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I wasn’t going to head out today. I haven’t been sleeping properly in the heat, I am tired + feeling very introverted, and I thought I’d just have a very low-key day before NYE celebrations, which are boardgames, pizza, and wine until we all fall asleep, long before midnight.
But I got up and went for a run and picked up some extra groceries. Ran into a friend who needed to connect and it was a warm, playful, and tender conversation. I could see how much she appreciated the time and connection in her face and eyes. And the connection lifted me up and made me less tired and more open.
I thought I’d stop into my local coffee shop, where there is a lovely guy who brings me the paper and always remembers my coffee order and I, in turn, make him smile and cause his heart to flip just a little. Isn’t it extraordinary that when you feel so tender and tired, that you might still light up someone else’s world? I think that of so many people who are special to me, yet I never apply that thinking to myself. I never consider the effect I might have on others when I am tired…and it’s more than I realise.
Then over to see my Grandmamma, who is 98 years young. Walked in to hear yelling and swearing at the nurses for making her wait an hour for her assisted shower, and the nurses laughing and nudging me that she is the most feisty, spirited, entertaining and determinedly uplifting resident they have. She knows them all by name, and has given them nicknames. In the 3 months that she has been there, she rules the roost and can abuse them all soundly, as well as remembering details of their husbands, wives, children, and families. Her marbles are all there. She is unbelievable.
Home, and I realise how differently my day could have gone. Home, and ready to write, be creative, and interact with the world. Ready to engage with the day, and all the people I love.
My god-daughters will arrive soon with all the additional supplies to make dumplings and peanut-butter cookies that I don’t already have in my pantry + fridge. I’ve received a text that they are so excited to see me and cannot wait for Twister + Monopoly tonight.
My cousins just sent me a picture pavlova that will make it over, as well as my favourite Bird in Hand bubbles.
How absolutely amazing that we underestimate our place in the world, and how very vital we are.
Happy New Year to you all, much love, and take your place in the world. Even at your most tired and quiet, you are so very important. Your light may be small and tender some days, and dazzlingly bright others. That’s absolutely okay, you don’t have to be “on” all the time. But don’t wait for the perfect conditions to interact with the world. Just step forward, at your most authentic, in whatever form that you are in, love and care for your tender vulnerabilities, and allow yourself to be fully seen, appreciated, and loved.
See you in 2019.
I love what I do, and annoyingly so. And while full-time high school classroom music teaching is bad-assery at its finest, it is also all-consuming. Too easily, music teachers can get onto the endless treadmill of ideas, classroom preparation, paperwork, or even the very positive aspects such as dreaming up large-scale, creative, artistic ventures which completely swallow them up, mind, body, and soul.
Of all the breeds of teachers, performing arts teachers unequivocally SUCK THE MOST at having any sort of balance in their lives. A performing arts teacher who has a healthy work-life balance absolutely all the time is not a true-blooded performing arts teacher, or is delusional.
So now, in this pocket of calm and rest while I have the attention span and energy, I am taking a closer look at the undercurrents of new ideas and change bubbling away below the surface. I know that right now, I am totally in the right place of life and work, happy to invest of my ideas and skills, building a foundation of music education in my school.
But I don’t want to wake up at 50 having merrily gone along with this life without consciously choosing it for myself. I’d like to know that if I hit 50 and I’m still in full-time teaching, it’s because I chose it for myself in a wholehearted and considered manner. The unusual caveat for me is that I genuinely love what I am doing. It is gruelling, soul-immersing, all-consuming, unforgiving work, where you experience such extraordinary positives, but also feel like you’ve sold your spleen in a jar. But I don’t want to blithely arrive at 50, 60, or retirement age by accident, even if I am happy as Larry.
So, thinking ahead…
Love what I do, but look up. It’s okay that I’m completely, sickeningly in love with music teaching right now, but it’s not okay that I allow it to consume me. When I prioritise one extra lesson plan or choral commission over my friends or family, even if the latter can be considerably more work (yes, I said it!), I am being swallowed up. I need to remember I am so many different facets and attributes as a person, and it would be heartbreaking to arrive at the end of my life and all that people could say was that I was good teacher, even if I was. I want to be so much more than that. Even if it frustrates the crap out of my sometimes, and I can’t Sibelius-it down, or put it in tidy little learning plan or Excel spreadsheet. I need a whole other life outside of my work. Refreshingly, life seems to assert itself and remind me of this in no uncertain terms.
