Tag Archives: suicide

None So Blind – A Short Story By Mary Synon

Set in London, this short story first appeared in Harper’s Magazine, and was published in the The Yearbook Of The American Short Story For 1917, which has been shared via Project Gutenburg. I’d be interested to know your thoughts…

 We were listening to Leila Burton’s music—her husband, and Dick Allport, and I—with the throb of London beating under us like the surge of an ocean in anger, when there rose above the smooth harmonies of the piano and the pulsing roar of the night a sound more poignant than them both, the quavering melody of a street girl’s song.

Through the purpling twilight of that St. John’s Eve I had been drifting in dreams while Leila had gone from golden splendors of chords which reflected the glow on westward-fronting windows into somber symphonies which had seemed to make vocal the turbulent soul of the city—for Dick Allport and I were topping the structure of that house of life that was to shelter the love we had long been cherishing. With Leila playing in that art which had dowered her with fame, I was visioning the glory of such love as she and Standish Burton gave each other while I watched Dick, sensing rather than seeing the dearness of him as he gave to the mounting climaxes the tense interest he always tendered to Leila’s music.

I had known, before I came to love Dick Allport, other loves and other lovers. Because I had followed will-o’-the-wisps of fancy through marshes of sentiment I could appreciate the more the truth of that flame which he and[Pg 469] I had lighted for our guidance on the road. A moody boy he had been when I first met him, full of a boy’s high chivalry and of a boy’s dark despairs. A moody man he had become in the years that had denied him the material success toward which he had striven; but something in the patience of his efforts, something in the fineness of his struggle had endeared him to me as no triumph could have done. Because he needed me, because I had come to believe that I meant to him belief in the ultimate good of living, as well as belief in womanhood, I cherished in my soul that love of him which yearned over him even as it longed for him.

Watching him in the dusk while he lounged in that concentrated quiet of attention, I went on piling the bricks of that wide house of happiness we should enter together; and, although I could see him but dimly, so well did I know every line of his face that I could fancy the little smile that quivered around his lips and that shone from the depths of his eyes as Leila played the measures we both loved. I must have been smiling in answer when the song of the girl outside rose high.

Not until that alien sound struck athwart the power and beauty of the spell did I come to know how high I had builded my castles; but the knocking at the gate toppled down the dreams as Leila swept a discord over the keyboard and crossed to the open window.

In the dusk, as she flung back the heavy curtains, I could see the bulk of Brompton Oratory set behind the houses like the looming back-drop of a painted scene. Nearer, in front of a tall house across the way, stood the singer, a thin girl whose shadowy presence seemed animated by a curious bravery. In a nasal, plaintive voice she was singing the words of a ballad of love and of loving that London, as only London can, had made curiously its own that season. The insistence of her plea—for she sang as if she cried out her life’s longing, sang as if she called on the passing crowd not for alms, but for understanding—made her for the moment, before she[Pg 470] faded back into oblivion, an artist, voicing the heartache and the heartbreak of womankind; and the artist in Leila Burton responded to the thrill.

Until the ending of the song she stood silent in front of the window, unconscious of the fact that she, and not the scene beyond her, held the center of the stage. Not for her beauty, although at times Leila Burton gave the impression of being exquisitely lovely, was she remarkable, but rather for that receptive attitude that made her an inspired listener. In me, who had known her for but a little while, she awakened my deepest and drowsiest ambition, the desire to express in pictures the light and the shade of the London I knew. With her I could feel the power, and the glory, and the fear, and the terror of the city as I never did at other times. It was not alone that she was all things to all men; it was that she led men and women who knew her to the summits of their aspirations.

Even Standish Burton, big, sullen man that he was, immersed in his engineering problems, responded to his wife’s spiritual charm with a readiness that always aroused in Dick and myself an admiration for him that our other knowledge of him did not justify. He was, aside from his relationship to Leila, a man whose hardness suggested a bitter knowledge of dark ways of life. Now, crouched down in the depths of his chair, he kept watching Leila with a gaze of smouldering adoration, revealing that love for her which had been strong enough to break down those barriers which she had erected in the years while he had worked for her in Jacob’s bondage. In her he seemed to be discovering, all over again, the vestal to tend the fires of his faith.

Dick Allport, too, bending forward over the table on which his hands fell clenched, was studying Leila with an inscrutable stare that seemed to be of query. I was wondering what it meant, wondering the more because my failure to understand its meaning hung another veil between my vision and my shrine of belief in the fullness[Pg 471] of love, when the song outside came to an end and Leila turned back to us.

Her look, winging its way to Standish, lighted her face even beyond the glow from the lamps which she switched on. For an instant his heavy countenance flared into brightness. Dick Allport sighed almost imperceptibly as he turned to me. I had a feeling that such a fire as the Burtons kindled for each other should have sprung up in the moment between Dick and me, for we had fought and labored and struggled for our love as Standish and Leila had never needed to battle. Because of our constancy I expected something better than the serene affectionateness that shone in Dick’s smile. I wanted such stormy passion of devotion as Burton gave to Leila, such love as I, remembering a night of years ago, knew that Dick could give. It was the old desire of earth, spoken in the street girl’s song, that surged in me until I could have cried out in my longing for the soul of the sacrament whose substance I had been given; but the knowledge that we were, the four of us, conventional people in a conventional setting locked my heart as it locked my lips until I could mirror the ease with which Leila bore herself.

