Thing No.1 has her Art GCSE tomorrow. She finishes off her ‘required’ stay of Education this year and gets to decide whether or not to go back and take on two years of A-Level studies. Thing No.1 finishes off her required Primary School Education this year and starts the journey that Thing No.1 is coming to the end of. Circle of life stuff is all goin on in the Alexander household. Does an Education ever really stop?
Art is important to me for sure. Music, painting, writing, dancing, acting… it’s all Art and I just gravitate towards anything remotely close to a form of Creativity. It has me thinking of my GCSE Art exam, almost thirty years ago. I had one piece of completed work sitting where four pieces should have been. My teacher phoned my Dad and pleaded with him to get me into school to finish off the other pieces. The piece I had finished was so good that it would earn me an A on it’s own merits… even if I put three plates of dog food out as my other three pieces. I couldn’t muster up one shred of hope or self belief to drag my ass in to school and finish my other pieces. Not one shred. When the results came out my teacher sadly passed on the news that the Assessors were blown away by the one piece I had offered up and that they would have taken great pleasure in awarding me an A regardless of what my other pieces were like – but I didn’t have any other pieces to offer. That’s a crippling amount of self doubt for a 15 year old to have to deal with. As a 43 year old I know the lesson in that story. I can choose to regret the incident and bemoan my missed opportunities or I can choose to learn from it and draw something positive from it almost 30 years later. The choice is simple… I’ll take “Learn From It” please, Bob. The worst part is that I can still remember what I had planned (and had actually made) for those other pieces of that doomed Art Exam and they were all better than the one completed piece that blew everyone away, the piece that I thought was “pure shit.” That one piece just managed to see the light of day because my teacher loved it from the start and pushed me to complete it every step of the way. He wasn’t to know that the pupil he was dealing with was a mess of demons and doubts; he wasn’t aware that the same push that got this piece completed would have worked with the other pieces too. He had a whole classroom full of teenage hand grenades to juggle. The lesson wasn’t his to learn it was mine.
When Thing No.1 or Thing No.2 come to me with an anxiety over a homework or a new skill they’re learning I know to talk to them, listen to them, reason with them, and watch carefully over them while they work through the issue. I know to watch out for that crippling self doubt and I know how to kick it’s ass. I can choose to blame myself for passing on the ‘anxiety gene’ or I can be open and honest with them, and tell them about the times when I failed in life and why I failed. I can only trust that I have the right words and the right cuddle at the right time because more than anything, more than any truth I know, I know that you can’t carry out the work for another human being you can only show them where the tools are buried. I’m the kind of Dad who would’ve wrapped his kids in cotton wool from birth and shielded them from everything in the world that would pollute, corrupt, or harm them. The first time Thing No.1 fell, and cut her wee head I almost passed out. My Mum had to go into full on Mummy mode and assess that the infant’s little insignificant cut was no big deal and that she needed to focus her attention on her 6ft tall son who looked like he was going to die of shock, panic, and horror. “She’s fine son, it’s just her first wee cut. No big deal. You were never out of casualty and you’re still here larger than life.” Mum’s are just da bomb. They’re a different breed. Do you know how I know that Mum’s are the toughest breed of animal on the planet? Because there is no way on this earth I could be a Mum. If my kids started off life in my tummy I wouldn’t have been able to let them out. Mum’s are way tougher than Dad’s.
