onefootintheclay

Creativity and Spirituality with Joel McKerrow

Month: January, 2016

Excuse me for a moment whilst I strip in front of you (On body image and masculinity)

I remember the day that I divorced from my body. A cut and a separation. I was fourteen and hairy and she was fifteen and told me that she would never date someone with a hairy back. I crumbled. Stumbled. Ran. Headfirst out of that room.

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Headfirst. It is the right word. My body did not follow. I left it behind. Forgot that I had one. It was easier that way. I began to wear t-shirts to the beach during teenage years so that I didn’t have to show myself to the world. And I knew that girls had body issues but I was never told that men could have them too. It is too harsh a world with too many a critic and too much to be insecure about in the face of so many opinions. I could not live up to who they wanted me to be.

Sometimes I wish that we were all just science-fiction heads held in glass jars interacting with the world around us through mechanical arms. It would certainly make life easier. But I am not and you are not and we are not made to be like everybody else, to have the same body as everybody else. Any body becomes no body when they try to be like every body.

My body is red hair and the freckles. My body is hairy back and the hairy shoulders. My body is awkward and the lumpy bumpy bits. My body is beginning to not work as well as it once did. Creak of back. Limp of ankle. I have never looked magazine ready. It would take a long time to photoshop the hairiness from the pages. So I refuse to laser my hair away. I refuse to give in to the ideal of smooth skin with no blemish. No blemish. It is a lie that does not become us.

Whilst blemish is seen as a defect. A beauty marred. The origin of the word actually comes from the same root word as to make white. To shine. To burn bright. So call me blemished. A beauty that shines not out of some so called perfection, but out of the broken, out of the marred and the scarred and the flawed and the bumpy and the hairy and all the ways I do not measure up to the masculine image.

The blemished bits. These are the bits that make us truly unique. Within Japanese artistry there is a form of pottery repair known as Kintsugi. A Japanese potter sits with a cracked ceramic and she does not repair the broken pot, she fills its cracks with a golden lacquer. Does not see seamless as goodness. The gold highlights the cracks, it does not hide them and it is this which makes the pottery even more beautiful. The clearly visible fractured golden seams. Those things that we perceive to be defect, perhaps they are those things that make us most beautiful, most unique. And of course I am not just talking about body image. I am talking all the ways that we perceive ourselves as too broken, too marred, too scarred, too fractured and too weak. I am talking of all the cracks that appear upon the surface. I am talking of a life smashed upon the ground only to be taken up into fragile hands and remade mosaic again.

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I learnt many years ago to look at myself in the mirror and to love what I see there. This includes the hairy and the freckly and the bumpy. This is me. There is no other pot that is cracked and put back together in just the same way.

Hold me up to the light.

See how I shine.

And so I say this to the too hairy, the too skinny, the larger than everybody else, the freckly, the acne, the big ears and the pock-marked skin, to the oddly shaped nose and the squinty eyes and the large thighs and the belly that wont stay flat and the shoulders that hunch and the breasts too small and the chest not large enough, to every part of you that is deemed not suitable I say,

“Come out to play.

Turn your body to the light.

See how she shines.

Blemished and beautiful.

Get to know her again

and always, always,

choose yourself.”

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An Australia Day that I Could Give Myself To…

I was born in a land where red dust still gathers under pavement city streets. In towns built by the hands of those who do not belong here. And they were my hands. And they were the hands of my fathers.

I am from convict and from settler, from those who stole the land. And I am shamed by this history. I am ashamed of how little we have done since. I am ashamed that we still celebrate Australia on the very day that marks the dispossession and theft of land from an entire continent of people.

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I cannot speak of my love of this land shy of lament for what has gone before, for what continues to this day. And I know there is no way to go back and make it right. No way to undo the centuries of oppression. The truth of a genocide in this land of sweeping plains. That which never made it into my school books. I guess it is easier to study the World Wars, turn our eyes to Hitler and to Stalin, to wars where we fought the evil ones, rather than when we had become them. It is easier to ignore the terror in these lands, the terror born of these hands, when slaughtered to near extinction Victoria’s population was reduced from sixty thousand to two thousand in thirty years.

So dangle your feet a little while with me on the edge of this river. Where the water meets the city. The Yarra. Birrarung. She has been here so many years. An aged sage compared to the pimple-faced puberty of the city. Ancient in her wisdom. She watched on that day, when the white fellas came, felt the stain of blood and bullets through watery skin. She watched on that day and she wept those years. A watery tomb she became. She still remembers her name. Birrarung. She turned the colour of their skin, to honour their passing.

