Both my MM (married men – there were only two) gave me dictionaries. On request. I was a snippet of 19 when the first, bringing our affair to a graceful and positive end, offered to buy me jewellery. “No thank you” I said, even then knowing that my taste was particular . “What would you like ?” he asked. “ A good French dictionary.” I have it yet, inscribed with my maiden name. (Raeburn is the best thing my first husband ever gave me). I got the Shorter Oxford from the second MM, lesser in every way – him, not the dictionary. I love dictionaries. I’ve learned to look things up on line but nothing beats padding about the house in the small hours with a heavy book. “Transformation” offered 11 variations including theatrical, scientific and artificial hair (1901). “A complete change in character, condition, etc” is the one I am thinking of.
Advertising stresses transformation,
from oven cleaner to body stocking. It’s that word “just …” I trip over. Talk’s cheap. You can have a moment of transformation but getting the change to last is what matters most. A moment of kindness or insight, a moment of looking ten years younger or pounds lighter – that’s not hard to organise. Various kinds of fashion and marketing arrange the latter every day. And that different moment, when a hard bitten personality offers a small kindness or generosity? Could be a slip of the tongue or a change of the pill. I love leopards but they’re not big on spot-changing.
Alarmingly , for several weeks, I find myself balked of feeling better – a temporary sag often fixed by the relatively minor purchase of a lipstick or a teeshirt – and longing for transformation. And then you have to start analysing what you mean. Do I want to be taller or look taller ?
Every time I see somebody in specially raised shoes (man or woman) I think how uncomfortable, give me my sneakers. (I came late to sneakers, bought unexceptional ones and the combination of comfort and security helped my feet – a small transformation – but not so’s you’d notice.) So I want to be taller. Not going to happen. Firming the flesh is entirely possible but is more to do with discipline than magic. Diet and exercise require persistence. Persistence won’t make you taller but it can make you slimmer which in turn makes you look taller. No transformation there, just illusion. (Oh and Kim Kardashian does photoshop her online images – you’d never have believed it, would you ? Duh.)
I have found a shampoo to make the most of my hair, cosmetics that become me because I am not fool enough to think anybody would look at the book if they didn’t like the cover – how they judge is entirely up to them – so is the idea of transformation currently nagging me an inner matter ? I think it is. And how do I wish to be spiritually transformed ?
The cry of this part of my life is “Oh God, make me wise” – I say that nearly as often as “Oh God, make me useful” – for it seems to me we are surrounded by vainglorious fools. It is not a new predicament in the history of the world though globalism, war and nuclear fallout have raised the stakes. Political myopia rules, not OK. And though I don’t want to be one of the complicit, being a witness is tiring and painful.
I would like to be transformed into a patient, gentle person. I can be patient but I wish I were better at it. I can be gentle but I would like to be more gentle. I fear that as I get older, I channel more and more of my mother’s inner Jack Russell – diminutive and snappy. When my son was small, my greatest personal insight was that I would never make the idealised mother central to the pages of every baby book I was offered. God bless Bruno Bettelheim for a book called “the Good Enough Parent” – that I could relate to. I would like to be less discursive though I realise transforming how I talk would make me less of who I am and I am only an instrument.