Tag Archives: suffering

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

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

monet_portrait_photo_orangerie

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

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

 Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

-John Keats, excerpt Ode to Melancholy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of his wife Camille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

Further Reading

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

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

 

 

Heaven or Earth? Reflections from the Dark Side of the Moon.

Before I get started, I thought I’d play Alleluia sung by Ed Sheeran. Get you in the mood. The last week has been deep, dark and philosophical punctuated by blasts of Spring sunlight and tail wags from the dog.

Actually, the last couple of months have been “challenging” after the death of our Border Collie, Bilbo. We’ve had him since our daughter was crawling and he’s seen us through so very much.  Moreover, I’ve also had another brush with severe asthmatic coughs and chest infections, which get me every August.

Not unsurprisingly, the kids have been distressed and shaken up. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had to come up with the answers. This included a particularly curly question, which I decided to share. It’s big and it’s important:

Why should we stay alive when life is painful, when we could be in heaven where there’s no pain, no troubles?

I hadn’t quite thought of heaven as the ultimate “grass is greener” before. However, I suppose it is. Otherwise, why would it be called “HEAVEN”? Furthermore, why wouldn’t you, I, want to get there on an express trip? Why do we fight so hard to stay alive, when we could be living up there in the clouds? Even Cloud 9?

While I’ve had my dark moments, and even extended interminable stretches of raw anguish, I haven’t really thought of heaven as my greener pasture. At least, not in the here and now.

I’ve known too many people who’ve lost someone to suicide and am very conscious of the anguish suicide leaves in its wake… an anguish which has no end for the multitude of people who get touched by even one death.

So, I guess for me, particularly when I’m in a  level-headed state of mind, knowing that I’d be going to my ulimate happy place when everyone who means anything to me gets to suffer, doesn’t add up.

At the very least, it’s not a very nice thing to do.

However, that’s not something I would share with someone who wasn’t in a particularly level-headed state of mind. That’s something I might now start putting out there on one of my routine drives with my kids, now they’re my son’s 13 and my daughter isn’t far behind him.

As a parent, I’ve been wondering how to talk about sex, dating, periods, condoms, relationships, drugs, but amongst all of that, I’d forgotten all about the other fairly “normal” aspect of puberty…the E-word. EMOTIONS. Thinking back to being a teenager myself, I don’t believe there was any such thing as “an even keel”, being “level-headed”, “grounded” as as for balanced? HA!!

Moon bike

At least speaking for myself, my emotions were extreme, even turbo-charged. Well-intentioned comments like “there’s more fish in the sea” fell flat. My parents meant well, and believe me, I’m getting a better understanding of what it’s like to be a parent scraping the bottom of your psychological and philosophical barrell. When your child is combusting and you’re trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Trust me. That whole “bird and the bees stuff” is a veritable piece of cake compared to discussing emotional equilibrium.

Edward-Munch-The-Scream--black---white--15892

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

How do any of us venture and and carpe diem seize the day and all that entails, without getting hurt? We can’t live our lives in bubble wrap and while you can have safe sex, there is no condom you can quickly wrap around your heart and it’s way too easy to get burned.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m no statistician either. I don’t know what it is which causes one person to take their life, while others persevere. What I do know, is that it’s not straight-forward. I also know that we can’t control someone else. We can’t stop someone else from taking their life. And yet, we sometimes can. Here, I’m speaking about the more collective we, but sometimes, it does come down to the individual. At times, we do become that person staring despair in the face, and it is up to us to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Or, I guess if I was some kind of professional at this, you’d be trying to get the person to find their own reasons for living. Or, at the very least, find a shift in gears.

