Tag Archives: discrimination

Weekend Coffee Share – 8th June, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you and what is going on in your neck of the woods? I’d like to offer you a slice of Lemon Meringue pie with your cup of tea, coffee or whatever. I made it for my parents who both celebrated their 75th birthday this week. I added some raspberries to it, which made a wonderful addition. The raspberries were a bit light on as I wasn’t too sure how they’d go However, they went really well and I’ll add the full punnet in future. Not that I make Lemon Meringue Pie all that often, but I’ve been doing more baking since Covid 19 came along and Masterchef 2020 is also on at the moment giving me plenty of inspiration and intimidation.

 

If we were to meet up for coffee in person, I know we’d probably be talking about the riots and #blacklivesmatter. I live in Australia. So, I’m geographically removed from what’s going on in America, although the TV brings it into our living room and it’s hard to know how much the news represents what’s going on over there. While I think the original #blacklivesmatter hashtag was a great rallying cry following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, I’m not so sure about using it in such a broad-sweeping sense because every life matters and there are a lot of people who are equally being discriminated against, killed and also dying from neglect. As a person living with a disability, people in my community have been denied access to wheelchairs or basic equipment needs and lack a voice. A woman with cerebral palsy recently died due to neglect by her carer. Aboriginal people here have adopted  #Blacklivesmatter to raise public awareness of Aboriginal deaths in custody which really does need to be acknowledged and addressed. It slips so easily under the carpet, and it’s hard to keep up with all these horrid things in our communities which definitely need to be addressed and fixed now and not consigned to some politician’s eternal inbox where it never sees the light of day. I personally believe that if we treated everybody with respect and applied the Golden Rule and tried to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, as Harper Lee says in To Kill A Mockingbird, that much of the discrimination, inequality and hate would at least be reduced. However, some communities have particular areas where more is focus and action are needed and I understand the need for the slogan #blacklivesmatter even though every life also matters. It’s to draw attention. Have an impact. Make us sit up and notice, and that’s important too because it’s very easy for each and every one of us to get very comfortable in our easychairs at home and be oblivious to what’s going on beyond our own four walls. My own ignorance abounds and I’m generally living back in WWI with my research. It’s such a long way away from the present, that it’s easy to forget anything is going on beyond what I can see.

While it’s important to highlight discrimination, struggles, hate etc certain groups might be experiencing, it’s also important, indeed critical, to keep building bridges between people and we’ve seen so many examples of that during these protests. People coming together across that so-called black-white divide and embracing each other in love (and despite Covid 19 restrictions). There is good and bad everywhere, but it’s important that we stay informed somehow of what is going in the bigger picture and don’t close our eyes to suffering, injustice, cruelty and neglect.

Anyway, I don’t know if you wanted to come over here and talk about all of that over coffee. However, I couldn’t not talk about it and I’d really like to see some really strong role models rise up out of this to lead us forward and on a global scale. Let’s see humanity unite and connect building bridges right around the world and make everyone feel at home, safe, valued and at peace.

 

 

Meanwhile, my photography walks continue. Last Friday, I decided to head over to another local beach at Killcare about a 15 minute drive away. However, in the absence of any signage, I took a wrong turn and ended up at MacMasters Beach 10 kilometres further down the road. It also turned out that the battery for my SLR had failed to charge. That left me taking photos with my phone. Being a committed SLR photographer and unashamed snob, as far as I was concerned, I might as well be taking photos with my shoe. However, while they turned out quite well, and using my phone is certainly much easier than lugging the camera around, I’m not a convert yet.

Despite all these mishaps, MacMasters was breathtakingly beautiful. I stopped off at the Barefoot Cafe for some homemade prawn spring rolls, which were scrumptious and deliciously crunchy and I’ve been plotting my return ever since. Meanwhile, rather than walking along the beach, I decided to walk across the rocks to the headland and watched the surfers as I went. It was all quite mesmerising, particularly as I reflect back on it now from the relative blandness of our lounge room. Indeed, from that perspective, it was absolutely magnificent!! I’d love you to join me at: Surfing Through The Lens.

Meanwhile, yesterday, we drove down to Sydney to celebrate my parents’ 75th Birthdays. It was Dad’s birthday yesterday and Mum’s through the week. Thanks to the blessed coronavirus, we just celebrated with our family and my brother. As I mentioned before, I made an Leon & Raspberry Meringue Pie and Dad picked up a chocolate meringue cake from a local French Chocolate shop. It’s to die for. Except if you die, you can’t go back for a second piece. It was a shame not to catch up with my aunts, uncles and cousins, but getting all of that crew together isn’t as easy as it used to be either. We’ve scattered and outgrown a standard table as well.

MacMasters Beach feet

Lastly, I’m trying to find a way forward for my violin and have taken up the piano again hoping they’ll fuel each other on. I’d like to record my piano playing and accompany myself on the violin and put together a CD just for myself. Something to work towards. The music school has been closed for a couple of months now due to covid restrictions and i’m going to take the next term off as well to fund a keyboard synthesizer. My son who is studying entertainment and sound at school and helping out at Church, tells me that a note on a keyboard is like a button which triggers off a chain reaction of sorts. I’ll be interested to see it in action. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia on my daughter’s keyboard and setting it to tenor saxophone, which sounds very moody and atmospheric. I’m also playing New York and pretending I’m a violin-version of Frank Sinatra in a pink dressing gown, spotty pink PJs and ugg boots. It’s not quite the New York look, but that’s me in lock down.

Daleys Point2

Sunset Daleys Point 

Anyway, it’s really got very late and I need to get to bed.

I hope you and yours are keeping safe and are finding a way to navigate a path through everything that’s going on at the moment.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Corgi Republican.

