Last Friday there was news that some original Goya etchings had been found in a French chateau as they were going through their extensive library, probably conducting an audit for the first time in generations. (We all know how out of control our book buying habits can get, right?) What amused me most is that the report said the name of the chateau was Montigny. It is such a common place name in France that I can do a whole Friday Fun post with nothing but chateaux of that name. [Unless otherwise specified, all the pictures are from the websites of the chateau in question.]
While having dinner with a couple of friends this weekend, I said I was fed up of my limbo situation and that it’s high time things moved on. Other than reassurances that things are bound to change soon and that nothing but death is permanent, this statement also gave me a germ of an idea for further research. People who have not had any religious education whatsoever (like me) tend to glibly assume that limbo and purgatory are much the same thing, and that they refer to ‘transition states’. However, the truth is of course much more complex. Needless to say, it’s the Catholics who have raised the subject to an art form so I will refer mainly to their interpretation. (I always associate Catholic doctrine with the Baroque – they do like to overcomplicate things but can lead to stunningly beautiful results – but that’s a topic for a different post.)
Limbo is not part of the official doctrine, but has been accepted by many Catholic scholars as the temporary state of those worthy people (who perhaps committed some minor sins but no more than that) who could not enter Heaven until redeemed by Jesus Christ. So, essentially those who were born before the birth of Christ and therefore could not have heard of him or been saved by him are in a waiting room.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante depicts Limbo as the first circle of Hell, but above it, a castle stuffed to the gills with virtuous pagans of classical history and mythology, such as Julius Caesar, Virgil, Electra and Orpheus, as well as non-Christians.
Purgatory is for those souls who have sinned, and are not sufficiently free of their sins (i.e. have not prayed enough or led a life of penance) to go to heaven. The outcome (heaven) is not in doubt, but they have to pass through a sort of spiritual car-wash to get there.Except, this being all biblical and fearsome, the cleansing is done through painful punishment, most often by fire.
Dante likens it to climbing a steep mountain, with seven levels of suffering (one for each of the seven deadly sins), which are also opportunities for spiritual growth. Earthly paradise – the Garden of Eden – awaits at the top and let’s hope that it is serpent-free or else you might have to start the long ascent all over again.
So, which one of these states am I in?
At first glance, it must be purgatory, although the final outcome of heaven may seem in some doubt. Certainly all of my deadly sins are taking a pummeling: Pride is being shattered through daily rejections, which provokes Wrath and Gluttony (a lot of nervous comfort eating). I become envious of others who seem to lead normal lives and have become really stingy with my money for fear of losing it all (avarice). Finally, there are days when sloth gets the better of me and I am so struck by the futility of all of my efforts, that the best policy is to just stay under the duvet.
But there are even worse days when I think limbo is the operative word after all. Waiting with no end in sight. For someone as impatient and active as myself, this seems very much like the entrance-way to hell.
So what advice can I offer myself (and anyone else who is impatient but stuck in a transition stage)? Don’t worry, I’m not going all ‘wise coaching guru’ on you. I’m just reminding myself, because I haven’t cracked it yet, by any means. [Warning: Mixed metaphors may follow.]
Find small things to enjoy in the present but also things to look forward to in the near future. A combination of mindfulness and anticipation.
I still try to keep on filling that biscuit tin with little scraps of paper on which I scribble things that have made me happy. Most recent example: surviving a 7 mile walk through forests, up and down hills, despite the rain and mud.
But I also try to have at least one thing to look forward to every week. This week, it will be quite a major thing: a whole day in London, taking in London Book Fair, meeting up with several friends, and a poetry reading in the evening. Other weeks, it’s been something much smaller: a film, dinner with friends, a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages.
2. Stop being afraid of not being in control at all times.
Yes, lack of control is horrible for most of us, but there are times when external circumstances really do push us in ways we cannot do much about, no matter how many self-help books we read or how many times we are told that we become what we think.
Two things help me gain perspective. First, I ask myself: is it worth losing my health, sleep and sanity over this problem? Secondly: When they write my obituary, how many lines are they going to give to this part of my life? Am I going to let it define me?
3. Allow yourself time to get those feelings off your chest.
Rant, rave, throw stuff around, cry, do weird ritual dances and recite incantations and curses. Just do in the privacy of your home or somewhere in a forest where no one can see you, and in front of no one else. And, although friends say they want to be there for you, by the time you tell them the same story for the tenth time, they will almost certainly find something better to do.
