Lauren Graham, a 12 year old girl, has already set the record for being the youngest Canadian painter to date to exhibit in France. Now she has written a literature award quality poem honouring veterans.
If all artistic disciplines had talent scouts like the music industry, Lauren Graham would already have been catapulted to international stardom by now. Fortunately for painters and writers, it takes a little more time, and that’s a good thing. That way rising talent can get used to fame at a more measured pace – a smart move when you’re all of 12 years old. But true talent always finds its way to the top, and Lauren is emerging slowly but surely as one remarkable young artist to watch for the years to come.
Had Covid not interfered, Lauren Graham would have spent October in Paris, creating a buzz at the 2020 FIAC art show, the world’s number one event for modern and contemporary art. She was invited to exhibit there after her first French guest display at Gravis Art Gallery in Nice in December 2019 which caught the eye of Parisian art connoisseur Patrick Lachaud. Alas, after the pandemic-related cancellation of the expo, things were not to be this year…
But Lauren has other weapons in her artistic arsenal. Swapping the canvas for a piece of paper, as she does effortlessly, her new work is a poem, written for Veterans’ Day 2020 – or Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, as November 11 may be called in your country. In it, a veteran takes the reader on a battle field, painting a vivid picture of the bone chilling view, confiding heart-wrenching emotions, and sharing his thoughts vacillating between fear, courage, and resignation. He does not represent a particular war or country but he stands for any veteran anywhere, anytime, who has ever seen combat and dealt with the trauma, who has known the despair and loneliness of a battle field.
But this is not a war-weary fighter who writes this text but a pre-teen. Hailing from the small and peaceful Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, this girl who has never spent a day of her life in war or anywhere near death, writes with a depth and maturity that makes accomplished war writers pale in comparison.
—Written from a veteran‘s view point—
Peace. Never heard of it.
What’s that, you say? Why haven’t I heard of peace before? Well you see, war is all I’ve ever known. It’s everything. Surviving each day is my main priority. I have nightmares, not dreams. I seem to sweat blood, because each time I look down at myself I’m covered in it. A thick, cold, wet layer of blood. Sometimes mine, sometimes another’s.
It doesn’t seem to matter who’s the blood is, it’s the fact that it was spilt. And the fact that it was someone else’s intention. But not their main intention. Their main intention was to kill. Give the priest another funeral to organize. Give their loved ones something else to cry over. Some other reason to stare at the blank walls, wondering why – why in the world did this happen?
Well, it’s war. Death. Blood. Guns. Bombs. And that’s all I’ve ever known. Bunkers filled to the brim with injured – not only physically but mentally as well – soldiers. Soldiers who have the bravery and the courage and the lack of cowardice, to get out of bed in the morning, put on some clothes, place a hard hat on their head, seize a rifle, and walk out into a battle zone. Walk right into death’s aim.
Death shoots, and they duck. Rolling over dead bodies of their crew mates and their enemies. Throwing themselves into heaps of loose limbs and guts, intestines and heads missing the rest of their former souls figure. Death chucks a bomb three feet away and they run. Run like death is right on their tail. Because it is.
And it’s getting closer. And closer. And closer. Death is so close to them that if death extended his arm and stroked the air, his fingertips would brush the wrinkles in the soldier‘s shirt. But the soldier keeps running. And running. And running. Until he can’t anymore and death reaches out and strangles him.
Tearing him backwards, death stumbles over a dead body and loses his grip on the soldier’s neck. The soldier takes his chance and fumbles to find his footing. He knows that death has fallen but will rise within seconds.
Death is not weak. Death does not let his captives get loose often. Death comes at you from all angles. Dividing himself into 10 and firing bullets from each and every possible place you set your eyes on. He is sneaky and slick and will scare you as you walk around a dark corner in an alleyway.
Death is not simple. He is intricate, and sturdy. Yet he is defeatable. Very, very rarely will death fail. And when he does, he’s ready to chase you again. He’s back on his feet and running once more, as soon as you realize you’ve pushed him down.
Death is not a person nor an object. Death is a curse set on each and every one of us. He will strike sooner or later. The way and time and place that death strikes is what matters. Most people seem to have a fear of death. But I certainly don’t.
After what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, there’s nothing that can scare me anymore. There are things much worse than death. Suffering, misery, guilt, anger, grief, regrets, but the one worst of all is loneliness. You feel like you have been placed in a cell with nothing. Not even you are really there.
No walls, keeping you in, no doors locking you out. Nothing at all. During days like this I wished that death would pay me a visit. I wish he would pull up a chair and sit down, sip some coffee and chat about the weather. I needed something. Whether it was death who accompanied me or not, I couldn’t bear another day of loneliness. I was through.
— Lauren Graham
You who are reading this… maybe you have known war on the front line or as someone anxiously awaiting the return of a loved one. Or maybe you were fortunate enough to only encounter it in history books and on television. But either way, these lines will have touched you to the core. They will also give you pause to reconsider who wrote them… not a battle-scarred soldier from one of the world’s most horrific wars but a twelve year old girl.