Further to the hypothetical dog, we had an encounter with a Corgi last weekend and cries went out for a Corgi. When even Geoff joined in with the throng, I was gobsmacked. After all, Corgi’s are THE Queen’s dog. Not just any ordinary queen either. We’re talking about Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Australia, who just so happens to live on the other side of the world at Buckingham Palace. Nothing wrong with that…unless you’re an Australian Republican!

young-Prince-Charles-Princess-Anne-got-silly-sand

After all, the Corgi is no ordinary dog…a dog of the people. Of course, the Queen’s Corgis wouldn’t have an ordinary kennel bought from the local pet shop. No doubt, the entire Palace is their domain. Indeed, these Royal Corgis would have blue blood. Or, maybe its even red, white and blue just like the Union Jack.

Naturally, I am not into such cultural elitism.

Moreover, as much as I might love the Royal Family, I strongly believe it’s time Australia grew up and moved out of home. Stands on its own two feet. After all, we don’t need the Queen to hold our hand crossing the road anymore. We can cross the road all by ourselves.

You could call this an: “Austexit”.

If it’s good enough for the English to leave the EU, why can’t we leave them behind?

So, now I’m left pondering whether it’s okay for a Republican to have a Corgi. Is a Corgi just another breed of dog? Or, if we have a Corgi, are we surreptitiously representing the monarchy? Is owning a Corgi a sign of allegiance?

I don’t know. However, I’m not the first person to question what a dog’s breed represents.

Surprisingly, this is an age-old question.

Daschund

During WWI, the Dachshund’s popularity crashed due to its German origins and popularity with the German Kaiser.

Daschund + kaiser

Kaiser Wilhelm II with his Dachshund.

So, a breed of dog can come to represent something much larger than itself. In this case, I’d be better of getting a more “Australian” dog…some sort of Dingo mix, a Blue Heeler? Personally, I think the Border Collie has also been sufficiently “Austracised”.

Dingo pups

Dingo Pup. 

However, you can take things too far. Although I love Vegemite and Tim Tams, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my cup of Twining’s English Breakfast Tea.

Moreover, now that I’m looking more deeply into the Corgi, I’ve actually started to wonder whether the Queen’s endorsement of the breed, actually reflects positively on the breed instead of being such a negative.

After all, the Queen could have any dog she wants, and she has consistently had Corgis. While her love for the breed has been parodied, there must be some reason for it. Indeed, the Corgi comes with the Royal Seal of Approval.

Moreover, as my husband pointed out, being a big dog on short legs, does have it’s advantages. A Corgi would have trouble jumping up and stealing food (which could also endear it to the Queen. Could you just imagine a dog jumping up on the Royal Dining Table at Buckingham Palace? Obviously, this is why the Queen hasn’t gone for the Border Collie x Cavalier…Hello Lady!!

So, last night I decided to check out Corgis on Gumtree,  an Australian classified’s site. You could say this is the canine equivalent of ordering a Russian mail order bride. All these puppy faces flash up at you and your heart completely melts!

However, this search looks like it’s ended all thoughts of a Corgi. There were no ads for pups. Indeed, there were only ads for people seeking Corgis. We found a breeder elsewhere, and it looked like it would be easier to get a job at Buckingham Palace looking after the royal corgis. This was a serious interview process. No doubt, we’d have to take Bilbo and Lady to the interview and they’d take one look at her Royal Scruffiness, and give us the flick. Lady would no doubt steal the afternoon tea straight off the plate and heaven help us if any rabbits were hopping by: “She ain’t nothing but a farm dog”.

Lady on kayak

Lady…Hardly royal material.

Considering our quest for another dog is semantic at this stage, current availability doesn’t matter anyway.

However, if the kids were trying to encourage me towards Corgis, they set their campaign back this morning.

Our son told me: “If we get a corgi, we have to call it Doge”.

Doge? What kind of name is that?

doge-much-help-pls_o_3233637

Sounds like something straight out of that British comedy Keeping Up Appearances where Mrs Bucket is pronounced: “Mrs Bouquet”. Yes, a rather pretentious rendition of “dog”. Not my scene at all. I’m very down to earth and you can’t get much more down to earth than dog beach. Sand and salt water are a mighty leveler.

Well, if you know anything about memes, you’ll know that Doge was a hit. Went “viral”.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a background check has ended thoughts of a Corgi. The Corgi is considered a high shedder:

“Heavy shedding. Pembroke Welsh Corgis shed a lot. You’ll find hair and fur deposited all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops — even in your food. Frequent vacuuming will become a way of life.”http://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/reviews/pembrokewelshcorgis.html

We’ve had Border Collies and an Old English Sheepdog and our carpet could almost wag its tail and they’re not high shedders. I’ve also read warnings about dogs before, and let that puppy face deceive me. Not again.

So, it looks like the Queen can keep her corgis. That said,  I’m wondering how The Queen gets out the door without Corgi all over her coat?

So, for now, we’ll keep walking past that Corgi in the window and keep feeding our dogs those vitamins.

Any views about corgis? Dog breeds?

xx Rowena

A Wheely Good Night at the Sydney Opera House.

On Monday night, I not only watched our daughter perform at the Sydney Opera House, it was the first time I’ve gone out as a disabled person in a wheelchair and I can’t tell you how encouraged I feel by the experience. It truly opened doors for me, making it so much easier to relax, have a great night out and do what I was there for. That is, to hear my daughter play her violin without any unexpected medical nightmares… even if I couldn’t see her!

As a person with limited mobility, if all goes well, I can get around okay and usually use a walking stick in unfamiliar and crowded environments. I have what’s known as “an invisibility”, meaning that most of the time, you can’t see anything’s going on. However, these symptoms fluctuate dramatically so it can be hard to predict how I’ll be at a given point in time. Indeed, I was simply walking on grass when I broke my foot. Knowing that “being the hero” can have serious consequences, I’m understandably cautious about participating in seemingly everyday activities…such as getting to the Sydney Opera House. As such, I often end up staying home.

