Saturday, July 15, 2017

It never rains chilis

I was, initially, excited when I moved from 3rd class (year 3) to 4th class. Our new teacher was a Mr. Nugent. He seemed pleasant enough and at the beginning of the class he brought out a guitar. He strummed his guitar and he sang two songs to us. The first song was 'Screwball was a racehorse' followed by 'It Never rains in Southern California'. On the first day this seemed like a real novelty. The songs were interesting and his singing was quite tuneful. Mr. Nugent got us to discuss the lyrics of the songs and it was my first introduction to the idea that a song could have a multilayered meaning. At this point in my tale you may expect me to espouse the value of music in the class room and for me to wax lyrical about Mr. Nugent or to remember him through the warm lens of nostalgia. If that were the end of the story then that may well have been the case. The story continues because on the second day Mr. Nugent pulled out his guitar and played us two songs…'Screwball was a racehorse' and 'It never rains in Southern California'. It seemed as if we were going to listen to these songs until we learnt them all the way through. Every day the guitar came out and every day the same two songs were played. It seems that one of the lessons that we were to learn was that these were the only two songs that Mr. Nugent knew how to play. The story could end here, but unfortunately Mr. Nugent had several more things to teach us. These things are important to learn, but it could be argued that his methods were (at the very least) inappropriate for year 4 students. Mr. Nugent taught me that not all teachers/adults act responsibly, that cruelty can be a powerful persuader, but should never be seen as the only tool in a teacher's tool belt. Mr. Nugent would not tolerate any talking or muttering in class (I have been a teacher for many years so I am aware that it is important to control the volume of speech within a classroom and that it can be a struggle to keep a group focused on the task at hand). If anyone spoke out of turn they would be ordered to sit in a chair out the front of the class, off to one side, with both legs held out in a horizontal position. If you're muscles became fatigued (as they inevitably would) your legs would begin to drop as your heels sought the feeling of blessed relief that the support of the floor could offer. If your legs were seen to dip. Mr. Nugent would be at the ready to strike your shins with the metal stripped edge of his wooden ruler. The choice was between aching discomfort and sharp searing pain (or perhaps not talking in class in the first place). When I was the person in the chair (this would only be occasionally) it was very apparent to me that this method was cruel and totally unnecessary. When it was another child in the chair the unnecessary cruelty was even more apparent. It taught me that feelings of empathy can be almost as strong as the emotion that you are witnessing in others. It taught me that one lesson that cruelty can teach is that cruelty is wrong. The other lesson that Mr. Nugent taught me was that humiliation and torture were ineffective and unacceptable. There was a boy in our class called Guy H (I won't use his full name as this story should not be about him and everyone else in that class will know of whom I am speaking of). Guy sucked his thumb. He would not be the first or last primary student to do so. Mr. Nugent took it upon himself to be the one person that was going to stop Guy and change his behaviour. Mr. Nugent set up a roster. Each day a student was assigned chili deseeding duty. Mr. Nugent would bring in a long red chili and the seeds would be removed so that the soft inner flesh of the chili could be rubbed on Guy's thumb. It was meant to act as a deterrent. It seldom worked. The whole process backfired when one of the seeds flew up and went in the eye of the de-seeder du jour Craig G. Craig was in so much pain that the incident came to the attention of the Principal (Mr. Evans). The Principal brought a halt to the chili roster and the case of the fiery thumb. A few days passed before Mr. Nugent tried his second method…public humiliation. He wrote a large note and pinned it to Guy's back. It read "My name is Guy H. I am in 4th Class and I suck my Thumb!" Guy was made to wear the sign out in the playground and around the school. Thankfully Mr. Evans saw the sign and ordered that it be removed. I don't think any of Mr. Nugent' methods were very effective and I hope that he learned something about his behaviour by the way it was received by Mr. Evans. I learnt destain for Mr. Nugent and I gained respect for Mr. Evans. I also learnt the importance that variety plays in a musical repertoire and that cruelty, torture, and humiliation are wrong.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Points of light in the night sky I often look up at the night sky. When I look I am more likely to see a tiny array of stars. I would be unlikely to see anything like the image here. (It is a deep field photograph by the Hubble telescope. It shows some of the most distant, and ancient, galaxies in the Universe.) When I look to the sky I cannot see these galaxies. That does not mean that they don't exist. The fact that I can't see them does not mean that they aren't always there. I know that physics tells me that everything I observe is changed by the very act of observation. I wonder if these galaxies have been changed by yourself and myself being able to observe them now. Does the act of observation extend to looking at pixels arranged on a screen? Pixels that are but a representation of these distant objects. It would seem like an unlikely proposition and something that would be impossible to prove in this case. These galaxies are so distant that they would have to be the last possible place that humanity could ever visit to poke, prod, measure, and sample. Logic would deem such a journey as impossible, but then everything we know about the Universe seems to say to us that it is only from the impossible that the possible can spring forth. The unlikeliness of the Universe would make it seem highly unlikely that we should be here at all, and yet here we are. Tiny little