Tag Archives: despair

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.

 

Slaying the Beast.

Frantic, Sue scoured the gaunt shadows waiting for the night bus to Byron Bay.

“Jazzy! Jazzy!” She screamed, her throat constricting until she couldn’t breathe.

She’d found her daughter’s note, her scrambled handwriting running away in a river of tears. No surprise, it was only the latest chapter in her exhausting, soul-wrenching battle to reclaim her precious baby from the devil ice. Watching Jazzy turn inward, closing all her petals around her like an impenetrable shield, Sue had become a frigging smiling alien. Now, she could only pray. Be her daughter’s shadow…her guardian angel.

Feeding her baby organic, wasn’t enough.

…….

This was a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s photo prompt from © Shaktiki Sharma.

 

For readers unfamiliar with Byron Bay, it is located in Northern NSW, Australia. Known for its incredible lighthouse overlooking vast sandy beaches, it used to be a hippy haven but has long had a dark undercurrent. Many flee to Byron with serious drug, alcohol and mental health issues searching for answers or simply to run away. We have family living nearby and go up to Byron Bay at least once a year. Our kids have their climbing tree at the railway park where there are some homeless people camping out and is also a focal point for groups reaching out and giving away meals.

So much to think about…

Further reading: The Dark Side of Byron Bay

xx Rowena

R-Rilke: Letters to A Young Poet #atozchallenge.

Dear Rilke,

I am writing to you during my series of Letters to Dead Poets.

Indeed, this series was inspired by your book: Letters to A Young Poet, which contains your correspondence with a young German poet: Franz Xavier Kappus dating from February 17th, 1903 to December 1908. Kappus sent you some of his poems, essentially asking your opinion. Was he good enough to be a poet? Or, should he abandon his dreams? That was pretty much the gist of his first letter.

Unfortunately, I only came across these letters when I was a middle-aged poet, whose poetry had been swamped by the realities of growing up. Yet, somehow my inner poet rekindled and we finally met finding that your advice for young Kappus still held true.

Recently, your letters inspired my own series Letters to Dead Poets… as well as their endless questions! I wasn’t intending to explore the great questions of life. Rather, I came up with the theme for a simple blogging challenge where you write your way through the alphabet during April and many of us have a theme. I had been intending to write about Sydney landmarks but didn’t have time to take the photos and thought this would be an easier choice. While the theme might sound rather morbid, it was actually meant to involve a bit of humour. The only trouble was that most of the poets who’ve inspired me, weren’t funny and had more than truly wandered onto the dark side of the force. So, this has actually been a rather probing journey and nothing like light entertainment.

However, as my husband pointed out, the” lightness of being” has never been my thing[1].

Initially, the plan was to keep these letters short and sweet, moving through the poets like an express train roaring through stations, taking very quick and limited stops. In retrospect, that was wishful, short-sighted thinking. After all, how could I ever engage in any kind of conversation with such minds and not explore the heights and depths of what it means to be human?

I can assure you that’s no quick conversation!

So, I’m retreating  to my cave with a different poet every day and on some days even two, while still trying to juggle the realities of life like what we’re having for dinner and needing to wash a stinky dog. To be honest, it’s become something of an orgy of ideas and I’m absolutely exhausted from so much delight. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind booking myself into some kind of facility where I could write all day and collect my meals at the door. Of course, I have no intention of staying. I’d simply be on “sabbatical”!

After all, I love my family and I love living life, which is what’s given me the strength and resilience to delve into some pretty hard questions and the journey isn’t over yet. Indeed, the end isn’t anywhere in sight. Or, is it? I’m so immersed in the journey that I don’t even know where I am.

rainer_maria_rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

This brings me back to you. Indeed, as young Kappus said:

“And where a great and unique man speaks, small men must keep silence.”

Franz Xavier Kappus 1929.

While you exchanged letters with Kappus just over a hundred years ago, my question is: Would you offer the same advice to young poets now in the 21st Century?

