Navelgazing

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?

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A speck of sand; a tiny success.

by Veronica Foale on August 2, 2013

in Navelgazing

Everyone wants a piece of me and I am chip-chop-cut into tiny little pieces, scattered on the wind. My calendar is full and my batteries have run out. I am slow-slow-slowing down, like a toy, like a plant in winter, like a harangued mother.

I am a pile of ash. Burned up and burned out.

The hospital rings, and rings back again. Letters arrive in the mail and my desk is covered with fragments of my attention. Pins and needles, rope and twine. A Barbie doll with no head; a torn bookmark. Physio referrals and a letter reminding me about bills I need to pay. All juxtaposed in what I imagine looks like very neat chaos.

Music plays and I am putting my baby to sleep, pat-pat-patting her tummy and shushing her quietly to drown out the sound of her siblings fighting and the emails pinging in my inbox. I am hiding under a pile of chaos. Dying, dead, done. I am finished. It collapsed and killed me.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. Are you listening? I said shhhhhhhh.

There are times in life when you just need to ride through the storm. Successes are measured in the very tiny grains of sand. Someone remembered to take their library book to school. I remembered to eat lunch. Someone is wearing clean underpants. A grain of sand, a small success.

Everything is piling up. Are you there God, it’s me – Veronica.

And I am shhh shhh shhhushing while I pat the baby’s tummy and rub her head, her dimpled fingers wrapped around mine.

We will take this moment of peace and wrap it up tightly, because we’re going to need it, you and I. As the chaos falls and the world burns around our feet, we will be okay, because we have this.

A speck of sand. A tiny success.

We will be okay.

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It’s June again. A Poem.

by Veronica Foale on June 3, 2013

in Navelgazing

I wish I could write a song,
so in the dim grey light of winter mourning
I could immortalise the memory of you
for my children.

I would sing in the dark hours of the night
when the babe seeks comfort at my breast.
Croon the melody to her softly.
She could fall asleep
with memories of you
swimming through her mind

I could stand outside
and lament your passing;
every second that you are not here
to watch my children grow.

I would sing a song
and my notes would drift to the stars
where tiny fragments of your life rest still,
not gone and not forgotten,
just not here where I demand you be.

My grief is selfish,
maybe singing would be a selfish act
also.

 

 

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The process of introspection.

by Veronica Foale on December 31, 2012

in Navelgazing

My reader is full of resolutions and revolutions. Bloggers promising things, swearing on pain of reduced readerships to try harder, to be better, to do something huge. Promises that are larger than themselves, a mix of introspection and extroversion. This process of pushing outwards while we look inwards.

It feels a bit dirty, like smearing my soul on a screen while people clap and cheer.

Still. That’s okay. I like a bit of dirt.

2012 felt like the second movie from The Lord Of The Rings. An awful lot of walking, exhaustion, a few battles, and a lot of time whereupon nothing was happening. For me, this was the hardest pill to swallow. I do not like nothing. Nothing is a grey entity, torn and tangled, a wispy wraith of a thing that haunts me and makes it hard to settle. Nothing is not what I wanted to be doing, but there you go. You can’t choose how your year will go.

I can feel the anticipation, sitting here. 2013 hangs just around the corner, bright with possibility and hope. I’m sure that I’ll tarnish it up shortly and knock some of the shine out of it without any effort, but the muffled hope continues, even knowing that in another twelve months it will be but a shadow of itself, waiting to be wished goodbye.

Poor Twentytwelve. It promised so many things and delivered on so few of them. No Mayan Apocalypse for starters. I can’t help but feel a little cheated there. We’d been waiting so long and then … nothing.

And thus the year ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Twentytwelve sits on the cliff, watching the waves break and waiting for night to fall so that we can serenade her out to sea with fireworks; the tones of a drunkenly sung Auld Lang Syne drifting around her ears.

Bloodied, but not defeated, we’ve dragged ourselves to the end of this year with nothing more than fingernails and teeth. Together we’ll stand on the cliff, raise a glass to the end of Twentytwelve and welcome in Twentythirteen, with all her gloss and glamour.

Happy New Year Internet. May your heart be full and your trouble jar empty.

 

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Literally versus metaphorically.

by Veronica Foale on November 13, 2011

in Navelgazing

It’s wet outside. Cold and grey, the kind of weather that leaves you chilled to the bone, wishing for a warm patch of sunlight, or to be a cat, curled up under the covers of the bed.

+++

Writing every day is hard. This is probably why I ought to keep doing it.

:The hard things are always worth it, in the end:

– which sounds like the punchline to a dirty joke, but is decidedly not a euphamism.

Unless it’s a euphamism for life, in which case, carry on.

+++

Every time I stand up, someone steals my chair.

Everytime I sit down, I’m suddenly needed elsewhere.

I’m starting to suspect that this is the euphamism for life. Bugger trying to be happy in this moment, or taking a second to reflect.

No, you’ve got to aim for overall happiness, so that you can survive the shouting and the stolen chairs and the moments filled with annoyance.

+++

Or maybe I’m wrong and this is just so hard because my hands are cold and somehow, I’ve managed to gouge a hole in my hand and I’m bleeding all over the keyboard.

Literally.

Not metaphorically.

I am literally, bleeding all over the keyboard. The space bar and lower keys at least.

Maybe that should be the euphamism.

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