Saturday, December 27, 2014

It Hurts My Heart.

Recently I have had the privilege of teaching some year 10 students about the Holocaust.We used a range of sources including the personal stories collected by the United States Holocaust Museum.

One student described what we were learning with " it hurts my heart". My first thought was that she was being trite but she was genuine and the sentiment didn't deserve any condescension from me. Its perfectly valid to express an emotional reaction by describing it as an injury to one's soul.

I have an affection for the net-born concept of "feels" which describes a similar idea. There's a short history of the term at well worth reading, but to summarise ,"feels" are overwhelming empathic emotional reactions. It might be hard for Generation Xers to accept, but "feels" is not being used cynically to describe the manipulation of one's emotions. "Feels" is not a reference to schmaltz. To confess to "Feels" is to admit real emotion; to make oneself vulnerable to the ridicule of cynics.

In 2014 there have been a great many things which should have "hurt my heart" or "hit me right in the feels"; the bargaining in Australian politics over children in detention or the tragedy just before Christmas in Cairns for example. But brutally honestly, while those events have affected me, they have also seemed all too common elements of a nigh endless testament to our inhumanity and isolation from each other. To an extent they have washed over me. I wasn't overcome with emotion.

Partly my heart is occupied. I have two kids and there is a very bare minimum of two times a week lately that I have endured vividly imagining their deaths. Electricity, choking, traffic, tree branches; I'm not pretending it's a scientific list of risks. I have no idea if this rate of dire imaginings is"normal"- I'm sure some parents will feel I'm lucky to be so stress-free. Of course we worrying parents keep these thoughts to ourselves and as for any suggestion we shouldn't worry so much, such mastery over doubts and fears sounds peachy. Do you have a method other than intoxicants?

The youngest of my two kids is eight months, crawling and putting anything she can in her mouth which no doubt triggers sensible fears. Also I'm tired because of the eight monther's unimpressive sleeping patterns. When I'm tired, it's alternatively silly humour and free floating anxiety time for me. These are the plausible explanations of my morbid speculation.

Maybe though this is also how I deal with these terrible tragedies affecting other people's children. Maybe every news report about a murdered or abandoned baby that I don't have time to feel overcome with emotion about pops up again in some terrible fantasy about my own kids and whether I or their mother can really be trusted with their care. Maybe the reports of refugee children languishing in conditions worse than prisons watching their parents learn that Australia will never let them call its land home cause me to doubt that I can always keep my children free and safe . Maybe I learn from these stories that misfortune doesn't equal rescue; the rescuers are too scared and selfish to help. Woe to my kids if I ever slip the wrong side of safety.

When I worked with young people as a counsellor I developed an adage, "Everything is about ourselves." One homeless youth loved to talk to me for hours about some issue of political history. They were using the principle of consistency to explore who they were and what rights and responsibilities belonged to them. Regularly young victims of violence who would be sent to me only after they had repeated that violence on others would spout challenging rhetoric about how the victim asked for it. They wanted me to tell them whether they likewise had deserved the violence they had received.

It's terribly selfish for me in my privilege to hear about the real suffering of other children and react with anxiety for my own essentially safe kids. It's the same selfishness that means a young homeless kid wanting to talk about slavery in American History is really talking about their own plight, although we can be more forgiving of them. It's a selfishness that you might accuse concepts like "Feels" or the phrase "hurts my heart" of admitting to. They describe a terrible circumstance in terms of our pain in hearing of it.

But I think this selfishness is in recognition of a profound truth. There goes me; there in that other person's suffering is what is permissible to happen to me... or my children. I can't say it is wrong for me to be forgotten in a foreign prison but okay for it to happen to you, just as so many young people I've worked with can't say it's not okay to bully others until they can also stop taking responsibility for the bullying they have received. Like it or not we are making-sense-of-the-world machines and applying consistency is key to how we do this.

It is possible to make this selfishness a positive drive. We can commit to upholding agreements like the Refugee Convention precisely because it makes us feel safer and it protects all children, including our own. We can advocate for mental health support services, public housing or a disability insurance scheme because it alleviates our own anxiety about the way we might fall through the cracks, and again for our childrens' sake.

I want to admit with the astonishing honesty of "kids nowadays" that my heart has been hurt by the tragedies that have punctuated 2014. I enter 2015 not perfectly coping with the feels.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Sock Puppet Christmas Carol.

Every year since moving to our new house (this was the third) we have celebrated Christmas with a party and a play I author. They are always shambolic having had no real rehearsal before the day. For example this years main character progressively lost his puppets eyes; the only features distinguishing him from a sock in fact.

