Category Archives: Chronic Illness

Weekend Coffee Share – 21st May, 2018.

 “It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”

Alice in Wonderland.

 

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share on Yet Another Monday Night.

Well, my excuse is that I had to get all dolled-up and formal on Saturday, and it was such a shock to the system, that I had to retire to my bed for all of Sunday and even much of today. While I did have a bit of a joke about having a Front Row Seat at the Royal Wedding, the truth is almost as inconceivable. I was playing my violin at Gig Night at the music studio and being a violinist to the very core, I had to wear my blacks. Indeed, I dug the Winter-weight Calvin Klein number out of hibernation, and strutted my stuff. Well, I wasn’t strutting because my shoes were too tight, I can’t strut at the best of times and inspite of myself I was more than a tad nervous. Not because I’m scared of performing. I knew I hadn’t really done enough practice and that there would be mistakes, but I didn’t want too many mistakes. Moreover, I didn’t want to stuff up the bits I always get right. I did that at the end of year concert and actually pulled off the tricky bits. After much philosophical reflection, I’ve decided that the violin is a bit of a temperamental character, who is insanely jealous and refuses to cooperate when ignored and like to stuff things up for you just for the hell of it. Yet, for some strange reason, I’ve remained faithful and haven’t packed up my bags and returned to the piano. Not yet, anyway.

 

You can read more about my performance in A Legend In My Own Hair Follicles

 

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Alice in Wonderland

So how was your week?

Did you watch the Royal Wedding? What did you think of it? What were the standouts? While I didn’t have the opportunity to conduct a representative survey, from what I’ve heard, the Address seems to be the most talked about aspect of the wedding. It seems some people loved it, others thought it went on too long, and I’ve downloaded the transcript to fully get my head around it, although I’m yet to read it fully. In terms of the Address being too long, if I was the Most Reverend Curry, I would’ve made the most of having my one chance in life to speak to the world. While he might not have been Dr Martin Luther King, he had a beautiful and very powerful message about love and acceptance and with all the awful things happening in our world in both public and private arenas, we need a good dose of what he had to say. Indeed, we each need to wake up and start trying to make a difference in the same way that Harry and Meghan are already doing, and it will be exciting to see what kind of impact they’ll have, now that they’ve become a team.

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my lung specialist. He’s usually happy to see me twice, or even once a year.However, after my lung function tests two weeks ago, it was “I’ll see you in two weeks”. They showed that my lung capacity has dropped 20% in six months. Mind you, I’ve had a lot of lung and even a severe sinus infection, and so the big hope was the the drop was due to infection. So, he whacked me on more “horse pills” and I tried to exercise more and do what I could to save me from more intervention. Of course, I’m “feeling better”. No, I truly am and I’m not coughing anywhere near as much. Indeed, a week ago when I was talking to my mother on the phone, she noted that I hadn’t coughed. Hopefully, her observations will be supported by tomorrow’s results.

By the way, I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but Masterchef Australia has started up again for 2018. I’m an absolute diehard fan of the show, and while I might not make the recipes they create, I do add little bits and pieces to my own cooking, to add a bit of pizazz. I’ve even cooked with fennel, which felt far more alien to me than a thing called a “custard apple” (thanks to my mother being a Queenslander).

Anyway, it’s Nigella Week on Masterchef and tonight, there was a an eleimination pressure test… Nigella’s Chocolate Feast. It was a hard show for a chocoholic like me to sit through. However, I’m already planning to make her fudgy brownies. They were so gooey and sensational.

Nigella Nutella Cake

Nigella’s Nightmare…The Avalanche.

I must admit I sympathized with Nigella’s Victims tonight, as they were making her Chocolate Olive Oil Mouse. Two years ago, I also came a cropped making Nigella’s Nutella Cake. Like one of the contestants, I also over-beat the egg whites, and it ended in disaster, which I dubbed:  Nigella’s Heartache. After all, it’s all well and good when people post beautiful recreations of your recipes, but it’s not so good when they flaunt their disasters all over the World Wide Web.

Before I head off, I just wanted to mention my latest contribution to Friday Fictioneers…A Special Child. This is written about a young girl on the Autism Spectrum who goes missing in the bush.

Zac running at Ocean beach May 18

Zac running along the beach.

