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Thank you for these holidays. I’ve really needed them, as I led the ANZAC Music Tour in the previous holidays, so these are my first in 23 weeks straight. I think every cell in my body was lying facedown in the cavity that was my body by Week 9 of Term 2!
I feel like I have realigned my compass and learned so much these holidays. Unexpectedly, but so organically, in a natural progression of thoughts, conversations, and connections.
I have rested; my mind, my body, my spirit. I was moving so fast but going nowhere at the end of last term. I was doggy-paddling furiously, only to stay in one place, exhausted, just gulping enough air and love to keep me alive. I will do everything I can to make sure I have greater clarity and space going into this new term, and while things will get busy, I would much rather move slowly and steadily, rather than stay in over-tired limbo. I now that this will take greater concentration than I had the capacity for at the end of last term, and it’s something I need to practise.
I have exercised; I have walked and walked for miles, tens of thousands of steps a day, feeling the strengthening of my breathing, my heart, and my body following my sickness. What a joy to feel the strength in a full breath, and the energy coursing through me from movement, air, time, and space.
I have connected; I feel aligned and back to equilibrium, lifted up from the love and laughter with all my friends and family. The colour is back in my cheeks, and all over, imbuing my spirit with vibrant joy and hope. I feel centred; emotionally healthy from being with people whose words make my spirit echo with safety and happiness, stretch me in new and interesting ways, and who love me with a safety net so wide that it feels like I am floating in a warm summer ocean.
I feel whole and real again. I promise myself that I will remember this equilibrium and at my most busy and stressful, remember that this is what normal is, and not try and make the Pollyanna version of normal from stressful situations, or from people who do not care about my wellbeing.
I have loved; joyfully, playfully, awkwardly, beautifully! It’s so poignantly undoing to realise that I have been Teflon-coated for part of the term, and never realised that it wasn’t normal. Like the frog put into cold water and slowly boiled, it doesn’t realise its environment is not normal until it is scalding the life out of it. Let me love in little snippets every day, or as much as I damn well want. My heart flows, and I will not be scalded into submission.
I have journalled; hundreds and hundreds of words, free-flowing from my pen onto the page, dozens of rain-checked thoughts needing re-examination, reflection, and the sort of self-conversation that comes only from time, space, and safety. That’s not in the middle of the school term, whilst I’m trying to be professional.
That’s when stressful situations get dealt with on the surface level and then get put in a holding pattern. And then, when there is a stretch of time, I open up the skies and let them pour down, like rain. And my tears of healing flowed the same way. I am so grateful for the wonderful ebb and flow in my heart now, that comes from having looked at everything that needed looking at, and sitting next to my heart like and old girlfriend with a bottle of wine, just chattin’. I breathe freely now, and so does my heart.
I have created; my words and music which have lain dormant are awakened, and I am overwhelmed with the beauty and colour of all that I have created. Insights which I could not put into words during the term come out as song, melody, lyrics, or some other nymph-like form of creative expression. I write like I breathe. It is glorious.
I have played; my darling piano, to feel your keys under my increasing deft and strong fingers, knowing that joy of incremental growth again is a mathematical sort of satisfaction, and a clarity of my own self and thinking. I can tell the health of my own emotional self from the fluency of my piano playing, and the colours available to me.
I have cleaned, washed and created room for new energy and thoughts.
I never knew how far I would travel in three weeks.
I feel an overwhelming gratitude and joy in knowing that no matter how great the discomfort, stress, challenge, and pain, that with enough time, I have an internal compass that lines up due north, and I will always be able to find my equilibrium.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for these holidays.
And the fact of the matter is this: You are scared shitless of me.
Of my light,
because the air around me changes when I enter the room,
and I am affecting just by existing, I am so happy to be alive,
and despite saying all the correct words,
that you are not coping with me being me,
and I laugh,
because I can finally see the fear behind the bravado,
the instability behind the big words,
and the insecurity behind the loud voice,
and overly grand gestures,
and will I let this set me off balance, you ask?
NO FUCKING WAY, little man.
Why do we limit ourselves all the time?
The moment we wake up, we automatically calculate what we need to do in a day, and tell ourselves that we don’t have enough time.
We wonder if we’ve got the capacity to be all that we need to be in all our guises, and we start the day stretched before we’ve even tried.
We start with “can’t”; when an idea or suggestion is put forward, we think about all the things that will make it hard, rather than going first to all the possibilities.
