Category Archives: Christianity

The Road For 2019…

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve’s done and dusted and Day Three of the New Year is already unfurling. If you’re like me and believe you ought to start off on the right foot, by now we should be cruising along at a steady walking pace and getting into the swing of it, whatever “it” might be. However, the more honest realists among us, will have no qualms in admitting that they’re still in the planning stages, especially if you’re currently on holidays frying yourself something silly and going “troppo”!

The start of a new year seems to draw out even the most closet philosophers, keen to jump up onto their soap boxes, espousing all sorts of theories about how to change your life, end all your old bad habits and park your old self in the telephone booth (if you can find one) and ensure a new improved you walks out. As a writer, this is a bit like finishing up your old journal and opening a fresh, blank notebook where there’s not even a mark on the page. In the entire book is as white as driven snow just waiting for you to get started if you dare.

However, I’ve finally come to my senses and stopped dreaming. As the clock strikes midnight, my fairy Godmother isn’t going to going to appear out of nowhere to perform a reverse Cinderella makeover on me. Indeed, yet again as we launched into 2019, I was still myself watching the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on the TV. I wasn’t a princess with a horse-drawn carriage and a book which has not only been written but also published. What a pity, which of course leaves me with the hard yards ahead.

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Why act, when you can write about it?

 

Anyway, while coming up with a list of New Year’s resolutions was  once as traditional as singing Auld Lang Syne, these days many people are just coming up with their word for the New Year. Last year, my word was action and in 2019, it’s a case of “play it again, Sam”. Yes, my word for 2019 is still ACTION.

So, being the procrastinating, philosophizing sort, what was the first action on my list? Well, if you’re thinking it has anything to do with putting on my running shoes, active wear and getting stuck into it, you’d be sadly mistaken. Instead, I Googled ACTION quotes. More research required. After all, it takes a bit of a cattle prod to get some of us moving!

This quote particularly resonated with me and my writing:

“You can’t plow a field simply by turning it over in your mind.”
Gordon B. Hinckley

Here’s a few more:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.”

Tony Robbins

“In each action we must look beyond the action at our past, present, and future state, and at others whom it affects, and see the relations of all those things. And then we shall be very cautious.”

Blaise Pascal

“Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you ready or not, to put this plan into action.”

Napoleon Hill

Bilbo sand cliffs Ettalong 2

Life can be bewildering…even for a philosopher’s dog.

However, before you launch into action, you need a plan. Or, do you? I’m not so sure and find myself caught in between these two schools of philosophical thought:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

and

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

One of the underlying considerations is trying to understand just how much control we have over where our life is heading. Are we in the driver’s seat turning the steering wheel the direction we’d like to go while also operating the accelerator and brake at a pace of our own choosing? Even if we can attain full control over the car, what about the environment? Can we control the weather? The people around us? The state of the road or where it is heading? In other words, can we simply set ourselves a goal, write a plan, work hard and stick to the dotted line and know we’re going to reach our destination? That when we get there, we can stick our name straight up on the door, because we’ve finally made it. Or, is life much more precarious than that? Could we get blindsided at any tick of the clock and it’s best not to strut too confidently because we’re only going to get struck down. Is it, therefore, much better to prepare for defeat, or at least a long struggle ahead? If you’re spiritually inclined and believe in God (I’m a Christian), you also have God to factor into your equations. Is God really in control? If so, does that give him absolute power over our lives? Or, does he give us considerable independence, or at least the capacity to screw ourselves up?

Rowena in Florence

There are many roads you can take….in Florence in 1992. 

As you can see, I could easily spend the entire year debating just how much control I truly have over my own destiny and the best-laid plans of mice and men. However, that’s precisely the kind of thinking I’m trying to break out of to get on with things. Turn 2019 into a year of action, not procrastination or philosophizing.

However, this leads me into only another question…WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS THE ACTION? If you don’t define the action before you go and do it, you could go and do the wrong thing. After all, in addition to procrastination, there’s distraction and although both of these words contain “action” in them, they have nothing to do with ticking that thing off your to-do or bucket lists, and achieving that thing that makes your heart sing.

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Some times, you only know which way NOT to turn.

