In Praise Of Clutter

By Rita Erlich

sibylesque Rita Erlich Quote

So what’s clutter, exactly, that we should be decluttering? As if it were stress, and we need to de-stress. There seems to be a theory that stress and clutter are somehow linked. Get rid of them both so you can start afresh, clean, pure, and untroubled.

It’s a dangerous path. I heard years ago that there was a de-clutter at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the early 20s. ‘All these papers!’ someone must have said, clucking a bit. Why, who needs all these old letters! And out went decades of great scientific correspondence, all the letters of Ferdinand von Mueller, the government botanist, who had corresponded with botanists all over the world.

Sibylesque food and memoriesHerald Sun

That wasn’t clutter, those were archives. I’ve always hung on to papers and documents. Just in case they come in handy. And they do: I have a copy of a book of recipes that was produced by (and for) the creches of Paris about thirty years ago. It’s a record of French nutrition for children and eating habits that I think has great value and potential application here.

And I had decades of menus from decades of reviewing restaurants before the internet meant all menus were on line. They were donated to the State Library of Victoria – and became the basis of a book, Melbourne by Menu. It made the 7.30 report on the ABC. That made me laugh: I tidy up my study and it becomes a television item.

But supposed clutter is about more than papers. The rule (so I’m told) is that if you haven’t used it or worn it (whatever it is), you should ditch it. But there’s that platter that sits on the dresser. I don’t use it, because there’s a hairline crack in it. I won’t throw it out. It’s the last piece of the dinner service my mother bought when she arrived in Melbourne in the 1920s. Every so many years I point it out to my adult sons, who look a bit misty-eyed at the tangible memory of the grandmother who loved them and whom they loved. We’re a family for whom food matters. When I look at the platter, when her grandchildren look at it, we’re thinking about all the meals that were served from it and all the people, now gone, who sat around the table.

platterThat’s not clutter. It’s the start of a story that begins when my mother arrived in Melbourne as a teenager. There are stories everywhere in my house. The little tapestry made by a cousin of my father’s, the drawings given to me by friends now gone, my late mother-in-law’s embroidered napkins. Who made these? Let me tell you her story.

Clutter is the stuff that has no use at all. I can recognise rubbish when I see it. I’ve just thrown out a dozen glass jars that have no lids. A jar without a lid is no use for those of us who re-use endlessly for home-made preserves. I’ve just ditched three little bottles of nail polish that I bought years ago, thinking that they were good colours and that one day I might apply them to my nails. No story there, they can go.


Rita ErlichRita Erlich is a passionate food writer and consultant, who pioneered many areas of food writing and criticism. She writes about food in its many forms and meanings – restaurants, recipes, nutrition, history, culture, agricluture, wine – in newspapers, magazines and websites. Her latest book will be co-written with chef Scott Pickett, of Estelle and Saint Crispin.

Photo Source: Herald Sun



The grief of an empty nest

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Empty Nest Quote

Kate Legge Life Matters ABCIn her article, The bittersweet silence of an empty nest, The Australian (9 JUN 2014), Kate Legge openly and honestly describes the feeling of loss she experienced when her children finally left home.

‘The upheaval I felt at this shift in family rhythms surprised me’ wrote Kate. A working mother she just assumed that the stay-at-home mothers would feel the wrench of a childless-home more than a busy journalist, who loves her work. This was not the case.

Kate, who explained in the article that she had negotiated menopause without much ‘psychological disruption’, was surprised at the grief she felt when her children left. There is no one instance of sadness. ‘The pangs simply come upon me. I know I’m not alone.’

Sibylesque Empty Room Hammershoi

So much quiet wisdom can be gleaned from Kate’s writing. Those of us who have been or still are working mothers, often assume that we can schedule our days, our emotions, our lives. This is not, of course, how emotions work. We want our children to grow up and become independent adults. Yet we feel the loss of the touch, the smell, the voice, the face, the laughter and the coat on the chair, the shoes in the hall and even the dirty plates in the sink belonging to an adult child. And we feel this loss at a deep mammalian level. We grieve. No amount of logic can counter this mammalian response. We grieve.

