Reading To Escape

July 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Posted in Family History, History, Mental Health, Reading | 6 Comments
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This is the fourth in the series of posts about my reading life.

Quotation-Barbara-Kingsolver-life-reading-to escape

Reading in My Twenties and Thirties:
As a young mother in my twenties and early thirties, I had five wonderful sons, who were a joy to me. However I was in an unhappy marriage and reading provided a wonderful escape. I would find an author that I liked and borrow or buy every one of their books I could find.

My then husband didn’t like that I read a lot, and he once ripped up a lot of my books. However, that didn’t stop me from reading, even when I took on a librarianship course by correspondence (we lived in country areas).

Beau Geste PCWrenI read the complete set of Agatha Christie books; the Leslie Charteris books about The Saint; P.C. Wren’s three books about the French Foreign Legion: Beau Geste, Beau Sabreuer and Beau Ideal; Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books, and all the Hornblower books by C.S.Forester. I read adventure books by the likes of Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes. I owned the complete set of Nevil Shute’s books including A Town Like Alice.

After finding a couple of books by Dennis Wheatley at my parents’ place, I became hooked on both his thrillers, historical novels and his novels of the occult.Launching of Roger Brook Wheatley

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Wheatley’s novels:
Wheatley mainly wrote adventure novels, with many books in a series of linked works. Background themes included the French Revolution (the Roger Brook series), Satanism (the Duke de Richleau series), World War II (the Gregory Sallust series) and espionage (the Julian Day novels). Over time, each of his major series would include at least one book pitting the hero against some manifestation of the supernatural. He came to be considered an authority on this, satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, to all of which he was hostile.
Needless to say, I found and devoured them all.

Dragonwyck AnyaSetonAlong with such adventure books, I also read escapist historical romances. Most of the authors were, of course, women, including Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and Victoria Holt. I occasionally ventured into more risqué novels like those about the slave plantations in the American South, but I wasn’t comfortable reading them. I must be an old stodge!

Then there were the science fiction. I loved all the books the books by John Wyndham, both his novels and short stories. Parts of them come back to me even now, forty years later. I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and I owned and read all the H.G. Wells books. I got into what we now call post-apocalypse novels: 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World and, later on, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.

war-and-peaceI tackled Leo Tolstoy’s massive War and Peace and got through it all – I even liked it! Then I read Theodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I enjoyed, as well as Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

It is amazing how many books one can read in a few years. There are so many that come to mind, of which I have only mentioned a few. I haven’t even mentioned all the other historical novels I read. These were set in a wide variety of times and places: the Egyptian, Roman and Greek empires; the Middle Ages in England and France; in Scotland, Africa or Australia.

So many books, so many authors I haven’t yet referred to. There is Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia; Leonard Cottrell’s historical novels set around North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean; Mary Renault’s Cretan books, Mary Stewart’s novels of the court of King Arthur; Wilbur Smith’s African novels; Nigel Trantor, Irwin Shaw.

Lust for Life -Irving StoneI loved the books by Irving Stone, an American writer known for his biographical novels of famous historical personalities. Those I read included Lust for Life about Vincent van Gogh, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo, The Passions of the Mind, about Sigmund Freud, and The Origin, based on the life of Charles Darwin.

In my thirties, I took to religion as another means of coping with depression. During this time, I read a lot of books set in the early years of Christianity. Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur; Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician, and others. I also devoured many books about living the Christian life and about Christians’ experiences of that life: A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall, and several others that she wrote, as well as books by Corrie ten Boom, and lots of others.

dear-glorious-physician

All of these books only take me to my mid-thirties. That’s when I met someone who changed my life completely. I divorced my husband and went back to work.

Quotation Irving Stone-books cure illness

Do you find reading to be an escape from the pressures and problems of life?

© Linda Visman

Whose Tradition?

October 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Australia, Family, History, Society, Special Occasions | 8 Comments
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Halloween, a corruption of All Hallows Eve, is celebrated on the 31st of October each year. It comes the day before All Saints’ Day, celebrated on the 1st of November.

Centuries ago in England and, later, in America, it was believed that the souls of the dead appeared among the living. Superstitious rituals grew up as people sought to protect themselves from the evil souls that had not died in a state of grace.

Over the years and into the 20th century, Halloween mostly lost its religious significance. It has now become, as have many other Christian rituals, a secular celebration of over-indulgence on the dark side.

