Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
It was an exercise in Mondo Beyondo, where we were asked: what can you say YES to right now? In contextualising the exercise, Andrea Scher had shared a story of joining a gospel choir and how overcoming her hesitations about singing in public had opened the way for other acts of courage. After a quick look at my list, and without thinking too much, I wrote, “I say yes to… singing.”
Sure, singing in public is an item on my list. And, to be honest, it’s not all that new or scary a territory for me. I started dance classes at the age of four. I had the lead in several school musicals. I am pretty comfortable with public speaking. I can hold a tune pretty well and belt out something if the occasion – and plenty of alcohol – requires. I’ve never really stopped performing in one way or another
But how does saying yes to singing help me on my way?
Was it just the power of suggestion, because Andrea had described her experience in a choir?
I was pretty sure that I wasn’t saying yes to any of the things I have listed above. That is to say, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to join the local amateur dramatic society and revisiting my “Hello Dolly” days.
But there was clearly a message in there for me to find: and it was something to do with the role that singing has played in my life.
My Dad immediately sprang to mind. He was (and still is) always whistling or humming a tune. His memory for songs, for theme tunes of the shows we used to watch as kids, for silly little made-up ditties is astonishing. And endearing. And occasionally annoying.
I found myself thinking: how is this different from the oral traditions of my forebears? The little pearls of experience, tenderly handed from generation to generation? A way of keeping memories alive when time has passed and people are gone.
So many items on my list speak to me about love and family. I am swimming in these ideas, knowing that the deep blue watery depths contain fears of time slipping away, of loss, of non-existence. The feeling of treading water is never very far away, although in investigations of my anxieties I am noticing little glimmers of light shine through the water. My dear friend Amiee captured it so well when she wrote about using touch to ground herself, despite the knowledge that she is “losing” her little ones a little more each day.
So it seems to me that singing is a lifebuoy. I am carried by the gifts my father gave me and I, in turn, will use them cradle my little ‘un so that she grows into the wisdom that she is part of something that is timeless and enduring.
Even if we’re only singing “Yes, my name is Iggle Piggle”.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
They arrived during a heatwave. My Mum was heavily pregnant and her queasiness from the longhaul flight stayed with her for many weeks. I can only imagine how it contributed to her culture shock, her sense of being on the other side of the planet. She has a memory of, soon after her arrival, of being asked to swear allegiance to the Queen of England in a dusty crowded hardware store in suburban Melbourne, in order to have her passport renewed.
I grew up with the tacit knowledge that we weren’t really at home in Australia. We didn't have any other family here. We watched British television programs. We listened to classical music, to Greek music, to BBC radio recordings of The Wind in the Willows (with a bit of 1960s stuff like Jimi Hendrix and The Kinks thrown in for good measure). We read the classics. And had yoghurt on the dinner table, rather than tomato sauce.
Thirty five years later, my parents are still here.
But, up until recently, our real home, our real family, our real friends seemed to be elsewhere... fossilised in a memory of pre-Melbourne life. This is the story of all migrants. Where the next generation, like me, grow into the knowledge that they belong in neither their real home or the place in which they have spent the majority of their lives. This can bring tremendous gifts, but it can also contribute to an inescapable sense of vulnerability and cultural fatigue.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Every day last week, I cycled past this wall. I usually only pass it on Mondays and Fridays, on the way to my day job. But I was attending a course -- the one designed to give us ivory tower-dwelling tossers a reality check -- on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So I got to look at it every single day.
Up until Friday morning, this wall boasted the following scrawled words:
DANCE UP A STORM THAT WILL MAKE ALL THINGS TREMBLE
Every time I saw it, it took my breath away. And not just because it was situated at the beginning of an incline!
Friday was the morning I promised myself I would stop, get off my bike and take a picture of the graffiti. I knew I had to post the photo here, although I hadn't quite figured what words would accompany it.
Friday morning, the words were gone, painted over.