DSC_3012

However, there was no way I was going to miss our daughter playing her violin at the Sydney Opera House. No way on this earth!

However, if you have ever marvelled at the Sydney Opera House, you’ll note those stunning white sails are perched on top of a huge mountain of stairs. Of course, architecturally speaking, the effect is very dramatic.They’re also a photographer’s dream. I’ve seen intense portraits of lone performers sitting on those stairs with that same sense of abandonment you’d recall from Princess Diana’s portrait taken at the Taj Mahal.

As striking as these stairs might be, for anyone with mobility, health issues, or even a lack of fitness, those stairs are insurmountable. Although I can walk, I’d need an oxygen tank, not to mention a Sherpa, to help me get to the top. Even if I did miraculously make it to the summit, I’d be off in an ambulance and straight to the ER.

Opera House Steps

The Stairs…the dark side of getting to the Sydney opera House. A selfie on a good day.

Yet, while I’m prone to catastrophising, I knew I didn’t have to get up those stairs. That’s because public venues must have disabled access…even if it can be difficult to locate. When I attended School Spectacular at the Sydney Entertainment Centre last year, I was told to take the stairs, even though I was standing there with my walking stick. This particular person seemingly thought I could sprout a pair of wings and magically fly to my seat. Naturally, this meant that instead of having a good experience, I found myself defending accessibility rights when I wasn’t there as an activist. I was there to watch my daughter perform. Thankfully, someone else was more helpful.

After that, it’s hardly surprising that I want to sing my praises of Sydney Opera House staff right across the rooftops when everything went so well. We had VIP treatment all the way, and even the road lit up to greet us. What more could I ask?

I didn’t think about all of this when I booked myself in for a wheelchair seat. I always need an aisle seat and easy access in and out but get by with my walking stick and an accessible seat. However, these had sold out. The box office suggested this wheelchair spot, saying the Opera House could provide a wheelchair. I wasn’t entirely comfortable that I warranted a wheelchair. While I know people who use wheelchairs and can walk and how it enables them to do more, I’d never tried it out before. If I wasn’t doing well, I stayed home.

So, our trip to the Opera House, would also give us the opportunity to test out how a wheelchair went in public situations without having to BYO.

DSC_2965

Driving in to park at the Sydney Opera House

Our experience began with booking an accessible parking spot at the Opera House. It wasn’t free but it meant we could park right out the front with very little walking required. What it also meant was that we received the VIP treatment. We drove along Macquarie Street to the security gate, where the road was blocked off by a row of very sturdy metal bollards. As you could imagine, security is very tight. No more of this “G’day mate, it’s Fred” business. We had to show my disabled parking permit and my receipt to get through the gate. Then, like magic, the bollards electronically sunk into the ground and a row of recessed lights turned on. This was our road to the Opera House. By now, I was in my virtual limo pulling out the royal wave. It’s about time somebody treated mobility challenged people as VIPs, instead of outcasts!

After detouring for dinner, we returned to pick up the wheelchair and begin the journey to find our seats. The performance was in the Main Concert Hall and side-wheeling a gazillion stairs, we were personally escorted by staff along corridors, though multiple lifts via the bathroom. Once we’d finally reached our seats, we were greeted by a staff member asking: “You’re Rowena?”

Every single member of staff was courteous, friendly and respectful. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. It’s warmed my heart right to the core…a night we will never forget. Not just because our daughter was playing her violin at the Sydney Opera House, but because we were given the touch of human kindness, acceptance and understanding without it being a chore, something noble or even being “special”.

It just was.

Just like it ought to be!

What more could I ask for?!!

Concert Hall

Well, there was the small matter of needing someone to push my wheelchair. I don’t have the muscle strength to push my own chair. Not unsurprisingly, my husband was the wind beneath my wheels. Geoff’s Mum was in a wheelchair, so he has had experience. This is a good thing because wheelchairs can be notoriously difficult to operate, not unlike recalcitrant shopping trolleys with minds and travel destinations all of their own. Indeed, turning back the clock, Geoff’s mother fell out of the wheelchair when they went round a corner at Brisbane’s Expo88. I think he lost his licence after that and was put on a good behaviour bond!

Anyway, he got his licence back again last night…especially working with a difficult passenger who kept putting her foot on the wheels…not to mention bathroom stops up and down the lifts.

There was just one bit of explaining. We’d met a few other performing families during the day when I was walking round seemingly okay with the stick. Now, I was suddenly in a wheelchair. One lot had only seen us 5 minutes beforehand and thought I’d had an accident. They were all very understanding and had no dramas that I could walk and use a wheelchair all in one day.

Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the world could be so understanding? Yet, you could say it was a Eureka Moment finally reaching that understanding myself after living with dermatomyositis for the last 10 years and struggling with the whole concept of using equipment!

I don’t know if there’s some quote about it being easy to change the whole world but more difficult to change yourself. If there isn’t, there should be and that’s where real change begins!

So perhaps you’ll be seeing more of me in wheels. Not because I’m getting worse but because I’m getting better.

Have you ever ventured out in a wheelchair or similar and how did it go? What sort of accessibility problems have you had or moments like mine where it all went well? Please share.

xx Rowena

 

Mohammed Ali…Hero and Villain.

In a tribute to In a tribute to the late Muhammad Ali I am reflagging this excerpt from my book Rope Burns, which is to be republished in September 2016. By now you should not be remotely surprised to learn that one fine evening back in 1980 I somehow conspired to find myself perched on […]

via Muhammad Ali: Hero and villain — ianprobertbooks

O- Oscar Wilde: A Reply #AtoZchallenge.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter.

As you might expect, I’m no longer the peacock, and have become a changed man. While I was renowned for my intellect and wit, I have been humbled. Even talking to the worms has been an education. It turns out that once we’re underground, all of us are simply “food”no matter who we thought we were.

