How can I celebrate?

by Veronica Foale on January 26, 2014

in Poetry

How can I celebrate on this day,
this Australia day.

When the date marks the invasion of the land,
the rape, the pillage, the slavery.
How can I celebrate our sunburned country,
when we built it on the back
of such misery.

How can I celebrate?

When we treat our indigenous people,
like they ought to be grateful
for what we do to them.
Sit there and thank the white men,
for stealing your land, your children, your souls.
Your culture.
You’ve got McDonalds now,
and hey, progress right?
No.

When we lock up refugees in places akin to concentration camps.
When we dehumanise and demonise anyone
who isn’t white and shouting
‘Straya cunt.

When the racism is so ingrained, people honestly believe
today is a day for equality.

It is not,
and I cannot celebrate.

For how can I,
when our government accidentally invades Indonesia,
and then says
Whoops, sorry mate, totes an accident.
We didn’t think you’d notice.
When we bully, and coerce, and push and strangle.

How can I celebrate?

When the flag so many have wrapped around their shoulders
makes me cringe,
with its message of patriotism and imperialism.
The sublte whisper of
kill the brown people, let them die, no one wants them, send them back.
A Union Jack on every corner,
God Save The Queen.

How can I be part of this,
when the shame of being Australian
eats at me, making my stomach roil.

I am disgusted,
At the things we do
in the name of this country.

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Art, appreciation, and the teaching of children

by Veronica Foale on November 15, 2013

in Navelgazing

paintings on wall 002

My seven year old is beautiful, amazing and talented. I found a drawing hidden in her bedroom the other day; chalk on brown paper. It’s a duckling and I love it so much I pinned it to the wall next to my desk.

She draws things and screws them up into a little ball, lobbing them across the room to end up land mines of destroyed creativity, left for the baby to chew to pieces and for her to feel lesser, somehow.

Her imagination doesn’t match up to the skill of her fingers. Not yet, not yet.

I take the abandoned papers, smooth out their crinkled lines and point out that I really love her artwork. I tell her I’m proud of her, she has a talent, and drawing is a skill that you work at. I tell her of course her drawings don’t look like the ones in books, because she is seven and illustrators are much older than that, with years of practise. I want her to keep drawing, because it makes her so happy.

Raising children is touch and go. Encouragement and discipline. A mix of you’re amazing and keep trying because you’ll get there.

I was talking with my husband today, about encouragement, and children, and art. And suddenly I remembered my art teacher in Primary school telling me I had no talent for drawing and she didn’t know why I bothered.

I remembered having a sculpture I’d made out of clay screwed up in my face, while being told that it would never work and that I was no good.

Visceral reaction to a memory I didn’t realise I still had. My art teacher didn’t like me, and for years, I believed that I wasn’t any good at art, that I couldn’t draw, couldn’t paint, couldn’t art.

This is the power adults have over children. Turns out I’m still angry, about my sculpture, about the disillusionment that she instilled in me.

Children need encouraging in the things they enjoy, and we don’t give that enough. Flippant comments cut deeper than we realise.

Related:

For years, I stopped showing my mother my writing because she used to correct my spelling and grammar before encouraging me. I refused to let her read my homework. I didn’t bring my stories home. If I needed help with school work I went to my father, or my grandmother, who were softer critics. I was a sensitive snowflake and I couldn’t handle my mother at that stage. She wielded her red pen like a sword and she was very good at it.

Years later, I get my revenge. I hack her blog posts to bits sometimes, and put them back together, better. I am a good editor, and I learned at her feet. I write things for a living. Her red pen didn’t cut me down, although it felt like it at the time.

But I get my revenge, even as she still rings me to point out a single error in my writing.

“But did you like it?” I ask.

“Of course I liked it, but you need to fix this sentence that doesn’t work.”

She wants me to be better. I want to be better. I have thicker skin nowadays. But I didn’t then, and it was hard, and I hid myself from her.

I’m trying to be a softer parent. Walking between encouragement and teaching. My red pen is not a sword for my daughter. But then, maybe hers wasn’t when I was seven either. Maybe it all came later and it’s muddled up in my brain, a great timey wimey ball of yarn.