While we’re on the subject of Mum’s did you know that cows actually don’t produce milk unless they give birth? Who would have thought that a mammal had to be pregnant and give birth in order for her milk to produce and flow. Wait a minute, that’s pretty obvious is it not? Yeah, it is but plenty of us don’t seem to realise that the laws of nature and mammals also apply to cows. When I found out that cows are systematically ‘raped’ and their calves torn away from them at birth, just to produce milk for another species to drink, I was gobsmacked. I felt like I was at the end of a George Orwell novel and that my sudden awareness of how things really are was the shocking twist in the tale. Where on earth is this coming from on a chilled out Sunday afternoon Blog? My daughter’s final piece for her Art Exam is an Activism piece… I’m strangely proud, and strangely uncomfortable. Since going on the Vegan trip I have learned so much in so little time. I have changed so much in an even shorter space of time. I have completely changed everything about what goes into my mouth and what goes on my plate. Thing No.1 and I are approaching our 1 year anniversary of living a cruelty free plant based lifestyle. It’s on the horizon. I never thought there was a chance on this planet that I would ever become a ‘Vegan’ but when I did I knew that I would stick to it until my dying day. There was no doubt, no quiver, no instability. I was never going back to a carnivore diet ever again – such was the shock and the ferocity of the decision. But the activism side of it? That’s a tricky one for me.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying the philosophy of non-violence. I’ve been a fan of, and have felt a strange connection to Abraham Lincoln, Mahatama Gandhi, and Martin Luther King for as long as I can remember. Abraham Lincoln started the Emancipation of Human Beings from slavery in his country. Some would argue he also started a Civil War. I read recently that “every great thing begins as a blasphemy” and that phrase surely is worthy of a mention in describing the reaction of some States when they were told they were no longer free to enslave another man. That was a blasphemy to some men and they took that offence and took their arms to protect what they felt was their God given right to enslave another man. That sounds even more ridiculous than a cow having to be pregnant to produce milk doesn’t it? I mean how can you mention the words ‘God’, ‘right’, and ‘enslave’ in the same sentence? What sort of God have you created for yourself when you think that he put other human beings on the planet for your amusement and for you to enslave for profit? Time may heal wounds and time may fade memories but not even time can erase the ridiculous notions that we, as human beings, used to believe, live, and kill for, under the name of ‘God’.
100 years after Abraham Lincoln had began the process of making it illegal (common sense, you would have thought, would have prevailed sooner but no) to own another man and issued the Emancipation Proclamation along came a man called Martin Luther King… a man who delivered a speech that some say would rivalled Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for Speech Of The Millenia award. To the keener eye the speech was the resolve that Lincoln’s speech had been waiting for all these years – 100 years and 239 days to be exact. This new Orator and leader had all the capabilities and resources to start a Civil War but instead of being a man of war he modelled himself on men of peace, and so the Civil Rights Movement began. MLK modelled his approach to the plight of his people after Gandhi’s approach to the plight of his people. ‘Non Violence’ became the phrase that would confuse both sides of the gulf and would enrage those on the side of Truth more than those on the side of Avarice. Non Violence was the phrase that would stand the test of time and reflect America’s ugliest disguise in modern history right back upon itself. Gandhi had managed it, with much loss of life including his own, at the hands of an assassin. Jesus had taught it 2000 years ago when he stood on a hill in Galilee and delivered a sermon that confused everyone but somehow still resounds today as one of the most prolific sermons ever preached. In a time when the Jewish faith focused more on ‘an eye for an eye’ and in a time when the whole nation seemed to be bubbling on a bed of civil unrest and looming rebellion along came a man who said “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.”
Now if we’re still playing the “What Sounds More Ridiculous” game I’m gonna have to give the star prize to Jesus. Along he comes, with this Zen attitude of enlightenment and peace emanating from his every pore. It’s said that when he would enter a village the consciousness of the surrounding villages would be raised to a level unheard of. Such was the energy of this man who talked about love and forgiveness rather than ‘eye for eye’ or ‘life for life’. A man who only knew life and not death. A man who only knew love and not vengeance. Jeez that was the immediate alarm bell to the religious leaders – “There’s no way this man’s the son of God or the Messiah. He doesn’t even believe in vengeance? What sort of God does he think we believe in? One who doesn’t revel in vengeance? He’s a Blasphemer.” Every great thing starts as a blasphemy…..
I’ve spent a lot of time with the above chaps. I’ve immersed myself in their teachings and their writings and whatever stories I could find on them through internet searching and through reading books on their lives. Were they all perfect? Hell no. Well, with the exception of the sandal wearing “stop poking out your brother’s eye” dude. It’s kinda difficult to find any fault with Jesus. Some say he was the only fully awake and fully enlightened human being to ever walk the earth. Some say he was the pinnacle of human evolution and that all our efforts must be to try and attain to that level of consciousness – Christ Consciousness.
