The Worst Line in Barbie
‘The best is the mortal enemy of the good.’
I’m writing this from the comfort of a hospital armchair while I wait for my appointment with a physio. Having struggled with lower back pain for around 4,587 years, I’ve finally decided to get it sorted, but as I’ve forgotten my book I thought now would be a good time to get started on this week’s newsletter via the medium of my Notes app. On Monday I took the kids and dogs for a mini adventure to Devil’s Dyke in Sussex, and this weekend I’m off to London and the Dorset Heavy Horse Farm, so I’m making the most of this middle period of quietude to potter around the house and get some work done. I’m still trying to finish my illustrations for Ebb and Flow (oh so close!) but all in all, September is feeling much more chilled than August because man - that was a hectic month.
This week on the Margin:
Thoughts On: A weird line from Barbie
What am I working on this week?
Q&A - your questions answered!
A prompt to help you start drawing from scratch
Reading Earth Wisdom by Glennie Kindred
Thoughts On: A Weird Line from Barbie
I finally watched the Barbie movie last week! I liked it a lot - funny, entertaining, bright and snazzy with plenty of poignant moments to bring some depth. It felt like ‘Feminism for Dummies’ - and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It holds up a mirror to the world and laughs: ‘Look how silly your patriarchal society is!’ so that even the grumbliest what-more-do-women-want? types will recognise some painful truths about the way we (de)value women. But one line from the film has stuck with me for the wrong reasons. It’s a line that has been celebrated ad infinitum in Instagram stories everywhere - one of those that seemed touching when I first heard it, but has since disappointed me with how off-brand it seems to the rest of the film. It is spoken by Ruth Handler, the original creator of Barbie who named the doll after her own daughter, Barbara. Barbie asks for permission to become human, and Ruth explains that she doesn’t need permission, before saying:
‘We mothers stand still so that our daughters can look back and see how far they’ve come.’
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? A profound meditation on the sacrifice mothers make for their daughters (not fathers and sons, obvs). At first I assumed it was a way of explaining how women hand over the baton in the charge for equality, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed so out of place in a film about not only women’s empowerment, but women moving forward together. It felt so passive, like as soon as we have children, we are expected to drop everything and surrender to our new roles, giving everything to our daughters until it is their turn to do the same.
It was Carl Jung who said that nothing has a stronger influence on their children than the unlived life of a parent. I work hard to be a present parent as well as nurturing my own identity and career, because I want them to know they can do the same if they choose. Yes, motherhood has changed who I am. It has tested my resilience, made me slow down, changed the shape of my life entirely. But it has not stopped me - if anything, my children give me more motivation than ever to ‘have it all’ and create a rich, fulfilling life in which they will forever play a central role. Women shouldn’t have to choose, and they certainly shouldn’t have to stand still - or at least, not for long. Our society isn’t yet built to accomodate the multiple roles of womanhood, but it will only get there if we keep moving.
We don’t have to run - we can walk very slowly, coffee sloshing all over the place, hair unwashed, emails unanswered. We can take it slow, care for others, pause to eat cake and smell flowers. We can nurture every facet of our sparkling identities - but please, for the love of Mattel, we must never stand still.
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What am I working on this week?
Working life at the moment feels like fighting a hydra; you cut one head off and two more grow in its place. But my to-do list is currently full of very cool projects so I can’t complain. This week’s tasks include:
Finish the last few illustrations for Ebb and Flow. Maybe we should have a bet for how many more newsletters this task will appear on?
Finish illustrating the seasonal celebration guides I’ve been putting together with my friend Dawn over the last year. The final one is for Mabon and should be with you guys by the end of the week, as its held around the autumn equinox which is next Thursday. Keep an eye on your inbox as its a special treat for paid subscribers only.
Q&A - Your Questions Answered
Last week I put a call out for any juicy questions you’d like to ask me and I got some great ones!
What does a typical working day look like?
In the morning I get the kids fed and dressed, drop Olive at forest school and get back to my desk for 9.30am - just in time for Ash’s nap! I make coffee and feed him to sleep on my lap, then work until lunchtime. I eat lunch, walk the dogs and play with Ash when he wakes up, then feed him to sleep on my lap again for another couple of hours of work in the afternoon. Then I pick up Olive and enter full-on mum mode until her bedtime, then sometimes get another couple of hours done in the evening if I’m free and have the energy. I only have three of these ‘work days’ a week - the other days are mostly kid-based with the odd bit of work sprinkled in here and there. One work day tends to be admin, emails and newsletter focused, and the other two are dedicated to meatier stuff like writing, illustration, books or shop.
How did you get an agent?
I haven’t actually got one. I have a lovely relationship with my publisher and so far I’ve managed to get by without an agent for my nature/non-fiction stuff. However, I want to write a novel next and will hopefully find an agent for that, simply because I have no clue what I’m doing in terms of contracts/finances/logistics and I will need some expertise and support.
Would you consider writing a children’s book?
Yes! I have one all plotted and planned, I just need to find time to write/draw the bloody thing. It is definitely coming though!
What would be your ‘death row dinner’?
Jam doughnut, crunchy nut cornflakes, garlic yarg, halloumi fries, warm croissant, a perfectly ripe nectarine, raspberry trifle, glass of cold cider. Not sure that counts as a meal?
What is your favourite book? What is your favourite film?
Answer to both: The Lord of the Rings.
Where would you most like to go in the world?
California, or Shackleton’s abandoned hut in Antarctica.
How to Start Drawing from Scratch
I came up with this idea when I was feeling stuck with my drawing practice. I found myself overthinking and questioning everything and it was horrible, so I stripped it back using this silly little exercise that is not only quite fun, but great for beginners who might feel intimidated by the drawing process. The point of this exercise is not to be perfect but to free yourself from pressure.
Take a piece of paper and your medium of choice - I recommend a simple pen or pencil, even a biro will work fine. Think of a visual prompt - or use one of the ideas below to get started. The weirder the better! Then spend no more than five minutes drawing the prompt without looking up any images on Google. The aim is to use your imagination and draw something quick and fun, even if it ends up looking really odd. Don’t worry about perspective, proportions, or even if it looks anything like you hoped it would. It’s fun and silly and should help you feel more relaxed with your pen. Use these as prompt ideas if you want to get started:
A tiger dining on sushi and fine wine
Three parrots plotting to rob a bank
A toucan who thinks she’s the queen
Zombie pumpkins taking over a small French village
A rollercoaster full of insects
Tropical fruits on a stag weekend
Read this book: Earth Wisdom by Glennie Kindred
I first read this book on an autumn retreat in 2019 where it was suggested to me by Eleanor Cheetham of Creative Countryside. I have returned to it repeatedly as a powerful source of inspiration for my own journey with seasonal living, following the Wheel of the Year alongside practical and spiritual ways of tuning into the landscape. It is simple, gentle and informative, written with peace and love, and I would recommend a copy for every household bookshelf.