Personally, I reached my WHAT for 2019 via a typically circuitous route. As many of you will be aware, it’s been a long-held goal of mine to write a book and get it published. Indeed, my mission for the last ten years has been to write  a motivational book about living with and overcoming adversity. However, while it was all tracking perfectly in my head about 6 years ago, I had a massive setback and wasn’t sure if I was going to pull through. Not unsurprisingly, I had to rethink and reassess all of that. While we all know the simple laws of gravity and what goes up must come down, it’s quite a different thing to experience that yourself and crash land on your head Humpty Dumpty style wondering how to put the pieces of yourself and your life back together again. For me, that wasn’t a quick fix. Indeed, there wasn’t a fix after all. More of a realization that life is complicated and you just need to make the most of every day regardless of your circumstances. That what really matters is loving and being loved, being a part of community ideally on many levels and having that give and take. For me, there’s also having a faith in God. A faith which not only acknowledges that he exists, but also that he loves me and isn’t trying to destroy me when the shit hits the fan. I’ve also had to accept and acknowledge that I’ve shot myself in my foot at times, and have brought about my own troubles. There’s also just bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moreover, sometimes we just don’t know why bad things happen to us but we owe it to ourselves to try to get on with living and find a way out. Not in terms of denial or avoidance, but via a potentially more painful yet ultimately rewarding path of personal growth. Learning our life lessons, especially before they get repeated because we’re slow learners.

vintage-1970-s-mego-wonder-woman-12-action-figure-superhero-doll-w-red-boots

Here I am as Wonder Woman…the female version of Action Man I suspect.

Well, it;s taken me almost 2000 words to say that I’m going to get that book written in 2019. I guess that could well explain why I’m a writer and not a female incarnation of Action Man. If I just got on with it, no matter what it happened to be, I’m sure I wouldn’t have as much to write about. I’d be doing it instead. So, you could say that inaction is an occupational hazard.

How about you? Have you chosen a word for 2019? What is it? Or, perhaps you’ve come up with a few resolutions, perhaps even including not to make any resolutions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this. It’s been quite a mammoth effort getting through this and it’s now Wednesday night. Indeed, even Wednesday is starting to expire. I’m supposed to be getting the kids packed for the Scout Jamboree. They leave in the morning. It seems I still have a lot to learn and that my ACTION steps are going to begin with sewing on the last of those Scout badges.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Merry Christmas – Weekend Coffee Share.

This is just a brief message to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy, healthy and Wonder-filled New Year.

As you may be aware, I live in Sydney, Australia where it’s looking like we’ll be having a scorchingly hot Christmas and Boxing Day. We’re heading out to Church tonight for Christmas Eve and will be heading to my aunt’s my parents and extended family for Christmas Day. We’ll be catching up with Geoff’s sister from Boxing Day.

I’ve written a few Christmas posts in the last week which may interest you:

Silent Night

A Stinking Hot Christmas (written 2015 for Solveig Warner’s Advent Calendar)

A Sydney Christmas

Christmas Door – David Jones

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

 

We would like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Happy Holidays isn’t a phrase we use here in Australia, but I understand it’s used a lot in USA and has its place.

Yet, at the same time, we understand that this time of year is very difficult for many for a variety of reasons and we would also like to acknowledge that. We hear you and I put my hand on your heart and stand alongside you. It’s not easy and while I’ve experienced the most amazing miracles myself, they haven’t come about like clockwork. I haven’t clicked my fingers and hey presto, pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I’ve also found there’s a lot I can do to both improve my lot and also completely shoot myself in the foot and make things worse.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-TS Eliot

Well, that’s a rather large dose of philosophy and reflection for what’s supposed to be a coffee share. However, so much is shared over a cup of tea or coffee in the real world. Why shouldn’t that be a part of our virtual coffees?

“Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”

-David Letterman

Best wishes,

Rowena

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

PS The photo of me as the elf was taken in the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. I popped down there to pick up some resources for a friend. However, 6 years ago I had a round of chemo (cyclophosphamide) to treat my auto-immune disease, which had started attacking my lungs. Treatment began the week before Christmas with my second dose on Boxing Day, when there was plenty of parking for a change. The treatment worked and I’ve been in remission for 6 years. So, I have much to be thankful for and it’s a reminder not to take the seemingly hum drum and every day for granted.

A Sydney Christmas.

