Tag Archives: sunflowers

Z- Shibata Zeshin, Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Z…the very last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is Writing Letters to Dead Artists and the last artist I’ll be writing to during the challenge, is Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin (1801-1891).

During this series, I’ve revealed a raw honesty which is somewhat of a personal trademark. So, I’m undermine that by pretending  that I understand Shibata Zeshin, and know everything there is to know about him. Indeed, after so many very late nights and burning the post-midnight oil, I was even prepared to be creative…a dead artist who was snoring Z’s perhaps…

However, thank goodness for my Google lucky dips, because I not only found Shibata Zeshin but I very bravely dipped my toe into the very tip of the Japanese art “iceberg”. Personally, I find it a bit intimidating tapping into Japanese art. Their culture is much more structured than what I’m used to which many rules and an exquisite attention to detail which in itself is totally foreign to me. Moreover, as an aspiring perfectionist, there’s only one thing I hate making mistakes and try to fill myself up with so much knowledge and detail that I couldn’t possibly slip up and get something wrong, especially mucking up something as important as a historical detail. People have been hung, drawn and quartered for less.

Yet, it is far better to get up and have a go and do something. To extend yourself beyond the safe and the familiar than it is to stay within your comfort zone and go nowhere. I keep reminding myself of this, but quite often these processes are quite unconscious and our lives are that busy, that we can easily move onto something else and that covers up our avoidance. I guess this is where going public with your ambitions is important. There’s always someone who’ll ask you how that book you abandoned a few years ago and consigned to the bottom drawer is going. One of these days, I’d at least like to tell them that something got published. Anything! I’m not fussy anymore. Indeed, am rapidly sliding towards desperate, which as any single out in the dating scene knows, is never a good thing.

Anyway, here goes…

Shibata Zeshin was born and raised in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). His grandfather Izumi Chobei and his father Ichigoro were shrine carpenters (miyadaiku) and skilled wood carvers. His father, who had taken his wife’s family name of Shibata, was also an experienced ukiyo-e painter, having studied under Katsukawa Shunshō. At age eleven, Kametaro, as Zeshin was called in his childhood, became apprenticed to a lacquerer named Koma Kansai II. At age 13, the young man who would become Zeshin abandoned the name Kametaro and became Junzo. Koma Kansai decided that his young charge would need to learn to sketch, paint, and create original designs in order to become a great lacquerer. He arranged for young Shibata to study under Suzuki Nanrei, a great painter of the Shijō school. Shibata then took on yet another artist’s name, abandoning Junzo and signing his works “Reisai,” using the Rei from Suzuki Nanrei, and the sai from Koma Kansai.

It was during his time with Nanrei that he was given the name Zeshin, which he would stick with for the rest of his life. The name has a meaning similar to “this is true” or “the Truth”. It was a reference to an old Chinese tale of a king who held an audience with a great number of painters. While nearly all of the painters afforded the king the proper respect, bowing before him and comporting themselves appropriately, one arrived half-naked, did not bow, and sat on the floor licking his paintbrush; the king exclaimed “now, this is a true artist!” And from this the name Zeshin was taken[1]. That story really amused me.

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) was the greatest of all lacquer artists. His unique talent was hewn from a childhood spent in traditional artisan workshops, a strong respect and devotion to tradition, and a constant thirst for innovation and self-education. His career saw the transition of Japan from the Edo (samurai) period to the Meiji era, when the nation, united under a semi-constitutional monarchy, set about an ambitious modernization process that would rapidly develop the country into a world power.

Zeshin took full advantage of these abrupt changes. A shogunal decree restricting artists’ use of precious metals, materials considered essential to lacquer work, led Zeshin to instead employ bronze dust, charcoal, and iron filings to create novel, eye-teasing effects. One of very few lacquerers granted the title of Artist to the Imperial Household, he later embraced the emergence of Japan on the world stage, exhibiting his work at international expositions and developing new ways to push the boundaries of lacquer to rival Western oil paintings. It was during this period that Zeshin created a series of masterpieces in lacquered wood, lacquer painting, and conventional ink painting on paper or silk that attracted numerous prominent clients and made him one of the first living Japanese artists to achieve name recognition in Europe and the United States. Yet he remained at heart a proud member of Japan’s urban artisan class, and his art is emblematic of his extraordinary ability to combine two conflicting roles in a time of national upheaval[2].

