…the confines of the mediocre

“… At that time I was sharing two rooms and a hip bath with the actress Vicky Licorish. She had no money, I had no money, we could not afford the luxury of a separate whites wash and so were thankful of the fashion of coloured knickers which allowed those garments most closely associated with our self-esteem, not to be grey. Dinginess is death to a writer. Filth, discomfort, hunger, cold, trauma and drama, don’t matter a bit. I have had plenty of each and they have only encouraged me, but dinginess, the damp small confines of the mediocre and the gradual corrosion of beauty and light, the compromising and the settling; these things make good work impossible. When Keats was depressed he put on a clean shirt. When Radclyffe Hall was oppressed she ordered new sets of silk underwear from Jermyn Street. Byron, as we all know, allowed only the softest, purest and whitest next to his heroic skin, and I am a great admirer of Byron. So it seemed to me in those days of no money, no job, no prospects and a determined dinginess creeping up from the lower floors of our rooming house, that there had to a be a centre, a talisman, a fetish even, that secured order where there seemed to be none; dressing for dinner every night in the jungle, or the men who polished their boots to a hard shine before wading the waters of Gallipoli. To do something large and to do it well demands such observances, personal and peculiar, laughable as they often are, because they stave off that dinginess of soul that says that everything is small and grubby and nothing is really wroth the effort.”  —from the Introduction to Oranges are not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.

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