True art.

This morning I had a sudden clear memory of a man I knew when I was a kid. Don’t panic; it’s a good memory! He was the father of friends of mine. I’d been talking with (or possibly talking to) my husband about poetry and art. (I know. It sounds a tad pretentious, especially when I was making my breakfast at the time. The Old Boy has learned to just go with the flow.) During the conversation about the difference between true art and simply copying something, even if done really well, I had a sudden memory flash that took me back to my childhood. My friends’ dad was an artist; a good one. I was visiting my friends at the time. For some reason or other I went outside the house and there, in their garage, my friends’ dad was working on a painting. He was using oils (I think). I remember standing in their driveway, staring at an enormous canvas covered in vivid colour. For the life of me I couldn’t see what it was. I could see the swirls and the movement and the colour but I couldn’t tell what the subject was. Then, he did something magical. He sprayed it with water. I think he used the hose and it was probably on a ‘pressure’ setting. (As we’re talking about something that happened over 50 years ago, the details are a bit fuzzy, so forgive me if I’ve got that bit wrong.) Suddenly, out of the chaos of colour, I could see something emerge. It was a landscape. I was utterly mesmerised. How the hell did he do that?!!! I’ve never forgotten it. It probably influenced my life far more than I’ve ever given it credit. I think it helped to shape my approach to the arts. I’ve always thought that real art, true art – whether paintings, sculpture, music, dance or literature – to be the real deal, it must have a magical quality to it. It must transport us to a new revelation about this world, or to the possibility of another world. It has to lift us out of ourselves, even if only for a moment. It has to tweak something in the heart. And, because our hearts are different, what affects one person will leave another cold. (I can’t warm to rap. Sorry.) True art speaks to the human condition. When I learned that my friends’ dad survived a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II, and that he did many, many paintings while there – many of them with a delightful sense of humour – somehow I wasn’t surprised it was art that helped him stay sane. (His son has posted many of his prison works on the internet: changipowart.com) So, this is about 50 years too late but, thank you Mr. Bettany. You were an inspiration in more ways than you probably ever...

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Checks and balances

I recently read a young adult’s book, Making Bombs for Hitler. (It was in a selection of books that Good Reading Magazine asked me to review.) It was about a nine year old girl who was taken from the Ukraine by the Nazis and sent to a labour camp. No, she wasn’t Jewish. It seems the Nazis also kidnapped young people from Poland, the Ukraine and other northern regions and sent them to be slave labour. After all, one couldn’t have any sweet Aryan child doing such dirty, dangerous work. Why, for starters, they’d expect to be paid and fed well. Why do that when you can force children to do the same work for a bowl of turnip soup a day? And, if  they get too weak, or they’re too small to do the work, you can send them to the hospital and drain their blood to give to the wounded troops on the battlefield. It didn’t matter that draining all their blood would kill them; there were plenty more where they came from. As you can imagine, it was a harrowing read; especially knowing that although this was fiction, it was based on interviews with survivors from these camps. At first, my reaction was “Bloody Nazis! Thank God they were defeated and dealt with.” Then I thought some more. Hitler wasn’t the only megalomaniac to lead a country down the path to Hell. There was also Stalin and Pol Pot and the Ayatollah Khomeini and Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein… Then there were people like Oliver Cromwell, who liberated his country from the “dictatorship” of a king, only to become an authoritarian bully boy himself. (The man tried to get rid of Christmas!) It seems to me that it’s always been a disaster to place too much power in the hands of one, or a few people. That’s why I prefer democracy. Yes, sometimes a genuine turkey makes his way into office, but the system is set up so that we can get rid of the turkey without one drop of blood having to be spilt. It means that the ordinary citizen gets a say in the running of the place, without having to resort to mob rule (which can be just as dangerous). Human nature being what it is, we need checks and balances so that the worst of us can’t dominate and destroy the best of us. And, isn’t that a sad comment on the human psyche? Back to the book… Those poor Ukrainians. Their country was over-run by Stalin so, when the Nazis kidnapped them, they were “unidentified” or were listed as “Russian”, and were treated as “political prisoners”. When the camps were liberated, many of the survivors were expatriated to the USSR, where they were labelled “Nazi sympathisers” and were either killed or sent to labour camps in Siberia. Don’t forget that these were mainly children. No wonder the majority of the Ukraine people still refuse to be annexed by Russia. (Fight the good fight, fellas!) Was it just, that the Russians labelled these slave-camp survivors, “Nazi sympathisers”? No, of course not. It was absolutely bonkers!  But, here we are in the twenty first century, labelling all survivors of the destruction of Syria as “potential terrorists”. When the human psyche drinks the heady mix of fear and perceived-superiority, the end result is madness. Thank God for all the little candle-holders, lifting their little lights up in the ensuing darkness. And, thank God for all the story-tellers who won’t let us forget. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Making Bombs for Hitler, Scholastic Canada (2012) and Scholastic Australia...

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New year?

It’s 2016. How did that happen? Where did the year go? I wasn’t finished with it yet; there were still so many things I was going to get done “before Christmas”. Then it was “before the new year”. Now it’ll have to be “before Easter”. The lights in the front garden are gone but the tree is still up. I can’t seem to find the oomph to put the decorations away. It took me long enough to drag them out and put them up…it only feels like a week ago. All that effort expended and it’s over in the blink of an eye. Would it be so bad if the tree stayed up a little longer? It’s rather pretty perched in the corner, there. I’ve been reading various posts on Facebook, along the lines of “2015 was a crappy year so here’s hoping 2016 will be a good one”. I remember reading similar things at the end of 2014. The thing is: every year will contain some deaths, some marriages, some births, some birthdays, some successes, some failures, some sicknesses, some recoveries, some funny things, some confusing things, some irritating things and some sad things. Some people will get to travel and others will wish they could, too. Politicians will make promises and not keep them. Some people will lose their jobs; others will find one. There’ll be fires, floods and droughts depending on where you live in Oz. Some places will have all three. That’s life, baby. Every single day is a gift (that’s why it’s called ‘the present’). Cherish it. Love the people who are in it. Try to do a little good, a little kindness, wherever you are. What if this was the last day you have? Try to leave people with good memories of you. And, occasionally, eat some cake. I hope you all have a wonderful 2016. However, in those times when life sucks, remember that you are special, you are unique, you are loved and, eventually, this too will...

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