At once ancient and brand new. Where even in the withholding, in the barren of winter, there is a hint of what is to come. Some burst of green, some glance of red that survives the night.
This is what I come from.
The clouds don’t threaten here. They open up and reveal what’s inside. Here, it rains for days. The skies turn the skin to a river, to gorges and valleys that overflow. Deep pools made in the hollows where you can dive right under and sink right through.
When you break the surface your lungs fill up with the salt from your lip, and the dirt in your hair (you need just enough breath to fall back in).
You can taste this air. It sits on your tongue, expands in your throat. It fills your mouth and nose with the heady promise of damp soil, with the flesh of opening flowers.
Here even the prettiest grow wild (they were never told they shouldn’t).
There are fields over-run in which you can lay. Cover yourself with their bloom and hum. They will carry you straight back to the sea when you close your eyes, they will take you back to your beginning.
To the place that hasn’t forgotten.
You want to live somewhere else entirely.
You want your safe harbour and its politely waving sea. The calm surface that lets you skim your stones and never throws back what lies beneath.
There are no quakes and faults to your body allowed, no collisions of rock and sea to alter your course. There are no jagged formations that burst right through, that make themselves known and change your view.
You would keep your landscape dormant forever.
But I have broken you apart a thousand times all the same. Crashed against you, cracked through your surface and swum in your veins till we drowned. I have been your natural disaster, your flood and tempest, the violent wind that scattered your bones. I have held you under and pulled you back up, submersed you for a different salvation.
I have conquered your landscape and surrendered you mine.
There is a place that hasn’t forgotten.
(Have you ever noticed how the sun willingly splinters itself on the water, my love? Not everything has a desire to be whole) …
Mauri is a key component to understanding wairuatanga or Māori spirituality; it literally means ‘life force’ or ‘life principle’, and as such, everything has a mauri. Mauri applies to both animate and inanimate objects; plants, rivers and mountains all have a life force, as well as people.
This life principle teaches us about the need to respect and care for all things on earth; its existence does not elevate people above their natural surroundings, but makes them equal. Mauri acknowledges connectedness and the way in which all things on earth are in some way interrelated and reliant on each other.
You think home is the view of water, and the three steps down, and those plans to be approved by council. It’s the fence of white little spears, and the manicured lawn that doesn’t stain your knees, and you’ll pass it all on one day, this version of home, the same way you inherited it from your dad and his dad before him. You are natives of this land, and home to you is a fortress that is at risk from natural disasters like me. It could ignite on a scorching day, or the earth could shift and break apart one 3am to reveal all the dirt hidden under that carefully managed lawn.
(I crawled on my belly through that grass once, just to get to you. I know that domesticity can be a minefield).
Because home for me? Well darling I’ve crossed the globe, I’ve taken trips with your ghost in my suitcase for years, and every time I cross borders, or enter new oceans I am reminded that there is no place like you.
Your body is my hearth. My homecoming is announced in the knock-knocking at your hotel door, and how I get to launch in to your arms on the other side. Home is the broken bone I can still feel under your skin, the grooves of life changing course felt under my fingers. Home is your funny, flat front teeth and my hands under your shirt, and the way your eyes go to my shoulders before you slip my straps down. Home is one headphone each, and the way you drop your bottom lip when you kiss me. Home is your nervous laugh and your slight tremble on the surface cause the seismic waves are deep, deep down. Home is the following each other from room to room, and that place I fit under your arm when you are sleeping – and I am wide awake.
Home is this, and you. You are the only home I’ve ever wanted. I click my heels every day and the truth is this:
You are the point I was always oriented toward, and the place I am always trying to get back to.
There is no place like you.
Eidyia’s Note: I first published this earnest, flawed piece two years ago. Found it today when I went looking for some other version of home to share. There is no place like you. Ain’t that the truth, people. Even when you leave home for good – some part of you imagines that knock-knocking at the door …
It would be the same if I walked into your hotel room tonight. I would still spend less than 30 seconds on my side of the couch. My legs would still snake over yours, and I would still play with the soft of your earlobe as if it were mine. I would still kiss your mouth hard and fast, and over and over, in the style of kiss you seemed to permit.
I would still follow you to the bathroom and sit on the edge of the tub while you showered, and I would still pretend not to care. I would still breathe deep at the sound of the water hitting your skin, and feel the familiar liquid start to flow. I would still see this in the too-lit mirror – carefully careless dress falling off my shoulder, teeth on candied lip, eyes a little glazed and blinking too fast.