creatures with tiny little heads, tiny little eyes, and even tinier little holes that let in the ancient light of the skies…but something amazing happens when this light passes through the lens of our eyes and is inverted. The pin holes that let the Universe into our minds are so very very small when compared to the vastness of the Universe. I wonder if our pupils must be the size that they are because the full power of the Universe cannot be absorbed and understood at any other scale, but that's not the whole story. Once the light enters our heads it falls upon the rods and cones of our retinas. If that's where the journey of these ancient photons were to end then it would seem to be the longest route to the most pointless destination. It's what happens next that is perhaps the most remarkable part of this incredible puzzle. The Universe that enters our eyes is transformed into information that is sent, by the optic nerve, to the back of our brains. It is fitting, perhaps, that our brains are one of the few things in the Universe that have a complexity that can equal (or even surpass) the complexity of the Universe outside. For every star that we know there is a neuron to match it. Perhaps, one day, we will find that the Universe contains more stars than the neurons in just one mind, but we are never just one mind (we never have been). We are a collective of minds, a hive, a network, a community. It shouldn't be surprising that if there were ever to be a chance for the Universe to be understood (assuming that the Universe ever wanted to be understood) then it was always going to take a collective mind that was bigger than the Universe if there was to be any hope of comprehending everything that ever was, everything that is, and everything that ever will be. This is why I greet the world with optimism. I know that there are many things that can make us doubt the wisdom of the human mind. We are simultaneously the most wonderful and the most terrifying of creatures. It could be argued that we are a true reflection of the Universe and that the Universe is the most wonderful and terrifying of places too. We are hot and cold, loving and hateful, wise and na├»ve, old and young, happy and sad, intelligent and stupid, endless and limited. We are both a particle and a wave…and, for the time being, we're the only hope we have to understand the Universe and perhaps the only hope for the Universe to understand itself… If we could just focus our minds. If we could just join together, then if ever there was a chance to achieve the impossible then it would have to be the impossible creatures that we are that are the most likely to achieve the most unlikely of outcomes. Heads up. Look to the stars. Join together. Fingers crossed. Here's hoping our hearts can be as big as our minds and we can go on to be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to all of ever.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The abandonment of empathy. We've all had moments when we've "turned a blind eye". It could be said that, on any given day, we turn away from what goes on around us or what is going on in the far reaches of the world. In most cases we have no ill intent. We're caught in our own crises, lost in our own cosmos. Our neglect is not completely thoughtless. We know that we can be attentive when it really matters. Empathy is a spectrum, a sliding scale. Our "blindness" is akin to the petty crime of the "white lie". When we are presented with human behaviour at its darkest, we can rise to the challenge (when we choose too), and bring an end to the suffering. We don't always act in a timely fashion. Sometimes were culpable, sometimes we're a party to the crimes, and other times we find ourselves powerless or immobilized by timing or circumstance. Every situation is complex and there can't be a tidy solution for every problem. We try our best to fix whatever's broken (even when we are the ones that are doing the breaking). We feel guilt when we don't act. Remorse is just empathy catching up with us. We know that suffering is wrong because empathy allows us to feel the pain of others.we want our lives to be free of suffering. We can see that hope in others too. Our "blind eye" should only be a temporary condition. We justify our turning away because we know that we can turn back to look when we really need to. A flexible relationship to empathy allows for a considered approach to each situation. The greatest danger comes when we decide to abandon empathy. It starts small when we begin to describe empathy as a weakness. When we ridicule people for daring to be sympathetic. When compassion is derided. When a social conscience is seen as a liability. When callousness is admired. When greed is championed. When suffering is legislated. When torture is hidden. When hatred is overt. When oppression is enshrined in law. When empathy is abandoned. When every eye is blind and no one is looking.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Here are some images that I've made for my shop. They are based on ideas about TV shows that used to scare me as a child or even as an adult.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Worst Betrayal

Some time ago I wrote a small piece about Trust. It was a reflection on the the notion of 'not trusting anyone'. The basic premise of the piece was that we all trust a myriad of people, and things, and if we didn't we wouldn't get very far in life. This doesn't mean that there are plenty of people that we shouldn't, or can't, trust. I still believe that the people we can trust are in far greater numbers than the ones that we can't. There are always going to be untrustworthy people and the level of mistrust is always going to be a sliding scale that depends on the actions of the other, their reputation, and our expectations that we put upon them. When trust is lost there is always the possibility that trust can be regained. Sometimes that possibility is faint or remote. It usually takes a lot of work by the person, or persons that acted in a way that resulted in trust being lost. It is also very hard work for the person who was betrayed. Forgiveness sounds like it is so very easy but we all know from experience that forgiveness is one