Purple is the colour of sorrow

I don’t know whether it was my husband or one of my children who planted a Hardenbergia Violacea– otherwise known as a happy wanderer –along our side fence.

I noticed it just now, given its flowers break the monotony of a winter garden.

Purple flowers, the colour of mourning.

Someone once told me when I was little that yellow and purple went well together and when placed side by side, these colours represented grief.

The priests wore purple vestments with gold embossing at funerals and at Easter time before the Sunday when we were supposed to be mourning Christ’s death on the cross.

So, maybe it was a religious reference.

Purple is also the colour preference for a group of grandmothers in Australia who stand up on behalf of refugees, so maybe it’s also associated with age  and activism.

In any case, I’ve always connected the colour purple to sorrow.

Winter, and I hung out the sheets and pillow cases this morning early in the hope that what little sun we get today might dry them.

As I spread them over the line and contemplated which sheet and pillowcase should go where –all those small decisions a person makes when hanging out washing – I considered the number of years I have done so.

At least once a week and more often than not, on weekends.

It is my weekly chore and one I resent, but I imagine when I am no longer able to reach up to peg clothes to the line, I might miss the practice.

Hanging out washing, like ironing, is one of those tasks long delegated to women, though there are many men I have known who iron and hang out washing, though none I know who have done so as regularly as me and many of my female friends, who hang out, not only their own washing, but that of their partners and families as well.

Washing has traditionally been women’s work, and still is I expect. And it’s soulless.

I’ve written elsewhere about my grumpiness at Helen Garner’s tribute to the writer Elizabeth Jolley, wherein Garner writes about the honour of making up someone else’s bed.

‘It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep.’

Bed making is another task like hanging out clothes on the line. It might be an honour to some but to me it’s drudgery.

If Helen Garner had needed to make up other people’s beds regularly, year in, year out, or worked as a nurse or nurses aid in a hospital where they change beds several times a day, she might not then consider bedmaking such an honour.

It might be a literary honour to be able to write about making up a bed for someone you love, but the day to day grind of regular washing or ironing and bed making is anything but tedious.

I have begun to resent so many of these chores in life.

Even the business of showering and teeth brushing seems a burden.

Is it because as the years drag by and with each passing day, these regular tasks become more monotonous. Not that I could abide my body unwashed, my teeth unbrushed.

Still, as my husband sometimes jokes, I wish someone else would do it for me.

Then I think back to my mother who, during her last five years on this earth, had lost the ability to shower herself and so a helper came three times a week to help her in the shower.

My mother never told me how she felt about this. She accepted the task with good grace.

But I can remember the one time after I broke my leg and stayed in hospital for a couple of days when a nurse offered to help me in the shower. I declined the offer.

As long as I could sit on a shower chair with a plastic bag over my plastered leg, I could manage alone.

So, as much as I might begrudge these daily life chores, the thought of not being able to tackle them appals me.

Which brings me back to my purple happy wanderer.

Some time ago, my husband strung a wire along the side fence, onto which he might twine the plant’s tendrils as they grew.

I pulled the tallest of my happy wanderer’s coils out for length, hoping to weave at least one through the wire and so train it into place, but they were too short.

At this end of my life, I’m struck again by the part of me that still wants to force things into happening too soon.

For years, I imagined myself as one year older than I was and until more recently I have a more accurate sense of my age as I’m living it.

Still, the older I get, the more I feel the layers of time behind me, with fewer layers ahead, and more and more I begin to imagine what life might be like without me in it.

 

 

 

Envy: spoiled grapes

There was a time I collected heroes, like people collect stamps or porcelain figurines or coins or guns.

I collected heroes to shore up a sense of myself as someone attached to someone else, someone who might make up for my shortcomings.

Not that I thought about it like this at the time. At the time, I always imagined that by attaching to this person I might better myself by association.

I went once to hear a talk from a prominent Melbourne psychoanalyst – not one of my heroes, but esteemed by many – who was speaking on the topic of envy. As he spoke, I recognised something in his tone that hinted at contempt for his audience, we the people seated before him on hard backed vinyl chairs in an over air-conditioned room that made us want to huddle our coats closer.

Was it only me who smarted at the sense he was mocking us, not only his audience but more especially the people who went to see him for help, those whom he talked about as case examples?

A woman who had approached him to deal with her anxiety. A woman whom he considered could have helped herself more.

A woman, who wanted him, her analyst, ‘to wipe her bum’.

He said those words through tight teeth as though he thought this woman was not worthy of his time.

‘We only wipe the bottoms of very small children,’ he said. ‘At a certain age you need to start wiping your own.’

How the issue of wiping bums relates to the notion of envy, I cannot recall, but his talk left me cold.

This analyst has since been discredited for sexual boundary violations, and he has moved out of the glare and into the shadows.

This is what happens to some of my heroes.

Others, like Gerald Murnane glow more brightly than ever. And the writer Helen Garner, both are writers whom I have followed, held firm to their almost every written word, admired them from afar, but now as I age, am I falling victim to that most ghastly of sins, the sin of envy?

Now as I become more critical of my heroes, am I simply jealous, or worse still envious?

Envy is worth thinking about because it is insidious. Envy, unlike jealously, cannot acknowledge admiration for another person.

When you’re jealous of someone, you know it. You feel it in your bones.

I wish I could sing like her. I wish I could write like him. I wish I lived in a house like that. I’m jealous of my brother who is ten times wealthier than me.

Even as I tell myself these things do not matter and I’m good enough as I am, I can still feel the purple pain of jealousy.

I try to handle it by acknowledging this feeling, to myself at least.

You’re just jealous and why not? What, he or she has done is marvellous. Anyone would feel a hint of jealousy alongside their own paltry efforts.

But envy, now that’s something else again. When you’re envious of someone or something, you can’t admit to yourself that you wish it was yours or that you admire what someone else has or can do.

When you’re envious of someone, your impulse is to put them down, to belittle them, to decry their value.

When you’re envious you can’t even let yourself know that there’s something that you want.

It’s rather like that fox and those grapes that were out of reach.

The fox saw the lush purple grapes hanging high overhead and he wanted them. He tried again and again to reach them and when finally, out of breath, he realised those grapes were beyond his reach, he told himself they were bitter anyhow.

Beware of envy. It spoils things.

It spoils things for the person envied and for the one doing the envying.

It spoils things for everyone.

Be jealous, by all means. In many ways it’s a compliment to those whom you admire, but be wary of the hidden charge of envy, it can ruin everything.