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You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
This morning, I finished re-reading the extraordinary book, The Courage to Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi + Fumitake Koga. It shakes me to the core every time with its conversation and ideas, asking me to consider so much. You need a lifetime of thinking to process some of the concepts, and with each re-read (I have re-read it 3 times now), you pick up something different, and the understanding changes to fit where you are in life, and what issues and points of development have your attention.
For me, it got me thinking about self-love; how I care for myself, how I love myself, and how I hold myself in loving tenderness.
It was extraordinary to me how many times I have let myself slip in self-love, and how many times I failed to be tender to myself. No-one else would see it, but I am considering them now.
More than ordinary: Why do we all want to be extraordinary and different for the sake of being those things? We equate living a “good” life with living a “dull + ordinary” life. And “dull + ordinary” very dangerously become synonymous with “worthless”. It isn’t our job to strive to stand out from the crowd as our first priority; it’s our job to just live a good life. When we do this, a certain momentum and energy comes off us, and we become extraordinary and different, because we are animated, fully-engaged, and alive from doing our life’s work. Striving for acclaim and ultimately love and acceptance as our first course of action is a deeply unloving way to ask yourself to work, and to live life.
Just be: When we go into work, we are often measured by what we can give or do. We are only as valuable as our skills, success-rate, and productivity. Sadly, when we engage with family members, friends, and colleagues, in the same way we sometimes measure them through what they can give us. Is it that they make us feel good about themselves? They have a skill we want? They have scintillating and witty conversation? They are socially acceptable to be around? They have money and accolades? The do not ask questions which offend us? While all of these aspects are important and we should choose to be with people who are positive influences in our lives, shouldn’t the very first requirement be that they are just themselves? When we think of others as comrades and equals, rather than useful commodities – and it is a very subtle change of mindset – everything changes. Something shifts, and people are more willing to engage with you and willingly offer of themselves and their talents.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we each of us need to just be, safe in our worthiness.
Momentum, direction, and agency: When you are working from a base value of strong self-worth, then what you create, do, produce, say, achieve, is a bonus. It gives your life purpose and meaning. The fact that I teach, compose, and conduct choirs is a value added on top of my value as a person. Yet, too often, I have brandished those defining factors in front of new acquaintances as a definition of who I am, of all that I am. And I have looked for those defining factors in others as a reason to either keep or discard a connection. This also applies to students I teach as well; does the student who is on track and produces high quality work automatically get more value than a student who is a little turd? Theoretically, no. In practice, we all try not to. But how often have we said, even internally, “Oh, that student? They give me absolutely nothing. They’re a waste of space.” Shouldn’t the absolute bottom requirement be that they are there? Am I not the teacher and adult in the room?
When I scroll + scroll + scroll: You all know those days. It’s been a shitfest since 7:15am in the morning, and every lesson has progressively sucked from the word go. Get home, and you don’t want to engage. I numb by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook + Youtube. And when I cannot break that cycle and I tell myself that I deserve the chance to mentally check-out because I’ve had a shit day, I am not loving myself. When I stay in a holding pattern rather than taking those first, challenging steps toward moving through what I need to, reaching out and telling my story, nourishing my body through good food or exercise, or nourishing my brain through words, music, or journalling, I am feeding myself emotional junk-food and not doing myself any good. And the effects are just as shallow and ineffective. Start the work, care for myself.
I will see what I want to see in the world: People are imperfect, and they will let you down and hurt you. That’s a fact. However, if I set out to see how many times someone has let me down, I will always find evidence of this. If I look for evidence on how challenging a student is being, or how hopeless their situation, I will always succeed in finding it. I will always be able to verify whatever I want to see. So, it is my challenge to change the course of my thinking; how can I change my immediate response? How do I see something different, and look for clues otherwise in a situation, even if the hard work and course of action ahead is exactly the same?
I will see what I want to see in myself: Oh yes, there are several ways I can beat myself up. I don’t buy in for the “mindlessly Pollyanna” way of thinking either, because that’s just lip-service. But I will also see in myself what I look for. If I am looking for evidence of times I have let myself down, or failed, or how much I sucked at something, or how thoughtless, or when I have made a fool of myself, I will no doubt find it. And I can think of so many days when I have come home from school fixated on one interaction which has overtaken any of the other positives in my day, and how hard I have to try to change that course of thinking. Let me train myself to see things differently. Let me celebrate all that I have done well, first and foremost.
When I avoid: When I am avoiding something, I am telling myself I do not matter. Why? We avoid things when we are afraid. We are instinctively saying, “I don’t think I have what it takes to step into that arena, and say my piece, without being torn apart. I don’t think I have what it takes to own my truth. I don’t think I have what it takes to get up from the rubble if I get shot down.” So we avoid. Let me love myself a little more insistently, that the trust in my great strength is there. And yes, it will hurt. But I will be authentic and loving to myself, and not avoid any of truths about me.
