Tag Archives: anxiety

Acknowledgement & Gratitude…2020 Revised.

Last night, I was going through my list. I don’t know if everyone has a list. However, I’m pretty sure most of us have that list we go back to when something else goes wrong, and for some of us this list of our misfortunes goes round and round in our heads and conversations like a broken record. Indeed, this list can be a millstone round your neck, and it’s no doubt taken many over the edge.

Bilbo watchin the sun set Palm Beach

This photo of Bilbo seemed to sum up the reflective pre-acknowledgement stage of the process.

While some advocate an almost aggressive, constant state of positivity no matter what, I prefer a different course. Indeed, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about acknowledging the bad stuff which is the equivalent of popping over to visit a friend, without moving in. Indeed, you ACKNOWLEDGE what has happened, and then you you can sit with it for a bit, grieve, process and try to understand what’s happened and why, learn your lessons and even make some constructive fixes if required. However, at the end of that time, you pack your bags and you’re out of there, although you’ll probably pop back for a visit now and then, but as I said, this is very different to moving in. After all, there also comes a time where you need to leave the past behind. I can groan a bit when I hear people talking about moving forward while there’s still a splinter in the wound and it’s all starting to fester. However, not moving forward at all, even without the smallest and almost invisible baby steps, isn’t good either.

Bilbo and paw prints

However, while acknowledging the crap, we also need to be grateful for what’s gone well, or the good things which have come out of the bad. Take on board the yin and yang.

Thinking more about it, gratitude is also a form of acknowledgement, and that when you put these two processes together, it resembles a process which is very familiar. Stacking up your wins and losses. However, if you’re going through a particularly hard time (and let’s face it 2020 hasn’t been great), you might need to work particularly hard to find anything at all to be grateful for. Or, you might feel that the weight of all you’ve lost weighs down that side of the scales so much, that the wins feel pretty light weight and very much out of balance. Indeed, that the hand you’ve been dealt is mighty unfair.

Jonathon Heart Hands 2011

Holding love in his hands…our son painting when he was about 7 years old. What a beautiful young man. 

That’s why I’ve put these two words together as bookends to give them added strength and weight, and to encourage us to see how these two seemingly opposing forces can actually come together and ultimately get us out the other side.

Today, I spent a few hours writing down my Acknowledgements & Gratitudes. Rather than sharing the extended version right now, I thought I’d quickly list them down so people wanting more of a quick snapshot could take that in, rather than getting bogged down. However, as it turns out, even this is not a snapshot.

Quite frankly, in many ways, I’d like to return to New Year’s Eve 2019 when 2020 was all set to be a year of perfect vision.

Meanwhile, this is the bad stuff I’d like to acknowledge so far:

Rowena bogged Western Australia

Getting bogged in a remote sand dune in WA near the Pinnacles around 1990. I’m smiling on the outside but freaking out and seriously concerned about our well-being. 

Acknowledging the Bad Stuff

1) The catastrophic Australian bush fires. During the 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season, 34 people were killed directly while 417 died from smoke inhalation. The impact on our wildlife was absolutely devastating killing around one billion animals, and destroying over 18 million hectares of bush. 5,900 buildings including over 2,800 homes were also destroyed. Despite living well away from these bushfire areas, the dense choking smoke which went on to travel several times round the globe, forced me inside dependent on the air-conditioner to breathe. In hindsight, there were a few times I should’ve gone to hospital, but I didn’t want to be a pest. For awhile there, I was literally hovering in the balance.

2) The Coronavirus. When I think back to New Year’s Eve 2019, it looks like we were like the passengers and crew on board The Titanic feeling utter invincible as it sailed at breakneck speeds through waters dotted with deadly icebergs. When I first heard about the outbreak in Wuhan, China I thought it was going to be like SARS and that it would largely stay over there and leave Australia alone. Our geographical isolation is a blessing and a curse, and means we often miss out. While, our experience has been exceptionally good to date, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an impact. As the number of cases initially started to increase, they matched the same trajectory as Italy, and we were expecting things to be a lot worse.

