Tag Archives: angst

K-Kandinsky- Letters to Dead Arts…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome Back to my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ve written to Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, one of the driving forces behind German Expressionism. Kandinsky will be accompanied by Arnold Schoenberg’s  Transfigured Night for String Quartet. Schoenberg and Kandinsky worked closely together and were very like-minded.

When I very first saw Kandinsky’s paintings in a German Expressionist Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1990, all I saw was COLOUR!!! Bright colours and expressive forms. They were such a break from all the paintings I’d known growing up, with the dull greens and browns of the Australian landscape populated, as it were, by swagmen and sheep.

However, Kandinsky wasn’t just a man of bright, alluring colours and interior design. Rather through his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he expounded an entire theory about the emotions and spirituality of colour and devised a complex code of colours and symbols, which were also closely intertwined with music.

Wassily_Kandinsky,_1911,_Reiter_(Lyrishes),_oil_on_canvas,_94_x_130_cm,_Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen

 

When I saw the German Expressionist Exhibition, I was a 20 year old university student living in a crumbling terrace house in urban Glebe. Caught in all the lurid emotions of semi-requited love and paralyzing self-doubt, I was a living, breathing powder keg of angst. Indeed, I went to the exhibition with the source… someone I’ll simply call “Sunflower”.

As that paralyzed, love struck young woman, these paintings weren’t just something on the wall. They were ME spurting through the canvas wrestling with love, rejection and hope against all hope. I guess you could say this was a “turbulent period” for me, where I gouged my torment out with my pen, scrawling ink across the page. I then released my inner demons at poetry readings at Chippendale’s Reasonably Good Cafe, which I now consider fun.

As it turns out, there would’ve been better artists for a young woman struggling with semi-requited love to turn to, such as Gabriele Münter. She would’ve been very sympathetic, and could well have made me chicken soup. Indeed, I can even hear her reflecting on her relationship with Kandinsky…“He’s not the Messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy.” (Life of Brian).

Munter_SelfPortrait1909

Gabriele Munter – Self Portrait in front of an Easel, 1909 at Princeton Art Museum, Princeton NJ

Kandinsky’s personal life was rather complicated. In 1892, he married his cousin, Anna Chemyakina. She took care of her husband and moved with him to Germany. However, in 1903 Kandinsky met and began a relationship with Gabriele Münter, one of his students at the Phalanx School. The two became inseparable. Kandinsky kept promising to divorce his wife and marry her, stringing love struck Münter along. Finally, in 1911, Kandinsky returned to Russia, and divorced his wife.

Yet, he still didn’t marry Gabriele Münter. Rather, he continued living with her as his lover. Unfortunately, when Germany declared war on Russia in August 1914, their relationship received a jolt. Kandinsky was considered an enemy alien and only had three days to get out. Since he couldn’t take much with him, he left the bulk of his paintings and possessions with Münter. The couple rushed to Switzerland and while in Zurich, Kandinsky broke up with her. For two years she urged a reunion. It took place in neutral Scandinavia in 1916, but failed. Well, that’s according to some of the sources I’ve read. Others are less clear about the breakup, suggesting he was still stringing her along.

Well, Kandinsky did get married, but it wasn’t to Gabriele Münter. Rather, he married 18 year old, Nina Andreievskaya, and he didn’t tell Münter. Indeed, he only came clean four years later when she received a letter from his lawyer demanding she return his personal effects and artworks. Not unsurprisingly, Gabriele didn’t return all his paintings, and kept these as “moral compensation”. While I’m very surprised Gabriel didn’t burn the lot, she actually kept them safe behind a secret wall in her basement during successive raids by the Nazis and Russians. Kandinsky never saw his paintings again. However, in 1957, Münter gave the stash to Munich, Stadtische Galerie in Lenbach. At least, the survival of this collection was a positive outcome of Gabriele’s grief.

Perhaps, there’s nothing about Kandinsky which is easy to understand. Indeed, for me, he’s an iceberg with only his head peering out above the waves. I even wonder whether he remains a mystery to experts who have studied him all their working lives, and know each and every millimetre of each work. I don’t know. Yet, despite the difficulties and also thanks to a sense of madness, I am still trying to fathom the unfathomable. Trying to unravel Kandinsky and his art.