A friend of my parents used to call the teenage years: “the swirling vortex of pubescence”. He was a very charasmatic gentleman and he’d roll this phrase out like a showman on stage. I always pictured these wild churning seas with the damsel in distress thrashing around in the waves. Never sinking, but not getting out either. I always found that phrase rather entertaining, although on reflection that note of humour, has it’s sting. Tony also put me onto a poet who knew those waves. Knew that intensity of emotion. That was Nan Whitcomb in her “Thoughts of Nanushka” and I’ve since found another kindred spirit in Australian  poet and cartoonist, Michael Leunig. Of course, there was also Keats and I’ve always questioned the merits of studying his Ode to Melancholy while studying for our HSC (final school exams = HUGE stress!!)

“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, 25
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”
John Keats, Ode to A Nightingale.
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; 
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might, 
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
John Keats, Ode to Melancholy

I also remember listening to Queen’s  Bohemian Rhapsody. That song needs no introduction.

Hot chocolate & book

How will the story play out?

The trouble is, that when you’re caught up in the more turbulent passages of that “swirling vortex of pubesence”, you have no idea how the story is going to play out. Speaking of myself, I was so caught up in the immediate present, the current devastating disaster, that I lost all sense of perspective. That it morphed into some kind of hellish bubble, my world. I couldn’t see it was a storm in a tea cup. I couldn’t see, that perhaps being dumped by “the bastard” was the best thing for me. That it really was a case of there being millions of fish in the sea, and I only needed to find one. That I wasn’t trying to catch the one, last surviving fish in an empty sea.

I never saw my life as a novel back then. Indeed, it’s only been this past week, that I’ve appreciated the close parallels between real life and the structure a novel or play where the main character (protagonist) has their difficult person, adversary (antagonist) but after a few rounds, they come through. There’s usually a twist at the end, and more than likely, real life doesn’t turn out quite like you expected either, but you can still live happilly ever after. Well, at least until the next challenge fires up. Bearing this in mind, you have to make the most of those high notes. Carpe diem seize the day. Gobble them up with a cherry on top. Yet, you also have to be prepared for troubles. Expect storms and rainbows, as well as sunny, blue skies.

If I was going to talk to my 13 year old self. Or, in my case, it was more my 16 year old self which was really doing it tough, what would I say?

Firstly, what I would say, wouldn’t be something eloquent, well-written, or an outstanding piece of philosophical writing with all the answers. It would be more of a stuttered, muttered and garbled story about how if I’d pulled the pin then, I wouldn’t have gone on to experience the highs of my life. For me, like so many others, the school days weren’t the best days of my life. However, they were the necessary precursor to getting into university which I loved on so many levels. I went through many relationship ups and downs and had way too many friends run off with the guy that I liked. I also spent all the years from my birth until I was 27, living with undiagnosed hydrocephalus or fluid on my brain, which really did make me “different” in a myriad of ways I am still trying to get my head around. Yes, I wasn’t “unco” and more than likely, the intensity of my emotions weren’t just puberty either. The inside of my brain had been flooded, and I was under an entirely different kind of “pressure”.

So, if I’d pulled the pin at 16, I wouldn’t have known that I had this underlying condition which was greatly relieved through surgery. Yet, even if I hadn’t had that or if there had been no “magic fix” to my problems, I still believe that it’s worth persevering through the very darkest of challenges and fighting hard to find any glimmer of light which will lead us out of the tunnel. Why? Because there just might be something better ahead. That you could well resolve your current troubles through whatever means. a change of curcumstances, meeting someone else. Another door opens.

Indeed, I still remember the night I met my husband. A friend of mine was holding a New Year’s Eve Party in another friend’s apartment in Wollstonecraft, which had a view over the back end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was supposed to going to that party with the boyfriend I’d had throughout the whole brain surgery saga and as you could imagine, things were rocky on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Anyway, he dumped me just before the party and I really didn’t feel like going. However, it was only more of a soiree with only a few of us going and so I went. My husband opened the door. Now, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. However, we talked a lot that night and he gave me some really good advise  and I thought he was wise. Obviously, it was that old thing of crying on someone’s shoulder. I also remember standing out on the balcony together and I would’ve been photographing the fireworks, and he told me that he was also into photography. I clearly remember making a mental tick in my head. He also drove an Austen Healy Sprite, which he described as “English and tempremental”. I remembered that when we were driving through the Tenterfield Ranges in pouring rain to avoid the Grafton floods, and the exhaust pipe fell off on a pot hole. BTW, we’d been wearing raincoats in the car on that trip and had been soaked by the time we’d reached Newcastle. (We had been driving from Wahroonga in Sydney to visit his Mum and sisters family in the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s about a 10 hour drive.)

