Category Archives: Christianity

M – Edvard Munch- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

My profuse apologies to Michelangelo, Monet, Matisse and Miro, who I’ve had to overlook today.

However, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has resonated with me for so long and in such an intimate way, that I could only write to him. For he was there holding me close, when I was stuck inside my constricting  inner labyrinth. To be honest, these storms began as a child, increased during the swirling vortex of pubescence, but blew their banks in my 20s when the pressure inside my head, reached a final climax. Not due to mental illness. Rather, I had undiagnosed hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and the storm was trying to get out.

Strangely, while I was consumed by this churning vortex of anguish, despair, heartbreak, or pure panic, I found myself curiously carried out of the abyss by the figure in Munch’s The Scream. In hindsight, it was a bit like somebody carrying the crucified body of Christ off the cross and washing my wounds and bringing me back to life. Isn’t it ironic, that a painting which is so graphic in its anguish, can also be soothing.

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I was about 12 years old when I was first introduced to Munch’s The Scream in art class at school. Its impact was immediate. I loved it. This was many years before I knew that this state of extreme stress and panic, was something called anxiety. Or, that I could, at least to some degree, choose how I responded to the things which happened to and around me. That the glass could either be half-full, or half empty. I could focus on what I have and what is working. Or, I could fixate on what was missing or wasn’t working, and fall into an abyss of anxiety, depression and despair. Of course, that’s a simplified way of looking at things.

However, that way of looking at things, later probably saved my life. When I found out I had 60% lung capacity, I could’ve sat in a chair and have everything done for me because I was sick. However, I thought about how singers and brass musicians have increased lung capacity. That gave me the idea that if I worked on the 60%, I did have instead of fixating on the 40% that was missing, , I might just have enough. So, how you respond to a situation can ultimately make a huge difference to you, as all those small steps and little decisions add up.

Anxiety

Edvard Munch: Anxiety.

Like virtually all the artists I have written to thus far, Edvard Munch had his battles, and it is no secret he lived with mental health challenges, most likely bipolar disorder. You immediate see these two extremes of mood when you put The Scream and his mural The Sun side by side:

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychosis is based on his own diary descriptions of visual and auditory hallucinations, a multiply documented instance of his travelling throughout Europe manifesting manic disrupted behavior that culminated in his shooting two joints off the ring finger of his left hand, and his psychiatric hospitalization in 1908 for an intensification of auditory hallucinations, depression, and suicidal urges. He also suffered from bouts of alcoholism. However, when you read about his extensive experience of familial death and grief, it also makes me wonder how much they contributed to his heightened state.

Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Löten, Norway, the second of five children. In 1864, Munch moved with his family to the city of Oslo, where his mother died in 1868 of tuberculosis, when Munch was only five years old.

“I find it difficult to imagine an afterlife, such as Christians, or at any rate many religious people, conceive it, believing that the conversations with relatives and friends interrupted here on earth will be continued in the hereafter”

Edvard Munch

This marked the beginning of a series of family tragedies, which would’ve given Munch a very intimate experience of deep, prolonged suffering. His sister, Sophie, also died of tuberculosis, in 1877 at the age of 15; another of his sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness; and his only brother died of pneumonia at age 30. Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, interpreted these tragedies as acts of divine punishment. This powerful matrix of chance, tragic events and their fatalistic interpretation left a lifelong impression on the young artist, and contributed decisively to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability[1].

Moreover, it would be interesting to look at parallels between Munch and author Roald Dahl, who was also Norwegian and experienced similar family losses and developed a dark, almost sinister current through his writing.

The Scream

which scream is best

“Painting picture by picture, I followed the impressions my eye took in at heightened moments. I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see. Hence the simplicity of the paintings, their emptiness.”

Edvard Munch

Essentially The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through the air while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. Munch recorded his initial conception in 1891: “I was walking along the road with two of my friends. Then, the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My  friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.[2]” (Heller RH: Edvard Munch: The Scream. New York, Viking Press, 1972, p. 109) [3]

There are actually five versions of The Scream. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910) and a pastel version from 1893. The fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction in 1912. Also in 1895, Munch created a lithograph stone of the image, which is my personal preference. It’s so graphic.

In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless being in the foreground, was inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch might’ve have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was buried in a fetal position with its hands alongside its face, had struck the imagination of Munch’s friend Paul Gauguin. Indeed, it stood as a model for figures in more than twenty of Gauguin’s paintings, among those the central figure in his painting, Human misery (Grape harvest at Arles) and for the old woman at the left in his painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?.

Letter to Edvard Munch

Dear Edvard,

There’s so much I could ask you, but beyond all else, I wanted to thank you for painting The Scream and giving it to the world as a way for all of us experiencing anguish and suffering, can potentially find release.

Did you find release from your personal inner labyrinth when you passed?

