Category: Essay

The Aerialist


It was a typical cold and wet Melbourne Thursday night. I wanted to be at home wrapped up in my feather quilt watching TV, not standing on a street in Richmond looking at a very pink and girly sign. I took a deep breath and walked inside. There was a set of wooden stairs that didn’t look all that safe. I climbed the stairs to the top floor and fumbled with the door that I couldn’t figure out how to open. I finally got the door open and entered the reception area. I was expecting everything to be painted bright pink like the studio’s website and advertising was. I’ve never really been a girly girl and have always been slightly wary of the kind of girls who like everything to be pink. Their understanding of femininity intimidates me. Their knowledge of things like flirting and how to do their hair goes well beyond anything I know. I’m lucky if my pony tail stays neat.

I was greeted at the non-pink reception desk and given a quick tour around the non-pink studio. The only pink was the logo behind the desk and on the paperwork I signed with a non-pink pen. My welcome pack was in a bright pink tote bag, but I could deal with that. I was here now. There was no turning back. I was going to do this, and I was going to enjoy it. I was going to push my boundaries and do things I had previously only dreamed about. I quickly got changed into my workout gear and entered the Aerial Hoop studio for the first time.

I first became interested in Aerial Hoop after attending an in-house competition night that a local Aerial Hoop school had organised. In the middle of the room a circus hoop had been suspended from the ceiling. It was swaying ever so slightly in the artificial breeze from the air conditioner. The chairs for the audience were organised in a tight circle around the hoop. The front row were hardly a metre away from performance area.  The waiting audience ordered drinks and spoke in low tones among themselves. The edges of the room were dimly lit and only a few lights were aimed on the performance area. From a corner of the room smoke from a smoke machine wafted slowly across the floor. I could get no clue from the room as to what I was to expect from the evening.

After the MC opened the competition, thanked the sponsors of the show and explained how the evening would work, the first performer entered the performance area. She took her place standing next to the hoop and the music began. She moved with the music. Her arms flowed across and around her body, her legs moving her around the performance area with purpose. Finally, she reached up and swung herself upwards, her legs reaching up over her head and into the hoop. From that moment I was in awe of every movement she made. The performer continued to move with the music, one moment dangling from the hoop with one leg and the rest of her body making beautiful shapes, to moving gracefully and sitting elegantly in the hoop smiling at her enraptured audience. Every movement she made was delicate and exquisite. When the song ended she alighted from the hoop to applause and gave a bow, thanking the audience for their attention. I couldn’t believe that was a beginners performance.

As the night progressed I continued to be amazed. Each new aerialist kept me in awe. They were each graceful and powerful. They had amazing control over their bodies and the hoop. At the end of the night I turned to my friend who had invited me along and told her that I wanted to do that. I wanted to sit in that hoop and look beautiful. I wanted to see the world from a new height and look down upon my audience and smile while they applauded me.

I entered the Aerial Hoop studio for the first time. The room was warm compared to the cold evening outside. The floor was soft and the lights were dim and gentle on the eyes compared to the harsh, bright lights of the reception area. Hoops hung from the ceiling at various heights. A class was finishing up. Some of the students were stretching. Many of the girls were dangling from hoops in various positions. They looked perfectly comfortable moving around the hoop. This was their natural habitat and it was perfectly normal to be suspended high above the ground. I was nervous and seeing the students and hoops made me suddenly scared. It’s not that I was afraid of heights. I just wasn’t that great with making my body do things. I never really mastered the monkey bars as a kid. I could never get my legs or arms to move the way I wanted them too. Anytime I did end upside down, I was too surprised to hang on and would fall off. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to touch the hoop tonight. I was happy to just look at it from a distance.

My first class was just me and another student who had taken the beginners course before. I made it through the warm up with no problems. I’m not an unfit person, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be fit either, but I do make a point to doing a few cardio sessions and some simple stretching every week. I made it through the cardio and struggled a little bit through the stretching. The teacher was super flexible and was bending in ways that made my body ache just watching her. Only 6 months before I had been unable to touch my own toes with more than my finger tips. I wasn’t worried about not being as flexible as my teacher. I knew for a fact that with a little hard work I would get there.

Then the teacher announced that we were going to work with the hoop. I could feel the blood drain from my face. We were to practice hanging from the hoop and at the same time improve our upper body strength. I took a breath and grabbed the hoop that was hanging above my head. I tried to not think about what I was doing and just do it. I lifted my feet from the ground. I hung. And then I wasn’t. My feet were back on the ground. My shoulders were screaming. At least I did it. Kind of.

Next we were to try and lift our legs into the hoop. Nope. I just couldn’t get my legs anywhere up near the hoop that was hanging above my head. Damn. Both the teacher and the other student told me it would take some time and work but I would get there and be hanging from the hoop before I knew it. The class wrapped up and I walked down the stairs into the cold.I struggled to lift my ear buds up to my ears. It was going to be hard but I was going to come back next week and get my legs up to the hoop and look beautiful and elegant.

