To Baryshnikov, with Love

barishnokov_stting

Mikhail Baryshnikov…

Miss Malaprop has a case of the Baryshnikovs.

It happened quite accidentally, as these often things do: for some reason (still unknown even to myself) I was researching the great story-telller, Scheherazade, when I happened to click on a link to a YouTube clip of the Vienna Philharmonic playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s music of the same name.

Now, I’m not sure whether this phenomenon is unique to my children, but YouTube has a magnetic pull on my girls.  It’s uncanny — no matter what part of the house or garden they are playing in, the split second I start checking something out on YouTube they appear. Instantly. They then either try to squash themselves simultaneously onto my lap or lean heavily over my shoulders and usually end up obscuring my computer screen so that I can’t see a damn thing…

Anyway, this occasion was no different. Marvel Girl was at school, and Miss Malaprop had been happily drawing pictures of the Hulk and Thor (complete with swirling cape and hair so fine L’Oreal would definitely think he was worth it) when I began watching the Scheherazade clip. But there she was — yes, instantly — at my elbow.

“What are you watching?” she asked, her greeny-blue eyes already fixed on the screen.

“I’m not really watching, I’m actually listening — to the music,” I explained. “But if you want to, I can show you some music with dancing? Like when I go to the ballet?”

“Oooh…yes please, Mummy!”

And so it began. I was in one of my Russian moods (evidently, since I had begun with Rimsky-Korsakov), so first I showed Miss Malaprop the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. And she loved it — the costumes, the dancing, the sets, the music; it was as though I had opened a world of wonder to her. But then she started asking questions about Romeo and Juliet and what happened to them, and…well, while I suspect the plot is best summed up in this e-card:

Romeo & Juliet

Seriously…they make several good points here…

…street fighting and teen suicide weren’t things I was ready to discuss with a preschooler.

So we moved on.

“Oh — here’s something you’ll like,” I said, clicking on another clip.

Those of you who follow this blog already know that Blue Jai’s First Rule of Parenting is simply “Distract” (trust me, it works almost every time). But on this occasion, it really worked: Miss Malaprop went from being simply fixated to utterly transfixed.

By Baryshnikov.

We watched him perform the pas de deux from Giselle, and then moved onto The Nutcracker, mostly because Miss Malaprop is familiar with Tchaikovsky’s score from her own ballet classes. Many of the clips are grainy, products of the long-gone days of videotape, but as my daughter watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance she first grew very quiet, and then grew very still. And it wasn’t until later that evening that I realised just how deep an impression had been made.

You should see how high he leaps...

You should see how high he leaps…

At dinnertime, Miss Malaprop began explaining what she had seen, and did so with a reverence and wonder I have rarely heard from her.

“He’s the most angelic person…” she said, trying to express to her sister that what she had seen seemed super-human.

“Yeah, Baryshnikov.  He’s a man you know…but he’s the most amazing dancer. You should see how high he leaps! I just love him.”

And there it was.

Baryshnikov had acquired yet another fan.

Clearly, Mikhail Baryshnikov is not an angel, he is a man — and one who has been criticised (most notably by his former dance partner and sometime lover Gelsey Kirkland) for some of his personal and professional attitudes. That said, from a distance and, more specifically, from a preschooler’s perspective, I think there are worse people in this world Miss Malaprop could choose to look up to.

“Working is living to me.” Mikhail Baryshnikov

Dancing — as even Baryshnikov would tell you — is hard work. You’ve got to put in the hours, from an early age, and practice. And then practice some more. And then…yeah, you know what comes next…

But to be as good as Baryshnikov, you also need discipline: not just to do all that practice, but to develop good, or in his case, close to flawless technique. And the way Baryshnikov says he achieved that? By focusing on self-improvement: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else,” he says, “I only try to dance better than myself.”

It’s also, all too often, about making choices — some of them difficult. I cannot imagine that deciding to defect from the then Soviet Union in 1974 was an easy thing to do. But as Baryshnikov says, “To achieve some depth in your field requires a lot of sacrifices. Want to or not, you’re thinking about what you’re doing in life — in my case, dancing”.