Or, were your own words prophetic:

“To die is as if one’s eyes had been put out and one cannot see anything any more. Perhaps it is like being shut in a cellar. One is abandoned by all. They have slammed the door and are gone. One does not see anything and notices only the damp smell of putrefaction.”

I’d love to hear from you and could you please send me a painting of where you are now.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter from Edvard Munch

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Gauguin is feeling rather left out now that I’ve received a letter as well as Van Gogh. Do you think maybe you could send him a letter anyway, even though it breaks the rules of this challenge? You’re such a compassionate soul and I’m sure you could bend the rules a little and just send him a few lines. I’d be mighty grateful. Even in heaven, he can get a bit moody and he and Vincent had another falling it when he tried to read his letter.

Anyway, you Australians are a positive, upbeat bunch. All that sunshine must do wonders for your outlook. I’ve met one of your former Prime Ministers up here…a Malcolm Fraser. He challenged all my gloomy thinking and said: Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it can be delightful.”

I’ve attached a print of a mural I did called “The Sun”. That’s a pretty close approximation of what it’s like here. Oh yes! Much to my surprise, I am able to have loads coffee and chats with my loved ones up here. It’s really very social.

Yours,

Edvard Munch.

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Edvard Munch, The Sun

References & Further Reading

[1] http://www.theartstory.org/artist-munch-edvard.htm

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

B: Botticelli…A-Z Challenge.

This year my theme for the A-Z Challenge is Letters to Dead Artists. Yesterday’s artist was A: Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly sculpted the famous Venus de Milo.

Today, I am writing to Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

I was introduced to Botticelli’s works in 1992 when I visited Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, as a 23 year old Australian backpacking through Europe. That was when I first saw The Birth of Venus. I was awestruck, and loved it enough to buy a print and cart it all the way back to Australia in my very overweight backpack. That says a lot!

In addition to admiring his achievements as an artist, this letter also addresses Botticelli’s role and possible participation in the Bonfire of the Vanities.  On the 7th February 1497, supporters of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy, on the Mardi Gras festival. It is believed that Botticelli may have added some of his works to the pyre. It is hard to comprehend what went up in those flames, but there’s no doubt that priceless works of art and other cultural treasures were destroyed.

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Probable self-portrait of Botticelli, in his Adoration of the Magi (1475)

Letter to Sandro Botticelli

Dear Botticelli,

How are you? I expect that’s a rather rhetorical question these days. I was only being polite, but if you feel like responding in some way, I’d only be too happy to hear from you. Sometimes, the walls between heaven and earth aren’t quite what they seem, and people might even wander in and out. I don’t know. They’ve never spoken to me.

Anyway, I am writing to you to ask you a question. While that might seem simple enough, it’s much easier to ask a lot of questions, than it is to narrow it down to one, especially when I’m writing to such a monumentally great artist like yourself.

Botticelli, I first came across your paintings in the Summer of 1992 when I spent three days in Florence. It was stinking hot and I still remember the relief of an icy cold, real Italian gelato. Although I’d already visited The Louvre in Paris which had blown my mind, going to the Uffizzi Gallery, also felt like all my senses were being energized at once. I still remember seeing The Birth of Venus on the wall with its fairytale beauty and Venus standing in the shell. It was mesmerizing. Yet, it didn’t end there. Like a glutton at a sumptuous feast, there was more, including Primavera (1470s or early 1480s) and Pallas and the Centaur (1482-1483). I had just had my heart broken and I knew that anguish screaming through the centaur’s eyes. I also remember being swept away by your more religious works, although I can’t remember them by name.I don’t know how to describe that enormity of feeling. The best I can do, is compare it to falling in love…all consuming, passionate, divine.

Primavera

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery.

I don’t know whether it’s right to pull apart those feelings, or to try to work out why. Or, whether I should be pulling apart and analysing the life out of such a masterpiece. Or, whether it is better to simply leave it be as pure, unadulterated  awe and wonder.

One thing’s for sure. I didn’t want to hear this magnificent reflection of something in my soul denigrated by my future boyfriend as: “the naked woman standing in a shell”. What? How could he? Philistine! Despite being a Christian, I didn’t denigrate it because it was “pagan” either. How could I let ideology or doctrine come between me and something of such beauty and spirit?

This brings me to the Bonfire of the Vanities and my question.

How did you allow yourself to be swept away by Girolama Savonarola? How could you even be a bystander to the Bonfire of the Vanities on February 7, 1497 in Piazza del Signoria, Florence? Indeed, it’s even been suggested that you even added some of your own works to the pyre. I’m sorry if I’m coming on a bit too strong, but I can’t understand how an artist like you could stand by and do nothing. Let it happen. Or, even worse, join in and be a part of it.

That’s not to judge you, Sir. I didn’t mean to get so fired up. However, it terrifies me that The Birth of Venus and your other so-called “pagan works” could have been, in effect, burned at the stake, and humanity robbed. Indeed, I shudder at all the artworks and treasures that were lost. No doubt, you do too.