Over the next few weeks, new girls would join the class. They had strength that I was only just starting to form. On their first go they achieved things that I was still struggling to do. A few weeks into term, I was feeling defeated. The new girls were moving faster than I was. I would never get up into that hoop. I had been working on my extra exercise at home and just wasn’t getting there. It was all beyond me. I might as well face it that my body was just not designed to hang upside down from hoops suspended from the ceiling.

After class I was putting on my shoes and checking my phone for messages. I looked up from tying my shoe laces. My teacher had rushed over and was crouched in front of me, coming down to my level. The students for the next class were waiting for her to start the class. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Good job. You did well.”

I was too surprised to do anything other than to smile and say thank you. I didn’t think she had paid too much notice to me during class that day. She had been spotting the students who were able to get into the hoop. I had been working through my strength drills that I had learned in the first week.

I didn’t expect to be singled out like that. But it was great to hear that I had been noticed. I didn’t feel quite alone in this extreme challenge I had given myself. My teacher was in my corner. Maybe, just maybe someday I will get into that hoop gracefully and smile down on the world from a new height.

Books in the Cupboard


I am finding that as I get older there are things about my life that are not as easy to remember as they used to be. There are huge chunks of my life that are now a long lost mystery to me. There are blank holes in my memory that no amount of thinking and trying to remember can be filled. This was made apparent to me recently when I discovered an old library copy of The Indian in The Cupboard at a book exchange in the community centre that I work at once a week. When I picked it up memories of the book’s story came rushing back to me. I remembered vividly the characters and the plot, the way I had pictured the characters in my head, and they way the movie did not do the book justice. I remembered vaguely reading the book for school and I remembered clearly enjoying the book immensely.
It disturbed me a little bit that I needed that tangible book in my hand to remember something from my childhood. That I couldn’t just recall the books that had inspired me, that had shaped me and helped to foster and grow into the book reader and lover that I am today.
For me books are now memories and souvenirs of different stages of my life. It probably helps that I use goodreads as a kind of book journal, where I can keep track of when I start a book and when I finish it. I can look at a book and if need be I can look up the dates I was reading it and remember where I was and what I was doing at the time. I have books that I was reading when I was traveling and more than any other kind of reminder I can look at them and remember what city I was in and what I was doing at the time. Looking at Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman I remember a cold and snowy German winter just before Christmas. I remember for the first time I was able to really picture London in my head and understand how the locations that were being described all fit together as I had only just been in London for the first time a few weeks earlier.
Without the book in my hands I can remember reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I can remember who gave me the book and where we were when he handed it to me. I can remember the pub I was reading it in, and how out of place I felt reading a book in a Greenwich pub and sipping a cider, when everybody else was watching the cricket. I was at the end of a long stint of constant travel, and I was happy to be in the same city for at least a few months.
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing so much of my own childhood by forgetting The Indian in the Cupboard. That something so natural as the passing of time and creation of new memories left parts of my experiences unknown to even myself.
Weeks went by, and I would see The Indian in the Cupboard on my bookshelf, and I would wonder if all of my childhood was lost to me. Part of my concern was the separation of not just time between myself and memories, but also the space. Was living so far away from the people that shared similar experiences to me more damaging than liberating?
So I reached out to the few people that I went to primary school with that I am still in somewhat contact with on Facebook. These are the kind of friends that we like each others photos and life events, but I will not see them when I go to Sydney each year.
So I messaged them on Facebook and asked if they remembered reading The Indian in the Cupboard, if they remembered much else, like how old we were and maybe even what else was going on in our lives at the time. Their memories seemed just as lost as my own. They remembered reading the book, and that we would have been somewhere between the age of 7 and 11 but that was about it.
So I called my mum. She remembered even less than I did. “I was not aware of the books that you read in school,” she admitted. But she did remember this one, and was at least able to confirm that I had read it in primary school.
What I have discovered through this process of trying to remember is that even if I am unable to remember so many of the books I have read over the years without help, after long periods of thinking and talking to people I am able to piece together some fragments of the books that were given to me and have shaped who I am today.
I have my mum to thank for filling my bookshelf with books that had strong female characters; Little Women, Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. I also have her to thank for recognising that at the age of 12 I was ready for The Hobbit and made sure my sister and I could get our hands on Harry Potter. I have my dad to thank for filling the house with Issac Asmov and other science fiction writers of the 70’s and 80s, and allowing to me to spend whole weekends reading his Asterix comic books which instilled in me a love of wordplay.
I have a close family friend to thank for making sure I had a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird when she had found out that I was 25 and had never read it, even if I would not get around to reading it until I was 30. I have my school librarian to thank for making sure I had stacks of books to read when I was sick and stuck at home when I was 15. I have her to thank for introducing me to Steven King.
And while I only remember one book from my High School English Classes, I have my high school creative writing teacher for teaching me that books are not just about stories, but also ideas that can shape and change.
I have discovered that even if I am unable to remember many books that I have read they are still part of me and have shaped me and my reading habits in some form or other.