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Finding Ida: Week 7: Blogging for survival.

She is looking for an answer.

Picking up her teacup she artfully swirls the last of the leaves. And waits. When they settle she will know. If it will be blue skies or grey. If fate is drawing near. If tomorrow is something to fear. Either way, she will know.

Today I’m ignited. On a genetic trajectory. Born in the tea leaves and burned in the unforgiving Australian outback. Like the trains that once ran regularly to the outposts, to the folks who were determined to imprint an alternative story on the Australian landscape, the route is no longer serviced. No one in my family has tread this path for 60 years.

I’m a wary explorer.

Armchair anthropologist at best. Taking the richness of the mythology and stuffing into my cushions. So I can sit more comfortably while I ingest. While I make it mine. While I read a chapter and dog ear a page. You know. To come back to later. When I’m up to it. Maybe skipping the end completely. Absolutely.

Skipping the ending, it never happened.  Another book I didn’t finish. A historical re authoring maybe. An alternative version of her life. The version where the future me is a thought that keeps her from the darkness. The version she didn’t read in the tea leaves.

They said she was a dancer. I didn’t inherit that skill. They said she was born for the stage. Or that one either. They said she loved to wear costumes. That would be a negative on all counts.

Today I have my trusty guide. My Muse. Three generations on and I’m staring into the face of another myth maker. Long legged and theatrical, drawing out the story with her probing curiosity. Unafraid of the unchartered territory ahead. And purposefully guiding the way with her handy GPS oracle.

We make good time. Only 6 or 7 hours until we have arrived. At the middle of nowhere, at the heart of everywhere and near the end of the unfinished book. We have handwritten instructions. In archaic Victorian cursive. They are specific. Buried between the Catholics and the Anglicans but not with the paupers or the Aborigines. No head stone. Just a number.

Ida is a number.

Is that the number of the days she has lain alone between the Catholics and the Anglicans? Or the number of drops of rain that have fallen on the red gravel that covers her? Or is it the number of steps that led her to her dusty death? Or the number of times her name has passed between the lips of those who remember her? Partially, sadly, incompletely.  It’s just a number.

We wonder aloud. We ask questions of the earth that holds her. We find her number incomprehensible. And we ask her to answer. To claw back the time between us and add body to the bones. To finish what was started. To make the mythology corporeal.

Here lies Ida Lavinia Craig. Not lost. Still looking for an answer.

The feelings of hairdressers

1pm Friday afternoon. My hairdressing appointment. Although I have the same trepidation about these visits as I do with the Doctor and Dentist, life commands me to trim my fringe as expertly as possible. I have attempted self styling in my desperate past and failed abysmally. You just can’t claim your space with bad hair, I have discovered.

I enter the cool, sweet smelling pod that feels as if it has been jettisoned from this earthly realm and am greeted by the kindness of strangers that momentarily feel like friends. Professional courtesy I think it’s called. Welcome, come sit, would you like some refreshment? Magazines? A wash and a lingering head massage? Umm, no, just a quick snip and tuck thanks. Just cut away all my ragged edges and coiffure me back into wholeness please.

Earnestly the she-waif from the other realm looks at my reflection looking at her in the mirror. So what are we doing today? It’s an open ended question and a low flying reconnoiter of the emotional territory. What are we doing today I wonder? Barely breathing for starters. Clenching and unclenching my jaw a reply forms in the back of my throat. It’s not a philosophical challenge. It’s an invitation to dance.

Clumsily I agree to a pas de deux. I think she realises I won’t be the one doing the sky high scissor kick with the lacy flourish today. Maybe we could just sort of cut it off, I say, gesturing aimlessly at the fringe thing. If it was a first date I would have registered a fail in record time already. From her reaction I see I need to romance it a bit more. Actually a lot more. I’d like it a little shorter around the front, the back and the sides I say. An indulgent half smile and her eyes flick skywards. Give me strength I think she murmurs.

We settle on how to proceed. I will have my hair washed, I will get a half lingering head massage and relax, I will be served refreshment and I will be given a magazine. The glorious and patient she-waif will begin to make small incisions into my armour and I will stop her if I feel too exposed. She will reassure me and continue cutting. Ok?

Over we go to the lying down position where I get to put my head in the sink. The water is just the right temperature and from under the falls I can see that her lips are moving but I can’t hear what she is saying. I think it’s a question.          Have.  You.  Had.   A.  Busy.  Day. ?.   Yes.  I. have.  And right now I would prefer to be interviewing psychopaths. Thanks. 

I feign deep relaxation and let my eyes half close as her fingers expertly knead my scalp into a passive state of acceptance. Wash. Rinse. Condition. Rinse. Condition again and massage. Final Rinse. Just a few drops of fabric softener and I’ll be ready to hang out. I take a peek up while she performs the magic relaxing massage and notice that she has also fallen into a meditative trance, eyes glazed over and bright creases all dropped away. It occurs to me that this ritual may be as deeply disturbing but existentially necessary to her as it is to me. And she has to do it every day.   

Back we go to the sitting position where our eyes meet again in the mirror of timelessness. Come on now, we made our deal before we went to the sink. A dance is a performance, a ritual. This is not the modern, spontaneous, interpretive solo eruption that just happens. This is a ballet. For two. Your turn to move. Ok. I’ll have a white tea no sugar thanks. That will keep me going until intermission.  

As she arranges her instruments my tea arrives, served by the scullery maid of the pod. The she-waif anoints and the scullery maid gets to clean up the spills, brush up the cinders and starch the linens. The hierarchy of hair. Next the glossy magazines are laid out, fan style, on the altar, so that my mortal self can gaze upon the beauty of the gods and goddesses. Princesses vie with Hollywood royalty. Shoot me if I look half interested, please.

The cutting begins and she performs an arabesque with a pair of scissors and as I look around I realise that the ballet is not just a dance for two but a beautiful choreography of many. A swirl over by the counter, a curtsy at the door, flamenco flourish with the towel and a whirling dervish with the colour chart. Hair dryers air brush the fantasy. In triumphant staccato she finishes and is clearly exhausted from the effort. What do you think? Tremulous, hesitant, breathless……… I feel transformed I say. Thank you.

I get up to leave, spilling unread magazines on the floor and glance back at the pod. The evidence of me is being swept away by the scullery maid whose work exists in the margins, in the slipstream between acts. The spent she-waif redirects my attention to the finale. Cheque, savings or credit? Once I have paid the brightness returns to her bearing and she says, Now I have to do three updos for a ball tonight! They will all be Princesses!

As I exit through the stage door I am chiding myself for my lack of grace. Clearly I need practice. It’s ok though. My hair grows very fast.     



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