My Pursuit of Van Gogh: The True Story

Life is remarkably circular. Sometimes life works in ways you can’t even predict. Fifteen years ago, I encountered a story that little did I know will touch my heart in the most unexpected way.

In the early 00’s, encyclopaedias were still our default search engine as the ultimate source of information. Thick, hard-bound books shelved in glass cabinets, catalogued alphabetically according to the sets where it belongs. One day, it was one of those times I was hanging out with a life-long buddy at the library during lunch break when this person handed me an infamous story about a famed artist of the nineteenth century who cut off his ear and shot himself. My 12-year old naive, innocent and Catholic-oriented self was undeniably shocked. Back then, I looked up at these magnificent people from the past as glorious beings who ever walked on earth; Faultless, infallible and immaculate. A quintessence of an ideal human being.

“How could one of the most famous and influential post-impressionist painter lived such a life?”

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Image source: Holland.com

It was the time I was still obstinate and intolerant to the imperfections of life. The story was incomprehensible for me to accept and digest. From then on, I only focused on his works and refused to read about his life. It was simply unsuitable to take a young mind’s innocence and corrupt it with the dark intentions of human beings. So I thought.

Over the years, it has been my personal goal to expand my views and be more open-minded as possible. I allowed to put myself on someone’s shoes in every subject matter, remove all prejudice, breakdown every cultural norm and understand the root of such belief, behaviour and mindset. Since then, it has been my ultimate goal in life: To understand everyone and everything. Everything is a though word and impossible to achieve, but hey, we got to set the bar to the highest level.

One and a half decades later, I’ve pretty much achieved my goal in every subject that crosses my path. By removing personal preferences and inhibitions, I am able to dissect every detail of a fact, opinion or argument. It’s a very liberating thing to do. It’s the perfect time to go back to one story that I tried dancing around for quite a long time.

Life took its turn and presented me with the opportunity to revisit an old friend I’ve kept buried in my memory. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in partnership with Art Exhibitions Australia and independent art historian Sjraar van Heugten curated Van Gogh and the Seasons as one of its international exhibitions for 2017.

“Hey! It’s Van Gogh. Not to be missed for sure!” I thought. It’s true. It was a wonderful once in a life time experience to see such an exhibit that focused on the four seasons of his works. The storytelling of the exhibit was impeccable. One, if only he will allow to immerse himself to the experience, will clearly feel the connection with Van Gogh’s personal life; How he came to be as one of the most renowned artists of all time.

 

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Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy

After going through the exhibit, I exited into the souvenir shop without the intention of purchasing any merchandise. There was a large coffee table book, most likely 12″ x 12″ in size detailing the entire exhibit which I personally find above my budget to own. Everyone seems to have bought it. Besides, it was an exclusive publication for this particular exhibit. My best friend bought one, being a huge Van Gogh fan that she is. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of impressionist paintings so I gave it a pass. While browsing through the books section, I saw two copies of Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy in paperback neatly placed on a table, seemed untouched. The title is very catchy, I scanned a bit, read a few pages and left.

Days later, the book seems to be calling out for me. NGV was conveniently located two blocks away from my workplace so I went back to the souvenir shop during my lunch break. I went back to the table where I last saw it but to my surprise, there’s none left. I saw an elderly man, around 70 years of age, intently reading the only copy of the book in sight. I wanted to wait for him so I can grab it for myself but he seemed so serious and wouldn’t put it down any time soon.

I asked the first staff I could find but I was told that it was completely sold out! I couldn’t accept it. “She seems like one of those staff who are lazy to get some stock.” The person I happen to asked must be a newbie. So I looked for the most easily swayed staff, younger than me, someone who looks like he doesn’t want to upset anyone, from the minority group, and asked again. I explained to him how badly I wanted the book. I know that I can purchase it online, but sometimes, you just want it right now.  I waited for some time and he came out with a bunch of new stocks. I was delighted and thanked him repeatedly. I got two copies and sent one to my best friend who lives in Sydney.

