Art, Responsibility, Reality, and Freedom

Man, boy, and summer are gone. The mornings are getting chilly, autumn sprinkling leaves in the courtyard, and I’m alone again in my house, my slice of heaven on the countryside.

Six weeks we spent here – my love, his son and I – with Australia in lock down. A blissful time; morning swims in a lukewarm ocean, afternoon drinks whilst cooking up a feast, late nights at the candle lit table dissecting concepts of human existence; politics, philosophy, mathematics, biology. Little rituals bringing certainty to uncertainty, nurturing body, heart and mind.

A challenging time, too; with life’s big questions up in the air, with loud voices shouting strong opinions and a surreal possibility of punishment around every non-essential corner, I had to sift my fears, my dreams, and the truths and untruths of what’s happening around me. Frustrated, I wrote. Patient, I filed away. Not yet integrated, not yet ready.

What’s a poet’s role, I pondered, when the world is polarising; when opinions grow stronger, voices get louder and realities drift apart? For although we are in this together, our interpretation of the world is far from the same. For some: a health pandemic, a frightening illusive enemy from whom we need protection. For others: exciting change, humanity leaving the old ways for a new and better world. And for yet some: tyranny approaching, as they see actions taken and legislations and restrictions slipped into place that threaten democracy: our freedom to gather, our freedom to move, our freedom of speech. A new ‘normal’ put in place and silently accepted.

***

who is right?
the body sensing the presence of a tumour?
the heart seeing the future beyond?
or the mind hearing the doctor’s verdict?

art is but a perspective
an opinion presented as a question to the soul
a true artist facilitates integration
piece by piece, art makes us whole

I thought myself weak, not taking a stand
busy sifting

but my stand is integration
of body, heart, mind
of fears, dreams and reality

***

Over the years I’ve shared fears, I’ve shared dreams, but not much objective reality. It has seemed…unpoetic. Best left to academics, journalists. But also hard work and uncomfortably exposed to criticism. Fears and dreams are subjective, leaving pleasant room for imperfection. Reality can only be seen through clear glasses, where smudge of fear and dreams has been spotted and removed. 

What is reality? No, to polar philosophies and multiple spiritual dimensions is not where I’m going today. For the sake of integration, I simply state that reality is real, objective, true. It’s the brush strokes on the canvas, the letters in a poem, the clay of a sculptured hand. It’s the painting, the writing, the sculpturing. Movement and matter. Existing independent of our interpretation.

Reality has a truth, and it’s our responsibility to look for it. Not as a simplification – using pre-defined spiritual, political, or social world views, already summarised, cut and tailored. But the closest approximation our senses allow.

Throughout history art has played a role in sense-making by reflecting reality back to us. Metaphors and stories can fractal something smaller, something less personal, something with the exact same ingredients yet clearer to see:

Imagine falling madly in love and marrying young. Imagine, after a few blissful months, your husband starting to subtly influence your way of thinking. Imagine invisible threats, ideas that people can’t be trusted. Imagine him starting to censure your communication, fuelling conflict with those you love, cutting you off from the outside world. Imagine him calling your workplace, making a scene, and so you loose your job. Now you’re dependent on him. Imagine him telling you to stay at home so he can keep you safe. Imagine eventually realising: he’s a criminal. He is dangerous. Suddenly, threats of taking your children away unless you comply. Imagine realising your are trapped, and you didn’t see it coming, because you saw what you wanted to see, not the man himself. You didn’t pay attention to reality. And neither did your family, your friends. Those who should have helped you see.

This true story belongs to a friend of mine. Yet the ingredients exist around us: the invisible threat, human separation and isolation, restriction of movement, information censuring and distortion, creation of financial dependencies, punishment and talk of requirements (e.g. vaccination) for seeing loved ones. In the name of protection.

***

We must look for reality not in the ‘why’, arguing about conspiracy theories, not in the ‘who’, polarising into left and right, good and evil, sane and mad, but in the ‘what’, looking at the actual ingredients before us. We must apply knowledge of human history and behaviour – not our own fear and dreams – to foresee possible outcomes and mitigations to secure the human core values: freedom, choice, togetherness.

not seeing reality, we are irresponsible
not being responsible, we have no right to be free

My friend learned that the hard way. Eyes wide open she planned the escape, secretly saving money. She studied online to be a lawyer, to understand her rights and family law. After years of preparation, one day she took the kids and left, executing a well prepared plan ensuring he could not hurt them. 

***

During the weeks in lock-down with man, boy and summer, body, heart and mind aligned. Reality no longer chafes my poetry, nor the other way around.

I’m looking at my filed away notes, drafts, scribbled truths, frustrated reflections, painted stories of fears and dreams. I should not keep them to myself. I should let them live amongst us. We need more art, more questions to the soul. Piece by piece making us whole. Art facilitating integration. And as antidote to separation, enabling our freedom.

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