And I looked with a feeling rare,
And I said, says I, to a passer-by -
"Who's the maid with the nutbrown hair?"
The Star of the County Down
This post is mostly written toward Rachel - not because I think she has a problem, but because I've noticed a kindredness of spirit in this regard; but this post is for you other girls too who are writers, hoping for and working toward publication. I'll tell you about a little incident that happened to me a year or so ago.
We all know that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. We also know that nobody follows that advice. As a rule, I have long since come to expect something unusual, almost inhuman, to show up on the back flyleaf of a book where they generally put the photograph of the author. They call it the photograph of the author. I have never been sure what the unfortunate thing really is. Age is often unkind to humans, and that has to be accounted for (little as we like to admit it), but the fact remains that many of the photographs I have seen of young and middle-aged authors have left me startled and surprised. Until I picked up a copy of Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept. The cover of the immense hardback is a beautiful piece of work, intricately wrought in gold and painted with battle scenes. Of course I turned the book over to read the back (I was wrong, of course; the description was on the inside flyleaf) and I was surprised by a black-and-white shot of the author on a lonely bit of countryside, author in a plain black blouse in the foreground and tasteful jewellery, the grim, rocky ramparts of a derelict fortress brooding in the background. The picture was beautiful. The author was rather lovely. Of course she's no Audrey Hepburn - but then, who is? With a quaint little smile and tilt of her head, windswept hair, simple but elegant clothing, she cut a charming, respectable picture on the back of her historical novel. Needless to say, I was very surprised. Had I a hat, I would have taken it off to her.
I wouldn't call myself a fashionista - I haven't the money for it - but I have become increasingly aware that looking smart is very important. It is a(n unfortunate) fact that people are kindlier and pay more heed to smart, respectable, decent-talking folk, and while I don't mean for it to sound mercenary, it pays to look your best, be polite, and walk like you both own the place and would be willing yourself to lend a helping hand. One half of manners is keeping your mouth shut, the other half is having your eyes wide open to know where and when you are needed. There is more to it, of course, but that's the gist of it. As far as looking sharp, everyone comes in a different shape with a different personality - styles vary widely. However, I've learned a handful of basic things which can apply to any girl that will help her feel better and look better. I thought I'd share!
Keep a clean house. You may not own your own house, but you can always lend a hand in cleaning and you can definitely keep your own room clean. Whatever other philosophies are involved, there really is something to the idea of zen: orderliness of one's surroundings brings a sense of peace. Once I got into the habit of tidying and cleaning up my house on a regular basis (to the point that I can be ready for anyone to walk in my door unannounced without cringing), you would not believe how well I felt. And what a great thing it did for my skin! I looked clearer, felt cleaner, and was much more at peace than before. Try it out! If you're not in the habit of cleaning up regularly, I know it is hard, but once you break yourself of messiness it's hard to revert.
Drink plenty of water. You hear this all the time, but that's because it's true! You don't need to drink an insane amount, or even be overly conscious of it. Just carry around a glass of water with you wherever you go in the house, and be sure to refill it whenever it is empty. Tea is good when you need a little something extra, but whenever you feel the need for a drink (sometimes even the need for food), don't reach for the soda, grab a glass of water. It's an easy way to be healthy.
Less meat, more plants. I like meat. My mother makes an amazing variety of meat dishes, and I'm pretty fond of my pork tenderloin. But while I'm perfectly willing to eat these sorts of meals perhaps once in the day, I've learned that I feel and look a lot better if I counterbalance the meat with glasses of orange juice with breakfast, a package of blackberries for snack, a clementine with lunch, bunches of green beans with dinner. I feel lighter and cleaner and so long as I take in the proteins and calories I need, I'm better off with more fruits and fewer meats. (WARNING: if you switch wholesale to fruits and vegetables, which are a little harder to digest, your alimentary canal will not thank you - take it slow!)
Take a shower every day. I take mine in the evening so that I wash all the grime of the day off before I climb into bed. No one wants to sleep in a dirty bed. (I also do that because my hair is long and thick and doesn't dry in the morning in time for me to head out of the house, and it frizzes something awful if I use a blow-dryer.) Not everyone's schedule allows for an evening shower, but showers there must be. Knowing, even subconsciously, that you are neat and clean allows for a more relaxed demeanour, which definitely shows to anyone you encounter. And obviously, clean hair and skin is much better than the alternative. Be clean!
Stay busy. Not crazy busy, not running around frantically with too much to do, but steadily active. I've noticed that I get really cranky when I'm stationary all day and don't get my blood flowing. So get up and move - and I don't mean just occasionally, I mean often. And keep your mind active. Don't - (I'm guilty of this) - don't trawl Pinterest for an hour. If you catch yourself doing something like that with your face glued to the monitor, and you have to be sitting still, grab a book instead. Or go do something wild and crazy, like clean a bathtub. I think cleaning bathtubs should be an Olympic sport. Those things take a lot of elbow-grease, more than I have to give...
"Don't scowl, it'll make ya wrinkly." Cheap as it sounds, I've been through Wal-Mart, and I know the power of being positive. I've seen so many faces that would have looked so much better if the people had only smiled. Don't be saccharine - there's no call for that: Christians, of all people, should have best cause for being kindly, pleasant, positive folk. I'm no Anne Hathaway, I know I don't have the prettiest smile, but I've seen the magic of an honest smile at work. It's wonderful!
Pay attention to the details. People probably won't get close enough to you to notice, but you'll know. When you get up in the morning, get dressed as soon as you can! Brush your hair, wash your face, put on whatever level of makeup you are master of (I'm on level one and a half). Read your Bible (very important!). Make sure - of all the darndest things - your fingernails are trim! You will know that you are put together, even if you never walk out of the house that day, and I know that, for myself at the very least, once I am put together I feel like I can face the day with cheer and gusto.
Seven relatively easy ways to look and feel like a sound, healthy individual. We authors aren't a sloppy, absent-minded bunch! Care about yourself as much as you care about your grammar. You'll be glad you took the time: cleanliness isn't just a happenstance, it's a way of life. It's a state of mind.