Along the Way with Author Roberta McDonnell, PhD

So enjoyed my conversation with Sandra Harriette whose blog A Life Inspired is itself truly inspiring and full of beautiful uplifts and motivational resources. Thanks Sandra, a pleasure to chat with you.

A Life Inspired

There are a good number of people who obtained schooling and professional training in a field. What never ceases to motivate me is the fact that some of them are willing to share what they know and do it so creatively. Roberta McDonnell is that kind of person. Having started in the mental health nursing field, then onto full time education to study psychology and social anthropology on a doctoral level, Roberta decided to begin a blog on the experiences she had and the people she encountered throughout her careers. Several of her publications can be found there. She remarks: “These experiences have shaped my interests and inspirations today and I draw continually from those resources in current writings as well as in ideas for future projects.” Roberta is led by the conviction that literature in all formats is a priceless human gift and her utmost contributions in her field are…

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Shine Your Light

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say "I used everything you gave me", by Erma Brombek

My daily quote calender item yesterday

When this was unveiled on my daily calender yesterday I thought how relevant it was to my own journey into creative writing and the struggle to allow myself to be freely expressive. Growing up in a culture where self expression is not always appreciated, in fact often winced at, is one of the dynamics at play when we are unable to allow ourselves that which we truly want and should authentically be.

In maturity, we also often realise that when we honour our values and expressions, it does not hinder others but helps them. We all have our gurus. I know of a number of guiding lights who have supported me through many a dark moment, to name but a few I would choose Carl Jung, Deepak Chopra, Eric Maisel, M. Scott Peck…there are many more, including many of my fellow bloggers here at wordpress and other sites.

What happens when we don’t honour our talents?

Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is about regret. Everything is sour, from the putrid, gangrenous leg to the mindset of the dying writer who is the main character and who mourns all the stuff he put off from writing because the time wasn’t quite right and he would ‘do it sometime’. The lesson is about procrastination and making excuses, allowing distractions to creep in and negative self-pestering to win out. To be sure, as Rollo May observed half a century ago, there may be resistance at first from those around you. But stay aware that people are acting from their own fear and suppressed creativity – push on while you gently cajole and inspire them to be the best they can be too. You will find transformation for yourself and others and a new vigour and joy for life. Self-suffocation is the most painful form of spiritual suicide. Don’t go there. Take inspiration from people who have turned their lives around, grasped their authentic selves, made meaning and found life. Here are some clips from Good Will Hunting, a lovely tale of redemption and love.

Delving Deep: Meanings and Metaphors from Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’

artist's impression of a big marlin leaping from the sea with the old man in the skiff in the distance

The Old Man and the Sea – Santiago hooks a giant marlin

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea in 1951 to tremendous acclaim. Read as a symbolic novel with overtones of religion, identity, life and death, I feel it has a much richer set of meaning layers and can usefully be read through the lens of depth psychology as an individuation narrative, a Hero Myth.

The Jungian concept of individuation entails a process of gradual and lifelong connecting with the unconscious at ever deeper layers, ultimately with the collective unconscious which is hard to define but in some ways can be understood as nature itself. This process of connecting with and owning all our archetypal aspects, energies or identities leads to greater wholeness and a lesser tendency for unconscious acting out of destructive complexes. In essence it is a maturation journey, full of struggles and epiphanies. It is also an existential task, to come to terms with death as inevitable and therefore to adopt a meaning-based attitude towards life.

Symbolic Meaning in The Old Man and the Sea

Several layers of symbolic meaning are to be noted and Hemingway builds these gradually by setting out the relationship between the old man Santiago and the boy Manolin. Much mutual trust and affection is evident and this may be read as the dependent and intertwined nature of the archetypes of the ‘puer’ full of energy and freshness, and of the ‘wise old man’ full of wisdom and intuition. The boy will become the old man one day and has much to learn from him; at the same time the old man sees himself in the boy and remembers the happiness of his youth – the cyclical regeneration of human life and the transmission of culture. Santiago dreams of lion cubs on the beach, a sight he marvelled at in his youth when working on fishing boats going to Africa. While he knows he has much intelligence and experience, he is also mindful of his poverty and ageing body. This insight is worn with the idea that humility ‘carries no loss of true pride’ however; he is as valid a part of life as anyone else and indeed so is the noble marlin.

The Sea of Unconsciousness

But the greatest symbolism is in the sea itself which I see as the unconscious, and the search for the ‘big fish’ is a delving into the unconscious for its gifts of wisdom and a connection with the wild creativity (and destruction) of life and nature – for the Self. It is a metaphor for the searching life, as Santiago says to himself  ‘My big fish must be somewhere’. He identifies with the fish and the turtles, seeing in them both the dignity and the vulnerability of his own self. During the fight, he feels sorry for the fish, as well as for his own suffering holding the lines with bleeding hands and an aching back. In the end he tows it towards the shore, exhausted and fighting off sharks, and says, ‘I have killed this fish which is my brother and now I must do the slave work’, as he harnesses the trade winds to set sail for home. He has learned all his life how to suffer and to make meaning from it, then to enjoy the rewards when they arrive. Living so close to nature and struggling for every piece of sustenance, there are lessons to be learned and truths to be remembered from the old man Santiago and his apprentice Manolin. I was carried away by it and truelly uplifted.

The Old Man and the Sea

citation for introductory image: creative commons for use with citation: http://www.bluemarlin3.com/tbf/hemmingway.php

Finding the Lost Generation

Paris in the 1920s was home for a group of American writers nicknamed ‘The Lost Generation’ by Gertrude Stein, herself a Parisian-based ex-pat author and art collector. They were lost because they had suffered and survived the terrible First World War and were considered to have been in some sense ruined by it and in need of something totally new and life affirming. Though Irish author in self-imposed exile James Joyce fraternised with the group, he seemed to be more of an elder statesman to the youthful Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T. S. Elliot who comprised the core of the group. Though feeding off each others’ imagination and company, tensions were also at times high and the relationship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald was particularly close, yet at the same time troublesome. An interesting post by Daniel Dalton presents an intriguing photograph of the pair

Image

How dapper they both look and you can imagine the buzz on the streets of Paris during the era – both freshly published and hailed as the new modernist writers of the day. While on something of a Hemingway bender of late, reading biographies as well as some early novels, I had read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby years ago and recently attended the cinema to watch the movie with my daughter. Baz Lurmann has captured something of the facile veneer of Daisy and company through amazing sets, full of glitz and streams of champagne, that cover up an almost total selfishness and lack of empathy. I felt Toby Maguire did an equally marvellous job as Nick, well matched by Leonardo di Caprio’s Jay Gatsby. Their sadness stayed with me for ages after, and in a weird way reminded me of the underlying depression of the nineteen eighties with its similar undercurrents (or reaction formations) of glamour and excess.

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