Better write it all down, to someday make a masterpiece of it, when the distance is there.
4. It’s OK to take a day off, to not be constantly in the driving seat. Postpone without guilt. An hour in bed with a good book can make all the difference. Don’t even bother to review it – so freeing, isn’t it?
5. Yet the longer we wallow in the mud, the harder it becomes to get out of it. As Epictetus said, we can only control our internal mind, not the external world, which we can (at best) only hope to influence. Do you really want to go down in history as the ‘eternal victim’?
6. The key is not to get what we want, but to want what we get…
Yeah, I know, me neither, I don’t have any idea how to go about that. Especially since many of my problems seem to come from far too low expectations of others, and unreasonably high expectations of myself. Besides, what if you get nothing and more nothing and another week of nothing… for months?
There we go again, I can feel that Wrath building up again. So perhaps it is best if my advice list ends right here.
High ceilings, large windows, light and airy rooms with a minimalist feel and minimum fuss and clutter are my favourites… in theory. When it comes to home libraries, however, I have a marked preference for the dark and sombre – much like my reading.
What better way to celebrate a thousand blog posts since February 2012 than by sharing memorable thousands I have seen elsewhere?
1001 Nights – one of the best collection of stories anywhere – the original page-turner
2. A burger with Thousand Island dressing (which I pretended to like in my youth, but time is too short for me to ever befriend mayonnaise).
3. Will I finally read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, about an intergenerational friendship between Afghan women, a book about which I’ve heard many good things? (Why oh why am I so reluctant to read bestsellers though?)
4. Certainly not a bestseller, but this looks very interesting:One Thousand White Women: The Journal of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. It’s based on a true story about pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians, in an effort to assimilate them.
5. Admire the art project with anthropological flair: One Thousand Shacks. Tracey Snelling has created a multimedia sculptural installation depicting shantytowns from around the world.
6. 1000 Meere (or 1000 Oceans) – a song by German band Tokio Hotel. They’ve recorded this song in both English and German and I love the difference in voice timbre when singing in the two languages.
7. Anne of the Thousand Days – a film I loved in my childhood about the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, with Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold.
8. New film just out: One Thousand Ropes directed by New Zealand-Samoan film director Tusi Tamasese has been presented at the Berlin Film Festival. This seems to be a film for our times, questioning notions of masculinity and toughness in a traditional society.
9. One for One Thousand literary magazine (1:1000) is open for submissions. They are looking for 1,000-word stories or narrative essays inspired by a photo, and will accept literary, genre, and experimental work, as long as the writing is quality.
10. Above all, a thousand thanks and kisses to all of you who have read, shared, commented, reblogged and simply been there for me over the past five years.
Finally, because today is International Women’s Day, I just wanted to link up to a few posts from previous years celebrating inspirational role models.
This is something I wrote a long time ago, on a very different blog.
My whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them. I love exploring new places but I also like settling in, making those places my own, getting that intimate connection with them that can only come from repetition and routine. When it’s time to move on, I am excited about the new adventures I will have, but I am also sad to leave a certain part of myself behind. With each encounter with a different country and culture, I become richer in experience, but somehow also poorer when I leave.
It’s difficult to explain – but it’s like my soul has been bereft to a certain extent. I keep the experience locked up somewhere tight within and remember it with such delight from time to time. But the experience is unrepeatable. Even if I go back to that country, it will never feel the same again. If you go back as a tourist to a country where you were once resident, it can be exhilarating as long as you don’t think about it too closely. Or you can feel shut out, a stranger once more. It will certainly never again feel like home.
Last week, I had the opportunity to return to our village in France and took some pictures to try and describe the charm of the location (bearing in mind that these pictures do not cover all the seasons, only a sunny day in February).
Sunny spells announced today after yesterday’s stormy weather, but more grey bleakness still to come. So of course I cannot help but wish I were far, far away from it all, in one of these luxurious villas. (Small aside: have you noticed how most celebrity homes and holiday villas featured in magazines are rather tacky and over-decorated? It wasn’t as easy as you might think to find something appealing… even when money is no object.)
The final one is purely conceptual for the time being and might prove a little too much for my claustrophobic tendencies, but it’s the perfect desert island for someone.