Although it’s not quite Christmas yet, I thought I’d share some of the Christmas scenes I encountered on some recent trips into the Sydney CBD. To be honest, by day these decorations as a whole, are very lack lustre compared to what I’ve been seeing from friends currently touring Europe and New York. Indeed, I feel a bit sheepish about presenting them at all, and rather apologetic. However, our beaches are beautiful this time of year, and who needs Christmas lights when you can have the sun.

My personal favourite has to be the window displays in David Jones’s Elizabeth Street Store. Although to be honest, I’ve only viewed them twice and haven’t entered the realms of Christmas traditions, even though I vowed they would when I took the kids there for their Santa photos when they were very small and our daughter was still terrified of Santa.

Here’s a few of my pics this year:

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Star Wars Display at David Jones

 

Walking across Hyde Park, you’ll come across St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s large nativity displays both inside and out:

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St Mary’s Indoor Nativity Scene 2018

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St Mary’s Outdoor Nativity Scene 2018.

Above: the dazzling Christmas tree in the Queen Victoria Building at Town Hall made of Swarovski crystals.

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The two photos above were taken at Haig’s Chocolate Shop in the Queen Victoria Building. As much as I was tempted to but a chocolate bell of Christmas tree, I was concerned about them melting in the heat going home. That’s an unfortunate reality of a Summer Christmas.

Last and perhaps least and I hope it truly lights up into something dazzling as it currently looks very small and pathetic, is the Christmas Tree at Sydney’s Town Hall.

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After all that walking around, Elf and I needed to sit down.

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Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of a Sydney Christmas by day. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get in there to view the lights.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena and family

Silent Night by Rowena Curtin | Advent 2018 Day 5

Once again, I’ve participated in Solveig Werner’s annual Advent Calendar where people from around the world share their different experiences of Christmas and their various traditions. As a proud Australian, I do my bit to share what it’s like to celebrate Christmas Down Under where it is Summer btw and not a snowflake in sight. Indeed, Santa attends our local Christmas festivities onboard a fire truck.
This year I wrote about Silent Night and my mother’s experiences growing up as an Australian within a migrant community where everyone sang Silent Night on Christmas Eve in their native tongue.
Best wishes,
Rowena

Solveig Werner

Silent Night

By Rowena Curtin

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Mother Teresa

Two hundred years ago, on a cold Christmas Eve in 1818,Silent Nightwas sung for the very first time at St. Nicholas Catholic Church inOberndorf, Austria. As the daughter of a church organist, I remember how hymn numbers used to arrive at the last minute and Mum would dash off to the piano to practice. However, it never crossed my mind thatSilent Night, one of the world’s greatest Christmas carols, was also thrown together at the last minute. Or, that the words and music were written…

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The Endless Explorations of an Overstimulated Mind…

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

To the untrained eye, my thinking’s seemed pretty random of late…a mush of pea and ham soup with a few recognizable objects thrown in. Indeed, even I’ve been starting to wonder if there are any threads of logic tying my ramblings together. After all, there’s been no sign of  a train of thought methodically stopping all stations on the way to its advertised destination. However, after much consideration, I was relieved to find a noticeable thread running through it all, even if I did have to search for it.

Yet, as much as I love darting from light bulb moment to light bulb moment, I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed and wondering whether a more focused approach would be more productive.  After all, I’ve almost blown a circuit when all my light bulbs switched on at once. As much as that sounds fantastic from a creative point of view, I do have practical responsibilities. Indeed, clearly driving a car with a blown circuit is a liability. Moreover, members of the family need to eat, go places and live their lives. Yet, I also want to fulfil my own destiny. Walk in my own shoes.

So, today I thought I’d share some of this journey with you. I’m not even going to try to put a heading on it. I’m just going to grab my keys and go. That said, you ought to know we’re in Australia. I don’t want you to get lost before the journey’s begun.

First Stop:  Henry Lawson.

Henry Lawson by Lionel Lindsay

This journey began almost a month ago when I bought Colin Roderick’s: Companion to Henry Lawson’s Fifteen Stories at a garage sale in Pearl Beach. Fortunately, thanks to good luck or fiendish book hoarding tendencies, I already had its other half: Henry Lawson Fifteen Stories. Keen to write more short stories myself, I decided to get stuck into them. They’re designed for a high school audience and seemed quite thought provoking. I also wanted to immerse myself in my Australian cultural heritage. I stridently believe that everyone needs to know their own culture and step beyond the one-size doesn’t fit anybody global culture. So, I started reading more about Henry Lawson’s bio and was struck to find out he had a Norwegian father, Nils Larsen. I sort of knew that but that meant a lot more to me now. That you can’t just change a few letters in your name, and change who you are.