Here’s how the toll of Covid 19 stacks up today on the 20th May, 2020:

Worldwide                                                              Australia

Cases:                         4.89 million confirmed                                        7 069 confirmed

Recovered:                1.69 million                                                            6 411

Deaths:                       1.69 million                                                            100

3) Lock Down due to the Coronavirus/Covid 19. People isolated, businesses closed. Massive job losses. Everything completely out of synch and out of order.

DSC_9231

Even the poor old park bench was in lock down and wrapped up in red tape.

4) I developed a chest infection in March which developed into a repetitive barking cough, asthma and gasping for air well after the infection itself had  cleared. The timing couldn’t have been much worse, just as cases of coronavirus is NSW were rapidly increasing and starting to match Italy’s trajectory. It was not a time where anyone wanted to be heading to hospital, especially someone with dodgy lungs. There was also the concern that I’d end up competing for one of those rare as hen’s teeth ventilators. Or, given my poor health and disability status, I might just be left to die in the corridor (Thank goodness I gave my lung specialist a Christmas card last year!! Next year, I’d better give him a packet of Tim Tams as well).

5) Our son’s school history through Europe was cancelled on the 2nd March, when the NSW Education department banned all out of state excursions. At the time, there were minimal infection rates in Australia and it was just on the cusp of the spread to Italy. So it was very early in the peace and were were feeling a bit cheated. Was this really necessary? They were due to fly out on Wednesday 8th April bound for Berlin. From there, they were heading to Munich, Rome, Sorrento, Pompei, Naples, the French Battlefields of WWI and Paris. What a trip of a lifetime, just gone up in smoke. At the time, we were also unsure of refunds and they’ve only just started coming in. All up, it was a huge hit.

6) In late February, I had a really nasty fall dropping our daughter off at a dance audition when I tripped over a significant crack in the footpath. While I didn’t break any bones, I was in rough shape for a few weeks. I also suspect that the stress of the fall exacerbated the chest infection as it was just managing to behave itself til then.

7) Work. Although my husband’s kept his job during lock down and is working successfully from home, both of our teenaged kids had been looking at picking up part-time jobs this year and that’s gone on hold thanks to Coronavirus. I’d also wanted to pick up some work, and those hopes have also been dashed.

ballet shoes

Dance Classes via Zoom have involved both acknowledgment & Gratitude. 

8) Our house has gone from being a home, and is now an office, school, Church, dance studio, Venturer hall, cafe. That’s been a lot to process.

9) Rather than social isolation, we’ve had the whole family at home under one roof almost 24/7. There have been times where that has grated, although nowhere near as much as expected.

10) My violin lessons have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus.

11) Much of my daughter’s dance activities have been cancelled this year.

Sunrise

Sunrise, Bathurst pre-Covid.