Let the edges blur. Over the last year, I have been making a conscious effort to consider things which I think are on the edge of my expertise. These can be leading workshops which are outside of my main areas of choral + composition, going on excursions which having nothing to do with performing arts, saying yes to my god-girlies when they ask me to do something which isn’t my usual “thing”, and saying yes to interesting + engaging events, social opportunities, family gatherings, outings, and adventures. In getting out of my comfort zone and allowing the edges to blur on what I think is an appropriate way for me to use my time, especially when there is very little of it during a school term, I am testing out new personas and ideals which might lead me to new understandings and experiences. In allowing the edges to blur, I am exercising the ability to engage with something which I’m not fully confident in, learn to adapt, and tap into my curiosity in a safe and playful way. Most importantly, I am taking down the walls of my little pigeonhole where I have comfortably placed myself, and where it is so easy to live from on a day-to-day basis. It takes so much more energy to engage with new things, but I owe it to myself not to cover myself with defining labels. I get so indignant when others pigeonhole me…and yet, what am I doing on a daily basis to stretch their understanding of who I am, personally and professionally? It’s my responsibility too.
Wonder and question. There is such an immediacy and excitement to asking questions in a field where you know very little. Whether it’s cooking or car-maintenance, large-scale or seemingly trivial, engaging with others and their passions and strengths is an untold joy, rich with personal learning. The thing is, sometimes I am so consumed by my own deadlines and activities that I forget to engage. I’d like to remind myself that no-one, not even the most self-sufficient person, can fully engage and inspire themselves. As a human, our minds and hearts are made for connection, laughter, curiosity, learning, and love. So let me take the extra few minutes to engage with something or someone that I know very little about, and might spark a new course of thinking.
Stomach-flips and uncertainty. Yes, my teaching life is comfortable. Exhausting, interesting, but totally comfortable. Yet I look back to all the times I have grown significantly in confidence, leadership, or grit, or produced a work of significant creative light or merit, and it has ALWAYS been through adversity and struggle. It’s because when we’re comfortable, we do the same thing, because it works. When we are in struggle and facing uncertainty, we know that we need to adapt and grow to fit the changing requirements. Does it feel good? Hell no! It sucks. NOBODY ever looked at a period of personal, financial, creative, or professional struggle and said at the time, “Oh, GOODY! A struggle! AWESOME!” But whenever I look at the significant growth milestones, they are always centred around those times where I have been forced to create new understandings. So why on earth would I wait for adversity to learn something so vital? Why not look for opportunities to take those stomach-flipping leaps of faith while I am healthy and settled?
Catch the keystones. In being happily ensconced in my work, I have very little motivation to question the path I’m on. But I’d like to ask myself to notice the moments when I am doing something new and I find myself totally in the zone, totally “in flow”, the doing something which is the perfect balance of challenging, interesting, engaging, and allowing me to create gritty forward momentum. And then catch that keystone and don’t let go. Make the unexpected connections, say yes to the slightly left-of-the-middle ideas, consider things I wouldn’t normally consider, engage in the interesting conversations, and keep asking myself questions. What else could I possibly imagine myself doing, or want the responsibility of doing, and when? Once I catch these ideas, then it’s much easier to create a timeline to build up momentum for when I would like to make a change.
