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I am trying something new.
In addition to waking up at 5:00am each day as a way of giving myself time to nurture myself physically, creatively, and emotionally, I am setting myself a creative challenge:
I have to create SOMETHING every single week.
I am a full-time secondary school music teacher, so this is an audacious ask. But more and more I am drawn to the truth that creativity is so essential to my wellbeing that I need to explore the constructs of it in more detail.
Composing and writing for me are double-edged saws. I love to express myself and get to the heart of what I am trying to say, yet I struggle and circle endlessly in a painful creative agony getting started when I try to be creative during the term.
I know exactly what it is; it’s the fact that my “creative craft” during the week is teaching; this is where I am being my most imaginative, where I am have the playful and creative conversations, and where I am problem-solving like a MF. All my energies are poured into the classroom.
But I am giving outwards, this is not a creativity that necessary nurtures me fully.
I’ve also discovered that when I am confronted with a choral commission, or a creative piece of work, or even just knowing myself during the term, I am like a stoppered bottle. I feel as if I have to scrape the layer off the outside of myself to find the good stuff, or even just stuff!, and then I wander around with handfuls of words like a sleep-walker trying to figure out what I am trying to say.
I am beginning to see that to care for myself as a creative being, I need to be creative on a weekly and daily basis. Not just for others, but for myself.
So here’s the challenge:
In taking the creative reins I am reaching for a bigger point of healing; while I consider myself playful, imaginative and courageous in the realm of creativity, I haven’t practised the scope of my language, and the repertoire of sounds and words I can use to express myself.
And secondly, I wonder if I have ever written solely for myself. It’s a stark realisation, and one that I am heading straight into with a sense of wild freedom and adventure!
Increasingly, I am realising that it’s the tiny little moments of work which add up to create a whole in anything, and it definitely applies to creative projects.
I used to block out large gaps of time to be creative. And I’d love this time and be productive; I’d play with ideas without pressure, I would get down snippets of melodies, and freely write and edit lyrics, I would improve my piano technique and find new sounds.
But lately, I have found a new magic, ease and productivity in the tiny, incremental steps. Each day, I have been waking up at 5:00am and writing. And from the writing has come a new playfulness and clarity. Having uninterrupted time to myself energises me, and allows me to articulate my ideas, in words and verbally. My interactions with my students are stronger, more perceptive, and more nuanced. I come from a strong place of being anchored.
And most unexpectedly, my creativity has come out to play in force. Through honing and polishing that pathway out of myself, I have unexpectedly created a conduit for my creativity and a sharpness and clarity in my ideas. I realise that the “bluntness” of my creative self that I felt when I left my words + music for too long was from lack of practise. Essentially, everyday, I am practising being more myself, seeing more of myself, having the creative conversation, and creating.
I am right on the edge of how I want to say things more often now than when I blocked out hours of creative time. My skills in catching ideas are wily and cunning. I’m right there with the idea, with the technique, with the ability to snatch the right word out of the cacophony because I have been using them daily.
I feel like a have a palette of creative tones in front of me, and I am allowed to paint nuanced, sophisticated pictures with my sounds and words.
And the most heart-flipping?
What if I applied this to connection in the classroom?
What if I applied this to my own relationships?
What if I applied this to my own courage and healing?
What if I unfurled parts of myself in the same way and I am playing with creativity?
There are so many places we can become more articulate and fluent in the language if we were to engage in the practise of the skills more, in tiny little steps of learning, discovery and play.
My most powerful conversation this week was with one of our Year 12 Prefects who has managed a stutter all his life. He is absolutely beloved, and someone I will track beyond 2019, but I know he feels it acutely.
I asked him, “Will you ever put your hand up to do a speech as part of the Prefect Forum?”
He replied, “It’s unlikely, and anyway, I like leading from behind and doing the behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Me, “I would SO MUCH love to see you do one. Not because it’s going to be easy, but because you’d have everyone backing you. And you’d absolutely kill me, I know that.”
He brushed it off, but I could see him ticking over the unexpected comment.
And then he gave me an unexpected response just as he was leaving the office:
“Ms Kwok, you know that you’ve had a massive impact on how I feel about my speaking, right? I know you’ve got the whole “English-as-a-second-language” thing going on, even though you can HARDLY TELL, but I know you get frustrated at yourself when you can’t get your words out perfectly. But you still get excited and talk the way you do, and you go ALL IN. It makes me feel like I can speak without my stutter stopping me, even though it is so frustrating.”