Birrarung, she still runs red. She collects the blood and the dust every night, holds them in her waters that we would remember. We must remember. Every morning she flows out to sea that we would move forward. We must move forward. We cannot go back. I sit and am held by this history.

I still swim in the myth of all that we hope for.
A fair Australia.
A common-wealth.
A reconstitution of the honour that is due to our indigenous brothers and sisters.
A government that makes policies which uphold justice and equality.
Boundless plains to share.
A land that I could be proud of.
An Australia day that I could give myself to.
We must remember.
We must move forward.
Together.
I still swim in the myth of all that we hope for.

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BRAND NEW SURPRISE MUSIC VIDEO  (A surprise even for us)…

When you wake up in the morning and read an email and its from someone who loves your work and they decided to make a Music Video from one of your poems and it is a brilliant video…This is quite a DELICIOUS thing to have happen…PLEASE go have a watch…

THANKS to Megan Ogilvie and Morgan Sutton for this great work.
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and go see Morgan HERE- https://vimeo.com/152406185

The Myth of Creative Success

This year we become a family of four. A little fire. A melody. A wifey. And me. That is four heads to shelter, four bodies to clothe, four mouths to feed and forty toes to keep warm. And its all on my paycheque. The glorious income of a poet. Now that is a daunting reality.

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A full time poet. This is what I have prided myself on being the last few years. And yet now, this year, I take on another job to feed the four hungry mouths. So no longer am I technically a full-time poet. My ego bucks at this. Wants to be recognised. Admired. Wants the myth of success.

The notion of the full-time creative in any field is one that is strived for. There is a myth that once you are a full time poet/musician/writer/dancer/whatever then you have truly made it. When your art pays for your life then you have reached artistic Nirvana. The top of your game. Success.

I think its time we called this one for what it is…BULLS%#T.

The full-time artist life is a lot less romantic than the myth of said life. Most weeks I would get one day of actual writing and the rest of the time my creativity was dolled out the same way as everybody else’s – between the cracks, in the stolen minutes, when the boy is finally asleep, after I write these invoices, between these fifty emails, sitting in the carpark of the school I am teaching in that day, in the greenroom of another poetry gig.

This is reality, I would say, for almost every creative person in the world. Certainly every full-time creative who has ever been honest with me about the actuality of their lifestyle. The myth is never the reality. Reality is hectic tour schedules and broken relationships and lonely hotels and millions of emails and screwed up business deals and bloody hard work to make it all happen. So even if we are ‘full-time artists,’ we cannot escape the normality. The frustration of the everyday. We wont ever have an open slather of free time for our creativity. The dream of endless artistic freedom. Simply put, it doesn’t exist. So heres a thought, lets just create anyway.

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But oh how we demand this myth of success, how we aim for it and put SO much pressure on our creativity to come through with the goods, to provide for us. If only I could be that full-time poet then life would just be peachy. Then creativity would flow. Then…then…always then. But when you get to the then it is never what it is meant to be. Ask Amy. She made me cry the other night. Amy Winehouse. The documentary on her life, ‘AMY’. The cheeky, saucy, creative girl with the huge smile. Seeing the crumbling of someone so stunning. The loss of herself in the face of ‘making it’. I watched the doco on a plane coming home from some gig and I just wept. The big snotty weeping that makes people look at you weirdly. I could not help it. A tragic loss to the world. The smashing apart of a life under the weight of all that we seemingly think of as creative success. I think we need some new definitions. Of what it is to ‘make-it’. Of success. Of creative freedom. There is just too much pressure placed on these things. Inevitably they shall crack and crumble.

So here is what I would say. None of us, not even full-time creatives, will ever have the time we would like, the resources, the freedom from the trivial realities of life, the open expanse of endless creativity. The myth is not reality. Even when you are living in the myth you quickly realise it for what it is. So what if you and I stop pressuring our creativity to provide. What if we stop putting so much weight on ourselves to ‘make-it’. What if we just create. What if we let our creativity out to play in whatever way she wants to, whether she makes us money or not. What if we redefine creative success. What if we create not to get published, not to get enough money to do this full-time, what if we create just because. Because we will die if we don’t. Because everything in us must write or dance or paint. Because this thing we do is the love of our lives. Because creativity feels like volts of electricity pulsing through the realities of our normality.

