Tag Archives: The Scream

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

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

monet_portrait_photo_orangerie

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

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

 Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

-John Keats, excerpt Ode to Melancholy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of his wife Camille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

Further Reading

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

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

 

 

Adversity…Your Response.

Overcoming severe adversity is a major challenge. Yet, we hear so many stories about survivors overcoming monumental hurdles to achieve the seemingly impossible and others who turn their grief into action. They bring about change so no one else will know their anguish.

Mary Batty, Australian of the Year 2015, was a classic example. She has pulled off monumental changes in legislation after her beloved son was killed by his father through domestic violence.

Intrigues me how people can function after such loss and I quite liked this little parable I came across during the week. It somehow seems to explain how people respond using a very simple analogy but offers great insight.

Well, at least I think it does.

Here it is:

……..

Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed. Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire.

Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot and ground coffee beans in the third pot. He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.

Turning to her, he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?” “Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she hastily replied.

“Look closer”, he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft.

He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity-the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently. The potato went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak. The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard. However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which one are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Any thoughts? I’ve been a potato, egg and a coffee bean at different times…as much as I would like to say I was always the coffee bean!

Hope you are having a great week!

xx Rowenaa

Grappling With Fear… the Making of Courage.

What is your greatest fear?

Today, we move onto the second question in the Proust Questionnaire, a tool many writers use to develop their character’s back story. Since I am the main character of the Book Project, I am going through the Proust Questionnaire myself and loving it.

While there are times most of us might struggle with even the concept of happiness (question 1), I’m sure most of us know fear. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, you could be well have your very own A-Z of fears, which you could could rattle off in a jiffy.

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

When I first started thinking about fear, I started revisiting those dreadful moments where I was completely paralyzed and clearly an emotional wreck. However, the more I worked through fear, I came to appreciate that fear is an inherent ingredient in its flip side…courage.

After all, without fear we can not be brave.

Consequently, instead of denigrating fear as an emotion and seeing it as purely negative, we can also re-brand it as a positive, uplifting emotion. That through embracing fear, challenge and overcoming hurdles, we find our inner strength and experience personal growth.

Getting back to answering the question at hand, of course, I could easily give you a simple one or two word response but where’s the fun in that? As much as I don’t really feel like exploring fear in all it’s goosepimpled glory, looking fear in the face and really feeling those emotions, that is the essence of writing.Immersing yourself into the character, the experience until you live and breathe through it’s heart, lungs and soul.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

After all, writing, good writing, is not about skating over the top of the iceberg. No, it’s about diving deep and dealing with the unexpressed, the hard to comprehend, those feelings which are so incredibly painful that any sane sole would stay well and truly away. Yet, we plow on. We can’t leave those pages unturned…despite the personal cost!

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

While I posted a wide range of photos to show my happiest moments, my most fearful moments haven’t really been photographed and even if they were, they wouldn’t necessarily show the inner mechanics of fear which are perhaps concealed behind a seemingly calm veneer, a nervous smile or talking a thousand miles an hour to somehow calm my nerves.

However, when I truly think of fear, utter panic and all those alarm bells going off at once, there’s no greater representation of that enormous fear than Munch’s: The Scream. I actually have it near my desk, waiting to be framed and stuck on the wall. You see, I know that scream, the freak out very, very well.

Yet, although fear is portrayed as a bad thing and something to be avoided, fear is also part of any new experience, especially one which really stretches and challenges us, taking us out of our comfort zones creating growth.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

One of my greatest personal triumphs was skiing down Perisher’s Front Valley with my ski instructor despite having a life-threatening, disabling auto-immune disease which attacks my muscles and lungs. I still remember standing at the top of the mountain gripping onto the edge by the skin of my toes, totally overwhelmed by a tsunami of fear. At the same time, I’d joined up with the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and my instructor was well-trained and experienced at enabling people like me to ski as independently as possible but with support. Probably the very worst part of it was looking over the edge and seeing how small the village was down below and how the car park was full of “ants” and I felt like I was about to fly off the edge of a cliff into abyss.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

TS. Eliot

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent Van Gogh

Eventually, after a few falls and needing to stop to catch my breath, we arrived at the bottom. It didn’t feel like the exuberant triumph I’d expected but I’d pulled off my dream. Fulfilled a goal. Moreover, as much as I was afraid, I didn’t let that fear stop me from truly living. From seizing the day with both hands and swinging from the chandelier, even if my joy was, at best, subdued.