Gratitude For The Good

  1. My husband & kids who live and breath everything with me. As I’m coughing my lungs out and gasping for breath, they’re running for water, reaching for my ventolin, asking if I need an ambulance and wondering whether this is going to be it. Even our three dogs get called into the battle. We also have a lot of good times together in between.
  2. My parents who have been my rocks forever.
  3. Like all Australians, I’m incredibly grateful to our bushfire volunteers and their support networks. They signed up to help, but found themselves fighting inside the very heart of an apocalypse, and they kept going at incredible personal cost. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  4. Very thankful for the very generous donations from around the world to help save our precious Australian wildlife, and for carers trying to save them.
  5. For the doctors, nurses, hospital staff, chaplains and scientists who are treating people with Covid 19. Or, who are working towards a deeper scientific understanding of the virus and hopefully towards a vaccine or treatment.
  6. That I haven’t contracted Civid and am still here. Also that I recovered from my chest infection and didn’t need to go to hospital during the Coronacrisis.
  7. For our Australian leaders and medicos who responded quickly and efficiently to flatten the curve and provided us with the information and support we needed to get through. Indeed, we’ve far exceeded our grim expectations and I am so grateful for that!!
  8. For the Australian people (and those around the world) who have stayed home, and continue to practice social distancing. This has saved our bacon. (Well, at least, so far.)
  9. Friends and family who have helped me grapple with life, the universe and everything inside my head, and tried to help me accept the mysteries of God and his role in all of this.
  10. A special thanks to the strangers who stopped and helped when I had the fall mentioned in acknowledgements. A teacher from the school went back and found some ice and she dropped me down at McDonald’s down the road where I was meeting my friend, while a man fetched big band aids, saline and antiseptic from the medical kit in his car.
  11. Grateful that my Church has maximized the use of technology during this time to hold Church online and using zoom so effectively to allow us to keep in touch. It’s meant so much for me to keep in touch.
  12. For making significant progress towards researching and writing my books about WWI soldiers serving in France during WWI.
  13. Humour, empathy and understanding  from family, friends, strangers. It’s helped us all get through this.
  14. My Blog and all the friends I’ve developed over the years and the new ones. I typically experience periods of time each year where it’s difficult, impossible or inadvisable for me to go out and beyond my family, you are my social contacts and community. I really and truly appreciate each and everyone of you, all the more so too, because we’ve never met in person.
  15. For the kids’ school for advice, empathy and consideration while the kids were doing school from home, and for putting in strict social distancing practices for the first two weeks where students were back one day a week.
  16. That my daughter’s dance studio has been providing lessons online and she’s been able to dance and keep her dreams and goals of being a professional dancer alive.
  17. Thankful for our son’s venturer leader who thought of ways of keeping the group connected and engaged during lock down.
  18. That we’ve been able to save some money, and clear my credit card.

    Zac & Rosie dogs grass

    Even our grass is greener in lock down.

  19. That we now have a back lawn that’s green and not looking like a tragic lunar landscape after Geoff wrought the backyard back from the dogs.
  20. I don’t want to thank the NDIS because it’s often my bete noir. However, it continues to make a difference and has funded the supports which have also helped me get through this year, and more more personally challenging times.
  21. Surprisingly, we’ve actually been able to save money during lock down and I actually paid off my credit card. Meanwhile, I have also been grateful for a few online purchases. Thinking I’d be in lock down for months, I bought some new Peter Alexander pyjamas on sale…yippee!!
  22. The beauty of nature and being able to go on extended photography walks and experience that beauty more intimately through the lens and back home, through the pen.
  23. Having family time at home without having to rush around. On this point, I’ve also been grateful our kids were teens and I didn’t have little ones at home with the parks and playgroups closed and needing to teach kids myself at home.
  24. Cooking with my kids.
  25. All the people who have helped and offered to help throughout the years.

……

Well, I’m actually rather surprised that my list of gratitude has more than doubled my acknowledgements. So much is really going well for us.That is, despite my health issues, the coronavirus, being in lock down, grappling with the bushfire smoke. It seems we’ve strangely come out of the first six months of 2020 strangely ahead.

However, I am acutely conscious that isn’t the case for everyone. So, I would like to acknowledge those who are grieving, distraught, experiencing PTSD, trauma, and I send you our love. It’s up to those of us further away from the front line, to support those in the thick of it in anyway we can. What you are experiencing is real. You’re not the only one. You’re not going crazy. Well, you’re not going crazy without due cause. May I encourage you to find local sources of support and encouragement and to try to get out for a walk in the sunshine when you can. It’s certainly helped lighten my load, which you can see, hasn’t exactly been lightweight or just been a recent development either. I also have a few key friends I can share with beyond my family, and I do that myself. That’s the value of community…many hands lighten the load.