Side hustle. Mine is so accidental, it’s laughable, but my side hustle has always been writing and composing. I am the definition of a reluctant composer. I write because I love writing, and people like what I write so they keep asking me for more. Have I EVER put the right amount of weight, attention and time on this side-gig? My God, no. Embarrassingly so. And yet, choral directors and choirs from all around the world hunt me down and ask me for my music. For this, I have to do a shout-out to all the incredible people I have worked with in Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Voices, Birralee Voices, and Young Adelaide Voices for fuelling the fire and sharing my music, and my work, so warmly and openly. To each of these extraordinary people, I am indebted. But I take care of my composing as well as I take care of a cactus. And I’ve killed a cactus before…! So let me take this honour of being able to compose and write, and my absolute love of choral composition for children’s and youth choirs, and hold it with greater love and responsibility. Look into taking care of it as I would an extra part of myself, a thread and possible next pathway in my life, rather than just a hobby. While I love the freedom of writing and composing purely as a creative outlet, it’s a conversation with myself I’d like to engage in more, and in a more supported and responsible way. Choral directors + choristers have entrusted me with their ideals, let me practise my voice in composing more regularly.
So there it is. Tiny signposts, significant value. Let me begin imagining a future with purpose and consideration, whilst fully engaging with all that I have right now.
Earlier this year, I wrote post about “being in the frontline”. What I mean here is when you all of a sudden find yourself being The Original and On The Forefront, without even meaning to be.
I’m thinking about it now as I’m reading Michelle Obama’s extraordinary biography, “Becoming”. Apart from being absolutely inspired and deeply affected by her grace and courage in meeting challenges and situations she ultimately never asked for, I am so incredibly moved by her simultaneous fear + courage in showing up in the frontline with her husband Barack, when there was no other example around them.
Yes, there have been other Presidents of the United States and First Ladies, but none who have been so committed to practising their values in such a present, authentic, and genuine manner. There has been no example before them of a black American family in such a high position of leadership, nor young daughters who were going through their formative teenage years so well-protected, yet so warmly loved + free.
They had no example or blueprint to follow; they simply had their values + moral compass to hold fast to. They had good educations, hard-won, and a work ethic that would put most of us to shame. They were intelligent, loyal, optimistic, yet courageously gritty. And they had the power of not taking anything for granted, including family. And when you are the first of anything, there is always going to be fear, opposition, and prejudice against whatever decisions you make, and whatever path you are laying down. Because it feels new and different. You are riding that storm along with every other person around you who is looking in on your work, and there is no means to check against the societal measuring stick if you’re doing okay, because there IS no previous example.
The more I read of Michelle’s words, the more I fall down the rabbit hole of wanting to discover more. And the more I read and watch of both herself and her family, Barack, Sasha, and Malia, the greater and deeper my admiration and respect for her, and Barack, and what they have achieved. That they remain good people is the most amazing to me. I cannot imagine what it would have cost them emotionally, and what they have navigated together, unified.
She took on that role like a BOSS. With no example, she MADE every example…from the authenticity and warmth of her words, to the veggie garden on the grounds of the White House. From her dress, the way she connected with others, her parenting, and her initiatives, she pioneered a pathway for others to follow which seemed so innate and natural, but was anything but while she was in the driving seat. She made choices knowing that in some way, they mattered. And that weight is what truly GAVE them weight to the world.
I am reminded by this extraordinary woman and her family that when I find myself on the edge of something new, be it personally, creatively, or otherwise, that looking sideways for the measuring stick or a predecessor is not always an option. And that being on the frontline, being the first, you need to be prepared to face the wind sheer of challenge and opposition, and it is not easy. But if you keep walking, clear on your moral compass, with courage, persistence, grace, and clarity above all else, you will gather momentum. You will create waves.
Because the human race can’t help but respond to something of integrity, value, and excellence.
Have courage when you find yourself in that frontline. Because it might be an honour bestowed upon you to lead it.
p.s. Can we just talk about those PHENOMENAL Balenciaga thigh-high gold sparkly boots for just a god-damn second?! DAYUM!
When I think about the teacher I am, where I’ve come from, and who I will continue to become, I cannot help but marvel at how different I am. I am not the same person or teacher that I was even a year ago; I am more. There is greater depth and understanding, gradients of colour, shades of understanding, more weight, more presence, more joy, more freedom.
Yet how often do I look at my own mentors and teachers and think of them as being exactly the same, somehow frozen in time in their ideas and thoughts? Ridiculously shocked that they look older, and are less energetic than they used to be?