Naturally, I receive a lot of visitors but no one else has ever brought me Tim Tams before. I’m still licking the chocolate off my fingers and wondering how to salvage a chunk of precious biscuit which accidentally fell in. I’m not quite sure how to retrieve it. Even back in the day, “the world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.”

Perhaps, I shouldn’t ask but do they still remember me at Cafe de la Paix? Bosie crucified me there on my last visit and the pain was so intense but Robbie stood by me.

Oscar Wilde

Speaking of pain, I’ve been trying to think up some advice. In my younger days, I wrote a series of aphorisms:  “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young”. It seemed very clever at the time but wasn’t sound advice. Instead I’d like to ask you to read De Profundis. It was a letter I wrote to Bosie while I was in gaol and addresses the nature of suffering and our need to somehow rise above it all and still find joy. I’m not going to bore you with my endless whingeing about losing the lot.

However, I jotted down a few excerpts for you now:

“Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain.”

“Nature….she will hang the night stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send word the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

“Every single human being should be the fulfilment of a prophecy: for every human being should be the realisation of some ideal, either in the mind of God or in the mind of man.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

“I am completely penniless, and absolutely homeless. Yet there are worse things in the world than that.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

 

“All the spring may be hidden in the single bud, and the low ground nest of the lark may hold the joy that is to herald the feet of many rose-red dawns.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

“A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it. We think we can have our emotions for nothing. We cannot. Even the finest and most self-sacrificing emotions have to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine. The intellectual and emotional life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair. Just as they borrow their ideas from a sort of circulating library of thought—-the Zeitgeist of an age that has no soul—-and send them back soiled at the end of each week, so they always try to get their emotions on credit, and refuse to pay the bill when it comes in. You should pass out of that conception of life. As soon as you have to pay for an emotion you will know its quality, and be the better for such knowledge. And remember that the sentimentalist is always a cynic at heart. Indeed, sentimentality is merely the bank holiday of cynicism.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

 

“When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
― Oscar Wilde

Oscar-Wilde-Grave-Top-Tenz

You know, Rowena, you’re the very first person who has ever brought me coffee. I was deeply touched. You were thinking of me and wanting to know my story, even if you couldn’t stay here very long. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve had to endure. They’ve come here in their thousands, puckering up and bragging how they’ve kissed Oscar Wilde. While they might have smeared me with lipstick, they haven’t touched me at all.

You have.

Thank you for your honesty, acknowledging you don’t know me and not pretending that you do.

You wouldn’t believe how many people I have running round inside my head thinking it’s their “right” to explore each and every nook and cranny of my brain. Could you just imagine what it’s like with all those people running around yelling and shouting, flashing their torches up the back of my nose and even taking samples all in the name of “science”. What makes them think they know me better than I knew myself? Why can’t they all get lost and leave me in peace? After all, I never stuck my head in their privates, did I?!!!

As soon as you mentioned seeing my golden angel, I knew you’d come here for a reason.

You see, I don’t believe in coincidence either. You held the match which finally lit the spark. I’m going to charge them all an entry fee. If they want to explore my head and make all sorts of accusations, they’ll have to pay!

So here’s to new beginnings! Now, I’ll finally be getting that new wallpaper!

Thank you!

Yours,

Oscar Wilde

 

O- Oscar Wilde: Letters to Dead Poets #atozchallenge..

Epitaph: Oscar Wilde

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

(from Wilde’s poem,  The Battle of Reading Goal)

 

Dear Mr Wilde,

As much as I appreciated: The Picture of Dorian Grey, you’re a difficult man to fathom. Indeed, it seems you even had trouble finding yourself:

“The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”
― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

So, I won’t presume to know you. Or, what made you tick. After all, we’ve never met and I can’t linger now. I’m on a very tight schedule writing Letters to Dead Poets…an Express Train from A-Z with very limited stops. So, I can’t read all there is to know, juggle all the facts and delve into the semantics to become your expert. That is someone else’s journey. Instead, I am a stranger simply passing through.

Yet, I have brought you a cafe au lait.

Oscar Wilde 500px-Palais_Garnier_Statue

On my way, I popped into the  Café de la Paix. When I mentioned your name, like a miracle your golden angel appeared through the mist, floating in the middle of the square. Such an incredible fusion of serendipity and science, yet only a reflection. What does it mean? I don’t believe in coincidence, do you?

My deepest apologies, I couldn’t afford Le Grand Brunch. However, I “secured” a Cafe au Lait. Knowing how you waxed lyrically about the virtues of decadent indulgence, I thought you’d like to try a Tim Tam Explosion. You simply bite off the opposite corners and use the biscuit like a straw. Even if you’ve discovered restraint, you’ll never stop at one! Just make sure it doesn’t fall in. Take it from me, it’s such a waste.

Even by my audacious standards, I know I’m being incredibly presumptuous assuming that we’ve already moved onto coffee, and even Tim Tams. However, I must carpe diem seize the day. A train waits for no one.

Alright! Alright! No need to get so impatient! I thought I was the one asking the questions. Yet, you persist!

“What are you doing here? If you’re in such a damned hurry, why did you bother coming here at all?”

Well, Mr Wilde, I’m sorry. Out of all the dead poets, I thought you’d be most thrilled to arrive in the 21st Century. Was I wrong?

Anyway, back to your question, I don’t know why I am here. Indeed, not being one for peacock plumes, I’m struggling to find much common ground.

Yet, I’m also struggling to find myself. Indeed, this has become a never-ending quest. That search for meaning, which takes each of us down that solitary road. That is, if we have the guts to escape the hubbub, listen to the wind and keep trekking down “the road not taken”.

“Nature….she will hang the night stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send word the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.”
― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Anyway, back to your question, I’m simply here retracing my steps.