The hard questions: As a follow-on from above, I have sometimes tied myself up in knots about a family gathering or a friendly catch-up because I know I will get the questions I dread; Why am I not married, raising a family, or have children? I have used every freakin’ verbal karate move under the sun to navigate these conversations. I have avoided, come out fighting, used humour, used the Zen-like approach, responded, not responded, avoided the most hurtful and nosey people, come at them like a bat out of hell and annihilated them for even daring to ask such a stupid question. What I have to realise is this; for most people asking, they are asking on such a different wavelength to me; they are simply asking a question, and I am looking at an emotional crater of sadness and grief, which I stand on the edge of daily. Humour cheapens it, fighting doesn’t acknowledge it properly. For other people asking, they are asking out of love. So avoiding hard questions is not the answer; it’s practising and preparing my answers. It’s knowing where I stand on these things, and knowing how much they mean to me, that I know exactly what I need to say to get my story across. Take the time to tell my truth and educate others. THAT is TRULY LOVING myself. My darling girl, I will never let you down again in not owning all that you are, I promise. Love all that you are, even the uncomfortable truths. That is your whole self.
Change: Sometimes, I resist change because I don’t think the people and world around me would cope if I changed something. What a ridiculous thing to think! Am I so adaptable that I will just go on being the person other people want me to be? If I need to grow and change, it is only for myself. Again, help educate others I love and care for about the change, speak with them without apology and let them know why I am considering a different direction, or a new way of approaching things. I owe no-one any explantations, by the way! Embrace all that I am, sink into it, deeply and wholly. I am a truly beautiful woman of grace, colour, vibrancy and fire. Let’s rock it.
Owning it: And finally, every time that I step into a room and do not take the floor when given the opportunity. I am not talking about being an attention-seeker. I am once again talking about those times where I have been a happy little fringe-dweller and played small, dimming my light so that other’s around me don’t feel uncomfortable. Step up, girl. Own it. Use your words. Shine your light. Share you extraordinary ideas + opinions. Change the momentum of the air around you.
You deserve all the love.
Cleaning out my phone + from the vault: Class of 2017 get their revenge. 😂
The Wrapper-er gets wrapped. 😄
“JUST REMEMBER WHO’S MARKING YOUR SOLO PERFORMANCES!”, I kept yelling sporadically.
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with ALL of you. Not pretentiously, but without apology.
Speak with every ounce of who you are.
Succeed. Oh, succeed because it is your life’s path.
Speak. Because you have so much to say that is innate and bursting forth. Speak all of your words, not just the ones that are curated.
Live, not clinically, not withholding, but FULLY. Messily, Completely. Utterly. Totally. Fully.
Don’t make space for a job, a misguided hope, a cultural implication, a relationship, a child, or anything else that is not there. Darling Girl, your heart, soul, and life will stretch to accommodate those if and when they arrives. Because that’s how life works!
If you live like this, in the ghosting of a hope, then you are living in deficit, and on misplaced reality. My beautiful, sweet, strong, gritty one, you live NOW, not for a time in the past or in the future, and certainly not on something that is grounded in only “what ifs”.
Travel. My God, travel and see all that you can, because you have the freedom and license to right now. You are only you at present, and it is absolutely right and true without being selfish. Travel and step into the world, as it fully embraces you as you are. Not as a wife, a mother, a partner, but as all of you.
Travel because it is embedded in the human spirit, that very curiosity that inspires and fires all of the imagination and softens us to humanity, whilst setting us alight. The need to be free, even when you have your own place in the world, is as real as breathing.
Feel. With every ounce of you heart, not just the spare corners, and certainly not just the safe ones. Whilst you get to pick how your mind responds, you cannot tap human emotion. The heart yearns for what it yearns for, to be connected. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you’ve earned the right because you are NOT something.
You are allowed to fall in love with children and be a mother even if you are not a mother. You love with intensity even if you are not in a relationship. You are borne of love, and it is yours to live. You are a woman of the world, and you affect it, and interact with it, any way you choose.
Life will keep moving and you will need to be a part of the change, fleeting, slow, circular, sudden, it is all impermanent.
You can cry, and laugh, and shriek, and run, and dance without any fear that you need to be a little more quiet; you do not need to earn the right to be human.
You already have. Completely. Humanity is a birthright.
Do not let that gloriously beating, beautiful heart stop or harden.
Cry your tears.
Feel your grief.
Celebrate your joy.
Share your love.
Walk through it with integrity and authenticity.
Grief never leaves our cells, we just learn to carry it better. We are all grieving something, either graciously or not. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live ever leave us either.
Which will you respond to? The fear of being hurt, or the fear of not fully living?
Make new meaning every day.
Change is in the minute, on every breath. Hold too tight, and you will only find pain.
Darling Girl, I love you more than you will ever know.
I have no idea the scope of my joy. It comes forth when I think there is nothing left, it fills the crevices of darkness with light, like water finding tiny gaps in mountain faces.
I will do everything possible to give voice and life to this persistent joy.
I will create each day, with the wild abandon of the free in my heart, knowing the creativity spurns forth the most unknown and untapped of understandings and reflections. I will see what is truly bothering me and giving me joy within my creation…teaching, composing, writing, loving, caring, living. It is all creation.
I will cry, oh I will cry! Cleansing my strong heart of all the anguish and pain that an unknowing world might put upon me.
I will sing with a voice so utterly mine, the air around me will change.