Through his depictions of nature, Zeshin has elevated the simple into something truly magnificent, and almost had an ethereal sense. Indeed, he’s immortalised his fleeting glimpses of nature and his works have that real sense of being in the moment, or even inside it, where time doesn’t even exist and the observer and the subject are one. Moreover, he also brings out the spirit of the subject.

grasshopper-and-sunflower-1877

This brings me to Zeshin’s Grasshopper & Sunflower 1877. While the sunflower immediately caught my eye and the grasshopper was more of a distraction or something to be shoed away, this is not my culture and my gut told me this grasshopper was there for a reason That is, one other than hiding from some kid madly chasing it with their Bug Catcher. Oops! That’s right. They didn’t have Bug Catchers back in 1877, but I’m sure someone or something was trying to catch it in their own way, even if it was just the artist with his brush. Anyway, that’s how I found out that the Japanese see the grasshopper as a symbol of good luck and have a long tradition of enjoying their beautiful calls, both in the wild and as pets. Indeed, grasshoppers also appeared in Haiku:

Grasshopper’s song in

moonlight- someone’s

survived theflood.

Issa

Yet, as I said, I was drawn to the sunflower, not the grasshopper.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
― Helen Mirren, Actor

Van Gogh Sunflowers

Why pay millions, when you can pick one up at the local thrift shop…

If you’ve been following the series through, you may recall that I have a very strong attachment to Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series. Indeed, I have a print of the London version hanging in our hallway, and have also seen the Amsterdam version in person and experienced the sunflowers dancing right in front of me. Back at university, I also recited my “sunflower” poem at readings, and it became a bit of a connection with the person I wrote it about. So, just like Van Gogh, I felt like the sunflower was mine.

In Japanese, the sunflower is called Himari, it is very popular in Japan and even has its own festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture where farmers plant sunflowers as a fill in crop after the wheat harvest to avoid undesirable weeds proliferating in the fields. Presumably the farmers also harvest and sell the sunflower seeds.

However, the sunflower isn’t just an eye-catching beauty. As well as providing a harvest of seeds, sunflowers also reduce toxins in the soil through a process called phytoremediation. The sunflower sucks up toxins like lead, arsenic and uranium, which are sucked up by the roots and after a few generations, the soil can be returned to forests. Indeed, through the Chernobyl Sunflower Project, sunflowers were used to clean up the radioactive waste in the plant’s cooling pond. Japan has followed their lead with the Fukushima Sunflower project to remove radioactive waste after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Personally, I find this very exciting. While I don’t lie awake worrying about the fallout from these disasters, you only have to switch on the news to be very concerned about the state of our planet and a natural solution like this is absolutely fantastic. Bring it on.

The only question I have is…Do you think we could possibly plant sunflowers inside the brains of society’s bad eggs, and decontaminate them? Indeed, this process could also be used to treat depression? Hey, I just thought of a third possible application….plant sunflowers in the brains of teenagers and they’ll start turning to the sun all day, instead of their electronics. Much better for them!

Sunflowers, therefore, have their healing powers and there was perhaps no greater psychological need, than when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in the Ukraine and the plane just happened to crash in a field of sunflowers, who incidentally turned their faces away from the horror. Everyone onboard was killed and the twisted and broken wreckage reflected the heartbreak and brokenness of their loved ones and mourners the world over. You might not be aware that the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough, Foreign Correspondent and photographer, Kate Gerraghty, salvaged sunflower seeds from the scene and brought them back via quarantine for the families and friends of the victims. Paul McGeogh writes: “we had decided that if families and friends of the Australian victims could not get to the crash site, then we were obliged to bring them a keepsake. First we wondered about a small quantity of soil, which might be carried in a locket. But we settled on seeds – they would be lighter, more compact and, with careful gardening, might be propagated from year to year. It would help too, we thought, that sunflowers are such happy chaps.[3]

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

It’s a long story but I received some of these seeds in the mail and planted them in our backyard. I also took the seedlings into my kids’ classes at school and beyond and talking about what these photographers did to make a difference. My only hope is that these seeds grew and the sunflowers’s smiles and their special phytoremediation abilities somehow managed to ease their grief.

