onefootintheclay

Creativity and Spirituality with Joel McKerrow

To everything that lives…

I say, “Grow little ones grow.
Set your mind to the task.
Give heed to that which germinates inside and
whisper to it night and day.
The flame needs the oxygen of breath,
so breathe slow and steady upon your burning.

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I have heard it said that from little things the big things tend to grow,
so grow.
Grow tall.
Grow up.
Grow down.
Grow like wildflower.
Grow like weed.
Grow like oak tree.
However growth may find you, please let it, and do not stop.

Growing pains are only ever a sign of a good thing.
It is the way of all things living,
if we are not growing,
then somewhere back along the path we have died.
So grow inside.
A space that is large enough for the freedom of who you are becoming.
Surround yourself with those who arms are wide enough.

Let them hold your spaciousness.

I want to know you.
I want you to know
just how large you are,
and how lovely you are
and how every part of you belongs here.

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So do not hold yourself back
out of the fear of intrusion
or rejection
or the awkward feeling of being seen.
Do not hold yourself back.

I wish none of us had to cover ourselves.
I wish I could be seen
like the flower is seen,
like the seal is seen,
like the mountain is seen.
In all their glory. Let us see you. In all your glory.

Place yourself in the world like an exhibitionist
that our eyes may life draw your presence.

I offer myself to you
like you offer yourself to me.
This giving freely.
Hold me.
I know you are large enough.
For who I am now and who I am becoming, hold me.

I need to know that I belong here, I need to grow here.
If you hold me, I promise,
I can hold you too.

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All Photos by Candace Smith Photography.

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Confessions of An Over-Achiever

And then there are the parts of us that are so hard to admit. The crooked back, hunched shoulder parts. The hidden behind locked door parts. I have these parts. Yep, I am not perfect. I know, I know, it is a shock to many of you reading this. But I am not, and you are not and the more we can allow ourselves to be seen in our mess perhaps the faster we shall move on from it. So here is some of my mess…

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In Colarado Springs I gathered for three days with creatives from all over the US and the world. Our hearts were joined around imagery and imagination and the telling of stories and tears that gathered in our eyes and the laughter held on our lips and red rock that towered over us like guardians. I have been to many of these gatherings in my time as poet. I love them. I throw myself into them. Choose to give of myself again and again until it hurts. And it hurts. It does. It costs. It costs myself and it costs the ones that I love. Those who stay back home. I give of myself in this way because I know no other. I give and I give to people, to projects, to teaching, to theatre-shows, to poetry. And it is in this giving where my confession lies.

I am a very passionate person (some of you may have noticed). I give 200% to whatever is in the centre of my vision- the people, the projects, the gatherings, the teaching, the poetry. This means that what I want to get accomplished usually does. This means I am certainly an over-achiever most of the time. This means that the people who I am focussed on, who I give myself too in that moment feel loved and known and heard. I am present with them. I am able to pour my whole self out, be as vulnerable as I am able, and I believe and I hope and I doubt and I know that this is changing the lives of those around me both in Australia and Colarado Springs and here in NZ where I write. It is one of my greatest strengths. To be able to hold a whole group of people in my heart, for a time. To be able to hold a project up to the fire of my passion and see it become something. To give and to give and to shine as bright as I am able.

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And still we know that every light gives off the shadow. I am no Peter Pan. My shadow mimics my every step. A silhouette cast on the ground. Darkening the earth where I tread. There is a kinship, an intimacy between the light and the dark, they cannot survive without the other. They two wrap themselves around everything we do. Our greatest strengths reveal our greatest weakness.

And so it is also with my passion and my drive and my giving to this world. It too casts the dark behind me. In the wake of the light, in the giving of myself to that which is in front of me, I too often neglect that which is in the periphery. That which was once hot becomes cold and neglected. The other things that need my attention that I lose passion for. I am so often either hot or cold and it kills me that I am. It has hurt people and it has hurt the ones I love. It hurts those whom have moved to the periphery of my attention without my even realising as I give myself to wholly to another group of people. I know that behind me there flows a wake of great things accomplished and lives changed there flows a wake of neglect and disappointment. That which has allowed me to become all that I have has also poisoned the waters of relationships.