Everything makes us feel weighted and tired, and it’s because we try to cram too much into a day because we are so arrogant that we think ourselves somehow different from everybody else that of course we can do what nobody else can. Apply that to parenting, self-care, teaching, maintaining a home, eating good food, and our relationships. The thing is, we need to time to give value to all of these things and to be there to feel those moments fully.
And scariest of all, we believe everything that people say. We are so foolhardy and gullible that we openly believe all the negatives put on the table about us, and most dangerously, we believe and invest in the opinions that absolutely don’t matter. Of our bosses, our superiors, of those who have not earned our trust. We agonise over comments that would be so much easier to figure out a way to let go, because our egos have been bruised. It’s ironically challenging, being human, isn’t it?
The thing is, all of the negatives, the fatigue, the impossibilities, and the can’ts are all going to happen. You can’t Teflon-coat yourself, or be so prepared that you are bullet-proof.
So isn’t it so much easier just to go into the day?
Isn’t it easier just to go into each situation, get stuck-in, problem solve, and get in up to your armpits rather than the unnecessary worry and preamble?
We all get stuck in that. I get stuck in that.
I write, and re-write, and agonise, and wonder, and rehearse, and re-rehearse. That is one of my best personality traits, my care and thoroughness, at my worst. Burning holes in every bit of joyful spontaneity and casting distrust on any of my boss-level ability to adapt and problem solve.
So today, and every day, I am going to undo those limits. Life is messy, and you can’t dress rehearse.
Pause, take the layer of worry off and drop it like a heavy coat.
The day will happen whether you worry and agonise over something or not.
You will need to walk into whatever is scaring you no matter what.
Why don’t you spend the time and energy thinking about how you will navigate, rather than how you will avoid?
There are so many minutes in a day that go wasted in worry, and we look back on each weekend, each Sunday afternoon, and wonder why we got so little done and feel so wrung out? I am sure that it is, in part, because of the limits we put on ourselves.
Embrace the sucky, amazing, glorious, messiness. Go and live, my darling people!
Lyrics for a new choral commission, Impossible Compass.
The concept behind this work is the paradox of finding your internal compass, the one that holds the values that you live by, your ideals, your best heart and self.
To find your compass
You must travel the world with your heart in your pocket
Catch due north, and it’s gone, like a whisper in the wind
Walk into the north wind, and you will realise
It was there all the time in your heart
In the place where you came into being
But stay in one place, safe and secure
You won’t find it
That anchor of belonging
You won’t know what it’s like to really know
How to stand alone and ache with longing
When you are more yourself in solitude
Then you will belong
But, my darling girl, keep running and moving
And turning and twisting
And pulling and driving
Forward, always away, never still
And your compass will never align
And while you’ll be free
You’ll never find
The crossroads of joy and ache
That give weight and meaning to life.
No-one asks to be a nomad when they are born into this world
But that’s who we are
We’re the map-makers and dream-sketchers
Tracking pathways to the sun
But that deep sense of longing
That comes from being anchored deep
While still moving and turning
And living and flying
In the wilderness of your life
In the silence of your thoughts
In the love that springs from living
Sits beside you, and nestles in your heart
Whispers into your ear:
My darling child, I’m here.
If there was any doubt in the value of Music, or The Arts, then just think: What is it that you say the moment you meet someone who has created something that has affected you like nothing else could, changed you from the inside out, and tapped into the reserves of light and humanity that you didn’t know existed?
You grab their hands, or hug them breathless and say T H A N K Y O U.
I have been sitting on an email for a week. It’s been utterly ridiculous. It’s been a mixture of admiration, respect, and wanting to connect that I’ve gone back and forth on the draft for the last 6 days, polling myself and every decision-making cell in me as to whether I should send it.
It was a complimentary and joyful email; if I were the recipient, it would honestly make me smile, and probably make my day. But for some reason I found myself completely stuck, unable to send this one off. Why? Part of it was not wanting to get it wrong, part of it was pride, my own and the other person’s, that I didn’t want it misinterpreted and did I even have a right to send such a joyful, carefree email to someone I wanted to connect with?
But mostly it was fear.
And I thought to myself, Why am I so afraid?
This is one snapshot in my entire life, 11 seconds of my day. What am I afraid of? Rejection? Contempt? An answer? Not getting what I want? A throw-away response that cheapened my effort?