However, it just so happened that the plane landed in a field of sunflowers and I guess these beautiful, vibrant flowers can to represent good triumphing over evil and hate, as well as a hope for the future when for the families who lost their precious loved ones, they were plunged  not only into unfathomable grief, but also a burning sense of injustice. A need to see terrorism, war and violence wiped off the face of the earth. Or, at the very least, from underneath the flight paths of passenger jets.

Two Carp

Shibata Zeshin, Two Carp.

 “The orange of the golden carp appeared at the edge of the pond. . . . We watched in silence at the beauty and grandeur of the great fish. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw Cico hold his hand to his breast as the golden carp glided by. Then with a switch of his powerful tail the golden carp disappeared into the shadowy water under the thicket.”
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Returning to environmental disasters, as much as I really admired Shibato Zeshin’s carp, as an Australian, I find it very hard to like carp anymore after they’ve taken over many Australian waterways and are killing our native fish. It’s been a huge problem for quite awhile, especially in the Murray River. However, there are plans to release a virulent strain of herpes virus into the Murray-Darling river system in a bid to eradicate European carp, in what Science Minister Christopher Pyne has dubbed a “carp-aggedon”.

So after staring at the sunflowers, chasing grasshoppers and trying to keep the carp out of our river systems, I’d better start writing my letter to Shibata Zeshin.

My Letter to Shibata Zeshin

Dear Shibata,

The obvious thing to ask anyone whose name starts with Z, is whether they’re always sick of being last and always at the end of the alphabet? Most humans are very stuck in their ways and for some reason organizing things in reverse alphabetical order is too difficult. I’m not sure whether they think they’re some very complex and difficult mathematical equation involved, or if they’re just lazy. Of course, I could understand why a librarian wouldn’t want to rearrange an entire library just to give the Z authors a better chance of being chosen, but is doesn’t take much to rearrange a classroom of kids. Mind you, I guess that would set the teachers brain in reverse, which could be dangerous, especially if they started walking backwards. Best we leave things just the way they are, before we have any nasty accidents and next time you decide to change your name, might I suggest you go for Aardvark. It’s very popular in the telephone book.

However, I’m not writing to you to discuss the alphabet, other than to apologise for getting to you so late in the peace and you’ll only have one day to join us on the journey, where we’ve been visiting Dead Artists from A-Z. Quite a few of these artists were influenced by Japanese art, so even though you stuck to more of a traditional Japanese style yourself, you might find it interesting to see how it’s been applied over in Europe by the likes of Edgar Degas and Van Gogh. By the way, you and Van Gogh are both into sunflowers in a big way, and they could be the start of a great friendship. Van Gogh was trying to set up an artists community in Arles in the South of France so maybe you could both join up with Gauguin and set something up near a dazzling field of sunflowers. Indeed, you might want to visit the festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture. They have 30 different species of sunflower so you’re bound to find at least one which inspires you.

“I write, erase, rewrite,
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms”

Issa

Focus, Rowena. Focus.

Thank goodness Issa whispered in my ear again…

“A world of dew,
And within every drewdrop
A world of struggle”

Shibata, I wanted to ask you why there is so much struggle, tragedy and heartache in our world. So many of the artists in this series have suffered enormous grief, sometimes through the loved ones they’ve tragically or prematurely lost, but many have also experienced a grief, a sadness, an inner torment which is simply the storm within. I know and understand that we can’t be happy all the time and that we need the interaction between misery and joy, happiness and sorrow to be able to experience joy much more intensely, but why does growth have to hurt so much?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Shibata Zeshin.

