Tag Archives: Outliers

One More Sleep for Our Swan…

“Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in

is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an

eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I

have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my

spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.”

Michael Jackson

Tomorrow, our daughter takes to the stage in Swan Lake Act II and as her greatest fan, I absolutely can’t wait. She will be performing with the Central Dance Company where professional dancers fill the lead roles while the youth form the corps de ballet. This gives the young dancers a taste of what it’s like to be in a professional ballet company and step out beyond the walls of their own studios. Moreover, it also provides additional hours of expert teaching, and improvement simply through the sheer number of hours of rehearsal. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’ll know all about that magic 10,000 hours of practice which lifts you out of mediocrity into the meteoric heavens.

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all

obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of

inviting the perfection desired.”

― Martha Graham

 

However, there are some downsides to pushing yourself to the max and beyond. Not unsurprisingly when you push your body so far, there’s that omnipresent risk of injury.  There’s also a fine line between pursuing your passion and giving it everything you’ve got, and flying straight into the candle flame and burning up. Just ask the moth.

Yet, in pursuing a career as a professional ballerina, staying upright on top of that pointe shoe is about the only kind of balance available. Ultimately, as in any other demanding field, you sink or swim. However, the extremes are far more intense and burn out can be psychologically and physically destructive, which was almost portrayed too well in the movie Black Swan.

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

If you have seen Black Swan, you well might ask why I signed our daughter up for ballet. Why would I put her through all of that, when she could have followed her previous dream of becoming an astrophysicist?

DSC_0643

Our daughter at her first ballet concert aged 4.

The truth is that as a parent, I don’t really have a lot of say in all of this. All I did was book her into a local ballet class when she was three turning four. The earth didn’t quiver and shake as she disappeared with her teacher and the other kids behind the closed door, although I do remember wanting to go in there and see what was going on. We even have the concert video from that very first year of ballet, and while she was very cute up on stage in her tutu, she wasn’t extraordinary. She even made mistakes.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Michelangelo

If we fast-forward to when she was about 10, she was very unwell and also couldn’t seem to get to class or would get there with one or both shoes missing and her hair all tangled up in a veritable bird’s nest. However, despite these outward appearances, her teacher and I still managed to see the dancer within, just like Michaelangelo saw his angel in that lump of stone. It was hard to spot, but she was there. It was also thanks to a few of her friends who took her under their wing, that she was able to catch up for the end of year concert. I’m still not sure how things turned around. However, it was like a switch had been turned on. Or, she’d been struck by some kind of cosmic lightning. A passion for dance was ignighted, and she’s never turned back. She absolutely loves dance to an extent where it goes far beyond just being her thing to somehow becoming part of her being.

“Hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon.”
Edward Lear

Every time I see my daughter dance, I celebrate this progression from struggling to hold her fingers in a diamond shape above her head, to the young woman who is now en pointe and learning the cygnet routine from Swan Lake. There’s a lot of pride in that, but also an acknowledgment of the sheer hard work we’ve all put in right down to driving her to classes and rehearsals, and almost piercing my fingers and drawing blood sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes. Our swan didn’t just fall out of a box of cereal and land on her feet.

Pointe Shoe Fitting

Getting her first pointe shoes was such a special day.

On a more personal note, seeing our daughter dance in Swan Lake in a beautiful white tutu is like a precursor of seeing what she would be like walking down the aisle on her wedding day. Naturally, I remember our wedding day. I was so happy my face was aching and I loved getting all dressed up in my absolutely beautiful dress and in a sense being the swan for the day. However, since our daughter’s arrival, I’ve had my moments of playing the dying swan. On too many occasions, I’ve been living it as I battle along with dermatomyositis and associated lung fibrosis. It is impossible to describe what it’s like as a seriously ill mum to face leaving your young children behind and you’ll never be waiting for them at the school gate again. Indeed, to be very honest, we didn’t think I was going to make it this far. Yet, despite time being my enemy, I’ve actually improved quite a lot overall and am strangely doing okay. However, that doesn’t mean that when it comes to seeing my daughter all dressed up as a white swan, that I’m not going to make the most of that. Carpe diem seize the day. This memory will be etched into my retinas and in my heart. After all, before she became my swan, she always was and still remains my girl. My family are my greatest treasures.