I remember sitting at the plastic covered desk, working on a sculpture of a fish. Smoothing and scaling and reforming the arches. I remember being proud of how it looked, of how it matched the picture inside my head. I remember the art teacher appearing over my shoulder, telling me I was no good. I remember her hands, reaching over to touch my work. Don’t touch my work. I remember her picking it up, as I watched, ten years old and fragile in my new found creativity, picking it up and crushing it into a ball. Destroying the last hour’s work, telling me I was no good.

I remade that sculpture, and gave it to my father for father’s day. It wasn’t as good as the original, and I never forgave the teacher. For the record, my parents loved the fish, and it’s still hanging in my parents house, if I remember correctly.

But it’s a poor imitation of what I started to do in the beginning.

As a writer, and an editor, I truly believe that sometimes tearing things apart and putting them back together is a good thing. Strip things down to their bones, hack out all the marrow and resculpt them into something new, something better.

Is that what my teacher was trying to do, when she reached over and took over?

My memory tells me no. I remember more than one time when she took the pen off me, took the paper, stole the paintbrush. I remember more stories of destruction than of creativity. Maybe my memory is flawed.

Maybe not.

My art teacher in Primary School was not a good teacher. She did not make me better with her criticism.

I looked her up on Facebook, earlier today. She’s not really on there, it seems. But neither is she an art teacher anymore. She’s moved on to real estate, which in my opinion, is a much safer place for her to practise her destructive tendencies.

Teaching children is a difficult thing. They’re fragile in your hands and it’s an honour to be allowed to shepherd them through to adulthood.

Don’t fuck it up, okay?

{ 4 comments }

And it’s a race (race race)

by Veronica Foale on October 12, 2013

in Poetry

Someone’s dead
and it’s a race
(race race)
to Facebook, to
let the world know
you knew them when,
that you knew them before,
before they died.

And my stream is full
of RIPs and
Good bloke, him;
Such a wonderful lady
Taken too soon

and I wonder when
did we stop taking the time
to grieve in our hearts
before we announced
we were grieving
to the world?

It’s a race
(race race)
to feel important
with our loss,
to
cry
aghast
our
sorrow
publicly.

And I understand
(I do, I do)
the need to reach out
to your friends,
in your time of need,
but the self important
posturing
leaves
me
cold.

Because this is how
I found out
that someone I loved
had died.
A glib announcement,
on a Facebook profile
and I grieved, and grieved.

I wonder,
in this race
(race race)
to feel important
with our loss,
do we forget
others.

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Another thing on our list of things

by Veronica Foale on September 18, 2013

in Children

The air is vaguely warm and damp as I walk home from the bus stop, holding the hand of my eldest daughter. We’re discussing her reading; more honestly, the struggles she is having with learning to read.

“Sometimes the words dance around, and go blurry and I can’t remember which word I’m meant to be looking at.”

A short story she brought home the previous day encourages me to probe for details, the transposed letters, mirrored words and sight words with the middle all muddled ringing alarm bells in my head.

I research Dyslexia and mark a checklist that tells me if you check more than ten of these, consult with a specialist. I check thirty four.

I make an appointment with our doctor for (another) eye test, just in case, before sending her off to her room to play. A highly intelligent child, this might explain her frustration with words not making sense inside her head.

My husband confesses that if he doesn’t read methodically, the lines move and blur together for him as well.

Huh. These things run in families, oftentimes.

She plays and I am grateful to be making this connection now, which she is small and malleable, before the disillusionment sinks in and the bright shine of learning gets knocked off her.

It will be okay – it will always be okay. It’s just another thing on our list of things, another reason to keep pushing, to keep reading, to keep paying attention.

Maybe something inside her brain will click tomorrow and she will stop shouting, frustrated, when the books don’t speak to her. Or maybe something won’t, and we’ll get help, falling to the bottom of the issue and working out way out again with success in our eyes.

 

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Burning down the country

by Veronica Foale on September 8, 2013

in politics,satire

“Burn it down.” The Boss stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at the Trees in front of him. “It’s in the way. It’s gotta go.”

“But sir!” The Foreman gasped. “There are people living in there! Whole families. We can’t just burn it down.”

The Boss turned to stare at The Foreman, who quailed under the dead eyed look. “We can. And we will. If Jesus didn’t want these people to die, then they would have been born into CityDweller families like we were.”

The Foreman swallowed, nervously. How much was his job worth? His life?

“Sir …. I just don’t think …. surely we could warn them?”

The Boss spat. “So they could flood into our towns, hoping for a handout? No. Burn it down. The problem with our country..” He paused, sweeping his arms out in front of him “… is there are too many Trees. Sacrifices have to be made.”

