Saturday, 20 January 2018

Life in Chiaroscuro - Day 52

Day 52 (Sunday 21st January 2018)
52 - the age at which Harry Houdini died - by this time he had amazed and baffled people
in much of Europe, Russia and the U.S.A. On 21st January 1903 he escaped Halvemaansteeg
police station in Amsterdam. 1903 was the year when Houdini really became an icon - he was
already known for being good at escaping handcuffs but he now began to make a name
for breaking out of jails. he also managed to break into a safe for a Moscow locksmith
(who had been trying to do so for 14 years) revealing a treasure trove of jewels and
earning Houdini $750 for 9 hours work (a significant sum at the time).
Today is my husband's birthday and we are going out for a family lunch. His mother is coming to celebrate with us. She is finding life without her husband very hard. Death is, in so many ways, so painful for those of us left behind.

The post you read today is by Jacqueline Davies. It is open, honest and at times a painful read (as well as being the second post in a row with a wonderful poem  written by the contributor). Jacqueline says much about herself below, so I will only say a few words... Some of you may remember Jacqueline's Call To Arms in the final post of last year's series. At the time of writing last year she was the Master of the Guild of Human Resource Professionals (@GuildHRprofs) and the first openly lesbian Master of any City of London Guild. She was also the HR Director for the FCA (the regulatory body for much of the Financial Services industry) - a huge and demanding role. In her post she made a statement of the role of HR that has resonated with me this year, we need to be:
"standard bearers for the best of what it means to be human. To hold ourselves and others to account and to be provocative when we see integrity or conduct threatened."
I genuinely believe that HR as a profession is in the best position I have ever known it to be in. Increasingly leaders, colleagues, clients and the communities in which we work are becoming aware of the importance of culture and conduct. That does not mean we should be complacent or smug - someone in HR clearly turned a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour in Miramax when Harvey Weinstein was at his most predatory. We need HR to be the moral compass (it is no coincidence that a compass is the symbol of the HR Guild here in the UK) and to ask the difficult questions. Since leaving the FCA Jacqueline has teamed up with Tania in their own business consultancy and I think you can tell from its name that she will not be shrinking from facing things head-on - Audacity Associates. In addition, she is an advisor to the Henley Business School, a Governor of Middlesex University and Chair of the National Skills Academy for Financial Services. You can connect with her on social media - her Twitter handle is @JacquelineLD.

The beautiful Chiaroscuro paintings and photographs used to illustrate this piece have all been selected by Jacqueline.


The Italian’s use the term Chiaroscuro to describe scenes painted in ‘light-dark’, how tonal contrasts are created to provide shape, show character and tell stories.
Life in Chiaroscuro

Seven years ago my mother died. More precisely, I gave my consent for her life support to be switched off, then she died. This decision has weighed heavily with me, replaying while I wait for sleep and returning at dawn before I can crowd it out with plans for the day. This isn’t a post about grief, it’s a post about how we can re-mix the colours on our palette to make sense of living with both darkness and dawn. How I’ve learned that a ‘Chiaroscuro filter’ can distinguish the things that matter from the beautiful, daily distractions that fill our life’s canvas.

You see I lost my Mum some thirty years earlier. She disappeared inside a black cloak of depression. Up-to this point, she loved us unconditionally and taught us how to love back. As we progressed though high school, quite suddenly everything changed. She was unable to go out, unable to get up and when she did was so heavily medicated that when we looked into her eyes we couldn’t find her. This would mean returning from school never knowing if she would be in the kitchen or in bed or if the paracetamol packets would be empty. My father, a steelworker worked around the clock. My younger sister and I found coping strategies. I had wanted to be a painter, but being the oldest, I took charge and I followed my father’s lead; I dropped Art, working relentlessly until I could flee to university. I didn’t stop; travelling like a train through a tunnel, on and on while decades flashed by through the half-light.

The Young Singer by Georges de La Tour
Then, just before I turned 40, the same age Mum was when she became ill, I sat in the hospital, holding her hand and let her go. Just a year before, I had become a Mum and the wonder of holding a new life while letting another go, meant that even the most brilliant moments were outlined by loss.

I took a year out from paid work but I didn’t stop. We moved house, I also took on the Chair of a national charity and wrote a book. I then returned to work and ploughed on. Alongside this, becoming ‘THE BEST MUM I CAN POSSIBLY BE’ became my chief preoccupation. As any new parent will tell you, our radiant daughter brought a new type of light into our lives. It was initially, searing, so bright, I had to blink through the first year learning to adjust to the profound joy and then to the greying fear that arrived. Fear of loss, fear of repeated patterns, fear of not knowing what to do next. Learning how to live with this felt like picking glass splinters from my heart.

Madonna and Child with St Anne by Caravaggio (c1605-6)

Some seven years later, I sat still in a hospital bed watching the sun rise and fall through an oxygen mask. Pneumonia had pressed the pause button on my life. A close friend, shared a conversation with her husband that stopped me in my tracks; ‘your on the top of our list to go first because you’re living faster than anyone else’. In the year that has followed this I’ve stopped permanent work and started painting again. I’m learning to slow down, middle age is helping. I’m learning to look, to see darkness and dawn as an artist might. Noticing the line and shadow in the everyday and being able to distinguish what really matters and to teach this art to my daughter.

Photograph of an apple by Jimmy Wen

I wrote this poem to make sense of things.

Three Daughters

After you left us I waited,
Holding your hand until the silence
Holding my breath until
       the sun came up again and I could escape outside
Gulping the new morning air
And watching the circling gulls
       shrieking their songs of loss and longing, high above the hospital car park

I mostly remember your hands
How they put plasters on my grazes
Turned pages at bedtime
       stirred pots, brimming with love
These are my hands now
Life hardened palms
Stretching out to reach my daughter
       to teach her how to hold time
       and when to watch the sky.

Detail from "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" by Caravaggio (c1586)

The Mother Song, written and performed by Andrea Menard

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jacqueline. I had little idea of how much you achieved though I always sensed you were a gifted person who could do great things. Delighted you are rebalancing your life and have taken up painting again. I did the same about 15 years ago. My (rather crude) website is at Keep shining your light.