When I last visited your grave in July 1992, I was a 22 year old backpacker staying at the Hotel Henri IV with my friends. After leaving Paris and settling down in Heidelberg, a friend sent me a letter from Paris. She not only encouraged me to pursue my writing, she’d also copied out a letter that she’d found at your grave. It was a lengthy quote from “The Preface” to A Picture of Dorian Grey.

Poetry Reading

Reading my poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop in 1992.

I’d done a poetry reading at the Shakespeare Bookshop a few weeks beforehand and indeed a friend’s mother had sent me a letter addressed to: “Rowena: Poet in Residence in Paris”. Yet, a potent combination of heartbreak and existential angst, had grabbed me by both ankles and dragged me deep down into the murkiest depths of the River Seine.

That’s the side of Paris no one warns you about. That the City of Love has another face  and is equally the City of Heartbreak, disillusionment and despair.

Wilde Antoine Blanchard Place d L'opera et cafe de la Paix en 190

Turning back the clock to 1900, you and your beloved Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, were dining at Café de la Paix. After the death of his father, he’d inherited a fortune. Shamed and penniless, you turned to him for help at the height of your suffering. Yet, in a brutal act of betrayal, he refused to help.

In a letter to Robert “Robbie” Ross, you wrote:

I asked Bosie what you suggested – without naming any sum at all – after dinner. He had just won £ 400 at the races, and £ 800 a few days before, so he was in high spirits. When I spoke to him he went into paroxysms of rage, followed by satirical laughter, and said it was the most monstrous suggestion he had ever heard, that he would do nothing of the kind, that he was astounded at my suggesting such a thing, that he did not recognise I had any claim of any kind on him. He was really revolting: I was quite disgusted. I told Frank Harris about it, and he was greatly surprised: but made the wise observation “One should never ask for anything: it is always a mistake.” He said I should have got someone to sound Bosie, and ask him for me. I had also the same idea, but you did not seem to like the prospect of a correspondence with Bosie where money was concerned, and I am not surprised.

It is a most horrible and really heart-breaking affair. When I remember his letters at Dieppe, his assurances of eternal devotion, his entreaties that I should always live with him, his incessant offers of all his life and belongings, his desire to atone in some way for the ruin he and his family brought on me – well, it sickens me, it gives me nausea.

The affair occurred in the Café de la Paix, SO, of course, I made no scene. I said that if he did not recognise my claim there was nothing more to be said.

On the other hand, in what could be called: The Tale of Two MenRobert Ross not only stood by you but looked after you and your family well beyond death without any personal gain. He remained your friend.

TO R. R.

ON REREADING THE “DE PROFUNDIS” OF OSCAR WILDE

He stood alone, despairing and forsaken:
Alone he stood, in desolation bare;
From him avenging powers e’en hope had taken:
He looked,—and thou wast there!

Why hadst thou come? Not profit, no: nor pleasure,
Nor any faint desire of selfish gain,
Had moved thee, giving of thy heart’s pure treasure,
To share a culprit’s pain.

In that drear place, as thou hadst lonely waited
To greet with noble friendship one who came
Handcuffed from prison, pointed at, and hated,
Bowed low in mortal shame,

No thought hadst thou of any special merit,
So simple, natural, seemed that action fine
Which kept alive, in a despairing spirit,
The spark of the divine,

And taught a dying soul that love is deathless,
Even as when its holiest accents fell
Upon a woman’s heart who listened, breathless,
By a Samarian well.

Florence Earle Coates

Yet, while you were involved with these men you were married to Constance Lloyd, the mother of your two sons. She the boys changed their name to Holland and fled to Genoa. Yet, she paid you an allowance and when your mother died, you write: “My wife, always kind and gentle to me, rather than that I should hear the news from indifferent lips, travelled, ill as she was, all the way from Genoa to England to break to me herself the tidings of so irreparable, so irremediable, a loss.”

In De Profundis, you wrote about your  family:

“Her death was terrible to me; but I, once a lord of language, have no words in which to express my anguish and my shame. She and my father had bequeathed me a name they had made noble and honoured, not merely in literature, art, archaeology, and science, but in the public history of my own country, in its evolution as a nation. I had disgraced that name eternally. I had made it a low by-word among low people. I had dragged it through the very mire. I had given it to brutes that they might make it brutal, and to fools that they might turn it into a synonym for folly.”

Relationships are so complex.

So, there you were at the very end dying at the l’hôtel d’Alsace on rue des Beaux Arts you were not alone but you had lost your world.

However, I have to ask: In losing your world, did you somehow find yourself? Find out why you were here? Or, does it matter?

For me, it does. Although I might never find all the answers, the questions guide my path like stars in the sky.

Moreover, as Helen Keller wrote:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’

-Helen Keller.

Thought I just heard you mumble something about wanting more Tim Tams, so I’d better find another packet. Don’t go anywhere. I promise I’ll be back.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I forgot to mention that only two months after your death on 30th November, 1900, your beloved Queen Victoria finally passed away on the 22nd January, 1901.  Obviously, your death was the final tipping point and she finally succumbed to grief.

Oscar_Wilde,_Père_Lachaise_cemetery,_Paris,_France

 

 

 

 

Embracing Indigeneous Australians. .

Recently, a landmark speech spoke out about racism towards Indigenous Australians and I wanted to share it with you.This is a long post but I ask you to persevere with it and reflect. It’s not an easy topic to address but not something I could walk away from either.

While I am not an Indigenous Australian myself and haven’t experienced racism, I do know right from wrong and I think all Australians need to revisit how we view our Indigenous Australians and own up to the rampant racism which still grips hold of this country. It’s definitely not just something buried in the past. As a nation, we haven’t even begun to delve into what happened. To acknowledge the wrongs. No wound ever heals unless the infection is treated.

I realise that I’m stepping into a veritable quagmire even raising this issue and am wary in a sense of speaking out about something I know so little very about.

