Sunday, August 1, 2010

For today...


THIS represents a morale-boosting campaign by the British Ministry of Information launched in 1939, of which I knew nothing until this week. I now have, as a gift, the poster image on the cover of a journal. Perhaps it will become the keeper of my inconsistent, well-intentioned attempts to do as the words direct.

In my defense, I am a millpond of calm compared to the North Atlantic, Perfect Storm bag of unease I once was. And circumstances, eventually, give most of us two choices: carry on or not. "Or not" falls short of appealing. The winner is "carry on," by default.

I believe we are allowed moments when we become the character from the fantasy story - or cautionary tale - who sits weeping on a fallen log until the bold or hapless protagonist strolls, strides or gallops past and asks us what's wrong. What we need to remember is that wallowing has a brief shelf life. Stay at it too long and, whew, it begins to emit a repellent aroma.

If flawless recall had been granted as one of my wishes (and it is not one that I would have asked for...there would need to be oh, so many wishes for that to make the list), I could be certain there has not been one day in my adult life when I was unaware of my blessings, blessings which cannot be nullified by evidence of life just being life.

One truth which I try to hold in consciousness is that no one has ever known what happens next. War, peace, sunny days or dark, any moment other than this is a mystery. In fact, I am willing to acknowledge that it is ALL a mystery and also admit that its mysteriousness does not indicate anything wrong. Wanting to pep up an uncertain nation with a new version of, "stiff upper lip," the Ministry of Information left us timeless good sense.

The smooth, red journal with its "elastic band place holder" fits comfortably in the hand. Its lipstick brightness calls out with the encouraging pat on the back, saying all will be well...if not now, then soon or soonish. The sans-serif font (could it be Helvetica?) is easy to read, hard to miss, impossible to misunderstand. Do your best, make you neighbors/town/nation proud. The next time I venture forth, I think I may carry it, cover facing out, like a religious tract. One thing I can count on, if I forget to live the motto and slip into any version of crazy, there will be at least one person to snap me back into line. There we are, yet another use for the elastic band place holder.

12 comments:

Elisabeth said...

We have a copy of this poster in my husband's study. One of my daughters bought it home from England and I decided it suited my husband best of all - this need to stay calm.

I love the poster - the words so resolute and slightly overstated in their firmness of resolve - to me quintessentially British, stiff upper lip and all that. The red and white so bold.

Now I must now follow up the booklet.

Thanks, Marilynn.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Wondering if this is were keeping a "stiff upper lip" came from?

Kass said...

It's so nice to get a royally imperative suggestion. It's so dignified and solidly sane. It makes me want to sally forth.

(wonderfully written post)

Laoch of Chicago said...

I like how they have "Keep Calm and Carry On" cuff-links!

Penny said...

We have an original of that poster, brought back by an uncle who served in the RAF during WW2. It has since been mounted in a glass fronted frame and at present hangs in our dining room.
It has often served as a reminder that yes, I can cope and carry on.

RachelVB said...

Strange how we've been brought up to believe mystery is a bad thing, a scary thing, a thing to be feared like a monster under the bed. I like the idea of embracing mystery - there is so much wonder in it - white lights and fireflies and muddy plants and creatures. You never know in the future who you will find and love (friend, animal or other). Perhaps this is the best mystery of all

Claire Beynon said...

Dear Marylinn
Thank you for this wonderful meditation. You have a gift for articulating those parts of the journey that are both gritty and graced, a way of speaking directly to the heart of what connects us as well as to what makes us distinct from each other.
You are right... we are 'allowed moments', we continue to be blessed even when life appears to be chastening us or putting us through the mill; it's all mysterious, all ultimately about forward movement. As you say, "all will be well... if not now, then soon. Or soonish!"
It's good to know you're out there, treading a fine, real path with trust and good faith. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.
Love, Claire

Marylinn Kelly said...

When we were growing up, my sister had a favorite book which she read over and over. It was called "The Luckiest Girl." When I check in on my blog and see comments from all of you, I consider myself today's luckiest girl.

Elisabeth - The widespread popularity of this campaign is just beginning to seep in...where have I been? Isn't it interesting as we discover new ways in which we connect? Thank you, Elisabeth.

Robert - My guess is that the stiff upper lip business predates this, I wonder how long ago it became a philosophy? Surely Britain needed such an outlook for WWI as well.

Kass - Thank you, it made me feel the same way...encouraged, strengthened, capable. And sane, best of all.

Laoch - Cuff-links and "plasters" aka bandaids. Just the thing for some large misfortune in the middle of the forehead.

Penny - Another crossing of paths and to have an original, valued and displayed, how wonderful. Large and prominent, it would give the boost we all need some mornings...or whatever time of day. Thanks for telling us about it.

Rachel - One of my earliest rubber stamp designs says, "It's all a mystery." That was done 16 years ago and my conviction has only strengthened. And I share your view that mystery is one of the gifts - it allows us continual surprise.

Claire - A meditation, I thank you for naming a piece of mine as such.

"...parts of the journey that are both gritty and graced..." which pretty much describes it all, sometimes within the same moment. Think if the motto had been, "No Backsliding." Would anyone have taken it to heart? A huge difference between scolding and encouraging. xoxo

TC said...

Great post, serious and funny and "we've all been there".

Much as I would wish to Keep Calm and Carry On, in fact for me it's more a matter of Even If You Can't Keep Calm, Carry On Somehow.

But you are braver about all this than I am, I think (that would not take much!).

One recalls the series of Carry On films. There were actually twenty-eight of them, beginning with Carry On Nurse (1959). These rather farcically satirized the whole Carry On ethos (though latterly the series did degenerate into an increasingly predictable routine preoccupation with tits and bums). My favourite was Carry On Cleo (1974). A typical exchange: "As soon as I got into her room, she asked me into bath with her" -- "Perhaps she wanted to show you the delights of that fair city".

I spent nearly five years in England at universities not so long after the Second War, and people I knew had been through the Blitz and had Carried On. That was a matter of a collective cultural strength which, as an outsider, I marveled at and envied but finally could not identify with because I was... an outsider.

As to the typeface issue, in case you haven't already seen it, here's a film that I think might interest you: Helvetica

Marylinn Kelly said...

Tom - Nice to see you here...forgive, please, my slow response. I have seen "Helvetica," a type nerd's dream...my days as a reporter came just at the end of hot type, linotypes, composing rooms and inky page proofs.

I trust that your "carrying on" goes with ease and comfort. It may be that keeping calm is an ideal, we come as close as we can. I do remember the "Carry On..." series of films and know I've seen a few but, alas, cannot recall which.

We all confront aspects, I believe, that make the simple act of moving forward a challenge and how we deal with them is a very individual and personal form of combat. I do not believe it is something which anyone outside can - or should - judge. Bravery is not an absolute but more something that is determined by considering all the factors.

Thank you for your support and comments that expand the discussion.

grrl + dog said...

the essence of British life - there is another version where it says,
"keep calm and carry yarn."

Marylinn Kelly said...

Denise - After mentioning your comment, I know there is interest in a poster of the Keep Calm and Carry Yarn sentiment.