I would still have needed to throw back the vodka shots when getting ready – my ritual of nerve and consequence when the sun went down. Did you ever know how my throat burned and my knees wobbled every time I knocked at your door?
So much time has passed, but you could still set me spinning. Still cause my hand to tremble when lifting my glass. Here it is now, curled around the stem – anerotic embrace you once called it, but really it was the only solid thing, and the red you poured felt like a consecration.
It would still be the same. Naked and cleansed, you would invite me in. We would still make an alter of our hotel bed. We would still make you the ready and willing sacrifice, still soak the sheets in a kind of communion. I would be so tender in your destruction, Mack. One does not need god to be devout.
And after. My faith, and your lack. It would be exactly the same. I have not wavered once in this affair.
The only truths I ever told were with my body, Mack. Every time I laid us down. The sincerity of the body has been much maligned by the idea that words are more honest than a beating heart. This is what I have learned since then, that my body knew us better. Every confession it ever made, those revelations in your arms. They were the only truths of our seven years, the history of us that deserves to be told.
Our bodies tried to tell us this truth, time and again. Honesty was traded from limb to limb, prayers were written across the skin. I have to believe this is what lasts, Mack. That truth and faith are actually one and the same. That while we are busy telling our little stories, trying to make our characters fit, our bodies remember a different truth. A leap of faith made when hands reach across the widest of chasms.
I am nearly asleep but I don’t hang up. Not tonight. Not this close to somewhere infinitely more peaceful than where we live in the daylight. It’s nice to be in this drifting together.
My voice is breathy, sleepy. I’m still here. I don’t say it. Just think it. Say it. Think it. Who knows the difference right now as the stars pulse and disappear outside my opened window.
He says my name like a whisper. A song. I laugh suddenly, an echo down the phone that reverberates, shakes my body awake.
You should go, I say. It’s late. We should be sleeping.
Somewhere in the world it’s morning, Joe counters. It’s morning here too, in fact. If you think about it.
And I know we’re both checking our clocks as he says this. 2am. Passing through the midnight hours together. Roaming toward dawn like ghosts. It’s easier when we see the night through like this. Wide-awake when everybody else is dreaming. I’m thinking this, thinking riddles and half-worn philosophies as I slide between these hours of light and dark with Joe pressed up against my ear, yet so very far away.
You should go, I repeat. It’s late. Hang up
There is silence, and then a question. Softly.
Are you in bed?
Yes, my hand searches for the cool of my pillow. Aren’t you?
No. Joe sounds weary now, sorry for himself. I’m at my desk. Sitting here in my suit. I haven’t even gone upstairs to change.
I’m teasing him. But I feel it. A sudden twitch of nerves at the thought of him sitting there in his white shirt, sleeves rolled, pants still buckled. I can see how the phone would be hooked awkwardly against his ear, see how his neck would arch toward the receiver. A sand-plane of skin I had not considered. Now, with my eyes closed, this is all I can see.
You should get rid of the suit, Joe. Get comfortable.
I mean it to sound a joke, but it’s that breathy, sleepy voice again. Making it sound like something more. Accidentally. I’ll always think – after – that it was accidental. The pause, and then the way he says – Tell me what you are wearing?
And suddenly it isn’t light anymore, this air between us.
I’m – my feet push up against clinging sheets. I’m … not wearing anything.
A crack down the phone. Electricity. I can hear the shift, even in the silence that follows.
And then this.
Lucy. Tell me what you see.
I … I stumble against the words. How are we here? Here we are. Seeing the line, only as we step to cross it.
Tell me what you see.
And I’m looking at my body now, kicking off the sheets. Wanting to do this. Suddenly. Wanting to wake up after years of sleeping.
I’m here, Joe. I’m … tell me what you want to know?
If you’ve checked out my About Me page you’ll know I’m a Broadway Baby – I love musical theatre and regularly steal borrow from the genre. Whether it’s naming my lead character Maggie Valentine after West End legend Ruthie Henshall (no, really – it’s connected!), or using the lyrical genius of Sondheim to anchor a post, musical theatre has long been a source of inspiration to this writer.
When I first started this blog two years ago, I also began writing for the theatre website, BroadwayWorld. As a contributing editor I have been given a backstage pass into a world I have loved since I was a kid, and at the end of 2013 I closed out an amazing year of theatre by travelling to Shanghai for a peek behind the curtain of Do You Hear The People Sing?.