Second Stop: Bridget Donovan, Irish Famine Orphan Girl.

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Charlotte Merritt, daughter of famine orphan, Bridget Donovan.

As it turned out, Henry Lawson and his family were living in Mudgee in Western NSW where my 4th Great Grandmother, Bridget Merritt (Donovan) and husband George were living for several years. Bridget was an Irish Famine Orphan who came out to Australia onboard the John Knox as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. These Irish Famine Orphan Girls have been commemorated at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks as well as through historic research. As much as I’ve always loved an related to Henry Lawson’s works as an Australian, they suddenly meant a whole lot more to me now that they provided gained insights into how my family lived and the sorts of challenges they faced. Indeed, George and Bridget and their children could well have resembled one of Lawson’s characters and lived his short stories.

Third Stop:  Bourke, NSW.

Bertha Davies (nee Bruhn) and Herb Bruhn

Uncle Herb right as I knew him, along with his sister Bertha.

However, the connections didn’t end there. I also found out that The Bulletin magazine had sent Henry Lawson out to Bourke in 1893 to write stories about life in the outback. As it turned out, my grandmother’s uncle did a stint out in Bourke back in the 1960s. Moreover, Mum’s always told me this story about she was desperately looking forward to going to the Peter, Paul and Mary Concert, but was forced to go on a family holiday to Bourke instead. Although Mum was twenty and a student living out of home, there was no way she could get out of it. Even then, she was expected to do what she was told. No questions asked. So, I start picturing the family squished into the FJ Holden heading from Wollongong up over the Blue Mountains, through Dubbo and onto Bourke not quite following in Henry Lawson’s footsteps but I could sense a story in there somewhere.

Before I pursued this story any further, it was time to hit the research trail and see what I could dig up about Bourke in the old newspapers. Wow! Was I in for a surprise! While I knew Uncle Herb was into singing and I’ve at least seen an old black & white photo of him working on a musical production, I had no idea Uncle Herb was the Producer of the Bourke Musical & Dramatic Society.  As a town with a population scratching to reach two thousand souls, this was hardly the big time. However, he approached these productions with such professionalism, gusto and passion that he truly belonged on Broadway. From what I gather, they put on numerous productions including: Oklahoma, Cleopatra and South Pacific. Yet, given Bourke’s remote location, it was a battle for the show to go on. There were numerous efforts to recruit new members in the newspapers and he even offered free voice training. However, the appeal which really struck home was his quest to find a pianist, which must’ve hurt because my mother was not only a piano student at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. At this time, she was learning from Linley Evans who’d accompanied the great Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba. However, mum was in Sydney and almost a thousand kilometres away.  Of course, Uncle Herb did approach my grandparents, but they decided she was far too young (Phew!!)

By this stage, the whiff of another story was almost knocking me out. However, the excitement didn’t end there. While I was scouring the old newspapers online, I stumbled across something like twenty poems Uncle Herb had had published in the newspaper. I didn’t even know he wrote poetry and as a poet myself, that was important. I’d found someone like me, and that’s not to be overlooked lightly. Indeed, I immediately wanted to drop everything and compile his poems into an anthology. However, than idea had a quick demise when I remembered that my own poems need a lot of sorting out and I’d better get my own poems in order first

Fourth Stop:  Honi Soit, Sydney University’s Student Newspaper.

Antonymns Rowena

Here I am back in 1990 running for election to edit Honi Soit .

Last week, while I was down in Sydney for the Carer’s Day Out, I detoured home via my former stomping ground, the University of Sydney. Quite aside from photographing the old buildings and retracing my footsteps, I found out that past issues of the university’s newspaper, Honi Soit, were available online. Needless to say, that proved quite a distraction.

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The Main Quad, Sydney University, 2018.

Hoit Soit was first published in 1929. As it turned out, my grandfather was studying dentistry at the time. So, that’s where my investigations began and I soon got caught up in all sorts of tales about students struggling to meet people on campus, which were exacerbated by the ruling that women couldn’t attend a dance unaccompanied by a man. Naturally, this ruling affected those who needed to meet new people most…the freshers.