Strangely, I only found out about the Bonfire of the Vanities last night. Of course, you can’t know every piece of history. Yet, as a writer, a photographer, a creative who fears the mighty forces of fire and flood, I should have known about that. Marked it on my calendar every year to remember how doctrine and politics can destroy the creative spirit and its progeny.

I wonder how you feel about all that now. Is there regret? Perhaps, but I hope you’re primarily proud of how your works have been revered and considered among the greatest paintings of all time. You’re a genius!

Indeed, I wish I could meet you and not just sit down for a coffee, but to see you paint. Hear you speak. What inspired you? How can a 21st century woman on the other side of the world, possibly tap into whatever that was?

I hope. I dream. I write.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Rowena in Florence

Photographed at a monastry near Florence in 1992.

Letter From Botticelli

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter.

Now, what was your question? Please excuse me. I’m feeling a bit foggy today and haven’t had to bother myself with earthly matters for a very long time. Indeed, much of your memory gets deleted once you enter the pearly gates. After all, you’re not supposed to be spending eternity regretting things on Earth when you’re in heaven!

Yet, nothing could erase those flames, and seeing those precious masterpieces burning up. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, we followed him like lambs to the slaughter house. Florence was magnificent…the jewel of the Renaissance.  She wasn’t perfect but, it wasn’t Sodom and Gomorrah. It wasn’t hell on Earth. Well, that is until he stepped in.

In my defense, Rowena, I would like to suggest that you can’t always control of your own strings. Not that you’re a puppet, but even an artist has to eat and to some extent, each of us has had to sell our soul. Serve it up on a platter. That’s just the way it is…or how it was.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard that they now hide artworks away during times of war and keep the world’s great masterpieces away from the battlefield. Protect what is more than just a reflection of humanity, a mirror, but also radiates the human spirit. As you might appreciate, art crosses language and cultural barriers and draws humans closer together. Well, that’s if we allow ourselves to be moved.

Anyway, I haven’t asked you if you paint? I’ve always been a great teacher. If you feel like popping back, I’d be happy to teach you.

Best wishes,

Botticelli.

 

“Speak even if your voice is shaking”…

The terrible thing is that for every person who takes their life, there are others just hanging on to the very edge of the abyss by the skin of their fingertips. Moreover, we often don’t find out who they are until it’s too late.

On January 3, 2018 a young Australian teenager “Dolly” Everett tragically took her life in response to cyber bullying.

At the time, I was quite surprised that this young woman would be a victim of any kind of bullying, let alone something bad enough that this was her only escape. She was a very attractive young woman, who had modeled for Akubra Hats. I don’t know. I guess it just goes to show that nobody’s immune to being bullied or its consequences.

In the days before she passed, Dolly drew a young dancer with the heading: “Speak even if your voice is shaking” and these words are now being used in a media campaign to tackle cyberbullying and bullying in general.

However, Dolly’s words came back to me today in a different context. That her advice doesn’t just apply to people experiencing bullying, but about also enduring other trials and bottling their feelings up.

After all, it’s not easy to find the words to express yourself when you’re stuck in a labyrinth. It’s not easy to reach out and say you’re not okay. To go beyond that socially acceptable “fine”, when someone asks you how you are, even when you’re feeling shattered.

I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
Because boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry…

The Cure

I don’t know whether we ourselves are holding it all in, or whether it’s what society expects. Turning back the clock a bit, there was that classic song by The CureBoys Don’t Cry However, while our society has encouraged men to be more emotional, I suspect it’s also pushed women to be more controlled and to adopt the stiff upper lip. What do you think? I certainly don’t want to break down and cry. No, I’ll soldier on. Keep smiling… sunny side up. I don’t know whether it’s a case of denial or acceptance, but there isn’t a manual for how to keep living year after year with a severe life-threatening medical condition either from my own point of view, or from that of my family. We just keep going, because we have to and because we want to. I don’t want to die before I’m dead!!

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Yet, through Dolly’s words, I’ve also realized that I’ve been silent. That I haven’t been speaking up, and we as a family haven’t spoken about the elephant in the room for quite awhile. After all, we’ve been living with it for 12 years now, and it’s starting to look like we’ve established some kind of mutual stand off. That it has its part of the house, while we have ours. Yet, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That it’s not here and sometimes moves so close that I can feel it’s breath against my skin. I start to scream. Feel my life slipping away. Then, somehow the storm has passed, and we’ve back to calm seas and endless blue skies.

Yet, as hard as it is to speak when your voice is shaking, it’s not always easy to write about it either. Indeed, for the past couple of nights, I’ve been typing randomly into my computer hoping to unravel the wound up spring inside. Work out what’s eating me alive, when everyone else is asleep. What’s wrong.

Rowena sun

Here I am at Railway Park, Byron Bay.

