Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day Sixty-Three: Inadequate Shield

I stand next to my husband who is having a conversation with our principal, Cathy, outside the office.

She turns to me. "Doesn't he have amazing ideas? How do you keep up?"

"Mostly, she just laughs at me," Michael says.

They are talking about art, creativity, ideas.

"I haven't even told her about my latest idea," Michael says. He begins to describe a room that would have lasers and as people walk through the installation, music plays, given the varying length of the rays as changed by people walking through the room.

Cathy asks questions to clarify.

"That would be great, right after the living room ceiling is patched and..."

"The septic is fixed," says Cathy.

"Exactly," I say.

"Ah, come on," says Michael. "Just imagine a room with lasers..."

We go deeper into the conversation, and pretty soon, I'm rehashing my summer's tiff with Michael, that he doesn't go honest enough into his art, plays it safe, never vulnerable, and if he'd only do morning pages, his life would be transformed.

"Why does it have to be writing," Cathy says.

"Do you really want to go here," I say, pointing my finger back and forth between Michael and me.

"I'm just in this for the fun," says Cathy, laughing.

Michael and I duke it out a little more, with Cathy supervising, then she looks at me. "I'm just going to play devil's advocate." She pauses.

"So, you're speaking for Michael," I say.

We belly laugh, then talk some more -- playfully, passionate, serious -- and it's kind of like that time Michael and I went for marriage counselling, and afterwards I had told my brother, "You know, that counsellor was pretty hard on me."

"Do you think?" my brother had said.

"Is he supportive of your walks, your writing, your art?" Cathy says.

"Yes," I say.

"And are there some practical things that you're ignoring?" she says.

Period four bell rings, and we are all called separate ways.

I look around my classroom. I have five of Michael's pictures, and he has stolen two more from my walls. I take pictures of his artwork, then I walk into the hallway, past the staff room, past the office, past the library, past the culture room, past the janitor room, and turn into his art classroom. He has the lights off and is showing a clip from the internet of flight patterns over New York. I stand in the doorway, listening, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. He is lecturing on abstract art, and if the kids hadn't known this spiral, electronic image was flight patterns, what would they think it was. I walk quietly behind the kids, turn the flash on, and take a picture of his spraypaints, then his acrylic he took from our living room, then the watercolour he finished a couple weekends ago at a workshop.

"Mrs. Koops is being a spy," he interrupts himself, then continues the lecture.

I turn and smile, then snap, the flash my answer. I walk toward an easel at the far side of his dark room and snap a picture of His work "Inadequate Shield". I've hung this picture in my classroom for three or four years now. It's a picture of Michael holding our third daughter in his arms. There is a scull at his back, which he has acknowledged by turning his head into a profile pose. Everything is black and white, except for the red coat he has put on Arwen, her bare feet hanging below. When he first finished it, I wouldn't even let him have it in the house.

"Get that out of my house," I'd said. "How dare you invite evil like that, dare evil like that, and put that red Schindler coat on our baby. How dare you?"

He'd kept the picture at his storefront school where he taught kids who were right out of the school box. I'd see the image when I went to visit, and I would look at it, and then put it out of my mind. One day, while in the middle of an oppression unit, I visited Michael's school, located downtown, about a three minute walk from the school. I held the picture up, and read the artist remarks taped to the bottom.

"Inadequate Shield" by Michael Koops

"This work is in response to the movie Schindler's List. I watched this movie and was so overwhelmed by the horror of the Warsaw Ghetto. When we talk about the 'horror of war', it is a general statement that indicates war is horrible. However, my 'horror' was more personal because the little girl in the red coat was the same age as my daughter. The horror for me was that no matter what I was willing to do, I could not save that little girl. I would be unable to save my little girl. The truth of that moment, the truth of the girl in the little red coat is that parents are inadequate as shields against death. I cannot fully protect my daughter from the evils of life."

"I am even more humbled by the fact that people have tried to protect their children from the 'horrors' that they face. This was true in World War II and this is true today. We must realize that there are parents who are trying to protect their children from 'horrors' like war, poverty, death, racism, and hate. They are trying, but they know that we are all 'Inadequate Shields.'"

I took the picture back to my classroom, that day, and I've had it ever since. I've used it on exams as a viewing exercise. It's been a conversation opener with many students. I often tell them the story of how much I hated the picture, and that I now have it on my wall to interrupt my privilege, to break my heart, to remind me that people, right in our community, are trying to shield their children, and I need to join the line of protection.

