onefootintheclay

Creativity and Spirituality with Joel McKerrow

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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This is Poetry (Why I do What I do).

The boy can hardly look up from the page. He doesn’t want to remember that thirty eyes are staring at him, so he ignores them. Focusses on the tremor of paper in his earthquake hand. His right leg an uncontrollable jerking of muscle and bone. Sweat gathers on his brow though the room is still early morning cold. He slurs the words as they tumble from his mouth. No one cares. He hardly even makes sense at times. No one cares. This is poetry. It is one of the bravest performances I have ever seen.

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The boy launches into his story and I know it all too well. It is one I have heard countless times before. It is punches and names and harsh words and the inevitability of feeling small in the face of all the supposed ‘normal’ people. He pushes his story out of his mouth like it never belonged there in the first place. Like it wasn’t meant to be his story. Like somehow he always knew he was larger than the box that it held him in. Yet it seems only now that he is able to recognise this. So he recognises this. He is angry. Angry at them. Angry at the world. Angry at his condition. He is autistic. He tells us that his brain doesn’t quite work right. He tells us that he wants to be normal. He tells us of the countless times people felt it their prerogative to tell him that he wasn’t.

His story ends on a note of defiance. I picture a mouse staring into the face of a cat. Perhaps even scarface claw, the baddest cat from my sons picture book. I see the mouse stand up on two legs defiant and proud and with a bellow of a squeak from the mouse the cat looks shocked and surprisingly scared and suddenly bolts in the opposite direction. The boy finishes the poem about his life. His cat demons, they bolt in the opposite direction. The class is dead silent. It is a moment no one wanted to break. Something profound had just occurred and everyone in the class room knows this. It is tangible. Sacred.

The silence breaks. As if on cue. As if timed to perfection. Every single person erupts into a barrage of applause. The boy looks up from his paper confused. A mouse staring now into headlights. He is not sure what to do. Where to go. So he just stands there and a huge smile breaks through. Ear to ear. He smiles wide and the class love this all the more and they cheer even louder and I stand at the back of the room and everything that I do becomes worthwhile once more. This is poetry.

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The teacher tells me that the boy does not write in class. He does not participate. Not like this. This is unheard of. That he crafted his whole story into a poem and stood out the front of the class in this all-boys school and delivered it like this. This is a miracle. This is poetry.

The boy tells me that he has never told anybody his story in his life before. He has not told people of the years of bullying at previous schools. He has not told people of his fight for a normal life in the face of his autism. I tell him just how brave I think he is. I tell him that others need to hear his story. He agrees. The bell goes. He walks out of the room and I never see him again. This is poetry. This is my life. School after school after school. Story after story after story. Lame metaphor after cliched simile after just another rhyming couplet. And I love it all.

There is a rush that comes with standing naked (metaphorically) on a stage and bearing your soul to the world. There is a rush and a catharsis and a healing and a feeling like you could do anything. This is nothing compared to the moment when you see a kid you have been helping to find their words step-up and breakthrough like this boy did. It pales in comparison. This is poetry.

I remember the girl who wept at her Christian school friends for how they treated gay people. I remember the Year 11 boy who broke down as he told his all-boy macho classmates about his mothers condition. I remember the girl who told us of her rape. I remember the scared one who couldn’t even look up at me when we began and as we finished a few days later she was literally screaming her poem to the world. I remember the one with pink hair and poetic words that trampled upon my own. I remember the tears from so many teenagers pooling heavy upon the floor. I remember so many moments when the silence came. When a rowdy class of Year 8’s are brought mute in the face of their classmates bravery and vulnerability. I remember the breakthroughs. I remember the defiance. I remember the steel-toothed determination. I remember it all. I remember the tears that I have cried as I listen to story after story after story.

This is poetry.

This is why I do what I do.

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A Pride of LGBTQ Kids

I am not sure what the Collective Noun of a group of young people is. A rabble. A gang. A storm. A herd. I am not sure what it is, but I know what it should be…

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The children gathered. Not children but teenagers. I feel old here. I sat around in a circle with a group of LGBTQ teens from local highschools. It was my job to help them tell their stories. An honour that I do not take lightly. Story is everything. It is who we once were, who we are now, who we are becoming.

As you could well imagine their stories held a weight too heavy. Names that were thrown hostile and missile. Words that hurt more than sticks and stones ever could. It was the many who do not understand them, the many who do not even try.

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Sexuality is a jigsaw for those in a majority mindset. For these young people, it was a jigsaw tossed wild into a hurricane, flung firm into the storm. Grasping hands, not knowing which piece fits. A swirling circle. At least, with a jigsaw, you get to see the end product on the lid of the box. The destination is clear. These guys and girls and in-betweens felt exactly as that word implies, in-between. Not this, nor that. The constant itch that you aren’t right. Broken. Wrong. Confused. The taping down of breasts to escape them. The parents who shut them out. The everyday fight for some sense of normalcy. Jigsaw pieces that do not come together in the way we are told they are meant to.