Student Theatre Type

Above: The Arty Theatre Type

In my father’s day, I also found a very entertaining article advising freshers on “How to succeed at University by Really Trying”. May favourite was Graham Sawyer’s advice to college residents:

“Although a book could be written on entry into college the following hints may be of assistance.

  1. Be gracious, even when yelled at to answer the phone.
  2. Be mysterious, never take anyone (at all) into confidence.
  3. Get long distance phone calls, exciting letters . . . arrange these yourself,
  4. Rent a good painting for your room, when you have to return it say the artist was having a show, Australian art only of course.
  5. Buy from a junkyard a smashed up TR3 grille and inscribe it “September 1961, Sandra”. Put it in an obvious position.
  6. Have an affair with a girl in Sydney, and one in the old home town. Talk about it with passion, let whole college advise. Break one of the girl’s hearts, and plead guilty to the whole college.[1]
Student Graffiti Artist

Above: The Newspaper or Literary Type.

After browsing through a few back issues from my own time, I headed to 1969 the year of my birth. I was due to be born on the 20th July the day man landed on the moon and I wanted to read student coverage of the event. After all, the moon landing has become part of my personal narrative.

That was two weeks ago. However, in typical Rowie fashion, I still haven’t reached the moon landing. Instead, I stumbled into the Vietnam protest movement and my journey veered off in an entirely new direction. You see, my Dad had been called up to go to Vietnam and I almost felt a sense of duty to delve into it further.

Stop Five: Conscription & the Vietnam War.

Image result for Save Our Sons No Conscription

In 1964, the Australian Government introduced conscription. On the 10th March, 1965 the first ballot or “death lottery” was held, which covered men who turned 20 from January 1st 1965 to the 30th June. That included my Dad who was in the third year of his economics degree. It was pure chance, but Dad’s birthday came up. It was like playing pin the tail on the donkey, and suddenly the thumb tack went straight through Dad’s nose. He was in. That was that.

However, Dad still had a bit of time up his sleeve. He could defer until he’d finished his degree, but that would only buy him a year.

By now, you’ve probably gathered Dad got off. That’s a story in itself, involving what Dad called: “An Act of God” and once again brought into question that delicate fusion of destiny and chance. Not being a lawyer myself, I’m not exactly sure how this loophole stands up in court. However, you might recall that Billy Connolly referred to it in: The Man Who Sued God. 

Anyway, Dad was driving home from a party in the rain when his car skidded and careered across from one side of the Pacific Highway to the other into the path of an oncoming Mercedes Benz.  Needless to say, Dad was lucky to survive. However, he ended up with multiple fractures in his pelvis and a few broken ribs. When the police came to interview him, he managed to gloss over the bald state of his tyres and claimed: “it was an act of God”. Naturally, the Police were sceptical. However, what really mattered, was that his injuries rendered him medically unfit to go to Vietnam. So, it appears that even the army couldn’t argue with an “Act of God”.  By the way, in case you’re doubting the legitimacy of of divine intervention, the couple in the Mercedes had been having an affair and the accident opened the lid on that too. So, even if you don’t believe in the man upstairs, perhaps you’ll now believe in miracles.

Researching conscription and the early days of the Vietnam War has been fascinating, especially given my father’s involvement. I’m particularly keen to find out how these young men handled the waiting game. Although the birthdays had been drawn on the 10th March, the dates had been kept secret. The chosen ones would be notified by mail within a month and asked to report for a medical. Of course, there was no email notification back then and I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for all those young men waiting to know their fate. Did they just get on with it and hope for the best? Or, was there an overarching sense of dread? I need to get my father relaxed and get him talking. He hasn’t said a lot. Although it’s over 50 years ago, it still feels relevant and must’ve been a significant stepping stone on his journey.

Last Stop:  Bien Hoa Airbase… Marigolds in Vietnam.

Bien Hoa

Although Dad didn’t go to Vietnam, all this research highlighted how little I knew about the Vietnam War and that I really ought to know more. In the past, I’ve found it rather intimidating with places names which weren’t familiar, and there’s always been a hostility to Australia’s involvement there. However, by starting to read about the war as it happened, it began to make more sense.