I would encourage you to do this exercise for yourselves either on or offline. I found it very constructive, especially this was just another one of those blogging ideas I came up with on the fly. That’s right. It all started out with those two simple words: Acknowledgement & Gratitude…another way of looking at our wins and losses.

I would love to hear from you on this and I hope that you’re okay.

Best wishes and much love,

Rowena

Rowena Victory

This photo was taken during chemo to treat my auto-immune disease, where I was at least looking victorious in the midst of some pretty tough times. I hope and pray that we will ultimately conquer Covid 19 with a vaccine and treatment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Outside – Friday Fictioneers.

Dimity was next up, but she just wanted to run.

“Idiot! You absolute idiot! How could you let him talk you into singing THAT song? Raw, red-raw, it was only meant for the shower.”

Delving into the agonizing depths of self-loathing, she’d turned herself so completely inside out, her heart was beating outside her body, and the neurones were spewing out of her head like the guts of a computer.

“It’ll help someone. Save a life,” he said.

Now, she was wondering why she had to sell her soul to save the world? Why couldn’t she just plant a tree?

…..

100 words exactly.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. Photo prompt © CEAyr.

As a closet musician, I related to this photo prompt of the stage. While naturally rather extroverted, I usually have no qualms about getting up on stage and doing that most dreaded of tasks….public speaking.

However, playing my violin has been a mixed bag and early on, I put myself through the intense stress and madness of doing my Preliminary exam. This is the most basic exam you can undertake, and yet it was much harder than I expected, although I was determined to get an A, not a C-. I remember stressing out so badly on the train on the way to the exam, and being rather hard on myself. Then, I realized I was doing this to myself. No one else had made me do. It’s not like I was a kid and I could blame my mother. Moreover, just to give you a bit of a laugh, you can picture me practicing in the bus shelter out in front of the exam venue trying to warm up my ricketty fingers. The stress was through the roof, but I’ll have you know, I did it. I got my A, and I haven’t done an exam since.

Best wishes,

Rowena.

 

 

Trials of The Good Samaritan…Friday Fictioneers.

“Trust it to rain on RUOK Day,” murmured Jane from accounts. “If we were meant to feel okay, it would be sunny.”

Ever the Good Samaritan, I invited her out for lunch. However, Sydney’s Martin Place was wet and dreary, only intensifying her despair and my frustration.

“Umbrellas and raincoats protect you from the rain, but nothing can save you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. ”

It was hopeless. The power of positive thinking sank to the bottom of my chai latte and drowned. No point applying CPR. I gazed heavenward and admitted defeat.

“Lord, she’s all yours”.

……

100 words

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda. Click here for other stories inspired by the prompt.

In Australia, we have a program geared towards improving mental health and preventing suicide called RUOK and every year we have RUOK Day,  which was held just a few weeks ago on the 12th September. However, naturally the idea is to use this question to start a conversation any day of the year.

I’ve been battling with this for awhile, because while it’s all well and good to ask if someone’s okay, you generally know they’re not which is why you’re asking the question. So, when they say no, or they deny what’s going on, what do you do then?

While they might even need professional help, it’s often difficult to get someone into treatment and we as family, friends, work colleagues and even strangers are called in to bridge the gap. It is fundamental to my personal ethics to stop and help someone who is suffering and not be that person who walks away, turns a bling eye. Yet, people who are doing it tough can be difficult to be around…depressing, angry, poor communicators, smelly. So these were some of the issues I wanted to raise through my well-intentioned Good Samaritan who finds it all a bit too hard in the end.

Although the situation doesn’t resolve well in my story, more than likely it takes a number of attempts to get through to someone who is doing it really tough. There’s an ad which encourages people not to give up trying to quit smoking because they’ve already failed before. They say that it takes a few attempts to quit. It’s probably the same with encouraging someone to open up. We need to keep the lines of communication open, have a few people to share the load and do not give up.

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

Why We Need Monet’s Garden…A-Z Challenge.