At the same time, I must confess that I haven’t skied down Front Valley a second time. That view from the top and the steepness of the slope was too much but I’ve subsequently skied through Happy Valley a few times and this time decided not to look down. Plus, my instructors carried my skis and boots back while I could the chairlift. (So you don’t have to go through fearful situations alone!)

“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

I was also terrified when I was having my first session of chemo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s pretty scary having toxic stuff pumped into your veins…even if it is in a hospital. I half expected my veins to blow up, which naturally didn’t happen and I didn’t throw up or lose my hair either. I was suddenly somehow “lucky”.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

However, another important aspect of going through fear and surviving those nasty experiences is that we develop resilience and we start developing the skills and attitudes which enable us to overcomes adversity not just now and then but every day. After all, life is all about tackling ups and downs and standing only makes you stagnant.

“By adversity are wrought the greatest works of admiration, and all the fair examples of renown, out of distress and misery are grown.”

Samuel Daniel

So, even when fear is completely and utterly justifiable in a situation, the monstrous picture your imagination paints is often far worse than reality and you somehow manage not only to survive but feel a bit victorious…a real sense of achievement.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”

Sophocles

Phobias are a different story. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Phobias come in all shapes and sizes but spiders, snakes, mice, heights are a few classics. While it is good to have a healthy respect for deadly critters(trust me Australia has more than its share of these!!), being terrified of these things and letting them get in the way of living is a different story.

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them”.

Andre Gide

Jaws...even the theme music inspired dread.

Jaws…even the theme music inspired dread.

At the same time, fear can also be protective and what might be a phobia can also be a real and very life-threatening. It’s not something to simply shrug off and ignore. I’ve never been scared of sharks but lately there’s been a string of shark attacks on Australia’s East Coast. Indeed, there’s been 13 shark attacks in New South Wales in 2015*. We’ll be off to Byron Bay again soon, which is right near a few of these attacks and it really is questionable whether we should swim in these shark infested waters. Do we love swimming that much? I don’t think so but I will seek local advice when we get there. To me, this is just being sensible…the same way I would go swimming with croco9diles in the Northern Territory.

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

Rabindranath Tagore

The more I considered fear, the more I came to realise that fear was also coupled with courage, especially when we face our fears, instead of fleeing to the hills. Being prepared, having some training, tools etc obviously increases the likelihood of victory and a good outcome.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

What are your thoughts about fear and the interplay between fear and courage?

xx Rowena

Sources:

https://taronga.org.au/conservation/conservation-science-research/australian-shark-attack-file/2015

A Line in the Sand…

I apologise for taking the easy way out today. I usually go to great lengths to provide a striking photo or image to illuminate my posts. However, I had a big day yesterday so I’m just making do.

That’s a story in itself.

Living only 700 metres from the beach, you’d think that I could just hit the beach and draw a real line in the sand to get a great image for my blog. After all, the beach is so beautiful. It’s hardly an effort! Our beach has stunning views across to Palm Beach and Pittwater with the beautiful Lion Island majestically rising from the surf.

The Beach

The Beach

Surely, going to the beach isn’t a chore?!!

I even have a few ideas about how I could draw my line in the sand if only I could get down there.

I’m thinking driftwood. Driftwood sounds so poetic. I can’t help wondering how far that precious lump of wood has travelled or where it’s come from. Of course, I’m assuming that it has come from somewhere really exotic. It’s journeyed thousands of kilometres enduring sun, rain and storms to get here. I can see it now… that small piece of wood bobbing up and down being tossed by the waves as it traversed the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It’s travelled all the way to Australia from one of the Pacific islands like Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands. Or maybe, it’s from South America or even deepest, darkest Peru. That sounds even more exotic. However, given the direction of the ocean currents, it would have needed a good outboard motor to get here! It would be drifting against the flow.

In all likelihood, however, my precious piece of driftwood probably comes from Woy Woy and hasn’t travelled far at all. It’s just a scraggly piece of eucalypt and doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Gum trees might be exciting if you’re a koala bear or you’re not from around here but for me, they’re “common”.

Getting back to photographing my line in the sand, I could also be very pragmatic and just draw a line in the sand with my finger or photograph a tidal mark where the ocean has etched its own line in the sand.

As I said, it wouldn’t take long and it wouldn’t take much effort for me to just jump in the car and take a few photos. I wouldn’t even need to walk.