Australia, because it was settled later than the Americas, and in more enlightened times, didn’t become part of the mania of Halloween until quite recently. And the only reason it has done so now is because of a different god – one created in the 20th century.

Multinational stores have extended their grip into our country, bring with them their sacred rituals for placing more, and yet more profits on the altar of Consumerism.

Now, every October, we are bombarded by the spooky: books, blogs and writing contests on the themes of ghosts, ghouls and gremlins; ads for creepy costumes and party gear; and whole stores full of “candy” – chocolates and lollies and every other sweet thing that can be created by man for sale to the gullible.

As if we don’t already have a sugar-coated and sugar-centred society! Dentists for the well-off rub their hands in glee. However, the people who cannot afford to go to a dentist – but the most likely to buy into this cacophonous culture of cash – are left with blackened and rotten teeth. I suppose that is apt, given the dark and sickly nature of Halloween’s origins.

When my children were young, in the 1970s and 1980s, Halloween had not yet caught hold in Australia – for which I am very grateful. But now, it is my grandchildren who are being coerced into a culture that celebrates darkness and consumerism.

I will not support this imported, destructive ritual. When children come to my door crying “trick or treat”, they get neither.

It is not my tradition!

© Linda Visman

Evil without Consequences?

December 17, 2010 at 6:11 am | Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment
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A writing prompt asks: If there were no consequences, what’s the most evil thing you would do?

 Here is my response to that prompt:

 There can be no such thing as “no consequences” for doing something evil. The concept of evil is social, cultural and religious/spiritual/ethical. It therefore affects people, as it is from people and their beliefs that these concepts come. If an action has nothing to do with people or their world, then it has no moral value and is therefore not classed as evil.

 Following from this, to be evil, an action must have a moral value attached to it – it must be something immoral. If it is immoral, then it is against the ethical values of a society, culture or religion, or of an individual. If an evil action is carried out, it must have consequences of some kind.

 I cannot rob an institution or an individual without it affecting the institution or individual, or indeed others, in some way, whether it be through the initial loss, or through increased costs of insurance. I cannot injure somebody without consequences – their pain and suffering; the cost of treatment; loss of income or ability to conduct normal activities; increased fear in them and others; policing costs; etc.

 One might consider that some actions, normally considered evil, can be justified in certain situations. This may be eliminating a person who has done terrible things: a child molester; an evil despot; a mass murderer. For those there may be the death penalty, the legal consequence for certain crimes in many countries. For others, assassination does the same thing, but without legal sanction.

 But what if you could get away with assassinating the person and ridding the world of their wickedness? Would that not be a positive thing for society? Perhaps, but one must also consider what effect such an act would have in the mind of the assassin. To kill one person for a “good” cause can lead to a range of outcomes, from guilt at taking another life to the belief that killing is not such a bad thing after all. Some serial killers grow out of what they perceived originally to be a purifying action.

 I would not carry out what I might be tempted to, even if I were told there would be no consequences, because I know that there is no evil action that has no consequences.

© Linda Visman 17.12.10

Predestination or Free Will?

November 25, 2010 at 5:14 am | Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment
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The Plinky prompt for yesterday was “Do you believe everything happens for a reason?”

Many people believe that everything in life is pre-ordained, and that you cannot change your fate. I suppose that is why the term fatalism was coined. Such a belief does not sit well with those who belong to the Christian religions, in which the doctrine of free will is a basic tenet. How a person can hold two such conflicting beliefs at the same time beats me. They are incompatible – your fate is either pre-determined, or you have the free will to choose it.

 However, even given that conflict of beliefs, most fundamentalist Christians – and probably those of other faiths too – believe that they are predestined for heaven. So, when the question is asked, do you believe everything happens for a reason, the first thing they think of is their destiny. The reason for everything, they say, is that their god has arranged it all for them. He is the reason. They need to believe in something that will provide a purpose to their life.

The way I look at it, the question is: do actions produce results? It is obvious to me that everything happens because of something else. It may be because of a word spoken; an action taken or not taken; it could be because someone was in the right place at the right time, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps something happens accidentally, due to somebody’s lack of attention which, in turn, was caused by grief, anger, or other distracting emotion, that has resulted from a whole chain of circumstances seemingly unrelated to the final event.