And finally, there is one thing about succeeding as a dancer that, in my view, sets it apart: it exposes. On stage, there is nowhere to hide. You have to be prepared to perform, to reveal the extent of your abilities and the range of your expression, and to be comfortable with the result. And to do that effectively, and meaningfully, you need to know yourself.

When a dancer comes on stage, he is not just a blank slate the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in his life…each time, he has chosen, and in what he is on stage you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, and the person, who at this point, he cannot help but be…Exceptional dancers, in my experience, are also exceptional people, people with an attitude toward life, a kind of quest, and an internal quality. They know who they are, and they show this to you willingly.

MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV

mikhail-baryshnikov

“When a body moves, it’s the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Mikhail Baryshnikov

My maternal intuition tells me that Miss Malaprop’s path in life is not that of a dancer: she is much more likely to use words (volubly and at varying volumes) than to express herself through movement. But if she chooses as role models people who literally embody what it means to work hard, practice harder, be disciplined and make difficult decisions, and if she makes the effort to get to know herself, I believe that she will succeed — in whatever it is she sets out to do.

This, perhaps, could be the moral of the story, though I suspect a cautionary corollary is also called for: if the YouTube phenomenon I described above extends beyond my house and into yours, be careful what you click on…it could change your child’s life.

Dear Aylan

Dear Aylan,

You don’t know me, and now you never will, but there are things that I want to say to you even though you’ll never hear them.

The first thing I want to say is that I’m sorry. When I saw the picture of you, washed up on a stretch of Turkish beach, I wept — and the world wept with me. I am sorry that we failed you, that you did not find the refuge you so desperately needed.

I can only imagine what your life was like. In your three short years I wonder whether you ever knew the sort of peaceful coexistence my children enjoy every day, living in a society that has never experienced the harsh and harrowing realities of modern warfare on our home soil. I do know that you had a brother, Galib, and parents who loved you both so much that they made the inordinately difficult decision to leave their homeland and search for a better life. A life without bombing. Without war. Without privation. Without the incessant presence of danger — real, actual, life-threatening danger.

Aylan, I wish you had made it to safety. I wish that it did not take seeing the photograph of your lifeless body to galvanise support around the world for the thousands of human beings who are fleeing five years of relentless, ruthless warfare and are seeking a safe haven. Somewhere. Anywhere.

But I am grateful that even though you didn’t get to see it, people around the world have stood up for you. They wiped away their tears and showed each other what humanity is, nowhere more so than in Germany where, as Geoffrey Robertson so eloquently put it, “the grandchildren of the Gestapo became the angels of mercy”. And the world wept again, but this time they were tears of hope.

These people showed the world what leadership looks like, Aylan. It looks like the people who greeted the displaced thousands flooding into their country with applause, with toys and sweets, with open arms. It looks like the people who waited on roadsides handing out care packages of much needed food and water. It looks like the people who drove their cars across the Hungarian border to pick up the asylum seekers who were still walking to safety. It looks like Angela Merkel.

I am sorry — no, I am ashamed — that such leadership has been sorely lacking at the highest levels of government in my own country, and that our prime minister — in whose electorate I reside — seems to have lost himself in a mire of bureaucratic bullshit, crapping on about quotas and proportions, and crowing about stopping the boats.

A humanitarian crisis should never be turned into a political issue, but in Australia, our prime minister’s lack of compassion and basic concern for his fellow human beings is doing that faster than any parliamentary debate ever could.  It seems that he has not only forgotten Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution“, but that he has also failed to recall Article 1:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Aylan, even though you will never speak again, I promise that I will keep speaking up for you and for the thousands of people seeking refuge, just as you did. I will stand up and say, over and over again, that refugees should be made welcome in this country. I will honour that spirit of brotherhood, of humanity.

I will remember you, Aylan.

May you rest in peace.

 Refugees welcome

The Wellspring

My First Principles: words, music, food.

Know your First Principles…

This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.

I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.

Find your wellspring...

Find your wellspring…

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.  Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art.  And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.

I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly.   When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence.  Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way.  It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.

Connect...

Connect to your own greatness…

I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year.  You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.

I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal.  Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)

But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better.  It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.

...and Begin.

…and Begin.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring.  It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within.  Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky.  Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.

So rise up.  Follow your breath.  Find the wellspring within.  Connect.  And begin.