It’s Belinda’s way or the Highway…

Belinda the Ninja FRONTlowresSo there we are, my partner and I, and we’re slogging up Whitsunday Peak on Whitsunday Island, and it’s hot and humid. My sandfly bites are driving me crazy, and mozzies the size of elephants are trying to carry me away. I’m wondering if my desire not to be the first one to say ‘let’s stop’, will beat my desire to get back to Dugong Beach as quickly as possible and plunge myself into the beautiful, clear, turquoise water.

I give in. “Greg,” I whinge. “Let’s go back.”

He stops almost mid-step. “Phew,” he says. “I thought you’d never say it.”

So we turn around and pick our way back down through the rainforest, and into the scrub, and back along the path to the beach, and as we do, I’m thinking about my (then) 13-year-old daughter Anna, and how much she loves to do dance. I’m swatting away the mozzies, and wiping the sweat from my brow, and I suddenly get this little dancing image in my mind. At least, it’s a little girl, but she’s not exactly dancing, she’s doing Ninja moves.

“Yee-hah!” she’s shouting, as she puts up a hand to stop an imaginary opponent, and I’m surprised though, that she’s dressed in a little pink tutu and ballet slippers – because even though I’ve only just made her acquaintance I’m absolutely sure she doesn’t want to be a ballerina, she wants to be a Ninja.

The Ninja Ballerina I think to myself, and suddenly a name pops into my head.   Belinda.

Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

I’m almost jumping up and down on the spot – I’d be doing Ninja moves at the brush turkeys if I was supple enough.

“I’ve got an idea for a children’s book,” I say. “I think I’ve got to write it now.

There’s a wonderful moment as a writer, when an idea comes to you – and just for a moment you see it there, already written, already published even, and it’s perfect, it’s just as you imagined it, it’s a success, everybody loves it…and then, reality hits.

To begin with, you actually have to get the words out of your head on to paper, or computer, and then you have to begin the arduous process of working on the words, and even worse, fight off the internal nay-sayers who are only too happy to tell you that your idea is no good, and why on earth do you think you can write a book. Those voices don’t even listen when you tell them you’ve written books before – “yeah, well,” they’ll say in derision, “just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean you can do it again.” When I teach creative writing I always tell people – when you write something, at some point or other you’re going to have to cross Mordor.

But as I sat on a wooden bench, under a palm tree, trying to get this cheeky curly-headed girl out of my head and into a story, the words flowed as swiftly as a river, and within an hour, she was written. There was only one problem – I wished desperately that I could draw – I so wanted Belinda to look as I imagined her, and not how someone else might imagine her. But I needn’t have worried, because for whatever magical reason it might be, Belinda’s birth into the world of books, has been as easy and blessed as the moment of creation.

Mitch Vane's first rough drawings for Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

Mitch Vane’s first rough drawings for Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

Some people have already asked me the obvious question of whether I did ballet as a child, and I did – but let’s just say that I was not the most graceful child on the block. In fact I was pretty much permanently traumatized from the age of four when my father came to see me dance at my end of year kindergarten concert. We were doing a Little Miss Muffet sequence, and I was very proud of my pink tutu, tights and ballet shoes. I ran up to my parents after it was over, and my father looked at me solemnly.

“Well,” he said, “Stay as clumsy as that and you’ll never make a dancer.”   I sat down on my little pink bottom and burst into tears while my mother hugged me and not for the first or last time looked at my father reproachfully.

And there I was sitting under a palm tree on the other side of the world over 50 years later, and the idea of the Little Miss Muffet sequence came flooding back in – but this time, Belinda took control. No cute little costumes for her – no way, she wanted to be the Ninja spider. Graceful be damned – she was going to dance her way, or no way.

When Paul Collins, the publisher of Ford Street books in Melbourne, accepted Belinda I was delighted. I love what he does with children’s books – the care he takes, the fact that he’s stuck to his guns and still prints picture books in hardback, and when he mentioned to me that perhaps we should approach Mitch Vane to do the illustrations, I was over the moon. I know Mitch’s work well, although I’ve never met her, and sitting far away in Byron Bay, waiting for the first drawings to come in, I felt a combination of excitement and trepidation. How would Mitch see Belinda? After all, they’re not called ‘picture’ books for nothing – the words may have come first, but the pictures were essential. Would Mitch’s vision match mine, or would she see Belinda completely differently?