So I want to say sorry. To those who have felt this. I am sorry. I wish it were not the case. I wish this didn’t come back again and again and again. I wish. At times I hate myself for this. When I see the destruction it has caused. When those I hold most dear do not feel loved. In those moments I tend to retreat into a silent self-loathing. I am not an angry man, I turn my harsh gaze inward. I know this gets me nowhere in the end. It takes me away from people and away from myself. It is a cheap solution. So I say sorry to you. To those I have hurt. To those I will hurt. I have no other words. I am sorry.

And perhaps there is no solution, perhaps this is not a problem to solve in my life, but rather a tension to manage. To lessen the shadow. To choose balance and work hard at a more healthy giving of myself. To not back away because of the shadow, but to diffuse its darkness in my life through things like this piece of writing. Through confession. Through trusting the support of friends regardless of how much of myself I can give them. Through playing with my children without any agenda but to have fun and love them and to let myself be loved by them. To not run away from the spaces of brokenness in my life and neither to hate myself because of them. There should be no shame.

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And so I tell myself again the benediction from the theatre show that Anna and I shared with the world but a few weeks ago,

‘May you search out the light in others.
Gather around the fire.
Do not deny them your darkness.
Offer them your darkness.
Befriend your darkness.
Hold your darkness.
Stare at your darkness.
Transform your darkness.
Until you can see the light.
Open a window.
Let the flame burn on the inside.
Let the sun rise on the inside.
Let the dawn of your heart hold every colour.’

I choose to show you all my shadow today. I choose to show you my darkness that it may be transformed. This is my confession. This is who I am.

All Photos by Candace Smith

http://www.candacesmithphotography.com

Where Creativity Begins (or how a show somehow managed to come together)…

We did a thing and it had to begin somewhere. Could I have known that in the end I would be performing my first ever theatre production to a sold out audience of 300 over three nights in an epic show with a magnificent cast of twelve people and the high likelihood of a national tour looming ahead. I am not sure. Would I have begun this if I knew where it was taking me, absolutely.

Though, I must admit, I am not sure we can ever truly know the final destination when it comes to our creativity. Sure we have goals, ideas, dreamings of what something may become. But to know the end-point, maybe we’d actually lose the magic of it all, give ourselves to something of a bland, flatness. It is the murky, dangerous path that ushers in our most creative self and brings about something quite extraordinary.

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She told me that she sat there at her writing desk looking out the window at a world full of light and simply asked herself, what would happen if the sun disappeared? Just one thought. One niggling question. One moment. From this moment she wrote. Words and sentences came together to form a script. A draft. The narration of a reality. A world. She gave it to me. The draft and the world. I fell in love with both. As I read the words there was something that hovered just above the screen. Something wriggling away between the text. It was the feeling that this, what I was reading, that it held something, meant something, could be something.

I offered my thoughts on the narration draft and put forth that it needed a second person. She asked me to be that person. Perhaps something was also hovering just above me. She told me that Fringe Festival Applications were about to close the following week. So with no show, and with a partner (namely ME) who had never actually written or performed theatre before, this brave woman committed to making this thing with me. Whatever this thing might become. And become something it did.

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From the idea came the draft and from the draft came a heck of a lot of hard work. The sculpting and crafting of a show. What was one thought at a desk was now two people working to bring this world into existence. The narration was a poetic lyricism that I was used to, that I thrive on in my own creativity. I could hold my own with this. The familiar. We took the initial and crafted it beautiful.

What was not so familiar was what came next. The taking on of a character within the world we had created. The actual theatrical part of our show. Everything in me wanted to just be a narrator. To hold onto my comfortable place. Yet, there was a part of me that knew this was not to be the case. It was the part that I call ‘idiot’. As in, “Don’t be stupid you idiot, just stick to what you know.” It probably has better names than this though.

My friend calls this space inside ones, ‘deep, deep’. It is the inner place. The place of knowing. The place of intuition. The place where the divine imagination flows. The core of us. The place that speaks the preposterous things that at once feel right and at the same time fill you with dread.