Dear Rowena,

The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders, Rowena. It is carried by the cranes. Leave them to it.

I’m not sure if anyone’s immune to suffering. But the world is also overflowing with such beauty. When your heart is heavy, turn your eyes outward and see creation all around you. Don’t let it slip through your fingertips. Yet, don’t hold onto it too tightly either or your destroy it. Simply hold it in the palm of your hand. Or, watch it through that camera lens of yours and absorb each and every particle until you’re one.

Many people used to tell me I did things my own way, which is why they called me “Zeshin” and it stuck. Do you really think there could be a way of planting sunflowers in people’s heads? Technology is so advanced in your world, anything’s possible. I just heard Van Gogh asking Gauguin to “Beam me up, Scotty” and he disappeared. I’m going next.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with another Haiku…

With dewdrops dripping,

I wish somehow I could wash

this perishing world

Basho

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

mouse Zeshin

 

References & Links

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

[2] http://artdaily.com/news/22655/Genius-of-Japanese-Lacquer–Masterworks-by-Shibata-Zeshin#.WucHPZdlNhE

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/planting-hope/

 

 

G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.

If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night

It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.

“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?[1]

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh  Arles, 17 January 1889

Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.

Or, so the story goes…

Meeting Vincent

Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.

In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.

In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.

A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.

Vincent and I were growing closer…

Starry Night MOMA

Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His Paintings

When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.

After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris.  The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.

Van Gogh’s Last Days

Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.

Vincent was only 37 years old.

If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:

Maldives Postage Stamps

Letter to Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.

Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is,  unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).

Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.

Your loving friend,

Rowena

Van Gogh Crows In A Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, Crows in a Wheatfield, Van Gogh Museum.

Letter From Van Gogh

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed.  Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.

By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!

Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.

However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:

“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”

That’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?

Your friend,

Vincent

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

[1] http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/571.htm

http://blog.vangoghgallery.com/index.php/en/2012/07/29/van-gogh-and-gauguins-chairs/

The Yellow House, Arles

 

Further Reading

https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/videos/10159187334010597/

DVD: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings.

Being creative, is rather like stacking Lego bricks of all shapes, colours and sizes together blind-folded and having no destination at the start. Much of the time, at least for me, there’s no “end” at the beginning. So, it was when it came to photographing the diminishing remains of our gingerbread house…a Christmas treat. I had no idea what a few simple photographs would become.

dsc_5485

The Gingerbread House in its Pristine State. Made by Bremen Patisserie, Australia.

Last night, after my daughter and I sliced off a few more walls of the gingerbread house, it looked like it had been bombed. The walls were barely upright and overnight the roof caved in and the house was all but destroyed. Yet, the little icing figurines were still smiling, which is a lot easier when you’re an icing figurine and your smile’s permanently drawn on.

Being the end of a year which many decreed an “annus horribilis”, I decided to photograph the crumbling gingerbread house and post it under the heading: “The End of the World”.

Rowena

Getting treatment in hospital a few years ago.

No doubt, I was subconsciously relating back to a few years in my life where I couldn’t wait for the calendar to flip over to the new year. Times when I could sense a dreadful, all-pervading terror permeating through my bones, invading each and every cell. It was vile. Fortunately, my situation turned around but I’ll never forget. Nor, am I meant to forget because that pain is a hand reaching out to those who are still in that house of horrors and maybe, just maybe, I can help ease someone out. After all, I have been there. I know a way.

Perhaps, that’s why I decided to photograph its demise. There was that sense of connection…recognition of an interior state reflected in its crumbling exterior.

At the same time, the ongoing demolition of the gingerbread house, had great comic appeal. What started out as a perfect work of art with its gingerbread walls, iced snow and gorgeous little icing people, was being eaten alive by yours truly relaxing in her chair with a cup of tea. I could see a children’s movie with me cast as the giant villain…Nightmare on Gingerbread Street.