The curious thing was, I really didn’t know. Normally I am totally on the pulse with my own reactions and emotional compass. But where something really matters and I have a great deal invested, it becomes so much harder. I ended up, embarrassingly, doing three mental “pro-con” lists over the course of the week. I wanted a secure response, something that would indicate that I wouldn’t look like a total fool sending this, be misunderstood, and that it would be taken in exactly the right frame of mind.
The other extraordinary thing? I am never this indecisive in my professional and other parts of my personal life. I am usually optimistically realistic about things; you have to get yourself in there, stand your ground, say your piece, and be ready to invite conversation and interaction.
This morning, I woke up with a thought on the tip of my tongue, Maybe you’re afraid of getting what you want.
I’ve actually never really understood that phrase. Whenever I hear someone else say it, I think, My GOD! I would be thrilled to get what I want! Give me that sort of reliability any day and I’ll roll with it! Put in effort, get a result, I like it!
But this morning, I got just the tiniest understanding of that phrase. If I got exactly the outcome I wanted, WHERE TO NEXT?
Would I have the confidence to navigate the next step, to invite this idea and interaction into my life, and have the courage to invest of myself?
But that’s what life is, isn’t it? A series of tiny little moments where you play. There is a tiny invitation which makes your stomach flip, and then you respond. In friendship, in taking a leap of faith, in making the first connection to someone who catches you unawares, in giving a compliment, in going after something, in creating and living.
I sent the email.
I dared to play.
And do you know what the extraordinary thing was?
The moment I sent it, despite how scary it was, I felt as light and as illuminated as I could possibly feel.
And I knew that not sending it, and not daring to play with the greater universe, is far scarier than daring to play.
One of the greatest joys in life is having inspiration, agency, and time meet at a crossroads, and bringing a creative project into existence.
Too often we have inspiration but have to fight for the time, cobbling together the tiny scraps in our day to allow space for our creativity. It is challenging and determined work, and catches us breathless, but we do it because we are punch-drunk with the idea and starry-eyed with agency.
Then there’s having time but no rush of inspiration, no idea or concept that makes our heart beat a little faster, and our minds lose all sense of time and logic. Yes, we can do workman-like work to create a committed, workman-like outcome, but again, it’s challenging and determined work with a different sort of struggle.
And then, there’s that magical, unexpected combination where inspiration, agency, and time meet at the crossroads and something truly creative and excellent is borne, coming to life with the sort of tenacity and heat that radiates from anything which has momentum.
When this happens you become a willing, humble vessel for the work, set alight by inspiration, powered by an energy which is not entirely all your own, propelled forward with a courage to give voice and breath to this tiny, audacious idea which wants to be born.
It’s a thrilling way to have a conversation with creativity.
These are the lyrics for my new choral commission, Magic Happens in the Silence.
“Magic happens in the silence
You can walk beside your heart
You can see between the moments
You can dance amongst the stars!
Light illuminates the impossible
Words alight and tell your soul
You can count between the seconds
Stand and see, you become whole
There is magic in the silence
That you never fathomed possible
That you never thought would pull you
With your compass firmly fixed upon the stars
Where you are
Where you are
Listen to the magic in the silence
Of knowing all that you are.”
I am a sucker for completing everything on my list and then allowing myself to have the reward.
“When I’m done with writing reports, then I can give that person a call.”
“When I finish cleaning, then I can have a glass of wine.”
“When I get to that savings goal, then I can treat myself to a brunch!” (Which will probably be pancakes…!)
I am a big fan of delayed gratification. It is well-documented in the “Marshmallow Challenge”, which pits 4-year-olds against the temptation of having one marshmallow immediately, or wait 4 minutes and get two, that those who can delay gratification work smarter, longer, harder, and are much more effective regulators of themselves and their decisions as adults.
But when that reward becomes, “…then I will allow myself to unwind, decompress, get out of go-mode, and be myself”, we hit dangerous territory. If I only allowed myself to be playful and have fun when I ticked off everything on my list, I would never catch the snippets of joy. I would never be the girl cracking jokes, or leaning into the tender moments, seeing the wistful glance, or able to grab the unexpected opportunities, and I would never experience anything from a different point of view.
Being so rigid with my expectations of myself can produce great rewards, and discipline is a wonderful task-master for effective living.
But there MUST be moments of the unexpected, particularly when it comes to humanity, joy, play, and love.