When the email arrived with the first roughs, I almost broke the keyboard in my excitement to open them – and WOW – there was Belinda. My Belinda. A cheeky curly-haired red-head, with a grin, and a Ninja costume, cart-wheeling her way through the pages of the book.

It’s interesting when you write a book, or a story, or essay, how other people see it – sometimes as a writer you may question their interpretation, sometimes they see something you didn’t even see when you were writing. Mitch spotted an element to the book that was entirely unconscious in the writing, and that was Belinda’s constant movement.

“Belinda’s character is never what you would call ‘quiet’ or ‘still’,” Mitch said to me when we were talking about the teacher’s notes for the book. “Throughout the story she never stops practicing her Ninja moves, and that’s why I felt the energetic squiggly pen and ink line and splashes of colour wash best reflected her personality – but I think what was most important for me was to portray Belinda’s determination and passion.”

It seemed that Mitch and Paul both connected with Belinda’s determined personality, and then throughout the publishing process there was also Dmetri Kakmi – Belinda’s editor – the contact point between us all – publisher, author and illustrator. He too loved Belinda, and carefully negotiated the minefield of dealing with ‘creatives’ to gather the various strands into the whole that has become the book that at this moment – after 14 books – has most perfectly realized that moment of creation.

I know how lucky I am as a writer to have had this experience, and as Belinda the Ninja Ballerina is launched into the world next week, I hope many young readers enjoy her message on the importance of standing up for yourself.


You can find out more about candida baker on candidabaker.com

Candida Baker also runs an online arts, culture and lifestyle magazine based in the Byron Bay region – www.verandahmagazine.com.au

For more information on Belinda the Ninja Ballerina go to: www.fordstreetpublishing.com

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Silence is Golden

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Silence is not the absence of something

but

the presence of everything.

   John Grossmannn

 

 My best friend Sally and I could ride our ponies for hours through the English countryside where I grew up.

On the way back home, all of us – humans and horse – tired from our outing, would mosey our way along the grass verge, feet out of the stirrups, dangling our boots through the cow-parsley, while the ponies took the odd snack-on-the-go.

In those moments, life often seemed sweet and almost perfect, and it wouldn’t take much for one of us to burst into the chorus of one of our favourite songs…

‘Silence is golden, but my eyes still see

Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see…’

Anybody who remembers the song will know it doesn’t say much for our taste at the time, but it was 1967 and we were 12-years-old, and we were collectively in love with the Tremeloes, who, as it turned out were going to be a one-hit wonder, with not even, as I found out many years later, their own song.

What I remember thinking in those far-off days, and it’s a thought that has stayed with me all my life, is that there are two kinds of silence – an outside silence, which in a sense does not really exist, and an inner one, which arrives on a rare occasion – well, rare to me at least – unbidden, as a sudden sense of quiet inner peace.

I grew up in the country, and I now live in the country, and I still horse-ride – these days through the green macadamia-covered hills of northern New South Wales.

Until recently when we sadly lost my daughter’s Shetland pony, Sally-the-Boy to a brain tumour,  I would take my daughter for a trail ride on him, and  I would walk beside her.  Whenever we did our lane outing, she liked to close her eyes, so, as she said, she could hear the ‘quiet’ sounds. And the quiet sounds were the sounds her pony’s hooves make clip-clopping steadily along, the sound of the breeze, the carolling of the magpies and the far-off hum of the motorway.

If you want to further the argument that silence in a sense is a concept, and not something that really exists – think of the phrase, ‘Silence please’, and where it is used.

Take a school classroom for instance, at the beginning of an exam and the room falls quiet as students begin the unenviable task of working through an exam paper – is it silent in there? Of course not. There are a million little noises: the scraping of shoes on the floor, the occasional cough, the sound of a chair being adjusted, paper being turned – there is almost, in fact, a ‘noise’ of concentration.

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And yet, conversely despite this outside noise that makes the notion of silence not – in any world I know at least – a reality, there is that time when you are in the exam, when your inner world is in silence. Then, if you are lucky and you have studied your subject, a kind of meditative trance falls on you where you become unaware of anything around you, blocking out everything other than that which you are doing.