Growing up in a great, loving home with her two younger sisters Sophia and Ella, Lauren is a perfectly normal seventh-grader, a sweet girl with gentle features and a pleasant demeanour. Her Mom Leigh is a veterinarian, her Dad Peter has a flooring installation business, and a few cherished pets complete the household. Lauren is by far not a broody recluse – she loves stepdancing, playing soccer, and the outdoors just as much as she enjoys reading, writing, and painting.
But she also already had to face her own challenges in life, and she courageously and openly talks about them. And maybe it is that which gives her such a philosophical outlook. We had a chat with this extraordinary young woman to understand where her vision comes from.
Lauren, what inspired you to write “Death’s Game”?
I had been home, sick with a head cold and was extremely bored. I am very fond of war movies and books and love films set in the 1930s-40s. I had come across the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” and thought I may enjoy it. It was one of the most heartwarming and courageous movies I have ever seen, and I needed to express my feelings towards it on paper.
When you write, do you feel you slip into the personality of the person whose voice you’re using?
Yes, I very much do. I don’t think it is possible for me to write and not fall into the character’s body. It amplifies the atmosphere of the story so much more that I believe that my writing pieces without my own emotion are not worth writing.
You have never experienced war or conflict. Where, do you think, does this “inner knowledge” come from?
No, I have not. But I have experienced the emotion that goes along with it. Combining that with the fact that I have watched and read many war and holocaust books and movies, I can easily feel and put myself in the soldiers’ and witnesses’ shoes.
Have you experienced any personal struggles that you would like to talk about?
Yes, I have. I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for around two years now and have learned that if I take those hopeless and desperate feelings and emotions and spill them out on paper, it not only makes me feel better, but others can learn and understand how it feels to struggle with a mental illness. I think that’s why I love war movies and novels, because I can relate to the feelings the characters are enduring.
If you could have picked any time and place in history, where and when would you have liked to live, and why?
I think I would choose during WW2 because if those children and parents had to go through such a hard and desperate time, why do I deserve to live a happy and normal life? It’s not fair what some have to go through to survive, and I think that if children in this generation lived through one, single day of violence and war, they would not take for granted what they have.
Do you consider yourself more of a writer or painter, or both at equal measure? Why?
I would definitely consider them to be equal, I mean I enjoy both of them a lot and could see myself continuing to do both probably equally. Although if I had to choose one I think it would be writing, I’m not sure why, I just have a feeling that I wouldn’t run out of ideas.
What are your next plans as an artist? What are you working on right now?
Currently I am not working on any piece of art, just because I am simply swamped with school, writing, tests, and extracurricular activities. I am hoping to start working on a new painting very soon, and would like to continue to paint for as long as I can.
When you are an adult, a few years down the road, do you think you will continue to do art or do you have a different career in mind?
I most definitely would love to continue painting, but probably as a side job, or just for personal pleasure. I have dreams of being a pediatric nurse for my career but will probably fit painting into my life as well.
Are your parents or sisters into the arts?
No, not so much. My sisters love crafts and do lots of school projects that involve art, but never really have the willingness to paint or create very much art outside of school. As for my parents, they say that they aren’t artsy at all, but I think my father (as a flooring installer) has some art and designing abilities. And I’m quite sure that if my mother threw some paint and a canvas together it would be lovely!
What do your classmates think of you, and are your teachers supportive?
My teachers are quite supportive of my writing and painting abilities, and my classmates are encouraging as well. Starting junior high school this year, I haven’t told many of my classmates about my painting or writing but they are all very kind and I’m sure they’d be supportive as well.
What else would you like your readers to know about you, or is there any advice you can give?
I would like people, and especially children, to know that if you have a dream, whether it’s flying a plane, publishing music, pursuing a teaching career or being a dentist, you can do it. If you set your mind on something and work as hard as you possibly can, great things will come out of it. Don’t ever give up on something you believe in, and remember that you can make a difference.
Not all of Lauren’s texts are as dark as this particular one; she also writes more lighthearted poetry and prose, but still with an unusual depth of perception way beyond her young age. And, as we mentioned earlier, she is also a painter, with a first international exhibition in Nice to her credit. Her style is somewhere between modernism and abstract design, often featuring animals and a technique where the paintings seem to blend into each other. Her preferred techniques are acrylic paints but she also uses watercolours and pastels.
It’s easy to label young persons of great talent as prodigies, and it has become an overused term recently. But Lauren Graham truly is one, in the old-fashioned definition. We cannot wait for her to take home her first international awards for her writing or painting… but for now, we just want her to be a normal, healthy, and happy pre-teen who just has fun doing what she is doing.
To all veterans alive or passed on, and to their families and friends, we are addressing our sincere appreciation and gratitude for being beacons of strength, courage, and valour, and the guarantors of freedom that democracies need to go forward in these critical times. May your sacrifice not have been in vain!
Lead image of Prince Edward Island cemetery © Bethany Reeves, Foxy Island Photography; all other photographs as credited