Simply, there is no perfect time to be human. You have to do it right now. You need to catch those unexpected moments of connection, take the two minutes to run over and see someone in person rather than hiding behind your laptop, grab the coffee (and eat the cake!), choose to laugh at the joke and engage, rather than worry about meeting every deadline that is crowding you.
You have to look hard and practise catching and creating those moments of humanity.
You can’t dress-rehearse love, or grief, or sickness, or death. They happen. Life unfolds, with all it’s intensity and colour, and if you don’t decide to be a part of those moments right now because they aren’t conveniently on your schedule, then you will miss out on so much.
By the way, I should mention that there is no perfect way to grieve, heal, or apologise. You take time, you pick your moment, and you go in, ALL IN. You can’t create the perfect reception for an apology if you have to give one. There is no guarantee that the other person will welcome a hard conversation, or if they will to listen to you at all. You do it because you choose to, it’s driven by your moral compass, and it’s in your integrity.
Same goes for love. There’s no containing the unexpected, playful whisper of love and connection. You can’t conveniently compartmentalise it until you’re done with your Official Day Self. You just are. Don’t be foolhardy and ignore all you responsibilities, your goals, your daily activities, but let life in to play when it invites you. It’s unexpected, delightful, stomach-flipping, and all that is real. And when the unexpected decides to tug at your heart, let it.
Don’t let go of your lists. That’s being ambitious, motivated, and working with agency.
But dare to catch those unexpected invitations to play, in life, in living, in yourself.
Without those, you will never connect, fall in love, wonder, day-dream, or create.
Schedule is KING, but daring to wander, dream and play is LIVING.
I am quick to write off creative pursuits at the end of a long day of teaching.
Despite thinking of myself as a person who is completely happy and comfortable with being creative, being free and playful in the creative realm when I am truly exhausted seems overwhelming. It seems too draining and frivolous when all I want to do is rest and switch off.
Yet now I realise, while I am on holidays and engaging with all things creative, how utterly essential being creative and playful is, especially at the end of long and challenging day.
Just as the opposite of play is not seriousness but depression; the opposite of not being creative is not being still and restful, it is numbing.
Yes, that’s right. Numbing.
At the end of a stressful day, or an argument, or a lesson gone pear-shaped, or on the brink of a challenging conversation, we need to be more playful, more daring and more creative. I couldn’t believe it, but I see it with clarity now. Every time I sit down in front of Netflix, or YouTube, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I am not “unwinding” like I think I am; I am numbing. I am zoning-out because I have decided that I am too tired to engage with whatever experiences I have had in the day.
But really, I am avoiding.
How? And what if I am truly tired?
Physical tiredness is inconsequential; you can get to bed earlier, exercise and eat well, and make sure that your body is at its optimum to heal and regain its energy stores.
But emotional tiredness? That requires creativity. It requires a vehicle for expression, and a pathway out into the world where it can be seen and demystified.
It requires voice and play in the quiet and safety of your own mind, away from the noise of the classroom. Away from the demands of leadership, of the assault of angular personalities, grief, sadness, and unresolved issues. It is the voice that soothes the abrasive, stark moments of the day.
The balm that is creativity allows you to do the following:
Being creative is your chance to play in the playground of your own self, heart, and mind. What a crucial part of getting to know yourself! Combine with stillness and silence, and you can truly hear your thoughts, that you may become emotionally strong and perceptive.
So as I sit my exhausted self at the piano and lift my hands to the keys, I remember that with each piece or exercise comes new sounds, healing, ideas, chords, tones, and colours.
As I put pen to page in my journal and write for the five minutes before falling asleep, I see the unspoken words coming forth from me, uncensored, raw and real, authentic, alive, and truthful, that I might make meaning out of my thoughts. That I might see all the places where I have been dutiful, or withheld my true self, or could have done things differently. That I might also catch the wild and amazing ideas that are just below the surface, eager to play.
As I sing, I hear and feel the openness of my voice and how this might feel in rehearsal. I find the satisfaction in producing a beautiful sound, and the wholeness of my body as it aligns in song. I think of how I will share this with my choristers to capture that physical, musical and emotional reward.
As I compose, I practise a skill that is words and music combined. I give energy to silent words on the page and bring them into being, all the while aware that they are guiding my thoughts, and giving courage to my new ideas by existing.
The more tired and exhausted I am, the more I need to be creative.