POrtrait Kandinsky

So Who Was Wassily Kandinsky?

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in Moscow on the 4th December, 1866, the son of a wealthy tea merchant. He spent his childhood in Odessa, where he graduated from the Grekov Odessa Art school and enrolled at the University of Moscow, where he studied law and economics and was offered a professorship.

However, in 1896 at the age of thirty, Kandinsky and his trajectory permanently  changed.  Struck in a sense by lightning, he threw in his day job to become a professional    artist.

This was fueled by two events:

Firstly,he attended an Exhibition of French Impressionists in St Petersberg in 1896, where he was spellbound by Claude Monet’s painting: Haystacks in the Sunlight:

“So, I saw a painting for the first time. That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour”.

Also in 1896, he attended Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin at the court (Bolshoi) Theatre in Moscow, which seemingly unleashed a moment of synesthetic apotheosis “which appeared to be the materialization of my fairytale Moscow. Violins, deep basses and wind instruments in the first place materialized my impression of evening hours in Moscow, I saw all the colours before my eyes – crazy, almost insane lines. I just could not admit that Wagner musically drew “my hour”. But I realized that art has much more power than I used to think about it and painting can have the same powers, as music”.

Music influenced Kandinsky’s art profoundly: he admired the way it could elicit an emotional response, without being tied to a recognisable subject matter. Painting, he believed, should aspire to be as abstract as music, with groups of colour in a picture relating to one another in a manner analogous to sequences of chords in music.

Kandinsky moved to Munich with his wife and studied at Anton Ažbe‘s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here, that Kandinsky formed some artistic associations, which were to change the face of modern art. At Azbe’s school he met co-conspirators such as Alexei Jawlensky, who introduced Kandinsky to Munich’s artistic avant-garde. In 1901, along with three other young artists, Kandinsky co-founded “Phalanx” – an artist’s association opposed to the conservative views of the traditional art institutions. Phalanx expanded to include an art school, in which Kandinsky taught, and an exhibitions group.

In 1909, he was one of the founding members of Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (NKVM, or New Artists Association of Munich), a group that sought to accommodate the avant-garde artists whose practices were too radical for the traditional organizations and academies. In 1911, after one of Kandinsky’s paintings was rejected from the annual NKVM exhibition, he and Franz Marc organized a rival exhibition and co-founded “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider).

“Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider) initiated and deeply inspired the highly influential German Expressionist style. It was a loose association of nine Expressionist artists that included August Macke, Münter, and Jawlensky. As a group, they believed in the promotion of modern art and the possibility for spiritual experience through the symbolic associations of sound and colour – two issues very near and dear to Kandinsky’s heart. Despite the similarities between the group’s moniker and the title of Kandinsky’s 1903 painting, the artists actually arrived at the name “Der Blaue Reiter” as a result of the combination of Marc’s love of horses and Kandinsky’s interest in the symbolism of the rider, coupled with both artists’ passion for the colour blue. During their short existence, the group published an anthology (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held three exhibitions. Kandinsky also published Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), his first theoretical treatise on abstraction. It expounded that his theory that the artist was a spiritual being who communicated through and was affected by line, colour, and composition. He produced both abstract and figurative works, but expanded his interest in non-objective painting. Composition VII (1913) was an early example of his synthesis of spiritual, emotional, and non-referential form through complex patterns and brilliant colors. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 led to the dissolution of the group.

Kandinsky returned to Moscow in 1914. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky “became an insider in the cultural administration of Anatoly Lunacharsky”and helped establish the Museum of the Culture of Painting.However, by then “his spiritual outlook… was foreign to the argumentative materialism of Soviet society”[4], and opportunities beckoned in Germany, to which he returned in 1920. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art.

He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

So, without further ado, I’m off to write to Kandinsky and I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention his love life. Instead, I’m going to play it safe and stick to art and music.

A Letter to Kandinsky

Dear Kandinsky,

I’m burning the midnight oil trying to find the right words and my pen is stuttering away like the love struck uni student of days gone by. I’ve gone through sheet after sheet of paper, trying to find the right words and finally put together some kind of meaningful question to ask.

So, I’ll cut to the chase.

Could you please paint me playing my violin?