I’m not going to go into the battlefield side of things. However, I stumbled across an article by by  Dorothy Drain who’d visited Vietnam in 1965 as a war correspondent for Australian Women’s Weekly. There was one snippet within this story which really caught my eye. Indeed, my heart was glowing. Dorothy was near Bien Hoa Airbase, when she met up with B Company’s Sergeant Major, Eric Smith, “who was showing us with pride the marigolds blooming outside his tent”. He said:

“The wife sent the seeds. She sent me a Cootamundra Wattle, too, and someone swiped it with his big feet”[2].

Sergeant Major Eric Smith Australian War Memorial

I went on to find a photograph of the very same Sergeant Major, Eric Smith recording a tape to send back to his wife for Christmas. I don’t want to idealise this marriage of people I’ve never met. Yet, it warmed my heart.

Where To From Here…

red shoes

So, here I am at the end of another week wanting to consolidate all these fine beginnings. Write short stories galore. Yet, another week lies just around the corner with its own extraordinary moments. Indeed, on Wednesday, I’m planning a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW followed by a concert at the Conservatorium of Music where my grandmother Eunice Gardiner taught the piano and my mother was her pupil.

So, as much as I would like to slow life down for my pen to catch up, I still want to live. Keep my eyes open and absorb everything around me right down to the intimate, detailed minutae of things. I don’t want these light bulb moments to stop.

However, if you see me looking rather lost or woozy, could you please get me a chair or perhaps a glass of water. You could even give me a lift home.

After all, all this thinking, can wear you out. It’s surprisingly hard work.

I would love to hear any reflections you might have of any of the abiove. Clearly, it’s covered quite a lot of ground and it took quite a few days for me to gather my thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

References

[1] Honi Soit, March 5, 1963 Supplement.

[2] The Australian Women’s Weekly, December 8, 1965 p 7.

Weekend Coffee Share – May 14, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I hope you are having a great weekend and that you’re enjoying your cup of tea, coffee or even Bonox.

We are now well into Autumn here and this weather is teaching me to shut up about our warm, balmy Aussie weather. Instead, I’m down on my knees apologising and eating humble pie. Perhaps then, this cold snap will disappear and we’ll be back to 24°C again. It’s currently 14°C or 58°F. If you ask anyone around here, anything below 18°C is “freezing”. We can cope with the heat, but the cold is our kryptonite.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.

My big question about Mother’s Day is why couldn’t I sleep in? Indeed, why couldn’t I sleep through Mother’s Day entirely? Surely, if it’s my one big day of the year, I can do what I like and this while idea of hanging out with the family and doing together stuff is over-rated. Well, you can be sure these days that you’ll have at least some peace and quiet because it’s quite impossible for people to stay off their devices long enough for you to get through lunch, especially if you’re sitting down and having a more formal occasion.

We celebrated Mother’s Day last night by going down to visit my parents in Sydney. When it comes to celebrations and fanfare, I usually like to do something big and festive but you also need a bit of inspiration. On Friday, I spotted a book in the supermarket: “Me and My Mum”. It’s one of those books you fill out yourself and add photos, drawings etc. and is pretty much designed for a young kid to give to their Mum. This made it all the more fun for me to fill it out and give to my mum. I printed out some photos of our family dog but most importantly, there was one of Mum and I both in our bikinis about 40 years ago, when I was about 10. It was a real hoot pasting that one in and I think I should frame that and stick it up on the wall…me with my glamorous, bikini model Mum. Well, she wasn’t a bikini model, but she could’ve been if she’d been that way inclined. Instead, she was a music student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I’m not a huge fan of chrysanthemums so I bought her a cyclamen and it’s also not going to die in a few days like a bunch of flowers.  I bought one for myself too. I deserved it. Indeed, I deserved more, but that’s another story.

Yesterday, I was also helping out with the scouts. I spent two hours selling sausages to help fundraise for our kids to go to Jamboree. While the standing was a bit much and my maths struggled with the mental arithmetic, I enjoy being on the BBQs. I’m the frontline person who does the talking and takes the money, which suits me really well. I also spent an hour on the Mother’s Day flower stall. That felt like I’d stepped into someone else’s life and took me back to my childhood in Galston living on five acres. There were loads of market gardens and roadside stalls selling peaches, strawberries, flowers etc. Indeed, my friend and I sold lemons beside the road once. I was really in my element. Selling the flowers was a bit different. Like being someone out of a movie…the Flower Seller… It should be staring a young Julia Roberts and not a haggard mother. Well, actually, I did have a lot of help as we had a young joey scout who was incredibly cute and a born salesperson who did an amazing job. Very hard to say no to.

