04 April 2014

from prodigy to persona to person


another couple of hours spent at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

another several months of inspiration as a result.

(hence, this blog completed in 2014 about a film i saw at the 2013 Festival.)

the source of spiritual stimulus arrived in the form of 'I Am Not A Rock Star' by filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart.


in the film, Hart creatively chronicles the adolescence and young adulthood of Marika Bournaki, a French-Canadian classical piano prodigy. an 8-year journey (ages 12-20) is faithfully and fondly fashioned into an 86-minute meditation on the magic and mystery of music, the conundrums of the creative life, the subtle yet strong pressures of preparation and performance, and the universally unique and unimaginable voyage of the human being into the inmost interior of identity and the sacred centre of the self and soul.


the piece is essentially played out in three 'movements' which indirectly correspond to the three 'stages' of development that Marika travels through:

  • Stage 1: Self-Perplexed Prodigy
initially, we meet Marika as an immensely musically talented, occasionally emotionally troubled 12 year-old who is growing into herself physically, psychologically, and professionally. she has learned her piano pieces perfectly, along with the script for her sound bytes. she is gracious to strangers, and somewhat of a stranger to most of her family (because of the demands of her discipline). she can project extreme confidence in a recital hall or on a radio interview, and suffer emotional collapses when the bright lights are off and the sound bytes are over. her sense of artistry is profound, and her sense of self is perplexed.

  • Stage 2: Self-Obsessed Persona
the roller coaster of full-blown adolescence sweeps Marika into a season of extreme ups and downs. distinguished and distressed. demure and demanding. delirious and depressed. dedicated and defiant. in all of these senses and more, at specific times and simultaneously, she is evolving into what her fans, her friends, her family (particularly her father, a violinist-turned-businessman, who persistently pressures her into rising stardom without ever raising his voice) expect her to be: a dynamic diva, a sensational star, a perfect persona.

and for a time, she plays the role exceptionally well. she dazzles audiences with her extraordinary talent. she embraces the chance to study full-time at the Julliard School of Music in New York at the age of 16. she also rants about having to perform in formal gowns, and complains about staying at a sub-standard hotel in London. she is her own best fan one moment, and her own worst critic the next.

but Marika reaches a turning point near the end of this 'stage'.

her father is discussing her upcoming audition and interview for a place in a highly prestigious performing association with her. he is asking her questions the panel will most likely ask, about why she plays piano and what her hopes and dreams are for the future. and Marika says very bluntly that she knows all the 'right' answers to those questions, but that she does not intend to give them in the interview. her father presses her as to why she has chosen to do this, and Marika struggles to express her reasons.

but then she begins to articulate what is truly on her heart.

she says that she doesn't perform to 'give back to the world the great gift of music that she has been given'. she performs first and foremost for her own satisfaction.

she says that it isn't to win fame and fortune that she plays music. it is because of the sheer beauty of the music itself.

she says that if it were purely up to her, she would spend every day in the practice room, by herself, with no one else listening, rather than dressing up to electrify a hall full of fans.

initially, this appears to be Marika in true 'diva' mode. Self-centered. Self-indulgent. Self-obssessed.

but the more she shares her heart, the more it becomes clear that something else is happening.

this is not self-absorption.

this is self-differentiation.

not narcissistic, but necessary.

  • Stage 3: Self-possessed Person
after blowing the audition and interview, Marika retreats into a reverie of self-recrimination and self-reflection. she ruminates on all that has led her to where she is, and rhapsodizes on what might have been and what may be in store for her. she is both brutally honest and genuinely gentle with herself. and in the process, she slowly begins to unearth a diamond of great value that has been fashioned in the depths of her soul through all the drudgery and dedication.

and then she does something surprising.

she returns to her grade school to perform.

in a classroom filled with 6 year-olds.

on a thrashed, upright piano.

in a sweater and jeans.

as Marika beautifully plays Bach and Rachmaninov, the children are encouraged to listen and respond to what they hear. by drawing and painting. by dancing and leaping. by moving to the music in whatever ways they feel led to do so.

and as they interact with the music as only 6 year-olds can, Marika has a revelation.

they are not evaluating her. they are experiencing the emotions that her music elicits.

they are not judging her. they are jumping for joy at her playing.

and in an afternoon, a germ of an idea of her calling sprouts up out of the humus of her humanity.

she begins to host performances that are eclectic and interactive, accessible and incredible. she incorporates some of the artwork of the children by projecting it above her piano. she utilizes lighting, scenery, dance, drama and spoken word into her magical musical tours. she invites younger pianists to join her for duets.