I know that’s a big ask when you’re world famous, and I pass right under all forms of radar. However, the world also needs to acknowledge the full scope of musicians, and not only honour those at the very pinnacle of success. Kandinsky, people forget that music doesn’t just refer to the maestros playing million dollar instruments. It also includes the beginners…the scratchy violinists, the annoying recorder players, the tone deaf, as well as the rhythmically challenged. Someone needs to represent the musical battler, and it might as well be me.

Of course, I can’t help wondering how my playing would affect your vision, and the corresponding relationship between colour and sound. Would you still paint my violin a relaxing tone of green? Or, would it all be reds, oranges, yellows? Maybe, somewhere in between?

Speaking about musical battlers, last weekend, I spotted this decrepit, dilapidated piano at the Scout Hall and I just had to play Moonlight Sonata on it. Moreover, I even asked my husband to record it. It sounded so bad, that it hurt your ears and we dubbed it: “The Sorry Sonata”…even “The Suicide Sonata”. Ironically, I usually play Moonlight Sonata on a Steinway Grand, but who hasn’t experienced the horrific twang of an old hall piano?  Well, I guess that’s changing because the piano is dying and you might be shocked to know that you can’t even give one away.

Anyway, why am I talking to you about pianos, when I wanted to talk about painting violins?

Getting back to my question, could please paint me playing my violin. It would really make me smile.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Kandinsky

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. Jackson Pollock had insisted I’d be next, but you never can be sure. There must be plenty of other artists who you admire starting with K.

Nothing would delight me more than painting you playing your violin. However, I should warn you that I’ve developed a new minimalist style where nothing actually goes on the page. I know that sounds very much like Hans Christian Andersen’s classic: The Emperor’s New Clothes. However, please trust me. It’s been liberating…just like painting nude. John Lennon got me into that.

Let’s make a time.

Best wishes,

Kandinsky

Featured Image: Composition VII 1913– The State Tretyakov Gallery

References & Further Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassily_Kandinsky

http://www.artcenterinformation.com/2012/08/who-and-what-inspired-wassily-kandinsky/

http://viola.bz/wassily-kandinsky-and-his-women/

https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_448_300063127.pdf

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/kandinsky-path-abstraction/kandinsky-path-abstraction-room-guide

Kandinsky,  “Steps”  an autobiographic novella

 

 

Poem: Welcome To the Yellow House

And he coaxed:

“Chirpy bird,

chirpy bird,

rest beside me,

chirpy bird.

The music of your spangled song,

thaws the freeze of love gone wrong.

 

Chirpy Bird.

chirpy bird.

Look what I’ve got,

chirpy bird.

Golden seeds

plucked from my heart.

Feast on these,

fresh shoots will start.”

 

But reason warned:

“Chirpy bird,

Chirpy bird.

Watch fast footsteps, Chirpy bird.

Your beak does peak

to chasms deep

as he bathes in your sweet

tweet

tweet

tweet.

But though he sometimes calls you “dear”,

note he’ll never let you near.”

 

Oh, Chirped bird!

Chirped bird!

Beak jammed in crack,

wings tied to torture wrack.

With a blind man’s bash,

your fragile bones he had to smash.

His yellow house was painted grand.

Do you think you’ll ever understand?

I only ever hear you cry:

“Lord, tell me why?

Just tell me why.”

 

Baited bird.

Beaten bird.

Chirped out bird

flopped in my hand.

Your crumpled feathers,

could I carress,

but you’d die

inside a comfort nest.

 

So, I offer you back

to the outstretched sky.

Spread your wings!

It’s time to fly.

Fresh shoots can spring

from golden seeds.

They’re ripe for thee,

my chirpy bird.

Eat & Fly free.

Rowena Curtin  14th August, 1992.

bird-1-1

Chirpy Bird.

It feels quite surreal these days, to reflect on the horrors of heartbreak in the years before I met my husband and “settled down”.

This poem revisits my trip to Europe in 1992, and the horrors of heartbreak. It’s title comes from Van Gogh’s house in Arles, which appeared in the painting The Yellow House. I chose Van Gogh’s house for the title as I was rapidly descending into the  same sort of anguished madness one associates with Van Gogh.