 

It always seems to come back to this. I live with a neuro-muscular, autoimmune disease called Dermatomyositis, which has spread to my lungs causing fibrosis. I look perfectly fine most of the time on the outside. However, if my lungs were my face, you’d barely see my eyes through the scar tissue. Yet, I breathe. I walk. Play the violin and sometimes dance. I also love and hug my husband , my children, my Mum and Dad and the puppy dogs. I have a rich and beautiful life jam packed with love. More over, I am also able to give and care for those around me. Put my arms around the broken-hearted, and shelter them from life’s storms. Try to help them feel loved. Indeed, even in the face of all my health issues, I strongly feel that my time on the planet has only just begun, and couldn’t be about to end any time soon.

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But these are the words, the feelings, the fears, I carry on my shoulders like Atlas, because I don’t want anyone else to worry. I don’t want them to be afraid. I especially don’t want my kids growing up wondering when Mummy’s going to die. It’s much better to keep those thoughts to myself, although given my frequent coughing attacks, they must also have their doubts. I’ve been stuck gasping for air too many times and desperately holding onto that Ventolin for them not to be freaking out.

Yet, how long is a piece of string? No one knows. Not even those who think they know, get it right. Dying seems to be a very complex equation. Indeed, this week we saw death’s contrariness personified in the death of Stephen Hawking at 78 years of age, when he was supposed to die in his twenties.

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So, there is no crystal ball. You can’t predict when your number’s going to come up and to me, it’s all starting to look rather random.

So, what can we do?

I guess that’s where I thoroughly believe in Carpe Diem…Seize the Day. You need to be thankful for what’s going well and you do need to find an outlet, some way you can share those challenging days and emotions and know that your concerns will be taken seriously, respected and that someone will respond in exactly the way that is right for you…be it a hug, a bunch of flowers, a card, a poem.

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Now, I’m going to turn this around and throw the challenge back to you the bystander…”Speak even when your voice is shaking”. I have also been in the situation many times where someone I’m close to is sailing way too close to the wind.When  I know life is excruciatingly painful, and they could well pull the pin. Again, there seems to be no manual for what to say in this instance either. If you’re anything like me, you can get tied up in knots trying to think of the right thing to say. What to do. “I dunno!” Surely, something is better than nothing. A stutter or an awkward stumble, is better than silence.

In Australia, we have “R U OK Day”. This is a fantastic idea because it at least provides some kind of way to start that awkward conversation.

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That said, once we’ve asked the question, we need to be able to leave room for the consequences. Make sure we have enough time to listen. Moreover,  I believe most of us should have some basic understanding of how to handle a mental health crisis. Anyone of us could be that first responder and you’re not always in a position to call 000 or 911. I have been in this situation and I must admit that I had the peace of God around me at the time, because I am not a calm person.

As a parent of teenagers, this is a huge concern. Not just for me, but all parents of teens and all who love and care for them.

This takes me back to something Dolly Everitt’s Dad said:

“Be honest with your kids. If you can’t connect with them for whatever reason that may be, find someone that can. They’ll always have a mate they’ll always have a little buddy somewhere that knows more than mum and dad.”

– Tick Everitt

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So, I apologise that my thoughts have wandered but I don’t profess to have the answers. I just have the questions. Yet, I’m thinking. I’m trying to find a better way to handle my own hard yards, and also to reach out and be there for those within my sphere. After all, I’m only human. The rest is in God’s hands.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments, but if something is troubling you, I encourage you to turn to someone where you live who can truly be there for you.

Love and best wishes,

Rowena

PS You would think that by broadcasting my thoughts on the World Wide Web that those closest to me emotionally and also in proximity would also be the wiser. That they’d read my confessional on my blog and know what’s in my heart and mind. However, there is that cyber divide and my family rarely reads my blog. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if they knew a very different me, and for those of you who also blog extensively, that this is the same for you. This is important for us to keep in mind, just as it is for parents to be aware that they don’t know what they’re children are sharing online or how they’re being treated. There are two worlds.

More About the Photos

The photos which appear in this post were taken in August, 2011 in the Railway Park at Byron Bay, NSW. Byron Bay is a stunning coastal town with such amazing natural beauty, a striking lighthouse and since the 60s, it’s been a magnet for hippies and alternative lifestylers. People who are troubled, searching and potentially experiencing mental health issues go to Byron Bay to clear their head and yet their issues only follow.

We have taken our kids to the climbing tree whenever we’ve gone to Byron Bay to stay with Geoff’s sister and family. It is our home away from home. Or, at least it was when we could get away more often.

This climbing tree is rather special because it’s fallen on its side so kids can climb it easily and given the hippy vibe of the area, it’s not surprising that people tie scarves and ribbons in the tree. We’ve even found an empty milk crate suspended from a rope.

