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Sunflower girl, I’m not going to tell you about this post, but I hope you stumble upon it all the same.

The sentiments I hold resemble yours uncannily. In my own way, I’ve been waiting 6 years to be free. Now that time seems so close, and I’m desperate not to let the chance slip out of my hands.

Graduating from primary school, when I had to write what I’d be doing in 10 years’ time for our class of ’01 yearbook, I wrote “Travelling around the world.” It’s going on 12 years since that time and I haven’t travelled nearly as much as I would have liked to. I still feel held back. For 6 years now there’s been the constant pressure of university. First essays, reports, and exams. Then thesis, thesis, thesis. These years have been a blur and sometimes I can hardly distinguish one year from another. And all along there has been the constant feeling that I was still a little girl, still not ready to go out into the world and grow up.

Now, I feel the time to grow up has drawn closer than ever. To grow up and be free.

You’re still in my thoughts and prayers, and I want you to know I have faith in you as a valid human being.

Soon, you, too, will be free.

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Van Gogh is one of my absolute favourite artists of all time. My fascination with him began when I was about 17, and in a way that is probably unconventional – in an introductory psychology seminar.

As part of our first semester classes we were required to take what was then called a ‘scheme module’ – a mandatory class not affiliated directly with our department but taught by departmental staff all the same. The particular scheme module we were assigned to was known as The Psychology of Everyday Life, though, again unconventionally, the sorts of topics it contained were far from everyday, and most weeks we would find ourselves sitting in lectures concerning anything from paranormal phenomena to celebrity stalking to colour psychology.

It was a great module.

The only assessment in the module was a 2500-word essay on any of the topics covered in the lectures. Unconventional as they were, most of the topics on our reading list didn’t appeal to me. I was young, and angst-ridden, and a rebel at heart, and I desperately wanted to exert my efforts on something more profound than poltergeists or the meaning of red.

So it was that I gravitated to the psychopathology of van Gogh.

It was a time when madness and insanity fascinated me, especially their social construction and their subjectivity, and the way social and cultural changes across time and place meant that mental disorder was something undefined, misunderstood, and inherently mysterious. I was fascinated by the strangeness of mental illness before the 20th century, the way young women would inexplicably become hysterical and be committed to sanitoriums for rest and relaxation, never to emerge again.

Vincent, on the other hand, was no delicate young woman. He was a contradiction of sorts – equally rough and gentle, violent and serene, lucid and insane. People tend to romanticise his madness, but in fact his poor health frustrated him and he yearned to be well. He loved painting, and he painted everything from flowers to landscapes to portraits. Especially in the Arles period, he loved painting canvases that were vivid with colour, drenched with sunshine, oozing with blues and greens and fiery reds, and emanating, especially, a dazzling spectrum of yellows. He loved yellow. I imagine it reminded him of the sun…and happiness.

This still life of sunflowers in a vase – one of eleven he painted over his life – is in the National Gallery in London and I have been there more than once to just stand there, gazing at it as the crowds buzz around me. His use of yellow is amazing. On one visit I was joined in my gazing by a class of primary school children sitting on the floor, pointing at the different shades of yellow as they were directed by their teacher. Sunny yellow, pastel yellow, lime yellow, mustard yellow. It’s like the entire canvas is an orchestra, playing chords of yellow in octaves high and low in perfect harmony.

My essay considered the various theories of madness – schizophrenia, Asperger’s, syphilis and bipolar. But I argued that I didn’t believe Vincent was mad. He was just one of those people whose greatness is not appreciated until it is too late – and the many sadnesses and rejections he endured in his life made his yearning for happiness, and his pursuit of it, ever more frantic.

When I think about Vincent during moments of near insanity in my PhD, I remember his persistence to carry on with what he wanted so badly to do, and the beauty and elegance he portrayed in his work despite being a complex and imperfect person.

This is something I strive to do.

And in closing he was ever the gentleman…

Handshakes!

This post is for a dearly beloved friend of mine. She knows who she is, but sometimes she doesn’t know that she is beautiful.

Not sexy or glamorous or attractive. I mean beautiful. In her soul.

I first met this young woman in science class at high school. I had come fresh out of Catholic primary school, where I had become accustomed to being different from other children, and I had prepared myself for several more years of the same. But this young woman made me laugh. She cracked jokes, she talked to me, she liked me for who I was.

She shared her chips with me at lunchtime.

She watched the magpies with me.

We were in special maths class together.

Even when I moved away to the other side of the world, and we gradually grew up, I still felt like this young woman was a beautiful person in my life. At times in my adolescence when I childishly hated everyone and everything around me I could never hate her, because all she radiated was friendliness and warmth. Her messages to me made, and still make, me feel like a valid human being, because she writes with honesty and with a passion for what she believes in.

This young woman’s life has by no means been perfect. Like us all, and perhaps more than her fair share, she has carried the burdens of sadness and sorrow on her back for many years. There have been people whom she has loved more than they deserved, people who have hurt her, people who have angered her with their complacency about the injustice in the world. There are certain demons that plague her, and she fights hard to overcome them. Through all this, although it is painful, she soldiers on.

I have never told her this, but this young woman has always reminded me of sunflowers. Sunflowers are big, and bright yellow, like the sun, their outsides are happy and joyous and they cannot help but spread a smile across the face of those that see them. Their insides, though, are darker, they conceal sadness and thoughtfulness about the world, but they are also deep. There is much inside them that we cannot see. Sunflowers, like this young woman’s life, remind me of hope, of hope at times and in places where you would not expect it.

I just want to say I love you, whoever you are. And I want you to know that I still read your messages, when you post them, and your honesty and passion for the world make me feel content that I know you, and that I have a friend whose soul is so beautiful.

Dearly beloved friend, whatever happens, never stop shining your light…

I wish more people in the world were like you.

Friend of WikiLeaks

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!