When we were children we used to play many games in the fields and the woods around my home. One of them, a perennial favourite, involved an attempt to be silent. One of us would hide our eyes into a tree, while another would pretend to be a Red Indian – as we still called native American Indians then – and would creep silently up behind to scare the person hiding their eyes. Sometimes if one of us was feeling cruel, we would all run off and leave the innocent waiting to be startled alone at the tree, and as I know, that produced its own torturous silence – the silence of no response.

For a large part of the past 35 years I have been a journalist working in busy newspaper and magazine offices, and in those offices the ability to call on inner silence becomes absolutely vital. They’re noisy places, newspaper offices. Not quite as noisy as they were pre-computers, but noisy enough. A large open plan-office with telephones ringing and people talking, meeting, arguing, creating is not necessarily the kind of place that you would think would be conducive to writing, but write you must – and so you do – learning to block out every sound, so that you can meet your deadline. Much, dear reader, as I am doing now.

In a relatively quiet, relatively small space in my house, with white desks and two windows overlooking the paddocks below, I am typing an essay on silence. Outside I can hear the sound of the neighbour on his ride-on mower, every now and then my son’s mobile phone pings. I can hear the magpies, crows, rosellas, butcher birds, minah birds and doves that are just part of the noise landscape. One of the dogs is drinking water, each lap magnified by my attempt to hear silence. If I pause for a moment, I can absorb these sounds deep inside, and by absorbing them they become part of the silent interior, the place from which I am attempting to write.

William Penn once wrote: “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” For me that rings true, because the curious thing about turning into the inner world is how energising it is.

Sometimes, although not often enough, I manage to get up in the very early hours of the morning to meditate. Even then, deep in the country at four in the morning, the world is not silent. The creaks and groans of an old house keep me company; the cat appears at my side and grooms herself, if there is rain every tiny drop is magnified by the absence of day noise, and the silence of the night reveals itself as anything but, as I try to empty my mind and find that still place within.

If nature is so noisy, is it ever silent? “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence,” said Mother Teresa. “See the stars, the moon and the sun how they move in silence….we need silence to be able to touch souls.” I like that idea that the tree whose branch creaks over my roof, is growing in silence, that silence can be something tangible, if not in fact what we assume it to be. I’ve never thought of the sun, stars and moon as silent, but it’s true, at least from a human perspective. I see its trajectory over my house, I don’t hear it and that somehow reinforces the idea of silence being a sensation, having a presence, rather than an absence.

I have often wondered if wilderness places are silent – if you climb Mount Everest, for instance, do you sit in silence? In the Antarctic are you surrounded by silence? People tell me this is not so, that even in the quietest places there is noise, even if the noise is the beating of your own heart – even the absence of noise can be noisy.

There is a wonderful book by photographer Jeffrey Gusky entitled ‘Silent Places’. This poignant photographic journey through Eastern Europe documents in black and quite the crumbling landscape of the Holocaust. Houses, synagogues, railway lines, a simple corridor, a door, the entry to a Jewish home now used as a public toilet – every image silently tells a screaming story. His work is of outstanding quality, and somehow what he brings to the photographs is even more poignant than those of the time – the absence of people tells us these were their homes, their places of worship, of education and play – and in the case of the railway line to Auschwitz, their journey to death.   You feel that if you stare at them long enough you will bring them to life somehow, that the families will return, peeking out of the shadows, bringing light and love and warmth and noise with them, but until then this landscape bears silent witness to the bloody past.

 

 

'Corridor in Kazimierz', former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

‘Corridor in Kazimierz’, former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

Battlefields, memorials, cenotaphs, burial mounds, roman ruins – everywhere where man has once existed but is no longer, it is not the silence, or lack of it, in the direct environment of these places it is the silence of the structures themselves that strikes one as being so overwhelming, hinting at one’s own mortality. I am here, I am noise, I am flesh, I am anything but silent, my blood flows, my heart beats, my stomach growls, my joints creak, my eyes see, my ears hear, tongue tastes, in each movement I make, each kiss or cuddle I give or receive, in each angry word, or happy laugh or bossy command I am an active presence.