However, on two separate occasions many years apart, we met  a lady, Mama Dee who was painting the tables and chairs and decorating the tree as a tribute to local youth who had taken their lives. Indeed, her son had accidentally died in the park through an overdose of prescription drugs. She wanted to honour all these precious young people and also brighten up the park for children and make the place happy.

I hope her gift of love will also touch your hearts as it has moved mine.

 

Ghosts of Memphis…Friday Fictioneers.

The stench of raw sweat and the blood of a thousand broken dreams permeated the decaying walls of the old boxing gym, and Hope Unlimited Church had bought it for a song.

This was where Australian boxer, Les Darcy, had fought his last fight. The grim reaper might’ve claimed his body. The Lord had claimed his soul. Yet, all the boxers knew that a part of Les Darcy still lingered in the ring and wasn’t giving up.

There must’ve been something about Memphis, because Les Darcy wasn’t the only king, who’d come back from the dead to haunt the living.

……

Les Darcy 1910

Australian Boxer Les Darcy in 1910.

James Leslie “Les” Darcy was born on the 28th October, 1895 at Stradbroke, near Maitland, NSW, Australia and he had all the makings of a folk hero. His remarkable ring record—he lost only four professional fights and was never knocked out—was associated with a quite extraordinary physique: a muscular body apparently impervious to the heaviest blows and a reach 7 ins (18 cm) greater than his height of 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm). He neither smoked nor drank, and spent most of his income on his family; he attended Mass most mornings, one of his closest friends being the local priest. His decision to leave Australia secretly, in breach of the War Precautions Act, provided the controversy (and the enemies in high places) without which no hero-figure is complete: his lonely death in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 21, gave him an aura of martyrdom. So powerful a legend did he become that fifty years after his death flags flew at half-mast, and a memorial at his birthplace was unveiled by Sir William McKell, former governor-general. When he had been dead for two generations, he was still inspiring the pens of Australian nationalist writers- Australian Dictionary of Biography

Australian author, D’Arcy Niland, had a life long interest in Les Darcy and spent many years compiling notes and stories and even traveling to America and interviewing those who knew him back in 1961. However, Niland died suddenly and was unable to complete the story. However, later in life his wife author Ruth Park took on that challenge. Using the extensive material they had collected over many years, Park wrote Home Before Dark: the story of Les Darcy. It was published in 1995 by Penguin Australia.

As a personal aside, my grandparents were close friends with D’Arcy Niland and Ruth Park. Indeed, the night before D’Arcy Niland passed away, my parents met for the very first time when my grandmother held a soiree in their Lindfield home for upcoming young pianist, Gerard Willems. My grandmother was teaching my mother the piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the time, and my father was sent up to the station to pick her and Gerard Willems up. So, it seems that night marked more than one line in the sand.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. You are more than welcome to come and join us either as a writer or a reader. Simply click Here to go through to the linky.

Finding My Happy Feet.

“High heels are like a beauty lift. In a flat, you can feel beautiful, but a stiletto changes your mood, how you move – like a wild, beautiful animal. The idea was always to follow a woman’s wardrobe, her desires.”

Giuseppe Zanotti – Shoe Designer dedicated to providing women with “the most superlative shoes in the world”.

Confession time. While I’ve never fallen head over heels in love with a pair of shoes, I do have a thing for high heels. Indeed, since they’ve become the forbidden fruit, you could even call it an obsession.

Of course, I’m not the first person to believe high heels ooze sex appeal, a sense of fun, glamour and the promise of a glamorous night out. Indeed, anything but a night in with your cat watching re-runs of I Love Lucy.

Unfortunately, some of us are forced to hang up our stilettos long before our time. When even the Stiletto Queen has to hang up her sacred heels, and resort to (dare , I mention the unmentionable) SENSIBLE SHOES.  Or,  as my 11 year old daughter disparagingly calls them, “GRANNIE SHOES”. Whether through disability, accidents, chronic health, we’re left thankful to be alive, able to breathe and even move at all. As trivial as wearing pretty shoes might sound when you’re fighting for your life, they can also represent a broader sense of loss and grief after your life with all your grand plans and dreams, lands on the proverbial snake, instead of the ladder, in the game of life.

“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

This is the path I tread. I started this journey in my mid-20s when subterranean hydrocephalus in my brain, suddenly became graphically symptomatic. It was hard going to rehab and learning to walk again at 26 when all of my friends were out partying, their careers were still soaring and my life was heading the other way. I’d packed up my apartment and moved back in with Mum and Dad and was off to rehab in very sexy tracksuits, joggers and mixing with the over 80s.

Thanks to surgery, ultimately I largely recovered from the hydrocephalus, but still experienced debilitating fatigue.Moreover, the neurons weren’t firing in quite the same way either. I was fine but not fine.