One of the first things you learn about writing is to write about what you know. Yet, I have never experienced racism and I’m not an Indigenous Australian and don’t walk  in their shoes, feet, skin or soul.

However, as a person living with a disability, I have experienced exclusion, discrimination and injustice. Metaphorically speaking, I know what it’s like to be the only kid in the class not to be invited to the party and how that feels. Imagine how you would feel if that same party was being held at your very own house and you still weren’t invited? You don’t need much empathy or compassion to know how that feels. It hurts like a knife cutting through your heart, leaving horrific and permanent scars.

I have experienced that sense of injustice when I go to pick my kids up from school and someone able-bodied without a permit parks in the Disabled Parking spot and when I ask them to move, give me flak. What the?!!

As soon as I read Stan Grant’s Speech, I knew I had to share it. Keep the fire going and even spread the flame. While Australians like to view themselves as the “Lucky Country”, we have quite a chequered history, including the genocide of Tasmanian Aboriginals. Instead of acknowledging our own crimes, we point the finger overseas: at the Germans over Nazi atrocities, at the South Africans over apartheid and Americans for their guns.

We’re just fine, totally neglecting the log in our own eye.

That as much as we like to paint ourselves as the “lucky country”, we have an appalling record in the treatment of Indigenous Australians. Our track record is too extensive for me to go into here but it’s very, very dark and I’m sure the average Australian over 30 doesn’t have a clue. Moreover, they don’t even consider the long term consequences of what has happened. After all, how would you expect anyone to respond when you take away their land, culture, community and even their children? It creates a sort of living death and who wouldn’t do just about anything to try to numb that pain?!! Wouldn’t you?!!

This week Australia celebrated Australia Day on 26th January while for many Australians, it was a day of sorrow…Invasion Day. Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay in 1788, which was the first European settlement here. I am a bit conflicted about Australia Day these days but we’ve also been flat out getting ready for back to school. So, we had a very low-key Australia Day. Indeed, we went to see Star Wars and by-passed Australia Day until watching the fireworks on TV.

Around Australia Day, I heard about a ground-breaking impromptu  speech by Indigenous Journalist Stan Grant. Referring to the speech, respected Australian journalist Mike Carlton tweeted:

Honestly. I think this Stan Grant speech will one day be viewed as a Martin Luther King moment. via

Here is the transcript of Grant’s speech:

Video

Stan Grant: ‘But every time we are lured into the light, we are mugged by the darkness of this country’s history’, Ethics Centre IQ2 debate – 2015

27 October 2015, City Recital Hall, Sydney, Australia

This speech was delivered in an IQ2 debate with the topic, ‘Racism is destroying the Australian dream’. Also for the affirmative was Pallavi Sinha. For the negative was Jack Thompson and Rita Panahi. The full debate is here

Thank you. Thank you so much for coming along this evening, and I’d also like to extend my respects to my Gadigal brothers and sisters from my people, the Wiradjuri people.

In the winter of 2015, Australia turned to face itself. it looked into its soul and it had to ask this question. Who are we? What sort of a country do we want to be.

And this happened in a place that is most holy, most sacred to Australians. It happened on the sporting field, it happened on the football field. Suddenly the front page was on the back page, it was in the grandstand.

Thousands of voices rose to hound an indigenous man, a man who was told he wasn’t Australian, a man who was told he wasn’t Australian of the Year.

And they hounded that man into submission.

I can’t speak for the what lay in the hearts of the people who booed Adam Goodes. But I can tell you what we heard when we heard those boos.

We heard a sound that is very familiar to us.

We heard a howl.

We heard a howl that of humiliation has echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival.

We heard the howl of the Australian dream, and it said to us again, you’re not welcome.

The Australian dream.

We sing of it, and we recite it in verse.

Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

My people die young in this country, we die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free.

We are fewer than three percent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 percent, a quarter of those Australians locked up in our prisons, and if you are a juvenile it is worse, it’s fifty percent. An indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.

I love a sunburned country

A land of sweeping plains

Of rugged mountain ranges

It reminds me that my people were killed on those plains, we were shot on those plains, disease ravaged us on those plains. I come from those plains. I come from a people west of the Blue Mountains, the Wiradjuri people, where in the 1820s the soldiers and settlers waged a war of extermination against my people. Yes, a war of extermination! That was the language used at the time, go to the Sydney Gazette, and look it up, and read about it. Martial law was declared, and my people could be shot on sight.

Those rugged mountain ranges, my people, women and children were herded over those ranges to their deaths.

The Australian dream.

The Australian dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It is there at the birth of the nation . It is there in terra nullius.  An empty land. A land for the taking.

Sixty thousand years of occupation.

A people who made the first seafaring journey in the history of mankind.

A people of law, a people of lore, a people of music and art and dance and politics, none of it mattered.

Because our rights were extinguished because we were not here according to British law. And when British people looked at us, they saw something subhuman, and if we were human at all, we occupied the lowest rung on civilisation’s ladder.

We were fly blown, stone age savages and that was the language that was used.

Charles Dickens, the great writer of the age, when referring to the noble savage of which we were counted among, said ‘it would be better that they be wiped off the face of the earth’. Captain Arthur Phillip, a man of enlightenment, a man who was instructed to make peace with the so called natives in a matter of years, was sending out raiding parties with instruction ‘bring back the severed heads of the black troublemakers’.

They were smoothing the dying pillow.

My people were rounded up and put on missions, from where, if you escaped. You were hunted down, you were roped and tied and dragged back, and it happened here, it happened on the mission that my grandmother and great grandmother were from, the Warrengesda on the Darling Point of the Murrumbidgee River.

Read about it. It happened.

By 1901 when we became a nation, when we federated the colonies, we were nowhere. We’re not in the Constitution, save for ‘Race Provisions’ — which allowed for laws to be made that would take our children, that would invade our privacy, that would tell us who we could marry and tell us where we could live.

