Night Moves

NIGHT -Cahill_expressway_loop

Upwards to the The Bridge…

Saturday, 10:08pm

I’m driving home through the city at night.  One of my dearest friends is riding in the car beside me, and we’re basking in the afterglow of an evening of revellery: good food, even better wine, a classical music concert with a brilliant soloist.  Crossing over Circular Quay, we get the giggles, cracking each other up with increasingly ridiculous remarks about the man we’ve just seen perform.

He’s a violin virtuoso, he sings like an veritable angel, he has such shiny hair he should be in a L’Oreal commercial…no doubt he is the world’s greatest lover, too…

We make the long loop up onto the Harbour Bridge, our laughter sprialling skywards through the arching steel and up into the night.

Monday, 5:45pm

There’s a dance off happening in the kitchen.

In this house we celebrate good news by busting out moves, and today we’ve had plenty. Ugg-booted and stocking-footed we rollick around the room, each of us attempting to outdo the others with displays of increasingly questionable choreography, while outside in the gathering darkness the real stars appear.

Tuesday, 6:13pm

Tonight I’m dealing with Arsenic hour — the fraught and fractious time of day when you’re wondering whether you might poison your kids or yourself — when mid-meltdown from Miss Malaprop I get a text from The Bloke asking whether he can catch up with the Other Blokes for a beer or three.  I flick back a quick, “If you want”, resisting the urge to scream obscentities or engage in a vicious game of compare and contrast.

There is no point in declaring marital war over the differences between our Tuesday evenings.

Wednesday, 3:36am

The Bloke and I are at the top of a ruined high rise, and he is about to be hauled through a dilapidated door behind him to face a firing squad.  I can hear bullets spraying, drilling into the the other side of the wall, and he’s pleading with me to leave, telling me everything will be OK (which it clearly won’t be) as I get progressively more agitated and distraught.

In desperation I wake up, wrenching myself from the drama of the dream into the quiet of the night, and draw enormous comfort from the sound of the The Bloke’s breathing, deep and even, beside me in the dark.

Thursday, 5:40am

The flying foxes are at it again.

Those manic marsupials were squawking and carrying on as I drifted off to sleep, and now their raucous predawn party in the top of the tree next door has me wide awake.

I get up and stalk down the long hallway of my house, surefooted and keeneyed as a cat. They say the darkest part of night is just before the dawn, but this is my territory and I have no need for light in the place I call home.

A large part of me is nocturnal, too.

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

The Healing Power of Disco

Disco ball

Disco, kids’ tantrums and crime drama? It’ll all make sense soon…

So I’ve discovered a new phenomenon this week: the healing power of disco. It has been a two phase discovery — partly inspired by a mega-meltdown from Miss Malaprop, and the rest by Stellan Skarsgård’s mesmerising performance of a police officer grappling with mental illness and the murder of his partner in River.

Yeah, I know: disco, a child’s tantrum and a crime drama are not usually things that get mentioned in the same sentence, but bear with me here — even if it’s only because the silly season officially starts today.

To be honest, it was watching River that came first, and provided me with the inspiration for dealing slightly differently with Miss Malaprop’s apocalyptic outburst yesterday morning (OK, it probably wasn’t quite that bad…it just felt like it at the time).

River is definitely not your average police procedural — it’s far too psychological and, dare I say it, Shakespearian for that. And despite the fact that Swedish Skarsgård plays the lead (and is in virtually every scene of the series’ six episodes), it’s not a Scandinavian crime drama either. Brilliantly and elegantly written by Abi Morgan, it’s a BBC production that follows the increasingly unstable detective John River (Skarsgård, obviously), who is — quite literally — haunted by his partner, Stevie (Nicola Walker), as he attempts to unravel who was responsible for her murder, a traumatic event he had the misfortune to witness.

River

Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker at their brilliant best in River: “Madness can bring its own kind of clarity”, but a bit of Disco helps…

It’s compelling viewing, as dark and disturbed as River’s own mental state, yet punctuated with moments of startling insight into the beauty and fragility of humanity. And over the top of it all? A sparkling soundtrack full of the disco hits Stevie loved.

Oh I love to love…but my baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

I’m not going to say any more about what happens to River, other than to say that I think the series is so good it probably deserves multiple viewings, that I am in total agreement with Michael Hogan’s assessment of Skarsgård’s handling of the final episode:

Skarsgård delivered a powerhouse performance: sad and soulful in one scene, sardonically spiky and manically energetic in the next. With his craggy face and crumpled demeanour, the haunted detective has prowled the streets of east London like a wounded bear, pawing at thin air as he pursued his prey.

Oh — I should probably also mention that since watching River, The Bloke and I have been humming disco anthems for at least a week now. And smiling at each other when we do. Not just because we know that we’re both remembering how Stevie made River smile when she sang along to disco songs while they drove around East London, but because it’s really hard to be grumpy when there’s disco in the house.

And that, of course, brings me to the god-awful Gotham morning I had with Miss Malaprop: what do you do when your younger child, sleep-deprived and still sugar-high after her very first camping trip, completely loses it before preschool?

Disco kitchen

Disco: my new remedy for counteracting meltdowns.

You dig out the Greatest Hits of Boney M, that’s what you do. Because it really is hard to be grumpy when there’s disco in the house.

Admittedly, it did take a little while, a whole lot of hugs (plus a hot chocolate with big AND small marshmallows), but before too long, Boney M were working their disco magic in my kitchen. And before long, there were smiles all around.

So this silly season, if the need arises, give it a spin at your house and embrace the healing power of disco…you may even discover yourself asking Santa to bring you a mirror ball to add some extra sparkle to your kitchen this Christmas.

Oh I love to love…but my baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

Best wishes for surviving the silly season from Blue Jai.

And good luck trying to get that song out of your head now, too…

 

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.