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So it was out of this place that I gathered up all my courage and took a step into the world of improvisation. We both stepped into a world without the sun, namely Anna’s room. We turned off the lights and drew the curtains, but it was still not dark enough so we pulled the doona up over our heads so that we could not see anything. Then we begun.

Two characters emerged. Strangely they held our names. Anna and Joel. We became them and felt the dread of a world that does not know light and the life-altering moment of a candle lit in the darkness. This improvisation became our first scene. This scene led onto more and more and soon our narration was intertwined with a story. And I was to be one of the actors, I would play Joel. And Anna, well she would play Anna.

We did not stop there however. Soon the show would become a fully immersive experience and soon we would have the support of ten others, who all put up there hands to volunteer. They were going to be ushers of sorts, but then they became characters themselves within the world and then they had monologues to share and lighting that they created from torches and interconnected transitions between narration and dialogue. And so it was that before long we had an epic show with a large narrative arc and intertwined smaller stories and lots of deep meaning and a cast of actors and Josh Fuhrmeister backing the narration with a stunning musical score and…well…what began as a fleeting thought at Anna’s writing desk, now became a sold out fringe show that we have just finished the run of a few days ago.

It is here that I must admit that throughout all of it, I was petrified. I was pushed so far out of my comfort and still somehow I chose to stay there. To give myself to this new acting thing with all of me. To create this theatre show that at times we felt certain would have to be a flop. To trust that even if it was a flop that the process we were on to create our flop was still worth it. And it was. Not a flop. Thankfully. But worth it. All of it. So much response from people, both audience and cast, whose lives were changed by our show. And for me the process of working with a stunning writer and actor, namely Anna McGahan. She trusted me. I trusted her. We felt the fear. We walked to the edge with it. That murky dangerous path. We held it in our hands. Surrendered. Trusted. We did a thing and it had to begin somewhere. And now you know where it did begin, the same place all creativity does……with risk.

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A Study in Colour

She wraps herself in violet. Hushed tones. The colour of grandmothers shawl. She has been doing what we all do, holding ourselves up to the light, just to see what colour lies underneath.

He is a faded denim blue. It did not begin this way. It never does. Colours that fade when left lonely in the sun. He was faded like we are faded. Like we are left lonely.

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I remember paint-by-numbers from my childhood with a certain fondness. I was never very good at knowing where the colours and shades mixed and how their unique hue could lie out on the canvas. So to be told where to put what colour. It made it so easy. Just stay between the lines. Stick to the numbers. I knew that sky was number three. Always blue. I knew two was the green grass. I knew the sun was yellow five. I knew God was…

Until he wasn’t. Until the colours began to run. To mix themselves messy.

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If you have seen the emptying of a woman at birth then you know that red always bleeds. Crimson, the colour of life. Today, however, the red was a blush. The creeping heat that veined up pink neck as she told us of the black rape and the burning burgundy of flame and the purple bruising and the grey shadow that follows her everywhere. Midnight blue became her sadness. A charcoal loneliness. The white of bone. The white of snow. A velvet sunset. The hope for green to bring a new beginning.

I tried to paint her, but it was not working well. The colours would not stay in their defined areas. They mingled too easily with each other. They defied the borders. The neat lines were not working. Too much mixing and running and the way the black seeped and tried to cover everything. And the green shied away into a corner to hide. The numbers were all wrong. Nothing made sense. The sky behind her was a murky brown cut through with slash red scars. Her skin was a grey mingled green and everything washed together. Where she ended and the dark surroundings began I could not even discern.

I could think of nothing else so I dabbed the yellow. Just the smallest drop. It lay on her skin. I painted it in. I painted it in. I painted it in until she shone. Golden. Beneath the grey and the dark and the brown, she shone. And I know it was not the eloquence of my brush that brought it out. It was her. It was who she was. She could not be painted with numbers. Who she was. She was all of this. All of these colours and none of them fit and none of them were neat and it was messy and dark and it was light and it was beautiful and it was masterpiece. And it was so…human.

This was the day the colours bled.