Pride. It is not just the name of a march. It is the self-expression of dignity. The owning of oneself.  It is also the grouping together of the kings of the jungle. I stood circle with these lions. They roared their story through trembling lip and tears falling and shaking hands. We listened to the girl who renamed herself storm, declaring stretch marks as lightning upon her skin. We listened to the one raped at twelve swear to the world that she was larger than what had been done to her, that it was time to not let it define her. We listened to their words. To their stories.

There is not much you can do in these moments, aside let the tears fall. I have always affirmed the power of story. One of the boys told me after the day had ended that his life would never be the same. I agreed.

This is what I get to do. This is my life. Pride. It is not just a march, nor just self-expression, nor a herd of lions, it is the beat of my heart toward this group of phenomenal young people. And I tell them this. And I want them to know this in the deepest parts of their selves. When nothing seems to fit together, I want them to still be proud. The audacity of daring to be oneself. Pride.

And I tell you now what each and every story had in common. Not just with these students but with nearly every young person whom I get to work with. One word. Abandonment.

A man named Chap spent six months in a high school in the States and came to the same conclusion. He said that, ‘THE defining feature of young people in todays world is one of abandonment.’

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And how I see it in their faces.

Abandoned by their elders who are too busy chasing the dream. Keeping up with the Joneses when the Joneses are richer than they have ever been. Every kid that I teach in school is taught more by the media than any parent or teacher, its the screens who tell them what to value, who is normal, its the schism created by advertising telling them they are too fat, too ugly, not pretty, not cool, not masculine enough, not feminine enough, not hetero enough. And we wonder why they hate themselves, cut themselves, starve themselves, just trying to fit the moulds, when the moulds are not reality. They need me. They need you. They need to be shown that they matter, that their story counts, that they are not alone. It takes a pride to build pride in the cubs of our tribe.

If you are old enough to listen, to just listen to the story of young person, this is my challenge. Stop chasing the dream and start listening. Your life will be SO much more meaningful. Trust me.

One of the students wrote these words…

“Gender is an insomniac. Thought patterns that keep me awake. The deep rooted fear of, ‘will anyone love me’. Because how could you love me, when I’m teetering on the edge of nothing and everything. When my hands are grasping at something that’s not ready to be found. When love is a something I can’t even say to myself. My gender is black ink spilt onto beautiful artwork. Unrecognisable now that you can’t remember where it started, or how you got here, or how many titles you have given yourself, or how many people have laughed at your pain, or how many times you’ve tried to explain…”

I am not sure what the Collective Noun of a group of young people is. But I know what it should be…

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To the Mothers…

Today I honour the mother who birthed me and called me son and stretched out her life to envelop my own. And today I honour the mother of my own children. The wife who became a mother and how blessed is your family to have you my love.

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Today I honour every mother for their giving and their opening and how their blood flowed that their child would find a hollow space in this world to call their own. I honour them for the midnight hours and the vomit stains and the way families are held together. I honour the relentless nature of your love and the fire of your fight and the strength of your arms. May your find a closeness and a spacious place with your children.

Today I honour every woman who cannot be a mother. When bodies have refused and wombs rebelled and the loss has come and how I want to tell you that shame has no place here.  How I would delete the word inadequate from the dictionary. That there be no fault here. That there be no fault here.

Today I honour the mother who lost a child this year. A life cut short. Taken too soon. Torn from hands. I know your hands are still held out in front of you, now empty. I cannot imagine… Death is a shattering. Grief is a grindstone. I wish there was something we could say or something we could do. I know there is not. I mourn with you, pray that you find solace somewhere in the mourning. That the piercing may someday lessen. May the jagged tearing be slowly ground down by the ocean. But until that day we will hold you, mourn with you, fight for you.

Today I honour the motherless child. The orphan. The ones who hold themselves for there is nobody there to do the holding. I have never felt such coldness on such a lonely night. I honour the bravery. I honour the fight. I honour those who wished their mother was not there. The battered and the abused.

Today I honour the women who became mothers to children not of their own. To those who space in the place of such absence. I honour the foster parents and the carers and the mentors and the sisters. I honour youth workers and youth leaders and counsellors and spiritual mothers.

Today I honour the woman who shall not be a mother. Out of choice. Out of never having found the right partner. The single woman. I honour those who do not want to have children. I honour those who wish they could. I honour those whose life simply did not turn out the way they had always hoped.

Today I honour the mother who has become a grandmother and the grandmother who has become great. May the lines of your love cast way out far into the distance.

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Today I honour the mother whose child was stolen.

Today I honour the mother whose child ran away.

Today I honour the mother beaten.

Today I honour the mother behind a barb-wire fence.

Today I honour the expecting mother.

Today I honour the grieving mother.

Today I honour the mother.

Today I honour women.

And I pray that today may not just be today.

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