Oops, I almost forgot. The dogs received a bit of an update this week…Pup Psychologist, Anyone? Since I posted this, we went on a disastrous trip with the three dogs to the beach yesterday when all three refused to come when called and Zac and Rosie were sprinting up and down the beach and Lady was wondering off on her own. There were a few fishermen along the beach and we could see the dogs stealing their bait, their and getting tangled in the lines. Time to go home. That is, if you can catch them. Training will now be intensifying for both dogs and humans.

Well, it’s getting late and I have a long and big day ahead tomorrow.

I hope you had a great week and I look forward to catching up on your news.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

A Legend in My Own Hair Follicles.

Before the magic of the Royal Wedding and seeing Harry and Meaghan tie the knot in spectacular fashion, I hung up my pink washing up gloves and metamorphosed into a star. I, the greatest unknown violinist, legend in her own hair follicles, performed Minuet by Beethoven with my violin teacher at Gig Night. That’s the modern equivalent of what was known as a “Soiree” back in the day. Indeed, it might have been more like my grandparents’ day, but there we were performing in the studio with real performance lights and sound equipment and our very own stage. It was personal, intimate and my husband and kids were all lined up in a row in the audience…my support crew.

Well, behind every star performer, there’s also their teacher. When it comes to my teacher, however, she had special duties. She was not only accompanying me in our duet in the kind of way that compensates for what I’ll call my “idiosyncrasies”, she had to help me on and off stage. Indeed, we made a decision that I would enter from backstage to prevent me from having a spectacular trip and fall getting up on the stage. I’m pretty good at reconnaissance these days, and I needed to hold onto the wall climbing up the step and was rather concerned that I could fall into the amp. The good thing is that the team at the music school is well versed in my idiosyncrasies and were only too willing to help. Moreover, I’m also one to speak up.

I should also point out that the staff at the music school have experienced these idiosyncracies before. A few years ago when we were performing at the school Christmas Carols, I stepped on the edge of the where the asphalt meets the grass and my ankle flipped over (not uncommon) and then I heard this crunch and fell. The pain was excruciating. Blood was dripping down my knee, but did I pike out? Does a violinist ever give up, even when the ship is sinking? Of course not. I played on and was helped on and off the stage that night too.

My performance tonight wasn’t perfect. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Yet, I was hopeful. Moreover, despite my nerves, I really love performing and being a part of a performance. I like getting out of my cramped quarters in our corridor of a dining room where I usually have to hold my breath as husband, kids, dogs, tennis balls squeeze or fly past and put my feet on that stage, dress up in my blacks and even put on come makeup and lipstick and be a violinist on the outside too. A musician. Knowing I belong here. That this stage is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I own this space (something I picked up from dancing btw).

It’s a space I usually have to grow into, because it’s all too easy to put my playing down. I’m not in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. So, how could I ever consider myself a violinist? I haven’t even tried to learn vibrato, because I really don’t believe in myself. Don’t believe it’s possible. Of course, as I said, I have a decent list of “idiosyncracies”, which let me off the hook. Moreover, be honest, it hasn’t felt that important. It’s been more important to simply be able to play without making mistakes. However, it’s something I come back to once in a while, and learning vibrato is a natural progression for a violinist. Just like my daughter will soon be getting her first pair of pointe shoes for ballet, I should be equally enthusiastic and bursting out of my skin to learn vibrato. Take the next step. I should be wanting to grow, even though it usually means a phase of going backwards as we tackle the new skill.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to share my violin world with you. I don’t write about it all that often, but I actually have a lesson each week. I am quite a fan of Suzuki method, although I use the music and don’t play by ear. For those who know Suzuki, I recently moved onto Book Three. I was so proud. It’s been a long journey. I have hydrocephalus and dermatomyositis.  So, I never thought I’d be able to play the violin at all and only took it up again when my daughter insisted on learning, and she needed some assistance. I sat in on her lessons and while she has a rather on and off again relationship with her violin, I’ve stuck with it. She’d probably get to my level after a few weeks’ steady practice, but I’d only be delighted to see her overtake me. Well, she already has. She performed at the Sydney Opera House with her school two years ago at the tender age of 10. Clearly, you’re much better off trying to play at the Opera House as a young beginner than a geriatric.

