The One that Said ‘Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you MUST’

There was an expectant silence as the buzz of the crowd suddenly hushed. This was it. The house lights dimmed, we were in position. Months of rehearsal over.

My head was alarmingly blank. My stomach was a mess. There was a full blown war in there – between my nerves and my gastric juices. Just for a few seconds, I felt a warm comforting hand placed gently between my shoulder blades…A fellow performer giving me support.  It helped for a moment. But then it was gone…and I still couldn’t remember a single line of the songs we were about to sing!

I thought to myself “once I connect with the audience I’ll be fine”.

Then the music began, the curtains opened, and the lights hit my eyes. I always forget how bright stage lights are. Behind them is a pitch black space full of people you are trying to connect with but can’t actually see!

It didn’t take too long before I relaxed into the performance with everyone else on stage. That was until the third act, and the first of my solos. And there it was again. The panic. I was certain that when I opened my mouth, nothing would come out.

It wasn’t like I was new to the stage. It’s just that it had always been this way. I’d been singing on stage since I was nine. They say that even the most accomplished of performers can get so nervous that they often throw up backstage, but the ‘high’ they get from performing makes it all worthwhile. Well, it didn’t, not for me! At least, that high didn’t cancel out the fear I felt in the weeks that led up to it, or the sheer terror in the moments before.

This time, I was playing the part of ‘The Lady in White’ in a musical written by my husband, Greg, called The Face of Glory. It was a fantastic production, and who knew Greg could write musical theatre? We had rehearsed for months, and ‘The Lady in White’ was loosely based around the real life character of a nineteenth century Persian poetess, Tahirih.*

I gathered myself and focussed on a blue light I could see in the back of the theatre. “Tahirih”, I thought, imagining she was that blue light. “Help me do justice to your memory.”

I calmed down immediately.  After that experience on opening night, each time I felt the panic well up inside, I would turn to the blue light and ask her for help. I felt a little silly, terribly unworthy and rather in awe of the role that was inspired by a woman of matchless courage, heroism and purity. But it worked. I felt Tahirih close to me, and I kept going.

Being on stage and performing before a live audience is an exceptional experience. Within the eye of the ‘storm of nerves’, there is a kind of serenity envelops you as its magic works its way through your system. It captures your heart and if you’re very lucky, it moves your audience in a way that nothing else can. Especially if what you are conveying is meaningful, entertaining and elevating to the human condition. I’ve always felt that if you were fortunate enough to be given a talent, then it was your responsibility to use it, and if possible, to serve humanity with it. Otherwise, it’s just a waste.

When I married Greg Parker, musician extraordinaire, it all seemed clear. Our voices blended such that we sounded much better together than either of us did apart (Greg may not agree with this, he was a pretty good singer all by himself 🙂

It seemed that our destinies were set – this is was what we were meant to do together. It didn’t seem to matter that performing was agonising for me. Being with Greg gave me ample opportunities to serve humanity with my voice, as our common beliefs led us to share many adventures both here and abroad.

The trouble is, Greg was blessed with an unshakeable faith in his own skills. I was blessed with an unwavering doubt in mine. He didn’t get pre-performance jitters, he lived for the spotlight. I felt nauseas every time I thought of it.

Nevertheless for years and years I kept at it, I sang, throughout my post grad studies, my first job, my pregnancy, I continued to sing. I had my beautiful baby, Mary, and I kept at it. I started to manage our stage productions, all the while maintaining a presence as lead vocalist in the cast. I even formed, with Vafa Ferdowsian, a dance theatre company, Dizzy Dance Theatre, and co-wrote COLOURS, our first production, staged at PICA.

Dizzy’s Dance Theatre’s next big production, The Seven Valleys, was at the Playhouse Theatre, and it toured Western Australia. Then Greg’s new show, Awaken, did a massive Australia-wide tour. Dozens of performances in cities all over the country with over thirty performers on a bus. A logistical challenge. I put so much work into that show, that my back gave way and I ended up in surgery shortly before the bus took off… without me. The tour was a fantastic success in many ways, including the two marriages that sprang from it! (There is nothing quite like sharing the intensity of performance in its capacity to forge bonds of friendship).