Rowena & Amelia Coastquest

Dance Mum and daughter

It is very easy to get caught up in the hoopla of dance. Being a Dance Mom and allowing your love and pride for your own child, overtake all sense of reason and perspective. Our daughter takes part in eisteddfods and of course, I think she’s the best and I felt a bit devastated when she doesn’t place. “You got rocks in your head?!!!” Of course, I don’t say anything and we talk it up. However, it’s important to keep all of this dance stuff in perspective and what really matters to me, is that my kids are decent people. That they stop and help others, don’t set out to win at all costs and are good losers. Of course, I’d love them to be happy, but I’m more of a realist and simply hope they get through life’s up and downs relatively unscathed and can keep smiling.

Above: When our daughter performs in Swan Lake, she’ll dip her toe into the very same pond traversed by the likes of Anna Pavlova (who even had her own pet swan) and Dame Margot Fonteyn.

In a sense, we have been very lucky that the dance school we attend encourages teamwork and kindness. I just took her down to the local dance school and didn’t shop around or ask for advice. Our choice was all based on convenience. However, our dance school actively promotes supportive and encouraging friendships and the parents are friendly and help each other out. Indeed, we’ve been sharing lifts back and forth to rehearsals for Swan Lake and we’ve got to know each other better. It’s been great. I don’t think we’d have stuck with dance if our studio had been anything like what you see in Dance Moms. Values come first.

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know

if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running

through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”

Gene Kelly

Reading back through all of this, I realized that I haven’t really touched on what dance does for the spirit and how it can create that all-encompassing joie de vivre or even a sense of absolute peace. I have been doing some adult classes and really only dipping my toe into dance, but I have also had a taste of the magic which inspires my daughter. It’s electric.

So, we now only have one more sleep until our daughter becomes a swan whatever that entails. However, I know that for me, it will be pure magic.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Life Lessons from the Cupcake Catastrophe.

A few days ago, I survived the Orange Cake Catastrophe (see previous post). As you may recall, the mixture spiraled out of the bowl and splattered all over the kitchen. The poor dog, who usually hovers around while I’m cooking, even ended up with a Rorschach-like splat painting on the back of her head. A seeming miracle, I somehow patched it all up and the results were perfect. The cake even had an even texture which any show cook would be proud of and the squeeze of orange juice in the chocolate icing was inspired. I was very proud of my Choc-Orange Cupcakes and my ability to recover from yet another catastrophe in the kitchen.

What a waste of good mixture...Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

What a waste of good mixture…Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

It was confirmation that “all’s well that ends well” and not to get too upset about the bumps along the road even though they might feel like the end of the world at the time.

Since becoming a parent and slipping out of the full-time workforce, I have become more and more aware of the intelligence, the life lessons that we pick up on the road. That life can’t simply be learned through a book. As a well-educated and avid reader who has devoured a smorgasbord of philosophy and instructional books,this change has been a cosmic shift. After all, Kahlil Gibran’s: The Prophet is my favourite book and Malcolm Gladwell’s: Outliers has been a serious life changer as well. The thing is that no matter how inspiring and life-changing these books might be, we still need to experience the practical and everyday so we don’t trip over both feet and not know how to get up.

There is also a risk that by worshiping the big name intellectuals and speakers, we can miss those small but equally essential life lessons which are learned in the school of hard knocks.”A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road” (Alexander Smith) and the image of the astronomer walking at night stumbling into an open well while looking at the stars, goes back to the ancient Greeks.
Yet, do we adjust our focus as we walk along the road with all of its obstacles and bumps while gazing at the sky at our visions and dreams? Do we manage to observe and process all aspects of the picture…both the big and small? Or, are we too focused on the bright lights to look where we’re actually walking..at our feet?

I must admit that I’ve had more than my share of scraped knees and sprained ankles caused by too many cracks in the footpaths…or perhaps the problem has really been chasing too many clouds in the sky!