The other reason I wanted to share my violin journey with you, is to encourage you to consider taking up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. To go back to the piano you played at a kid, which could well be used for displaying family photos and ornaments than it’s intended purpose. Have a go.

I never considered myself a real music lover or expert of any sort. However, I can sense this is changing. That something new is awakening within. Actually, it’s not something new. It’s like when you’re doing a big clean-up and you find something you haven’t seen for a good 10-20 years and you taken right back to that forgotten time and place and all the emotions come flooding back as there’s that sense of coming home. I have always loved to sing and was good enough, but my voice is rusty and my violin’s become my voice, and to turn to the words of Johnny Farnham’s The Voice I need to

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear

Do you have any musical dreams? If you could be any musician, who would you be? I’ll have to give it some thought.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Special Child…Friday Fictioneers.

“Tilly! Tilly!” Jane screamed, frantically trudging through the bush trying to find her lost daughter. Mind, body and spirit on the brink of collapse, Jane laboured up the hill, powered by a mother’s love. Worried out of her mind, Jane almost forgot that hundreds of locals had joined the search. That she wasn’t alone.

Then, she saw Tilly’s boots perched on the edge of the cliff. Empty. She was too late. Her anguished scream flew over Echo Point and across the Megalong Valley on the wings of a white cockatoo, while Tilly splashed in the creek chasing tadpoles in the sun.

…….

This is another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT (above)  submitted by  Courtney Wright © Photographer prefers to remain anonymous. All other photos are my own.

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters’ At Katoomba, West of Sydney.

Megalong Valley

While we were standing here, white Sulfur-crested cockatoos were swooping across the Megalong Valley. Unfortunately, I was too slow with the camera.

This story is set in the Blue Mountains, West of Sydney which is the home of the Three Sisters, a rock formation located on Echo Point overlooking the Megalong Valley. This is a rugged bush land setting where quite a few bush walkers have got lost and big search parties have been launched.  This is not the sort of place you want your child to get lost, or to disappear when they’ve had a meltdown and have special needs.

sulphur crested cockatoo

Sulphur-Crested Cocktatoo at Katoomba.

 

Newton Family 2011 Katoomba

Our family at the Three Sisters’ Lookout at Echo Point, Katoomba in 2011.

Like so many others, I am gravely concerned about the isolation of the individual in the modern world. While in so many ways the Internet has opened up new communities like Friday Fictioneers, we still need those connections on the ground. I wasn’t the most popular kid growing up, but I had quite a few people around me I could turn to and came from a close-knit family. My Dad was one of seven and there was always somebody at my grandparents’ house, and not just members of the family. The front door was never locked and that was symbolic of a general welcoming of the flotsam and jetsam which came and went.

These community connections still exist, and it’s often only in times of crisis that they come out of the woodwork. I guess I wanted people like the mother in my story to know that they’re not alone. At least, I hope not. I don’t want the village to become a myth.

I also wanted to share a song which has stayed with me all week. Mum was watching Britain’s Got Talent when she came across Irish priest, Father Ray Kelly, singing REM’s hit:  Everybody Hurts It’s incredible and he concludes with a heart wrenching cry “You’re not alone”.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

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

 

 

Everybody Hurts…

Tonight, when we went round to my parents’ place for an early Mother’s Day dinner, Mum piped up and said she wanted us to listen to a priest singing on Britain’s Got Talent. 

Well, I must admit I was rather taken aback. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think about a singing priest, but I was thinking of something more along the line of Gregorian chants, than something I could relate to. So, while my mother was uncharacteristically excited and really wanted us to see it, I had no interest whatsoever and instinctively wanted to extricate myself and runaway. However, considering it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d better play the dutiful daughter, and avoid being a complete ratbag. Listening to a priest sing for a few minutes, wasn’t going to kill me. Moreover, I am a bit more mature these days.

Then, I see Father Ray Kelly on the stage, and there’s something immediately likeable about him. There’s a sort of brown shoe honesty about him and he is that simple, heart-felt man of God. The sort I’ve come across now and then, but is far from commonplace. He is one of those men of God who is of the people. A shepherd who knows his sheep and responds to their cries. Who knows there are 100 sheep in the flock, and not only knows when one is missing, but also by its name. This type of person is very hard to find.