The ironic thing is that it can be these very worst moments, our greatest disasters, that we turn into our funniest stories. It’s often these moments which we’ll share around a barbeque laughing our heads of and entertaining the crowd, rather than the good times. I am now thinking that part of that is that we later find out these disasters weren’t so bad after all. Indeed, sometimes they proved to be a blessing in disguise. Or, they were a necessary step to get us to a better place, or to our ultimate destination.

So, now I would say that instead of pulling the pin, who have to keep breathing so you can keep living the book. Find out how you’re own story unfolds. Just one point here, too, and that is that you are not a passive player in your story. You are helping to write the script, as well as all the other characters. This is a team effort. You are empowered. However, you are empowered to do the best for yourself, AND the worst. Too often, it’s not the bully or our nemesis we need to watch out for, it’s our own selves. We shoot ourselves in the foot way more often AND we need to own that. Take responsibility. Not necessarily in a guilt way, but in an empowered driver’s seat way. JUst like if you were driving and made a wrong turn, you’d do a U turn and try again. You hopefully wouldn’t just sit in your car hoping it would magically take you where you want to go.

The ironic thing for me these days about people taking their lives, is that I am fighting with all I’ve got to save my own. This July marked 20 years since I had the brain surgery which saved and changed my life. This coming Tuesday, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with a systemic auto-immune disease, dermatomymyositis which has left me with 60% lung capacity on a good day. I am getting through flu season again this year but again it’s been a battle. Three years ago, I had chemo to knock the disease on its head and fortunately that worked. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve been staring death in the face, and trust me. Not once was I thinking: “Heaven, bring it on!” No, despite being a Christian, all I was thinking about was my kids, my husband, my Mum, Dad, Brother and my friends. Giving them that kind of bad news, is devastating. The fact that I’ve survived, doesn’t negate that. We have lived through it and we continue to live with it.

So, this brings me to the very real need to talk to those we love about those times when the swirling vortex has taken hold, and give them concrete proof that they can get through it. That it’ s not only worth persevering through the hard times, that it’s possible to get there. Achievable. Moreover, they are not alone. Not only in the sense that we are with them now. Not just us as an individual either, but us as a community. The many layers of the onions…family, friends, teachers, pastors, the person you need down the street while walking your dog. But, we also need to make that time available. Leave enough space inbetween the words, the lines, the busyness that someone can sit along side us and be without being rushed, sped up, or brushed off.