I hadn’t seen the painting when I named the poem, and the actual painting is much more conventional and “tame” than I’d expected, especially when you think of Van Gogh’s emotional and mental expressionism his works like:  Starry Night, which oozes with raw, unbridled emotion.

My “friend” used to call me “Chirpy Bird”, and seemed to find me a breath o fresh air. He’d never met an Australian before and I remember him and some of our friends wondering whether it was just me or Australians in general.

Due to circumstances my friend and I could only be friends and that was accepted and understood. However, emotions aren’t known for sticking to the rules and while I can’t speak for him, mine blew straight through those bounds, at least in my heart. For those of you who remember that great dating classic: When Harry Met Sally, friendship between single men and women is often fraught. I love this scene. Our “friendship” ended in a huge emotional vortex and then the bucket of ice hit. Ouch!

As I ripped my heart out and through it over  Pont Neuf long after midnight, I felt like I was the only person ever to have suffered such anguish. A sense of angst which permeated every cell like a seeping poison. Instead of being the wind beneath my wings, my friend brutally cut them off and threw them away. Yet, in a strange paradoxical sense, he also set me free. Being enslaved to a love which could never be, would’ve been a much great  thing, but you don’t se that at the time. You only hurt.

By the way, I actually visited Van Gogh’s home in Cuesmes in Greater Mons, Belgium with my “friend”, which also makes the link to Van Gogh more pertinent.

 

xx Rowena

 

 

Rejection…It’s a Short Story.

Rejection..it’s the ugly side of being a writer.Not only that, it hurts…like a knife stabbed deep in our heart and twisted round and round and round by some sadist who doesn’t care about our fragile self-esteem.

Anyway, as much as we hate it and as much as it hurts, we are not on our own. Indeed, tales abound of very successful authors receiving multitudinous rejections. William Golding published his first novel, Lord of the Flies, after 21 rejections. Beatrix Potter decided to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit after rejection letters started to pile up. The original run was 250 copies; the book has now sold over 45 million copies.  J.K. Rowling, the great literary success story, failed to sell Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to 12 different publishers until the daughter of an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing took an interest in it. Harry Potter is now worth at least $15 billion. Stephen King sounds downright proud of the number of times he was rejected as a young writer. In his On Writing, he says he pinned every rejection letter he received to his wall with a nail. “By the time I was fourteen,” he continues, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

 

So, when I share my heartfelt angst over my latest rejection, at least I know I’m not alone and I keep some pretty good company.

balmain2

The Actual Murder Scene.

A few months ago, I entered a local short story competition. I only had a few days to put my entry together and decided to base it on a murder story I’d stumbled across doing my family history research.It’s set in the Sydney Harbour suburb of Balmain, which was historically quite a rough, working class suburb. I still haven’t been able to establish whether I’m related to these people thanks to a very frustrating dead end I’m unable to shift.

Anyway, after waiting several months for the outcome of the competition, the award ceremony was held yesterday and a room full of hopefuls all sat in their seats with great expectations and for most of us, pending disappointment.

However, I wasn’t expecting disappointment or rejection. I was pretty pleased with my entry and thought I was a strong contender. I was sitting in my seat with sweaty palms and almost making myself ill with stress. I wondered whether it would be better to win a Highly Commended just to put me out of my misery. The list of winners was thinning out and someone else’s name was read out instead of my own, I was gutted. Emotionally kicked in the guts.

While many would say my heartbroken angst was an over-reaction, and that I should have taken it as a sign of failure as a writer, but when you’re trying to make it on the international scene and you can’t crack the local market, you’re hardly going to be all smiles doing the happy dance, are you?!!

Well, to be fair to myself, I don’t write short stories and I had to get my entry together in a couple of days. So, I clearly could’ve used more time. Moreover, once I’d got home and looked up characteristics of the short story, I realised that my story actually needed a lot of work, especially when it came to structure. I’m quite the panster (person who writes by the seat of their pants and by contrast isn’t a planner) and a bit of structure and planning could well be added to the mix.

I posted the story today in its original format today and you can read it here: The Secret. I’d really appreciate your feedback. I’ve decided to make quite a few changes so please don’t hold back.

How do you deal with writing rejection?