As I got back on my bike and cycled up the hill, the following things occurred to me:
I always thought that message was meant just for me.
I am glad that I had the chance to see it every morning for a week.
Nothing lasts forever.
Not even brick walls.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
My Papou (the Greek term for grandfather) is Welsh. His name is Llewelyn. The first double L is aspirated and guttural, and it’s similar to the sound a child would make while imitating a saw cutting through wood. His name was often shortened to Llew.
My Yiayia (grandmother) is Greek. She speaks her own version of limited English combined with Greek. She can’t pronounce Llew, let alone Llewellyn. She calls him the closest thing she can manage: Foo.
I am named after my other Yiayia, who lived in Cyprus. There are three of us cousins named after her. Her name was Katerina but she shortened it to Katina. I was always Katerina in school and university, although my family had all sorts of other nicknames for me. When I was three, I couldn’t say Katerina, it sounded more like Karrrrrrina. My first day of full-time work, my manager said to me, “Sorry, Katerina’s too long. Mind if I call you Kat?” And it’s been Kat ever since (with the exception of an Irish boyfriend over ten years ago who called me Kitty).
My family and I had and still have so many nicknames for ourselves, each other and things. Funnily little quirks of language that became fossilised in our story. Like my sister calling books “bups” as a three year old. They have been bups ever since. Or “blayblet” for bracelet. And “biddits” for biscuits. And “tooties” for toes. And so on.
When my husband first met me, he found my habit for not calling things by their proper names silly, childish, and embarrassing, but mostly bewildering. “I’m sorry,” He’d say, “But I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Now he makes up names for things too.
When I was pregnant, my family nicknamed my unborn child Ianto, a Welsh boy’s name, even though we knew the baby was a girl. I think this nickname has its origins in a Dylan Thomas story, where a marginal character is described “Ianto full pelt”. That’s what my Dad called my sister when she was in utero: I was in kindergarten and would tell people that my new brother or sister would be called Ianto-full-pelt. I can still remember the responses.
The name we have given our little girl can be shortened in a couple of different ways that we can think of, but I am sure she and her friends will think of many others. It will be fascinating to see which one(s) she chooses.
I hope, like us, she happily answers to all the silly nicknames that come her way, and that she can see little elements of her truth in all of them.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I was born in Australia to a Greek Cypriot mother and a Greek Welsh father. My early years were bilingual but I was schooled in the monocultural North West of Melbourne, where foreign languages were suspect and people who looked different the object of derision. Most of my early life I was teased for being a “wog”. We weren’t part of a Greek community, we didn’t go to church and I didn’t go to Greek school or anything like that. Aside from visiting family in Europe every few years, I didn’t feel Greek at all.
When I did visit family, and found the language that had been embedded in my early memories flooding back, I was called the “Afstraleza”, the Australian girl, due to my accent.
There was a moment in my undergraduate studies when I finally recognised that my experience was not mine alone. I discovered Salman Rushdie, a writer who championed the “universal migrant”, who celebrated what he called the "chutnification" of language, and questioned the validity of adhering to rigid notions of identity and belonging (at tremendous personal cost). I was particularly fascinated by the main protagonist of The Satanic Verses, Saladin Chamcha, and devoted a year to researching and writing about him. Like me, he was someone who was torn between two cultures and identified wholly with neither.
Monday, February 15, 2010
My cousin and I share a name.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
If I ruled the world, I would make this book -- Summer Pierre's The Artist in the Office -- compulsory reading for everyone. Even for people who don't believe themselves to be artists. Especially for people who don't believe themselves to be artists.
It's hard to do the book justice in a few words, as it covers so much BIG and important territory. Like kicking the victim mentality in our day jobs, even though we'd much rather be pursuing our creative endeavours. Like acknowledging the structure, validation and contact with other people that day jobs can offer. Like getting over ourselves and our I'm-too-tireds and I-don't-have-times when it comes to pursuing our creative passions. Like realising all the things our day jobs enable us to do, and the ways in which we can choose our day jobs to better reflect our creative needs.
