PHOTO | KATE DISHER-QUILL
I recently read that life is a duality. Good and bad, purpose and pleasure, loss and gain, yin and yang. However, there have been times when it seems more bad than good. 2016 on a global level has been pretty awful. We lost Prince, Bowie, and Ali… then there’s honour killings, racism, islamophobia, appalling politics of fear, radical economic reform (looking at you UK), military coups, poverty, people running their lives and countries out of fear. Personally, my own life has been pretty challenging too. Since June 2015 I’ve endured a lot of heavy loss and huge gains that have left me disoriented and numb… which for someone who thrives on challenge and relies on life for inspiration is actually a really scary place to exist.
Thinking on this duality, in my case the extremes have been profound. For example, the day we opened RSW for trade (after a 5-year journey) was also the first memorial of my father-in-law’s passing. To be equally proud of achieving this dream while despair in thinking of those who shared in the journey are no longer around to enjoy the achievement with us. It’s neutralising.
Similarly, when my mentor and friend passed unexpectedly in February this year, what played out has involved a thrust into the journey of creating my own architectural practice and becoming more involved in an extraordinary team galvanised by the momentum he built to alleviate poverty and improve health through environments in disadvantaged communities around the world. I get to define my life based on work I love, off the back of the momentum he created over a 30+ year career… a massive, extraordinary privilege I’d give up in a heartbeat to have him back in the world. Again, neutralising.
Before I am ready, I keep saying “yes” to opportunities as they emerge, feeling a sense of duty to carry on. My understanding is to get to a place where these devastating events make sense, is to keep moving forward and trust that one day it will. But duty is not really fun nor inspired and these are feelings I miss.
I’m by no means sad or immobilised, but rather unafraid to face the grounding that this extreme duality has created. To not allow ourselves to be affected by transformative experiences is to deny they happened and worse, not grow from them.
Friends keep reminding me that my whole adult life has lead to this moment. That everything experienced to date has prepared me to now step up and become the person I want to be. The reality of this also involves accepting that perhaps I could not have achieved these potentially huge personal gains without the loss of two great, great people: my father-in-law Robert Sheather and my mentor of 12 years Architect Paul Pholeros.
Both believed I was a good person capable of anything. Both provided an umbrella I could live confidently under, knowing I was protected, cared for and that no matter how bad life got or how badly I fucked up, the canopy of their umbrella always had room for me. They both had constructed lives from a bravery in facing hard situations and as such elevated people around them with their wisdom and moral higher ground. They could see the light in people even at their worst; they both did this for me regularly which is something I draw on at the times I feel at my lowest. In order to get them back in my life, to get closer to them, I need to now create that umbrella and be the person they believed I could be.
I wish some knight-in-shining-armour would emerge and sweep me out of the hardest part of all this, and I wonder often if I’ve got what it takes. But what’s the alternative? To recede from the world and build a life that avoids conflict & hurt OR continue to live and love boldly knowing that nothing lasts? Both are valid ways to live but only one of those options involves living as a verb.
Getting myself back to into the IVV world again, I trawled back through the articles I’ve published since its launch in 2014 and can say I’m finding some inspiration again. Especially this one by Kristen Lassen where she reminds us of the importance of honouring the events that shape us rather than running from them. This place I’ve created, with some wonderful contributors, is starting the show me that I already started creating an umbrella… a place that nurtures, supports and strengthens as I lick my wounds. A fun, beautiful place with other like minds who enjoy life because we reflect on it, because we live (verb). A total luxury to be able to express ourselves creatively, without judgement and in total support of each other. A place where we see the best in ourselves and each other… and importantly, a place that always will.
As for duality, maybe life can be reduced to this concept. All I know right now, is that waiting for a miracle reprieve is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. If I’m going to do more than just survive this time of grounding loss and elevating gain, I have to honour the people who elevated me in life and become my own knight… thankfully, I get to discover it under the protective umbrella of IVV.
Heleana is a force of nature. The founder of In Venus Veritas and The Petrolette, and a co-founder of Rising Sun Workshop. Heleana shares her love of vintage cars, riding motorcycles, and (not-so-secretly) dreams of flying planes and piloting a riva aquariva (a la Sophia Loren) very fast through the canals of Venice. Supportive and connected, community is her lifeblood, and she is as real as they come.