Anyway, as I said, this post was going to read: “The End of the World”.

However, when I took the house outside and photographed it with the sunflower rising behind it like the sun, the post turned on its head and became: “New Beginnings.”

Suddenly, there was hope.

sunflower-and-hand

Holding the sunflower.

That was when things started bubbling away in that great melting pot inside my head. That place where one idea not only leads to another, but somehow they also melt and fuse together, making something new and ultimately significant.

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

You see, the sunflower growing in my backyard is no ordinary sunflower. Rather, it was grown from seeds salvaged from the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine. It’s grandparents witnessed the horror of that explosion in the sky and crashing devastation.

Yet, being sunflowers, they have no memory of that being passed down from generation to generation. Rather, oblivious to the past, their seeds keep falling to the ground, being eaten by birds and re-sprouting…ignorant.

While initially this might seem a better path, those aching memories also keep those who died alive in our hearts. Ultimately, as much as it hurts when we lose someone we love, we don’t want to forget. We don’t want to let go.

I didn’t take this photo thinking of the people living near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, a Ukrainian with their horrific, graphic memories set in stunning, sunflower fields. It was just like so many other creative  ideas. What started out as photographing the leftovers of our gingerbread house, metamorphosed into something else.

It was only when I saw the little family with the sunflower rising up behind them like the sun, that I thought of the people in the Ukraine.  I thought of the sun still rising and setting in the middle of their war torn homes, where a foreign plane fell like murdered bird from the sky. The plane and all its passengers and crew crashed into their backyards. That’s intimate, personal and sticks to your soul like glue.

I have never met and will never meet these people. There is nothing I can do as a distant Australian to ease their trauma and grief other than knowledge it with this photograph and send my love…the love of a stranger.

That is even though MH17 was shot down on  17 July 2014…two and a half years ago . Yet, just because these were civilian war time casualties, it doesn’t mean we’ll forget and ever stop striving for peace in our time and beyond.

Let’s keep sowing these seeds and helping them grow.

Love,

Rowena

PS I have wondered why my sunflowers don’t look like conventional sunflowers and thought they must’ve been a different type. However, when I saw the photo of the original sunflower in the field, they also had the broad centres, which grow into vast numbers of seeds. This does concern me.

So, today I went and bought two bags of enriched potting mix and have planted 3 seeds in a small pot, saved one seed and planted the rest of the seeds in a huge pot.

I never pictured myself as a sunflower farmer. Or, you could just called me a “Sunfarmer”.

It has a certain ring to me!

 

Sunflower…A Christmas Miracle.

This sunflower growing in my garden finally unfurled the last of its petals today. By the afternoon, it had turned its golden, yellow face towards the warm Australian sun, oblivious to the long and winding road which brought it here.

What it doesn’t know, is that it’s “grandparent” witnessed the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard.

Moreover, this sunflower doesn’t know that an Australian journalist and photographer salvaged seeds from the crash site and brought them back to Australia. These seeds were cultivated in quarantine and their seeds were posted out to family and friends of the victims.

may your sunflowers bloom

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

That’s why it’s extra special that the sunflowers are flowering for Christmas. It means so much!

How these seeds ended up in my garden is a long story, but I have been sharing their story on my blog. I have also taken the seedlings to local schools with a view of teaching the kids about compassion, kindness and how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a difference. I am a real believer in the strange, inexplicable love of a stranger. That as much as we expect our loved ones to be there in our hour of need, frequently we are touched by the love of a stranger who steps out of their comfort zone and is there for us. This is not so much heroism, and yet it is. We can all make a difference, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant we might feel. Every single one of us are movers and shakers, especially when we get together and the one becomes many.

sunflower-and-hand

What I particularly like about the sunflower story is that it perfectly illustrates that even in the depths of darkness and despair, even when the world seems swamped by violence, anger and hate there is still human kindness, love and compassion. There are still individuals who will stand up and be counted, even at the point of putting their own lives on the line.