When we set out to find our "dream jobs" we tend to look at money, convenience, titles, or industry, but never what kind of people we are or what lives we actually want to live. Rarely do we look for jobs that support the life we want. We instead arrange our lives to support the job we get.
These magnificent gifts arrived in my mailbox from Amazon last week. Their arrival coincided with the last week of Mondo Beyondo; with me putting my infamous list out there; with the realisation that my day job has finally become just that. It also coincided with my little 'un pointing to herself when I said her name; with the birth of a special monthly dreaming space with Amiee and Jen, two beautiful Mondo mamas; with my two dear artful blogging mentors Tinnie Girl and The Creative Beast making their final preparations to attend this magnificent retreat.
Now seems to be the time for stepping forward and naming ourselves. For claiming who we are, where we are now. Even if it's not where we'd like to be. Or where we think we should be.
Mamas know it and artists know it and dreamers know it. We are hybrid beings. We have our feet on the ground and our hands in the sink and our eyes on the horizon and our heads in the clouds. It's OK to be many things at once.
In fact, it's bloody marvellous.
And I really can't say this emphatically enough: please do buy and read this book. It will give you the kick in the pants that you have been waiting for.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Today, I decided it was New York. Didn’t matter how or why or what that meant.
Just… New York.
I caught the bus to work (anticipating rain... which actually didn't materialise), brandishing my MoMA bus pass holder. I wore my pink Chuck Taylors, denim skirt, jangly bracelet that I’d bought from Loehmann’s, funky black hat. I bought an anthology of graphic fiction and found a quiet piece of the concrete jungle, munching on a bagel and sipping coffee.
It didn’t matter that no-one else knew. Or that I had to completely rewrite a paper I’d been working on due to miscommunications and institutional politics. Or that the office had flooded the day before, and the trip to and from the printer involved a fair bit of squelching underfoot.
In my mind, it was all about New York.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Without further ado, here is my Mondo Beyondo list, in all its delicious, embarrassing, terrifying, exciting, uninspiring glory. There are one or two items I have omitted (they are for a tiny, private list) and one or two that were slightly edited. But otherwise, that's IT.
Art and Creativity
* Make beautiful art and possibly sell it
* Get a Digital SLR, use it every day and take magnificent photos
* Dance and act again
* Sell prints of my art and have it licensed by a company like DEMDACO
* Have a beautiful, light, funky studio/writing space
* Participate in an art retreat
* Hold an exhibition or have my work featured in one
* Find a way of honouring my Mum's creative influence
* Make inspiring collaborative guerilla art that gets the general public thinking and questioning
* Fly in a hot air balloon
* Buy a red Vespa
* Meet Andrea Scher and become friends
* Drink only expensive and/or French champagne
* Sing in public
* Have bubble baths three times a week (when it's cold and not so I flout water restrictions)
* Meet SARK in Melbourne
* See Gillian Welch live
* Get my nose pierced
* Live and write in Paris on my own for a short spell
* Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Syria, Jordan
* Visit the child I sponsor in Rwanda
* Go back to Botswana
* Only fly business (or first class) anywhere :)
* Buy an apartment in Paris
* Learn French
* Make a pilgrimage to Frida Kahlo's house
* Travel around Latin America and Cuba
* Visit the Bahamas
* Live part of the year in New York
Family and Home
* Have a baby boy (or two!)
* Raise my beautiful, clever little girl to be happy, healthy and confident
* Have my parents live long and healthy lives
* Renovate the house so that it loses its over-the-top period style and reflects our modern elegant tastes
* Build an extension, if required
* Sign on a cleaner (please please please!) and a gardener
* Never get burgled
* Grow bulbs
* Grow tomatoes
* Make creme brulee
* Make a kite with the little 'un and fly it in the park
* Cook with a tagine
* Pare back belongings and have a garage sale
* Get flown to Oman (biz class, naturally) to present my thesis
* Keep working two days a week, doing work I enjoy, for as long as I want to
* Write the book that is presently in scribble form and have it published, to critical acclaim
* Live the life of a celebrated writer, getting invited to writers festivals etc.
