For Christmas, Destruction very much wanted a guitar. He has a beautiful singing voice, which he inherited from his dad, and wanted to be able to accompany himself. He chose the guitar because it is a portable instrument. From a very young age, Destruction has always been very arts inclined. He loves to cook, draw and sing. For him, playing the guitar is just another step in the evolution to become who he is.
I remember when I was pregnant with him, that the unhusband had hopes and dreams of doing up his skates and watching his boy take to the ice to play hockey. As it turns out, sports are just something that Destruction is simply not interested in, and so rather than force him into a role that he did not desire, we decided to support him in his choices. For Christmas, we bought him an acoustic guitar and arranged for lessons. We also purchased a few stylized pencils, and a few sketch books so that he continue to work on his sketching. This week, I finally found him an instructor to help him improve the quality of his sketches. As I watch him labour to perfect the two crafts that he is interested in, I cannot help but smile. He dreams about the pictures that he will draw when his skills are stronger, and the songs that he will play once he has managed to perfect chord progression. He has this freedom because his father and I are determined to encourage his natural inclinations, rather than force him into a box, which is what happens to so many children. I have even thought about learning the guitar myself, so that we can take this journey together.
As we watch our boy blossom, the one thing that keeps coming to mind, is the fact that we have the money to support him. We are a working class family, and while we have always been able to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves, money has at times been tight. Even still, I recognize that we have class privilege. Had it not been for the fact that I had a good paying job before I got disabled, we would currently be living in poverty, just above the national poverty line in fact. Disability for a parent with two children is 1400 dollars per month, and that amount is not even enough to pay for my mortgage, let alone buy food or clothing, and pay utilities.
I don’t know what my son will become in the future, but I do know that no matter what he dreams, his father and I will do our best to support him. We are only able to do this because of the little class privilege that we have. When I was in primary school, there were two bands, and this gave children the chance to learn an instrument, regardless of their parents class position. There were also several sports teams that one could participate in. Today, in my child’s school, thanks to budget cuts, there are no bands, and no sports teams to speak of. The ability of a child to participate in extra curricular activities, is solely dependent on the financial resources of their parents. Sports, arts, and music have been deemed extras, despite the obvious positives that this adds to one’s life. This means that children living in poverty have no opportunity to learn these valuable skills, and potentially discover a life’s passion or gift.
My youngest son Mayhem, has informed me that he intends to learn the piano. I have started to look on kijjji for a used piano for him. If this is a desire that he continues to express over the course of the next year or so, we will purchase a piano for him. Fortunately, I took piano lessons for years and am able to get him started on my own. Eventually, if he continues to play, he will surpass what I am able to teach him and we will get him an instructor. This again, is another sign of my class privilege.
As I make plans for the future of my children, I cannot help but think of the kids who are equally as talented as mine, who have been shut out from these opportunities. It is not an accident that marginalized people have been strategically shut out from the arts. Good art makes us question the world we live in, because it encourages us to not only think, but to dream. It also expresses something deep and intangible – a world as it could be, rather than it is and if marginalized people are allowed or even encouraged to create, one can be certain that they will create a world in which they are subject, instead of object, and it is this potential that scares the ruling class. The ability to create is a form of positive power, and even though we are all possessed of a form of power, not all of it is positive. In many cases, for marginalized people, power is only expressed in a form of resistance because of the oppression that we negotiate. The ability to create is something that belongs almost solely to oppressors, and since our world is constantly under construction, the ability to create is a positive power.
I am very well aware that a large part of our focus must go toward ensuring that our children are fed, clothed and sheltered and how the struggle for basic subsistence obscures just about everything else; however, there are other losses that are going unrecognized. We have created our own forms of art with things like rap, before the popular version got co-opted and graffiti, but how much more are we capable of doing? What genius lays hidden and dormant, because it has never been properly fed or nurtured? I often think about Jamaican Archie, a numbers runner and one time associate of Malcolm X. He was brilliant with numbers, but because of the limitations he lived with, he became a numbers runner. What could Archie have done with his skill in a world that recognized him and his potential? Today, large gang leaders of colour have just as much stress and work to perform as CEO’s of multinational corporations, but no one ever asks what these people could have become in a more equal world, where opportunity was not doled out based on an uneven distribution of resources. Our children represent an untapped potential to change, not only the way we view the world, but the way it is today.
Marginalized children are born into a world in which suppression and oppression are quickly aimed at them. I believe that while it is important that we continue to fight for basic needs, that we need to keep in mind that subjects like art and music have a significant role to play in our freedom. We need to demand that they be placed back into the curriculum. Not every child will grow up to be a great artist, but some will grow to have a life long hobby that they can find solace in, when the world gets to be too tough, and others will learn that even if the arts are not something that fits their life’s agenda, that it is okay to dream outside of the very narrow prism into which they have been placed. Colouring all of the flowers red, and all of the stems green is conformity, it is the vision to see beyond what has been normalized that means change and an increased self worth.
We need to stop looking at art as insignificant, because few ever become working artists. If Van Gogh, a Dutch post-Impressionist painter, who never sold a painting in his short 37 years, had simply stopped painting, the world would have lost such incredible beauty, including one of my favorite paintings, cafe terrace at night.
There also the work of one of my favourite artists Frida Kahlo, whose work was not properly appreciated for what it was during her lifetime. She took all of her pain, and she dared to display it to the world. Today it serves as a gift to all women, and in my case a disabled woman. It speaks to my experiences the way that little else can.