“I have been thinking,” she said, lightly, “that I should like to be a street singer for a night. If only a piano were not so cumbersome, I should go out and play into the ears of the city the thing that girl put into her song.”

“Why not?” I asked her, “It would be an adventure, and life has too few adventures.”

“It might have too many,” Dick said.

“Not for Leila,” Standish declared. “Life’s for her a quest of joy.”

“That’s it,” Dick interposed. “Her adventures have all been joyous.”

“But they haven’t,” Leila insisted. “I’m no spoiled darling of the gods. I’ve been poor, poor as that girl out there. I’ve had heartaches, and disappointments, and misfortunes.”[Pg 472]

“Not vital ones,” Dick declared. “You’ve never had a knock-out blow.”

“She doesn’t know what one is,” Standish laughed, but there sounded a ruefulness in his laughter that told of the kind of blow he must once have suffered to bring that note in his voice. Standish Burton took life lightly, except where Leila was concerned. His manner now indicated, almost mysteriously, that something threatened his harbor of peace, but the regard Leila gave to him proved that the threat of impending danger had not come to her.

“Oh, but I do know,” she persisted.

“Vicariously,” I suggested. “All artists do.”

“No, actually,” she said.

“You’re wrong,” said Standish. “You’re the sort of woman whom the world saves from its own cruelties.”

There was something so essentially true in his appraisal of his wife that the certainty covered the banality of his statement and kept Dick and myself in agreement with him. Leila Burton, exquisitely remote from all things commonplace, was unquestionably a woman to be protected. Without envy—since my own way had its compensations in full measure—I admitted it.

“I think that you must have forgotten, if you ever knew,” she said, “how I struggled here in London for the little recognition I have won.”

“Oh, that!” Dick Allport deprecated. “That isn’t what Stan means. Every one in the world worth talking about goes through that sort of struggle. He means the flinging down from a high mountain after you’ve seen the glories, not of this world, but of another, the casting out from paradise after you’ve learned what paradise may mean. He spoke with an odd timbre of emotion in his voice, a quality that puzzled me for the moment.

“That’s it,” said Standish, gratefully. “Those are the knock-out blows.”

“Well, then, I don’t know them”—Leila admitted her defeat—”and I hope that I shall not.”

Softly she began to play the music of an accompaniment.[Pg 473] There was a familiar hauntingness in its strains that puzzled me until I associated them with the song that Burton used to whistle so often in the times when Leila was in Paris and he had turned for companionship to Dick and to me.

“I’ve heard Stan murder that often enough to be able to try it myself,” I told her.

“I didn’t know he knew it,” she said. “I heard it for the first time the other day. A girl—I didn’t hear her name—sang it for an encore at the concert of the Musicians’ Club. She sang it well, too. She was a queer girl,” Leila laughed, “a little bit of a thing, with all the air of a tragedy queen. And you should have heard how she sang that! You know the words?”—she asked me over her shoulder:

“And because I, too, am a lover,
And my love is far from me,
I hated the two on the sands there,
And the moon, and the sands, and the sea.”

“And the moon, and the sands, and the sea,” Dick repeated. He rose, going to the window where Leila had stood, and looking outward. When he faced us again he must have seen the worry in my eyes, for he smiled at me with the old, endearing fondness and touched my hair lightly as he passed.

“What was she like—the girl?” Standish asked, lighting another cigarette.

“Oh, just ordinary and rather pretty. Big brown eyes that seemed to be forever asking a question that no one could answer, and a little pointed chin that she flung up when she sang.” Dick Allport looked quickly across at Burton, but Stan gave him no answering glance. He was staring at Leila as she went on: “I don’t believe I should have noticed her at all if she hadn’t come to me as I was leaving the hall. ‘Are you Mrs. Standish Burton?’ she asked me. When I told her that I was, she stared me full in the face, then walked off[Pg 474] without another word. I wish that I could describe to you, though, the scorn and contempt that blazed in her eyes. If I had been a singer who had robbed her of her chance at Covent Garden, I could have understood. But I’d never seen her before, and my singing wouldn’t rouse the envy of a crow!” She laughed light-heartedly over the recollection, then her face clouded. “Do you know,” she mused, “that I thought just now, when the girl was singing on the street, that I should like to know that other girl? There was something about her that I can’t forget. She was the sort that tries, and fails, and sinks. Some day, I’m afraid, she’ll be singing on the streets, and, if I ever hear her, I shall have a terrible thought that I might have saved her from it, if only I had tried!”

“Better let her sort alone,” Burton said, shortly. He struck a match and relit his cigarette with a gesture of savage annoyance. Leila looked at him in amazement, and Dick gave him a glance that seemed to counsel silence. There was a hostility about the mood into which Standish relapsed that seemed to bring in upon us some of the urgent sorrows of the city outside, as if he had drawn aside a curtain to show us a world alien to the place of beauty and of the making of beauty through which Leila moved. Even she must have felt the import of his mood, for she let her hands fall on the keys while Dick and I stared at each other before the shock of this crackle that seemed to threaten the perfection of their happiness.

