Friday, November 19, 2010

When the heart

from A Confession - by Michael Leunig

"Once upon a time I used to be a political cartoonist. I worked for a Melbourne newspaper called Newsday but I had trouble making witty, incisive jokes.

One Saturday morning in 1969, struggling towards a deadline and trying to draw a cartoon about the Vietname war, a strange thing happened to me. In an act of merry insolence; as a small rebellion against deadlines, punchlines and politics I sidestepped my obligations and the grave topic in hand and drew what I thought was an absurd, irresponsible triviality. Tempting fate, I presented it to the editor for publication.

It showed a man riding towards the sunset on a large duck. On his head he wore a teapot. Not a 'proper' cartoon by conventional standards, quite loopy in fact, but a joyous image nevertheless.

The editor told me he didn't know what it meant but laughed, shook his head and published it. I suspect that deep down, to my good fortune, he understood.

Many years later I was able to interpret the meaning of this drawing with certitude.

The man was most definitely me and the teapot, worn like a fool's cap, symbolized warmth, nourishment and domestic familiarity. The duck represented feelings of primal freedom and playfulness; qualities sadly lacking, I thought, from the world of political commentary and critical awareness.

Innocently I had drawn my impending departure from political cartooning, my flight to freedom. In a moment of perversity and release I had drawn my liberating image.

In the wake of this drawing I at once began to express my most personal self with less embarrassment; to play with my ideas more freely; to bring warmth into my work; to focus on modest, everyday situations and nature as sources of imagery and to see my work as nourishing rather than mocking or hurtful.

I experimented my way onward with feelings of mischief and fertility and as I found my feet I began to find my symbols and characters. A small, wide-eyed creature with a huge nose evolved off the end of my nib; a naked angel; wingless, ageless, genderless; an innocent messenger-fool presenting no possible threat and therefore permitted to state any case or express any feeling shamelessly.

Years passed and Mr Curly arrived on a bicycle, a large perky curl rising frond-like from his head; drawn that way because it felt right and looked funny. But the curl turned out to be the tender, unfurling motion of nature's growth; the unfolding consciousness; the way in which the heart reaches out into the world.

And sailing over the horizon in a battered armchair came Vasco Pyjama, the brave searcher who left all that was understood and safe to circumnavigate his own world.

The job of these arrivals however was matched by the pain of sudden, unexpected departures, depressions and loss of confidence when the hand and the heart could not draw or refused to draw: errors, failures, and humiliations when everything seemed to collapse into foolishness and squalor.

And in the gloom of these interminable periods friends and comrades leaned close to whisper prayers of encouragement and comfort. Others came from behind to steal and wound and confound. It's traditional. The best drawing ink is bitter and sweet and salty.

Yet my moon always hung faithfully in the sky: constant companion, luminous and remote, gentle symbol of mystery, femininity and noctural wisdom. . . "

If you haven't yet discovered Michael Leunig and his generous blend of creative and philosophical wisdom, I am sure you will want to. . .  Continue the journey on his website -


When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open

Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sing.

Let  a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring

from The Prayer Tree, HarperCollinsPublishers 1990 


  1. Leonard Cohen sings, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

    Found your blog via Premium T. Glad I did!

  2. Tara, Welcome and thanks for coming! (You sent me a recipe for Crackpot Chicken & Dumplings some months ago when there was recipe exchange thing happening, remember that? I see you popping up on Facebook, too. . . Lovely to find you here. Our friend T. is a catalyst - a 'joiner of dots'!)

    The line you quote from Leonard Cohen is a favourite. Thanks for reminding me of it. I'm off now to go and dig out my old LC CDs. His lyrics are wise and enduring.

    Take care ; )