Wait up, let me just grab my confidence heels

Wait up, let me just grab my confidence heels

So if you follow me on Twitter @BronwenCarlyle, you’ll probably have already read this story more times than you care to, but I promise I’ll say something about it more than “ermigerd I met a celebrity.” Yesterday when I was flying home to visit my family, I ran into the hockey player Robert Bortuzzo, formerly a Pittsburgh Penguin who just got traded away to St. Louis, which in my opinion is a great loss and a terrible decision for Pittsburgh. But anyway, I happened to share a brief plane ride with him and also managed to snag a picture as proof, since otherwise no one would ever have believed me.

me and bortuzzo

But rather than me gushing on like a giddy schoolgirl (which let’s face it, is how I acted because I was so starstruck), I want to instead talk about confidence and personal appearance and Murphy’s bloody Law.

Very rarely do I leave the house with no makeup on. There are many reasons for that. One, I just like makeup. I enjoy putting it on and I enjoy the way it makes me look and feel. Two, I always feel much more confident when wearing makeup. If I have on a pair of heels and some red lipstick, there is nothing I can’t do. And finally number three, it never fails that if I leave the house without makeup on or just wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt (which I almost never wear out because in the same way that I love lipstick and heels, I also love dresses and jewelry), I will inevitably run into someone I know and someone before whom I would prefer not to be wearing ratty old sweatpants.

So of course when I ran into the NHL hockey player in the airport, I was wearing “airport clothes” or “I’m-tired-and-dehydrated-and-just-want-to-get-home-clothes” and had no makeup on. Which I’ll be honest is why it’s me it took me an entire flight plus ten minutes of deboarding the plane to work up my courage to run up to him and tell him how much I love him and think he is an amazing player and I’m a huge fan and would he take a picture with me. I have a feeling that if I had been wearing lipstick and heels per usual, it would’ve taken me about two minutes to work up my nerve to do all this.

The point of all this is to say that while I love being dressed up, I certainly should not have to be all dressed up to have confidence. When I was relating this story to my best friend, she was quick to point out that even when I’m not wearing my confidence heels, I basically always am. I guess it’s just hard to remember that all the time.

How I generally feel when I’m wearing heels and lipstick

How I generally feel without my makeup armor

The point of all this is to say-well, many things- but thinking especially in terms of my writing, I find myself often wanting to be more like (some) of the characters I create. Thinking of my female characters alone, they are all wearing confidence heels even when they’re not. Even when they’re terrified or insecure or overwhelmed, they have the ability (even if they don’t always use it) to tap into some deep power. Now I don’t want to go all “I am woman hear me roar” but: Rawr.

My female characters are by far my most powerful. And it doesn’t matter if they are wearing sweatshirts or ballgowns or tiaras or sneakers, they are powerful simply because they are powerful. Sometimes it takes a while for them to realize this power but even then, that doesn’t mean they have to change their appearance in any way to look more traditionally feminine (whatever that means, that’s so culturally loaded).

the ever-wise Dita Von Teese again

They are powerful because they believe they are powerful. Here’s to hoping I can learn something from my own creations.


Of Tourist Traps and Sacred Spaces

The last week has been full of moving and apartment-cleaning and subleasing for the summer (oh how many are the joys), and my mind has fled back many times to my recent trip to the UK and Paris, and how I can’t quite figure out why I got on the plane to come back.

So, today’s post is about some of the numerous churches and cathedrals I saw during my brief sojourn abroad, starting with the one I saw on my first day over there, in Edinburgh. That would be St. Giles’ Cathedral:
The Sunday morning service had just ended, so I was able to go in and see the cathedral up close (though no interior pictures were allowed). Suffice it to say, it was beautiful, reverent, and haunting in its silence. More to come on that, but let me mention briefly some of the other churches I visited.

In London, there was (of course) Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral, both of which had lines out the door of people waiting to get in. There was also an admission fee (not cheap, considering the less-than-stellar exchange rate when I was over there) for both of these London churches, though there was only a suggested donation for St. Giles’.

St. Paul's

St. Paul’s

Note the ridiculous discrepancy between the 5'4" person and the massive doors. Amazing.

Note the ridiculous discrepancy between the 5’4″ person and the massive doors. Amazing.