* Win a literary prize
* Have a regular column in The Age A2 section
* Have my writing regularly appear in Frankie magazine
* Research and write a book about my fear of non-existence
* Write lyrics that someone makes into a song
* Make a series of podcasts that discuss my thoughts about writing
* Publish a book of my writing accompanied by my images
Health, fitness and wellbeing
* Lose 20kgs and keep it off
* Run a half marathon
* Have clear, luminous skin
* Go on a spiritual retreat
* Maintain a fitness regimen
* Grow longish thick curly hair
* Feel stylish, quirky, individual, elegant
* Kick chocolate cravings once and for all
* Eat veggies every day
* Build up significant savings of my own
* Live a long and healthy life and die at a time of my choosing, when I am ready
Monday, February 8, 2010
It has been so many years since I have seen you, yet I feel that I live with the legacy of our relationship every day. You taught me ballet, jazz, tap, character, so many different forms of dance and performance, for over fifteen years. You took me to professional performances, master classes, Summer schools. You coached me through exams, mentored me through performances, gave me the freedom to choreograph for and teach younger dancers.
From you, I learned the love of movement, how to engage my body and navigate its relation to space, my unique way of relating to music. I savoured the famous ballets, the sweet old time show tunes, the hammy character acting.
Recently, my Dad asked whether I’d be sending my little ‘un to ballet classes when she was older. I replied mostly in the negative. I was concerned for her body image, for damage done to growing muscles and tendons, for rigid views of performance and art. “Awww, come on!” He chided, “You had a brilliant time of it!” He reminded me of all the things I’d learnt: commitment, striving to do my best, working as a team, punctuality, multi-tasking, time management, taking responsibility for my contribution to something larger than myself.
I’ll confess I did go through a stage of resenting these sorts of things, the values you instilled in me. It was my angry-with-the-world phase, when I was keen to reject anything that confined me to my high school persona: the high-achieving, responsible, giving individual. I was wounded and lashed out at all the people who loved me, hitting out hardest against myself.
But now I know I'll always be that girl I was in high school – the girl you knew – and I have made peace with her now. She was sheltered and constrained and so thirsty to explore the world. Now that I have explored some of the world, I realise how lucky I am to be able to come home to the little niche you helped me carve. You helped me celebrate the things that made me different from other people, you recognised in me the potential to grow – intellectually and creatively – beyond my surrounds.
It was hard sometimes. You could be ruthless, you could be pushy. You demanded so much from me, and my family. But you never gave anything less yourself. And you never laughed at anyone for dreaming. The ballet school you ran, in the outer North Western suburbs of Melbourne, attracted young people who would never make the grade as professional dancers. But you worked hard to give them opportunities, as if they were as deserving as Margot Fonteyn.
You loved what you did but you never shied away from showing how hard it was, and the toll it took on you physically and emotionally, and how much it demanded from your family.
You showed us the reality of living our dreams and you gave us the love that we needed to bloom.
A memory springs to mind. You were giving me a private lesson in preparation of a big exam, and my Mum sat in to watch. When you thought I wasn’t watching, you murmured something to my Mum.
“Yes, I know!” I grouched, “I need new pointe shoes!”
“That’s not what I said.” You answered calmly. “It was something only a mother would understand.”
Later Mum told me that you had said, “Isn’t it strange to think she will be starting university this year!”.
You had seen me blossom from a cheeky little four year old to an awkward teenager to a fledgling woman on the brink of discovering the world. You let me go with your love and your blessings, and I carry both with me, every day of my life.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
It was the conversation I didn't mean to have, but somehow it came out. The tension had been simmering away for the past few days. Weeks, probably. Actually, no, if I am going to admit it, it has been the past year that things have been a little awry.
"Since the baby arrived, "I found myself saying, "It's like you are all excited to see her but you don't really care about me."