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So as a child I painted like a child, but these days paint-by-numbers doesn’t have the same joy as it did back when. Nothing lies so neat anymore. As much as I want to paint people into their place so that it all makes sense. The colours refuse.

I have placed the paint-by-numbers back inside the cupboard. One day my son shall need them, at least for a time we all do.

I pull out a blank canvas. Brush in hand. Or sometimes no brush. Sometimes fingers and hands and messy and hope and confusion and pain and betrayal and with all of these things on the blank canvas of my life I realise that I am trying to paint God.

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Announcing my first ever theatre show…

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It is my absolute privilege to announce the collaborative work I have been producing with the amazing writer and television actor Anna McGahan. We are bringing together an immersive, participatory, poetic theatre show for the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year that we will then tour around Australia. Please come along and let your friends know…

www.thepeopleofthesun.com.au

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MELBOURNE FRINGE

DATES: 20-22 Sept TIMES: 8pm

VENUE: 75onReid (Auditorium) – 75 Reid St, Fitzroy North

TO BOOK TICKETS visit melbournefringe.com.au or call (03) 9660 9666

Full: $20 Concession: $15
Recommended for mature audiences.
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SYDNEY, WOLLONGONG, BRISBANE, CANBERRA shows TBA.

Official Red-Head Denouncement

As a Red-headed societal leader I hereby denounce any affiliation with the abhorrent and blatantly racist Islamaphobia of the Red-headed senator in the North. Indeed I do not condone the actions of any red-headed extremists such as Pauline Hanson, Donald Trump, Ronald McDonald, Carmen Sandiego (wherever she may be), Prince Harry, Nicholas Brody from Homeland or Chuck Norris.

(This is what we are doing these days isn’t it. Putting everyone of the same race, religion, gender, hair-colour, etc into one basket and demanding people of their ilk denounce their actions and distance themselves….Oh, you only need to do that if you are a Muslim. Sorry. Sorry).

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A Blessing for the Politically Despondent.

There shall come a time,
When the way we hope it could be feels so very far away.
When the system shows itself for what it is.
When the politicians spend more time bitching than leading,
stabbing backs
than backing those who truly need their support.

When the truth seems too hard to decipher through the lies.
When the ballot paper seems…empty of good choices.
When it doesn’t seem to even matter
which party is in power,
for they shall all wield the same.

When we are told we have the power to change our society
and yet out voting
feels like it means nothing. An appeasement of the masses
more than a piece of societal changing history.

There shall come a time,
and in that time
and in that sense of frustration
and despondency
and the draw towards apathy,
may you find a higher something to hold onto.

Something above political ideals.
Something above the hollow notion of failed political promise.
Something to remind you.
Something to instil hope within you.

May you take the discouragement
and find courage somewhere within it. The courage to believe that
regardless of politics,
regardless of our leaders pandering to powerful people,
regardless of our faltered political ideals,
that there is still a way to change the world around us.
And it begins with you. And it begins with me.
And it is more than just numbering boxes on ballot paper.

For I have met the real ones. The ones who give themselves again and again to the bettering of our world. I have seen their dirty fingernails, their tired eyes, their patient sitting beside, the way they look you in the eye, the way they listen, the way they teach our high schools, the way they fight for the homeless, the way they resist the rat-race trappings of the western dream, the way they sew seeds into the community, the way they bring people together from all sides of every spectrum, the people who deserve to be politicians. And indeed some of them are.

I have seen those who refuse to give in to the disappointment,
who choose to look around them and say,
“This is what I can do. Here. Now. This is what I can do regardless.”

So may that be you. May that be me. And maybe politics wont even matter if we all chose to live like this. So lets keep voting till we get there, regardless of how empty it can feel, lets not trick ourselves into thinking this will change things even if we do nothing else. Lets keep doing more in the everydayness of our lives. I have met the real ones and what strikes me about every one of them is this…they are just normal people who choose to do something. And isn’t it always a small group of normal people making decisions like this that bring about the change we so desire.

So when the time comes may you be one of these…a real person. Doing real things to bring about real change. Even if it is just to those around you.