The Sermon On The Mount is so peaceful and radical in comparison to Jewish law and tradition that you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was some crazy new idea. Funny enough if you study Buddhism you’ll find that The Sermon On The Mount could have been delivered by Buddha. How far back do we have to go to see where this notion of non violence began? Who knows. The truth is that Love is our natural state and Non Violence is nothing if not Love. When that Cow gives birth to her little calf she is feeling all the same Love and Maternal instincts as a human being who has just given birth to a son or daughter. When they rip that calf away from the mother (after they’ve spent a few days bonding to ensure a steady milk flow) and either kill it (because it’s a male and useless to a dairy farmer), break it’s legs and prevent it from growing any muscle (to serve it as veal), or lock it away to get ready for some round the clock raping (because it’s another female milk machine), you can rest assured that both those animals feel some sort of anguish and torment that is a direct result of a lack of love. Where there is violence there cannot be love. Love CANNOT be violent – it is just an impossibility. We can embellish love and prefix it with words like ‘Undying’, ‘Relentless’, ‘Passionate’, ‘Protective’ and all the other hallmark words of airy fairiness that we like to throw about. Love is perfect and beyond our ability to embellish. Love is patient, Love is kind. Only Love is real. Love would make a man lay down his life for his children… Love would also make the same man lay down his life for someone else’s children – that’s the difference between Love and Hallmark Love – no distinction in character or relation of the child whose life you can save by laying down your own. That is Love and nothing else will suffice.
This is one of those few things that I know for sure. It’s one of those few things that won’t change over time and that won’t end up being ‘close but no cigar’ in my long line of philosophical meanderings and attachments. It’s the one thing I know that will be the crowning moment of anyone’s life – when they learn what Love is.
“I Love animals!”
“Oh really? Do you eat them?
“Well yeah, but…”
“Well lets hope you never love me then otherwise you might start eating me.”
It’s a goofy analogy but come on, it’s as true as the nose on your face. Unless your Mr Potato Head and your nose is lost in the toy box.
Thing No.1 will be going into a controlled setting to spend ten hours on her final piece tomorrow. She wants to make it an Activism piece that will get her message across. She’s never really mentioned her grade or the result she’s hoping for in terms of academia achievement. She’s just told me from the start that she wants to get the message across with no doubts, no room for error, and no quarter given to any eyes that look upon her work. She wants to show the pain that we cause to animals all in the name of food. She doesn’t want to shock or sensationalise. She wants to get the real message across and she wants to change the world. She is creating Art from a soul perspective and not from the perspective of avarice. Art really is one or the other – it’s created to make money or it’s created for Art’s sake. It can still be activism regardless of which of the two motives spurned your creation. Art that comes from the soul though is always activism. It moves people in ways they could have never imagined. It captures some part of them and it is almost as if the artist of the painting is calling out through every stroke and shade: “Namaste. The Spirit in me recognises the Spirit in you.” I hope she nails it. I know she’ll nail it. She’s already succeeded and surpassed me – she’s got all the rest of her pieces finished and in the room awaiting inspection. Is that not what we should all want for our children? That they surpass us in every way imaginable? That they become a more evolved version of you? If we all set out as parents with that simple task of inspiring them to evolve to a higher state than you yourself were at throughout the same stages of your life then would we not have an evolved society within just a few generations?