However, at 35, I developed dermatomyositis, a debilitating muscle wasting disease after our daughter’s birth. It took 18 months to diagnose and by this point, I was in dire straights. As soon as I was admitted, I was put in a wheelchair. That was my legs for the next couple of weeks, followed by a walking frame and loads of prednisone. Despair doesn’t even begin to touch the depths of what I experienced then.  Survival was all that mattered and I didn’t even hope to see my children grow up. That was simply somewhere too far over the other side of the rainbow. I couldn’t even go there. They were still babies and wouldn’t even remember me if I’d passed. Rather, there was only today, tomorrow and each and every day was precious…the sort of precious you hold onto no matter how big the storm, how high the waves. Your life and everything you value, is hanging on by barely a thread and you won’t let go.

“What you wear – and it always starts with your shoes – determines what kind of character you are. A woman who wears high heels carries herself very different to a girl who wears sneakers or sandals. It really helps determine how you carry yourself.”

Winona Ryder

Yet, ten years down the track when the pressure’s eased off a bit, my need for footwear has taken on an element of urgency. The pup chewed up my one good pair of sensible shoes. After trawling round a few shopping centres, I haven’t found anything suitable. Not unsurprisingly, sensible shoes for the younger generation aren’t in high demand. Moreover, as much as my daughter might call sensible shoes “grannie shoes”, there’s still a line. A line I still can’t cross. I can’t. I can’t. I don’t want to turn 80 before my time. Instead, I might just have to go barefoot.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”

― Helen Keller

So, with my shoe situation becoming desperate, I confess I muttered a prayer…a prayer for a pair of simply black shoes, comfortable, supportive and wouldn’t kill me. I wasn’t asking for luxury but something on your feet is a necessity, perhaps not quite in the vein of needing to eat but protecting your feet isn’t frivolous nonsense.

“I’ve spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!”

Carrie Bradshaw, Sex In The City

louis-vuitton-patent-paradiso-flat-sandals-36-noir-black-00016

So, after that long preamble, perhaps you can now understand why I was so overjoyed when I spotted a pair of black, Louis Vuitton sandals in the local Vinnies charity shop. They were completely flat and fit me perfectly. I’m not even sure if they’d been worn. Time to do the happy dance, except wait, there’s more. There were also two pairs of luxury Italian leather shoes. These shoes would’ve cost around $3000 new, so I was overjoyed to pick up the lot for $35.00. One pair was a little on the small side, while the others have a small heel and I’m not exactly sure how far I’ll be able to wear them. I might need to use my walking stick or stay sitting down, but I don’t care. I’ll find a way. Find somewhere suitable to wear them, and I’ll be the phoenix soaring from the ashes of disability, chronic health and all efforts to make me old before my time.

By the way, ever the storyteller and writer, I also had to cast a thought about how they got there. Whose shoes was I walking in and where were they going to take me now?  We live round the corner from Pearl Beach, which is a bit of a millionaire’s hideout. It’s where Bill and Melinda Gates stayed when they were out in Australia, and its not impossible that they might have belonged to the likes of Nicole Kidman, Cate Blachette although Hugh Jackman might be too big a stretch. It might even be possible that Carrie Bradshaw and her enormous shoe collection migrated there after Sex In The City folded. Whatever, I hope whoever owned these shoes, led a good life and will share a bit of their sparkle with me. After all, I’m still trying to re-climb proverbial ladder, and reach back up for the stars.

Meanwhile, I’m giving thanks for such a spectacular answer to prayer, and I can’t wait to launch into the next chapter. Surely, it has to be amazing! After all, I’m a believer.

Have you experienced any miracles lately? Please share them in the comments.

xx Rowena

PS The featured image was taken at Circular Quay alongside Sydney Harbour.

Life According to Ebay.

“Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.”

Viktor E. Frankl

Although I routinely turn to Google to answer to life’s questions, I’ve never thought of asking Ebay before. However, tonight while searching for an electric recliner, I had an epiphany. Ebay claims it will “search for anything”. So, rising to the challenge, I decided to put Ebay through its paces and see what kind of wisdom it offered on some of the great issues of life: Hope, Despair, Love & Hate, Faith & Doubt, the Meaning of Life & and Meaning of Death.

Search 1: “Hope”.

“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Fall of Atlantis

Hope

Hope 180mm Floating 6-Bolt Disc Rotor Orange

Although I’m a pretty lateral kind of person, even I found Ebay’s take on Hope obtuse. Hope is a brand of bicycle parts. I’m not sure that Hope is what I’d want to associate with riding a bike, especially a high performance one. Thoughts like: “I hope you reach your destination” or I hope “I don’t get hit by a car’ come to mind. Yet, when I had a closer look at the Hope 180mm Floating 6-Bolt Disc Rotor Orange, it did seem rather profound. Indeed, I’m sure there’s some kind of weird, esoteric meaning in there somehere. Well, at least I can sense it.