(one of the greatest moments in the film is when she is joined on stage by a little 4 year-old girl and they play together. initially, Marika is beautifully accompanying while the girl plays the melody with two hands. but as the piece continues, Marika begins to glance over at her young partner and gradually begins to smile. and by the end of the piece, when they play the last chord together, Marika's face is so radiantly beaming with sheer joy, i thought the screen was literally going to melt.)

she continues to play recitals in concert halls around the world. but it is merely one part of the emergence of her broader and deeper vocation.

she is not only helping to make serious music - 'the most beautiful gift in the world', as she describes it - more approachable and experiential.

she is doing it in a way that is true to who she really is.

and she is offering 'the most beautiful gift in the world' - her true self - to the world.

she has evolved from prodigy to persona to person.




as people, we spend the vast majority of our lives traveling through these three 'stages'. often, we experience them less sequentially and more spontaneously and even simultaneously. we visit and re-visit them through surprising circumstances and unexpected changes in the journeys of our lives.

i was captivated by this depiction of Marika's journey. and by the end, as her glowing face lit up the theatre with glimmers of transcendent Glory like Moses descending from Sinai, my face was swelling up with tears of wonder and joy at the revelation of Spirit manifest in the emergence of a true self.

and in the days, weeks, months that followed my screening of the film, i was inspired to reflect upon my own journey and where it has taken me. through the 'stages' of self- perplexity and self-obsession and even glimpses of self-possession.

and i came to a startling, sobering conclusion.

i have spent most of my time over these past couple of years in 'Stage 2'.

i have invested a lot of time learning the 'lines' for different 'roles' in my life, and creating different 'selves' to put on and take off 'like hats and coats against the world's weather' (Frederick Buechner). developmentally, we all need to spend significant amounts of time in 'Stage 1' in order to get our bearings for the storms we inevitably face in life. but we are created to eventually 'outgrow' those 'selves' and 'roles'.

and i have experienced moments along the journey - mostly brief and fleeting, as an adult, an adolescent, even as a child - where i have felt humbly at home in my skin, patiently at peace in my soul,  existentially at ease in my self. 'Stage 3' has afforded me instances where the corner of that cosmic curtain that separates time from eternity has been pulled back - sometimes for no longer than a baited breath or a hushed heartbeat - to startle my senses with an epiphany of the infinitely more expansive Reality in which we all live and move and have our being. i've been lucky enough to engage those epiphanies both as a vessel to receive them and (occasionally) reveal them.

but with the complex and somewhat catastrophic changes that came into my life in 2012 (through the unexpected loss of my job), i was thrust back into a titanic struggle with my sense of self, an excruciating encounter with all of my internal illusions of identity, and a voracious vortex of vocational vagueness. and while i have received some generous gifts of grace-filled succor in the throes of the battle, and some minuscule moments of clarity have emerged from the cacophony of chaos and confusion within myself as a result, i'm still digging through the remaining detritus of my supposedly divine, yet seemingly derailed destiny. it has left me at times feeling (and to those closest to me, sounding) less like a self-possessed person and more like a self-obsessed persona, a 49 year-old 'adolescent' wrestling with the demons of self-delusion and derision and the angels of self-acceptance and appreciation, clinging exhaustedly onto them in the midst of sleepless nights like Jacob waiting breathlessly for some kind of blessing. and i recognize that some people who engage in this battle are pinned down permanently by the weight of it all, never able to catch their breath again.

