“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Last night, I wasn’t looking for personal inspiration. It was more a case of getting my son to do his history assignment on a medieval/Renaissance leader.If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ll know all about this. If you’re not, you’ll remember your own parents railroading you unless you were some kind of glowing Marcia Brady.
If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know I’m crazy about history and won’t be surprised that I had more than a passing interest in my son’s assignment and might have some useful resources.
No doubt, that’s why he chose to research Kublai Khan. I had fantastic, illustrated books on Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. So, they were too easy. We’ve even been to a superlatively inspirational exhibition in Sydney where they’d built interactive models of Da Vinci’s inventions and you could operate them yourself. Yet, Da Vinci was off his radar and I couldn’t help feeling like he’d plucked Kublai Khan out of a hat!
So, I made a brief but futile attempt to change his mind and retrieved my beautifully illustrated and well-researched book on Leonardo down from the shelf…Ritchie Calder’s: Leonardo & The Age of the Eye. A book, which despite my best intentions, I still haven’t read!
Of course, I know I should’ve read it myself and that it’s been sitting on my shelf for about 3 years making me look smart without actually taking it in…pretty stupid. Yet, aren’t most bookshelves also packed with good intentions????
Anyway, in a serendipitous moment, I opened the book at this paragraph, which really resonated with me:
“Leonardo was the observer with the naked eye and the naked ear. He also had, and never lost, his childlike curiosity which, however much we may specialize in the more-and-more-about-less-and-less, is the essential nature of science. His was not the structured life of the child who having revealed an aptitude for what is scholastically called “science” at some immature age is told that he should be a physicist, chemist or a biologist, and from then on is academically escorted through the science stream, the science faculty, and the post-graduate course into the learned societies. He learned where he went and where the interests took him.” (pg 261).
While I’m not going to re-write the entire book (especially when I haven’t read it!!), I found this a few paragraphs down, which gives an insight into the breadth of Da Vinci’s “education” and training:
“His science began as a painter. He was lucky to be apprenticed to Verrocchio at a time when perspective had become a preoccupation with artists…among the master’s cronies the subject of perspective was not just a matter of working practice; it was a matter of winebibbing debate, as well as quasi-mystical dissertations on spatiality. In a way it was putting them, the artists, on speaking terms with the intellectuals around the Medici Garden…
Probably the most powerful, formative influence on Leonardo was Toscanelli, physician, astronomer and natural philosopher. The tracker of the comet, the cartographer and mentor of Columbus kept open house for the likes of Leonardo, whom he encouraged in the systematic study of mathematics, and introduced to astronomy.” pg 261.
Thus, Da Vinci was nurtured in a very rich, yet broad and multi-disciplinary environment, and not simply pushed down one path to become the “performing genius” if you get my drift. While the benefits of a broad educational base bare obvious to some, there’s so much pressure to become that expert. That person who knows that topic in painstakingly intimate detail, even if that means losing site of the bigger picture entirely. Even if it means being unable to tie up your own shoe laces or bake a cake. Indeed, too many experts have travelled so far down their own drainpipe without networking with even slightly-divergent colleagues, and there has to be a price for that. Few of us would even dream of having Da Vinci’s genius. Yet, it was built on curiosity and a broad brush stroke, NOT knowing everything within a very narrow sphere too well.
By diversifying ourselves, we too could reap the benefits…especially as creatives.
I practice what I preach. While writing, photography and research are my mainstays, I also learn the violin and have been doing contemporary/ballet classes for the last six months, which have really intensified my vision.
Not that I’ve become Da Vinci, but at least I’m working on it!
In March 1941, while London was in the throws of “The Blitz”, my grandmother was performing in Newcastle, a regional city North of Sydney. She was a concert pianist and after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she returned to Australia in 1940 to tour with famed conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham…and no doubt to escape the bombs!
Fast forwarding to 2017, and I’m meticulously going through old newspapers online, transcribing text and pasting articles about her into word documents by year. It’s taken me years to come up with this approach for compiling all these bits and pieces, especially as filing isn’t exactly my forte.