However, today I’m recovering from a hectic trip to Sydney where I somehow managed to squeeze in Les Miserables before I had my transfusion at the hospital. It was a very long day and I’m feeling like a flaccid balloon lying flopped on the sand. I’m spent. It usually takes me a few days to bounce back from these treatments.

So you’ll just have to put up with my photo of a line of sand drawn onto a boring piece of computer paper instead. You’ll have to apply your own imagination today.

Have you ever thought about what it actually means to draw a line in the sand? Yes, I know it means making a permanent change in your life, a turning point. However, it now seems strangely ironic referring to a permanent change in your life as “a line in the sand”. I mean, poetically speaking, the beach usually represents fleeting transience where dreams, like sandcastles, are washed away even before they’ve even been made. We’ve all been there and experienced that heartbreak.

I quite like Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam:

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

Anyway, I have drawn a line in the sand only my line is permanent…etched in sandstone perhaps!

I am no longer going to worry about things that don’t need to be worried about. I’m not saying that I’m eliminating fear and worry from my life completely. It’s just a case of no more worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about.

You see, yesterday I worked myself up into such a worried frenzy over catching a bus to the local train station, that I realised I need to make some drastic changes.  I am tempted to humour you a little and say that I’ve decided to avoid catching the bus but I won’t. I’ll behave.

In many ways, yesterday’s stress was self-inflected. My transfusion was at 2.00PM and I had plenty of time to get down to Sydney. I didn’t need to stress. However, I’d decided to squeeze in seeing Les Miserables on the way and I would literally be squeezing it in too. The movie went for 2 hours 38 minutes and when I checked the train time table, that only left me ten minutes to walk from the station to the hospital.  I’m a slow walker and there’s a very steep hill right at the hospital which is just great for sick people…especially sick people who are running late!

There was also a much bigger problem with squeezing in Les Miserables. I had to leave home at 8.30AM to catch the bus which meant getting the kids to school half an hour early. School starts at 9.00 AM and we have been unofficially late all term. I’ve been sneaking the kids into assembly or even worse, catching up with the class when they go for their run. Although they’re technically late, they haven’t called the roll yet so they’re “on time” by the skin of their teeth. This means they don’t need a late note. The kids don’t seem to mind being late. They can stall and procrastinate as much as they like. I’m the one who is going to get busted by the powers that be somewhere high up in the Education Department if these late notes start mounting up. We don’t need a visit from the inspector at our house! No! No! No!

If I was more pragmatic, I would have waited for Les Miserables to come out on DVD. However, I’d decided that I really wanted to see it on the big screen. I don’t get to the movies very often and I very rarely buy a DVD. Moreover, I haven’t watched many of the DVDs I’ve bought. There have been movies which I’ve really wanted to see that have just passed me by because… There usually isn’t a good reason. So this made me really determined to get to Les Miserables…especially as Hugh Jackman used to be the local heartthrob when I was at school and I really wanted to hear him sing (ha!).

But like so many things in life, getting to Les Miserables and to my transfusion was going to take military planning and precision. Sadly, I’m no General.

Step 1…Getting out of the house.

Thank goodness we made it out of the house on time and despite a few last minute protests, I managed to get the kids through the gate with only minutes to spare.

Step 2…Catching the Bus.

Somehow, I managed to turn this simple step into a network drama.  I should have listened to Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…not with a flapping panic attack!

The drama began when I noticed that Bus 53 was already across the road at the bus stop when I pulled up. Yes, I knew it was the wrong bus at the wrong time but there was still this doubt. That “what if”? Instead of sticking to my guns, I started to doubt myself. Doubt the bus. These doubts only got worse when I realised that there were two bus stops across the road from the school and I didn’t know which bus stop was right. My confusion further intensified. Fortunately, there was a time table and yes, bus 70 did stop here. At that point, I should have heaved a sigh of relief but no. When it came to visiting panic stations, today I was travelling all stops. I started to wonder whether my watch was on time. That bus 53 was still bugging me as well. Had I made a mistake? Was I in the wrong spot? Was bus 70 ever going to turn up? Was I going to miss my train and miss the movie? Was this going to be the very end of my life?

In case you haven’t realised, I don’t catch buses very often. We’ve been living here for 12 years and I caught my first bus 3 weeks ago so I’m not used to them at all. I much prefer trains. Trains run on tracks. Rightly or probably wrongly, I feel a train has to turn up eventually whereas buses, being more free range, seem more unreliable. Not being on a track, they can do whatever they like and I don’t feel entirely 100% confident that a bus is going to turn up. I know that’s silly, especially when the trains are notoriously late and rails are nowhere near as reliable as they seem!