The Australian dream.

By 1963, the year of my birth, the dispossession was continuing. Police came at gunpoint under cover of darkness to Mapoon an aboriginal community in Queensland, and they ordered people from their homes, and they burned those homes to the ground, and they gave the land to a bauxite mining company. And today those people remember that as ‘The Night of the Burning’.

In 1963 when I was born, I was counted amongst the flora and fauna, not among the citizens of this country.

Now you will hear things tonight, you will hear people say, ‘but you’ve done well!’

Yes I have, and I’m proud of it, and why have I done well?

I’ve done well because of who came before me.

I’ve done well because of my father, who lost the tips off three fingers working in saw mills to put food on our table, because he was denied an education.

My grandfather, who served to fight wars for this country when he was not yet a citizen and came back to a segregated land where he couldn’t even share a drink with his digger mates in the pub because he was black.

My great grandfather who was jailed for speaking his language to his grandson – my father – jailed for it!

My grandfather on my mother’s side who married a white woman who reached out to Australia, lived on the fringes of town, until the police came, put a gun to his head, bulldozed his tin humpy, and ran over over the graves of the three children he’d buried there.

That’s the Australian dream. I have succeeded in spite of the Australian dream, not because of it; and I have succeeded because of those people.

You might hear tonight, ‘but you have white blood in you.’ And if the white blood in me was here tonight, my grandmother, she would  tell you of how she was turned away from a hospital giving birth to her first child because she was giving birth to the child of a black person.

The Australian dream. We’re better than this.

I’ve have seen the worst of the world as a reporter. I’ve spent a decade in war zones, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We are an extraordinary country, we are in so many respects the envy of the world. If I were sitting here, where my friends are tonight (gestures to opponents] I would be arguing passionately for this country.

But I stand here with my ancestors, and the view looks very different from where I stand.

The Australian dream.

We have our heroes.

Albert Namatjira painted the soul of this nation.

Vincent Lingiari put his hand out for Gough Whitlam to pour the sand of his country through his fingers, and say ‘this is my country’.

Cathy Freeman lit the torch for the Olympic Games.

But every time we are lured into the light, we are mugged by the darkness of this country’s history.

Of course racism is killing the Australian dream! It is self evident that it is killing the Australian dream.

But we are better than that.

The people who stood up and supported Adam Goodes and said, ‘no more’, they are better than that.

The people who marched across the bridge for reconciliation, they are better than that.

The people who supported Kevin Rudd when he said sorry to the Stolen Generations, they are better than that.

My children and their non indigenous friends are better than that.

My wife who is non indigenous is better than that.

And one day I want to stand here, and be able to say as proudly and sing as loudly as anyone in this room, Australians all let us rejoice.

Thanks you.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEOssW1rw0…

For those of you who have taken the time to listen, much appreciated. I have pasted a link below to some further interviews with Aboriginal Australians about their reactions to Stan Grant’s speech. Also, if you are not aware of the racist bullying Adam Goodes experienced on the football field, here’s a link: Racist Attacks on Aboriginal Footballer, Adam Goodes

Best wishes and much love,

Rowena

Further reading:

http://www.ethics.org.au/on-ethics/blog/january-2016/stan-grant%E2%80%99s-speech-broke-your-heart-%E2%80%93-here%E2%80%99s-what

Battling for A Little Respect…

Whether you call it disability, chronic illness, race, poverty, being different, special or unique; there’s no excuse for bullying, bashing and being outright rude.

You would think that supposed “weakness” would bring out the best in people with outpourings of love, compassion and support. That we would take those people doing it tough, usually through no fault of their own, into our hearts and just love them. Water them with the essence of human kindness so they could be strengthened, encouraged and nurtured to maximise an inner strength and shine like the radiant sunflowers, they, I mean, WE are.

Indeed, so many people I know who are living with chronic illness or disability, have an inner strength and determination which would humble an ox.

Yet, too often they are written off.

Or, they become celebrated for their incredible achievements as individuals. However, when you look around people living with chronic illness or disability, these feats are not uncommon. Indeed, they/we push ourselves so much further than the average Joe.

However, it seems to me that too many people take delight in bashing and putting down anybody who doesn’t fit into the straight-jacket of the perceived social norm.

You don’t even really need to be disabled…just having a bad day.

For so many, there is no “margin of error”. No compassion for difference or even an understanding that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

We must all squeeze into that social straight-jacket no matter who we are or what’s going on and not flinch.
But tell me, who really fits into these suffocating confines and doesn’t twitch or suddenly feel the impulse to wriggle, scratch an itch or just plain run away?!!

Yesterday, I took my daughter to the movies to see the latest Disney classic: Inside Out. While this should have been a simple outing, as is often the case with me, it unraveled completely and I was freaking out.

For some reason, although I can write well and be an ideas person, I seriously struggle with the detailed nitty gritty. While trying to simply buy the movie tickets, I came unstuck. Indeed, as bad luck conspired against me, I sank deeper and deeper into what was rapidly becoming a never-ending abyss.

An incredible movie: A must See!!!

An incredible movie: A must See!!!

For starters, our son was also supposed to come to the movie but couldn’t get himself together in time and was left behind. Our daughter misses out on enough and I was determined to get her there no matter what. I’d promised to take her to this movie and after being sick all holidays, time was almost up. Nothing was going to stand in our way!!

So, while I’m standing in the queue, I check my wallet and realise the $50.00 note I’d expected to be there had gone up in flames and I had no notes. Not immediately concerned, I went to the coins. They can quickly add up. However, it was just my typical @#$% rotten luck that a very tiny paper receipt had wedged itself into the zipper and even applying brute force, I couldn’t rip it open. This is a very special handmade wallet I’d bought at Byron Bay so I wasn’t wanting to wreck it but with all this frustration, I was fuming.