By this time, it was becoming clear that something was wrong with me. It took me awhile, but I finally read the signs and realised that this life was taking its toll on my health. These signs weren’t subtle. I couldn’t walk without aid, sometimes, didn’t have the strength to hold a cup. (It was around this time that I came upon The Question that Changed Everything). My life was shortly going to become very different.

If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?” Rumi

I’ve identified seven milestones that led me to becoming an artist. This was milestone number 2, I call it the one that said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must”, and it took years, surgery, numerous doctors, and a lot of pain, to decipher it.

When I did, I realised that just because I was good at performing and managing productions, and even enjoyed a great deal of the work, didn’t mean I should spend the rest of my life doing it. (I still sing, but interestingly, performing no longer has any impact on my gastrointestinal function at all!)

Back then, there was a piece of the puzzle missing, and its absence had a profound impact on my wellbeing. That piece was using my own creativity, finding my own ‘authentic voice’ and ironically, it wasn’t to be in music. I found that authentic voice in a beautiful coastal town called Albany.

Another story.


*Tahirih was a phenomenon unparalleled in her time. She was a renowned poet, quick in argument and eloquent of speech, in an age when women remained veiled and secluded, denied education, and dominated their whole lives, first by fathers, and then by husbands. Tahirih was killed for her uncompromising demands for the emancipation of women.

Comments 47

  1. Beautiful blog post 🙂 I think If I had to perform in front of more than myself I would have some heavy gastrointestinal problems too!

    Looking forward to the Albany story.

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  2. Looking forward to sharing life/paint/stories with you, this coming Sunday at workshop in Vic park.

    Till then,

    Marijke.. 🙂

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      Marianne you’re gorgeous, thank you! I have loved having your steady, focused presence in my workshops (and seeing your beautiful art unfold:)

  3. Dear Malini
    thanks for sharing , you do the best in what ever you touch, your music, art and also writing.
    thanks also for living in Albany for period of your life , you and Greg are amazing , we love you both

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      Mahshid dear, thank you so much for your warm words! You are one of the most talented and creative individuals I know, so it is very kind of you to say such things. Thank YOU for being part of our Albany chapter x

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    All these lovely comments are from people whose names begin with ‘M’! Are there any folks out there with names starting with…anything else… who would like to have their say? You are welcome as well!!

  5. Here’s on from the Letter ‘B”.

    Hi Malini and Greg – praying that you are both well and enjoying having this contact with you from the other side of the earth. Give my love to Albany – many fond memories of trips to that beautiful town.

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      Hello there Bryn! Great to hear from you. We are very far from Albany now, so you’ll have to ‘send your love’ there yourself – across cyberspace 🙂
      Thank you for breaking the ‘M’ dominance in the comment stream! Take care, Malini

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  6. Remembering the Face of Glory performances at Murdoch Uni and the Quarry Amphitheatre. Especially at Murdoch, the interplay between you and Hock, who played your father, was deeply moving. So thank you for enduring the “sheer terror” in the lead up. The whole production was a wonderful, inspiring and lasting gift.
    Booshkies!

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  7. Dearest Malini,

    From another M – Thank you for connecting the hearts of so many people who all care about your precious family and wish we could be of more practical support. Your authentic voice resonates deeply for me also. It is a joy to read your newsletter and I will now follow your blog.

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      Hello fellow ‘M’ person! Your comments mean so much to me, Marjorie… thank you for taking the time in your super busy life to spend some time with me, and thank you for your very warm and generous support, that has stretched over the years. I still remember the HUGE parcel of various chocolates that arrived just before our first big production!! xx

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  8. Reading your blog, took me right back, and I was right back with you, what a time! One of the greatest joys of my life has been having you, Greg and Mary in my life to enrich it on so many levels. Thank you my darling friend for creating a space for me, (through your blog) to reflect on how much your friendship has impacted on my life in all the right ways.