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For those whose secrets weigh heavy…

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

I remember Chinese whispers as a child. I am not sure why it was called this or whether such a name was one of those racist statements we all ignored back then. Like Indian Giver. Wherever it came from it was the whispering of a secret into the ear of another for that secret to then be passed around the circle until it returns again. Now changed. Now deformed. The loss of truth through the misheard and the misread. Everyone would laugh at the apparent miscommunication. I never did. It made me sad. Horrified. That we could misappropriate the message given us. I would always try to hear as clear as I could and pass on exactly what i was told. Feeling certain that we could do this without a mistake. It never worked. I didn’t realise then that this was simply the nature of secrets. They deform us and are deformed by us. They hide in the shadows of low speak. A hidden thing they change forms in the dark. The hushed places inside. Concealed. They are changed by us. They change us.

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It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

A hunched back. He held himself crooked. Not how I remembered him at all. His spine was stronger than my own. Once. Back then. Reinforced. The kind of stare-anything-in-the-face backbone that I wished for. I would falter at the first sign of conflict, let alone standing tall before giants with bad breath and body odour. He never cowered. Not once. This is how I remember him. This is how I remember me. Much afraid. Uncertain.Trying so hard to be something. He already was something. And now I hate how reality shatters pedestals. How humans can be so…darn…human.

I placed my hands on his hunched back just to check. It was all true. The once impenetrable was now bent and broken. Weighed down. I had to know. Asked him for his story.

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

He told me that a few years ago, and for many seasons before this, the pack on his back had held every secret he’d ever owned. Written on paper. Each one as light as a feather. It was just one and one more and one more. He did not realise that the longer they sat upon his back the heavier they became, until that which was once feather and frivolous was now brick and too hard to let go of. A hidden thing they changed forms in the dark. Chinese whispers. Deformed. He could not show anybody. Would not admit the weight he carried to himself let alone the loved ones. The secrets were a shame and the shame was a secret. A hidden thing. Changing form in the dark. Heavy now became the hushed places. Concealed. Weighted.

He could not speak them out. So he walked as far as he could away from people until he found a boat on the water. He was going to drop them into the river. Out in the water. He would drop them deep. Down into the murky waters. Down into the forgotten place. He would drop them and they would sink like lead if lead were made of secrets and no one would then know them and he would not have to carry them.

He could feel the weight. On his shoulders, the bag was so much bigger on the inside. He took a step into the boat, but the boat was broken. He did not care. It was leaking. This did not stop him. When something is once decided nothing can turn him from it. And sometimes we just need to run. Hide. Take ourselves away from the world and all its problems. Take ourselves away from ourselves and all our problems. He took himself away. Sure that his problems would not follow. He told himself that an expanse lay somewhere out ahead. Beyond this step. Beyond the suffocation. Beyond the incessant. Beyond the secrets.

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He began to paddle. Away from the shore. Further away from the people and their prying eyes. But the secrets were heavier than he’d ever imagined and part way out they dragged the boat down. He was paddling but there was no use. Water washed over the top and began to fill the boat. It was cold. Like ice. He tried to lift the secrets, to get them out as quick as he may. He could no longer lift the bag. The water came quickly now. Too fast. It wrapped around him. Tightened his chest. Too cold. He could not breathe. He could not swim. He went down with the ship. With the secrets. Down into the dark. Down into the cold. This was not supposed to end like this. But it did.

The man stopped speaking. I asked him for more. He told me that there was no more. I could not believe this. I demanded that he tell me the ending. He told me that he did not know the ending. I looked at him shocked. His hair was wet. I had not noticed. So was his clothes. I had not noticed. His breath was spoken with mist on a morning not cold enough. He was shivering. I had not noticed. I was shivering. I had not noticed. I was finding it hard to breathe. I had not noticed. My hair was wet, I had not noticed. My clothes. I had not noticed. My back too heavy. I had not noticed. The mirror before me. I had not noticed. Didn’t recognise myself.

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

They deform us.

They are deformed by us.

They hide in the shadows of low speak.

A hidden thing they change forms in the dark.

The hushed places inside. Concealed.

They are changed by us.

They change us.