I have a quiet Awareness going on all around me at the moment. It’s paradoxically disquieting, ever so slightly, and it’s strange. It’s been escalating to the state where I’m aware, in any given scenario of the two ways in which I could respond. It’s like I’m out of my head, looking at my options, like some gameshow contestant, figuring out which one to hang my hat on. All this happens while I’m in the thick of a row with my wife or a heated debate with someone or while someone is just being a major pain in my ass. It’s a real riot in the most positive way. The strangest occurrence happened recently, when I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw James Aspey’s (Vegan Activist) latest post. It was a picture of animals with a comment along the lines of “Hoping to liberate these little dudes tonight”. I was shocked and instantly became aware of myself being shocked. I was shocked at myself for being shocked at the same time. I mean, I’m not an easy guy to shock and I commit to my beliefs 100% every time, sometimes a little too enthusiastically. I mean here I am, having spent all this time journeying towards Non Violence and studying it as a working philosophy and here’s a fellow Vegan talking about going to liberate animals he didn’t own. I mean was he going to break the law and use violence to carry out this liberation? The awareness of that thought brought instant clarity.
The aforementioned slavery was totally legal in the States who went to war over their right to enslave other men. Sometimes the law just don’t mean shit. You can drink yourself to death in a bar and pay for the privilege but if you so much as touch a natural Cannabis seed and even think about planting it you’ll be whisked off to jail like you’re the next Pablo Escobar. Sometimes the law just don’t mean shit. So what was bothering me then? Easy – it was the thought that my new belief system, my new way of living, might someday require me to become an Activist of sorts. How in the world do you balance the philosophies of Non Violence with Activism? I have no idea. Gandhi managed it as did Martin Luther King as did Jesus… and all with great loss and great pain and great suffering. My problem wasn’t the Activism, my problem was that I had gone down the Rabbit Hole and I was now deep enough to start seeing some crazy shit that made the trip so far seem like a fairy tale.
Thing No.1 asked me “When are we going to liberate some animals?” That launched me into super freakout mode. I instantly saw a mini movie in my head, of me and Thing No.1, setting out in the dead of night dressed in cat burglar black, like Homer and Bart on their way to steal grease from the school cafeteria. I chuckled until it got to the part where we both got arrested and I had to balance my Non Violent Activism in the face of an extremely violent ex-wife who just found out her daughter had been arrested… along with her idiot Father. That’s way too crazy a scenario even for a nutter like me. It’s made me think a lot though. It’s made me question my morals and question the depths of my beliefs. It sounds radical to use the holocaust as an example but how many people knew, and were aware of what was going on and did nothing? Through fear? Through not wanting to break the law? Through the instinct for survival? Should breaking the law ever get in the way of the higher moral code we all know is in us somewhere?
I have no clue how to process and articulate this saga and I will continue to be aware of it and question it until some sort of resolve offers itself up as a sacrifice. In the meantime I’ll delight that my eldest daughter is choosing to be an Activist through her Art and for reasons of the Soul and not reasons of the Ego. I’ll also trail my ass outta bed early in the morning and give her a lift to school. She loves getting a surprise lift to school and says it brightens up her day. If she reads my Blogs like she’s supposed to (she’s my proof reader) it’ll not be a surprise and I’ll get a text tonight asking “was that for reals or was that just crazy writer talk? Am I getting a lift to school in the morning?”
Abraham Lincoln died for his beliefs. Mahatma Gandhi died for his. Martin Luther King died for his. All three were shot by assassins. Jesus walked into the arms of his assassins and walked to his own death with full awareness. Such were the strength of his beliefs. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not Jesus was real, or a fairy tale, or whether or not he was as we read he was. What matters to me is that we’re still talking about him 2000 years later and that great men throughout history changed their history by modelling their Activism round His. It saddens me that worse things have been done in his name and in the name of God all over our planet since the dawn of time. How can you read “turn the other cheek” and then go to war with a fellow human being?
I refuse to call myself a Vegan. I like referring to myself as someone who follows a plant based diet. I also don’t believe in ‘labels’. Once you label it you negate it. Or is it just that I don’t have the balls to call myself a Vegan because the very action may require me to be more accountable in my every move of life and not just in what I put on my plate. I may be called upon one day to prove my worth as a Vegan and step things up a notch. I may be challenged beyond my comfort zone. I’m gonna cut myself some slack and go with the ‘labels” thing but I wouldn’t bet the house on it…
Perspective is everything.