The world has changed a lot but have people at their core still stayed much the same? Does a young person need to go through pretty much the same apprenticeship to become a poet? Or, would you actually advise them not to become a poet at all? Tell them to “go and get a real job”? That being a poet doesn’t pay. That indeed, too many poets have paid with their lives for the privilege and that’s too much!

Why become a poet when there’s such a smorgasbord of alternatives which aren’t such a risk? Safe, secure jobs, which don’t take you to the very depths and dump you there. Leave you  without a thread to find your way out of the labyrinth? Indeed, could it be that staying skin deep could actually be a better road? Just keep on looking forward. Indeed, peer deep into your phone and never glance away.

Of course, I’m not asking you these questions to just to fill the page. I have two kids. While many parents would be thrilled to have their kids follow in their footsteps, I definitely do not want my kids following in mind. Indeed, I pray that a river washes my footsteps away, so they have to blaze their own trail.

Scan10538

My feet photographed in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris in July 1992.

After all, you ask any parent what they truly want for their kids and they all say the same thing …”I just want them to be happy”.

Yet, does being a poet make you happy? Indeed, is being a poet the exact antithesis of happy?

It’s not looking good. Indeed, suicide, depression, drug abuse, all seem to be our tools of trade. That’s hardly an endorsement!

Mind you, I also wonder whether writing poetry actually lets the darkness out. That it’s actually therapeutic.

I understand you were very influenced by Jens Peter Jacobsen who wrote:

 “Know ye not that there is here in this world a secret confraternity, which one might call the Company of Melancholiacs? That people there are who by natural constitution have been given a different nature and disposition than the others; that have a larger heart and a swifter blood, that wish and demand more, have stronger desires and a yearning which is wilder and more ardent than that of the common herd. They are fleet as children over whose birth good fairies have presided; their eyes are opened wider; their senses are more subtle in all their perceptions. The gladness and joy of life, they drink with the roots of their heart, the while the others merely grasp them with coarse hands.”

Jens Peter Jacobsen

What do you think?

Or, is the jury still out?

This brings me to the question of Paris. In a letter to Lou Andreas-Salome you compared Paris to the Military Academy and you “could not say worse than that” and “Often before going to sleep I read the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Job, and it was all true of me, word for word[2]”:

“I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
21 You turn on me ruthlessly;
with the might of your hand you attack me.
22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;
you toss me about in the storm.
23 I know you will bring me down to death,
to the place appointed for all the living.

24 “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man
when he cries for help in his distress.
25 Have I not wept for those in trouble?
Has not my soul grieved for the poor?
26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came;
when I looked for light, then came darkness.
27 The churning inside me never stops;
days of suffering confront me.
28 I go about blackened, but not by the sun;
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
29 I have become a brother of jackals,
a companion of owls.
30 My skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.
31 My lyre is tuned to mourning,
and my pipe to the sound of wailing.

Job 30: 20-31.

I was rather surprised to read about your disdain for Paris. Yet, I related to much of what you wrote. Like you were pining for the vastness of the Russian Plains, I initially found Paris very noisy and claustrophobic. Indeed, I started thinking about a train trip I’d taken on the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth across that vast expanse,  the Nullarbor Plain. Oh to be an eagle able to take off and spread my majestic wings without flying straight into a wall!!

330px-Nullabor_plain_from_the_indian_pacific

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice that too many poets have been casualties in Paris. Jimmy Morrison mysteriously met his end in a bathtub in Paris and Oscar Wilde died destitute in his Paris hotel. Is it no coincidence that the world most famous cemetery x is located there?

I don’t know. Do you believe in coincidence? Or, was there some dark influence at work? That at the very heart of the light, there is also the shadow? That life itself is all about this intimate dance and fusion of light and dark?

Anyway, getting back to young poets, my son is only 12 but I wanted to show you a poem he wrote recently for school. I was rather impressed and while I gave him a hand, it was all his own work. I would really appreciate your opinion and a bit of advice.

Do you still believe there’s a place for poets in our world or must we all go out and get a real job?

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

 Through My Window

Looking out my window,
I hear a sound.
Scutter scutter.
Scutter scutter.
Out in the garden,
there’s a little white rabbit.
Mum!
Dad!
But when we get back,
it’s gone…
just like a puff of smoke.