That’s huge.

A few months ago, I received a request for sunflower seeds from a relative of the Malaysian pilot who was him in the attack. They’d lost their seeds when they moved and she was devastated and started search the web until she found me and the blog. That meant so much to me. I sent her 5 seeds and I hope they flourish. We’re keeping in touch.

I still have around 2o seeds which I’ll be planting shortly and I am doing my very best to produce plenty of seeds to take their message forward.

Although I didn’t know any of the people on board personally, I never want to forget them or what happened. Yet, I also remember how the love of two strangers reached out through the darkest of hours and gave love.

So, I will do what I can this Christmas to pass the message on.

xx Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share October 30, 2016.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share.

It’s already Sunday night for me and Monday’s looming ahead like a dreadful hangover. So, no coffee for me tonight and I recommend you also join me for something decaf.

How was your week? I hope things went well!

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This week I decided to package up the sunflower seeds and drove them up to show my daughter’s class. As her school is a 45 minute drive away, I carefully put the sunflower seedlings in a cardboard box and secured them with the seat belt. I wasn’t taking any chances. They arrived safely and I was quite thrilled with how the talks went. I spoke to my daughter’s class and the one next door largely about the importance of acts of kindness and how it only takes a small gesture to show we care. I spoke about how the journalist and photographer who salvaged the seeds from the war zone and brought them back to Australia via quarantine, took great risks so the family and friends of the MH17 tragedy could have a special reminder of their loves ones.

Wednesday, I attended the funeral of an absolutely beautiful lady from our Church. She was in her mid-70s and has been fighting cancer for about 6 years. Now, I can tell that she really fought that cancer like Gethsemane Sam with both barrels blazing. Yet, all that time she continued to look after her disabled daughter and be an active member of her family as well as the Church. She was well known for her cooking and made us a few meals when I’ve been sick as well as helping out with the kids through an after school kids’ club. There were times I used to drop them off and go straight home to bed and sleep the entire time they were gone. I really wasn’t well. So, you could well imagine what she meant to me and how much I loved and appreciated her from the bottom of my heart. I truly wish I could be more like her and fill her shoes. It’s rather intimidating, but I think people can pick up when your intentions were good even when your efforts fall short.

Thursday night, dancing started up for another term. Instead of ballet this term, our adult class is doing lyrical dance. No, this isn’t where you start singing as you dance around the room. Lyrical dance is a style that combines ballet and jazz dancing techniques. It is performed to music with lyrics so that it inspires expression of strong emotions the choreographer feels from the lyrics of the song. This style concentrates on an individual approach and expressiveness of such emotions as love, joy, and anger. It does not concentrate on the dancer’s precision of movement. http://www.omahaschoolofmusicanddance.com/what-is-lyrical-dance-15-interesting-facts-about-this-contemporary-style/

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The Scene of the Murder in Balmain.

Yesterday, I attended the awards ceremony for the local short story competition I entered a few months ago. I’d written a short story based on a murder in Sydney’s Balmain in 1903 and it had repressed memory and what I thought were some clever ideas and yet it didn’t even rate an Honorable Mention. I have to be honest and say I was pretty upset by the result but I’ve since revisited it and read more about writing short stories and have identified some changes.

How was your week? I hope it went well and that you also have a great week ahead.

xx Rowena

Sunflower Seedlings…Lessons in Kindness.

This morning, I carefully packaged the sunflower seedlings up into a protective box. It wasn’t Fort Knox but they looked safe, especially once I’d strapped them into the back seat with a seat belt. I know this might sound over the top and I don’t know if you can be a helicopter parent to plants. However, if you’ve been following the progress of the sunflower seeds, you’ll know these aren’t any ordinary sunflowers. These sunflowers seeds came from the site of the MH17 crash in the Ukraine in 2014. They’re incredibly precious!

 

That’s also why they were in my car.I wanted to share their story with my daughter’s class. Miss goes to school 45 minutes drive away from home and with my “creative” approach to driving, that was a very long journey up along the free and through bumper-to-bumper peak hour  traffic. Slam on the brakes…ouch.

