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The Monkey Bars & Other Torture Devices

Fresh off the easel, 16x16 oil on cradled birch panel. This is “Monkey Bars”.

Growing up in a small fishing village on Canada’s East Coast, half an eon ago, there wasn't much to do even in good weather, which was only a couple of months of the year. Unless you were into swatting mosquitoes or spreading schoolyard gossip as competitive sports, your entertainment choices were limited to what your imagination could provide.

Some kids fared better than others in that department. Boredom claimed many souls.

But, hey, got a couple of planks and a puddle of water to float them in? Round up some rocks to toss at ‘em and voilà! You have an exciting game of Battleship.

I wanted nothing more than to get out of that village for much of my early years. Looking back now, of course, nostalgia for simpler times gives the whole thing a wonderful golden hue. A great childhood is, sadly, not a given. If you had one - as I eventually came to understand that I did - thank your lucky star.

Of course, it wasn't all good times. Before learning the pecking order on the school playground, I ran into my fair share of bullies. Fortunately, while I wasn't an athletic kid, I did have an uncanny ability to talk my way out of a jam. Faced with a playground bully, I had my sales pitch so perfected that before the poor sap’s two loose brain cells could figure out what was happening, I could convince any raging 8-year old that I just wasn't worth the bother. Yet, some nemeses were more intransigent than others.

I remember this one kid, face full of fury, stomping away after telling me that if he ever saw me swimming in his ocean ( i.e., The Atlantic…gosh, some people need a lot of space, don’t they?) he’d drown me. I pointed out that seemed a bit extreme, but… Well, there’s no reasoning with some people. Best to avoid them and hope their parole officer can help them iron out their anger issues.

I mention all this, dear reader, because (…oh, look, Martha, I think he may actually have a point…) painting can sometimes be kind of like regression hypnosis. Or an unintended psychotherapy session. You set out, the mind aiming for the peaks only to discover it has got caught in the valleys.

The lowlands where things like the ghosts of playground equipment live.

Memories come up unexpectedly when the hand is occupied with a paintbrush - kind of like that squeamish kid’s breakfast when he had to stand in front of the class and describe the reproductive cycle of the cicada… Or so I’m told. *cough*

Everyone who’s ever been on a playground, I expect, will have encountered a bully or two but also a different sort of nemesis there… For the motion-sensitive kids, it can be the swings or the see-saw. For the fear-of-speed crowd, the slides. For me, of the upper-body-strength-challenged ilk? It was the monkey bars. Oh how I loathed the monkey bars.

So here I am in front of my easel rewriting a small portion of my childhood script. Now, whenever I hear someone talking about monkey bars, this painting is the image that will come up in my mind first. Not that cursed implement of torture - that metal pipe bully ordering me to fall into line…

If it's true that we are, in part at least, the sum of the baggage we collect throughout our years on this journey, then I suppose, ultimately, it’s what we do with it that determines the outcome of our lives. Or as author Nancy Springer so aptly put it: “Conform, go crazy, or become an artist.”

Me? I'll have a little from column b and a bit from column c. Just so things don't get too boring.

See you around the studio.

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