Just to put you in the picture, we weren’t at some huge mega cinema in the heart of Sydney with extensive queues pouring out onto George Street. Rather, we were at our small, local independent cinema and there were only a handful of people in the queue with two people serving. It’s a very relaxed, chilled place with personalised service…everything but a pianist playing before the start of the movie.

By this stage, we were at the counter and I was funneling coins through the gap in the zip and was standing there like a kid who’d just tipped their moneybox all over the counter rather than a 40 something Mum, who isn’t on the poverty line.

In retrospect, I certainly wasn’t doing my deep breathing exercises…just the reverse. My stress levels had blown a gasket and I was all but paralysed and couldn’t think straight. My mind went absolutely blank and non function mentis. This is just the point in time where you are praying for someone, anyone, to come to your rescue. Ask: “Can I help you?”

Instead, this @#$% woman calls out from the queue: “Can’t you just hurry up?”

I explained, I think, politely that I have a disability and flashed my disability Companion Card and I can’t remember what she said next but I can assure you that there wasn’t one ounce of compassion in that @#$% and she told me I was making a fool of myself. To which I replied (thank you to three years of blogging which have sharpened my ability to express myself): “You don’t know how hard it is for me just to take my daughter to the cinema.” The girl serving directed the woman to the other counter where I’m sure she was quickly served.

At this point, I realised I was going to have to use EFTPOS. This should have been a no-brainer right from the start but there was a $20.00 minimum withdrawal and the ticket cost $13.00, which meant spending $7.00 on lollies. While I might spend that on chocolate at the supermarket, the thought of blowing so much money at the cinema just so I could get our tickets, flummoxed me. With the fumbling and foggy brain only getting worse, I resorted to EFTPOS and bought my daughter the Inside Out Combo. This includes a drink, popcorn and chocolate bar for some ungodly sum. She then chooses water as her drink, which might have been healthy but it’s the most expensive glass of water we’ve ever had.

Meanwhile, the woman who’d argued with me came and made a sincere apology, which helped but even an hour after the movie had ended, I was still feeling teary and shattered. Sometimes, it’s not just a matter of forgiveness. There is damage. She might not have swung a punch but her words were a form of assault and I was left feeling battered and bruised…not to mention DEFECTIVE.!!

Saying sorry can’t always undo the damage. It is done.

That said, perhaps she also has her struggles. Who am I to make presumptions… as tempting as it might be?!!
This isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble and it won’t be the last. While I could go underground, I will get back out there again. Have another go. That said, not everyone does. They’d much rather stay home and I really get that. It can all be too hard. There are just too many obstacles to fight.

When you reach out and touch someone's hand, you are really warming their soul.

When you reach out and touch someone’s hand, you are really warming their soul.

Well, if that’s you, I send you my love and an enormous hug. Together, I pray that each day with small, even tentative moves that we can find our way over the gap…even if it is just to remind people that you don’t need to be perfect to be a valued part of the human race!

You just are!

Love and blessings,
Rowena

Anne Frank: A Global Tribute… Tuesday 14th April, 2015

While being more renowned for being out-of-synch than having perfect timing, it turns out the timing of yesterday’s post sharing my journal-journey with Anne Frank, was absolutely perfect…even uncanny!! You see, tomorrow, marks the 70th anniversary of her very tragic and untimely death in Bergen-Belson, a Nazi concentration camp.It’s almost like she whispered in my ear so I could find out and be a part of a global tribute: #notsilent. Now, I’m spreading the word and encouraging you to get involved too!

The Anne Frank Trust and Penguin Random House (UK publishers of The Diary of A Young Girl) have joined together to mark the 70th anniversary of Anne’s death with a one minute campaign called #notsilent.

Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we are invited to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.

There are further details on their web site at: http://www.annefrank.org.uk/what-we-do/notsilent This includes a selection of passages suitable for a one minute reading to choose from. Alternatively, you can choose one yourself, or you can read something you have written about your own life and hopes. You can start or end your reading by explaining why you want to do it.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank ice skating with friends prior to going into hiding. Such an every day thing, which takes on incredible significance when Anne and her family could even do the basic things we take for granted.

Anne Frank ice skating with friends prior to going into hiding. Such an every day thing, which takes on incredible significance when Anne and her family could even do the basic things we take for granted.

How you can get involved

STEP ONE:  Select an extract suitable for a one minute reading. This can either be an extract from Anne’s diary, you can download our selection here, or you can choose your own writing. While you read, either alone, in a group, in your classroom, home, work place or public place, we ask you to film yourself and upload it onto a video sharing platform of your choice (Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr etc) ensuring the video is available to view publicly.

STEP TWO:   Send us the link to your video, by posting it on to the Anne Frank Trust’s Facebook (Anne Frank Trust UK) or Twitter (@annefranktrust) pages, using the hash tag #notsilent. Alternatively, you can e-mail your video via we transfer to siama@annefrank.org.uk.

STEP THREE:  We also ask you to share your one minute clip throughout your social media to encourage others to join in.

Thank you for participating and honoring Anne Frank’s memory in this way. We will together be #notsilent.

By the way, here’s a link to my post: A Life Saving Journey with Anne Frank: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/a-lifesaving-journey-with-anne-frank/

Thanks to Merril from Yesterday and Today: Merril’s Historical Musings: https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/ for spreading the word and now it’s our turn.

Although it’s a bit last minute, please spread the word and pass this on. Anne Frank touched so many hearts in so many different ways and this is an opportunity to keep her light alive. It also provides the living with the opportunity to come together joining hands as a diverse, global community to honour a vibrant life which tragically ended so utterly alone and to stand firm against the spread of racism, discrimination and hate in our contemporary world.  After all, Anne Frank has demonstrated that one person really can influence the world and work for for good.

“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

Love and blessings,

Rowena

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