 At each step in the chain, choices are made, or not made – which is itself a choice – by people. Any other choice could have led to a better or worse outcome but, at each stage, a variety of outcomes could have resulted. None of them was predetermined. They could be predicted, if the person making the choice was completely bound in some way that meant that it was not a choice at all. That does not, however, mean their choice is pre-destined. Many other factors can intervene.

 There are circumstances over which we, as individuals, have no control. Earthquakes; the weather –cold or hot, calm or stormy; the price of goods, including food; the existence or quality of services we can access; our opportunities to make money; and many more, all affect our lives in some way.

 Many things occur simply because two or more circumstances (all or some of which are the results of individual choices) happen to coincide. A drunk driver loses control of his vehicle just as someone steps out of a shop; a young man finds a diamond ring in the gutter; a baby is conceived because neither boy nor girl took precautions, and it just happened to be the girl’s fertile period. These instances are the result of events colliding in a way that produces an outcome, whether desirable, undesirable, or neutral. 

Yes, there is a reason for everything. Sometimes it is because of the decisions we all make; sometimes because of a conjunction of events. At times, what occurs is due simply to luck – whether good or bad. To a large extent, we can make our own destiny by acting on the events and circumstances around us. I do not believe that some being is manipulating us, our surroundings, nature, events, etc, in order to arrive at a particular outcome. Let’s take responsibility for our own lives.

© Linda Visman

Reflections on Religion

August 27, 2010 at 3:33 am | Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment
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As I was ironing tonight, I thought about the stories I have written for a history website. Three of them were about religion. One of them was about my praying the rosary for my brother and my father when they were struck down by polio in 1961 – I was thirteen. That led me to think about what my beliefs were at various times and how religion has affected me throughout my life.

As I was growing up and as a young adult, Catholicism taught me about an ever-present God and my guardian angel and about black and white; good and evil. How could I do anything bad when you were constantly watched from above? Besides, I wanted to be holy and pure like the saints – in spite of my rather rebellious nature. Some of this influence may have been good, but there were definite negative effects. The most insidious was that I developed an acute sense of guilt that was almost completely undeserved. I have had to work hard for the last twenty-five years to eradicate this unrealistic guilt, not always with success.

Religion joins us to others of the same beliefs, providing support when doubts worm their way into the dogma and rituals. But the religion that unites also divides. In my younger days, it was most obvious in dividing me from anyone who did not belong to the Catholic church, including those ‘proddies’ who attended the state school down the road. It also separated me from anyone who the church regarded as damned, and that must have been most of the world!

For almost forty years, religion made me fearful – of the devil; of committing sin; of failing to measure up to an impossible standard. That fear made me unable to appreciate the real value and beauty in people, the kindness that is everywhere if you can see it, as well as the beauty of the natural world and our responsibility to it. I saw things superficially, because that is how religion makes you see. It closes you off from anything that is different, that does not conform to the sectarian or ideological beliefs that have become entrenched over centuries and imbued in you since birth. Religion was almost always the reference point for goodness or evil, purity or impurity, the saved and the damned. All these values were judged according to tenets that precluded difference.

Once my eyes were opened to the rigidity, enslavement and intolerance of religious belief, I began to see the world and its people in a different light. I could see that we were not masters of this planet but simply an organic part of it. I found that the concepts of right and wrong are not constant. They change, both within different cultures and over time. What is good in one age is bad in another; what is bad in one culture is accepted elsewhere. I began to see that it is in this one life that we can prove ourselves to be, or not to be, decent people; it is in how we treat others and behave towards them that we reveal our true selves.

It is not important whether we believe in one god or many; whether we worship in a church or mosque, a temple or synagogue, or out in the fields and mountains. What matters is what is within us. Which religion you follow, which set of fairy tales or fantasies you believe does not matter. These beliefs do not necessarily make you a good or worthwhile person. Indeed, following a creed can, and often does, lead away from real humanity, and towards bigotry, sectarianism, intolerance and war instead, dividing families, communities, nations.

Many peoples have a common determinant of moral standards, exemplified in the dictum, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That, I believe, is the creed we should all live by. If every religion truly took that as their basic reference point, many of their dogmas, laws and rites would be redundant. If we followed it, we would see people as other selves and the world as a wonderful place. We would see are other perspectives and treat everyone with respect – unless they show themselves unworthy of it. Only when we walk in their shoes, or at least beside them, can we treat people as we would like to be treated, and thus create a better world for all. Religion can, and often should be, totally irrelevant to a person’s quality. 

Now, back to the ironing.

© Linda Visman

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