Friday, Geoff and I went down to Sydney for a mini conference for the Myositis Association. My autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis, falls under their umbrella and I’m also a member of Muscular Dystrophy NSW. I really valued the conference as I met other people in the same rare boat and also received some important medical updates. I really am wanting to keep in closer contact. I go through phases with this, as I can be feeling quite well and like it’s all behind me. But, then it’s not. It’s still there and just like the ocean, I can’t really turn my back on it. Indeed, things have been a bit up in the air lately and I’m having a chest CT tomorrow, more blood tests and another appointment with my lung specialist on Thursday along with more lung function tests. I am feeling better than I was a month ago when I saw him last and my lung capacity was down 20%. This takes me down to around 54% so I don’t have a lot to play around with. I’m not coughing as much so surely that’s a great sign. Then again, I could talk myself out of any worsening symptoms at the moment. I’m feeling a bit over it. Or, what I call “chronic illness fatigue”.

This brings me to a beautiful song my mother played for me last night. They’ve been watching Britain’s Got Talent and she wanted me to hear a priest sing. I was a little surprised and wasn’t too sure I’d like it either but you need to have a bit of faith and being a Mother’s Day celebration, I did the dutiful daughter thing and stopped and paid attention. I’m old enough now to appreciate what it means to make your mother happy and put yourself on the shelf for a measly five minutes. I’m very glad I did, because she played a YouTube video of Irish Priest, Father Ray Kelly singing Everybody Hurts At age 60, he was discovered after his personalized rendition of  Hallelujah went viral. It is so funny and Father Kelly is not only beautifully refreshing, but he has that old fashioned personal touch where he can put his finger straight on your heart and heal at least that sense of being the isolated soul. Here’s Danny Boy I highly, highly recommend you check these out and if you have a thing for Christmas jumpers, he’s wearing a beauty here. He has two cavaliers and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone knitted this personally for him.

I could listen to Father Kelly all day and all night. He brings a sense of peace to a stormy and busy world.

Eunice Empire State Building 1948

Eunice Gardiner, Empire State Building New York, 1948.

Before I head off, I thought I might just mention my contribution to Friday Fictioneers this week…A Pianist in New York 1948  The photo prompt featured the Empire State Building all lit up at night, and it reminded me of a photo taken of my grandmother up there in 1948 as an Australian concert pianist living and touring through USA and Canada. It was a beautiful trip down memory lane and I managed to find a few more details about her time there, which really remains quite a mystery to me. So, that was really special.

Well, that’s about it from me.

How was your week? What have you been up to? Hope it’s been a good week for you and you and yours are doing well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Walking Through Christina’s World…A-Z Challenge.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As you might be aware, I’m currently taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, and my theme is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Yesterday, I wrote to American artist, Andrew Newell Wyeth regarding his iconic masterpiece, Christina’s World.

What I discovered, has been a Eureka Moment. Indeed, I’ve not only jumped out of the bathtub, but also leaped out of my skin. You see, I live with a muscle wasting disease called dermatomyositis, and a complication which causes fibrosis in my lungs, leaving me short of breath and prone to infection. My situation is extremely rare and even world-wide, there are only a handful of people who walk in my shoes. So, it’s also equally difficult to meet anyone who gets my situation from the inside out, without having some kind of medical training. Clearly, this isn’t something you can bond over with a stranger at the bus stop.

Christinasworld

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World

However, then I stumbled across Christina’s World. Not only is there the connection with Christina and her muscle weakness, but very late last night, I found out Andrew Wyeth experienced a chronic lung condition. What the??? I was absolutely gobsmacked!  Somehow this painting had brought about this very intense cosmic fusion between artist, subject and observer. I’m not even going to estimate the chances of this happening. They’re so infinitesimal, that you’d need a microscope to find them.

So, clearly you could understand why I was so excited about finding this work of art. It was like I’ve been travelling along the road less travelled forever, and suddenly meeting  two fellow travellers, and having someone to walk with. Not that I’ve been alone, but you get my drift.