So there I am standing at the bus stop. I’m not jumping up and down on the spot or anything else that would betray my inner frenzy but by this stage all this worry was going round and round in my head like a Greek dance. You know how the music starts out soft and slow at first but speeds up getting faster and faster until it reaches fever pitch and the music is flying! Really flying! I was caught up in a frenzied vortex of pure fear…all about waiting for a stupid bus which wasn’t even late!

Of course, I forgot to breathe deeply.

I also forgot all my relaxation visualisations like picturing a smooth calm lake.

All I could see was a drowning woman. A woman drowning in waves of utter panic. That woman was me.

My goodness…all this stress over a stupid bus! A bus that isn’t even running late…yet!

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

Then, I spot a plover across the road. It steps off the curb and plants itself in the middle of the road and it’s strutting its stuff defending its turf….no doubt against any passing cars and of course, my bus! The plover looked absolutely ridiculous. It was taking on a battle it simply couldn’t win. I mean a plover versus a bus…it’s a bit of a no brainer!

Just in case you haven’t encountered a plover, these territorial birds are a bunch of thugs which have invaded our school playground. They’re vicious, mean and nasty and they have poisonous spurs in their wing tips. To be fair, however, the kids persistently chase the poor birds so it’s hardly surprising they’re hostile. It’s war!

Yet, there I was waging my own war which was equally ridiculous. Had I missed the bus? Was I waiting at the right stop? Would the bus pull up on time? Would the bus arrive at all? It was madness.

As I stared at the plover taking on its invisible foe, I saw myself in the mirror especially when the bus turned the corner right on time and pulled up at my stop. I climbed on board without incident. Nothing blew up or went terribly wrong. The bus also stopped at the other bus stop further down the street and it even arrived on time at the station with minutes to spare before my train pulled in.

I had been through all that self-induced stress for absolutely no reason…no reason at all!

At that point, I drew a metaphysical line in the sand and decided that in future my worries had to be real. That I wasn’t going to allow myself to worry about non-worries ever again!!

You might recall my story about the bird which became trapped in my house and how it reduced me to a quivering, shaking lump of jelly.

I thought I’d moved forward on the fear front since then and that I’ve been doing really, really well. I’ve driven to Morpeth. I’ve even driven over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can’t help thinking it’s a bit crazy that this whole situation of waiting for a simple bus brought me down. I’d have no trouble playing my violin or even singing in public. It’s not like I’m afraid of my own shadow or even that I’m afraid of all the usual things that freak people out. I’m not even bothered by spiders. For some reason, it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to have a crippling phobia of spiders but it’s not so cool to be afraid of missing the bus.

This is going to be an interesting journey of discovery. How do I distinguish between a real worry and a fake worry? What steps am I going to take when I encounter a fake worry to ensure I don’t take it onboard and catastrophise over a total non-event?

I don’t know.

Actually, I do know a few things like practicing my deep breathing and doing my relaxation visualisations. I can also watch my self-talk and try to nip the anxiety spiral in the bud. I could also ask myself whether this is a life and death situation. What is the worst that would happen, for example, if I had missed my bus? Not much! I could have driven myself to the station and I might have even found a parking spot. I could also have asked just about anyone from the school for a lift. Most people would have been happy to help. I might have missed out on the movie but I would still have had plenty of time to get to the hospital. Missing out on Les Mis would have been a disappointment but it was hardly a matter of life and death.

Step 3: Les Miserables

Yes, I actually managed to see Les Miserables on the big screen. I loved the movie but it was very, very sad in parts. I particularly enjoyed Ann Hathaway’s performance as Fantine and Hugh Jackman was great. Russell Crowe’s character was so despicable that I can’t really look favourably on Crowe’s acting ability.

I managed to buy myself a pie en route to the station. This wasn’t just any ordinary pie but for all the wrong reasons.

Step 4. Catch the train from Hornsby to St Leonards.

This is where the real life and death stuff actually took place.

I was eating my meat pie on the train when I started to choke. I’m not just talking about a little choke either. I think I’d inhaled some of the pie into my lungs and due to my muscle weakness, I was having trouble clearing it out. I was barking and barking trying to clear my chest and nothing was working. I was coughing and coughing and coughing. I had a bottle of water in my bag…a standard inclusion for long trips. The water probably helped but I was in real trouble this time. The coughing just wouldn’t stop and we’d gone through several stations. I think we’re talking about something like 10 minutes of solid choking by this point.