of humanities greatest challenges. I think that the worst betrayal of all is when children put their trust in adults, and the adult world that they find themselves in, and that trust is shattered. Small children are so open and trusting in everything that adults tell them. They absorb all manner of information from adults. Sometimes that information is in the form of a lie. The 'white lie' can serve a practical purpose, but as lies slide into darkness they become far more destructive. The instances of children being betrayed by adults are so numerous that they can't all be listed here. Not every loss of trust has to be a direct betrayal. Many children trust that their parents will protect them. Many parents die doing just that. Many parents die with their children from circumstances that are out of their control. Every tiny hand that reaches out to be held is an act of trust. Children trust that their Mum will get them across the road. They trust that Dad won't swing them too high. Many children trust that there will be food on the table. They trust that their house will keep them safe. Their parent's assure them that it's OK to ride their bike or that there are no sharks where they are swimming. We tell our children that 'there are no monsters...not really.' and it's safe to go back to sleep. The Children trust us so much that they follow us, almost, anywhere. We trust in others too and we trust in 'fate' that no harm will come to them. Many people trust in their god or some higher order of things. We tell our children it is safe to play soccer on the beach...we assume that it should be. We send them off to school, or on a trip away, and assume that they will be fine. They hop in a boat or a car and trust that we will take them safely from A to B. We hold their hands and assure them that science and physics will keep the plane in the air. Is all that trust misplaced? Should we trust more in the random nature of things? Should we trust in the greater plan that our gods have for us...even if the plan may seem cruel and heartless? Should we tell our children to expect the worst and be surprised by the best? Is it really our job to crush the wide eyed optimism we see in our children's eyes? Can we trust ourselves to build a better world? I trust that we can do it. I don't pretend it can be easy. It will take love, compassion, understanding, and openness. It will take a lot of hard work by so many generations. The hardest part of all will be to forgive. Our children are trusting in us. Let's take their hand and lead them into a brighter future. image source

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The War to end all Wars 2014 is a year that marks two very important anniversaries. It is one-hundred years since the start of The Great War, the War to end all Wars (It is sad to note that this title became redundant in later years). War did not, and has never, ended. Within two decades the 'War to end all Wars' would be supplanted by it's deadly sequel, the Second World War. The 'Great War' became World War One… and it's bastard child took the title of World War Two. 2014 also marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The battle that turned the war and led to liberation of Europe and the defeat of the Nazi menace. Now is a time to reflect on these events and their long term echoes and ramifications. Many a word has been said about the momentous events that shaped the 20th Century and continue to shape us today. Many a word will be said to mark the anniversaries too. Any war requires many words to be waged and many words to fathom once the war has reached an end. What else are we left with, when we turn on ourselves, other than words? It is the power of words that shapes the world around us. The human imagination seems limitless. When the power of the imagination is set free it can create the most amazing things. It is both, our greatest gift, and our most dreadful curse. The volume of creativity unleashed by our imaginations is only ever matched by our gift for imagining destruction. Words, and the power to control and deploy them, is our greatest tool. It is no mistake, or coincidence, that the English language is so vast, far reaching and powerful. It is the mark, the record, the echo of the largest empire to date. We talk of a time of peace and prosperity that exists between wars. We seem to be living in a time of (relative) peace. It may seem to be a time of peace but we are in the midsts of a war. We are living within a War of Words. George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm) warned us of the power of words and how they can be manipulated and used as weapons and as the basis of slavery and subjugation. Orwell imagined a language that could be twisted, diminished, and refined. Language used to control and contrive, to deny, and obfuscate. The worlds imagined by Orwell have come to life. We live in a time where there are 'people' and 'boat people'. This is a definition designed to delineate. These classifications help us understand the world around us. Just like the terms 'human' and 'sub-human', 'Australian' and 'un-Australian'. It is of utmost importance that we understand how words are used to define and shape our world. How else are we to know the difference between 'lifters' and 'leaners', 'employed' and 'un-employed', 'deserving' and 'un-deserving'? We need to clarify who is an 'Aussie' and who is an 'Aboriginal', who is 'rich' and who is 'poor, who is 'left' and who is 'right'. It is important that we know the difference between 'land rights' and the 'right to land'...the difference between 'flora' and 'fauna' , 'cargo' and 'passengers', 'queues' and 'queue jumpers', 'vilification' and 'racism', 'occupied territory' and 'territory', 'tax' and 'levy'. We have to be vigilant and wary when language is being used to control and direct us. Are we being talked into creating a world that we would want for ourselves or our children? Are we advancing humanity? Where are we headed and who is leading us? The time has come to be very alert. We've seen where words can lead us we know their power. We can choose our words wisely and we can choose a better world.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Road Ahead...