Eight years ago, I read a wonderful book called: Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb. Gottlieb, a psychologist, became a quadriplegic through a car accident. Due to his health, Gottlieb doesn’t know if he will be around to see his grandson grow up and decides to write him a book of life lessons. He naturally wants to share the benefits of his experience. As the book unfolds, Sam is diagnosed with a form of autism and Gottlieb addresses what it means to live with a disability. What I also like, is Gottlieb’s Jewish cultural references which add a lot of depth and character to the story.

Inspired by Letters to Sam, I started writing my own book of life lessons for my kids and wrote about 50,000 words which I’ve never revisited (must get back to that. I can be my own worst critic.)

Anyway, when I found out I was having chemo to treat my auto-immune disease just before Christmas last year, all my memoir activities notched up several levels. I only had three days before chemo began and what if instead of saving my life the chemo took me out instead? In that case, I potentially didn’t have time to record anything…just tie up a few loose ends and it would simply be: “Game Over”.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

What was something really, really important that my kids needed to know which I could teach them quickly in less than ideal circumstances? My kids were spending weekdays with my parents at the time so I wasn’t even going to be seeing a lot of them either.

In this is pressure cooker environment, I decided to teach my kids how to cook. This wasn’t intended to be some lofty, philosophical project. It was practical. My family needed to eat and I might not be there to do it. Their Dad can cook and reminds me that he wasn’t starving during the 10 plus years he lived out of home before we got married but I figured the kids could be useful. That they could extend themselves beyond cyber-reality on Minecraft and do some real chores.Nothing more annoying than seeing them feeding the dog on Minecraft and forgetting to feed the dog in real life.

The Abominable Doughman

The Abominable Doughman

What I didn’t consider when I launched into this project. was that you actually learn a lot of valuable life skills through cooking. Moreover, after surviving the ravages of chemo and chemo brain, these were important skills for me to develop as well. After all, while the chemo had “fixed” my auto-immune disease, it had destroyed all sense of time and I really struggled to multi-task. Even just by cooking your basic roast, you are learning to juggle tasks and manage your time. After all, you want the meat and veggies to be ready at the same time and this is not as easy as it looks.

I also enrolled the kids in Sea Scouts for some outdoor activities but that’s another story.

Coming back to my cupcake fiasco, I’ve learned that baking a cake while making dinner may not be the best idea, especially when I’m using a new and unfamiliar recipe.

Do one thing at a time. Seriously, who really can multitask well anyway?!!

I’ve also learned that as much as we would like to get it right the first time, that there are often mistakes along the road and we need to learn how to address and overcome these hurdles to achieve success…not just fall in a screaming heap when the going gets tough. I turned the beaters back on, finished the cake and kept going.Oh yes, I also cleaned up the mess!

The epitomy of  perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

The epitomy of perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

Also, that when we look at the achievements of others, we often put them up on a pedestal thinking they’re perfect, their lives are perfect and being only too aware of our own faults, feel like we’ve failed. We’re losers, inept. But we don’t know what they’ve been through to get where they are now. You would bite into my sweet little orange cupcake with the scrumptious chocolate icing with that expert squeeze of orange juice and tell me they’re perfect. You’d be overflowing with praise. “Have you considered selling these? You could certainly sell them to a cafe!” Nobody eating the cupcake would have any idea of the catastrophe along the way. That these cupcakes really were what you’d classify as a disaster.

Never look at other people and think their lives are perfect and they get everything right the first time. Once you scratch the surface, you usually find they also have feet of clay. Everybody makes mistakes!!

I was also encouraged by my fellow bloggers to believe in myself. While I hadn’t made something fancy like Duck a L’orange I’d intended with my stash of oranges and had almost botched up a simple quick mix cake, they still praised my efforts. I could have just cut the oranges up or even left them in the fridge until they were bin fodder. We all know that we can be our own worst critics but the challenge comes in how to be more accepting of ourselves.

Even when we do some crazy, weird and zany stuff and cake mixture splats in our face, we are still valued, precious human beings and these so called catastrophes really are insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Or, they live on as funny stories. That’s what I like to do with my disasters.

I would love to hear any stories you’ve had about overcoming similar “disasters”.

Have a Great Day!

xx Rowena

Cooking: creativity in action!

Cooking: creativity in action!