Lismore. Saturday, 10.25pm
The house is crowded. This old Lismore house is not open plan, happily defying trends that have seen the sensibilities of old Lismore buildings cut, lifted and gutted like vain socialites undergoing cosmetic surgery. The original character of this house remains unspoiled by passing fashion or image anxiety.
Consequently, the many people who have come to celebrate its owner’s birthday are clogging its hallway, holding hushed conventions in bedrooms, hanging noisily off its verandah where the mulled wine cools, pooling in smoky puddles on its garden terraces, encircling a fire on its back patio, clustering in its kitchen where the caterers produce trays of delicacies, and dancing in its lounge room where the band plays on.
I’m sitting next to the piano in the lounge room. The pianist isn’t playing at the moment, but the band is in full swing. I know the musicians – we have knocked into each other at various gigs and shows for many years – and their musicianship has never plateaued.
Art, like life, is like that. If it stops developing you’d better get a job. Art, like life, is a tricky undertaking. It’s a commitment to capture the ethereal, to expose the hidden, to realise humanity. Art hints at a greater purpose than material accumulation and pursuit of power. It hints at, but never actually says, what that purpose is. Maybe art has no purpose. Maybe art is just what humans do. Maybe art is people’s purpose. And art lives in the now.
The woman, whose house this is and whose birthday we celebrate, understands this. She has always supported artists. She’s 70. But, more importantly, she’s here, now. I can feel her.
I turn and there she is, in the hallway behind me, smiling into the lounge room, a glass of something in her hand, her eyes flitting from face to face, and then to mine. Love and support flow from her eyes to mine like a charge. Thank you, says my heart. I turn back to the music.
The band was playing Gypsy melodies, but is now playing rock ‘n’ roll. The dancefloor is full. Eight people crammed into the small dance space between the band and the lounge lizards. The dancers are all women.
One woman in particular catches my eye. She has kicked off her shoes and dances with such joy that her glinting eyes and euphoric smile indicate rapture. Her dancing inspires the band and the dancers around her.
Yes, the women are dancing. My toe taps under the piano stool.
In this room, time is slowing, the artists play, sing and dance, a vortex is forming where, for a moment or two, we can step outside of time, escape the distractions that hitch themselves to it, share that respite with the others around us, and be alive.
I reckon we all need a tribe and a purpose within it. Tonight, our host is our tribal conductor. Tonight, she reinforces for us the fellowship we all require, and nurtures our unique purposes within the fellowship. Life is a quest; a quest to find each other. It’s all we have.
The dancing woman sees me looking at her. I look away. I don’t want to be like The Staring Guy. But women have always shown the way in my life. Like the birthday woman, they understand something important which is elusive for me. Tonight, these women are dancing me into the here and now.
The whirlpools and eddies of their movement suck me from the shore and I spin onto the dancefloor, aware that my two-step shuffle hasn’t the elegance that they possess, but I embrace the art and move with it.
It’s a happy birthday in the old Lismore house.