The play we did was an adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol. It is a much abridged version with certain philosophical and political changes. Death for example hasn't the sting of Dickens version and Scrooge is actually a big fan of Christmas. I struggled to identify what really could reform my Scrooge. See what you think of my solution.

The Ghosts were played by my partner (Christmas Present) and daughter (Christmas Past and Future both). The rest of the characters were done with sock puppets. This is why scenes are written with only two characters other than the ghosts on stage at a time (two hands =two sock puppets).


Scene 1.

A Sign is held up progressively revealing….
  • Do you believe in Christmas?
  • Do you really believe?
  • Really?
(Audience coaxed into responding to each sign)

 Scrooge (enters): At Chucky D’s we believe in Christmas.  That’s why we’re slashing the prices on all our toys for an ultimate sale the night before Christmas.              Come on down from dusk Christmas eve until dawn on Christmas day and our bargains will help you ‘believe in christmas’.

Assistant: Cut!
            You were marvelous, sir, marvelous.  This is our greatest campaign ever!

Scrooge: Right.  What about that hold out manager? The one refusing to open tonight.

Assistant: He’s still insisting that none of his staff want to work – they’d rather spend time with their families.

Scrooge: Right.  Fire that manager and promote someone else. Any of the other staff not volunteering to work Christmas night will be out of a job too.

Assistant: Great decision, sir, very strong but – umm – the manager is Bob Cratchitt.  He’s worked for this company since your father’s time.

Scrooge: Cratchitt, eh?  Exactly. He’s worked for this company forever.  A winner wouldn’t do that.  A winner would have worked for himself and moved on.  Fire him.  Do him a favour.  People like him like defeat.  They feel noble in it.   (yawns).  Now, leave me.  I’ve been working round the clock.  I’m going to grab a power nap before the sale starts. 

(Ghost of Christmas past appears)
Scrooge: Who are you?

Ghost CP: Tonight, Ebeneezer Scrooge you will be visited by three ghosts, who will show you the real spirit of Christmas.  I am the first, the ghost of Christmas past.

Scrooge: Hang on, I know what Christmas is about.  I sell toys and tinsel and candy.  Christmas is when you make lots of money.  That’s my Christmas.

Ghost: We shall see. How about we take a look at one of your Christmases from a long, long time ago.
(waves arms/spins to whisk him back to past).

Scene 2

Bob Cratchitt (younger) is carrying a present towards a young Scrooge and a Christmas tree.

BC: Master Scrooge, your parents asked me to place this under the tree for you.  They are very sorry but they won’t be here for Christmas.  They have too much work in town.

Scrooge(older): Hey, I know that guy.  He’s Bob Cratchitt.  I just fired him today.  Why is he so young?

Ghost: This is forty years ago.  Why, you’re only 9.

Scrooge (younger): Well if they’re not here I’m going to open my present now.  (tears at present) Oh, What? Its that fire truck I wanted.  No fair.

BC: What’s wrong then.  If you wanted it….

Scrooge (younger): You’ve got to put it together before you can play with it.  Jimmy at school got one and he said it was really hard.  His parents had to help him.

BC: I’ll help you if you’d like.

Scrooge (younger): Would you? Wow.

(The two put the truck together complimenting each other on their skill.  When it’s built, they play together happily).

Scrooge (Older): Man, did I love that truck.

Ghost: Was it just the truck that made you happy Ebeneezer?

Scrooge: Sure it was.  I think I called it Rosebud.

Ghost (to audience) : What do you think, everyone?  Was it just the truck that made him happy?

Scrooge: Bah, what do they know?  (Ghost disappears)…. Hey who was I talking to? Some crazy dream that was. (Goes back to sleep)

Scene 3.

Ghost of Christmas Present – Wake Up Ebeneezer

Scrooge – Who are you?

Ghost – I’m the Ghost of Christmas present.

Scrooge – Oh not this again. What old memories will you drag up?

Ghost – I wont be taking you anywhere to the past. However we can visit anywhere in the now. Why don’t we check in on that Christmas sale you’ve been promoting?

(Line of people outside chucky d’s)

Scrooge – Wow. Lining up already before the sale even starts. And they said I couldn’t do it. …. But I did. Hey this is Bob Cratchetts store right? So he buckled and opened after all.

Ghost – Oh no. They promoted his replacement. Bob Cratchetts Christmas is somewhere else.


Bob Cratchitt Hey Wally, Hows it going? Do you want a Christmas food parcel? We’ve got heaps.

