Schadenfreude or "Joy in Misfortune of Others"

For decades stand-up comics have mocked people with crooked or asymmetric faces. Much to the delight of their audiences, comedians today continue these ‘funny-bone’ performances. (The asymmetries could be caused by various kinds of accidents, or a stroke, Bell’s Palsy, or facial paralysis).
Remember Phantom of the Opera? In that case often the audience doesn’t make fun, but is scared. Then there is Quasimodo, the bell ringer in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. (Brilliantly acted by Charles Laughton.) People mock and laugh at his plight and deformity; not only did he have a hump, but also a crooked or asymmetric face.

My interest in the “Why” we make fun or laugh at deformity goes back a long way. It comes from my own facial paralysis, caused by two malpractices during surgery.
In my boyhood in the Lowlands and Flanders the tradition of Court Jesters is kept alive through the Gilles de Binche Carnival and characters such as Tijl Uilenspiegel. In the Gilles de Binche parades, citizens in towns and villages don mediaeval costumes.
Recently, while contemplating in the garden at Pender Island, it became clear to me. This mocking and making fun at deformity has its origins long, long ago. It is imprinted in the psyche of the human family.
Very old Nepalese, African and First Nations, amongst other cultures, often depict the Shaman as having a crooked face. To scare the evil spirits. These beings were often revered. 
While in Pre-Columbian cultures, the hunchback was sacred. 

The Court Jesters:  Court jesters had to amuse the King, Queen and court. The Fool, The Idiot, The Buffoon bring amusement, not merely by absurd tomfoolery, merry gossip or knavish tricks, but also by mocking in others their mental and other deficiencies.
Schadenfreude - Schaden = damage, harm; Freude = joy.
Here in Canada one of our Prime Ministers won an election in part because his rival made fun of his asymmetric face (caused by Bell’s Palsy) in a TV ad. It backfired. Proof that such mockery and tactics can go wrong when practiced with Schadenfreude.
Today, our delicate planet Earth, thanks to our malpractice, is deformed. We are the spoilers. Today many so-called people with power scoff and laugh at those who say our planet is very ill. This is global Schadenfreude at work on an unprecedented scale. Now that is something scary. 


One More To Go

When he was an infant
And had finished feeding from one breast
She said tenderly, here
One more to go

He grew and crawled
Until the moment came when he made
His first step
His mother said, good boy, now
One more to go

She fed him with a spoon
While he turned his head when the bowl was almost empty
She said, finish it little man, you must grow
One more to go

His family took him for a walk one nice day
He had his little arm in one sleeve of the jacket
Someone said
One more to go

He helped his father in the garden
Planting potatoes
At the end of the day he was told, good boy
One more to go

His schooldays arrived
He made something from brightly coloured paper
When he showed it with pride to his teacher
She said it is not finished yet
One more to go

When he kissed shyly his first girl
She said oh! How nice
One more to go

He was merry and bright and drank with his friends
He had already had a few but they said, come on old boy
One more to go

He married and settled down
The first-born arrived and he looked at his young son
And his happy wife, and she said let us have a girl
One more to go

He worked and worked, then holidays approached
When the last working day came he sighed with relief
And said, thank goodness
One more to go

They all had lots of fun playing near the sea
In the woods, and in the sun
All this too came soon to an end
One more to go

Again he worked and struggled
Had pains and joys
The road was not always smooth
The sea not always calm
But it helped when he said
Come on, don’t let it get you down
One more to go

His children grew, a boy and girl
The boy married and this left him only with his girl
One more to go

At one time he had some close friends
Some he neglected while others let him down, only
One more to go

And when the moment arrived
To overcome the final hurdle
It would be the very last time
He would hear or say
One more to go

  • Henri van Bentum, Toronto, 1971


"Better Late than Never"

No sooner did we reply to yesterday’s question from New Brunswick about nurturing athletic talent (“Ability, Energy, Opportunity”) in which we drew parallels with artists, than today’s newspaper says a fundraising campaign is underway for an Emily Carr statue. (We just wrote about Emily, see July 12 post.)
Organizers need $450,000 to pay for it. Well, well, well. Here is yet another icon who was mostly mocked and neglected while she was alive. Luckily Emily had some limited means, so there was some form of ‘Opportunity’, apart from her vision and determination. She was not only a great painter, but a fine writer who expressed her heart and soul.
When alive and breathing down our necks, the Carr’s, the van Gogh’s and so many others were ignored, mocked and called (at the mildest) “eccentric”. Still happening today.
The horses that deserve the oats don’t always get them.” This decades-overdue monument (if and when finished) will be placed at the corner of Belleville and Government Streets, adjacent to the Fairmont Empress Hotel here in her home place of Victoria. (In fact Emily lived just a few blocks from our abode in James Bay village.)
According to the newspaper, the statue will be 1.25 times life size, and she will be seated on a rock with a sketchpad on her lap. She will have her monkey "Woo" on her shoulder and her dog "Billie" at her side.
Now it definitely will no longer be “Emily who?” once the statue is placed there proudly. Do people ever question how come the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) has so few works by Emily Carr? Yet she lived here most of her life. The fact is Vancouver Art Gallery across on the mainland of B.C. has many. But, in the late 1950’s the drawings, gouaches, watercolours and paintings were stored in the basement. The reason? They told me, “no space”. 