Hence the seat belt!! Moreover, you could say the cardboard box was somewhat like one of those protective car seats you sit your toddler in. I wanted them to be so safe, that I could’ve bought a Volvo.

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The Sunflower Seedlings.

Of course, I could’ve left the sunflower seedlings safely at home but I felt there was something bigger at stake. That I didn’t need to wait until the flowers actually bloomed to share their message of kindness, love and reaching out even to complete strangers when tragedy strikes. That we all start out as seeds and with love, care and nutrients and we can grow up into someone gorgeous and productive, giving our seeds back to the earth, feeding the animals and helping to wipe away the dark clouds by simply being ourselves…nothing flash. I also thought of the teachers who were onboard and how they sowed those metaphorical seeds into so many students, who went on to carry their message forward. BUT…then I also think of all those beautiful passengers whose lives were tragically cut short…every day people who were just coming home from holidays. Of course, I think of the Maslin family who lost their three beautiful children and have created a foundation to raise money for children with dyslexia. I want to help sow those seeds too. After all, words are seeds and being able to read is something most of us take for granted.

So, as I watched the sunflowers poke their heads through the soil, I came to realise that  just the fact that the seeds had sprouted, was enough for them to speak. Tell their story.

The sunflower is extraordinary and I’ve always had a connection with them but not in the same way I have now.

In August 2014, commercial flight MH17 was shot down by terrorists in the Ukraine killing everyone on board. That plane which bore the brunt of so much anger and hate, crashed into a stunning field of sunflowers, a coincidence not lost on the media. Photos and footage appeared of the ugly scar carved into the sunflowers’ heart and photographer said that the sunflowers even turned their faces away from the wreckage.

Paul McGeough is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Senior Foreign Correspondent specialising in the Middle East. He’s accustomed to reporting on horrific events around the world, the same way the rest of us eat toast for breakfast. “When most people are running away from a place, photographer Kate Geraghty can usually be found running towards it.” Yet, they were guttered by what they saw and felt drawn to bring sunflower seeds back to Australia from the crash site to give to the families and friends of the victims.  They wanted to give them something to remember and honour their loved ones who weren’t soldiers fighting in a war. There weren’t going to be any medals. They were just everyday people going on a holiday.

Nothing more, nothing less.

The children making the love hearts.

Our children making the hearts cards we sent out. They look quite young now.

I received about 40 seeds and decided to share them with our local schools to create some kind of ongoing tribute of legacy for those who died.  However, I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year but I planted the first lot of seeds ten days ago and six have sprouted.

Of course, the seedlings arrived safely at school and I ended up sharing them with my daughter’s class and a year 6 class.  I also shared the letter I’d received with them wishing”May your sunflowers bloom” and the photo of the original plant in the Ukraine. I also had one of our red hearts stuck in there.

It was a simple story with a few precious props but the kids were riveted, sitting still and absorbing it all and asking questions at the end. I spoke to them about the kindness of the journalist and photographer salvaging the seeds and bringing them back to Australia via quarantine. I spoke about how we can feel powerless when someone is going through hardship and that though we can’t change anything, we can show we care through little things like a card. I also spoke about the importance of learning and literacy. Many of the Australians killed had been teachers and a little boy from Perth, Otis, had dyslexia and his family has set up a fund to raise money for dyslexia. I wanted them to appreciate that you can plant a plain, ordinary seed and when you nurture that seed, it can grow into something big, bold and colourful.

You can tell kids to be kind, keep their hands and feet to themselves, watch their language, and you might be lucky to see some change.However, I know these kids were changed by this story…a very simple story of plucking, sowing and nurturing the seeds  and I can’t wait to witness the harvest.

It is my hope that these sunflowers and their story will truly honour all those whose lives were tragically cut short through anger and hate and somehow carry their legacy forward.

While sowing a few seeds might not seem monumental and the sort of thing you’d ever expect to change the world, but I strongly believe they can!