In Paris, I only had time to visit the two I desperately wanted to see, and those were La Basilique du Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame. Both were utterly swamped with visitors, but because the path/stairs up to Sacré Coeur is significantly longer, there seemed to be fewer people actually inside the basilica at one time, whereas Notre Dame was simply flooded with tourists both inside and outside.

Sacré Coeur

Sacré Coeur

Sacré Coeur sits atop the Mount of Mars, or the Mount of Mercury, which has been revered as a sacred site by druids, Romans, and eventually Christians. When Saint Denis was martyred here, the hill became known as the Mount of Martyrs, which ultimately gave its name to the neighborhood in which the basilica now sits: Montmartre.

Sacré Coeur sits atop the Mount of Mars, or the Mount of Mercury, which has been revered as a sacred site by druids, Romans, and eventually Christians. When Saint Denis was martyred here, the hill became known as the Mount of Martyrs, which ultimately gave its name to the neighborhood in which the basilica now sits: Montmartre.

Sacré Coeur has also been the site of a perpetual eucharistic adoration for over 100 years– I believe the date was since 1885. Even with the influx of people inside, then, there was very much a reverent feeling within the basilica because of this perpetual adoration.

a view of Paris from Sacré Coeur

a view of Paris from Sacré Coeur

Notre Dame, on the other hand, was so congested that it felt like only a historic site (which obviously, it is) but not like a cathedral at all. This was not helped by the fact that there was some sort of bread festival taking place on what is essentially the front lawn of the cathedral. And by bread festival, I mean a massive tent pavilion with vendors and a sound system, music blaring behind me, as I filed into the cathedral along with all the other tourists.


Inside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

Finally, there was the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland. There were maybe two or three other people in this stunning church while I visited it, so I was able to spend all the time I wanted there and even got to speak with the rector about the history of the church, his own history, etc. Amazing time, especially considering I thought it would be more crowded since the Church of the Holy Rude was the site of King James VI’s coronation over the Scots (and he would eventually become James I of England and would also be responsible for the King James Version of the Bible); furthermore, at his coronation in Stirling, John Knox actually preached the sermon, which I found fascinating.

Church of the Holy Rude

Church of the Holy Rude

It was so odd to visit so many churches and yet have such different feelings in all of them. Of course, I understand the reason places like Westminster and St. Paul’s charge a fee to tour the interior. Historical sites do need to be maintained, especially when flooded by visitors every day. But other churches, some arguably as-visited as these two London sites, only had suggested donations if you wanted to light a candle or just help support the church. Part of me still pulls back from the idea of charging admission to a church, even if it is a historical site, because it seems so in contrast to the sacredness of what it is supposed to be.

Of course, this depends on how you view the idea of the sacred, or if you even think it exists. To some people, a wide open meadow is far more sacred than a basilica, and the reverse is true as well. I don’t really cling to either, because I think there are as many places that may be sacred as there are people in the world. But at what point does a site such as Notre Dame become so “historical” and so “touristy” that all sacredness seems to have fled it?

But that’s only my opinion, and only my feeling that Sacré Coeur and St. Giles’ retained their function as churches while Notre Dame did not, and there’s for sure as many as would disagree with me as not.


Of Heroes, Travels, and Historical Dragon-Slayers

To continue recounting my sojourn abroad, I’m going to theme today’s post as notable dragon-slayers. I have written before on individual dragons themselves, but given the roads and places I trod recently, I think the dragon-slayers are entitled to their own post. Starting, of course, with one of the original and most badass of all dragon-slayers: King Arthur.

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler

Now, given that my recent trip led me all around the British Isles, you may be surprised to learn that the above picture is not actually a ghost I saw of King Arthur, just a lovely painting of him. Not to say I didn’t see his ghost, but phantoms are remarkably hard to photograph; they hardly like sitting still long enough.