When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes…

REM: Everybody Hurts

Well, of course, I don’t really know whether all of these impressions are true, but when he sings, I not only believe him, but I also know he’s singing to me. That he personally cares for each one of us and our hurts, and is a reflection of God’s unconditional, personal and intimate love for us. These aren’t phrases I throw around lightly. Father Ray was there in a simple grey suit, his collar and brown shoes and there were no props. No machinations. He simply was, and he was speaking for all those people out there who are desperately hurt, and he’s personally asking them to hold on. It was so clear he cared and was singing straight from the very depths of his heart…his soul. It was just so beautiful and I had to share it with you. Indeed, I hope it touches a chord for you.

What are your thoughts? How did it make you feel?

I could listen to it over and over and over again!

Best wishes,

Rowena

The featured image was drawn by my son.

PS Here’s the wedding song which launched him on You tube Father Ray Kelly singing Alleluia

X-Guo Xi – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Perhaps, I should wait until the morning to launch into writing to Guo Xi and focusing on one of his most famous works Early Spring, dated 1072. It’s well after midnight and you know how it is when you’re having a great time and you find someone you really connect with…you don’t want to leave. Indeed, I don’t feel I’ll ever quite leave Andrew Wyeth and Christina’s World behind me. We are one.

Yet, one of the hurdles inherent in this challenge, is to move on. Not to get bogged down at one station along the way. Rather, the train needs to keep moving. Well, I wonder if I can take all my other artists with me, and create something of an Arty Party, not unlike the Elvis Train called The Blue Suede Express which heads out to the Parkes Elvis Festival, in far West NSW. I don’t know who we’d put in charge of designing and painting the outside of the train. Indeed, we’d probably have to pick names out of a hat. There might be a bit of competition, not to a mention stylistic debate. I couldn’t imagine Jackson Pollock and Norman Lindsay sharing a seat, let painting the same carriage. I need to consult my seating app and see who is sitting where. Of course, they’d have to sit in alphabetical order, although I could see some tricksters mixing up the place tags. They always do.

Anyway, without further ado, we’re moving onto Guo Xi (郭熙, ca.1020–1090), a Chinese landscape painter from Wenxian in Henan province who lived during the Northern Song dynasty. Just to put that into perspective, he died 928 years ago and I think he’s our second oldest artist, if you can think about it like that. Inspired by his Snow Mountain, Xi will be accompanied by Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Guo Xi served as a court painter under Emperor Shenzong (reigned 1068–1085). Early in his career as an artist, Guo Xi painted large screens and walls for major palaces and halls in the capital that had caught the emperor’s attention. Guo was later promoted to the highest position of Painter-in-Attendance in the court Hanlin Academy of Painting. He produced many monumental landscape paintings, and specialized in painting large pine trees and scenery enveloped in mist and clouds. He employed “curled cloud” texture strokes (卷雲皴) for mountain slopes, while he did trees in “crab claw (蟹爪)” forms to create a style of his own. Being a court professional, he developed an incredibly detailed system of idiomatic brushstrokes which became important for later painters. His most famous work is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.”-China Online Museum

 

Guo Xi was often referred to as a “Northern Song master” when it came to painting. His work inspired many later artists and he even had landscapes dedicated to him. His lesser-known “Deep Valley” scroll painting depicted a serene mountain valley covered with snow and several trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. The ink washes and amorphous brush strokes are employed to model surfaces that suggest the veiling effects of the atmosphere. One of Guo Xi’s techniques was to layer ink washes to build up forms and his “Deep Valley” is a masterpiece of the use of light ink and magnificent composition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guo_Xi

One of his most famous works is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.” This type of visual representation is also called “Floating Perspective”, a technique which displaces the static eye of the viewer and highlights the differences between Chinese and Western modes of spatial representation.Xi developed an innovative technique, called “Floating Perspective” or “Angle of the Totality”, with which the artist was able to represent multiple perspectives within a single painting. This is an exceptional advance that did not appear in Western painting until many centuries later. Moreover, it’s also interesting when you compare it to the efforts of Renaissance artists like Da Vinci towards linear perspective. As I mentioned before, I can barely park my car in a straight line, so linear perspective is not my thing. I’ll just have to count on the wisdom of others.

guo-xi_snow-mountains-664x1024-500x900

Guo Xi – Snow Mountain, ShanghHai Museum This piece shows a scene of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. It is a masterpiece of Guo Xi by using light ink and magnificent composition to express his open and high artistic conception.