Anyway, there I am on the train. It is early afternoon so the carriage is almost empty. I am sitting on my own so I couldn’t just reach out to someone easily to get some help. In many ways, I was trapped inside myself, which would have been quite awful if this sort of thing hadn’t happened to me before. I haven’t choked quite this badly in the past but I wasn’t really worried. I just wanted the coughing to stop.

I’m still coughing. I feel like I’m going to be sick, possibly the only way to dislodge this thing. At the same time, my nose is starting to run in sympathy and the situation is desperate.  You know how it is when your nose screams out. It demands immediate relief!

So there I am coughing my lungs out and trying to hold my nose in while the girl sitting in front of me is applying her mascara. I can see her peering at her eyelashes in a little hand mirror. She doesn’t seem perturbed by my coughing at all. She doesn’t flinch and certainly doesn’t turn around.

Now, I could make a bit of a judgement call and say that she doesn’t have much of a social conscience and certainly doesn’t apply the Golden Rule (or even the Inverse Golden Rule). I could also make some comment about how you could die on a train in Sydney and no one would offer to help you. That might all be very true but I will be more charitable. If you weren’t medically trained or if you didn’t have any experience of choking yourself, would you know what to do or how to respond? It’s only now that I’m writing about this experience that I have remembered the Heimlich manoeuvre. This is an emergency technique for preventing suffocation when a person’s airway (windpipe) becomes blocked by a piece of food or other object. I haven’t thought about this since Mothers’ Group. When I Googled it both to remember what it was called and the procedure, I found out that you can actually perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself. This was a great discovery which is very empowering for me and also helps to reduce a source of real, very legitimate fear. Knowledge is power and for me this knowledge could save my life. Remember, I have muscle weakness so this is good to know.

Anyway, even though I am sharing this story with you from the comfort of home and you already know that I’ve survived, myself the character is still choking on that train and is about to have a serious nasal explosion.

So we must return and please bring a tissue along with you.  I still need it.

Next, I did something truly disgusting. Something which I wouldn’t even confess to one of my closest friends, let alone broadcast to the entire World Wide Web. I blew my nose on the white paper bag which had housed my pie. I will emphasise that the paper bag was clean. It looked like a tissue and it was a much better option than my sleeve. I didn’t have time to get off the train and I just didn’t feel that I could ask anyone on the train for a tissue. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on them or on me. It was just how I felt at the time.

I’ve now made a mental note to put a packet of tissues in each of my handbags. This is not the first time I’ve been caught out and it’s time I learned.

Another line has been etched in the sand.

Step 5: The Hospital

Somehow, I arrived at my transfusion pretty much on time. All that stress had all been rather superfluous. Superfluous in terms of me getting anywhere on time but not in terms of having detrimental effect on my wellbeing. Stress in itself is a killer.

But I’ve now drawn a line in the sand, there is no turning back. I’ve raided my bookshelf and it’s time to finally read: Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and Dale Carnegie’s: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

The Secret to a Happy Dog!

I think the dog must have read these books already. He’s quite a happy dog and he’s had a great day. He went for a drive in the car and had some leftover pizza for dinner. He may not be getting any thinner but he’s happy!

He's a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

He’s a smart dog. He even managed to get it on sale.

xx Rowena

PS I found this photo on file. Not a bad line in the sand after all.

A line in the sand quite different to what I'd envisaged.

A line in the sand quite different to what I’d envisaged but I like it.

The Scream

Today, I’m trying a bit of reverse psychology. Instead of regurgitating a motivational textbook to myself, I’m going for the scream…an endless scream from somewhere deep inside my heart, deep inside my soul. A scream something like a cross between Tarzan swinging through the jungle and natural childbirth. We’re talking intense! A real scream!

As much as you would expect such a scream to be spontaneous, it actually takes a bit of forethought and planning. After all, you just can’t stand on some street corner screaming your lungs out and not expect to find yourself in some kind of lock-up facility.

That’s not the kind of time out that I’ve been looking for.

I suppose I could always go bush and find a good cliff face and let my scream waft across some deserted gully.

However, I’ve taken the easy way out. I’ve ordered a copy of Munch’s: The Scream to put on the wall near my desk. That way, when I feel like screaming, I can look at the picture and somehow release those emotions in silence.

