For some time the idea of writing creative nonfiction shorts as a way of looking back at my life has been niggling at me. A recyclable phrase for a title, one my readers would remember and hopefully flock to, took a while to conjure up. But I finally heard it the other day, and I introduce you to a randomized series of creative nonfiction shorts called A Day in the Life.
An unexpected package arrived in the mail. A rather small, nondescript box addressed to me from my cousin in Tampa, Florida. As usual, I grabbed the mail, pulled further up the drive, and ran into the house to begin dinner.
The package kept calling to me. Once our evening meal was started, I unwrapped the box to see what surprises it held.
Under the exterior wrapping, I found a note. My cousin explained the box held some items she had recently found when going through her mother’s personal effects.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I removed a layer of white tissue paper.
I am honored today to have as my guest, Daisy Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place (read my review here). Daisy and I share a love of great art, both in painted and written form. Today Daisy writes about one of our favorite artists, Claude Monet, as she offers the history of a print she recently acquired as well as some of Monet’s own words with us.And now I give you Daisy and her beautiful post.
A Certain Certainty
Last year via the Art Institute of Chicago’s online information, I stumbled across a winter landscape that I loved immediately. I should have known it was a Monet. Drawn to Claude’s magnetic work for as long as I recall—Monet and the other great impressionists—I’m pretty sure I must have been around during this era of controversial artistic endeavor. In a former lifetime, you know!
“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” ~ Monet
Long story short, I bought the inexpensive print, had it framed, and find myself drawn to it a great deal. Never tiring of it, but always calmed and inspired by its quiet eloquence.
The original 1895 oil on canvas painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago – a gift of Bruce Borland – and though I’ve never seen it, I’m content to imagine its comforting presence.
But how did this wonderful painting come to be? What was Claude thinking as he created it?
Monet traveled to Norway in 1895: a trip that evolved into a difficult two-month campaign because of the harsh, winter conditions. Nonetheless, the ambitious painter captured 29 Norwegian scenes during this brief period. Reportedly, there were at least six views of Sandvika, a village whose iron bridge may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.
One of these views—inscribed, lower left: Claude Monet 95—is simply called Sandvika, Norway, 1895.
Stunning in its simplicity, the eye is immediately drawn to the touch of red – the various shades of blue, lavender, and charcoal. Clearly, it is a quiet winter day, yet, the distinguished artist managed to capture something more. This “something more” is what I ponder and explore when I gaze at this print – often before falling asleep at night.
Here is what I have to so far: the bridge is key, don’t you think? Who will cross it next, and why? Almost as if it’s waiting for someone to emerge from a warm house, maybe not until spring, maybe before. And the trees, bare and somewhat lifeless, yet also patiently in waiting. I should point out, though most of you already know, that Monet painted outside. This painting was no exception.
From the Art Institute of Chicago website: “Although he was somewhat perturbed by the interest taken in him by local painters, he probably added to his celebrity by stubbornly insisting on working outdoors in the poorest of conditions. He wrote to a friend in Paris: ‘You would have laughed if you could have seen me completely white, with icicles hanging from my beard like stalactites.’”
“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” – Monet
I agree with him here: We must dig and delve unceasingly. So this painting, as an inspiring focal point, will continue to be a welcome source of observation and reflection for me. There is a certain certainty about it, don’t you think? The unspoken promise of days to come. Warmer days, that is. But there is an air—an impression—of quiet contentment, as well. Remembering to value each breath, despite external conditions, comes to mind. Though winter, the painting is still bursting with life.
I’ve always felt that, as a writer, I am also an Impressionist. This is where I am most at home – when I’m capturing something more than black and white facts. In looking for that hidden, but enduring pattern, for an insightful observation that would be easily overlooked, for me, this gets us closer to the reality of our brief lives than the swirling sea of details that are entirely fleeting.
But, finally, we also can see in this painting the uncertain nature of life. Hidden lives under each white roof. Beginnings and endings alike. A sky that reveals little.
Monet lived from 1840-1926, yet, his endearing spirit is here with us now, and perhaps that is all we can really know about life. Everything changes, yet, nothing changes. Finding peace within paradox must be why I love this painting. Looking closely, I see that it’s all there. Life in subtle shades; life in constant flux; life being transformed moment by moment. Unseen, yet, felt.
Bravo, Monet. You captured my heart. ~
Thank you, Sherrey, for this lovely opportunity to share these thoughts on your inspiring blog. You are such a warm and generous friend. In the spirit of Monet, merci!
More about Daisy Hickman
D.A. (Daisy) Hickman is a poet, an author, and the 2010 founder of SunnyRoomStudio–a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits. Hickman holds a master’s degree in sociology from Iowa State University, and earned her bachelor’s degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. A member of the Academy of American Poets and the South Dakota State Poetry Society, Hickman is at work on her first poetry collection and on a memoir.
Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie was published in 1999 by William Morrow (Eagle Brook imprint. In 2014, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, the second edition of Where the Heart Resides, a 15th Anniversary Edition, was published by Capture Morning Press.
Today I am pleased to join Gwen Plano on her blog, From Sorrow to Joy–Perfect Love. Last week Gwen visited me, and now I have the privilege of visiting Gwen. I hope you’ll come over and read my post and take a look around Gwen’s blog.