I did, however, get the chance to see Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, which is a peak in the center of the city reputed to be one of the possible sites of Camelot– and that was just on my first day:


When I reached Wales, I journeyed to what I consider King Arthur’s shrine (I’m nothing if not devoted), and that would be the mountain of Cader Idris, which I did hike to the top of (via the steepest path, by the way). There are a number of legends surrounding this mountain; one of them states that if you spend the night on the mountain, you’ll come down either a madman or a poet. Another is that King Arthur and his knights are sleeping underneath Cader Idris, awaiting the time when Britain needs them again. Tell me you can look at these pictures and possibly think otherwise:


the mountain and Llyn Cau at its feet

the mountain and Llyn Cau at its feet

looking over the edge into the fog

looking over the edge into the fog

I know many people tell the story King Arthur’s one-day return with a wink and a nudge, but there’s a reason we’re still telling his story today. Part of it is that the story of Camelot is one of the greatest tragedies of all time; it’s got it all: action, adventure, romance, heaps of forbidden sex, betrayal, honor, heartbreak. And since those things will continue to exist as long as people do, King Arthur will also continue to endure in all the various incarnations he’s been granted by storytellers, fantasy writers, historians, and any other interested parties.

But King Arthur is also a cultural, a mythic, hero– and no eye rolls about outdated chivalry or misogynistic readings of his mythology or anything else like that, for I’m perfectly serious. A man who tried to do the right thing for his people, for his kingdom, for his marriage, and who might’ve gotten tangled up in a whole heap of stuff along the way but who persevered and did the best he could. That is heroism. Heroes don’t always win and they don’t always get the girl; sometimes they lose the girl, the fight, and the kingdom– but that hardly makes them unheroic.

looking down at the surrounding valleys

looking down at the surrounding valleys from Cader

view from the top

view from the top

Speaking of heroes who seem to lose, get ready for this shift: I’m going to move on to Oscar Wilde now, whose grave I visited in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (why yes, I did manage to sneak in two days in Paris during my 2-week whirlwind trip around the UK):


Oscar Wilde is one of my personal heroes, and oh what an understatement that is. I remember the first time I read “The House of Judgment,” I wept as hard as I’d laughed when I first saw The Importance of Being Earnest performed. I won’t go into all the details of the way Wilde was vilified in his society, aside from just to say that it was utterly and incomprehensibly cruel and wicked and wrong, but I do want to transcribe here what is engraved on the back of his tomb in Paris:

“And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long broken urn.
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.”

Too beautiful and heartbreaking to elaborate on. So my final downtrodden hero of the day is William Wallace. I had the chance to visit Stirling to see both Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, both of which were breathtaking. The views from the monument in particular were astounding:

view from the monument

at the top of the monument


and again

The monument is essentially a massive tower with several different floors you reach via a tiny stone spiral staircase. Super fun when you’re going up and others are coming down. One of the floors– and my favorite, obviously– was the Hall of Heroes, which contained busts of a number of famous and influential Scotsmen, as well as (brace yourself) William Wallace’s actual sword, enshrined in a glass case of beauty.

the sword to beat all swords... except for Excalibur

the sword to beat all swords… except Excalibur

Again, Wallace seemed to have lost everything in his fight against tyranny, and in many ways, he did. In many other and equally important ways, however, he won. The Battle of Bannockburn happened only a handful of years later, which won Scotland independence, and Wallace has continued to be looked to as an inspiration by many groups throughout history seeking independence, equality, justice, etc.

So, I guess today was more about “losing” heroes than anything, but it’s good to remember that just because heroes don’t always seem to win, that doesn’t mean they don’t. That doesn’t mean the light doesn’t shine a little brighter, the darkness retreat a little more, as we continue to tell their stories– their defeats and their triumphs– for years and centuries after they’ve gone.

Of First Thoughts Home

Well, I am home. I saw so much and thought so many things in the last two weeks, that I’m struggling a bit how to organize my thoughts to tell you anything, so we’ll see how this goes. One of the reasons I love visiting old places and seeing historical sites is because I feel so profoundly connected to the past and to the men and women who for centuries (and sometimes millennia, depending on where you visit!) struggled, loved, died, ached with the same yearnings that we do today. That’s nothing profound, to be sure, but there’s something mystical about that, and I found myself struck with that feeling again and again as I wandered around for the last two weeks.

So, for a few of my favorite places, though many more will be posted later. Today’s pictures are just about feeling so deeply allied with the past, as I felt when I was in the presence of Dickens’s writing desk that I wrote about the other day (believe me, it was a presence).