From Brompton came the boom of the bell for evensong. Down Piccadilly ran the roar of the night traffic, wending a blithesome way to places of pleasure. It was the hour when London was wont to awaken to the thrill of its greatness, its power, its vastness, its strength, and its glory, and to send down luminous lanes its carnival crowd of men and women. It was the time when weltering misery shrank shrouded into merciful gloom; when the East End lay far from our hearts; when poverty and sin and shame went skulking into byways where we need never follow; when painted women held back in the[Pg 475] shadows; when the pall of night rested like a velvet carpet over the spaces of that floor that, by daylight, gave glimpses into loathsome cellars of humanity. It was, as it had been so often of late, an hour of serene beauty, that first hour of darkness in a June night with the season coming to an end, an hour of dusk to be remembered in exile or in age.

There should have come to us then the strains of an orchestra floating in with the fragrance of gardenias from a vendor’s basket, symbols of life’s call to us, luring us out beneath stars of joy. But, instead, the bell of Brompton pealed out warningly over our souls, and, when its clanging died, there drifted in the sound of a preaching voice.

Only phrases clattering across the darkness were the words from beyond—resonant through the open windows: “The Cross is always ready, and everywhere awaiteth thee…. Turn thyself upward, or turn thyself downward; turn thyself inward, or turn thyself outward; everywhere thou shalt find the Cross;… if thou fling away one Cross thou wilt find another, and perhaps a heavier.”

Like sibylline prophecy the voice of the unseen preacher struck down on us. We moved uneasily, the four of us, as he cried out challenge to the passing world before his voice went down before the surge of a hymn. Then, just as the gay whirl of cars and omnibuses beat once more upon the pavements, and London swung joyously into our hearts again, the bell of the telephone in the hall rang out with a quivering jangle that brought Leila to her feet even as Standish jumped to answer its summons.

She stood beside the piano as he gave answer to the call, watching him as if she expected evil news. Dick, who had moved back into the shadow from a lamp on the table, was staring with that same searching gaze he had bestowed on her when she had lingered beside the window. I was looking at him, when a queer cry from Standish whirled me around.

In the dim light of the hall he was standing with the[Pg 476] instrument in his hands, clutching it with the stupidity of a man who has been struck by an unexpected and unexplainable missile. His face had gone to a grayish white, and his hands trembled as he set the receiver on the hook. His eyes were bulging from emotion and he kept wetting his lips as he stood in the doorway.

“What is it?” Leila cried. “What’s happened, Stan? Can’t you tell me? What is it?”

Not to her, but to Dick Allport, he made answer. “Bessie Lowe is dead!”

I saw Dick Allport’s thunderstruck surprise before he arose. I saw his glance go from Standish to Leila with a questioning that overrode all other possible emotion in him. Then I saw him look at Burton as if he doubted his sanity. His voice, level as ever, rang sharply across the other man’s distraction.

“When did she die?” he asked him.

“Just now.” He ran his hand over his hair, gazing at Dick as if Leila and I were not there. “She—she killed herself down in the Hotel Meynard.”

“Why?” Leila’s voice, hard with terror, snapped off the word.

“She—she—I don’t know.” He stared at his wife as if he had just become conscious of her presence. The grayness in his face deepened, and his lips grew livid. Like a man condemned to death, he stared at the world he was losing.

“Who is Bessie Lowe?” Leila questioned. “And why have they called you to tell of her?” Her eyes blazed with a fire that seemed about to singe pretense from his soul.

His hand went to his throat, and I saw Leila whiten. Her hand, resting on the piano, trembled, but her face held immobile, although I knew that all the happiness of the rest of her life hung upon his answer. On what Standish Burton would tell her depended the years to come. In that moment I knew that she loved him even as I loved Dick, even as women have always loved and[Pg 477] will always love the men whom fate had marked for their caring; and in a sudden flash of vision I knew, too, that Burton, no matter what Bessie Lowe or any other girl had ever been to him, worshiped his wife with an intensity of devotion that would make all his days one long reparation for whatever wrong he might have done her. I knew, though, that, if he had done the wrong, she would never again be able to give him the eager love he desired, and I, too, an unwilling spectator, waited on his words for his future, and Leila’s; but his voice did not make answer. It was Dick Allport who spoke.

“Bessie Lowe is a girl I used to care for,” he said. “She is the girl who sang at the Musicians’ Club, the girl who spoke to you. She heard that I was going to be married. She wanted me to come back to her. I refused.”

He was standing in the shadow, looking neither at Leila nor at me, but at Standish Burton. Burton turned to him.

“Yes,” he muttered thickly, “they told me to tell you. They knew you’d be here.”

“I see,” said Leila. She looked at Standish and then at Dick Allport, and there came into her eyes a queer, glazed stare that filmed their brightness. “I am sorry that I asked questions, Mr. Allport, about something that was nothing to me. Will you forgive me?”

“There is nothing to be forgiven,” he said. He turned to her and smiled a little. She tried to answer his smile, but a gasp came from her instead.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “so sorry for her!”