And there it was: eleven months' worth of I'm-feeling-rejected and I-miss-you, and all its attendant shame.
I should preface this by saying that I love sharing my bambino with the world. She is charming and funny and sociable, even with people she doesn't know.
I love the way she smiles at people. I love the way she waves and laughs and points and plays hide-and-seek and goes "fffffff" (for "woof") every time we see a dog. We often stop to smile and chat with strangers as we stroll around the neighbourhood. Especially if they have fffffffs.
I love the way she has brought so much joy to my family. She is the first grandchild for my parents and the first niece for my sister, and the mutual love has been one of the most healing forces we have ever experienced.
I do not think I am jealous of my mother's love for my daughter. I certainly don't resent my baby for the change in dynamic. But I do miss the closeness and fun we had before the little 'un arrived. We still talk on the phone every day. But it's not the same.
For example, as soon as Mum arrives at my house, the first thing she does is hold out her arms to the little 'un to see if she will reach out for her. I am ignored to the extent that the front door usually bangs on me as Mum lets go to reach for the baby. (It's really quite a funny slapstick movie-like image, but I never manage to see the humour at the time.) Her first question to me is something usually along the lines of, "Why are you looking so sad? What's wrong? Are you tired? You sound very flat."
Unfortunately, that does not engender the most elegant response from me.
"I don't like it when you grouch at me when I am in your home," Mum rejoined. "It makes me feel like I shouldn't be there."
I heard her.
And I finally understood.
I was trying, albeit inelegantly, to say, "Stop criticising me for not looking happy all the time. Everything is actually great. I'm just sad and annoyed that you don't see me anymore."
What she heard was, "I don't want you here."
I apologised, acknowledging that I misinterpreted her good intentions and concern for my wellbeing. She apologised, admitting that she hadn't realised how I felt.
This was a good exchange and our interactions have been much deeper (in that they are more honest) and lighter (in the sense that they are not burdened by sadness and resentment) since.
I'm not sure why I feel compelled to share all of this here. Re-reading what I have written, I fear it sounds pathetic, insecure, whiny and unimportant. Mum would be absolutely horrified to read it, let alone discover that I am sharing it with the universe.
I'm sure I'm not the only person to navigate their way through changed relationships after having a baby. Probably every person in the world has to re-negotiate relationships as life and circumstances change. And it's a scary business. So it's possible that someone might read this and say, "Yeah! Me too!".
I wonder if that reader would also be able to relate to the feeling of vulnerability that stayed with me the whole evening that followed. The realisation that I has been scared to tell my Mum how I felt in case she got angry or annoyed and dismissed my feelings. Or laughed at me and told me not to be silly. I wonder if this same imaginary reader would also feel small and ashamed. Embarrassed for not being stronger. Ungrateful for her Mum, who is in fact a wonderful person and a loving mother. Immature for not discussing things sooner, in a more calm and reasonable way. Afraid that this would set a bad example for her own daughter.
I have been learning about clearings. About making space for renewal. I hadn't expected this to be the one to find me. I hadn't prepared myself for the unravelling and now I am glowing raw. I about to crawl into bed, exhausted, head pounding.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
A soy chai. A break in the sunshine. A chance to distance myself from robust words.
Thinking about professional disagreements and adult-to-adult discussions. Reflecting on how they coax us out of our shells, stretch the way we view ourselves, challenge us to move beyond our default positions.
These conversations are tiring, confronting, intimidating. And make us question what we do, why we argue, where we go for comfort and renewal.
I am trying to remind myself that we work towards the same higher goal. That there is sense in inclusion, in considered compromise. That people are entitled to their political agendas, and that I am no less a person for not having a strong view either way.
This is new territory for me. And for the way I am perceived in my professional life.
There’s the possibility that my way is not the right way. That I don’t have to fight to defend it. That there is freedom in creating something and then letting it go.
This is new territory for me.
I am happy here.
I am free.