Recent comments on the book of faces and the current political climate here in New South Wales (and the rest of Australia) has got me thinking about the Arts and it’s place in our society. When a person makes the decision to be a practicing artist that persons bravery is often overlooked. Australian society (and by connection much of the world that was was colonized by the British) has a very ambivalent attitude to the role of art and it’s value to society. Ambivalence is by it’s nature fairly benign but ambivalence can occasionally make a space for disinterest, distrust, distaste and sometimes outright hostility. If you make a decision to lead a creative life you have to be prepared for a lifetime of derision. You have to accept that a large proportion of society sees you as nothing more than a burden on society. In many people’s eyes you are a no better than a leech. The sooner the salt is poured on top of you and the sooner you are plucked from the leg of life the better. The objects you produce, the ideas you present, the dreams you have are nothing but a distraction from the “bigger picture”. The bulk of what you produce is seen as being irrelevant to the real economy. If you choose to be creative you should not expect to be taken too seriously by the people that “run the show”. What you produce is of little consequence. If you are lucky enough to bring a little joy and hope to the world with your work then you are lucky. However, you must accept that joy and hope cannot be measured on a graph and neither do they sit easily in a spreadsheet and as a result they are of little value. Many people with money and power see creative people as an annoyance at the very least and as a pest, worthy of extermination, in the very worst views. Sadly these feelings are not only shared amongst the powerful. The influence of the powerful on the pervading world view means that these extreme views are often held by the average “man in the street”. “Art is a waste of money.” “Art is irrelevant.” “All Artists are wankers.” “Art contributes nothing.” These are statements that the creative person has to deal with on a regular basis. Most Artists develop a tough skin. The support of friends, family and the wider world remind us that these views aren’t held by everyone. Most creative people are able to rise above the derision. Some creative people are able to balance working for their “real” job and use that income to fund time spent on their actual job...or at least the job that they see as having more value (if only to themselves). I grew up in a small country town called Gunnedah. It was a pleasant enough place. I haven’t been back recently but when I have been there I am often asked “ What do you do?” a fair enough question and one that helps people place you within their world view. I honestly answer “I’m an Artist”...then a wait. A smirk appears on the other person’s face and 9 times out of 10 the reply will be... “What...A bullshit Artist!?”. It is a an oldie but a goodie and it has a lovely way of reminding me not to take myself too seriously. I realize that it is meant as a joke but the underlying sentiment is that I am wasting my time. If only I were a footballer or a fitter and turner..or both! My chosen career is not real. I must be able to bullshit pretty well if I’ve managed convince people that what I do has any real purpose. I think many people make the connection between someone pulling a scam and making art hence the name “con artist”. In the last six months we have seen the N.S.W State government dismantle the teaching of Art at TAFE Colleges. I teach in the area of Graphic design and there is a general feeling of unease amongst staff as we look up and see the vultures circling. The current N.S.W Government is but a small for-taste of what is to come when the Federal government changes later this year. One of my friends recently told me to “Man the barricades” It was a tongue in cheek jibe at myself and at left leaning people in general...but behind the joke lies the warning that we are entering a time when a new Government will use the word “mandate” to assume that they can slash and burn anything that they consider a waste. Make no mistake that the creative industries will firmly be in the the new government’s sights. Politically Conservative organizations have a long tradition of distrust for the creative person and by extension creative institutions. I am reminded of a letter to Queen Victoria from King Leopold of Belgium. "dealings with artists, for instance, require great prudence; they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that reason dangerous; they are hardly ever satisfied, and when you have too much to do with them, you are sure to have des ennuis.” (trouble) 10 October 1845. The Conservatives like to see themselves as the ruling class and anything that challenges their power is seen as a threat. So in the coming years expect to see many cultural institutions dismantled or strangled to within in an inch of their lives. Once they attack the creative people any empathetic social institutions will be crushed or silenced. We’ve been here before of course. Don’t despair. Like the Artist with the thick skin we will take these blows and cuts in our stride. The one thing a creative person can do is be creative with whatever is at hand. Some creative people are not tough enough to withstand these sort of attacks but we have to be supportive and shelter them. Human creativity is one of the great beauties of the universe. The world is almost always a better place because of the creative spirit. In Australia we may well have to put up with a few decades of tilt-up architecture before we can ever see a building like the Sagrada Familia rise here. It’s been nearly 40 years since the Sydney Opera House was completed...we’ve had to put up with a lot of concrete boxes since then...but one day the creative spirit will win out...mandate or no mandate.