Search 2: “Despair”

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.”
― Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

Not unsurprisingly, there weren’t any bike parts called “Despair” on Ebay. Rather, we ended up in the realm of books.There was Kierkegaard’s Concept of Despair by Michael Theunissen (Paperback, 2016). There was also Noam Chomsky’s Optimism Over Despair, which provides: “An essential overview of the problems of our world today — and how we should prepare for tomorrow. We can either be pessimistic, give up, and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe help make the world a better place.1”

In addition to the books, there were also a few CDs…Abysmal Despair recorded by ODYSSEY, and a thrash band, DESPAIR, whose debut single was History of Hate and this album was Beyond All Reason. I wonder if their message is all about hate, or more about love? I wonder if I should listen and find out…

Search 3: Love 

 ‘I love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty’

Shakespeare: King Lear – Act 1, secene 1. 

“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”

Euripides

Love on Ebay seems to be much about decorating wedding receptions, or buying someone you love a token of your affection. That when you love someone, you buy them a necklace or for something novel, you could even give them some love coupons (whatever that entails). Surprisingly, or at least to me, Romeo & Juliet didn’t top the list on our search for love. There were customised lasercut wooden names for the Bride & Groom, jewellery…”I Love you Mum”, “I love you to the moon and back”, a pack of 100 wooden hearts in four sizes. Love is also available in helium balloons, and as a little love bird on an Australian stamp.  BTW no books cropped up on my fairly extensive scroll through the results. So, sorry Romeo & Juliet. You lacked out.

Search 4- Hate

Leonard Cohen

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

To be perfectly honest, I felt quite uneasy entering “Hate” into Ebay. Hate really isn’t part of my vocabulary, and it just felt icky typing in the word and like: “Don’t go there”. I didn’t even want to dip my little toe in. Get away. Leave it alone. It was a really strong force deep in my gut.

So, I was a relieved when the results weren’t all sinister. Indeed, there was an album Songs of Love & Hate by legendary Leonard Cohen near the top of the list. He’s an inspiration, not a force of darkness. Phew!

Hate Everybody

Then, there were the t-shirts. If Hope belonged to bicyle parts, despair belonged to books and the philosopher. Love was all about jewellery, hearts and helium balloon. Hate belongs the T-Shirt where indeed hate becomes humour. How can that be? We humans are weird, perverse even.

Search 5…Optimism.

“Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him.”

-Helen Keller

helen-keller-beyond-the-miracle-1600x500

Helen Keller

When it came to unveiling the goods on Optimism, books again rose to the top of the list. There was Helen Keller’s Optimism: An Essay, which is still sitting on my book pile unread. As when I’ve bought so many of my books, I was overly optimistic about my reading capacity. There is also Voltaire’s Classic: Candide or Optimism.  and Scott Adams (writing as Dilbert): Optimism Sounds Exhausting. I love Dilbert, by the way.

Dilbert Optimism sounds exhausting

Search 6: Pessimism

Like hate, pessimism is another one of those nasties that we don’t want to own up to. Rather, we’re supposed to “think happy thoughts” and “live happily ever after” in La-La Land. However, behind closed doors there’s at least a touch of pessimism in each of us. However, it’s how we respond to pessimism, which makes the difference. Some of us put on the boxing gloves and fight for our lives, while others silently slip under the bus and wake up as road pizza.

Studies in Pessimism Schopenhauer

When it came to pessimism, Ebay dug up German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the father of pessimism…

“The attainment of a goal or desire, Schopenhauer continues, results in satisfaction, whereas the frustration of such attainment results in suffering. Since existence is marked by want or deficiency, and since satisfaction of this want is unsustainable, existence is characterized by suffering.”1.

Search 7: Faith

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Faith Hill Cry

Well, if you go looking for faith on Ebay, more than likely you’ll end up with a CD by Faith Hill, than a copy of the Bible.  Here’s a link through to Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: The Rest of Our Life

I was actually expecting something more spiritual along the lines of Matthew 17:20:

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

I guess that just goes to show, that just because you can “look for anything” on Ebay, it doesn’t mean you’ll find what you’e looking for, or what you need.

Search 8: Doubt

Mrs Doubtfire

Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire. 

Like Google, Ebay also has a sense of humour. When I entered in doubt, Mrs Doubtfire immediately popped up. I had to smile. For those of you who don’t recall the movie, it starred the great Robin Williams who played a troubled divorced Dad who wanted to spend more time with his kids. He dressed up as an older British woman and convinced his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field), to hire him as a nanny. It’s hilarious. This is a case of Dame Edna Everage meets Mork. Yet, like every movie starring Robin Williams, there are so many levels to this movie and it ‘s ripe with food for thought. After all, you could say that humour is the best way to impart the most challenging life lessons of all.

Here are a few poignant quotes from the movie:

1) “Did you ever wish you could sometimes freeze frame a moment in your day, look at it and say “this is not my life”?”

2) [Trying to get false teeth out of glass]

Mrs. Doubtfire: Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth.