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    Hello Min
    Love your cooking, your style, your smile, your generous heart, your enduring friendship and YOU (but you know that already too!) x

  10. Hi Mal… I’m here… 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story. I never knew how you felt before each performance all these years. To me, you were so calm, collected & confident, no trace of nervousness. I just love your angelic voice… Everytime I hear you sing, I often wished that I could sing like you. Both you and Greg were my idols (still are). Love this new motto: ‘Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you MUST’.. I think I’ve been practicing that, without even realising it… haha:) I’ve stopped singing in public now, I just can’t be bothered dealing with that ‘gastrointestinal problems’… 🙂 Your honesty is so refreshing! I can totally relate to it… Loving this blog…xx

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      Hello there Zar! Thank you for all the nice words about my singing, I’m honoured! Especially from someone who has such a beautiful voice. Hey, please don’t let my blog give you permission NOT to share it with the world 🙂

      You have so much to offer, dear Zar. When you find a way to express that creativity inside (however you choose to) perhaps, like me, singing will no longer be quite so nerve-wracking!

      much love xx

      1. Thanks, Mal… I’m not ‘blaming’ your blog… 🙂 I had already doing that way before you wrote this – just didn’t realise it. I’m much happier this way. There are people who are born to do certain things. Peter enjoys being on stage – never gets nervous, he loves it! But, for me, it’s the opposite. When you start getting that ‘gastrointestinal problems’ a whole week leading up to the performance day and you no longer enjoy it, what is the point, right?.

        Your blog has given me permission to NOT feel guilty about the choices that I made in life. As I’ve recently learnt that it’s not healthy to live with guilt.

        And… your blog has also inspired me to find other means to express my creativity, something that I’m good at and ENJOY doing it…. So, thank you dear Mal… 🙂

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          YAY, thanks for sharing that, Zar. It’s so important to realise that we don’t have to live up to others’ expectations, and we can do things on our own terms. Good for you 🙂

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  11. Malini, I really admire the way you have been able to fully immerse yourself in so many of your talents diffusing your concerns and immediate worries, by directing them into your amazing creativity.

    You are inspiring everyone through this and setting a positive example to others who may have hidden behind their current situation in life.

    Your family could make a good inspiring movie:) but first the book?

    Hey and you are my little sister! And I was also in that musical … can’t wait for the next one …How does it get any better than this??

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  12. You and Greg are able to express your creativity in so many ways…through beautiful singing, composing, producing, art , teaching and also in the gifted capacity to express your rich thoughts and experiences so movingly through words. Our love and admiration for you both is magnified by the way you have risen to respond to the challenges facing you, with courage and humour and honesty . Much love x

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    Actually Marian, it is I that have all the admiration for you and Ian, you have raised a most spectacular bunch of people and remained kind and thoughtful and sane and balanced and loving throughout 🙂 I want to be like you when I grow up…but waaaay too late for that!! xx

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  14. Sorry, it’s taken a long time to get here but I’ve finally made it. Love the article and, as ever, the honesty. Yes, standing up in front of an audience, trying to remember the words and how to deliver them correctly, is frightening. But when God is alive and magic is afoot, it is a truly rapturous joy for those, like me, watching. We are indebted. Thank you for the magic, for toughing it . . . and being brave!!!!

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      Hello Keith
      Thank you for such kind and eloquent words. You’ve been in a number of audiences watching members of your own beautiful and talented family performing, so it means a lot more coming from you. Hey, thanks for calling my blog an ‘article’ – it sounds so much more professional 🙂

  15. First off I am glad to hear you have found someone to give you support and nurturing through this time and since I’m on the other side of the world I can’t be too jealous! 😉

    Next, I loved reading your blog posts. Your journey to expressing your authentic creative voice mirrors the journey I’ve walked these past two years since leaving behind all the excitement and exhilaration of dance troupes, theatre companies, festivals, laughter yoga and flying around the country face painting in rural communities.

    Although I enjoyed the glitz of it all there was a feeling of hiding behind this persona and not really being seen in all my glory…the good, the bad AND the ugly! I have had many moments of feeling lost and yet so many quiet moments of feeling found, more alive, touching what I did what to see or feel before.

    So I felt a lot of comfort reading your words…how there is no need to strive or push in order to just do in order to do but know that there is an authentic way to express creativity that hits the very core of my being. That will give me as much joy as it will to others.

    Thank you for your inspiration Malini…even though I massaged you all these years i am happy to see that there are still many gifts to unravel in our connection.

    My heart is with you during this time.
    Much love,
    Kate

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      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and beautiful response Kate my dear. I have so much love and gratitude to you for everything you gave me, through your magical hands and fairy heart 🙂 I am very happy that you have found such joy and authenticity in your life.

      much love to you my friend xxx

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