Kid, you do the same. Every single time you get up and speak, you remind me to do what I do MORE.
When we own our own stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in the stories of someone else’s telling. [Brené Brown, Rising Strong.]
How do I come out from under the incorrect assumptions of others?
By getting up from the disappointment, the disagreement, the difficulty, and continuing to do my thing, which is absolutely and wholeheartedly be myself in line with my values, so that I am breaking the misconceptions.
Someone – and you will all have that someone in mind – can say something about me because they are threatened, want to change the public perception of me, or want to damage my character and plant that seed of doubt in someone else’s mind. It could be by accident or design, but it creates misunderstanding of who I am, how I work, and what I stand for. How do I shake this? How do I bring the my true character forward?
Refuting each claim is one way to do it, but it’s tiring and ineffective. It means that you’re going in to bat for yourself, which is effective sometimes, but it’s your word against theirs, and an uncomfortable fight.
Actions are powerful. I have a lot of faith that if you keep doing what you do consistently, your true character and worth will come through. It’s a humbling act, to keep working and doing through misconception, but it’s honest and accurate, as it allows the other people the opportunity to truly see you.
What people think of you is none of your business, your business is just to get up and do you.
So therefore, if I continue to do me in every way, if I continue to turn up and tell my story, do my work, and live my values, there are now two opposing stories to choose from.
The shadow one, and mine.
Which do you think is going to be the most gripping telling?!
Mine is going to be a FUCKING BEST-SELLER if I’m telling it. 😎
Those who choose to put merit and weight on another person’s inaccurate telling of me are people that are not worth my time and energy.
There is no point in trying to convert them to my story, I’ll just be yelling into the wind. Better to keep telling my story joyfully and saving that energy for my work, myself, my loved ones. Because I’m not going to appeal to everyone, I’m not going to be a perfect fit all the time.
But if the values are strong in my storytelling, no one can mistake the authenticity, even if they don’t like the story.
And those who have the courage to examine both stories side by side, and have the perception to take value in mine will be converted, because I get to re-tell and re-shape all the details of me, my story, my actions, my life, my values in the most accurate, honest, beautiful, breathtaking, and authentic manner.
Yes, it’s annoying to do the U-turn and to have to do the redraft.
But I get to rewrite the script. In rising up and owning my story, I get to say it like it is.
And my god, when I tell my story and I am on fire with the light and heat of my story, it is a fucking magnificent thing to behold. ONE HELL ROLLICKING TALE.
Who would want the shadow version?
I’m holding the pen filled with possibility. No flimsy shadow story will have a piece on me.
And in telling my story, I get the chance to educate people on how to treat me, how to respect me, and how to interact with me, how to connect with me, and how to love me.
I am the teacher to others of myself in the world.
Your most powerful changes come from your daily habits. If you want to make significant changes to your lifestyle, your mental capacity, your skills, your connections, then start by looking at the tiny daily changes you can make. Too often, we are caught up trying to make big “all-or-nothing” changes, and then get discouraged when we can’t keep jumping the hoops we’ve set for ourselves.
We need to have this conversation with ourselves in long-form, and know that we’re in it for the long game.
Here are 3 daily habits that I am working on, which have made me happier and have begun the process of change this month:
Waking up at 5:00am: Now, I’m not about to harp on about the benefits of how life-changing this is in the way that many lifestyle gurus do. This was definitely, unequivocally, a personal choice for me. I wanted time to myself, to energise and centre myself before getting into the day. The decision to get up at 5:00am was to nourish me.
It’s been an interesting process, but it has definitely made a difference in how I feel going into the day. Waking up and 5:00am and getting up immediately to go for a walk or run, despite how groggy I am feeling, is absolutely brutal, and I consider myself a morning person. But about 5 minutes into the activity, I am more awake than if I had woken up at 6:15am and done my usual morning routine. The energy, space, and time I gain is absolutely worth the challenge of getting myself up. With the time remaining in the morning, I am able to journal, get clarity on difficult decisions and conversations, and get to the tender spot of reflection which doesn’t happen easily on a day-to-day basis.