I think Kate puts this best:

‘The anguish that wraps its arms around me stems from accepting that a wonderful period of my life is over.’

We, THE SIBYLS, declare Kate Legge an Honorary Sibyl for her openness and willingness to share her inner feelings, thoughts and wisdom.


Kate Legge NovelThe Marriage ClubKate Legge is a Walkley award winning journalist who writes for The Austraian. She has published two novels. The Unexpected Elements Of Love and The Marriage Club.




The Portrait of the Mother by the Artist

by Kerry Cue

sibylesque Old Age Quote

Rembrandt's Mother Reading (c. 1629) when she was 60 years old

Rembrandt’s Mother Reading (c. 1629) . Cornelia was 60 years old.

In her book, How to Age (The school of Life, 2014) Anne Karpf writes about the imagery of old age as a ‘hideous ruin’. Sociologist Mike Featherstone called such imagery ‘a pornography of old age’. And don’t we know it. We are surrounded by such images daily including the shriveled and stooped portrails of old geezers and crones in comics, birthday cards, cartoons, advertisements, horror movies, sitcoms, TV crime series and more. And don’t forget the witches in literature from Macbeth to the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is the aim of Sibylesque to provide the postive balance to this negativity. You can find such imagery at The Sibyls Salute: Jennette Williams.

The artist, however, runs into a dilemma when painting their own mother. Should they be sympathetic or realistic? Even artists can portray their own elderly mothers as ‘hideous ruins’. This was especially cruel as often their mother sat for the portrait when the artist’s model failed to appear. The painting that made Whistler famous resulted when the model didn’t show. (Below). The end result, however, was sympathetic. I will not dwell on the cruel images except for this sketch one sketch by Durer. I feel he was being very harsh on his own mother.

Drurer’s mother at 63 years of age. She had by this time experienced 18 pregnancies.

Durer’s mother at 63 years of age. She had by this time experienced 18 pregnancies.

Durer was not always so unforgiving in his portrayals of his mother. Here is an earlier oil painting by Durer of his mother. As one friend pointed out, Durer’s mother has a look on her face that suggests she’s thinking ‘Go on. Get on with it.’

Durer's Portrait of His mother,1490. She was 39 years old.

Durer’s Portrait of His mother,1490. Barbara was     39 years old.

Aging is often portrayed in modern media as some kind of failure. This is the price paid for living in a youth culture, I guess. Old age, however, can be presented with love and empathy and the result is an image, as Karpf notes, of dignity and beauty. Here are the portraits of artist’s mothers with their ages included:

Paul Cezanne The Artist's Mother c. 1866  when his mother was  52 years old.

Paul Cezanne The Artist’s Mother c. 1866. Anne was       52 years old.

Whistlers Mother,  1871. Painted when she was  67 ld.years o

Whistler’s Mother, 1871. Painted when she was 67 years old.

This painting by Whistler was a tribute to his mother. Here is a photograph of Anna Matilda Whistler.

Anna Matilda Whistler, ld.1850. She was 50 years o

Anna Matilda Whistler, 1850. She was 50 years old.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec portrait of his mother,  Countess Adele Zoe de Toulouse Lautrec, 1883. She was  42 years old.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec portrait of his mother, Countess Adele Zoe de Toulouse Lautrec, 1883.   She was       42 years old.

Van Gogh  Portrait of the mother of the artist, 1888. Anna was 69 years old.

Van Gogh Portrait of the mother of the artist, 1888. Anna was 69 years old.

Picasso's mother, 1896. Maria was 41 years old.

Picasso’s mother,1896. Maria was 41 years old.

Juan Gris, mother,  1912. At least Picasso painted his mother before Cubism etc.

Juan Gris, mother, 1912.  At least Picasso painted his mother before Cubism etc.

Lucian Freud, The Painters Mother,1983 .  Lucie was 77 years old.