I for one, if still breathing, definitely shall go to see the statue, but not the day of the unveiling with all the dignitaries. No, I’ll be there quietly, early one morning, and will say “Bravo, bravo, well done, Emily. Forgive them for being so unfortunately ignorant, full of mistrust, and of little faith while you were with us.” The statue will be ready June 2009. But, as the other saying goes, “Better late than . . . .”


Ability, Energy, Opportunity

An interesting question came our way from someone in New Brunswick. Applicable to the nurturing of promising athletes with the current Olympic performances.

How do you, as a senior artist with all that experience behind you, see the nurturing process of someone and how can that potential be brought to fruition?”

We can only answer based on our own experience, which is, of course, not that of an athlete. However you could say both nurturing talent of an artist and an athlete is similar.

Some athletes compete with full heart, as amateurs. Others move on to become professionals. With athletics careers are short, while the artist (amateur or not) can spend a lifetime at their chosen discipline.

Body and mind are like a fruit tree. Nursed properly, these will blossom. All blossoms destined to bear fruit must be able to survive the ‘elements’.

Blossoms that fall prematurely, or those which aren’t pollinated, can’t bring forth fruit. When we look at the stages of how buds appear on a branch, right through to the unfolding of the blossom, and from this to fruit --- and compare this evolving with a promising athlete or artist, there are strong parallels.

What then happens to someone who is in a state of full potential but who cannot ‘ripen its nourishing fruit’?

A person in this state can feel like they’re unwanted or as if their wings are being clipped.

For any athlete or artist in order to reach full potential, three essentials are necessary: Ability, Energy and Opportunity. What good would it be, for example, to have Ability and Energy, but no Opportunity? Or to have Opportunity and Energy, but no Ability? And so on. All three are interdependent. Now, just try to explain this to those who are “providers” of opportunity (which often means financial support), such as government, or patrons, or the education system! (Yet, they expect five-star results.)

Ultimately whether financially supported or not, athletes or anyone in the arts are themselves the real patrons. And that’s a fact!

George Bernard Shaw said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, you’re in deep trouble.”

Now here’s something to laugh about, courtesy Will Rogers, the “Roping Fool”: “Every time Congress makes a joke it’s a law. Every time Congress makes a law it’s a joke.”

Not much to laugh about, though, when great potential is nipped in the bud, unrecognized or not nurtured. Signing off, Henri


Pender Island revisited

Life on Pender Island presents a variety of new experiences each visit. We are here house and garden sitting, plus caring for a cat. The garden has vegetables and numerous flowerbeds on terraces, creating a colourful display.

One constant is to prevent the deer from entering the garden and eating all the flowers. A novelty this year is the deer have learned to jump the fence.

They don’t fancy Dahlias, Gladioli or Daffodils. But Roses, “yes”! Plus just about everything else. The routine is, when we spot any deer, Natasha calls the friendly neighbours to help us corral them back out through a gate.

Our own place in James Bay, Victoria is on the shores of Juan de Fuca Strait. So it’s a change to be surrounded by Arbutus and pine trees, even though they’re only forty years old. (Long ago the virgin forest was clearcut).

“You can take a boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy”. Here on the island, you can enjoy the sight of sheep and cows grazing with a horse or two nearby. Now a vineyard has appeared, almost overnight.

Where we’re house-sitting there’s a large vegetable and flower garden, plus orchard. Apple, plum, pear and cherry trees.

We enjoy having the cat Mosey around. Cats are fascinating. Mosey’s getting on in years and has down pat all those classic cat poses. One is “the Sphinx”, front paws tucked under while staring mysteriously into that realm only cats know. (Having just reached 79 years, I can relate to this, but I can’t sit in that Sphinx position.)

It is peaceful and serene here, ideal for contemplation and meditation. Only sounds are the welcome songs of birds, or fluttering of wings.

I watched a hummingbird flit from flower to flower, gone in a flash. Amazing to know these miniature exotic wonders on the wing need to have nourishment many times their weight each day, just to keep going. Soon they’ll be off to the sunny winter abodes.

Speaking of wonders, how about those Dragonflies? They go up, down, right, left and of course, hover over the main garden, presenting a free aeronautical display.

Yesterday we visited the Saturday market, mostly handicrafts and baked goodies. Only a few vegetable stands. One is run by a happy family of five, who operate Kentu Farm.

At dusk Natasha sees to it that the garden is not thirsty after a hot summer day. Yours truly does the cuisine, one of my other interests.

Although our stay is only eight days, and we rarely go out, (preferring to enjoy the serenity here), it’s interesting how much you can take in of Pender Island life during a short visit.