I am not someone who has ever professed to have the answers, but I’ve always had the questions and I guess this is where they lead me now. But before I head off, another word just popped in my head. That is gratitude. While it’s not often possible to feel grateful for our let downs at the time, that can change through hindsight…especially with many of those heart breaks, which were the end of the world at the time. I wouldn’t be where I am now and while some of those guys were great people and simply not right for me (or me for them), I’ve been married to Geoff for 16 years now. We’ve survived some extremely hard times and miraculously stayed together. We hae two beauti ful children who can stretch us beyond the very brink at times, but who we love more than life itself. Sometimes, when things have been so hard, it’s hard to comprehend how the sun still rises in the morning and how life goes on. Yet, I’ve often found that very annoying and harsh reality, provides the momentum to keep me moving, which is ultimately a good thing.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I woke up this morning. I haven’t edited more than a couple of words and this is how my thoughts have landed on the page, or to be precise, my laptop screen. All of a sudden, in bright neon signs, I’ve realized that we as a society don’t talk about hard times. The cultural rhetoric is all about making it happen. Being whoever you want to be. It’s almost like you’re expected to find happiness in a fizzy drink…or a pill. Rather, what happens WHEN your journey through life hits the big snake just when you’re about to reach your goal and your sent straight back down to the beginning again? What happens when you’re a marketing executive and you’re diagnosed with hydrocephalus and you end up having brain surgery, getting a blocked shunt and requiring more brain surgery, the person you thought you were going to marry, dumps you because all of that’s too much and you’ve moved back home living with mum and Dad and going to rehab with the elderly at 28? BTW, that was also when I went to my 10 year school reunion. That was two weeks after the second brain surgery and I had no hair under one half of that bob. Indeed, there was a scar. I made it through that reunion and I was triumphant. Despite brain surgery being a much more sensitive embarrassing thing that the bad haircut.  I also had friends whose lives were picture perfect either. Some had divorced and one of my class mates had tragically died from cancer, which shook me to the core.

The fact that I’m still here, isn’t because I have some uber-amazing coping mechanism and I’m “Tonka tough”. I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve fallen face down in the mud and refused to get up. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and wrapped myself up in my doona and refused to get up. I’ve thought about how. I did jab myself with a pair of kindy scissors once when I was struggling to learn how to drive and fighting my brother for access to the car. That’s the closest I’ve come in a physically crossing the line sense, but these lines resonate: “hello darkness my old friend”.

Somehow, the collective “we” needs to have more of these conversations. The “where I was, how I found my way out and some of the joys of life we’ve experienced since” type. Talk about how life is ups AND downs. That we have to keep  walking, dancing, flying, dragging out feet, sleeping, talking, dreaming.They’re all part of it. Share and model that there is no magic pill, which will give you perfect, lasting happiness. However, there could well be multiple pills of darkness, which we need to approach with caution. Walk away from jealousy, envy, wanting to be someone we’re not, putting our value on stuff instead of relationships, replacing people with work. The list goes on.

Now, I’m turning it over to you. What has your experience been? I would like to invite you to share as much as you like in the comments below. What would you say to your teenage self about the dark times you’ve experienced? I could even see these becoming a series of posts. It would be truly beneficial to get a swag of letters together on this very important subject.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just had to drop my daughter off at meditation of all things (our dance school is running a session for kids followed by a session for parents so I’ll be heading off next). Funny how walking and driving gets you thinking. Pops something so obvious into your head, which you’d missed entirely while tapping away into the screen.

My other advice to my teenage self, is not to put all my eggs in one basket, and to remain diverse. I had very good friends out of school and I’ve encouraged this with my own kids since dot. However, as someone with a fairly obsessive, driven personality, I’d like to share that focusing all your energies on one thing, isn’t a good idea. If something happens to that one thing, whatever it is, then you’re devastated. You’re left with nothing. There is no “Plan B”. You have no identity left. Naturally, I was devastated when I couldn’t work after the brain surgery. I had grief counselling where I was told “We’re human beings, not human doings”. It’s taken me a long time to get that. In the aftermath of the brain surgery, I turned to photography and although it wasn’t making me any money, I found it was a great topic of conversation. Far more interesting than work. These days, writing  is my main thing followed by photography. What you might not know, is that I started learning the violin four years ago, and last year I started dance classes and have made my way through short adult courses in ballet, contemporary, lyrical and tap. I’m not even keeping up in the dance classes, but dance is now part of my psyche. Who I am. It’s added another string to my bow, and exercised more than a few neurofibres as well. It’s very important not to get stuck in what I’ll call “bubble worlds”…becoming “a dancer”, “a lawyer”, “a mother”, a “father”. Rather, ideally, we’d be more of a spangled web or texture, colour, sound, taste and smell stretching somewhere over the rainbow and back again. We must wear many hats, to be fulfilled, and really just to survive.

The End.