Personally, I’m trying my best to be pro-active and learn from the experience. Rework it. Not just file it in the waste paper basket out of hurt disgust and despair.

After all, there’s always next year.

xx Rowena

PS if you want to see a great image for rejection, click here: http://rejectiondigest.weebly.com/

 

 

 

 

Theme Reveal: Blogging A-Z April Challenge

Once,

April was so far away

like a distant star in remote galaxy.

But time has flown

faster than an eagle

and now the theme reveal

was yesterday!

While I’m still beavering away on other projects, April has snuck up behind me like a thief in a dark alley and grabbed me by the throat.

“What is your theme?” It asks in its menacing, threatening tone.

“But it’s not April yet,” I reply.

“What is your theme?”It repeats, more forcefully. There is no way out.

Feeling like a kid bluffing their way through a half-concocted assignment, I’m trying to request an extension but time waits for no one…especially dithering writers who are trying to rise above their station with seemingly clever theme ideas which don’t quite come off.

I mean, let’s be honest here. Who really has a bone fide, stimulating and equally riveting subject for each and every letter of the alphabet? You can’t all tell me that you have something riveting planned for x and z and that you don’t have at least one “forced” or dreary consolation “prize” just so you can conform to the rules and deliver!

Inspired by the iconic movie Dead Poet’s Society and Rilke’s Letters to Young Poet, my theme is:

Letters to Dead Poets.

Although to be fair, I couldn’t leave out two brilliant Australian poet’s and philosophers who are very much alive…Michael Leunig and Nan Whitcomb. Moreover, just to be difficult, I also added in an artist who I believe very much had the soul of a poet…Vincent Van Gogh. So, you could say that I’m cheating or that my theme should really read:

Letters to Dead Poets With Exceptions.

I have also chosen a bit of flexibility when it comes to fitting these characters into the alphabet.

You see, strictly adhering to the rules has never been my thing. My criterion for these poets, rather, is that they have had a significant impact on my life at some point, helping to make me the person I am today. That they have spoken to me. Not just in a cerebral sense but deep inside, like a watchmaker breathing life into those secret inner parts and making me tick or at least keep ticking often during some very challenging times when it was tempting to give up. These poets were my personal friends, mentors, motivators and life savers. As such, they were too good to be kept to myself. They had to be shared.

At this point, the project is still rather fluid. I don’t want to fence it in. Rather, I want to see where it takes us because it really could take us somewhere very exciting. After all, when you immerse yourself in the words and ideas of some of the greatest poets and thinkers of all time, you have to emerge changed in some way. It’s a must.

So, I ask you to join me on this unchartered, experimental journey back through the poets who helped make a poet…just like grain upon grain of sand being deposited on a river bed, their words and ideas have accumulated, been inhaled through my eyes and planted somewhere deep in my soul, sprouting leaves and roots which have grown up into my own voice.

I still don’t know how it’s all going to work out but please come a along for the journey!

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

Writing prompt #32: Summertime

Another day, another writing challenge beckons. This one comes from Uli at Confessions of A Broccoli Addict: https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/28417405/

Writing Prompt: Write a story or poem that includes the following words:

  • summer,
  • ice cream,
  • bicycle,
  • dog,
  • waffle iron.

So pop on your favorite version of “Summertime” (mine’s by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong) or another summer song, and get writing. Post your story/poem or link in the comments by June 22 to be included in the round up.

I’ll add my response in the comments and include it in the round up as well.

Riding my bicycle in my bikini,

liquid ice cream dreams

melt away.

Devoured

by the flapping tongue

of a thirsty dog

they disappear.

Evaporate.

It’s like they’ve never even been.

Oblivious to my ice cream woes,

the boy with the waffle iron

Find s love

In another’s arms.

Sometimes,

summer can be so cruel.

XX Rowena

PS It was tough trying to fit waffle iron into a poem!

A Lifesaving Journey with Anne Frank!

In the opening lines of The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne shared the excitement of unwrapping her diary: “Dear Kitty” …a gift for her 13th birthday. Likewise, on my 13th birthday, I had a similar rush of excitement when I unwrapped Anne’s diary, which was a gift from my mother, along with an empty journal to get me started.

Anne Frank writing in 1941.

Anne Frank writing in April, 1941.