I started reading it as soon as I got the book. I couldn’t just put it down. The investigative, story-telling narration style was so captivating. The enigma of the book piqued my curiosity and I was completely sold. The story revolved around the pursuit to identify “Rachel”, the allegedly prostitute which Van Gogh offered his ear after cutting it off one night of December 1888. There were a lot of times while reading the book, my mind was impatient and furious, “Who the f*** is ‘Rachel’?!” But of course, I knew that her identity will only be revealed in the end. I didn’t want to skip anything! Every detail is vital to the story. I’m a lazy reader and I’ve got to say that not a part of this book bored me neither gave me a reason to give up.

Van Gogh’s mental breakdowns – why, when and where it happened – were all essential in understanding the ultimate act of insanity that went down to his story and eventually to history.

This book revealed so much from what I have expected. Bernadette Murphy took seven laborious years gathering information and ID-ing every single resident of Arles in every situation. She traveled in every place mentioned in the book to see first hand and imagine what it was like to live during Van Gogh’s time. Her effort in completing this book is truly amazing. This book explains the different medical diagnoses of the painter and uncovered the truths behind the sensationalised newspaper prints during his time. It also allowed us to see and feel the ultimate bond between two brothers despite the financial hardship they went through.

After all these years, I have finally able to embrace his story in perfect timing. It’s utterly overwhelming to have finished the book with a tragic end (as we all know) but it leaves a heartwarming experience that will forever linger in the soul.

 

 

How Quora Awakened My Curiosity Again

I.

Some of the best things in life are those that comes at the most unexpected times.

It surprises and awakens something inside you.

When I discovered Quora back in 2015, I never expected to enjoy the site as much as I do now. I’ve often encountered people mentioning it before when I was randomly reading through blogs after blogs, forums after forums and social media sites after another. At first I was hesitant to join another site. All of us have countless memberships we’ve already signed up for and I reached to the point where I didn’t want to join anymore at all. But then I got curious and when curiosity strikes, nothing can stop it from killing the cat. A day came when I decided to give it a try.

It was a period in time where I got obsessed in reading about the most popular HBO series, Game of Thrones, based from George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novel A Song of Ice and Fire. My Quora newsfeed was filled with back stories, fan theories, speculations, predictions and interpretations both of the novel and TV series. Honestly, my feed was only about that!

Reading about it day and night, that’s when I encountered the first Quoran I truly admire, Kelsey L. Hayes. She provides in-depth analyses and interpretations of every part of ASOIAF. She even understands how GRR Martin’s mind works, which is incredible. I’ve never seen someone who had so much depth of knowledge and who possesses such deep understanding on a literary work.

The realization of her character as a person changed my view on a certain aspect of the world. I began to question myself, “What have I been doing all this time?”

I realized that there are a lot of amazing people to meet and interact with; There are so many things to read about; Things to have in-depth knowledge of; Things that will expand and provide thorough understanding on a variety of subject matters.

I got excited.

Really excited.

For the first time in a long time, I was inspired again. My ultimate goal in life has been revisited and re-evaluated. It has been right all along – My search for knowledge and broad understanding of everything in this world. That is still my ultimate goal and Quora is one avenue for that.

II.

It reminds me of an important episode in my life a decade back.

When I was still a sophomore in high school, I discovered a book at home that awakened my true curiosity and it triggered the formation of who I am today. I can still vividly remember that particular night: There was a major blackout in the city on a weekday. We only relied on our emergency lights to guide us and illuminate our paths as we fumble in the dark. I still don’t know what’s gotten into me but somehow, I grabbed this 3-inch A4-size hard bound book, published in 1975, and started browsing instead of playing my portable Nintendo like an ordinary teenager of that time.

The book smelled like it hasn’t been flipped for ages. The pages were turning yellow but still thick and crisp. It was a special edition Readers Digest that we picked up from my grandma’s house a few years back. The book’s content covers from ancient history up until humanity’s prediction of the future. It is filled with interesting, factual, mysterious and trivial information such as crop circles, peculiar diseases, the case of Mary Celeste, the two Titanics, and the bizarre story of a young girl (which I’ll never ever forget). Despite relying on a dim light I managed to read it for hours. I just couldn’t put it down.

Years passed and I’m pretty sure that I’ve read it cover to cover x number of times.

Since that night, I went to bed with a realization and understanding of what my interests are and it explained a lot why I enjoy documentaries and other science and history-related books/movies/TV shows. Thus, my interest with Mythbusters, Ancient Aliens and Fringe Science.