The Boss turned on his heels and walked away, sliding into the backseat of his car, before calling out to The Foreman. “If I find my city flooded with Tree People, it’ll be your head that rolls.”

The Foreman watched him leave, wondering how he was going to sell this to the workers. Some of them had family in the Trees. Hell, most of them had come from the Trees originally.

But that wasn’t the point. Not anymore.

The last round of politicking had cemented the divide within this great country. There were CityDwellers, and Tree People. No middle ground. The fear and loathing of Tree People had started small. A headline here, a subtweet there. But it gained traction. Humans, as a whole, were only ever a few tiny steps away from complete xenophobia and The Boss had played on this since his rise to power.

The headlines grew, as headlines were wont to do. “No more trees!” “STOP THE TREES”. Anything to make the Tree People seem less human. Whatever it took.

Tree People stole my job! screamed one paper. I tried to escape, but couldn’t find my way out: A horror story of loss in amongst the Trees slashed across a tabloid.

Fear and loathing, carefully manipulated for greater political power. No one knew quite where it started, but The Foreman knew where it was going to end. Bloodshed and violence, refugees and poverty.

It was sheer luck whether you were born in the City or in a Tree, but who cared anymore? God decided where people were born, not men. It was by his grace that you lived or died.

The Foreman shook his head sadly and went back to his trailer to get ready. His people had been Tree People, long ago. They’d moved to the City in search of a better life when drought was killing everything. They’d made a go of it, and no one had thrown it back in their faces. Why was it suddenly so different?

Making a few phone calls, he assembled the men, and mounted the small podium that he used for giving work orders each morning. The men looked up at him, fear on their faces. They knew what was coming. Progress had to continue, and they’d been moving towards the Trees for weeks now.

The Foreman cleared his throat. “Men. It’s time. You know what The Boss wants. We have to decide now whether we’ll do as we’re told, or die doing the right thing.”

One man called out: “He ordered it then?”

The Foreman nodded. “He gave the order this morning. Burn the trees.”

At the words, the crowd in front of him collectively began to mumble, a sound that soon turned into a dull roar. The Foreman held his hands up to ask for quiet. Slowly, they quietened.

“I know you’ve got family in those Trees. I know that you don’t want to do this. But whatever we do, we need to act as a group. We can’t be divided, not now, not ever. They’ll jail us for not following orders.”

A shout, in the back. “I don’t care what we’ve gotta do. Tree people ain’t nothin ta me.” The sound of fists silenced his yelling. The foreman coughed. Silence returned, waiting for the order.

It’s now or never the Foreman thought. Are we men, or animals?

He called out. “I want runners sent to every corner. Let the Tree People know what’s going on. Tell them the truth.”

They’d been preparing for this he realised, as the men broke off without looking back, heading for their vehicles, running for their extended families. The Foreman stood there on his podium, the space in front of him empty now save for the one man who’d disagreed, lying bound and bleeding in the dust.

This was it. He’d just started a revolution. Men were going to die on his words. But better than thousands dying because of his actions.

A shot sang out, loud in the silence. It took a moment for him to realise what had happened, his hand over his chest. Blood blossomed through his shirt, as his mouth opened and closed soundlessly.

Slowly he fell, hitting the ground with a dull thud. The Boss filled his vision, as everything narrowed to a point.

A boot in his ribs. A gush of blood. His dying breath.

“Dammit all to hell. If you’d followed orders, I wouldn’t have had to kill you.” The Boss kicked him again, viciously. “It’s not a Democracy anymore. You’ve got no say.”

The Boss put away a small gun, and nodded to his goons.

“Fire kits are over there. Sort it out.”

He stood there for a moment, looking at the dead man in a puddle of blood without remorse. Stepping over the corpse, he walked towards the bound man in the dirt. Eyes big, the man, his mouth filled with sandy grit, blubbered softly. The Boss cut his bound arms with a small knife and pulled him to his feet.

“Can you walk?”

The beaten man nodded.

“Good.” The Boss pointed him towards the City. “Walk that way. Don’t look back. Tell everyone what happened here today.”

A good evangelist was worth a hundred headlines bought and paid for.

The beaten man walked.

The Boss turned around, surveying the work site, before turning and getting back into his car, the driver smoothly taking him back towards the City without asking questions.

Behind him, the country burned.

 

 

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