Month: June 2023

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy

Life is so wonderful that I am often surprised by joy. This is the title of a book by C. S Lewis but I think it is a great phrase to keep in mind as one goes through life. I am so frequently surprised by joy, the joy of living, the joy of love and of all the beautiful things in the world. Call me a cock-eyed optimist but as Desiderata so wisely and beautifully says,’ For all its broken dreams and promises, it is still a beautiful world.’ Borrowing again from the inspiring and insightful verses of Desiderata, ‘Many persons strive with high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Joy in the wonder of life

Most people are kind, nature is awesome and the world is a wonder of God’s creation. This leads me to be often surprised by joy. As a biochemist, I see the intricacy of the blueprint of life that no man could ever design. Not even the new smart A1 or NASA scientists could get the metabolic feedback mechanisms of the human body so perfect that this machine can go on for nearly 100 years.

My mum just turned 100 and it is amazing that she is still here and what she has seen in her lifetime. World wars, The Great Depression, the building of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, the life of Queen Elizabeth II, her contemporary. So many man-made inventions, the airplane, the car, telephone, television. computer, space rocket. The list goes on, but none are as intricate as the workings of the human body and the mind.

In our self-centered busy lives, we can lose sight of the wonders of ourselves and our environment. We get caught up in our own needs and forget others not as fortunate and fail to notice the wonders of the natural world. We put too much stock into material possessions and not enough into richness of spirit, that of kindness, patience, forgiveness. Also, we destroy our natural world, not realising how essential it is for our life within it.

Joy is kindness, patience and forgiveness

These human qualities are the benchmark to aspire to and not always easy to implement when surrounded by vexatious and critical people. These human virtues feature in all the religions of the world as a code to live by. The grim alternative is to succumb to the law of the jungle which is every man for himself. Forgiveness however is probably most celebrated within the Christian religion as it is integral to its message. Which brings me back to the phrase ‘Surprised by joy’.

C.S.Lewis and Surprised by Joy.

Clive Staples Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Born in Belfast, he came to study at Oxford during the interwar years and was a contemporary of J.R.R Tolkien (of The Hobbit fame). Tolkien led a reluctant Lewis to Christianity. After much academic argument, eventually Lewis conceded that a divine creator made more sense than nothingness and explained the wonders of the universe better than attributing it all as pure chance. He went on to write many books with Christian themes and is probably best known for his Narnia series including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Along the way he met a woman called Joy. She was Jewish and had escaped an abusive husband. Lewis and Joy fell in love.

The book, Surprised by Joy is about their relationship and is a poignant read. There is a film version too with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis. But the title of the book also refers to Lewis’s newly found joy in life itself. When Lewis himself died he along with other writer luminaries was interred at Westminster in Poet’s Corner. The inscription on his tomb reads, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.’

Joyful books

As a writer, I like to write joyfully, to uplift and inspire. No crimes in my books! Check out my happy fiction reads on Joni’s Beautiful Books Page. If you like to read nonfiction then both Desiderata, the poem, and Lewis’s books are great reads to make you pause and think on the human condition within the heavenly universe.

My favourite Desiderata verse is ‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.’ It is hard to find silence these days. Everywhere people talk on mobiles letting the world know their private lives, cars roar, music blares. Even at the beach there are jet skis! Arrh! but try to find a spot to read or reflect and nurture your soul and spirit. God bless.

Focus on the good and you will be surprised by joy!

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Beware the Long Shadow of the Titanic

Beware the Long Shadow of the Titanic

Despite over a century passing, the Titanic still casts a long shadow. It’s a fascinatingly tragic story that keeps on giving. This week another notch was added to its sad toll of casualties. The Titan submersible with five rich adventurers sank irretrievably to the cold dark depths of the Atlantic beside the rusted wreck of the fated White Star liner of 1912 fame.

Deja Vu, the other ship called The Titan

Didn’t the CEO and founder of the submersible company, Ocean Gate know that the name Titan was that of the liner in Morgan Robertson’s eerily predictive 1898 novel, Futility? The liner featuring in this pre 1912 novel was so similar in dimensions, weight, number of funnels and load of glamorous passengers to the Titanic liner that would set sail on its maiden voyage some years later. Its fate was exactly the same. The Titan of the book hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic at similar co-ordinates to the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic. But it seems the owner of White Star Lines, Bruce Ismay did not read that book nor did Captain Smith or the builder, Thomas Andrews.

Ignoring the ice warnings, they sailed their beautiful ship full steam ahead in an attempt to break the Transatlantic Crossing record and arrive in a fete of glory one day early in New York. But instead, due to their vanity and disregard for other people’s lives, they did not arrive at all. The 2223 passengers would have preferred a late arrival than none at all. The women widowed that night would live in the shadow of the Titanic for the rest of their lives as mere ghosts of their former selves. For 1517 passengers, mostly male, that night was the last one of their life.