(by the way, i find it ironic that we live in a culture that idealizes and idolizes those who are young, beautiful and talented, and then expresses shock, dismay and disappointment when the pressures of that idealization and idolization collide with the realities of life at 'Stage 2' and the inevitable and natural explosions that result in their lives. could it be that we have deceived ourselves into believing the illusion that the external glories of life for a chosen few at 'Stage 2' are somehow manifestations of the internal characteristics of life for all at 'Stage 3'?)

it seems that no matter one's age, life at 'Stage 2' is the ultimate apocalyptic assault in the depth of our souls, the universal struggle between self-absorption and self-differentiation.

not narcissistic, but necessary.

and yet, even as they come not at our own choosing, the agonizing anguish of traveling through seasons of suffering such as these is more than just 'strange medicine' we are required to take in order to regain health and move on to the next stage of life. i've discovered in repeated encounters with existential crises, from without and within, that there seems to be some kind of magnificent and mysterious method to the madness that ensues and threatens to envelop our very being. it seems that in this highly irrational and deeply primal realm, pain is truly the paradoxical pathway to peace, and Love will even battle with us in order to be born within us.

there is much in my life that remains uncertain. i live in two different time zones. sometimes, i awaken in the blackness of night not remembering where i am or what day it is. and when i do eventually figure out where i am again and my anxiety subsides, my vision of what lies ahead of me in life remains as non-dimensional and disoriented as my sense of depth perception in my darkened room.

but i've grown to realize that something else happens when you spend long periods of time in darkness. your vision becomes refined, even redefined. you eventually being to see things again, but in a way that reveals different layers of definition. and your perception is opened to the brilliance of sights that actually need the darkness in order to be seen. like those stars upon which we love to wish, and like which we were created to shine.

when our fears are faced in the terror of the dark,
our eyes gradually adjust,
our uncertainty becomes trust,
and we can see things clear and stark.

the wrestle-mania within me continues as well. a consistent push and pull of powers (perceived and not) tempts me to define myself by accomplishments and accoutrements and find my worth through the perceptions and projections of others, and threatens to tear my true sense of self apart in the process. my regular travels back and forth between my communities of relation and vocation could be perceived as a geographical manifestation of this autobiographical frustration.

but it's not. rather, i'm discovering that in the midst of that emotional and spiritual tug-of-war, there is a relentlessly redemptive rhythm of relationship, a heartfelt holistic harmony of healing, and a mystical miraculous melody of magnificence in both communities that is gradually helping to restore my truest sense of self. these dear friends and family are living sources of Spirit and revelators of renewal for me, not by projecting idealistic objectifications of assumed expectations upon me, but rather, by reflecting back to me what they experience from within me that i could no longer see or sense for myself. by reminding me of the music that is still there, and opening my soul to the new music yet to emerge.

in the wailing of our wrestling,
there are whispers of wisdom and wonder.

when surprising, unanticipated change came rushing into my life, it knocked most everything out of balance. activities that were normally a part of my daily routine took more time, attention and energy. the additional stress and strain often left me feeling drained, depleted, and out of breath. not surprising when life has just knocked the wind out of you.

but paradoxically, it seems that in the midst of struggling to regain my balance and catch my breath, the Spirit/Wind/Breath that has given all of creation life has revealed ways to knock the Wind back into me.  running though my neighborhood(s) among the trees and rivers, inhaling-exhaling 'thank-You' six steps at a time. receiving inspiration from the magical flickering lights of a movie screen or the transcendently soaring sounds of a live concert. resting breathlessly on the cliffs above the beautiful Pacific, the Wind and Waves roaring a clamoring chorus of praise only to be drowned out by a sacred symphony of silence more eloquent than any language from our lungs or lips.

we can catch our breath
by having our breath taken away.




all in all, it's truly exasperating, but also strangely exhilarating.

not relishable, but revelatory.

not sequential, but cyclical.

and spontaneous. and sensational.

from prodigy to persona to person.

back and forth, round and round, again and again and again.




(trailer for the film…more info about Marika here)

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