Lucian Freud, The Painters Mother,1983 . Lucie was 77 years old.

Photo source: If it’s hip, it’s here blog.


Why are feminist daughters angry with their mothers?

by Kerry Cue

Roman border  dark red

dark red quote 1We’ve given those girls everything.

We’ve raised them to be feminists.

And they turn around and they hate their mothers.
dark red quote 2

     ……………………………………Virginia, NSW, RN, Life Matters, ABC Talkback,28 MAR 2014

Sibylesque Signature dark redRoman border  dark red




Is this a new syndrome?

When this talkback segment came on the radio I nearly ran the car off the road. This was brutally honest comment, talkback radio at its best. I had to stop the car and listen. Here is Virginia, NSW, again:

‘My daughter is 32 this year …. Anyway, that generation of girls … all highly educated, all got degrees, very career driven young women … but I’ve noticed there is a real syndrome among my friends … I’m now 60 …those girls … are very critical and, I would say in some cases, downright abusive of their mothers. … We talk about it among ourselves and it’s horrible. Virginia, NSW, RN, Life Matters, ABC Talkback,28 MAR 2014

Sibylesque Mummy said 3What’s going on? Surely feminist daughters are independent, self-determining young women, who do not depend on their mothers. Or, could it be that Helicopter Parents – across the parent spectrum from mild hoverer to tyrannical Tiger Mum – have created needy offspring? Helicopter parenting began in the 1970s when Penelope Leach and other child rearing gurus urged parents to build their children’s self-esteem. Parent’s had to be hyper-vigilant in case their child missed out on an A, or an invitation to a party, or being picked for a sports team to make sure their child’s self-esteem didn’t collapse like a house of cards.

Mea Culpa. Many parents from the 1970s on are guilty to some degree of fretting over their child’s self-esteem. But this brings about another problem: EMOTIONAL DEPENDENCE. In her article, The Ties that Unwind (The Weekend Australian Magazine, 1 Mar 2014),

babies-and-their-mothersKate Legge explored the different expectations children have of parents across the generations. There has been a generational shift. People aged 60+, says Kate, grew up believing that children should be fed, clothed and schooled (and, therefore, loyal to the family.) Whereas younger adults between 30 and 50 want and often demand EMOTIONAL SUPPORT and if the parents are not forthcoming they will go elsewhere – to friends or therapists – to get it.

This is the Catch 22 of modern parenting. Children, obviously, need emotional support. (There. There. Did the big, bad thunder frighten you?) But children also have to mature into independent young adults. (Yeah! Life’s a bitch. Suck it up Princess.) In his article on, Teen Spirit: Helicopter parenting has crippled American teenagers: Here’s how to fix it, American psychologist, Dan Griffin, calls this parental role change as moving from the more cheerful, obviously, Cheerleader to tougher Coach. But how do parents get this move right?

Could the angry daughter syndrome be related to the feminist mantra: You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all? Mothers, teachers and career advisers wanted each girl to realise her full potential. This mantra was delivered with enthusiasm and the best intentions in the early days of feminism. (Have a look at Australian Content Magazine For Women Who Want It All)

the-tibertine-sibylThis is fine talk for a cheerleader, but as a tough coach the possibilities are unintentionally overstated. A girl cannot be anything or everything she wants to be. She cannot become an A-grade tennis playing, ballerina, plumber, film-star-lawyer princess-bride, for instance. Maybe, just maybe, these daughters are angry with their mothers because ‘mum’ promised them the world and the world hasn’t delivered. Besides, mum is meant to fix everything, isn’t she? As paediatrician Donald Winnicott wrote in 1953, the Good Enough Mother must fail, eventually, to fulfil her child’s every need. Yep! That sounds about right. Suck it up princess.

Then again, as the first batch of feminist daughters of stay-at-home mothers, we were often outlandishly critical of them too. And so the wheel turns.

Dance photo:Alice Murdoch Adams dance school in Calgary  from the chronicallyvintage blog