Perhaps it is this more than anything that creates anxiety for a lot of people around the idea of silence. In a world full of iPods, iPads, tablets, phones, facebook and computers, whether we live in the (supposed) peace and quiet of the country, or the white noise of a city, the idea of silence, without or within, can be laden with fear. I can’t hear, does that mean people can’t hear me? Do I, if I am not constantly in contact with humanity, matter? My lack of silence, my constant interaction reassures me – I am here, I do matter, I am in contact.

The very fact of modern human’s difficulty with silence means that it is increasingly more important for us to acknowledge it, to hold it within and embrace the silence – to give our soul a chance to speak.

Perhaps one of the best-known prose poems in the world is the Desiderata, which far from being written in the 1600s as was commonly thought, was in fact penned by Max Ehrmann in 1927. Ehrmann, a philosopher and writer who wrote six books in ten years and then became a lawyer because he felt he would never write a book that made him enough money to support his family, would be astonished and gratified to know that 84 years later the Desiderata is one of the most widely read poems in the world.

‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste,’ he wrote, ‘and remember what peace there may be in silence.’

What he was speaking of, I am sure, is inner silence – that deep, profound state of being when all is right with the world, so right that one could still be compelled, in the right circumstances – a horse ride along a quiet avenue of trees, a dog or three at my heels – in my case – to sing out loud, ‘Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see’. And always to remember, of course the wise words below:

Keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silence

From horse’s hooves to ballet shoes

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I’M PORING over the entries to the next dance eisteddfod – I know we’ve got to tick the contemporary solo under 14, that’s easy, but OMG what about all these others? Not just the obvious ballet, hip-hop, jazz and tap, but modern, lyrical and even lyrical expressive – I’m tearing my hair out here. It’s like a completely different language, I mean – I’m a horse person not a dance person.

I was lucky when my son was small that I very soon noticed his interests dovetailed with mine – i.e. horses, horses and more horses. His best toys were an already second-hand collection of my little ponies that we picked up at his kindergarten fete one day and paid 50 cents each for. I can remember the names he gave them 20 years later: Paris, Hank, Charlie B, Angel and David. (I can partly remember the names because I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away and they’re still in a toybox in my room somewhere.) His growing obsession with all things equine allowed me to extend myself from someone who had ridden a bit all her life and knew a bit about horses into someone who knew a lot.

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Twenty years on and a lot of pony club, horseshows, natural horsemanship, horse rescues, horses bred, bought and sold, we still have six lovely equine friends in our paddocks, and although I ride much less, I spend a lot of time talking to and working with them, and Sam trains the young ones.   As we went I learned to plait manes, and call dressage tests, to know the difference between a Liverpool and an Oxer, a six-bar course and an AM5, and when to give him advice and more importantly when not to (at least I think I mastered that skill although he would probably disagree).

But his younger sister, although she loves horses in a broad humanitarian way has a different skill – one to which I’m completely new. She is a lovely dancer and getting better all the time. When I realised we were heading towards a fairly serious hobby, I was relieved that it wasn’t horses. No more charging around the countryside with a float and camping gear and horses in tow, no more standing out in the wind and the rain and the hot sun in numerous Australian country towns, no more one day a rooster and the next day a feather duster depending on that peculiar combination of horse and rider and the many variants involved. No more, oh, thank goodness, no more arriving at a showground and hearing the twanging nasal sounds of ‘We’re the Boys from the Bush and we’re back in towwwnnn’. I imagined being a Dance ‘Mom’ as a veritable bed of roses. I’d already been so inept at doing hair and make-up that I’d been given a withering look and told she’d do it herself. Suits me I thought, I’ll read a book, or better still write one, while I’m sitting around genteely with oodles of time on my hands. Plus I thought, at least it can’t be as expensive as horses.

Ah, how wrong can a person be! First of all of course there’s the hours of training – five and even six days a week, and that means a punctual and reliable taxi service. Then there’s the incredible array of ‘stuff’ – leotards, dance shoes of all kinds, tutus, bun-nets, bun-pins, bobby pins, tights, dance shorts, and of course costumes.

Halfway to her first solo eisteddfod in which she was entered for her self-choreography, she announced she’d ‘forgotten’ her tights, and then after we’d dashed into our local dance shop and got back on the road, her shorts. A quick sideways duck into the shop where, in Australia, ‘you don’t pay for any fancy overheads’, and we were on the road again.