I will love with a heart gritty and real, wild and honest. I will love with a playfulness and an honesty that will unravel both myself and the ones being loved.
I will fill the world with more colour than I can handle.
Because joy is an entity and spirit that needs keeping alive, and I will do everything with a vital truth and realness that will be astonishing even to me.
Because we must take care of the joyful ones, the silent warriors that choose to live with the grace of joy, even in a world which does not always welcome it.
We must celebrate those who look as if everything is pure and easy, because it takes great courage to be exquisitely joyful.
I will do everything I can to bring forth this joy!
So I’m trying to make lemon butter right now and my phone is having an epileptic fit in terms of notifications + messages as my Year 12 Music kiddies are getting in touch to let me know how they all went. Abandoned lemon butter “gel” on the stove, salvage it later, I’m right in the middle of all the hustle, excitement, nerves, and celebration of my Class of 2017 musos. I keep telling myself each year that this is the year I won’t get so over-the-top nervous + involved in all of this. But that’s a load of BS and I know it.
Class of 2017, my little United Nations of such different personalities, all so much loved by me. Congratulations to you all. You’ve truly made it over the finish line.
Love from a proud Mama Kwokkie.
So this was my office today, courtesy of my Year 12 kiddies! The helium tank apparently made it onto school grounds at 7:00am, and they were done + dusted and hiding in the upstairs music room by 7:30am, ready to capture my reaction. 😝
On first impressions, balloons were SENSATIONAL. 😎
But it was only when I looked closer that I realised with horror that they had suspended the contents of my office…highlighters, pens, scissors, USBs, Kwokkie doll, my mandarin and muesli bar for recess, sticky tape, everything. If I needed anything, I had to harvest it from the ceiling. 😂
Note my very classy monochrome outfit, as promised! I felt totally different all day! 😆
“Come here, sweet mandarin!”
Have mandarin. Happy.
When I started at Pulteney, we accidentally began a tradition of wrapping Year 12s on their birthdays. It all began when the very FIRST Year 12 to have a birthday in my class received a terrible mark in his Musicianship test, and I unwittingly returned it on his birthday. In order that he didn’t remember the day for that moment, I emptied out my top drawer and as a class, we decorated him with all all the celebration paraphernalia we could lay our hands on…streamer, stickers, glitter, feathers, Post-its, and a sparkly hat.
The tradition stuck. Each time we had a birthday, my 12s would ask, “Can we go get the streamers, Ms Kwok?!” So I’m always totally stocked up.
This year, I realised that my little celebratory proteges had grown into themselves more than I could have predicted, and I got a dose of my own creating!
On the day of my birthday, my 12s snuck in early, filled the music room with balloons, wrapped everything (including me) in streamers, sang “Happy B’day” in 2-and-a-half part harmony, and baked brownies for me. 🤗
But my favourite bit? How totally UN-surreptitious they were about the whole operation. Stealth they have not. 🤣
I could literally hear them from a mile away, “SHUT UP! SHE’S COMING!” 😆
I am re-reading “Present Over Perfect”, by Shauna Niequist. Her simple, direct, honest writing is a joy to read, and I find myself surprised at how differently I am reacting to different chapters.
The chapter titled, “Throwing Candy”, I read this morning tucked away in a little side street cafe with a cup of coffee. It transported me.
Shauna describes how one of the playful traditions of a retreat she went on was throwing candy into the river where people were kayaking. She describes her reaction:
As I watched from the deck of the lodge, I put my head down on the wide railing, and I began to sob.
Because I used to throw candy, right in the middle of it all. I used to throw candy no matter what. I used to be warm and whimsical. I used to believe in the power of silliness and memory-making and laughter.
And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as nothing else was going on – as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at approved and sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done and things were safe and lunches were made.
And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy.
And then, the worst thing: I became the kind of person who made fun of candy-throwers…please, who has the time?! What is this, kindergarten? I’ve got a list, people, and a flight to catch.
What a loss – for me, for my family, for our community, for all the joy and laughter and silliness we missed out on because I was busy being busy.
…I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realise that the best thing about me was that I was organised. That I executed well, that I ran a tight ship, that I never missed a detail. I want to look back and remember all the times I threw candy, even when it didn’t make sense. Especially when it didn’t make sense.
…And that’s why I’m throwing candy every chance I get.
Me too. That’s why I’m throwing those Freddos and Allens Jelly Beans with all the guisto I can muster. Bring on the Scratch ‘N Sniff stickers in my Year 12 Musicianship lessons, because they bloody well remembered to raise the 7th in a harmonic minor harmonisation! And believe me, the excitement that comes with those stickers is on par with finding a clean fork in the Centre for Senior Learning kitchen. Because in my job, students may be developing adults requiring all manner of respect, boundaries, and healthy challenges, but they are also human beings. They should never have the opportunity to stop being playful, and I need to model that optimism, that joy, that freedom, and that sense of forward thinking. At best, it is pure joy. At its most honest, it is the ability to adapt and fit to a changing world in a healthy way. Those little pockets of silliness and joy keep us human, keep us open to life and learning, keep us vulnerable to both grief and joy, and are absolutely essential.