It was Standish’s gaze that brought to me sudden realization that I, too, had a part in the drama. Until I found his steady stare on me I had felt apart from the play that he and Dick and Leila were going through, but with his urgent glare I awoke into knowledge that the message he had taken for Dick held for me the same significance that Leila had thought it bore for her. Like a stab from a knife came the thought that this girl—whoever[Pg 478] she was—had, in her dying, done what she had not done in life, taken Dick Allport from me. There went over me numbing waves of a great sense of loss, bearing me out on an ocean of oblivion. Against these I fought desperately to hold myself somewhere near the shore of sensibility. As if I were beholding him from a great distance, I could see Dick standing in the lamplight in front of Leila Burton. Understanding of how dear he was to me, of how vitally part of me he had grown in the years through which I had loved him—sometimes lightly, sometimes stormily, but always faithfully—beaconed me inshore; and the plank of faith in him, faith that held in itself something of forgiving charity, floated out to succor my drowning soul. I moved across the room while Standish Burton kept his unwinking gaze upon me, and Leila never looked up from the piano. I had come beside Dick before he heard me.

He looked at me as if he had only just then remembered that I was there. Into his eyes flashed a look of poignant remorse. He shrank back from me a little as I touched his hand, and I turned to Leila, who had not stirred from the place where she had listened to Standish’s cry when he took the fateful message. “We are going,” I said, “to do what we can—for her.”

She moved then to look at me, and I saw that her eyes held not the compassion I had feared, but a strange speculativeness, as if she questioned what I knew rather than what I felt. Their `contemplating quiet somehow disturbed me more than had her husband’s flashlight scrutiny, and with eyes suddenly blinded and throat drawn tight with terror I took my way beside Dick Allport out from the soft lights of the Burtons’ house into the darkness of the night.

Outside we paused a moment, waiting for a cab. For the first time since he had told Leila of Bessie Lowe, Dick spoke to me. “I think,” he said, “that it would be just as well if you didn’t come.”

“I must,” I told him, “It isn’t curiosity.[Pg 479] You understand that, don’t you? It is simply that this is the time for me to stand by you, if ever I shall do it, Dick.”

“I don’t deserve it.” There was a break in his voice. “But I shall try to, my dear. I can’t promise you much, but I can promise you that.”

Down the brightness of Piccadilly into the fuller glow of Regent Street we rode without speech. Somewhere below the Circus we turned aside and went through dim cañons of houses that opened a way past the Museum and let us into Bloomsbury. There in a wilderness of cheap hotels and lodging-houses we found the Meynard.

A gas lamp was flaring in the hall when the porter admitted us. At a desk set under the stairway a pale-faced clerk awaited us with staring insolence that shifted to annoyance when Dick asked him if we might go to Bessie Lowe’s room. “No,” he said, abruptly. “The officers won’t let any one in there. They’ve taken her to the undertaker’s.”

He gave us the location of the place with a scorn that sent us out in haste. I, at least, felt a sense of relief that I did not have to go up to the place where this unknown girl had thrown away the greatest gift. As we walked through the poorly lighted streets toward the Tottenham Court Road I felt for the first time a surge of that emotion that Leila Burton had voiced, a pity for the dead girl. And yet, stealing a look at Dick as he walked onward quietly, sadly, but with a dignity that lifted him above the sordidness of the circumstances, I felt that I could not blame him as I should. It was London, I thought, and life that had tightened the rope on the girl.

Strangely I felt a lightness of relief in the realization that the catastrophe having come, was not really as terrible as it had seemed back there in Leila’s room. It was an old story that many women had conned, and since, after all, Dick Allport was yet young, and my own, I condoned the sin for the sake of the sinner; and yet, even as I held the thought close to my aching heart, I felt that I was somehow letting slip from my shoulders the[Pg 480] cross that had been laid upon them, the cross that I should have borne, the burden of shame and sorrow for the wrong that the man I loved had done to the girl who had died for love of him.

The place where she lay, a gruesome establishment set in behind that highway of reeking cheapness, the Tottenham Court Road, was very quiet when we entered. A black-garbed man came to meet us from a room in which we saw two tall candles burning. Dick spoke to him sharply, asking if any one had come to look after the dead girl.

“No one with authority,” the man whined—”just a girl as lived with her off and on.”

He stood, rubbing his hands together as Dick went into hurried details with him, and I went past them into the room where the candles burned. For an instant, as I stood at the door, I had the desire to run away from it all, but I pulled myself together and went over to the place where lay the girl they had called Bessie Lowe.

I had drawn back the sheet and was standing looking down at the white face when I heard a sob in the room. I replaced the covering and turned to see in the corner the shadowy form of a woman whose eyes blazed at me out of the dark. While I hesitated, wondering if this were the girl who had lived occasionally with Bessie Lowe, she came closer, staring at me with scornful hate. Miserably thin, wretchedly nervous as she was, she had donned for the nonce a mantle of dignity that she seemed to be trailing as she approached, glaring at me with furious resentment. “So you thought as how you’d come here,” she demanded of me, her crimsoned face close to my own, “to see what she was like, to see what sort of a girl had him before you took him away from her? Well, I’ll tell you something, and you can forget it or remember it, as you like. Bessie Lowe was a good girl until she ran into him, and she’d have stayed good, I tell you, if he’d let her alone. She was a fool, though, and she thought that he’d marry her some day—and all the[Pg 481] time he was only waiting until you’d take him! You never think of our kind, do you, when you’re living out your lives, wondering if you care enough to marry the men who’re worshipping you while they’re playing with us? Well, perhaps it won’t be anything to you, but, all the same, there’s some kind of a God, and if He’s just He’ll punish you when He punishes Standish Burton!”