That's All Folks

Road Block…Friday Fictioneers.

A huge, amorphous rock with haunting facial features and a crutch, had parked itself right across my path and wouldn’t budge. Indeed, on second thoughts, it wasn’t a rock at all, but a humungus, black rain cloud metamorphosed into a rock just to spite me.

Screw positive thinking! It was no coincidence, that I was The Chosen One. Otherwise, why would a huge, black rock from outer space, suddenly land on MY PATH? It must’ve had geo-tracking honed to my very coordinates. Mum, was right. We’d been born under an unlucky star.

That’s when I saw her shoes sticking out.

…..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff Fields.  PHOTO PROMPT© CEAyr.

Given my health problems, I have naturally pondered why bad things happen. Well, more than the bad stuff. More the really traumatic stuff, which also challenges our notions of fairness such as the death of a child. Sometimes, I know I’ve certainly felt targeted or singled out and that was hard to take.

These were some of the thoughts which went into my take on this week’s prompt.

What are your thoughts about why we experience adversity? I love to hear from you.

Hope you’re having a great week.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Compassion…it’s Complicated.

Around 18 months ago, I joined a revolutionary blogging network called: “One Thousand Voices for Compassion”. We not only write about compassion, empathy and trying to make the world a better and more connected place, we try to take that out into the real world and translate these thoughts into action. Naturally, we feel a strong need for compassion, or we wouldn’t be part of the group.

This month, we’re addressing whether compassion is innate or learned. Are we born caring about the welfare of others or is it something we learn along the way?

While I could’ve written this from my gut, instead I fleetingly perused “the science”, which seemed to support that we’re at least born with some level of compassion and that our life experiences can either nurture or diminish our compassionate selves . If you’d like to read more about the nature versus nurture debate, there’s some recommended reading.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201306/compassion-our-first-instinct

The Compassionate Instinct

This leaves me doing my usual thing of exploring yet another tangent, looking at why people don’t help or respond to someone’s pain, loss, discomfort…you get the gist. Why do people do nothing?

More pertinently, why do I do nothing?

That’s right. I’m just as guilty as everyone else. No matter how hard we try, people fall through our cracks, even when we know they’re falling through a dark abyss. Even though we love these people with all of our hearts.

For those of us who are part of this 1000 Voices for Compassion Movement, these personal failings are even more frustrating. After all, we are striving to be that compassionate caring person… the Good Samaritan who stops and takes care of that person in need…not the person who walks past. We think from our hearts, not from our heads and would be willing to leap tall buildings in a single bound for anyone in trouble.

So, why can’t we do it? Why can’t we always be the person we’re striving to be?

The trouble is we’re only human. That as much as we might strive to be that superhero…Don the cape, flex out muscles and take to the skies,  we have so many limitations, frailties and who hasn’t ended up somehow paralyzed and glued to the spot in a stressful situation . Who hasn’t forgotten to phone a friend when you know the proverbial’s hit the fan?

Guilty as charged.

Compassion guilt…send me straight to jail…directly to jail. Do no pass Go. Do not collect $200.

BUT…

We can’t be in two places at once. We can’t clone ourselves and even help everyone in our own backyards, let alone to try to save the world as we would like.

That learns us having to make choices.

Or, circumstances can also dictate our response.

This brings me back to what I’ve written before about being kind to ourselves. Understanding and being compassionate to ourselves when we don’t live up to our own principles, ideologies, which includes fighting whatever negative stuff someone else might send our way when we let them down. We’ve done our best and even when we haven’t, know we can take that life lesson back to the drawing board and hope to be a better friend or person next time.

I am rushing this through to get this up before the link closes. So I hope it make sense. I’ll be back to straighten up the rough edges.

Or, perhaps writing rough is good enough, after all.

Well, at least once and awhile.