An interesting aspect of my grandmother’s career, at least from the perspective of a storyteller, is that she lived through an extremely turbulent, yet fascinating, period of history. That included: the Great Depression, WWII, “women’s lib” and also the Cold War when she actually performed behind the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany and Soviet Russia (the latter being quite an “interesting” thing for Grannie to do and she even brought back some Russian coins which was not allowed!!)
So, when I stumbled across this little discussion in the Newcastle paper about the conflict between classical music and Jazz, I thought of a few bloggers who’d find this interesting and I’ll be popping round to “your place” and dropping off a link. You never know when little historical snippets like this could come in handy:
So, here goes:
“WORDS CONTINUE, like pebbles, to be thrown into the stream of controversy that races between followers of jazz and the classics. One writer, who attempts an impartial summing up of the question suggests: “The highbrow’s error is to suppose himself a different creature from the low brow. He loathes himself if he is betrayed into humming a tune that all the world is singing or into tapping his feet in time with the band. And failing to recognise or contemptuously rejecting these instincts in himself he has nothing but scorn for their manifestation in other people. To him the lowbrow is the person who likes ‘that kind of music.’ How much better if we realised that there are occasions when we all like ‘that kind of music” when our superior faculties are enjoying a rest. “This problem must be giving the B.B.C. a headache in compiling its feature programme. ‘Music while you work,’ since obviously there must be some who would prefer to make a bullet or put an engine together to the accompaniment of a Beethoven sonata than to ‘Roll Out the Barrel.’ “Germany, if reports are true, is producing special music to aid the war effort. Soldiers now march to tunes which automatically control their breathing to enable them to go longer distances without becoming exhausted.”
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , Friday 21 March 1941, page 18
This tension between classical and contemporary music, rings bells for me back at school, even in the 1980’s.
As if being a teenager wasn’t confusing enough, while the rest of the teenage universe was into pop/rock/punk etc, my best friend was into classical and drew me under her spell. In retrospect, she was one of “those kids”. Their family only watched the ABC and she never ate junk food. Indeed, she didn’t even know what a Mars Bar was. That should have been a warning in itself, but your best friend is your best friend. Sink or swim, you do it together…even if you do die a social death.
So, if I could speak to my 13 year old self, I’d tell her that she should stand on her own two feet. That before you publicly declare you love classical music, remember you played Grease at your slumber party, which was anything but. Anyone who is your true friend, can accept a difference of opinion and give you the space and freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to be clones. Also, if you decide to go against the flow, make sure it’s for something you strongly believe in and that you’re prepared to cop the fallout. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.
These are life lessons I’m now trying to pass onto my kids. Navigating your way through high school is a veritable minefield and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make different ones of their own.
Meanwhile, getting back to the tension between different styles of music, I’m sensing that this has eased up over the years and we enjoy much more of a smorgasbord of styles these days. That we can be wonderfully eclectic. Is that your take as well? I’d love to read your reflections.
Brian put on his very best thinking cap and mustered all his concentration. As golden rays of sunlight beamed through the clouds, he could see heaven. Surely, if he looked hard enough, he would find Mother.
Moreover, in his nine year old mind, it wasn’t a huge leap of faith to believe an angel might bring her back. That just like Lazarus, Mother would miraculously rise from the dead.
His faith was bigger than a mustard seed.
Yet, Mother never came back. The gates of heaven stayed shut.
That’s when Brian stopped looking at the clouds.
There were no dreams.
This has been another contribution to the Friday Fictioneers . This week’s photo prompt comes from our host, © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.
The inspiration for this story, comes from my late Father-in-Law whose mother died when he was nine years old. He grew up in Penguin, Tasmania and we spent a few days there while we were in Tassie recently. We visited his old school (which now opens on Sundays for a market) and I looked through the windows to the clouds and thought of him grieving through class and missing his Mum.
After his mother died, family took in his sister and his Dad went away to work, leaving the two boys to fend for themselves. At 12, Brian left home to join the railways, despite being a bright pupil.