Search 9: The Meaning of Life

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” 
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Monty Python

When it came to searching for the meaning of life on Ebay, again I was in for a few surprises. Perhaps, I’m just getting old, but I thought Monty Python’s film: The Meaning of Life would’ve been top of the list, but it was in fact a sad omission. So before I move onto what I did find, I should leave you with their take on the Meaning of Life, which I must say is the abridged, sanitised version:

“Well, it’s nothing very special. Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Another, conspicuous absence, was Douglas Adams famous series which started out with The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Universe and included Life, the Universe & Everything. Even if you haven’t read the series, you could already know that the answer to the meaning of life, is 42.

Meaning of Life Grieve

The Bible or any other religious creed was also conspicuously absent, but Bradley Trevor Grieve’s book: The Meaning of Life made the cut. Perhaps, you need to stick a frog on the cover to get a look in.

Search 10: The Meaning of Death

“Life asked death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.”

—Author unknown

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be surprised that through all my searches, it was only when I searched for the meaning of death, that Ebay coughed up any references to God, Jesus or eternity. So, it seems that Ebay is just like us humans and when Ebay is facing death, it also turns to God. Ebay beamed up Barry Smith’s The Meaning of Jesus’ Death: Reviewing the New Testament’s Interpretations. There was also Adrian Chapman’s The Meaning of Life A Dangerous Mix of God and Science and  Julian Young’s book: The Death of God & the Meaning of Life.

Conclusion

So, while you might be able to search for anything on Ebay, it’s quite clear that the response is quite random. You might not get what you are looking for, but like any lucky dip, you might get a pleasant surprise, and a whole new world will open up for you. Yet, there can also be that huge frustration, and even despair, of not finding what you need. Yet, expecting Ebay to have all the answers, is a folly. There are better places to look. However, who hasn’t tried retail therapy, and found a true and legitable joy? An escape from one’s pain-filled inner labyrith, even if it is only temporary?!! I’m guilty as charged.

Personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe life is altogether random and yet I don’t go so far as saying “God is in control”. You see, if God is control of it all, that includes good and evil and ignores the fact he gave us free will. Moreover, we clearly have the capacity to make “our lot” better or worse. Yes, in your quest for wisdom, never doubt the power of shooting yourself in the foot.

You can’t blame God for that.

Sources

Noam Chomsky “Optimism Over Despair”

 

xx Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share 29th May, 2017.

Welcome to Another Monday Afternoon Coffee Share in Australia.

This week, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you popped round for a visit. That’s because I’ve not only been to visit the Koi Dessert Bar of Masterchef fame, I’ve also made Pumpkin Soup. For me, there’s only one way to make Pumpkin Soup and it has nothing to do with tins. Indeed, tins are heresy.

So, would you like tea, coffee, juice or water and I’ll let you help yourself to a choice of soup or sweets.

How was your week?

Our week had more than the usual ups and downs.

On the upside, I caught the train down to Sydney for a medical appointment and had the afternoon to myself walking around Central Station, through Chippendale and into Surry Hills and Paddington. This area is characterised by 19th Century terrace houses and even though much of it has been renovated and gentrified, there’s still that element of grunge and even though the real estate there is very pricey, the terraces still only have a yard the size of a folded handkerchief. Every time, I go to Surry Hills, there’s something different and this trip, I focused on the striking Autumn leaves, which looked so poised against a deep blue sky.

I arrived back home with the excitement of a few desserts for the family to try. However, that excitement was broken by news that the son of a family friend had died suddenly, leaving behind his wife and three little kids…not to mention his parents who have been friends of my Mum’s since forever. This guy was a year younger than me and being a boy, I never played with him growing up, but he was around. His parents were around a lot. Naturally, that felt like a brick just hit me in the head and I reiterate previous questions about why bad things happen to good people, even though even I’ve reached an uneasy truce with this imponderable conundrum.

Friday afternoon, I rang my 11 year old daughter to tell her that I was stuck in a queue at the supermarket. I was meeting her only metres away and all she needed to do, was turn around to see me. However, she was sobbing when she answered the phone. She’d walked into a pole. Broken her glasses. Cut herself and was at the Medical Centre. This wasn’t the medical centre we usually go to either so she was in a very unfamiliar environment with people she didn’t know, and she can be very shy. Fortunately, the staff were exceptionally kind and another Mum had found her and taken her in. So far so good, except once I appeared, stitching up the cut needed to be addressed. Either they could do it there with only a local anesthetic or she could have it done at the local hospital where they could give her gas. That was a 30 min drive away and a hassle. Fortunately, she was brave and had it done there. Well, neither of us was feeling very brave, but we survived and I took her for an ice cream afterwards. Saturday morning, her eye was so puffed up, that it barely opened. However, she was of to dancing and is on the mend.

I had a huge nap yesterday to de-stress wrapped up in my doona with the electric blanket on.

Well, I’m runnning out of time to post this. So, I’ll head off now.

Hope you’ve had a great week.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share.

xx Rowena