Silenced Voices of Abused Children
A little spoken of tragedy in our world is the silenced voices of abused children. Voices silenced for a variety of reasons are a hindrance to well-adjusted lives and justice for these children. Their scars are invisible, etched in tiny hearts and minds forever.
I was born in 1946, the first year of Baby Boomers. Our parents adhered to firm rules of 1940s and 1950s etiquette and discipline. Mama and Daddy were firm believers in proper behavior from their offspring.
Some likely familiar phrases heard on a regular basis in our home included:
Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should not speak unless spoken to.
Children should stand when an adult enters or leaves a room.
Children will not talk back or sass their parents or other adults.
Children will not begin a conversation with an adult; always wait for the adult to start the conversation.
These are only a few of the rules laid down for children in our family and culture to follow. Some of these often heard rules instruct children to be silent in certain situations involving adults. These instructions lay a perfect foundation for silencing children who are victims of abuse.
Today it is my pleasure to introduce my guest, Susannah Birch. Thank you, Susannah, for sharing with my followers. In Susannah’s own words,
I’m passionate about women’s rights in childbirth, support for families of those who are mentally ill and domestic abuse prevention, particularly against men and children. I’m a freelance journalist, online marketer, blogger and content creator.
I am also a qualified birth doula. I’m an activist and survivor of childhood trauma & I’m currently preparing to publish my memoirs. I run a local writing group and manage the website and social media for the Toowoomba Writers’ Festival.
I’m going to change the world – watch me.
Join me in welcoming Susannah Birch to the blog.
It took me 25 years to forgive my mother for trying to kill me. It took me 11 of those years to realise that I had something I needed to forgive her for.
When I was two years old, my mother experienced her first bipolar psychotic episode and believed that she had been told by God to sacrifice me just as Abraham had been called to sacrifice his only son in the Bible. Unlike Abraham, nothing told my mother to stop and I sustained such serious injuries that my life hung in the balance. It was only because she came out of her psychosis enough to realise something was wrong, and ring the police, that local emergency services were able to get to me in time. [Trigger Warning]You can listen to the full story here.
My mother spent a year in a psychiatric hospital and then came home to live with my father and I. My father was assured that my mother was fine and although we lived with my paternal grandparents, I felt that my life was normal and that my mother was too. I could remember the event; I just assumed that because other adults accepted my mother’s current mental health, it was a onetime event outside anyone’s control, even my mother’s.
It wasn’t till my mother experienced a breakdown when I was 13, taking me to the other side of the country and changing her entire fashion style, beliefs and social habits that I started to realise something wasn’t right. My teenage years were confused attempts to find the mother I’d never had and at the same time push her out of my life for what she’d done to me.
I rushed into a relationship, marriage at 20 and then just a few years later, I had my first child. Instead of making me understand my own mother, it confused me even more. I didn’t understand how my mother could have done what she did, but I experienced graphic images in my head, imagining what would happen if some part of her was somehow in me. It wasn’t till years later that I’d realise this was just a facet of OCD and other issues that became more obvious after entering motherhood.
My relationship with my mother followed a pattern. I’d try and make contact in an attempt to find the mother I so very much wanted in my life. It’d always end in tears. Over the years I had a screaming match with her in the middle of a downtown area, hacked her Facebook account and messaged all her friends, refused to talk to her and yelled and swore at her.
I kept hearing how forgiveness would make me feel better, lift a burden off my shoulders, allow me to let go. All I felt when I thought of forgiving my mother, though, was that I’d be condoning her behaviour and admitting my own weakness.
In 2013 I read a book called Mummy is a Killer by Nikkia Roberson. It told the story of how Nikkia’s two siblings were killed by her mother. I finished the book in two days but the part that amazed me the most was that Nikkia had forgiven her mother. The first tiny piece of me started to question how I could take the same journey.
The day I forgave my mother came and passed without me even realising it. The first few tendrils of forgiveness didn’t feel like anything more than compassion, like walking in someone else’s shoes. My thoughts subtly changed from being about what she’d done to me to how she must feel, having done what she did. My anger started to change into something else. I thought of all the issues my mother had had over the years as she buried that traumatic day, tried to rewrite history and slid deeper into her illness in an attempt to erase her awful memories of what her own hands had done.
There is no simple journey to forgiveness. No one can tell you how to feel or how to forgive. It’s just something that happens, either as a culmination of learning and thinking or from slowly looking at the events that require your forgiveness.
I never believed that forgiveness was more about me than her, until I felt it. It’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t condone my mother’s actions and I still don’t have contact with her, but I’m at peace with what happened. And for the things I did to her on my journey to forgiveness, I feel that she needs to forgive me too. While what she did to me was outside her control, what I did to her wasn’t outside mine. Maybe, at some step on my future journey, we’ll both be able to find the answers and the forgiveness we’re both looking for, even if it’s not together.
Learn more about Susannah Birch ~
Susannah Birch is a freelance Journalist, online writer, blogger, birth doula, activist and survivor. She’s currently editing her memoirs. She has a loving husband, two daughters and is slowly piecing together how the events of her childhood changed her life. She talks a lot, writes a lot and likes to analyse and understand everything around her. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.