All along the way
On beauty and becoming brave, links to just beautiful finds, and tiny house snow!
Hey. Welcome to the first Just Beautiful newsletter. If you previously signed up to hear about my adventures researching mother writers in history while I’m living in a tiny house with kids, never fear, that will still feature! Keep reading & tell me what you think. :) xx Steph
Literature is full of people’s plans changing unexpectedly, of people finding themselves thrown into situations beyond their control.
Lucy Pevensie stumbles into Narnia through a wardrobe, then choses to start an epic journey to rescue the fawn who had shown her kindness.
Marilla Cuthbert can send Anne of Green Gables back to the orphanage, or welcome this topsy-turvy dreaming outcast into her home.
Frodo in Lord of the Rings has to decide what to do with the ring he didn’t ask for.
I’ve been pondering this week what we do in a crisis. Covid is an exceptionally long crisis. But there have been mini crises punctuating our days in the middle of this long trek, like little earthquakes sending tremors through already unstable ground. Wildfires. Afghanistan. Shopping centres being burnt down. Hurricane Ida.
As I think about all of the inequality and injustice that the pandemic and the chaos of the world is revealing, my little pen sometimes feels helpless and hopeless. There is urgent work required to stop the bleeding in the world right now. What am I doing blocking off chunks of time to write? I’m a mother of two little kids, I have bills to pay, and not enough sleep. Efficiency and economy cry out against writing poetry. Throw in the ghost of a 1990’s evangelical preacher telling me that people are dying without ever hearing about the hope of Jesus and suddenly writing fairy tales seems like a gross misuse of time. Am I deluded, just playing in an orchestra while the Titanic is sinking? Am I selfish, hoarding my privilege on something self-centered or indulgent?
I read In The Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez a while ago. The author escaped the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic by coming to America when she was 10 years old. She shares in an essay at the end of the book,
“In some ways, we become brave almost by accident. Something happens and we respond to that challenge courageously and compassionately. But really, all along the way to something big happening, we’ve been cultivating a compassionate heart, a listening and big-hearted imagination. And one of the ways to cultivate such an elastic and inclusive imagination is by reading books. Think about it. When you read, you become someone else. Terence, the Roman slave and playwright, who freed himself with his writings, once wrote, “I am a human being. Nothing human is alien to me.”
What do we do in a crisis? More and more, I’m thinking what we end up doing in those moments --are we brave? Are we kind? Do we have real courage? Do we do the right thing? --has a whole lot to do with who we are in the in-between times. What I see as the “right thing” to do in a crisis (my actions) as well as what I even think the right thing to do is in the first place (my moral perspective) are formed in the days and weeks and years before the first tremor, not just in the split seconds of panic while the ground is shaking.
This is a newsletter based in this hope. The hope that those of us who are makers, who are creating beauty, are not just frivolous. As we create and make, perhaps it is possible we are contributing something meaningful to humanity, shoring up foundations, forming ourselves and our audiences into more imaginative, compassionate people.
Whether you’re writing poetry on your phone at the playground, turning a piece of earth into a garden, stealing minutes to paint, making jewelry, putting far too much effort into a meal you’re cooking, or anything creative…I pray that this can be a sheltering space for you. I pray that the stories and the questions we gather around the intersection of justice and beauty would encourage you in the pursuit of the just beautiful.
“Stories are light.
Light is precious in a world so dark.
Begin at the beginning. Tell… a story.
Simplicity: A space where beauty and justice meet
People often wonder about living in a tiny house with two kids under the age of 4. But the fact is, they don’t really live in the tiny house. They sleep in it, and live outside (please note the mess of toys in pic #2). So when it’s pouring rain or super cold, it can get cramped. And yes! It snowed last week! For the first time since the 1960s! It was exciting, but we’re also pleased that it’s officially spring now, and hopefully the coldest is behind us.
I’m trying to get better at sharing things we do in a tiny house that can be replicated by anyone interested in simpler living. So here’s one: something that has really been working for us lately in our tiny house is the porch (veranda? patio? “geranda” as the kids call it? It has many names). It has been so fun being able to offer our steady internet connection and outdoor, covid-friendly veranda to friends and neighbours lately. Our original structure just had gravel flooring, but we upgraded to paving stones. It’s literally just gum poles and corrugated iron. But it’s been a simple way to share and be in community even in a tiny house in a pandemic. What are some simple ways you’re finding to share justice and beauty?
Just Beautiful Things:
Welcome to the corner of the newsletter where I share with you some articles and artists who are inspiring me in their work towards the just beautiful. If you know of someone whose work should be shared here, email me! :)
I’m eying this book .
I love Bryana Joy’s artwork and poetry, and she’s currently selling this beautiful print to raise funds for NGOs in Afghanistan. “My piece “There Goes The Darling Bird” was painted late into the night specifically to benefit NGOs operating in Afghanistan. It’s a reflection on Peace, how quickly it can take wing, how fragile and feathered it is, how fervently we must cherish it.” She has also been writing some lit poetry on her instagram.
I love how this South Africa photographer captures the beauty, power, and the heartbreak of humanity.
This article by this artist could have been written by me!
“There is something in beauty, something in the work of art in the world, that connects with waiting. It seems frivolous in the face of injustice, a "royal waste of time" as Marva Dawn puts it in her book A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. There was a time when I considered my own love for drawing and painting in this suspicious way. Experiencing the injustices of race and poverty in inner-city Boston and Kenya during my early years, I cultivated a passion for social justice work while pushing aside art-making. What could art do to help put things to right?” (To see some more of Christen Yate’s art, head to her website, ). Read her full article here.
My husband finally got me onto this podcast about what happened during the crisis of Katrina. Listening to episodes 3, 4 and 5 was like listening to a re-telling of the crisis in our town during the looting and protests. The response was uncanny, right down to the vigilante groups. I can’t get it out of my head. (Note that especially episode 5 has some adult language).
I watched this movie and I’m still thinking about it. Warning that it is three hours, and I’d recommend reading this review before-hand. Although it contains spoilers, it will make the movie so much richer. The movie is visually beautiful and the content (living consistently and justly in a fallen world) is really where my head-space is at these days!) Also, the work of this artist is how I first learned about St Franz Jaggerstatter. Really, you want to look at his stuff.
Well, if you made it this far, thanks! Hit reply and let me know what you enjoyed - or hit the comments and share your thoughts with everyone. I’m especially interested to know from my previous readers what you think of the change.
If you liked it, send it to a friend - or five! Every reader counts.
Until next month! - Steph