“But I—” I gasped. “Did you think that I—?”

“Aren’t you his wife?” She came near to me, peering at me in the flickering candle-light. “Aren’t you Standish Burton’s wife?”

“No,” I said.

“Oh, well”—she shrugged—”you’re her sort, and it’ll come to the same thing in the end.”

She slouched back to the corner, all anger gone from her. Outside I heard Dick’s voice, low, decisive. Swiftly I followed the girl. “You must tell me,” I pleaded with her, “if she did it because of Standish Burton.”

“I thought everybody knew that,” she said, “even his wife. What’s it to you, if you’re not that?”

“Nothing,” I replied, but I knew, as I stood where she kept vigil with Bessie Lowe, that I lied. For I saw the truth in a lightning-flash; and I knew, as I had not known when Dick perjured himself in Leila’s music-room, that I had come to the place of ultimate understanding, for I realized that not a dead girl, but a living woman, had come between us. Not Bessie Lowe, but Leila Burton, lifted the sword at the gateway of my paradise.

With the poignancy of a poisoned arrow reality came to me. Because Dick had loved Leila Burton he had laid his bond with me on the altar of his chivalry. For her sake he had sacrificed me to the hurt to which Standish would not sacrifice her. And the joke of it—the pity of it was that she hadn’t believed them! But because she was Burton’s wife, because it was too late for facing of the truth, she had pretended to believe Dick; and she had known, she must have known, that he had lied to her because he loved her.[Pg 482]

The humiliation of that knowledge beat down on me, battering me with such blows as I had not felt in my belief that Dick had not been true to me in his affair with this poor girl. Her rivalry, living or dead, I could have endured and overcome—for no Bessie Lowe could ever have won from Dick, as she could never have given to him, that thing which was mine. But against Leila Burton I could not stand, for she was of my world, of my own people, and the crown a man would give to her was the one he must take from me.

There in that shabby place I buried my idols. Not I, but a power beyond me, held the stone on which was written commandment for me. By the light of the candles above Bessie Lowe I knew that I should not marry Dick Allport.

I found him waiting for me at the doorway. I think that he knew then that the light of our guiding lantern had flickered out, but he said nothing. We crossed the garishly bright road and went in silence through quiet streets. Like children afraid of the dark we went through the strange ways of the city, two lonely stragglers from the procession of love, who, with our own dreams ended, saw clearer the world’s wild pursuit of the fleeing vision.

We had wandered back into our own land when, in front of the darkened Oratory and almost under the shadow of Leila Burton’s home, there came to us through the soft darkness the ominous plea that heralds summer into town. Out of the shadows an old woman, bent and shriveled, leaned toward us. “Get yer lavender tonight,” she pleaded. “‘Tis the first of the crop, m’lidy.”

“That means—” Dick Allport began as I paused to buy.

I fastened the sprigs at my belt, then looked up at the distant stars, since I could not yet bear to look at him. “It means the end of the season,” I said, “when the lavender comes to London.”

When to Stop…? Friday Fictioneers.

“You can’t put me in a box,” Ava spat at her mother. “Why can’t you be normal, and not a shrink?”

Ava didn’t want to be seen, let alone analysed, and slammed her door shut.

Sarah stared at the closed door wondering  how her precious, much-loved baby girl had turned into this fragile, self-loathing teen.

Inside, Ava was painting all four walls of her room black, and was thinking about cutting off her tongue, so she’d never have to talk again. Why couldn’t her mother give up, and just let her drown quietly in peace?!

Finally, Sarah made the call.

…..

100 words

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays.

As a mother of a 16 year old son and a 14 year old daughter, I’m well-versed in living with teens, although mine are going quite well atm. Well, at least I think they’re going okay. Our daughter’s madly catching up with all her friends in case we we end up going back into lock down. Sydney and Melbourne have always been rivals, but now more than ever those Victorians can stay South of the border.

I hope you and yours are keeping safe and well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Acknowledgement & Gratitude…2020 Revised.

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

Bilbo watchin the sun set Palm Beach

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

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

Bilbo and paw prints

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

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

Jonathon Heart Hands 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Rowena bogged Western Australia

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

Acknowledging the Bad Stuff

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

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

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

Worldwide                                                              Australia

Cases:                         4.89 million confirmed                                        7 069 confirmed

Recovered:                1.69 million                                                            6 411

Deaths:                       1.69 million                                                            100

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

DSC_9231

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

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

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

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

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

ballet shoes

Dance Classes via Zoom have involved both acknowledgment & Gratitude. 

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

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

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

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

Sunrise

Sunrise, Bathurst pre-Covid.

Gratitude For The Good

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

    Zac & Rosie dogs grass

    Even our grass is greener in lock down.