No one believes me.
They just say
that I’m dreaming.
Imagination overload
all over again.
But I know what I saw.

Now,
that I’m back here alone,
the rabbit returns.
It’s glowing gold,
red eyes flashing
in the darkness.
What is it?
Why has it come?

Then, I blink again.
The rabbit burns up into flames
with an even brighter glow
and is gone.

In the morning,
I found no rabbit prints

in the grass.

No sign of the rabbit at all.
Yet,

I know what I saw…

a mysterious rabbit

hopping outside

my bedroom window.

By Mr J

 

[1] Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

[2] Reginald Snell: “Introduction”, Letters to A Young Poet, Dover Publication, New York p. 5.

E-TS Eliot: Letters to Dead Poets #atozchallenge

 

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
TS Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Dear Mr Elliot,

Welcome back to the land of the living, although I thought you might have had enough. Would rather be left alone, far away from this land of shadows.

However, while I was pondering all of this, I found a letter on the floor. No signature, only paw prints. Being quite the champion of the underdog, especially in its age old battle against the supercilious cat, I decided to act as messenger and forward you this poem from a group calling themselves: “The Pollicle Dogs”.

old-possums-book-of-cats

Although they could well be a terrorist cell for radicalized canines, I thought they had a point. You made no secret of your love of cats and just to confirm what seems to be a definite bias in the battle between cats and dogs,  there’s definitely no Old Possum’s Book of Practical Dogs to inspire Dogs The Musical, is there?

Not that I’m judging you in any way. It’s just about equality and fairness. That’s all.

To TS Eliot: A Note from The Pollicle Dogs

 In defense of the dog,

we now appear.

A lover of cats,

you hold them too dear!

These killers of birds.

The most stuck up of beasts!

Friends when it suits them

but never for keeps.

Your poems are an outrage,

we tried to have banned.

But then came the musical

that should’ve been canned.

Cats! Cats! Cats! Cats!

All we hear is just cats.

Dogs…pollicle dogs!

Why don’t you write about

 US?!!

Signed,

The Pollicle Dogs.

While evidence strongly suggests that my dogs, Bilbo and Lady, penned this poem, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of their comrades down at Dog Beach were also involved.

dogs

My Dogs…Bilbo and Lady.

You see, I’ve never ever seen a cat down at the beach, which would seem to suggest some kind of demarcation or indeed, the existence of a secret dog society, which could very well be plotting the demise of the cat.

dog beach zoom

Dog Beach.

Personally, I’ve tried talking to my dogs about this before. That we all need to be kind to our enemies. Turn the other cheek. Even apply the Golden Rule. They found  that extremely challenging, not only when it came to being nice to cats, but also when it came to stealing the humans’ food from the table. They’ve actually become a pair of thieving scoundrels of late and have been in endless TROUBLE!!

Indeed, I think they’ve related to those famous last lines of Hollow Men, as they’ve been dispatched hastily “OUTSIDE”:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I must admit that these lines keep returning to me throughout my life. Funny that because so many times, it’s seemed like the end of the world and those lines have been going through my head, when I somehow manage to live right through the moment and life just goes on without any after thought, acknowledgement or recognition. There’s only that inner relief of knowing that I’d made it. That I’d survived another close call, even if that was only my perception.

Like so many who have read your work, I can’t help but wonder at the contrast between your earlier poems and your more comical cat poems. However, through my own experiences of adversity and an understanding of the dark side or shadow, I also appreciate it’s flips side, which is often expressed through a macabre or dark form of humour. Indeed, my husband and I, who are both avid amateur photographers, have observed “the darker the shadow, the brighter the light.” Humour is incredibly therapeutic!

Well, it’s almost time for my kids to arrive home from school. While Mum’s taxi won’t be driving round and round the cactus bush, it certainly seems to be doing more than its fair share of circles round our neighbourhood, especially in the afternoons.

skimbleshanks.jpg

Speaking off which, it’s time for me to head off to the station to pick up my daughter and give a wave to Skimbleshanks. Somehow, he has absconded to the Antipodes.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

 

 

The DNA of Happiness

As I explained before, I am slowly making my way through the Proust Questionnaire, a tool commonly used by writers for character development. It’s become my goal to work my way through this list a question at a time, preparing for a motivational memoir that I’m working on.