Staring Death in the Face

Imagine waiting on the cold sinking deck, knowing there was now no hope of rescue, watching your wives and children fading into the distance in rowboats on the icy calm sea. This surely was worse than the five Titan passengers who, just a week ago, voluntarily descended to the same icy depths over a century later. Though these five men, one just a teen, did have to contemplate the dangers of the Atlantic as they signed a declaration that they were aware they may not return to the bright light of the surface as planned. Staring death in the face is never easy. Would you sign this waver? “This is an experimental submersible vessel, that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma, or death.” Quote taken from The Titan Submersible Journey

A Bold Adventure for the rich?

In both cases, the trip was meant to be a bold adventure. The first in 1912 boasted a trip of a lifetime on the biggest ship afloat with everything of luxury you could ever want (except lifeboats and binoculars to spot icebergs). John Jacob Astor was onboard, the richest man alive. The others in first class were also fabulously rich. Likewise for the Titan sub trip, there was a billionaire, SEO Stockton Rush, onboard and indeed any of the other four were obscenely rich, paying 250,000 for the planned 8-hour adventure to the bottom of the Atlantic and back.

Build me a better boat!

In both cases, the hull of the vessel played a major role in the tragedies. The steel and pop rivets of the original liner were not strong enough to survive an iceberg scoring down its starboard side. A 300-foot gash opened the luxury liner to the ocean and compartment after compartment flooded, sealing the massive ship’s fate. For this recent tragedy, the carbon fiber and titanium hull would again prove the vessel’s downfall. There had been warnings but for the sake of innovation, the designer ignored these with disregard to his own and other passengers’ safety. The lights of the sub were reportedly off the shelf from a camper store and the steering operated by a game controller. Despite his fascination with the mysteries of the deep, was Mr Rush cutting corners or just in a rush for foolhardy adventures?

Withstanding pressure

AS any vessel or diver descends into the depths of the ocean, the pressure increases dramatically because of the water above. At the almost 4000 m depth of the Titanic wreck the pressure is almost 400 times that of the surface. this places a huge load on a submarine vessel and is incompatible for a human diver. It’s like having the New York, Empire State Building sitting on the hull. What sort of hulls can continually withstand this pressure? Not it seems carbon fiber ones. They may tolerate this stress a few times but not continually. Cracks could develop and then the vessel is history as are its passengers.

What a terrible fate for anyone, even those who ride the depths of their own free will. The young Pakistani youth did not want to go but was coerced by his adventurous and very wealthy father. Did young Sulemon have a premonition? Or was he just more sensible than the older men.

What is the takeaway from this tragedy?

Any tragedy at sea is a human tragedy. But each time, laws change in response to the bloodshed. After the Titanic, all boats and to have enough lifeboats for all onboard and keep their telegraph service on at all times. The sinking of the Andrea Doria made authorities rethink the ship channels between Europe and New York so no other head on collisions could occur in fog as they did in this late 1950’s crash between two liners.

What will be the takeaway for this recent maritime disaster? Leave the Titanic in peace? Beware the long shadow of the Titanic?

This article is sad enough! If you did enjoy it, I have written others on the Titanic, Women of the Titanic, Surviving the Shadow of the Titanic, and Women and Children First ?and include the disaster in my historical novel, Whispers Through Time.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Enigmatic Elizabeth von Arnim

Enigmatic Elizabeth von Arnim

Elizabeth von Arnim, a woman of mystery and myths, was an enigmatic woman mostly of her own creation. Her extraordinary life story reads like a fancifully constructed novel. It is hard to believe so much happened to a woman who was born in the then backwater colonial Sydney, in the late nineteenth century.

The Countess of Kirribilli

I recently read a biography about Elizabeth called ‘The Countess of Kirribilli‘. I found the book for sale for $6 at the local post office! It captured my attention because I am interested in women from history. I often post about women from history. Here was an interesting Australian woman of history also an author who I had never heard of. Elizabeth von Arnim was born Mary, or ‘May’ Beauchamp, and lived her early years at a mansion named Beulah on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. Such a position now would be worth millions for its waterfront vista of the expansive and beautiful Sydney Harbour. It boasts a view of the iconic white-sailed Sydney Opera House.