I know The Scream might seem a bit “dark” or “intense”, however, I have a lot of “uppers” around the house. Things designed to cheer me up and get me through the day…a cyclamen plant on the kitchen table. There’s the kids’ rainbow drawings and of course, my teacups. As much as it’s great to be positive, I don’t believe you just have to hide all your negative thoughts under the bed. They need an outlet as well. I wouldn’t recommend filling your place up with negative energy but having something concrete that represents your inner pain doesn’t seem like such a bad idea although I’m obviously not professional. I just need to represent both sides of the coin. I have good days and bad days just like anybody else and I want to express and deal with that instead of choking up. That’s not being negative.  Perhaps, in a funny kind of way, it ends up being neutral.

I have a very positive, upbeat attitude most of the time but there’s nothing wrong with getting cranky about our negative circumstances. I know people hate whingers but you can’t just keep pouring all those negative emotions down your throat like a toxic cocktail. After all, where does it all go? How will it get out? Believe me, it does come out and perhaps instead of closing the door and having a good private scream, you’ll go off your head at someone you love who just happened to spill the milk on the tablecloth or left their toy in the walkway, wouldn’t get dressed or put their shoes on.

You can only take so much!

If you are a ticking clock, one day you will either explode or implode. I know I have imploded and all that energy went into my body…kaput! Too much! My body couldn’t take it.

I expected too much of myself.

Why do we insist on being super heroes? Putting on our capes and leaping off tall buildings and getting upset when shock horror we finally realise we can’t actually fly?

Somehow we need to stop running around being all happy happy joy joy all the time. Be honest about how we really feel… especially to ourselves. We don’t need to broadcast our business to the world but we can bring someone else inside our grief, our disappointments and frustrations.  They’ll cope. Helping other people actually helps people feel better. They usually love to do it.

Yesterday, I caught the train down to Sydney. I was struggling but I had my walking stick with me and people understood and gave me a hand.  They didn’t know my story. They were just happy to help in their own small way. I felt a bit like Paddington Bear and half expected to find a half-eaten jar of marmalade in my bag but that was okay. It was lovely to enjoy a touch of human kindness!

I know it takes a lot for me to reach out and ask for help and I only do it when I really, really have to but…

  1.  I’m not a super hero. I don’t have to be.
  2. I am human and that’s okay.
  3.  I don’t need to go through this alone.
  4. People love me.
  5. They are happy to help.
  6. I just need to let them.
  7. I can also help myself.

This all sounds great. Only one obstacle remains…me! I have to let myself go.

Postscript

Writing this post has actually been quite cathartic. I’m currently on 50 mg of prednisone , which is enough to turn a meditation guru into some sort of crazed axe murderer.

It certainly does nothing to build your sense of inner peace and tranquility.

I’m also angry because my auto-immune disease has flared thanks to a bad case of the flu. All the warning lights are starting to flash and there’s talk of hospital admission. On top of all of that is life…getting the kids to put their shoes on, the dance concerts, physie competitions. Life doesn’t stop because you’re struggling. Life and you go on.

But it’s only human to want to stop, scream and explode sometimes. That’s okay.

I’d like to share what ultimately happened to my inner scream. It is a bit quirky and even I think it’s “out there”.

I had been thinking about Munch’s The Scream all day and looking at it on my computer. I was also thinking about where you could actually go to have a good scream. Let it out without being locked up. Through this process, I actually visualised myself standing at Echo Point  at Katoomba and watching myself screaming all the way across the Jameson Valley. (I’d have to do that after dark because the place is jam-packed with tourist buses all day and these moments do need to be private!!)

Then the most amazing thing happened and I wasn’t consciously trying to turn these negative emotions into a positive. I was just angry. However, while I’m watching myself standing on the edge of the cliff, suddenly a black crow flies out of my mouth and soars across the Jameson Valley and disappears.

We had seen a lot of black crows down at Perisher recently. It was quite a macabre and liberating experience. Crows are the weirdest looking birds and if I had to choose my inner bird it would be something like a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, a Rainbow Lorikeet or even a Galah. How bizarre! How bizarre! How bizarre!

How can you possibly stay mad when you see this crazy image?

The last word goes to Homer Simpson. When I looked up The Scream on eBay, I found this version with Homer Simpson in it. That definitely turned my anger on its head. I had to laugh.

Any comments? I would love to get some discussion going on my blog!!

xx Rowena