Then came the nerves, and with it the Jekyll and Hyde personality change.  (Oh, I remembered that one SO well, culminating in a moment at Caboolture showground when my son, sitting up on his 16.2hh showjumper, looked down on me and exhorted me to: “get off my high horse.”  And then cantered off furiously when I laughed.) Anna having by then criticized me for everything from my posture to how I tap my hand on my knee when I drive, to my laugh, I decided the best thing to do was to keep quiet. “Why aren’t you talking to me?”, she moaned after a few minutes silence. “Talk to me.”

It was fear, of course, and I understood that. It was also not helped by our rather overwhelming dose of reality when we got to the eisteddfod. I mean, here were girls with literally mobile racks of costumes – the amount of make-up they had would fill a Louis Vuitton luggage set. We sat in the corner at the back with our little chiller bag from Aldi, and the mini-make up set and the one costume, adapted form her Year Six formal dress at primary school and I felt, I can tell you, like a rank amateur. Why had it not occurred to me that if Anna was going to do well at this I was going to have to do well also? I was going to have to learn the language, buy the stuff, be the support system.

Just a little luggage...

Just a little luggage…

It caused me to stop and think about how it’s not that hard if you’re a parent and your child has an interest in something you love to do and that you fundamentally understand. It’s much harder when it’s something for which you don’t have a natural affinity, but it’s just as essential, if not more so. I think many of us have felt the emotional blackmail from our parents to do something that pleases them rather than to do the thing that pleases us, and perhaps one of the most active areas of growth as a parent is to jump in with that. To be on board for your child and help them develop their passion so it can sustain them throughout their lives at whatever level they choose.

We were so overwhelmed by the professionalism of the girls around us that in a way it worked for Anna, she was so convinced she wouldn’t get a place she simply relaxed, went out and danced like an angel. When she got a Highly Commended she was as pleased as if she’d won. Our journey home was very different – she chatted amiably all the way home. Stress relieved, mission accomplished, first solo eisteddfod down.

And a dance mum explained the difference between the dance types for me. “Contemporary is slow controlled movements,” she explained patiently. “Modern is more expressive and emotional, and lyrical or expressive or lyrical expressive is a combination of those with its own element thrown in.” Ok…makes a 2.1 dressage test look easy by comparison really. In fact a room full of hormonal teenage girls in full preparation for a dance contest makes driving around the countryside with horses and a horse float look easy.

To be honest I don’t see the novel being written, or even read, anytime soon, but I am fully involved in the Dance Mom’s Handbook.  (Actually I made that up, but if it doesn’t exist, it probably should…now there’s a good idea.)

From Paris to Paradise

Sarah Turnbull’s journey along the rocky road of hope…

This review first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 6, 2013

Sarah Turnbull

Author Sarah Turnbull.  Photo Andrew Goldie

It’s a hard thing in life to know when to let go of a dream and when to fight for it. In Sarah Turnbull’s first memoir, Almost French, we followed her journey as she bravely let go of her Australian life to move to Paris to be with Frederic, the man with whom she’d fallen in love.

After many trials and tribulations, all seemed to be well that ended well, and this is where we once more plunge into Turnbull’s story at the start of All Good Things.

Turnbull proves once again what an accomplished, versatile and humane writer she has become.

The couple are renovating their apartment; Frederic is working as a lawyer and Turnbull is researching a novel; they have their terrier, Maddie; and their life is full, to the outside eye at least. The only thing missing is a baby and, although for the reader there is no reason to suppose that a little one won’t make its presence felt there is a slightly wistful air almost immediately, as Turnbull describes her visits to her local church where she lights candles for her cause.

When Frederic is suddenly offered a job with his firm in Tahiti, their first thought is to refuse it. After all, they reason, why would they leave their perfect city life? And why, too, would they leave the place with the technology to help them make babies?

Because, as it transpires, after discovering that Turnbull is in the throes of early menopause, Frederic and Sarah have taken the IVF route several times with no success and a lot of heartbreak. Quite soon it becomes evident that the Holy Grail of this book is their quest to have a baby, and Turnbull writes with searing honesty about the hormonal swings, the debilitating effect of IVF on her body, the moments of optimism, and the crash when yet again it doesn’t work.

Gradually, the idea of Tahiti takes hold. After all, Turnbull reasons, what could be so bad about a place that inspired Gauguin and Matisse?