Mum was forever trying to get me interested in reading but she also encouraged and nurtured my writing. When I was around 11 years old, she’d taught me how to spell “enthusiastic” and I was as proud as punch with my new word and liberally started adding it to my compositions at school to receive that all-important red tick and VG in the margin. That same year, Mum also gave me a thesaurus. Although it took me a few years to really master it, that precious book opened my mind to the real possibility of words and engendered a real love of words themselves. Words…not just as part of a sentence, or telling a story but words as individuals. All of a sudden, I could appreciate their unique sound and imagery in the same way you can appreciate the beauty in a single, musical note.

Anyway, having connected so strongly with Anne Frank, not unsurprisingly, I wrote my journal entries to: “Dear Anne”…the perfect friend and confidant. That said, to be honest, writing to her was a bit like staring in a pond at my own reflection. She knew, understood and accepted me in a way I didn’t even accept myself.

Of course, I wasn’t conscious of any of this at the time. I just wrote and wrote, pouring out my very troubled heart to Anne Frank in a way that I couldn’t with anyone “real” at the time. After all, who can? As we traversed the years, Anne became drawn into and even a very part of my heart of hearts.On reflecton, I suspect these outpourings to “Dear Anne” were like writing to a much older, wiser part of myself. An inner dialogue with and to that essential, spiritual part of my being, which The Bible describes as having God living within us.That God was somehow speaking to me through her words…or was that my words or even His words??? Ouch! I’m so confused!!

There were so many, many times when writing in my diary saved me from that swirling vortex of pubescence, which really can engulf a teenager and certainly wasn’t unique or peculiar to me…just part of growing up.

After all, being a teenager can be a very perplexing and challenging time. As if simply growing up wasn’t hard enough, when you add all those surging hormones and mind, body and spirit all get thrown into the mix, you have one very explosive pressure cooker. As parents often lament, it doesn’t take much for the lot to explode! Writing to Anne Frank via my diary, was a kind of pressure valve, letting out the steam before the pressure cooker exploded leaving splat all over the ceiling.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Although I related intimately to Anne Frank, well you might question that connection. After all, we were two complete strangers living in such different worlds at different  times. What could we possibly have in common?

An snapshot of Anne's original diary.

An snapshot of Anne’s original diary.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression and was actually the same age as my Great Aunt. Indeed, they were born only months apart, which has come to intrigue me. With the rising tide of anti-Semitism, the Franks fled to Amsterdam and ultimately went into hiding in the Secret Annexe where she was not only in hiding from the Nazis but was also living under the microscope in impossibly close quarters with her parents, sister and other residents. Indeed, she had to share her bedroom with an old, cranky male dentist, which seems highly inappropriate through modern eyes!! That would be a living hell for any teenager!!! Anyone!!!

Frank Family Photo May 1941

Frank Family Photo May 1941

What did I, a girl born in the late 1960s in sunny, suburban Sydney on the other side of the world during a time of peace and economic prosperity, have in common with Anne Frank?  The casual observer would say that a bad day was having to walk to school or fighting with my brother for control of the TV… such trivial concerns in the overall scheme of things!!

However, underneath the surface, my situation wasn’t quite that straight-forward, which was no doubt an another reason I connected with Anne Frank. We didn’t know it at the time but I was living in a weird sort of prison all of my own.

Anyway, beyond her circumstances, Anne Frank also expressed so much of the frustration, angst and confusion of being a teenager and she did so in such a way that millions have found solace in her words. Just like me writing away at my desk in suburban Sydney, millions of young women have also addressed their journals: “Dear Anne”.

Anne wrote about her strained relationship with her mother and living in the shadow of her perfect sister, Margot. She also felt that she was being constantly criticized by the other adults in the annexe who simply didn’t get her. These are experiences most of us can relate to and so through her words, we found a mirror of our own struggle as well as a much loved and needed friend and confidante.

I also related to Anne Frank as a person as well. We are both extroverts, wanted to be journalists and have inquiring minds. Both of us were obsessed with asking “why?”. We were both fascinated and intrigued by people and what makes them tick. We also struggled with our relationships with our mothers. These commonalities bridged the many, many gaps which lay between us. She was my friend, my confidante and at times, it seemed like the only person on this planet, who had ever walked in my shoes because we both felt a sense of being different, misunderstood and outcast.