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They’re sowing the seeds in our hearts!

xx Rowena

 

 

Sunflowers…Sowing the Seeds.

You wouldn’t believe how difficult it’s been for me to plant a few seeds.

That’s because these are no ordinary seeds.

These sunflower seeds were grown in Australian Quarantine from the seeds brought back from the MH17 crash site in the Ukraine.

You’ll no doubt recall MH17 was the Malaysian airlines flight, which was shot down over the Ukraine  on the 17 July, 2014.

Therefore, these seeds represent each precious individual whose life was tragically cut short through terrorism and war. More than that. They strangely represent hope. Hope that their legacy will gone on. A reminder that love conquers the grave and they won’t be forgotten. Faith that the goodness in people will triumph over the bad.

Personally, these seeds have come to have additional meaning about sowing goodness into our young people, especially the battlers, and helping them to grow up straight and tall on the inside.

Many of the Australians who died on board were teachers. Teaching isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation. It means having vision and seeing the sunflower blooming in each and every child…even before the seed has been planted. Ideally, that faith continues through the storms.That can be and usually is a very challenging, but also rewarding, thing.

The Maslin Family, who lost their three children in the crash, started a fundraiser in their memory for children with dyslexia. Their youngest son,Otis, had dyslexia and treatment is long term and expensive and so is diagnosis.

Putting all of these people together, the sunflowers for me came to mean giving kids who are struggling to read and learn that helping hand to do their best. Reading might always be difficult for them, but even if you can simply give someone the capacity to read, fill out forms and read the day to day stuff, it would change their world completely. It would set them free in ways those of us without dyslexia have never considered.

For some reason, this has become very important to me. It’s become my heart. Not because I’m a writer and I live, breath and devour words, but also because I know what it’s like to be on struggle street, not knowing if you’re ever going to get out.

Although quite different to dyslexia, I was born with hydrocephalus which went undiagnosed until I was 25. At that point, my neurological symptoms spiralled dangerously out of control. I couldn’t put my finger on my nose, was falling over a lot, forgetting the basics and getting the sequencing of basic tasks out of whack in a way that was almost funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. This increased pressure on my brain obviously wasn’t good.

Yet, I was lucky. I had surgery and had a shunt put in. Over time, most of my symptoms have eased and if it wasn’t for the auto-immune disease, I’d be back on my feet.

There is no surgery or quick fix to cure dyslexia and other learning difficulties. I guess that’s what I like about what the sunflowers represent. That you plant a small seed yet from that tiny thing,  big, bright happy sunflowers grow…yippee!!

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On Sunday, a year after receiving the sunflowers, we planted 12 seeds in a seed planter and we had a little ceremony out on the back lawn, using an upside down laundry basket as a table. We had our stunning red climbing rose in full bloom as a backdrop. Nothing symbolises love more than a red rose other than a human heart.

If you would like to read about the sunflower seeds, click here

I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year. Actually, this wasn’t anxiety but more of a reality check. That’s because I am a serial plant killer and our front yard is currently littered with dead bodies following my most recent splurge. I always vow to change but my track record speaks for itself.

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Mind you, sowing the seeds is only the beginning. Seeds don’t magically turn into sunflowers overnight. They require tender, loving care and that correct balance of wet and dry soil, sun and shade and exposure to the elements yet protection as well. My husband found the sunflower seeds inside the other day and said: “they’re meant to be sunflowers, not cave flowers”.

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Initially watering the seeds in the kitchen sink. Overdid it a bit.

So, now I’m watering them with the spray bottle morning and night and have covered them with a sheet of plastic creating a mini greenhouse and am leaving them out in the sun by day.

It’s only been four days so far. So, still too soon to see any shoots poking their heads through the soil but I’m doing my absolute best to help them along.

I hope you will join me on this journey.

BTW if you would like to find out more about the Mo, Evie & Otis Foundation or donate, please click here: Maslins Set Up Dyslexia Fund.

xx Rowena