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

……

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

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

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

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

Best wishes and much love,

Rowena

Rowena Victory

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trials of The Good Samaritan…Friday Fictioneers.

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

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

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

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

“Lord, she’s all yours”.

……

100 words

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

Help – Motivational Quotes A_Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers. This series is particularly geared towards writers actively engaged in working on a book, especially their first book. Although I have quite a few manuscripts hovering in limbo, I’m currently fully immersed in writing a compilation of biographical short fiction, which I think will be a good launching pad for the rest. Due to the massive amount of research and writing involved, I wasn’t going to participate in the A-Z Challenge this year. However, motivational quotes seemed like a theme I could dash off and I also thought I might be needing them myself. I wasn’t wrong.

Sop, today we’re looking at reaching out for HELP. Rather than focusing on a quote today, I’m turning to what must be the ultimate song on the subject: : Help – The Beatles.

That’s because what I wanted to say, is that it’s okay to acknowledge that cry for help within…the scream… and put your hand up. Ask for help whether that’s for psychological, emotional or practical stuff, or about writing and publishing matters.

The bottom line is, that whatever you’re struggling with, you don’t have to go it alone.

You have back-up. At the very least, you have the World Wide Web and it never sleeps.

Writing a top-notch book is like wrestling with cats with your foot flat to the floor trying to get somewhere. While so many people talk about writing a book, doing it is something else entirely and I haven’t got there yet. However, from what I’ve experienced so far, I know I should be treating it like a marathon, and yet it’s more like a very intense rollercoaster ride where all your neurones lit up at once, followed by inevitable burn out and loads of other emotions in between, especially self-doubt, which really should be appearing in the largest font size I can find in triple bold with flashing lights.

That’s also why I’m trying to pace myself better, preparing for the long haul instead of a burning sprint.

However, that’s not who I am, but I have to sleep and I still need to be Mum, wife and a functioning human being.

Where we live (in Australia), we have R U OK?Day. It’s our national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.

Naturally, this is simplifying things and it’s a difficult question to ask. Moreover, the next question can be even harder and every bit like sticking your heart in a mincer. However, feeling a bit of discomfort is nothing compared to potentially saving a life or taking the edge off that horrible, angsty state of being. Indeed, just like knowing how to perform basic first aid, it’s something we all need to know. How to be there for a friend or even a complete stranger experiencing anything from the blues to extreme psychological distress.

The irony about the whole help thing, is that helping someone else has actually been shown to help you feel better. So, while you’re seeking help, it is good for you to also help someone else. You don’t need to do much, especially if you’re struggling yourself. However, something as small as a smile might help you both.

Before I head off, I’d really like to recommend one of my all-time favourite books: Daniel Gottlieb’s Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life.

When his grandson was born, Daniel Gottlieb began to write a series of heartfelt letters that he hoped Sam would read later in life. He planned to cover all the important topics – dealing with your parents, handling bullies, falling in love, coping with death – and what motivated him was the fear that he might not live long enough to see Sam reach adulthood. Daniel Gottlieb is a quadriplegic – the result of a near-fatal automobile accident that occurred two decades ago – and he knows enough not to take anything for granted. Then, when Sam was only 14 months old, he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disability, a form of autism and suddenly everything changed. Now the grandfather and grandson were bound by something more: a disability – and Daniel Gottlieb’s special understanding of what that means became invaluable- Book Depository

In an interview he was asked about how he stays positive, he replied:

Oh my goodness, I don’t stay positive. When I have pain, I suffer. When I experienced loss, I cry. As I age and my body begins to fatigue, I feel great sadness. But what I feel every day is gratitude. And this makes all the difference between a life of well-being and one of suffering. I feel gratitude that I am able to bear witness to nature, to see the beauty and smell the life. I’m grateful that I am able to breathe without difficulty, grateful that I love so many people so deeply. Grateful for my girlfriend, children and Sam. I could go on and on and on!”

Daniel Gottlieb

Anyway, that’s enough from me. What do you have to say about help? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Step-Daddy’s Little Princess…Friday Fictioneers.

 

“Sweetheart, we love you so much. Pleeeeease come home, ” Sue desperately begged her daughter. “There’s lasagna for dinner… your favourite.”

Alice kept her gaze fixed on the floor, refusing to make eye contact. Seeing her mother again was like soaking in a warm bath, reminding her of how things had been once upon a time. Yet, the anguish in her soul, burned like a red-hot poker. That’s why she jabbed herself with the needles… to numb and forget the unforgivable.

“Alice, Emily misses her big sister.”

The heartstrings tightened until she could barely breathe.

No escape, Alice grabbed her bag.

….

100 words.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt. PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

The Silence After the Storm…Friday Fictioneers.

The police found Mandi McDonald’s Commodore Stationwagon 500 metres downstream. She and the two children aged eight and six were deceased. The storm had hit Toowoomba with such fury. Mandi had been driving the kids home from school, and the car was swept away in the surging currents. Her husband was distraught. Lost all his family in an instant. No one knew how he was going to get through it. Or, even if he could. They all came to the funeral, and didn’t mean to stay away.  They just couldn’t find the words and didn’t know what to say.

….

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Everybody Hurts…

Tonight, when we went round to my parents’ place for an early Mother’s Day dinner, Mum piped up and said she wanted us to listen to a priest singing on Britain’s Got Talent. 