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn’t stop you from having your own opinion.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank also became the perfect soul mate for any teen, or anyone at all for that matter, who grapples with being different for whatever reason. Anne Frank’s sense of difference not only involved being a young Jewish girl being persecuted by the Nazis. Once living with her family in the annexe, her sense of difference stemmed more from everyone else in the annexe and it certainly wasn’t easy for her being the youngest and feeling like she was being treated as a child, even though she had become a young woman. At times, Anne feels persecuted by everybody in the annexe and feels she can’t do anything right. Haven’t we all been there?

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

However, as my journey continued beyond the turbulent teens, I outgrew calling my journal Anne, although I’ve never outgrown my love for her. Once I’d left school and started university, I discovered that people come in all sorts of packages and that diversity is a blessing, not a curse.When I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992, I visited Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, which was certainly an incredibly special, deeply,deeply personal experience. I have never forgotten what she meant to me and how writing to her saved a drowning soul so many times all those years ago.

It was only as my journey continued that I came to realise just how much Anne Frank had helped me. All my life, I’d felt different but didn’t know why. I had this deep sense and knowledge that something was wrong but couldn’t work out what or put a name to it. There was something deep and unfathomable going on and I searched, really ploughing the depths it all but it still remained a mystery. Once I reached university, I found out I wasn’t so alone and there were indeed thousands like me but still that nagging doubt persisted. Something was wrong.I developed an intense interest in psychology, philosophy, literature, prayed and wrote angst-ridden poems in an almighty quest to try and unravel my own inner mystery and somehow understand myself.

Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with serious anxiety.

It was only when I was around 27 when these seemingly vague symptoms stepped out of the closet and spiraled out of control, that the mystery was revealed. After feeling like the room was spinning round, I went to the GP who asked me to put my finger on my nose, a classic neurological test and I missed. He referred me to the neurologist and I was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. Suddenly, a myriad of weird symptoms fell into place and the unexplained started to make sense. Apparently, I’d had this all my life and it was probably caused my my very difficult birth. Although the symptoms had always been bubbling quietly under the surface, six months after diagnosis, I descended into a neurological hell, which was right out of Oliver Sack’s: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  I went on to have brain surgery and was given a shunt, which managed the pressure in my head. It was a long road back to anything approaching “normal” and I went through six months of intensive rehab where I learned to walk again (this time without staggering around with the broad gait of a sailor on a shaky skiff) and well as overcoming serious short-term memory issues and having virtually no ability to organise myself.

Unwittingly, Anne Frank helped me survive those torturous teenage years where the symptoms of the hydrocephalus were there but written off simply as “Rowena”. Since re-adjusting the settings, it’s been quite a journey…incredibly frustrating and slow moving at first but intriguing in retrospect. While I am still me, there are definitely traits that weren’t “me” at all and were symptoms which have since faded, if not gone altogether. Even now, almost 20 years after surgery, I am still noticing improvements but still have some lingering struggles.  I can now play the violin, ski but more importantly, I met and married my husband and have largely been able to look after our two children and the dogs. I also returned to work as a Marketing Manager, although chemo two years ago has put work on hold for the time being.

I am still an extrovert and full of all the contradictions I shared with Anne Frank and I hope, have a deeper sense of compassion for people who don’t fit the norm and maybe don’t have a “Dear Anne” they can call their own.

These days, I am also a parent and next year, our son will dip his toe into that swirling vortex of pubescence when he starts high school. Somehow, I can’t see him writing to “Dear Anne” but he does Scouts and plays the guitar and I hope these outlets will bridge the gaps for him.

Meanwhile, our 9 year old daughter dabbles with writing in her diary and also loves drawing in there as well. I’m looking forward to giving her a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank when she turns 13 so she can also perhaps experience that same connection I found so many, many years ago.

Last year, I stumbled across this interview with Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who spoke dare I say frankly about reading her diary. This is an absolute must!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWRBinP7ans

Did you ever write a journal growing up and any suggestions on helping boys get through the teenage years would be appreciated!!

xx Rowena

PS: I think you’ll all agree that Anne frank achieved this goal:

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
― Anne Frank