They settle on Mo’orea – a ferry ride to Pape’ete where Frederic will be working, and not as busy or as populated. So that is where Sarah, Frederic and Maddie find themselves in a cottage by a lagoon, in a landscape full of vivid colours, with friends and an entire new culture and way of life to absorb. They both decide that it’s time to close the book on the baby quest.

Except that Turnbull, despite her glorious surroundings, finds herself sinking into a depression, unable to write, and becoming more and more withdrawn. When she finds a sympathetic psychiatrist, she dwells on the subject of her infertility so much that in the end he points out to her that she is not moving on; she is, he says, not even going backwards. ”It’s not a crime to hope, you know,” he tells her.

The story of their last, successful try and the subsequent birth of their son, Oliver, is interspersed with wonderful descriptions of learning to dive (not very well); travelling to atolls and the tiny islands that surround the mainland; their introduction to the darker side of island life – thieves that have no fear of invading a house at any time of the day or night – and the ongoing, often amusing account of a marriage between two people from very different cultures. A small example from early in the book: guests arrive both five minutes early and 90 minutes late for a dinner party in Paris. Turnbull can’t believe people would turn up so late, while Frederic thinks it’s the height of rudeness to arrive early. Vive la difference.

”All good things come to those who wait” goes the expression, and in Turnbull’s case there is a happy ending – a lively, healthy son and a new start again in Sydney for the family. In All Good Things, Turnbull proves once again what an accomplished, versatile and humane writer she has become.

All Good Things by Sarah Turnbull.

ALL GOOD THINGS

Sarah Turnbull

HarperCollins, 325pp, $29.99

Download the ebook here.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/from-paris-to-paradise-along-the-rocky-road-of-hope-20130704-2pct3.html#ixzz2YPVnlZkY

Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong…

I love to hear a choir. I love to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.
Paul McCartney

Last week I witnessed a wonderful event.
My 12-year-old daughter, Anna has been in her school choir for a few years now, and was fortunate enough to be picked to sing at the Sydney Opera House as part of Sydney’s week long choral festival, showcasing students from New South Wales public schools.

The Australian Girls, National Boys & Gondwana Indigenous Childrens Choirs perform in a Qantas TV ad.

When the kids that formed the full choir came together last week for the performance, it was pure magic from the first moment. The sight of the concert hall filled with 700 children, and the sound of their voices filling the air around us, was quite extraordinary, as too were the other musical offerings of the night, with everything from big bands, wind and string orchestras on offer.
There’s no doubt that without singing – the sound of the human voice in all its varied glory – the world would be a poorer place; but why exactly do we sing? After all, we are the only land-based animal that indulges in the activity – apart from the odd singing dog that is!
Birds sing, of course, gibbons (apparently) sing, and the rest of the world’s singers – whales, dolphins, sea-lions and seals, are marine mammals. Research suggests that it’s a predator thing – singing is a sound that could attract enemies, so only those animals able to get away quickly – birds and the tree-based gibbons for instance – or those that have very few predators, such as the water-based singers, and humans, indulge in what might otherwise be the somewhat dangerous practice of  letting predators know your location.

Photo by RhiannonDaire on Flickr.

Who would have thought that the simple act of opening our mouths and allowing sound to come out, could be so fraught with meaning?
When you think about it, it is a rather extraordinary thing that the mechanism of using our lungs as an air supply, our larynx as a reed, and our head or chest as an amplifier, and the tongue as the mechanism for articulation, can produce everything from opera to rap.
Nobody knows exactly why humans started singing, or even when.

Conjecture has it that the voice was the first instrument, long before instruments were invented and that perhaps it was used as a way for a voice to carry much longer distances.
It’s also possible that a tribal society used singing for each individual to be recognised by their sound, since all of us have a unique ‘voiceprint’ in the same way we have a unique finger print.