Wally – Bob, I didn’t expect to see you hear today. Figured you’d be working at the big sale.

Bob – Not for me Wally, How about you? I heard you were working too?

Wally – Yup. Got me a job. Still money doesn’t quite stretch to cover Christmas. I’ll be paying off some presents till half way through next year I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. As that Chucky D’s ad says “I believe in Christmas”

Bob – Grr. That Ad. That Ad makes me so mad. Why all Scrooge cares about is making money and he doesn’t care how many people have to go broke to make it happen.

(Woah) Bob and Wally disappear. Replaced by Scrooge.

Scrooge – Oh I get this now. This is all some sort of corny morality show. You want me to feel guilty that that guy spent all his money at my stores. I’m not responsible for his decisions.

Ghost – You seemed ready to take responsibility for all those people lining up for your sale.

Scrooge – (not listening) I know your plan. Make the successful feel guilty for the losers.
Do you know where Id be if I believed any of this? I ‘d be handing out food parcels with
Bob Cratchitt. Instead I’m living in a mansion watching my money grow.

Ghost – Well then back to your piles of wealth. There will be one more ghost to visit you. The Ghost of Christmas future.  Perhaps they will change your mind.

Ghost of Christmas Present sits down.

Scene 4.

Scrooge (Alone) – Right. Where are you, Ghost of Christmas future? I’m ready for you.
Bring it. I know you’re game.

I’m not Scared!!

(Ghost of Christmas future appears.)

Scrooge - Are you them?

Ghost just points –

Scrooge – You have something to show me? What?

(Older Scrooge appears)

Scrooge – hey its me! I look good.

Older Scrooge – Today is my birthday. And thanks to modern medicine and all my money I am still going as healthy as a young man.
I’m really proud of this year what we’ve achieved. 12 Christmases in a year. 12 Christmas eve sales!
When I suggested that we increase the number of Christmas in a year some people said Bah Humbug but this year we proved that you can have a Christmas every month. And if anyone says Bah Humbug to me my answer to them is Ca ching! Ca Ching! Because profits are up, up, up.
Aagh… (Older Scrooge has heart attack) Oh a heart attack.

Scrooge – Is that supposed to scare me? That I’ll die one day in the future? Of course I will. Everyone dies but I’ll die rich and famous.
Hmmm Maybe I’ll start eating healthier but you haven’t convinced me to be some goody two shoes.
And what about Bob Cratchitt? Whats his future Christmas like?

(Ghost of Christmas Future points and Older Scrooge is replaced by Cratchitts nephews.)

Older Siblings – Mum and Dad want us to visit Uncle Bob in the Hospital for Christmas. They say it will probably be his last one. It’s not fair,  if we do that we’ll miss the big sale at Chucky D’s.
Uncle Bob is really boring anyway. He never gives us anything good. I mean one year he gave us poems. Seriously. Lets tell mum we’re not going.

Scrooge – Ha, that’s hilarious. Bob Cratchitt dies all alone on Christmas while I die rich and famous. What’s that tell you about who gets Christmas best? Eh?

Littlest kid – I want to go to see Uncle Bob. He’s nice and it would make mummy happy. I don’t want to go shopping instead.

Scrooge – That means nothing. He’s too young for my advertising. Wait till he grows up I’ll get him too . I will. I’ll get him too.

Zzzzz ( Scrooge goes back to sleep)

Scene 5.

(Scrooge is tossing and turning)

Scrooge: I’ll get him too. I will.

Littlest kid: I want to make mummy happy. Uncle Bob is nice.

Scrooge – Aaagh. What a terrible nightmare! I will get that little kid. Even after I’m dead my company will go on . My ads will get him and every other kid even after I’m dead. But…. I don’t want to get him.
I don’t want to change him at all. Why don’t I want to change him? Why?
I… I  want to be like him. I remember what really made me happy when I was a kid. It wasn’t the truck. I want to make people happy like that too. I’ve got to get to the shops.

(Scrooge runs to scene of people at the shops…).

Scrooge - Stop everyone. Go home. Stop shopping. This isn’t what Christmas is about. Christmas is about making people happy, your mums and dads and friends… and you don’t need presents to do it. You just need to spend time with them.
Kids, Kids…. You know best. Can you tell them? Tell them to Go home and enjoy Christmas.

Bob – Hey there buddy are you OK? Need a place to stay? Hey its you Mr. Scrooge.

Scrooge – Bob, Oh Bob. I’m so glad to see you. You’ve got your job back. Or wait you should be in charge of me. Teach me everything you know about the real spirit of Christmas.