So this is my confessional tonight. My husband is an artist. He doesn't have to do morning pages. He is more supportive of my art than I am of his. Sometimes I'm one of the bozos who warns and criticizes his creativity. Sometimes I'm the voice of the "blurt" rather than "affirmation." I'd really like him to fix the ceiling, but if that's a trade-off for his art, I'll keep the art and live with the patches.

Hope you're happy, Cathy. One more confession, I'm a little happier, too.


  1. Ok, I haven't posted a comment before on the blog, but I guess because I am subject of this one - I can.
    I often struggle with the concept of art. What is it? What makes art important? Why do I make things that people call art?

    I can't answer the first two questions adequately. It would take too long. I will take a stab at "Why do I make things that people call art?"

    -see next comment-

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. To be honest - I can't help myself. I have this constant flow of ideas running through my head of how to make things, a constant stream of dreams, a constant need to create, a constant desire to look at stuff people are creating.
    I will admit it gets in the way of practical things like patching ceilings and finding ultimate solutions to our stupid sceptic tank. But to be honest - those things aren't to inspiring.
    -see next comment-

  4. Here is my confession: I am an inspiration junkie. I am addicted to things that inspire me. I don't want to be disciplined - I want to be inspired.

    Heck, I am not even disciplined enough to go to bed when I should - hence the time of this post.

  5. Hey,

    So I ended up reading this comment when I was searching for your lastest blog...however, how appropriate that I read this today. I was revisiting through memory my trip last year to Poland and Germany with Holocaust survivors. I was in Plashov (Plazow) which is the camp just outside of Krakow which is the city where Oskar Schindler had his factory. It is also the ghetto where the little girl with the red jacket slipped under a bed and hoped she would be safe. While standing in Plashov I listened to a man who had been a child during this time. He was in the Warsaw ghetto and he talked about how hard his parents worked to keep them all together and healthy enough to survive. How they tried to always have something a little bit extra for any special days and how they tried to let their children be children in a place where maintaining any faith in humanity or innocence was an endless struggle. He also talked about how during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising his family was hiding in a bunker. His parents had for the past few years been saving up a meagre supply of sugar, and when the Nazis finally found their bunker they were marched out and to the train platform where they were crowded into cattle cars. His parents still kept them together, and throughout the cattle car journey his parents would give him and his twin sister a sip of water from a canteen and a spoon of sugar that they had stored in a sock, using the sugar to keep their energy levels up. When they arrived at the death camp, he was the only one out of his entire family that made the selection.
    When we talk about "inadequate shields" I think it is important to remember that as parents we cannot shield our children from the reality of the possibilities of what humans are capable of. We can however, teach and show them that a better world is not only possible, it is necessary. It is possible to change what we are capable of. Perhaps if we are capable of great evil, we are also capable of great love. I would like to believe that it is possible to create a world where it is unnecessary to shield our children from such hate and violence because it no longer exists. I'm not sure, I feel like I am rambling on your blog...but I feel as though I need to believe that we can do better. I need to believe that a world where parents don't have to hide in bunkers feeding their children meagre savings only to so violently suffer such a devasting end can be a memory and not a daily reality. I guess I need to keep believing that when people learn about how children are suffering today in Attawapiskat that they will choose better choices that we have as a society in the past....
    Rambling, rambling rambling now :)

  6. This morning I was having a bit of narcissistic indulgence and reading through this post. I was reading Sheena’s latest post and noticed that this one was the third most popular (to my despair – right after the one of Anardi, Jack, and I). Then I noticed I had made comments and I noticed Nicole had made comments. I really liked her personal story of meeting the man in Plashov and hearing his story. I really needed to read something like that today (I feel like I have lots of stress in my life right now – even though in the global scheme of things, it’s not much).
    I want to respond to Nicole’s comment too. I find it hard because I live within this constant flux of hope and despair. I believe that love is stronger than hate, but I also believe that hate will always be a part of this world. Evil will be always a part of this world. Unfortunately, we have a horrible sensibility as a species. Nevertheless, we also have a great capacity for goodness too, so kindness will also always be a part of this world too.
    My fear, for myself, is my ability to delude myself on a daily basis that my reality is everybody’s reality. I can ignore the horror of the world – of people’s hardships and be about my business. I want to keep believing that when people learn about how children are suffering in Attawapiskat that they will choose better choices than we have in the past. My despair is that I think the stress of daily living in my own skin will delude me into only being concerned about my own stress.
    The practical voice in my head (yes - I hear voices in my head) tells me that I can only be about living my own life. However, I find that to be a strange juxtaposition of realities that I share a planet, country, community where my living life can be beside somebody who is living a life that has true suffering – true stress.