Brian died when my husband was 16. So, we’ve never met and we know very little about him and while I’ve used a real name and situation, it’s a purely fictional account of his response.
There was such a mixture of grief and intrigue when I spotted this chopped down tree at Port Arthur. After walking through the bush admiring and photographing the soaring blue gums and almost feeling one with them, I was grieved to see something so beautiful destroyed.
Yet, fortunately it’s not often that I get to see inside a tree. Despite loving trees, I still have that child-like fascination with counting the rings and peering inside this hidden, inner zone. Is this where trees store up all their secrets? Where they write down all the stories they hear whispered by the wind? Part of me, believes it is and I wish I could translate them all.
Continuing on with our travels through Tasmania, last Saturday, we drove down to Stanley to see a magnificent tall ship, the Young Endeavor a Royal Australian Navy sail training ship
The Young Endeavour Scheme began when the magnificent sail training ship STS Young Endeavour was given to the people of Australia by the United Kingdom as a Bicentennial gift back in 1988. Since then, the Scheme, in partnership with the Australian Government and the Royal Australian Navy, has provided challenging training voyages for over 11,000 young Australians aboard Young Endeavour.
To be selected, young Australians can put their names in the ballot. No previous sailing experience is required and it is the opportunity of a life time.
With our family’s interest in sailing and history, we were looking forward to being able to climb onboard and check it out.
Unfortunately, very heavy winds picked up and we were unable to board the ship.
However, we did get the opportunity to meet and listen to former crew as well as a young lady who is was leaving on it the next day. Neither had any prior sailing experience and apparently they teach you everything you need to know onboard. I found that that both encouraging and a bit scary but they know what they’re doing. The experience is well known for improving self-confidence, resilience and problem-solving in young people and it really is the opportunity of a lifetime…especially climbing straight up the mast and clinging on for dear life while the boat rocks to and fro.
Humph, they can keep that experience.
As much as I would’ve loved to do this back in the day, I’m quite happy to stick to plain sailing these days.
As you might be aware, our family is currently roaming around Tasmania, where my husband was not only born and bred but has family ties going back as far as 1828. Indeed, all branches of his family go back to early settlement and it’s probably just as well that he married a “mainlander”.
I don’t know what your approach is to exploring a new place. However, to really get a feel for the place, I always like to get out on foot and explore as well as asking the locals about secret nooks and crannies.
This is how I found out about Ferndene.
While we were onboard the Spirit of Tasmania (the ferry running between Mebourne on the Australian mainland and Devonport, Tasmania), I asked Tasmanian staff onboard for their recommendations.
This is what saw us driving up and down Ironcliffe Road, Penguin searching for a spot where it’s only a 20 second walk from the car, to see giant tree ferns.
The only trouble was that it took us a lot longer than 30 seconds to actually locate Ferndene, which I guess can be quite a problem with these sights off the beaten track…a complication of the “road less travelled”.
While the tourist office told us this park was called Ferndene, we had some trouble finding it and had to make further inquiries and return the next day.
These tree ferns, by the way, are so big the Tasmanians call them “man ferns”. Indeed, they are the size of a man.
I was quite keen to chase after these tree ferns when I heard about them because and Geoff always associates them with “home”. He also tells me that Tasmanian tree ferns are a different species to those on the mainland, which aren’t quite the same (or is that a nothing like the original??)
Anyway, we finally found Ferndene and opted to go on what was sign posted as a 30 minute walk, although that doesn’t take into account numerous photo stops or jaw dropping gasps staring up through the fronds into the sun drenched sky.
The track which does have some ups and downs and requires some level of fitness, takes you through towering fern and eucalypt canopies, past a tea-tree stained creek and onto an abandoned iron mine.
Along the way, we also encountered an unidentified species of local dragon, which could well be a more extroverted relative of the “Nessy’s” (the famed Loch Ness Monster). Friendly, its apparently featuring in an amateur film.
Anyway, I’m going to keep this trip short and sweet and please forgive the rush. We’re now in Hobart about a week down the track. It’s been very difficult to get any writing time and Internet connections have been very slow.
Take care & best wishes,