While some of the questions don’t require a huge amount of thought, the first question is a really, thought-provoking challenge:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Now, perhaps, I could’ve simply taken this question at face value and just jotted a few things down.

However, why get straight to the point when you can procrastinate and turn a simple question into a journey?

So, I’ve taken this opportunity to explore the DNA of Happiness.

What actually makes us happy and when you think about being happy, what sort of images come to mind?

Not the “I’ll be happy when…” but the real stuff. What has brought you the greatest, personal happiness?

Or, to put it another way, “What have been the happiest days of your life?”

I wonder if they look anything like mine?

Our Wedding Day....The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

Our Wedding Day….The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

“Happiness is a vine that takes root and grows within the heart, never outside it.”

― Kahlil Gibran

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Martha Washington

The Arrival of Our Little Man...I couldn't take my eyes off him!

The Arrival of Our Little Man…I couldn’t take my eyes off him!

What does it mean to be happy?”
One kid declared:”If I have a million dollars in the bank, I’ll be happy.” Another announced:”If I’m number one in my chosen profession, I’ll be happy. But I won’t settle for number two.”
The discussion continued with comments in a similar vein. All agreed that money, success, and achievement would make them happy. Not one of these seventeen and eighteen year old kids talked about love, children, relationships, marriage, community or friends. Which made me wonder: When your resume is perfect, how does your soul feel? …If we can buy big houses and powerful cars, we may be able to achieve the illusion of security, but it is still just an illusion. If we do well at school or work, we may get a sense of accomplishment but there will always be a something more to accomplish- happiness will always be around the corner.
Real security only comes when we are comfortable with who we are (and the feeling is enhanced when we are in a relationship where there is mutual love and understanding. Real happiness is a by-product of a life well lived.

Letters to Sam– Daniel Gottlieb

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
Thomas Jefferson

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don't like to appear on my blog).

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don’t like to appear on my blog).

Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel.”

Morrie…Tuesday’s With Morrie, Mitch Albom.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult, no longer matters.”
M.Scott Peck: The Road Less Travelled.

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

-Aeschylus (Quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in his Eulogy to Martin Lurther King.4th April, 1968.)

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.”
“On Joy and Sorrow” Kahlil Gibran

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
John Keats: “Ode to Melancholy”.

What with all this pondering about happiness and also its inter-relationship with sorrow, I thought I’d better start reading what seemed a pretty good authority on the nature of happiness…”The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler. Although I am only up to page 75, this book really is well worth reading.

The Dalai Lama basically states that: “The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.” This happiness can be achieved through training the mind. Underlying all the Dalai Lama’s methods, there is a set of basic beliefs that act as a substrate for all his actions: a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in the policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures.”

In terms of how to train the mind, the Dalai Lama says:
“When we speak of this inner discipline, it can of course involve many things, many methods. But generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this,one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness.”

Christmas brings a lot of happiness....and also heartache.

Christmas brings a lot of happiness….and also heartache.

Yet, despite getting all philosophical, perhaps happiness really is as simple as this:

“Happiness is a warm puppy”- Charles Schultz.

Bilbo as a pup.

Bilbo as a pup.

I’m sure Bilbo would agree!

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that while I’ve been researching happiness, I’ve come down with serious bronchitis. Today, I was back to the doctor and given a powerful combination of two antibiotics and am on the nebuliser every 2 days during the day. If this doesn’t work, I’m off to hospital tomorrow afternoon. Although my health isn’t great, I am happy and content.

Why is this so?

Perhaps, because my ongoing health battles have made me quite conscious of seizing the day and what matters. For me, that’s my family, my writing, being part of community, my faith, getting out with the dogs and walking along the beach in the sun, photography, playing my violin. I am living my life to the very fullest. Things could be better. Could be worse but I’ve worked through all that and really do have a strong sense of hope that I am going to keep winning this ongoing battle.

-+