Well, I must admit I was rather taken aback. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think about a singing priest, but I was thinking of something more along the line of Gregorian chants, than something I could relate to. So, while my mother was uncharacteristically excited and really wanted us to see it, I had no interest whatsoever and instinctively wanted to extricate myself and runaway. However, considering it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d better play the dutiful daughter, and avoid being a complete ratbag. Listening to a priest sing for a few minutes, wasn’t going to kill me. Moreover, I am a bit more mature these days.

Then, I see Father Ray Kelly on the stage, and there’s something immediately likeable about him. There’s a sort of brown shoe honesty about him and he is that simple, heart-felt man of God. The sort I’ve come across now and then, but is far from commonplace. He is one of those men of God who is of the people. A shepherd who knows his sheep and responds to their cries. Who knows there are 100 sheep in the flock, and not only knows when one is missing, but also by its name. This type of person is very hard to find.

When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes…

REM: Everybody Hurts

Well, of course, I don’t really know whether all of these impressions are true, but when he sings, I not only believe him, but I also know he’s singing to me. That he personally cares for each one of us and our hurts, and is a reflection of God’s unconditional, personal and intimate love for us. These aren’t phrases I throw around lightly. Father Ray was there in a simple grey suit, his collar and brown shoes and there were no props. No machinations. He simply was, and he was speaking for all those people out there who are desperately hurt, and he’s personally asking them to hold on. It was so clear he cared and was singing straight from the very depths of his heart…his soul. It was just so beautiful and I had to share it with you. Indeed, I hope it touches a chord for you.

What are your thoughts? How did it make you feel?

I could listen to it over and over and over again!

Best wishes,

Rowena

The featured image was drawn by my son.

PS Here’s the wedding song which launched him on You tube Father Ray Kelly singing Alleluia

When it Takes the Village…Friday Fictioneers.

There was no reason why he couldn’t ski off the edge of Mt Kosciusko. Fly across the valley with the crow. Not even for the smallest nanosecond, did he actually consider his human form. That while his spirit soared, that he was made of flesh and blood and belonged to the Earth.

“Joshua! Joshua!” The crow was calling his name.

“Joshua!” His mother’s scream echoed across the valley. Only the power of prayer could save him now.

The stranger could almost sense his skis mysteriously turning under foot, then spotted the troubled young man and understood. His time had come.

……..

100 Words

This story is dedicated to families who love and cherish children with special needs and the constant vigilance required to keep them safe. An 11 year old autistic boy was run over and killed by a train in Sydney last week after escaping from a care facility.

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

N- Sidney Nolan: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for this year’s A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan and will be focusing on his iconic Ned Kelly Series 1946-47. The series is held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Sidney Nolan will be accompanied by the great Peter Allen singing: I Still Call Australia Home

Sidney Nolan was born on the 22nd April, 1917 in Carlton, a working-class suburb of Melbourne and always saw himself as a member of the proletariat…a Working Class Man. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Paterson, but he started having an affair with Sunday Reed. In 1948, he married Cynthia Reed. In 1976, Cynthia Nolan took her life. In 1978, Nolan married Mary née Boyd (1926-2016),youngest daughter within the artistic Boyd family and previously married to artist, John Perceval. Nolan died in London on 28 November, 1992 at the age of 75, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Ned Kelly was a notorious Australian bushranger who has become something of a folk hero inspiring poets, musicians and artists alike. Sidney Nolan has said that the main ingredients of his “Kelly” series of paintings were “Kelly’s own words, and Rousseau, and sunlight”. Kelly’s words, including the Jerilderie Letter, “fascinated Nolan with their blend of poetry and political engagement”.Speaking of inspiration, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series has also inspired other works, including Tin Symphony, which was composed and performed by Ian Cooper at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

When I was growing up, my parents had a print of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon, which was wedded to the walls of three different houses. Indeed, by the time I left home, it had become a much loved member of the family. I’m not sure where it is now. Perhaps, it was buried in the family plot. However, it’s much more likely, that my father dumped it at the tip. He’s not what you’d call “a sentimental bloke”, and more of a “minimalist extremist”. Either way, the painting’s staying power, had me question how often other families change their artworks over, and rotate what’s on display? Or, do their paintings also become married to their walls… “til death do us part”?

Who Was Ned Kelly?

 “…some say that Ned Kelly was a courageous and fundamentally decent young man who was wronged by social conditions that he could not challenge except by violence; while others maintain that he was a common thief and a murderer who deserved only to hang and be forgotten. There is no simple truth of the matter[2]”.

Edward Kelly (December 1854 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, leader of the Kelly Gang and convicted police murderer. He was born in Victoria, Australia, around 1855. As a teenager he was in trouble with the police and was arrested several times and served time in prison. In mid-1878, following his mother’s imprisonment on perjured police evidence and feeling that the police were harassing him, Kelly took to bushranging with his brother, Dan, Joe Byrne, and Steve Hart. They became known as the Kelly Gang.[3][4] After they shot dead three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria in October 1878, they were declared outlaws. Reacting to the killings, the Victorian Government enacted the Felons’ Apprehension Act 1878 which authorised any citizen to shoot a declared outlaw on sight. A substantial reward was offered for each member of the Kelly Gang, ‘dead or alive’. Ned Kelly is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police at Glenrowan. This armour was made from stolen plough mouldboards. Kelly, the only survivor, was severely wounded by police fire and captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, Kelly was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out at the Old Melbourne Gaol. His last words were famously reported to have been, “such is life”.