When I made my list of 26 artists at the outset of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I simply chose my very favourite artists and their works, while then going on something of a quest to top up the missing letters.  While I’d fully intended to have the entire series ready to go by April 1st, perhaps you could say that I became the April Fool trying to write a letter each day and taking on all that entails. Indeed, merging into and almost becoming a different artist every day, especially when each one of them seemingly endured so much suffering, has been intense. Yet, back at the start when I first set out of this very spontaneous journey, it never crossed my mind that spending a month with a bunch of highly charged artists, mostly Expressionists, might get a bit draining and that I might actually need a break…a change of pace.

monet_portrait_photo_orangerie

That is why we’ve detoured to Monet’s exquisite garden at Giverney today. We’re going to float along in the muted sunshine and soak up all the peace and tranquillity of his beautiful water lilies. After all, as my old friend Keats expressed in Ode to Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

 Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

-John Keats, excerpt Ode to Melancholy.

You could say this whole process of writing to dead artists, has been intense to say the least. Indeed, getting inside someone else’s skin, isn’t something for the half-hearted. Those who sheepishly only dip the tip of their toe in the water. Rather, it calls for nothing less than full immersion, where nothing else can get in or out, and you’re absorbing your “hero” body and soul by osmosis. This process is nothing short of intense, as you all but alter your physical makeup to become them.

Yet, you also need to get out. Return to your regular self.

In the process of writing these letters to 26 different artists through the month of April, I’m switching skins and mindsets every day, and somehow also absorbing a mountain of biographical detail to boot. Yet, somehow I’m pulling it off.

At the same time, I’m intensely conscious that I’m playing with fire. That I can’t put myself through this psychological mincer every day, and know I’ll still be together at the end of the month. That I won’t have defragmented to the point of no return. Or, floated off into the clouds like a red helium balloon with nothing tying it down to the ground.

As creative as this might appear, it’s not healthy.

My feet need to be firmly planted on the ground, whenever my mind goes wandering. More than that, my feet need to be planted in rich, fertile soil not only to nourish my creativity, but also my physical well-being. That as much as I might think I live in my head, this control centre is attached to, and nourished by, the body down below.

So, as much as I’ve wanted to stay immersed in this incredibly stimulating creative vortex, towards the end of last week I started thinking I needed some kind of Intermission in between all the intensity of Munch’s The Scream, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Picasso’s Blue Period and also what lies ahead. Somewhere along the way there, my thoughts naturally wandered off to Monet’s Garden and I suddenly saw his paintings in a fresh light. That they weren’t so insipid after all, and were actually peaceful and relaxing…a place of healing.  I don’t know what triggered my wanderings through Monet’s Garden. book

However, on Thursday morning these meanderings suddenly crystallized, when I “stumbled across” Vivian Russell gorgeous coffee table book: Monet’s Garden: Through The Seasons At Giverny in the second hand book trolley at the hospital. Of course, it was meant to be. That, before I went any further, I needed to visit Monet’s Garden and rest.

 

Perhaps, I should’ve considered the need for shades of light and dark during this series at the outset. However, this entire journey’s been completely unplanned and spontaneous. Aside from that list of names, I haven’t had any kind of itinerary. Rather, I’m constantly adjusting my compass as fresh details come to light which could well unravel my mental portrait of the artist completely, and I’m forced to start over. Paint over the canvas. Punch in the clay.

That’s what happens when you truly become immersed in a character. You become acutely aware of their every little nuance, twist and turn. Well, at least as much as the Internet will tell me, which isn’t a complete picture, even with the artists who’ve turned themselves inside out in multiple interviews. There’s always the Seventh Veil. That no go zone.