And I am not saying do not hustle. Absolutely still chase. Still chase the next award, the publishing deal, the gallery show, the Broadway production, whatever it might be. Still chase. But know that what you are chasing is never the reason. Chase because no matter how hard the chase, no matter how much work you put in and no matter if you never get there in the end, it is still all worth it simply because you made a thing. So do this thing for the love of it, not for anything else. It is only LOVE that shall give you the persistence you need to keep going with your creativity regardless of the failures and rejections and the 9-5 job you have to hold down so you can pay to live. Let us stop demanding from ourselves and our creativity this myth of success.

Let yourself off the hook. Stop telling your paintbrushes and pens they need to provide for you. I wonder what might happen to your creative expression should you do so.

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I am no longer a ‘full-time’ poet. There is something else I am doing to subsidise my writing, to feed the four mouths. And I am learning that this, that this is OK. That this can honour my creativity much more so than the myth of being the ‘full-time’ artist. I am learning that I am always a full-time creative. This is my life, whatever I do, this is my life and my existence. This is enough.

Bottom Photo Credit: John Englezos

The Weight of Things Un-named (on where to go with the heavy things)

My friend had twins in 2015, one of them drastically sick. She has spent most of his five months with him in hospital. On New Year’s day he stopped breathing. The ambulance came, rushed him again to the hospital. I do not know what will happen with the little boy. Neither does she. What a way to start the new year. She told me that it is, “hard to know where to go with these experiences”. I wholeheartedly agreed. No words.

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These things too heavy for the naming, what do we do with them? Where do we go when the loss comes? When our shoulders bow under its weight?

Another friend lost her daughter twenty five years ago. She still carries around her absence. It has become more familiar to her than her presence. My parents lost two children, twins, right after they were born. It is not something we talked about growing up. Too heavy. I shall never forget the phone call to tell me that one of my high-school sweethearts, only a few months before her wedding, had suddenly and inexplicably died in the night. I was a wedding photographer back then, had three weddings to shoot that week, the camera, it was the heaviest that it has ever been.

And I am not just speaking of death. There are other things too heavy for the naming. Like touch unwanted. Like keeping his secret. Like blade on wrist on tiled floor. Like slamming the door. Like the drop of your stomach when you have been found out. Like the drop of your stomach when you find them out. Like the silent emptiness that fills a space once all the people and the laughter have left. Like the crippling feeling that no matter what you do it is never enough. Like the loneliness that comes after a night on social media. Like bruised eye hidden under dark glasses. These things too are a loss and a grieving and most often we do not have the language to speak of them. So where do we go with them? The unspeakable things. Where do we take them?

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Usually I run to the water. Moving water. When nothing makes sense anymore I turn to the ocean and to the river. I have found that grief is a grindstone and so is the ocean. They break us apart, they rough away the sharp and the piercing. They smooth us out, even as we hide in their depths. When a child dies those who are left behind are forever scraped across the rocks of their despair. When any un-named weight falls heavy upon you, it is always the same. No words. Grief.

So I let myself sink under the water and stretch out my lungs beneath the spray. A surrender. Let myself be smashed. The wave that breaks and turns and tosses and smooths me down. The grindstone of grief. On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Sea-glass green. Pain too is a baptism. Perhaps, in the end, they are the one and same sacrament. Pain and baptism. They are both a loss of breath and a coming home to the depth. A dying, a drowning, a beginning again. The ocean decides when she is finished with us. She gives us back to the world of men. On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Smashed now being made smooth.

And I am not saying that this is the answer or the cure, to place yourself in running water. I am not saying that there is an answer or a cure. As much as we demand such. What I am saying is that the swirling ocean is as good a place to hide as any. To hide like grain of sand, like the smashed glass. What I am saying is that the only place of healing I have found is the unfolding of oneself into the arms of something much larger than oneself. A surrender.

Some say we should turn to God in such moments of despair. And I guess this is my way of doing so. The ocean. God. Enfolding my own story of that which cannot be named into the hands of some larger story. Weight held by weight. Like my son holds his hand in my hand. I do not know what this looks like for you. I do not claim to know where you should go with these experiences, this weight. I only know my own attempts to pry gripping fingers away that I might be able to let something out into the ocean. To not hold the grief back. To give myself to the waters of surrender that they might someday smooth me out.

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On the beaches is where we pick up the pieces. Shattered glass turned sea-glass green. Hold it in your hand. You hold what was, what is, what ever could be. You hold it all in this moment. It still doesn’t make sense. But you no longer need it to do so. It still hurts, it always will. It is still heavy. The weight of things un-named. But somehow it becomes just light enough to keep on walking.