He told me that he did not know the ending…

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A letter for when the World is Weeping… (post-Orlando reflections)

Dear friends,

Let us gather. Let us wrap ourselves around the frailty of each other’s light. Hold ourselves as flames in the cold of each other’s loss and confusion. My hands have been frozen by the immensity of this. I need you. You need me. Let us gather.

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This world is not an easy place to call home. It is not as friendly as we once hoped for, more broken than we were promised, it crumbles violent around the edges and I do not know what to do with this. How do you hold in your hand that which is falling apart?

Lightly. The answer is lightly. You hold it like feather. Like nest. Like only the birds know. Like parchment. A white knuckled holding to the way we demand it to be shall only schism us further. And haven’t we colonised enough already.

Let us not also colonise the way forward.

Please, do not start with opinions. Not from me or you or any of us. Instead may we start with mourning. A weeping at what is. To lament with those who suffer and not feel the need to qualify our position in the face of their sorrow. No more playing politics with people’s crushed lives. We are sorry Orlando. We are sorry Syria. We are sorry Paris. We are sorry Nauru. We are sorry Palestine. We are sorry Israel. We are sorry.

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The art of lament. It is a choosing that our tribe has lost. The truth of an authentic non-denial has been replaced by cliche, greeting card responses, by a silent passivity. Lament, it is the refusal to stay silent in the harsh reality of lost hope. It is not a denial but an embrace of the sorrow that comes with our reality. We may be on the top decks, but the ship is still sinking.

So may lament find its voice inside you. May it break you open. The sorrow and the outrage. The loss. There is so much to be angry about. Do not deny the hot tears that fall from your eyes to stain the ground. Apathy is only ever born of passivity and entitlement. Lament forces us away from this apathy and into a wider field. We call it empathy and it hurts and it breaks and it moves us forward. It calls us into action and change.

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So indeed may we weep. May our tears gather like rivers. May we feel their pain. May it become our own. May it stir us into action. May it unfold our lives into something larger than ourselves.

With everything,

Joel Michael McKerrow.

Throwing Stones in the River… (On prayer, fire, farts, duck poop and politicians).

My son throws stones into the river this morning like I throw hopes into the air every other morning.

I call them prayers. He calls them splats. Cause the water goes splat.

I sometimes wonder if my prayers do the same.

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But the river holds the stones and the air holds the hopes and the sacred holds the prayers and the sun beats down on us both causing mist to smoke out of our noses and my son is overjoyed at the sight. He thinks I am on fire.

“Daddy fire. Daddy fire.” He is cheering and I am burning and the mist is rising and the river is flowing and an aeroplane flies overhead. I am slightly concerned he is so overjoyed at his daddy internally combusting, but I choose to ignore this.

I know I have been burning for a long time now and still have managed to not be snuffed out. A burning bush. My son is Moses. He is staring at my burning. I tell him that he shall set the people free. He agrees. Well, he contemplates this for a moment and then nods his head and says, “Bird poo.”  I take this as agreement. A confirmation of his mission in the world. To set the people free from the bird shit of their lives.

For he shall be called ‘Bird Shit Man’ and the people shall worship him for the way he cleans their skin and their porches and their statues. Like the statue of the stately man at the State Library that always has pigeon poop dripping down his cheeks. It messes with his decorum.

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My son is throwing rocks at the ducks now. He takes his mission very seriously. He shall not just clean up bird poop he shall take on the source of the problem. The ducks themselves.

I decide I had better stop him before he actually hits one. He does not understand. He tells me he wants to set the people free. I tell him I think there is a less violent way to do so. He agrees. Well, he contemplates for a moment and says, “Daddy fart.”

It is true.

I did fart.

He is a smart child.

He stops throwing stones at the ducks and tries to make friends with them instead and I think to myself, if only it were so easy with the leaders of our world. When they misunderstand their mission and start throwing stones at others (insert any minority group or Arab country you’d like here), I wish I could take them throwing stones in the river with my son. I wish I could show them that its not nice to throw stones at ducks just like it is not nice to throw stones at people. I wish I could fart and they would think this is funny and they would forget all about the throwing of stones and they would try to make friends instead. Sometimes children are much easier to teach than presidents or prime-ministers.

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