This has been part of 1000 Voices for Compassion and if you’d like to read other contributions, please click on the Linky.

xx Rowena

PS: I just came across a great hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” over at Ann’s Corner. It guess it’s a precursor to a great slogan from our times: “Think global. Act local.” https://annofgg.com/2015/03/07/anns-corner/

William Blake On Joy & Suffering

Man was made for joy & woe;

And when this we rightly know,

Thro’ the world we safely go.

Joy & woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine.

William Blake From “Auguries of Innocence”.

Featured image:

“When the Morning Stars Sang Together”

[Book of Job, no. 14]

ca. 1804–7
Pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over traces of graphite
11 x 7 1/16 inches (280 x 179 mm)

 

I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

Dear Issa,

Something tells me, that if we met in person, we wouldn’t need words. That our eyes would meet, sparking an understanding transcending language. Indeed, that is my hope.

However, that meeting has to wait.

This leaves us relying on the frailty of the written word, communicating across differences in language, culture, gender and time. While these differences are challenging, they’re not insurmountable when we walk hand-in-hand appreciating difference while also finding common ground. Through mutual respect and patience, I suspect our words will somehow translate themselves, like birds interpreting each others’ song.

I am currently writing letters to dead poets. After coming across your haiku, I decided to write to you. You suffered so much and yet you expressed such an incredible appreciation of life as well as an understanding of something intangible which defies words. Indeed, must we endure extreme suffering to gain that heightened sense of perception, which peers straight through the lines and beyond? Something tells me I already know the answer.

You and I are fellow travellers. You travelled throughout Japan writing Haiku as you went and teaching others. In 1992, I donned my backpack and flew to Europe, staying there for around 9 months. Much of that time, I lived in Heidelberg with a German family. However, I also travelled through Paris, Berlin, London Amsterdam, Florence, Basil and many cities in between. While there can be great freedom being a rolling stone gathering no moss, there can also be free-fall.

You’d be surprised how people travel these days. I have absolutely no idea how to explain Skype to someone who lived so long ago. However, in what must seem like something of a dream, you can see and talk to people in other places. So when you travel, you no longer have that same acute sense of isolation and detachment and there’s always the umbilical cord tying you back home.  These technical advances in communication have made such a difference. When I went to Europe, it was very expensive to telephone home and the Internet and email didn’t exist. So, we wrote letters, no doubt very similar to how you communicated back in your day. These days, letter writing is almost a forgotten art.

Travelling without a cost-effective means of staying in touch, meant that you had to stand on your own two feet and was a challenging test of endurance. I went from university where I knew so many people, to being a lone traveller. Periods of solitude were incredibly difficult, especially with no one knowing me, my history or where I was from. There was such a pining ache and I was so homesick. Even just a week into my travels, I burst into tears at Heidelberg train station and wanted to go home. Yet, I also had my pride. I am so pleased I stuck it out because through immersing myself in all these foreign countries, their language, people and culture, I flew beyond my nest and explored the world. Of course, the sky was filled with dangers, especially for such a little bird. Yet, there was also the view, the sensation of freedom and an appreciation of all that is “home”. I also made life-long friends. After all, living with a family and staying in one place, I found community. That’s still incredibly important to me!

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling, is reveling in foreign cultures, people and places, immersing ourselves in a kaleidoscope of difference. Indeed, shunning conformity, the traveller actually seeks out and embraces difference. Yet, while being the lone stranger wandering through strange cities and towns, we can be the outsider, the observer, peering in through a crack in the wall. Loneliness, solitude and homesickness, can be the traveller’s lot. Yet, being away from home and its expectations and responsibilities, liberates us as well. Party! Party! Party!  Nothing like a holiday romance either!

Anyway, like English poet, Ted Hughes, I only met you recently and am new to the form of Haiku. While there are people who know you and your Haiku, inside out, I am keen to learn.

Recently, my son reintroduced me to Haiku when he had to write them for school. So, we talked about Haiku over dinner and even wrote a couple.