That’s why I’ve come back to Andrew Wyeth today. While the whole point of this challenge is to visit a new artist every day, I felt this connection deserved so much more than a fleeting, one-off letter exchange. That the three of us needed to sit out on Christina Olsen’s front step, or which ever step it was, and chat. Or, simply inhale and exhale the same air, and not even say a word.  Me being me, I’d have to add a sunset. I’m not sure whether we’d be facing the sunset in real life, but sharing a Ginger Beer with two dead people is hardly what I’d call “living in the real world”. So, I can paint the sky any way I please, even neon if I get the urge. Well, that is, unless some of these Wyeths feel like giving me some painting lessons, or doing the job for me.

However, while we shared these struggles, we also shared our strengths. None of us were victims, who let circumstances chew us up and spit us out. Rather, we are survivors, battlers to the very end.

Despite her great mobility difficulties, Christina was out in the field picking blueberries and getting herself around without a wheelchair. She wasn’t sitting on the porch waiting to die.

As a young boy, Andrew Wyeth was frail and too unwell to go to school. However, encouraged and taught by his illustrator father and brought into his wider circle, he painted and mastered his craft trying various techniques until he found his own voice in egg tempera. Yet, his lung deteriorated further.  In 1951, he had major surgery to remove a portion of his lung. He survived two near death experiences, and they even had to cut through muscles in his painting arm. This would’ve devastated many. Wiped them out. Yet, within a matter of weeks, Wyeth was back at work again. Indeed,  Trodden Weed (featured image) was completed in March and if you’re familiar with Wyeth’s paintings, there’s all his usual attention to detail in blade after blade of grass. He didn’t slack off.

Of course, I don’t know for sure what Wyeth was really trying to say in Trodden Weed, which has been described as an “unconventional self-portrait”. However, based on my own experiences of medical setbacks, it could well signify that he’s back on his feet, even if he is wearing Howard Pyle’s boots. That he’s going places, and that his heath problems aren’t going to hold him back. Indeed, he certainly didn’t paint himself sitting in a chair out on the porch. No! Here is an artist, yet a man of action, much like Rodin’s The Thinker, if not so muscular.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

This sense of perseverance is something I’ve experienced myself, and I’ve pushed myself in ways that defy logic. I’ve always been a writer and photography has also been an omnipresent part of me. Yet, since my diagnosis I’ve also taken up the violin, done some adult dance classes, and even gone skiing. Each of these activities defies logic. While I’m certainly better than I was, I still have days when I even struggle to walk around my house, and my lung problems aren’t trifle either. So, I’m not superhuman, but it does show that there are forces at work which we don’t understand, and it’s worth getting out of our comfort zones to stretch what is possible as far as we can. I’m just mighty grateful that Australia’s largely flat, and I’m not living in Switzerland!

So, it is little wonder that alongside Christina’s World, I also relate to Brendan Graham’s modern hymn: You Raise Me Up, in such a personal way. For, along with Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olsen, I have also conquered mountains. Mountains beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm and I know I haven’t merely done this on my own strength. (By the way, I actually had the privilege of meeting Brendan Graham when he came to Sydney.)

Anyway, the day is done and I still have to move onto today’s artist…Guo Xi, which is starting to look like a very brief encounter indeed.

andrewwyeth-masterbedroom 1965

Andrew Wyeth, Master Bedroom.

So, I thought I’d let Andrew Wyeth have the last word. You see, it’s a great irony that after spending most of his life in the shadow of death, that he somehow managed to live a very long, full life and passed away at the grand old age of ninety-one. How did he do it? That’s a side to Andrew Wyeth’s genius, that I’m truly wanting to pursue further. Was it something he did? Luck? The will of God? When I get to heaven, I’ll be lining up Andrew Wyeth and Stephen Hawking side-by-side and asking questions… “Please explain!”

Have you ever had an experience like this with a work of art, or a book perhaps where the artist, writer, whoever knows your innermost struggle in such a personal way? Please share it in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just wanted to mention someone who walked with Andrew Wyeth in a very personal and unique way. That is Joyce H Stoner, a Conservator who worked with him on his paintings for the last 12 years of his life. Here’s a link to her reflections http://samblog.seattleartmuseum.org/tag/joyce-hill-stoner/. She talks about him in such an illustrating, personal way that even if you’d never seen his paintings, you’ll enjoy it.

She also appeared in this this detailed interview of his works.