Over the last few weeks I keep seeing in my “on this day” on Facebook, memories of the last 4 years of the New Zealand Burlesque Festival, be it my own or status I was tagged by others, and have seen many people re-share those memories recently. Most of them make me smile. A few have made me cry as I let the feeling of sadness wash over. Sadness for the friendships that I thought I had, but now seem toxic and empty. All of the memories though did make me feel proud that I kept going, a feeling enhanced when more than one person has turned to me this year and said “You’re a Phoenix.”.
It’s no secret the difficulties that I have faced. Over the last two years (to summarise down for those not informed), my marriage came to an end, this being a relationship that lasted half my life. In doing so I had to move away from my son, my dogs (two that have since crossed the rainbow bridge), my house, my studio, my family and my friends. I had to start again in a new city from scratch and admittedly I went a little wild in the process and probably for the 6 months before hand as things fell part. My business and financial affairs were publicly outed. Friends who I thought were close kept their distance. Some talked about me without knowing the truth. Others believed what they heard to be true. I had to cancel an international tour and with it, my first headlining spot at an international festival. I isolated myself and went into survival mode. I only had to make it through the day. This was my single thought on repeat. I wish I could say that this was all of the difficulties. But the final blow was the worse… the passing of my mother late last year.
To say I’m left weary after crashing and burning as I did both professionally and personally, is an understatement. And yet, multiple people have told me that I am a phoenix, sometimes referring to me as “their” phoenix, as they are inspired by the fact I have risen from the ashes (the title of one of my signature acts funny enough). To be honest, I haven’t always been comfortable with the analogy but I guess they were right in that I was a pile of ashes and I refused to accept that that was my fate. I don’t know why I didn’t give up. Not really. I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I had. Hell, I figure some probably wished I did quit. I’m starting to think it’s just part of my personality to not give up. To face the disappointments, the critics, the naysayers, the hurdles, the mountains, the battles and to just keep going despite it all. I guess for me to “rise again” is about proving to myself that I am not what others want to make me out to be. Spite is a wonderful motivator… Tell me I should stay down, that I am worthless, that I am nothing and I will do everything I can to prove you wrong. And then I’ll keep going to prove the point.
One thing I teach my students is that “what makes a great performer is how they handle the situation when thing go WRONG”. How can I teach this if I do not believe that the same applies to me, both on and offstage? People make mistakes. People get caught up in circumstances which they didn’t always see coming and could not always control. People have bad days/weeks/months/years. It’s not those times that should define us. It’s about how we get back up.
I was lucky. I had people who had faith in me, both nationally and overseas. They stood there, offering a hand to lift me back up in one way or another. Thanks to them, I felt that I could take their hand, get up, and then stand on my own. Because of that, I found a love who is always looking after my wellbeing. I built stronger relationships with my family and the friends who stayed by me no matter what. I went back to performing overseas. I collaborated to put on the most positive NZBF yet and had a Burlesque Legend put their faith in me. And I relaunched my new-self with my most spectacular act yet, reminding myself that I do belong on that stage and that I am fucken good at being there too.
So to answer the question “What is it like to be Phoenix?”. It’s hard. To fall from grace as publicly as I did was incredibly painful. To have to find the tiniest glimmer of hope in that pile of ashes is damn near impossible but find it you do. It may be borrowed hope but you cling to it nonetheless. Once you start holding it, another piece of hope appears, then another. Eventually the pile of hope you hold becomes self-belief. You start using this belief to rebuild your pile of ashes, to recreate yourself and you use the ashes as a lesson of what not to do so you can build yourself stronger than before. The trials and tribulations don’t stop though. Feathers get lost as you stretch and grow. Sometimes you need to lend them to others. Occasionally you may crumble a little, becoming smaller again, but then you see how far you’ve come, how you are not the same as you were before and so push on through willing yourself to keep building. In the end, you get to stand tall. Taller than before. More colourful. Brighter. Bolder. Stronger. Hopefully wiser. And the best bit….. it’s not finite. There is always more room to grow.
This was a specially requested blog and is dedicated to the beautiful people who never lost faith in me and who always gave me the benefit of the doubt. I can not give you enough of my gratitude for it. You each gave me a feather of your own to help build my wings. Thank you.