I met myself. As if for the first time.

It was absolute bliss.

Every time I read or watch something about a topic I’m interested in, I feel like a little kid going all thrilled over a piece of candy.

III.

Throughout the years after, my attention and focus somehow diverted to college and everything Advertising-related. A few interests were added along the way. I found myself reading about different religions, philosophy, sociology, psychology and surprisingly literature.

I spent my lunch breaks browsing in our college library, seated in the least explored corners closest to the bookshelf of choice, and getting annoyed at anyone reaching within a 5-metre radius.

I found people I can share and discuss ideas with both in real life and online.

It was a period of awakening.

Reading about all these subject matters opened doors to a whole new view of the world. It was the kind of realization with no point of return.

My own paradigm shift.

I embraced the change and a lot of the knowledge I acquired. Things that used to be important to me seems to have become insignificant. Irrelevant to my everyday life. I found them shallow and childish.

I simply lost interest.

Up until today, I can’t manage to go back, peek and enjoy a little of things that used to be my source of entertainment.

It was the point where I accepted that I’ve clearly outgrown them.

IV.

After college, as a new graduate who just entered the real world, work seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Work seems like how a minor subject acted as if it’s a major one back in the day. In short, it consumed all the time I had, which in all honesty, wasn’t the best choice at all.

I consider that as my dark ages.

My judgements at that time have been clouded by an artificial form of lifestyle. Masked happiness, materialism and high-end way of living. PR was the only thing that mattered. What’s inside has been neglected.

When I quit and focused all my time studying again, this time, a diploma course focused in arts, I looked back to prior and questioned how I lived my life for that short period of time. It wasn’t the corporate life I imagined it to be.

Corporate Sellout. 

That’s what my friends in the creative industry used to refer people who have chosen to be part of the corporate world when clearly they have future in an industry with more intellectual freedom and creative expression.

Apparently, giving up what you believe in and performing tasks you consider unethical for some temporary monetary gain hurts ones character.

Where was the substance?

It was another turning point in life and a chapter to be closed.

V.

If passion is lost, then what’s the point of living?

Fast forward to present day, Quora is a site that continuously inspires me to create and enrich myself. It constantly awakens my curiosity, provides valuable information with a right balance of satisfying entertainment and helps focus on the important things in life. Most importantly, answering on Quora challenges writing, comprehension and researching skills. It’s a site with the right balance of learning and creating without any unnecessary stress.

From the site’s analytics, my knowledge, based on my answers, encompasses Haute Horlogerie and surprise, surprise, Melbourne, Australia. Apart from basic questions about watches, I get a lot of requests about migrating to Australia; Most likely because of my unbiased and subjective answers in regards to the topic.

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The ultimate question is, “Who are my top picks of Quorans to follow?”

To be honest, I cannot consider myself to have explored the site to its maximum potential. I’m still enjoying the tip of the iceberg and little by little savouring my way down to its depth.

So far, the top Quorans on my list are as follows:

  • Richard Muller – A physicist at University of California: Berkeley, author of “Now, The Physics of Time”. Apart from science related answers, he also writes about interesting personal stories that comes with an important life advice.
  • Robert Frost – Works at NASA. Obviously answers a lot of interesting NASA, science and astronomy-related questions.
  • Franklin Veaux – Writes mature relationship advice and an author of a book and site on polyamory, “More Than Two”.
  • Kelsey L. Hayes – Provides in-depth analyses and interpretations of the entire A Song of Ice and Fire novel and Game Of Thrones TV show.
  • CJ Lee – Provides in-depth analyses and interpretations, quotes page references and movie parts of the entire Harry Potter franchise.
  • Jake Williams – Very opinionated and his writing has a satirical nature.
  • McKayla Kennedy – Answers a variety of topics and it’s always rational and mature.
  • Josh Fechter – Gives insightful advices regarding startups.
  • Jordan Yates – Answers a lot of questions about everything.
  • Dan Holliday – He claims to be an “agnostic-atheist-humanist-materialist-utilitarian” Pretty much what he writes about apart from personal experiences that he shares.

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I have yet to discover more interesting Quorans. There are so many more topics to cover and to read about. Hopefully, a lifetime would be enough to satisfy ones intellectual cravings.