Being Summer here yet Winter in the Northern hemisphere, mine went:

Eternal Summer

Sunbaking on the beach

Snow is falling.

The rest of the family found my combination of snow and the beach too random and my husband joked:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Look! There’s a kookaburra!

-Geoff.

Although it’s not strictly a Haiku, it had the family in hysterics!

Then our son came up with:

Roses can’t be blue.

Violets come in all colours.

But then there is you.

-Mr J.

Through these conversations, I came across your Haiku about a humble snail climbing Mt Fuji:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Issa-snail

Wow! I related to this Haiku so intensely and couldn’t help wondering, if a tiny snail could make it up Mt Fuji, so could I…

Ever since I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves, I’ve felt compelled to climb up a mountain. It’s like the mountains are calling me, luring me up their steep and rocky crevices like the call of the wild. However, just because I have a disability, that doesn’t mean I can suddenly climb Mt Everest. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it seems so many people facing series hurdles, go and climb mountains. Everest is way beyond me!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

However, being quite the lateral thinker, I skied down the mountain instead, in effect, turning my mountain around. That was my personal triumph!

By the way, did you know that when you turn a mountain upside down, you get a smile. Well, it works on paper!

Not so easy in real life. Before I’d even left the snow, I had the makings of a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia. Tests showed that I had active fibrosis in my lungs and I needed to have chemo. This was right before Christmas 2014, so I had chemo for Christmas! However, that was the best present I’ve ever had. It saved my life and gave me back to my family. That’s all that really matters now. That we’re all still here!

Getting back to your Haiku, I was so moved by it, that I shared it with my family. I particularly wanted the kids to realise that even huge mountain peaks can be conquered when you take them slowly one step at a time.

I thought you’d be intrigued by my daughter’s reply:

“How does the snail climb Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick!”

She’s very good at asking the tough questions!

Does Mt Fuji have snow all year round? Mind you, given the crowds climbing to the summit during climbing season these days, the snail could probably hitch a ride, although those very same feet could easily means its demise. That said, I know hitching a ride wasn’t what you had in mind…cheating!

Climbing straight up metaphorical mountains is something you know a lot about. You have certainly experienced much anguish! When you were 3 years old, your mother died and your father remarried. In 1814, aged 52 you married Kiku. However, joy was short-lived. Two years later, your son, Sentarô, was born, dying almost four weeks later. Two years later, your daughter, Sato, was born. However, she tragically died when she was just over a year old from smallpox.  A year later, your second son, Ishitarô, is born. However, tragedy continued when Ishitarô suffocated while bundled on his mother’s back. He was only a few months old. In 1822, your third son, Konzaburô, was born. In 1823, your wife died and Konzaburô died in December. In 1824, aged 62, you married Yuki, a samurai’s daughter but you soon divorced. Then, you had a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while. Indeed, you wrote:

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

-Issa

In 1826, aged 64, you married Yao but a year later, a fire sweeps through your village, destroying your home. How awful!

After enduring so much, on 5th January, 1828, you died of a stroke.

You experienced anguish on top of anguish and yet you went on, finding beauty in the infinitesimal details in nature:

Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
Must part.

-Issa

Was that what kept you going? Or, do you even know?

So many us are desperately wanting to know!

I hope that you have found happiness and peace where you are now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Featured Image: Issa’s portrait drawn by Muramatsu Shunpo 1772-1858 (Issa Memorial Hall, Shinano, Nagano, Japan) Photo By Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=768109

Prepared for the Storm

“We must begin our search for meaning when things are going well. A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”

Dr Howard Cutler: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” (which was co-written by the Dalai Lama.)

By the way, I really struggled to find an image to accompany this quote. While this Australian Gum Tree, depicted by Sir Hans Heysen appears very stable with exceptionally strong roots, being honest, gum trees are renowned for falling over in storms and causing quite a lot of damage. So while there’s some incongruity here, I hope you’ll just appreciate the image until I can find something more appropriate.

xx Rowena