This concert celebration of the works of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg was headlined in Shanghai by two of my 15-year-old-self obsessions, international theatre stars Lea Salonga and Michael Ball. When producer Enda Markey offered me the chance to head backstage before and after the show, I knew it was an opportunity not to be missed; I decided to take a weekend round-trip to Shanghai to honour that 15-year-old me, and her passion.
Though the subject matter differs from my usual posts, I wanted to share my peek behind the curtain of Do You Hear The People Sing? with you here at body, remember. When I started this blog I took my first steps as a public writer, and now, two years on, I feel like I’m in a full, joyous run. It is all connected – really!
(If nothing else, I hope my little adventure inspires you to find ways to honour your teenage self in 2014) …
It’s a chilly, starless night in Shanghai, but behind the scenes of Do You Hear The People Sing? the creative team is neon-lit with energy. Australian performer Amanda Harrison has taken ill, and suddenly there are four voices to work with, instead of five. Parts have to be rearranged, and headliner Lea Salonga has taken on double-duty, picking up some of the numbers originally performed by Harrison. Backstage before tonight’s show, the atmosphere has a sense of chaotic vigour to it; everyone is meeting someone about something.Last minute plans. Next minute plans. Things they can’t tell me. And a few things they can tell me (but I can’t tell you just yet!).
As the cast arrives, there’s Marie Zamora, Cosette from the original Paris production of Les Miserables, all wrapped up against the Shanghai night, and Lea Salonga, hair still in rollers, heading for her dressing room. Salonga is impossibly pretty in the flesh; she looks just the same as that fresh-faced girl from the original Miss Saigon. Follow Salonga on her entertaining, fierce Twitter feed and you’ll know she’s a mature, grown-up woman now. But for a split-second when we shake hands, I see the teenage Lea, the young girl at the very beginning of all this. I manage a Nice to meet you, as I mentally pinch myself, and remind myself not to stare too long at a woman I’ve admired for more than half my life.
Next up it’s Michael Ball. We are introduced via my immediate confession that I used to keep a framed picture of him next to my bed. A little bit of worship is something he’s used to, this man. Ball has fans that travel the world to see him perform; some of these Ballettes – the moniker give to his most dedicated female fans – will be in the front row of the Shanghai Grand Theatre tonight. I ask him if it feels like a responsibility to have people follow him around the world like this, and he counters that it feels more like a privilege.
“These women have all travelled from various parts of the world to come together, to meet up so that they feel safe in a foreign place. They go off and have their trips together, then they’ve got this focal point of seeing the show. I think it’s just heavenly,” he tells me as we settle in his dressing room for a pre-show chat.
“I love talking to the girls, and finding out about them, and encouraging what they do,” he adds.
In a way Ball is passing on to these women all that his voice has given him. His talent has taken him around the world, and now he’s opening up that world to his fans, providing the impetus for them to visit cities like Shanghai – cities that would not generally make their vacation list.
“Some people think we’re crazy”one of the Ballettes half-joked to me earlier, but actually I think it’s brave in its way, how they follow their fancy like this. Ball, too, seems to genuinely appreciate their dedication.
I could talk to Michael Ball all night; it’s easy with someone so warm and effusive, and so ready with that trademark giggle. I reluctantly leave him to his voice warm-ups a half-hour before the concert, but not before I ask him what his 15-year-old self would have made of all this – of concerts in Shanghai, and people travelling the world to see him perform.
“He wouldn’t have believed it. Not for a minute,” Ball answers after pausing to consider the question. “And [he] would have really loved the idea of it being a possibility. My 15-year-old self, he was quite unhappy. So to know that he would have had this to look forward to would have been absolutely wonderful.”
If backstage was buzzing before the show, there is a different kind of energy after, a kind of post-show diffusion. When I talk with Australian performer David Harris, he is still trying to shake off the effects of going from the high-octane Master Of The House to the poignant control of Bring Him Homein the second act. As he signs autographs for kids from the wonderfully named Shanghai Honey Kids Children’s Choir, I tell Harris how moving it was to see the somewhat reserved Shanghainese audience so invested in these songs. Master Of The House had one particular audience-member in my row pogo-sticking out of his chair with joy, before Bring Him Homeleft that same man open-mouthed, leaning so far forward in his chair it was as if he was being pulled onto the stage. If audience reaction is anything to go by, our Australian talent very nearly stole the show tonight.