Before I go to Monet’s Garden, however, I guess I’d better spill out why I didn’t write to him earlier, and why I chose to write to Edvard Munch instead. I have loved and lived The Scream all my life, even before I even knew it was there. It represents that anguished cry of the soul and the isolated individual who, misunderstood and abandoned by the world, is calling out to the wind. I venture to assume that everyone has experienced that anguish at some point in their life, even if it isn’t every day or very often. The Scream puts a real face to those feelings, and even offers a release….an exit from my house of horrors.

On the other hand, Monet’s water lilies were very tranquil, pretty and atmospheric, but where’s the angst? While I wouldn’t describe Monet’s works as Chocolate box art, perhaps they’ve just become too familiar, and I couldn’t appreciate their divine qualities until now.

Indeed, if you put The Scream and the Water Lillies side by side, you’d easily draw the conclusion that Monet had an easy life while Munch experienced such deep suffering and anguish that his grief had no end.

I, of all people, should’ve known better. That despite all the sufferings of my medical problems, I’m mostly smiling and trying to carpe diem seize the day with both hands squeezing the juice out of life. I’m not moping around complaining. Moreover, you have to know me pretty well or, be professionally trained to see how I am affected. Meanwhile, to most of the world, not insubstantial obstacles get filed under the carpet as seeming “invisibilities”. I’m fine. In fact, even I admit that I usually look like I’m doing better than most.

Death of his wife Camille

Monet endured great suffering and bouts of severe depression which went with it. In 1857, Monet suffered greatly when his mother died when he was seventeen. His father being a wealthy businessman, Monet took more after his mother who was a trained singer and might well have defended her son’s desire to become a professional artist. Losing this person who potentially understood him on the cusp of becoming a man, could well have compounded his loss.  Shortly after her death, Monet went to live with his aunt, who understood him better than his father I guess. Around 1866, Monet met his future wife, Camille Doncieux, who also modelled for him. The couple experienced great hardship around the birth of their first son, Jean, in 1867. Monet was in dire financial straits, and his father was unwilling to help them. Monet became so despondent over the situation that, in 1868, he attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the Seine River. Monet’s personal life was marked by hardship around this time. Around 1878, Camille became ill during her second pregnancy (their second son, Michel, was born in 1878), and she continued to deteriorate. Monet painted a portrait of her on her death bed. Before her passing, the Monets went to live with Ernest and Alice Hoschede and their six children. Camille died 5 September 1879. After Camille’s death, Monet painted a grim set of paintings known as the Ice Drift series. He grew closer to Alice, and the two eventually became romantically involved. Ernest spent much of his time in Paris, and he and Alice never divorced. Monet and Alice moved with their respective children in 1883 to Giverny. After Ernest’s death, Monet and Alice married in 1892. In 1911, Alice died, plunging Monet into a deep depression. Monet became depressed after the death of his beloved Alice. In 1912, he developed cataracts in his right eye and was terrified of going blind. This wasn’t an entirely crazy thought, because no doubt he knew French “Impressionist” Edgar Degas who was completely blind by this stage. Monet was out of step with the avant-garde. The Impressionists were in some ways being supplanted by the Cubist movement, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Then, to compound his sorrows, in February 1914, his son Jean died at the age of forty-six.

He wrote to one friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” Despite his feelings of despair, he continued working on his paintings until his final days.

So, when it comes to Monet’s water lillies, their stillness masks Monet’s  battle with depression which manifested on and off throughout his life. Yet, perhaps you could say that through gardening, he didn’t let it possess him completely. That he was fighting back and the storm was retreating beneath the pond.

Indeed, I’m starting to think a bit of gardening might do me a bit of good.

What do you think? Have gardening helped you overcome difficult moods or depression and anxiety?

Unfortunately, as time’s gone by, I’ve evolved into more of a plant killer than a gardener, and if you recall the plot of Finding Nemo, I’m like that little girl who kills all her fish. Indeed, all the plants at our local nursery, are probably shaking in their pots hoping I’ll choose someone else.

