I received a note from a Magpie a few weeks ago —
“Your writing makes me feel as though I am permitted to be myself.”
I have carried this sentiment around since, turning it over as though a small keepsake in my pocket. I am of course wildly floored to the point of red-faced at the compliment, but it’s the groundswell beneath that deserves attention here:
Where and for what do we seek permission?
As it turns out, in my estimation: nearly everything, including things I wish we wouldn’t, and from nearly everyone.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote roundly on the subject of granting ourselves license to create. She observed that many do not feel “entitled” to paint, write, draw, etc: they feel as though they are not ordained artists until they have, for example, completed a certain degree. I have witnessed this myself, the knee-jerk denigration of pet projects as “amateur” or “hobby-level,” especially among women. When I listened to Gilbert’s chapter, I thought: “Hm. Funny. I’ve never felt the need for permission to write.”
But then —
The early encouragement of my parents, my grandfather, a few uncles and teachers? Taken together, a big, fat permission slip. My later pursuit of a “frivolous” degree in the liberal arts was anointed by my parents from a young age: “Study whatever you want,” my Dad would say, while he unabashedly maligned his own career as an attorney. “You don’t build anything in law,” he once told me, gravely. “Do something that lets you build.” It put the fear of God into me, and also authorized my ambling and roundabout flirtation with writing. Meanwhile, my mother signed me up for writing classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland and drove me to poetry readings across town and assiduously urged us to read, to read, to read, reinforcing these entreaties with the model of her own devoted readership. As children, we occasionally cringed at our parents’ bookishness: my Dad would carry tomes on Winston Churchill to our grade school awards ceremonies and my mother was never without her book in the carpool pickup line. But together they reinforced the sanctity and exigency of experiencing art. There was nothing flimsy or frolic-minded about literature in my home, and I learned to view it as a practice as sturdy as medicine. Clearance, again, granted.
So, too, with my entrepreneurial endeavors. Where did I come by the audacious belief that I could or should start a business on my own? I think it can in part be attributed to the largesse of the examples of other entrepreneurs in my family, and Mr. Magpie’s, too. My great-great grandfather founded the Baltimore Sun newspaper in 1837 and Mr. Magpie’s family owned the longest-running family-owned men’s clothing store in America, J. H. Shoop and Son based in Freeport, PA, founded in 1830 and sadly shuttered in 2005. (I guess the 1830s represented a Big Cosmic Moment for our little family pod.) Curious map-making: is it not kismet that I have publishing on one side and fashion on the other?
It has never felt obvious or arithmetic to me, this consent-granting. I have never had the conscious thought: “Well, Arunah Abell did it — I can, too!” But their very presence in the family annals surely accounts for no small measure of my gumption.
I have been profoundly, stupidly lucky in this sense. So many people in my life have sanctioned this — let’s call it “wool-gathering” — in which I find creative fulfillment.
I sit here and ponder (read: fret about) the permissions I am granting my own children. Am I authorizing their interests in art, play, math, sports enough? Am I unwittingly foreclosing on possibilities?
And I sit here and ponder (read: fret about) the permissions I am granting my readers. Am I giving you the space to think, to feel accepted, to push back when need be?
Aspirational talk for sure, so let me return myself to the small white flea market desk at which I sit and tend to my filigree prose, but not without saying this: I think it is possible, if you do not have permission granters in your immediate network, to find your flock. Elizabeth Gilbert is a good start. Classrooms can be another. And if you are in need of something more immediate, as you are searching for the nudge to to build something, to try something, to even simply “be yourself,” as that Magpie put it, permit me to pay it forward: let this post be your dispensation.
+If you could go back to school, what would you study?
+My longtime flirtation with language.
+When are you most creative?
+If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
+On pursuing a degree in English.
+Still can’t get over this gorgeous, generously-sized but well-priced rattan lamp. SO chic. Anthro has some low-key incredible lighting finds — I also love this scalloped lampshade, also at a reasonable price.
+I’ve shared this dress for several seasons — they keep releasing it in new hues — but finally ordered myself one in that perfect blue.
+I just ordered more pillowcases from Boll and Branch. I haven’t written about them in awhile but I still absolutely love our sheets from there — softer and easier to iron/launder than any other brand I’ve used. I was able to get 15% off the order using code VERONA15.
+OK, I’m doing it. Ordering one of these hyped Hunza G suits. I really love this variation on their classic style — it reminds me in color and neckline of Gwyneth at the Oscars!
+I am in LOVE with this top. Currently in my cart!
+These Burts Bees Easter jammies are super cute, inexpensive, and still available for delivery by Easter! Grace+James Easter jammies are also currently discounted 40% off with code EASTER40%. (More Easter jammies and basket fillers in this post!)
+Speaking of Easter, I am normally a major anticipator, ordering everything well in advance. This year I really deliberated on the table for too long but then it came together all at once. We’ll have the children eating with us so I decided this paper table setting kit would be the perfect unfussy option, and I’m going to run some boxwoods down the center of the table. (These are also a cute pair but the striped vases wouldn’t work.). I only wish I had a bunch of Bordallo Pinheira cabbage dishes to complete the look!
+Pretty Amazon steal dress. Love it in the green.
+A great dress for a FESTIVE occasion (under $250).
+STOP! Someone was just asking about cute spring outerwear and how perfect is this gingham mac from The Great?
+I feel like really cool, chic, artful people have these chairs on their patio. Like, I want to be friends with those people.
+This might be the cutest little dress I’ve ever seen for a baby girl.
+I love that Roger Vivier is suddenly a trend-forward fashion house! See ya stodgy shoes — they are turning out statements like this!
+Pretty $20 dress! I own this in a different color!