really enjoy), as well as help with publishing, which I really need to learn. I never thought that going to University would be good for me because of my dread, but the facilities and course just looks fantastic!

I also went through very old family photos (I will be adding more pictures like the first one above soon), had a haircut (the straggly ends cut off and a re-style with a fringe) and bought my first ball-jointed doll! She is MYOU Delia, ordered through Angelesque, and will be called Aika after my main character from When the Summer Ends. It will help with some of the art I want to produce for a future re-release of my books, and I can't wait to take photos and show her here on the blog too!

I've been liaising with a friend for an upcoming blog post recently, and it will be an interview of sorts on a subject that proves to be rather unusual from what I've heard.
Stay tuned for that, and I hope you have fun preparing for Christmas or any other holiday this month, if you celebrate!

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