In waking up early and giving myself time, I give myself clarity. My rehearsals and lessons have been more focused, I have been more authentic, my conversations have greater direction and purpose, and I feel centred and happy for more of the time. Yesterday morning, my one day a week without an early morning choir rehearsal, I had from 5:00am to 6:45am to myself. I did 10000 steps, made a pot of coffee, journalled, reflected upon the week, came up with 3 creative ideas, and had space to get into my day. I don’t pretend I’m going to nail it every time, I am SURE that I will trip up. But my day had more clarity, joy, direction, and purpose than I can remember prior to this routine.
Getting out of the “Can’t”: This relates directly to the above habit of waking up at 5:00am. The very realistic and cynical side of me says, “Yes, but it’s the first week of Term 3, of course you’re feeling positive and well-rested, of course you’re working with greater clarity!”, and that ultimately I am going to trip up and not be able to carry this through as a habit. This mindset is what has stopped me from really going after the scary things. I have experienced great success on everything small-to-mid-range. But I’d like to go for something where I have no guarantee, and I know that this is what is stopping me. Will I trip up on this habit? ABSOLUTELY.
There’s no way I’m going to nail it every time. But I’m going to sit in the middle ground. If I keep a solid routine, if I’m sure about my “why” for doing this, and if I problem-solve like a MF and go up against the “can’t talk” that buzzes loud in my head, I am going to nail this most of the time and be able to get back on track faster. Already, I can see the difference in my teaching + interactions with others.
Things that would normally derail me have become “just things that I need to solve.” I have leaned into interactions with challenging people and those who annoy me as a practise ground for how much I can turn a conversation around. I’ve tried to keep the mindset of, “Nobody ain’t gonna rain on MY parade!” And it’s not because I’m well-rested, it’s because I’m making the choice, and seeing how much room I have to move in a situation. It’s creativity and play at it’s finest, really!
Connection: I close up the most around the people I love the most, or are the most important to me. My Mum and Dad, my closest friends, and my most important relationships. I have been consciously practising interacting with these people in tiny steps, rather than just doing the introvert thing that I do of shutting down and going back into myself where it is safe and waiting until I am presentable to come out. I am trying to put into words exactly where I am at, share a small joke or light-hearted moment, or connect through something a little more vulnerable, especially if it’s a “sliding door” moment, and I have the choice to go there or not. I think of myself as a joyful, compassionate and authentic person, but this daily and sometimes hourly practise has made a significant change to how I feel walking into a classroom, a conversation, and my energy levels at the end of the day. I feel happier walking into situations where I am more vulnerable and tender, or less comfortable, than I have for a while. And while the change is imperceptible to most people, I can feel the release and lightness within myself. It costs me less energy to connect, because I am practising it every day.
This week has been a wonderful first week of school.
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!
Well then. One serve of courage, please!
Did you know you can close up anytime? It’s so easy that it’s almost imperceptible if you’re not aware. And then the minutes and days pass and suddenly, you find yourself on the other side of the window, with the glass getting mistier + cloudier, and you go to reach out and – can’t.
It starts small.
“Hello” only, rather than, “How are you, what’s happening?”, because in that moment, any more than “Hello” is too much effort.
It’s the change in inflection in your voice.
Rather than putting something into words, just moving, moving, moving. The “what’s next” is so seductive, and so easy, that you wonder if you dreamed that moment of worry and vulnerability. Did you know that a moving target is harder to hit? Devastating, hey?
Don’t wear that colourful scarf. Too much to wear those gorgeous earrings. Not feeling that fabulous polka-dot coat. Put the plain-coloured everything on.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
Look down, rather than looking up and engaging, and risking that interaction because there is a chance that it might be uncomfortable, or joyful, or weird, or funny, or – something other than easy.
I’m not ready yet.
Put the bowl in the microwave, heat it up, eat. Don’t want to clean the glorious oil spatter off the kitchen counter, or have chilli make your eyes water and you watery with laughter, or have the house smell like garlic for days. Keep it clean.
Don’t ask that extra question, you might start a landslide or create a wave. You might find yourself on the edge, or worse still, the outer. You might get a reputation.
Why reach out anyways? They’ll be busy. They’ll have other things on. Too tired. No time or energy. Next time.
That worked last time. Do it again, cut and paste, repeat.
It’s so easy, way too easy, to close up.
Be a little more awkward and daring, hopeful and vibrant, and step up.
Look around. There’s more. Embrace the stomach flip. Feel the awkward acutely.