One of the extraordinary things about singing is that despite many peoples’ protestations that they can’t sing, anybody can actually learn to sing – it’s simply bad luck that many of us are wounded when we are children by well-meaning or even badly-meaning adults telling us we can’t sing in tune.
Not surprisingly, in fact, not that many small children can sing in tune because like taste buds, the voice box is not fully developed until we are at least teenagers, and so those early judgments that have possibly cruelled many a budding singing career are based on a false assumption.
For years I thought I couldn’t sing – and was told by my father on numerous occasions that was the case. Not that many years ago I decided I wanted to find out if it was true that I really couldn’t sing – so I got brave and joined a choir! Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m the next Big Thing, or Any Thing at all, but I loved it and it allowed me to discover that as long as I am singing along with people, yes, I can definitely sing.
I felt wonderful after a singing session, and so I wasn’t surprised, researching this piece, to find out that a survey of students participating in choral singing found numerous health benefits – improved mood, stress reduction, not to mention the social benefits of being included in community group.
Apparently just listening to choral singing relaxes the mind, reduces stress and positively influences the immune system, according to a multinational collaboration to study the connection between singing and health which was established in 2009, called Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS).
Even better still, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a choir, in the shower or in the car – so open up your pipes, rusty or not and sing out loud. It can only do you good!

Quote of the week:
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Ella Fitzgerald

Hair today, gone tomorrow…

Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices. – Shana Alexander




The Princess turned 12 the other day. “Mum,” she said. “My life is just going too fast.”

I laughed. “You should see it from my end.”

She looked so depressed I tried very hard to be sympathetic: “Never mind,” I said.

“You’re not even a teenager yet. Twelve this year and 13 next, that’s how the numbers go.”

“Thirteen!” She positively bounced upright. “That’s right. Everybody has that big party when they turn 13 – you know, it’s like turning 18 or 21, but there’s a special name for it.”

“There is?” Plenty of things sprung to mind – the start of the highway to hell, the teenage tunnel, the flouncing years, but not anything specifically connected to 13.

“That Bar Mitzvah thing,” she said.

Right. My no-religion daughter wants the religious ceremony Jewish boys have when they turn 13 for her party next year.

Notwithstanding that living in the Byron Shire has enabled her to study an eclectic mix of Bahai, Buddhism and even Catholicism during her school years, turning male and Jewish, not to mention learning the Torah, seems a tall order.

But it did start me thinking about rituals connected with age, and of course, as well as the Bar Mitzvah, there is the Bat Mitzvah for Jewish girls when they turn 12.

Both of them are a rite of passage – the recognition that instead of just studying the Torah, the young adolescents are now capable of understanding it.

Catholics of course, have their confirmation, but what do we, those of us who have put conventional religions aside, have to celebrate the arrival of the teenage years?

Somehow the English ritual of going from Brownies to Girl Guides and leaping over a giant mushroom with Akela and Brown Owl on each side of you doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

It made me think about the 12th birthday too. What were we doing as a mother and daughter, to mark it as somehow special? What could we do?

I suddenly remembered my 12th birthday, and that my mother had taken me to her hairdresser for the very first time.

I remembered the smell of the salon, the pleasure of getting my hair washed – that I even had my nails polished. It might not have the deepest religious significance I thought, but at least I could introduce her to one of the true lasting joys of womanhood – the regular visit to the hairdresser.

As American comedian Fran Lebowitz once observed: You’re only as good as your last haircut.

And thus it came to pass, that Anna, once nicknamed Voldemort for the torturous sleeping regime she inflicted upon her parents, sat up in the highest of chairs, and received the benediction of Richard, my hairdresser.

Baptized in the basin, trimmed, very lightly, a side fringe artfully created, and her locks blow-dried to golden curly perfection, an 11-year-old girl went in and a gorgeous young woman came out.

It was a wild success. Even for a Leo the mirror admiration became obsessive. She tossed, and flicked, and twirled and gazed at the new perfection of her. The next day the hair was even better, which fortuitously coincided with her sleepover party. She was in seventh hair heaven.

But then came the fall. The first hairwash and the next day there were anguished tears. “It doesn’t look the same,” she wailed. “I want it back just like it was when it was cut.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry with her. I felt for her. We receive a beautiful moment, but it passes, all too quickly. Our highs are followed by lows. And life passes, all too quickly.

But marking occasions, creating rituals, acknowledging the importance of our lives is vital to our sense of self-worth, and to our ability to reflect on where we are and how we’re travelling on the journey of life.

The idea of a Bar Mitzvah, or even a Bat Mitzvah, has set me thinking about a 13-year-old party, what it could be, and how it can be made meaningful beyond the inevitable pizza, popcorn, tween-dvd sleepover – or even haircut, if that’s possible.

“Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.” – Anonymous

Check out my Midweek Mediation on http://thehoopla.com.au/ in the Wellbeing section…

Creative Tension

Creativity arises out of the state of thoughtless presence in which you are much more awake than when you are engrossed in thinking. Eckhart Tolle

 

 Right and left brains. An ad designed for Mercedes Benz. Image via Creative Jaunt.

What exactly is creativity? As a writer it’s something I often think about, particularly when the creative muse has gone missing, and I’m in urgent need of her – which is usually whenever a deadline is looming.

I think that most of us would describe creativity as a process whereby new ideas or concepts are generated. The professions that would most likely spring to mind would be the arts, and perhaps most specifically that of an artist.

Curiously, art was not actually considered creative until the Renaissance. The ancient Greek word for art – ‘techne’ is actually the root word for technique and technology, and art – with the exception of poetry – for the Greeks meant following rules.

Mind you, discipline, although less attractive than the idea that a single moment of creative genius can bring success, is as essential as the idea itself.

In other words – as simple as it seems – you can’t be something, unless you do it.

The concept of creativity is complex, partly because unlike results-based maths and sciences, there’s no absolute yardstick to measure anything by. Not that mathematics and sciences are not creative – take Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci as two examples of highly creative logical thinkers.

One thing researchers do agree on is that creativity involves more activity from the right-side of the brain, which is responsible for emotion, ideas and conceptual thought, so that any activity we can do that is conducive to producing that deep profound state of relaxation where creativity can make its presence felt is helpful.

Walking, meditation, time alone in nature, swimming – even the quiet insomniac hours of the night when you are awake and the world sleeps, are all ways to contact the muse.

Carl Jung, definitely a right and left-brainer, who understood the need to balance both, once said: “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

I remember once interviewing playwright Michael Gow, after the success of his play Away, and he told me that everyday he swam laps to create the next bit of the script. He would swim up and down the pool, plotting and planning, until he was ready to go home and write down the day’s work.

For me creativity is in equal parts inspiration, perspiration, frustration – and reward.

When I imagine a book, fictional or otherwise – I can see it in its entirety, completely finished and on the bookshelves. That brief illumination is followed by the disheartening reality that it’s going to take some time, years even, before the idea becomes manifest.

But if I manage it, then there’s the reward of a project well done, of the sense of connecting out into a wider universe – and the constant quest for the next creative idea. It’s a strange and not entirely peaceful way to live, when you think about it!

Although a recent British Management Institute research paper discovered recently that if stressed out executives were given art classes, they were as relaxed afterwards as if they had gone on holiday. I wonder though, if ‘being creative’ still has that effect if it’s what you do for a living?

Love what you do.  Do what you love.  Photograph:  Candida Baker
 Maya Angelou described the importance of discipline to the muse when she wrote:  “What  I try to do is write.  I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’  And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff.  But I try.  When I’m writing, I write.  And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay.   Okay.  I’ll come.'”

Children, mind you, seem to understand the creative state intuitively. They don’t have to fight to be in it or search for it, it just happens – perhaps because it’s not results-based so there is no anxiety about the final product, whether it’s drawing patterns in the sand, or pictures on paper, or words in a story – it takes a while before the unpleasant realisation dawns that other people can judge you or comment on what you do, or mark you, or misunderstand you.

When I’ve taught writing or creativity workshops one of the most frequent blockages people have expressed is exactly that reluctance to be judged. They may have only written a few pages, but they’ll say: “What if people don’t like it? What if I can’t find a publisher?”

They might want to write, paint, play music, dance, sing or do craft, but even before they try they are sabotaging themselves with the idea that ‘people’ will review, criticize, analyse and judge them.

But if there’s anything certain about creativity it is that it is an uniquely individual experience, it belongs to you, and you alone, and it has no need to be shared with the world before it’s ready.

So it’s a question of nurturing creativity in order to become more creative, of being disciplined and relaxed, having the courage to come forward, and knowing when to stay quiet and removed from life, of not inviting criticism but knowing when to withstand it when your creative baby goes out into the world, and most importantly continuing to nurture it once it is out in the world.

Nothing to it really… Now where’s that novel?

‘Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth – boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn’t go cheap, either – not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination. ‘

Robert Fulghum