A one-way trip to Europe

Her father was a successful businessman and her mother a poor Tasmanian girl who got lucky and was adopted by wealthy relatives. Mary, who became later known as Elizabeth, was the youngest of six children and the second daughter. The Beauchamp family also had many cousins of the Lasseter family. When Mary’s uncle Fred Lasseter proposed a year-long family trip to Europe, Mary’s father Henry jumped at the chance. He wanted to experience some culture and so the whole Lasseter and Beauchamp tribe left the colonies on an adventure across the oceans to Europe.. They did plan to return to their Sydney lives and waterfront mansions but never did. Mary and her family instead lived their lives abroad in Europe and London, never returning to their colonial roots. After years of restless but luxurious living with her family in Europe, young Mary married a much older German aristocrat, Count Henning August von Anim-Schlagenthin.

An estate in Pomerania

This is interesting enough, but the other detail is unusual. They lived in Pomerania. Now I didn’t know this was even a place. I like most of you, probably associate the word with a fluffy dog breed. But yes, they come from there and yes, Pomerania is a countryside area of Germany. Their house was very grand and was an estate with woods and a lake. An idyllic place to live if you didn’t have a demonic husband and baby after baby. Mary was in an unhappy, controlled marriage with her count. She had four daughters in quick succession before finally giving birth to the much-anticipated son. This was difficulty for the slight built Mary, who many referred to as dainty. The marriage did not improve even after the heir was born, because of financial problems and the Count’s many affairs.

Mary who became Elizabeth loved to write

In 1898, just before the turn of the century, Mary wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Elizabeth and her German Garden. Writing helped her cope with life with her bombastic husband and the stress of so many young children. She published the novel anonymously. When the books attracted attention, readers wondered about the identity of Elizabeth. Newspapers postulated it could be the charming young countess but Mary never verified it. She continued to write for the rest of her life, later adopting the name of Elizabeth von Arnim. Her wit and humour captivated an audience. To give her time to write she relied on staff and tutors for her children. One of the tutors was young E.M Forster who later became famous for his own novels, Passage to India and Room with a View.

Australia’s answer to Bridgerton’s secretive Lady Whistledown

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote an opinion piece on Mary or Elizabeth as she became known, dubbing her Australia’s Lady Whistledown. “Long before Bridgerton was a TV hit an Australian-born author hid her identity to write about taboo topics, as the world’s press worked to unmask her.” Mary’s life became stranger and stranger, the stuff of fiction. Fortunately for Mary her count husband died suddenly. She was free and so in 1911 she bought a chalet in Switzerland. She loved the country, preferring it to Germany. She expanded the chalet and entertained literary and society friends. She had a mini chalet built to give herself the privacy to write.

An affair with H.G Wells

From 1910 to 1913 she was the mistress of H.G Wells, the famous science fiction writer. He maintained his marriage with his very understanding wife Jane, who was a friend of Mary’s. Mary became interchangeable to Elizabeth, the name she continued of use for the rest of her life. Her books became best sellers especially in America. Elizabeth married again to an older man, Frank, the 2nd Earl of Russell. He too was controlling and difficult. Try to avoid this type if you can. Look for the early signs. Elizabeth had other affairs with younger men in literary circles. They offered distraction and provided fodder for her writing. Much of it is biographical in nature. But don’t many authors take from the life they live? I know I do.

A War and Personal Tragedy

Elizabeth sent her youngest daughters to expensive boarding schools in Europe. They became trapped behind German lines when World War One broke out. Her youngest daughter died at 16 of pneumonia, without seeing her mother. Elizabeth took her two older girls to London for safety, but their German accents led to internment. She managed to send them to America, using personal contacts, where they settled and married in America.

Escape from Marriage

Elizabeth fled her second abusive marriage after three years. She travelled, had affairs, wrote and lived a luxurious glamorous lifestyle. But despite all this, as always throughout her life, money and fame did not make her happy. This is so often the case. Why do so many wish for money and fame when so rarely does it bring happiness?

Literary Fame

Elizabeth’s books however, did happily blossom and attract readers and received great reviews. The wit and humour in her novels is based on the satire of marriage and love. Her 1921 novel, Vera draws on her disastrous second marriage and is a dark and brooding love story. The Enchanted April sets a different tone and showcases Italy’s Portofino as a resort. It is a lighter read than her previous novels, despite being written at a dark time of the author’s life. It has been made into Broadway shows. Her last novel Mr Skeffington was made into a film with Bette Davis and was nominated for an Academy Award.

But then Elizabeth is forgotten?

Elizabeth von Arnim lived alone in her later years in the south of France. She died there in 1941. Despite her fame and best-selling books, she seemed to slip beyond the public radar, and is as unknown today as she was anonymous in her early writing days. But Elizabeth was an interesting woman. She achieved a lot, wrote much on women’s matters and the difficulty of matrimony and defied the restrictions of the times in which she lived. Photo by Lukas K on Unsplash Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.