As Harris leaves, I am introduced to Alain Boublil, the lyricist and librettist who together with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg gave us the songs of Do You Hear The People Sing?. For the first time all night I am genuinely star-struck. Boublil is a Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated writer. He is also charming and thoughtful, and immediately puts me at ease; in conversation I discover that Boublil talks like a writer too, he speaks in lyrical sentences that trail off, he wrangles ideas with words, and constantly reaches for a better phrase to describe his work, and his love of it.
We discuss the meld of art and politics, and the global reach of Les Miserables, as Boublil tells me that requests come in from all over the world to use the song, Do You Hear The People Sing?for a particular social or political cause. It has become a cross-cultural anthem, this song of people rising. Though Boublil does not allow for any commercial use of the song (an affinity for the song does not guarantee an affinity for a cause after-all), he is genuinely moved by the impact Do You Hear The People Sing? continues to have around the globe, more than 25 years on.
Les Miserablesand Miss Saigon are still keeping Boublil busy, all these years after their creation. Both musical have major revivals set for 2014, as does the lesser-known Martin Guerre. Each show is a living, breathing entity that changes and grows with time. Parts of Miss Saigon will be fully revised for the new London production, and both Les Miserablesand Miss Saigon have had new songs added. Boublil tells me there is no compulsion to write a new musical right now; he’s as busy as he’s ever been, working with the ones he’s got.
And what musicals they are. Musicals that have played all around the world, musicals that break down cultural barriers though melody and message, even as they entertain. Here tonight, in this, my first non-English-speaking theatre audience experience, the truly international impact of the musicals of Boublil & Schönberg has been a beautiful thing to observe.
As the night ends, I say goodbye to producer Markey, who still has another show tomorrow, and the next stages of his Asia-Pacific tour to plan. I see it in him too, the 15-year-old kid who can’t believe his luck. Here on the other side of the world, doing what he loves, working with people at the top of their game, and all of it making him better too. Earlier in the evening I had asked Markey that same question I put to Michael Ball – just what would his 15-year-old self make of all of this? Markey didn’t answer at the time, he joked that he was afraid of being cheesy. But as we hug goodbye, I get it. Here in Shanghai we’ve both experienced that moment where you want to pinch yourself and say –Can you believe this is happening to me??!
Except now you know it isn’t luck, the way you think it might be when you are 15, and dreaming of it. It’s hard work, and courage, and sticking at it – that’s what gets you where you were always supposed to be. It’s being the best at what you do, and doing what you love, and having this turn out to be the same thing in the end.
So that when you do finally peek behind that curtain into a world your kid-self dreamed of, and ask Can you believe this is happening to me? – the answer that comes back from the grown-up you is an emphatic and truly deserved –Yes!
Post Script:It has also been announced that on January 29th and 30th, 2014 there will be a gala concert presentation of Do You Hear The People Sing? in Manila to aid victims of Typhoon Yolanda. This concert will feature Lea Salonga, Marie Zamora and David Harris from the Shanghai cast. For more details on this special event, and the corresponding Charity Auction offering you the chance to win opening night tickets to the 2014 revivals of Miss Saigon in London, and Les Miserables in New York and Melbourne, click here.
If December was her month, then January belonged to me.
She had your traditions and your conclusion, your customs and your god. But the opened gate, the clock ticking forward – every time, the hands reached out for me. I would count your absence down, should auld acquaintance be forgot I’d say before an explosion across the sky that felt something like your hand on my thigh.
And I would think this time it will be different, this year, this me, this us. A baptism of beginnings would be held under the sea, with me brand new when I emerged. Loved, secure, swinging from branches that were made for my frame. I met you and each new year with my skin candied like toffee, my cells realigned, the salt tracks on my cheeks a better kind.
This time it will be different, this year, this me, this us.
Yes, January belonged to me. My landscape lit like a setting sun, and you in the glare when we kicked off the sheets. We glowed with resurrection as the night gave way. This is what happened every time.
But it lasted only until the stars went out. In the grey of morning the year came clean; it marched toward December all over again, and I was set back down where I began. For seven years not a single thing changed – when the layers came off, it was still my skin, still my tissue exposed underneath.
And you still tore at it blindly, still balled me up with the sheets when that first night was done.
This is what happened every time.
(To think that you were the man of faith – when I am the one who kept it).
Eidyia’s note: I wrote this exactly a year ago. Time takes you further from where you were, it becomes harder to remember. But you do still remember. Quietly. On certain days. At certain times. You still remember.