I’m going to pop back shortly to write more about Monet’s huge Water Lilly commission by the French Government.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Further Reading

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/claude-monet-20160920-grk00i.html

http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/claude-monets-water-lilies

 

 

“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.

 

A Stone In My Pocket – Friday Fictioneers.

This was it. I took a deep breath. The 23rd Psalm echoed in my head, and I recited the Lord’s Prayer. Not deeply religious and anything but devout, I still kept a toe in with the man upstairs just in case. However, as I stuffed the heavy stones down my shirt and stared into the lake, I wondered whether he’d accept I was repentant, even if I did commit the ultimate, unforgivable sin. However, it was a done deal. I’d left a note, blown my dosh. I closed my eyes….5,4,3,2,1…Geronimo.

Oops. Next time, I’ll find a deeper pond.

…..

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo prompt comes from  © Sandra Crook.

 

Starting High School’s Eve

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Tomorrow morning, our “baby girl” starts high school. While this is something we’ve been working towards for some time, I still have this sense of impending doom. That we’ve forgotten something. That we’ve forgotten something of earth-shattering significance. The sort of thing that crippling anxious nightmares are made of. Sleeping through the alarm. No uniform. No shoes. What about what’s for lunch, packing and actually eating it?

High school is going to be a piece of cake compared to getting out our front door and as much as I’ve hoped for the best and prepared for the worst, I have this awful sinking feeling, that we’re doomed. To quote someone very dear to me: “That we were born under an unlucky star”.

Indeed, perhaps there’s no point even getting out of bed, and we can try again next year.

Thank goodness my alter-ego pushed that anxious sod off her perch and confiscated her scrapbook of memories as well.

Of course, you can’t turn up at the high school gate with a swag of baby photos and snaps of firsts to share with the other parents…Mum’s Bragbook. OMG! Talk about taking uncool to such unprecedented heights, that even I who is eternally impervious to embarrassment, would be cringing in my boots forever more.

I could never show my face again.

That’s if I was still alive after such an escapade. If my daughter didn’t kill me, I’d have to kill myself…or lock myself up in a crate addressed to deepest darkest Africa, or even post myself to Mars.

I guess this also reminds me that Mummy’s not allowed to cry. Mum has to be strong. Smile, wave and not cling onto my little girl like a limpet trying to stop her from growing up and stepping out the front door without me.

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Our Son’s Starts High School Two Years Ago in 2016.

Really, tomorrow’s just another day and it’s not like we don’t know the place. No, her big brother’s paved the way and for better or worse, we’re known at the school. Our daughter hasn’t been going to school locally for the last two years, so hasn’t really been round the traps but she’ll know a lot of the kids from her last school and round about. She’s also in a selective dance class within the performing arts and will automaticlly land on her feet with a few extra moves thrown in just because she can.

So, of course, tomorrow is going to be fine.

 

This is the broken record that I should be playing over and over in my head instead of feeling crippled by this shapeless, formless, sense of impeding doom.

After all, we’ve crossed the i’s dotted the t’s and like a airline pilot, double-checked that the hatches are shut. (See I told you things were a bit skewiff around here.)

How hard can it be to get one kid around the corner?

Or should I say, how easy!

After all:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

footprints on the beach

I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know how it all went.

Fingers and toes crossed!

xx Rowena

 

Captain Clean – Friday Fictioneers.

“Mum and Dad built this place after the war,” Muriel said. “Lived in the garage, while they built the house.”

Captain Clean was very tempted to add that nothing had been thrown out since, but bit her tongue. Condescending self-righteousness never worked with hoarders. So, she stuck to the script.

“Keep or throw? Keep or throw?”                                                                                                                                                                     “There you are,” Muriel smiled.

Captain Clean screamed, bolted and drove away.

Muriel had finally found her spare set of teeth, playing hide & seek in her husband’s old shoes.

“I could’ve handled a dead body,” she told the psychologist. “But not false teeth.”

…….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Sarah Potter

xx Rowena