Nolan has depicted bushranger Ned Kelly with a square, black box on his head with a rectangle cut out so he can see out and we can see his eyes, which are particularly graphic and expressive.

Kelly has been described as a metaphor for Nolan himself in this series. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944, facing the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front-line duty, Nolan went absent without leave. He adopted the alias Robin Murray, a name suggested by Sunday Reed, whose affectionate nickname for him was “Robin Redbreast”. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly. “Nolan like this Kelly figure has also been a hero, a victim, a man who armoured himself against Australia and who faced it, conquered it, lost it…. ambiguity personified.[3]

Kelly with clouds

My Favourite

Although Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon brings back precious childhood memories, my favourite is the one simply called Ned Kelly.What resonates with me about this painting, is that when you peer through the eye-slot in his helmet instead of seeing his eyes, there’s blue sky and clouds. This is me. I always have my head in the clouds. At least, I would if I could. I’m proud to be a dreamer.

That’s no doubt a very personal view of the painting, but isn’t that the point of art in the first place? That we develop a personal attachment and relationship with it and it’s not all about head knowledge and gobbledygook.

Sidney Nolan’s Approach to Art & Painting

During my travels today, I came across an interview with Sidney Nolan in the Australian Women’s Weekly, which provides some helpful insights into his thought processes as an artist:

“Like all the projects he discusses, it sounds as if it’s planned within an inch of its life. “I do that with all my paintings, sometimes years ahead, because I feel all the brainwork, so to speak, should be done by the artist, and should not show in the work. Painting is a celebratory process and an emotional one not quite suited to the conveyance of ideas.”

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about painting, says Nolan, and it tends to alienate some people.

“The average person, so to speak, shouldn’t have to be put through an intellectual process in order to understand paintings. The appeal should be immediate, like people one to the other.”

As far as he’s concerned, “it’s the same thing for all of us – an emotional response. You stand in front of a painting and the first thing you get is a wobbly sort of feeling in your stomach.”

To get his own paintings to that point of impact, he “rehearses” them in his head. “I’m always doing it, in a taxi, over break-fast. It’s like moving furniture – it’s so much easier if you’ve done it in your head beforehand, otherwise it’s heavy going.”

“….Yes, I do have rather a lot planned. And of course apart from the painting I have a lot more travelling I want to do. It’s not so much looking for themes – more just soaking things up, images, feelings, perhaps they’ll come together into some good ideas one day, perhaps not, but I doubt that I’ll ever stop doing it.[4]

A Letter To Sidney Nolan

Dear Sidney,

Our time together today was so rushed, but I wanted to thank you for help out with us on the Scout Sausage Sizzle and providing the kids with a few drawings. They will treasure them always. I also wanted to thank you for lending me your pen and your sketchbook during my daughter’s dance Eisteddfod and helping me alleviate my stress. Thank you very much, also for not laughing when we found out we’d left the tutu at home and I’d failed to sew on the last of the ribbons on top my daughter’s ballet shoe, forcing her to dance with a pin jabbing her in the foot. I really wish we could’ve spent the day at the art gallery. Or, perhaps you prefer being out amongst the people, and feast on the inspiration of the everyday. Personally, I’d rather load up a kombi and had up to Byron Bay and park illegally beside the beach. I think you’d be joining me in that, but you’d need to bring your own Kombi.

I know this is probably being rather forward of me, but I wanted to ask you how you managed to keep going after you lost your beloved wife Cynthia, in such tragic circumstances. I thought you might be able to offer some coping strategies and encouragement to those who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances.

Many thanks & best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Sidney Nolan

Dear Rowena,

I had a delightful day with you today. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and expect perfection all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, but most of them aren’t fatal and we can recover ourselves in some way. Indeed, I’ve found a bit of paint can cover up a multitude of sins.

Anyway, you asked me about those terrible years after I lost my beloved Cynthia with her famous kingfisher spirit.

For awhile there, it was very hard for me to go on. I wasn’t a young man and wondered whether  “my life had gone as far as it could go.”

“But you see I have some friends who have looked after me very well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve been helped to survive, because I have been.”

“Lonely? Oh yes. Lonely. But alone? Well, you see, because of those friends I wasn’t really on my own, except with respect to that relationship which, anyway, I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.”

In a way there was a choice, recalls Nolan. “Either you went down, you went under – which in a way would have been all right, because I’d seen a lot of life – or you just came through it and painted harder than before.

“What I think now is that if you remain alive and you’re a painter, your responsibility is to become a better painter. What 1 have to do now is paint more into the paintings – which I’ve tried to do this time.”

I hope that helps. Anyway, I’ve been keeping you up and it’s well after your bed time.

Best wishes,

Sidney.

These quotes were taken from Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6.

Sources & References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[2] Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 3 April 1965, page 9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[4] Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6