His son later described how Guo Xi approached his work: “On days when he was going to paint, he would seat himself at a clean table, by a bright window, burning incense to right and left. He would choose the finest brushes, the most exquisite ink; wash his hands, and clean the ink-stone, as though he were expecting a visitor of rank. He waited until his mind was calm and undisturbed, and then began.”2.

Gao Xi clearly had an incredible eye and appreciation for the details of the landscape, including how it transitioned from season to season. In his “Treatise on Mountains and Waters (山水訓)”, he wrote:

The clouds and the vapors of real landscapes are not the same in the four seasons. In spring they are light and diffused, in summer rich and dense, in autumn scattered and thin, and in winter dark and solitary. When such effects can be seen in pictures, the clouds and vapors have an air of life. The mist around the mountains is not the same in the four seasons. The mountains in spring are light and seductive as if smiling; the mountains in summer have a blue-green color which seems to be spread over them; the mountains in autumn are bright and tidy as if freshly painted; the mountains in winter are sad and tranquil as if sleeping.”

So, not only are his painting touchingly beautiful, but also his prose.

So, without further ado, here’s my letter to Guo Xi.

Letter to Guo Xi

Dear Xi,

I can’t help wondering where you’re from and wanting to find those mountains you’ve immortalised in your paintings. Not that I can climb them myself, but perhaps I could at least admire them from the ground, the same way we marvel at the stars. Well, that is if we actually take the time out to look for them. Or, indeed, if the sky isn’t too polluted to block their light. Isn’t it terrible that the machines of man have blackened out the stars and the heavens? Indeed, we’ve even tried to tame the mountains, although the big ones still put up a fight.

I’d love to sit on top of a mountain and just look up at the stars, the moon and feel that clarity all around me. That nothing else matters. You can just sit on your rock and just be. The cares of the world are all taking care of themselves on autopilot without us.

I guess I should be careful what I wish for because more than one intrepid explorer has climbed their own mountain, and found nobody left when they came home. They didn’t like being left on hold while they explored other realms without them.

So, Xi, I could see myself on top of your mountain now with my husband, the kids and three dogs in tow. I just hope they don’t have any sticks up there. We’re already regretting to teach the dogs how to fetch. Hopefully, they too could benefit from a bit o stillness and they might even find their inner dog.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Guo Xi

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. I have been here for such a long time withut any communication from the earth so I was very happy.

You must be careful when you climb the big mountains. The greatest danger isn’t climbing up or climbing down. It’s how to continue living with your fellow man in day to day life when you have known such peace and freedom. There is no tick of the clock and you are in your own time zone in your own world. I almost went mad with all the talk of chickens, what to eat for dinner, a hole in the roof. I didn’t care for these things anymore. Wanted to return to the mountains. They were calling me. But I have wife, son. Must stay. Keep my pictures in my head and paint them with my inks.

As much as I would like to go back to my mountains, I will do that in my head. Too much change. Time not stand still. Almost 1000 years. Memory better.

Still we must climb and conquer our metaphysical mountains. Don’t let them build up across our path to block the track. No good. You need to get your shovel out and move the dirt before the mountain gets too big. Can’t get moved. You get strong shoveling dirt. You only get flattened when the mountain buries you.

By the way, here in China we have the Year of the Dog.
Yours,

Guo Xi.

PS I had to share a comment I found re Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. “The first part of the song is when you’re sitting in the exam hall, just writing and sitting in silence while you think “I’ve got two hours left”. The second part of the song is when the examiner suddenly says “Five minutes”. So true.

References & Links

  1. http://www.comuseum.com/painting/masters/guo-xi/
  2. Quoted by Arthur Waley in “Chinese Philosophy of Art-IV” in Burlington Magazine, vol. xxxviii, No. ccxviii, p. 247 in Jenyns, Soame. A Background to Chinese Painting. New York: Schocken Books, 1966, p. 134

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.