First, Hatchard’s in London. It was opened in 1797, which makes it the oldest bookshop in the city, and it is a book-lover’s fantasy. I just love (among so many other things) that some of the same titles that would have been there in 1797, are still sold there today. For all my fellow book enthusiasts, let that delicious feeling just curl into your toes like hot cider at Christmas. Because that’s what it felt like to be in that shop:

the oldest bookshop in London

the oldest bookshop in London


look at all the stories of books (pun made accidentally but left purposefully)

Second, Blackfriars Bridge. It’s the third oldest bridge across the Thames in London, which opened in 1769, and I delighted in thinking about all the people who have passed over it over the centuries. It also happens to be a key site in two of my favorite books: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot and The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare.

Blackfriars Bridge

“Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.” -Edmund Spenser

Of this bridge, one of Eliot’s characters remarks: ”See the sky, how it is slowly fading. I have always loved this bridge: I stood on it when I was a little boy. It is a meeting-place for the spiritual messengers. It is true — what the Masters said — that each order of things has its angel: that means the full message of each from what is afar. Here I have listened to the messages of earth and sky; when I was stronger I used to stay and watch for the stars in the deep heavens. But this time just about sunset was always what I loved best. It has sunk into me and dwelt with me —  fading, slowly fading: it was my own decline: it paused — it waited, till at last it brought me my new life — my new self — who will live when this breath is all breathed out.”

Blackfriars Bridge

On Blackfriars Bridge

Third, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Yes, this is a pub, but it is far from an ordinary pub. It was frequented by Charles Dickens, and it was also visited by (brace yourself for this list) Alfred Tennyson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Carlyle, Wilkie Collins, Voltaire, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, and Samuel Johnson (among a whole score of others). It’s also thought to be referenced in A Tale of Two Cities as one of the pubs frequented by Sydney Carton. Needless to say, I dined (and drank) with the spirit of greatness that evening.



And finally in my last of magical places for today, if any of you happen to be in or going to visit the London area, you should most definitely go see Dickens’s house, and not just for his writing desk that I’ve previously mentioned. It’s amazing (oh what an inadequate word) to see where one of the greats lived and worked, and I thought it appropriate to end with this site, especially since I’m going to close with Dickens’s words again. I love history (as you shall see in near future posts, if you haven’t gotten that impression already). But while I think it is so vital to remember the terrible, cruel, evil things that have been done throughout history (nod to George Santayana), I think it’s just as important not to forget the good things, the beautiful things, the acts of selflessness and kindness and love, that continue to keep us going, hoping, persevering through the darkness.

“Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.”

-Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

thinking great thoughts and contemplations during my travels

thinking great thoughts and contemplations during my travels

Of Final Traveling Thoughts

My current travels are ever so sadly drawing to a close, though that does mean more detailed posts to come regarding what I’ve seen and done, but with a few minutes to spare this morning, I thought I’d give you all a poem that has been running through my mind throughout my trip. It’s by W.B. Yeats (one of my all-time absolutely-mad-for-him-I-am poets), I apologize if the formatting is all wonky from uploading it on my phone, and it’s called “When You Are Old”:

“WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”

Perhaps an interesting choice of poem for my mind to be repeating to itself as I journey, but I don’t think it’s all that strange. Traveling always makes me a little sad even in the midst of joy, and I think this poem is such a beautiful juxtaposition of grief with love, of beauty with pain, that I can hardly stand its loveliness.

That’s all I’ll leave you with for today, plus a picture out of one of my recent hotel windows that I’ll let you create your own stories and poems from:


Traveling Thoughts

Charles Dickens's writing desk

Charles Dickens’s writing desk

I’m currently writing this as I run from one place to another- on vacation, not the lam, so this will be very brief. I will have many things to discuss when I get back regarding my current travels, but for now, due to a limited Internet connection before my next mad dash, I will simply say that I saw Charles Dickens’s writing desk this week, it was magical, here is a picture of it, and also I’d like to give you all a quote that has come to my mind again and again this week with everything I’ve seen and done. Details to follow upon my return, I promise. But for now, in the words of Dickens himself, in A Tale of Two Cities:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

More to come soon!