Let us be gentle and joyful with each other, and allow ourselves the grace to change. Let us put into words the gentle shift of time, so that those around us can see that we are becoming, constantly.
I love who I am, and who I am becoming. I am grateful I get a new class of students each year to share this with, and wonder with slight disconcertment at my first set of students 16 years ago, and how I would have taught them now.
Let us realise how incredibly beautiful and powerful we are as agents of change, as we are moving and changing entities ourselves. Isn’t it extraordinary that every year, I will teach with a slightly different viewpoint, depth of passion, and colour?
And let me have the grace to allow myself to change, that I do not have to replicate the expectation over and over. That all I need to do is be. Essentially and authentically.
A tremendous + significant step in care for my Grandmamma; after several years of home care, she has agreed to make the move to assisted care. The last 5 years have been a measure of courage and creativity for my whole family, Mum, Dad, rellies far + wide, Robs, Em, and myself, where we have leaned on each other to figure out each challenge.
I had just over 2 weeks looking after my Grandmamma in January this year to allow Mum + Dad to travel and have a break. And whilst it was a blessed two weeks where every good luck angel was looking over me and absolutely everything went right, I felt like I was walking a tightrope every day and mentally on-call for every one of those 17 days.
And that’s what my Mum + Dad have been doing for close to 5 years.
This “yes” has been the work of struggle, compassion, grace, and love. My Grandmamma will be the first in our entire family to enter into assisted care, and she HAD to be the one to say “yes”. In doing so, she has totally blazed a trail for future generations, but will also be grieving the cultural aspect and love of family members looking after her for her final years.
For me, I’m crying tears of compassion for her “yes”, but also tears of joy for my Mum and Dad. I cannot even BEGIN to describe how light I feel, and the incredible flood of possibilities that keep popping up in my mind. That Mum and Dad can now grab a coffee anytime they want. They can go walking together over the weekend. They can wake up whenever they want. They’ll still wake up at the crack of dawn and have done 3 loads of washing before 6:30am, but whatever, the point is, they still CAN. I can watch my beautiful Mum actually – POSSIBLY – learn to spend some time on herself, and my skinny, quiet, generous-hearted Dad take a cup of tea and read without being interrupted, or wondering challenge he’ll have to solve next. I can spend time with my parents without them being mentally elsewhere from fatigue + worry.
They have booked their first impulsive interstate trip to Melbourne in…forever.
They’ll be able to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Canada.
I am so HAPPY and LIGHT right now.
The other total crack-up is that Calvary have NO-EFFING-IDEA what they have signed up for with my tough + feisty Grandmamma. Oh, she will have them ON THEIR FEET. She will demand chopsticks and tell them off for under-seasoning the food. She can still give me a sound yelling-at when I am not coming up to scratch and being “too Western for my own good, with my teaching job, and car, and…!”
She yells good. I want to grow up to be like her.
I love this.
There are so many examples of beauty and courage around me, every day, every moment. People whose stars burn bright for a moment, or a lifetime. Some stars who dazzle from their very brilliance; others just a glow which resonates softly and simply. These are the people who affect and change the momentum around them, even if they don’t mean to. Usually when they don’t mean to.
When I am stuck, I look to people around me who have faced far bigger challenges, bigger life up-heavals, and take notice. Their courage in their moments of humanity inspire me to keep walking. As Elizabeth Gilbert was quoted, “Don’t hurry, but don’t stop”, and I have been saying that regularly, even through the peacefulness of my holidays. Don’t hurry, don’t stop. Take that extra step, quietly, mindfully.
The people I look to didn’t ask to be different or extraordinary, they simply MET the world with their version of extraordinary when called to do so. People like Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger, Amy Purdy, and Maya Angelou.
The way that Barack + Michelle Obama held their term with grace and class. Brené Brown’s work, and her own struggle with vulnerability, Sheryl Sandberg’s grief and strength of inspiration, Nelson Mandela, and J.K Rowling. So many people are walking their path, and the light that comes off them warms and inspires me.
Last night, I happened to stumble upon the movie, “Kiss and Cry”, telling their biographical story of Carley Allison, the young Canadian skater who passed away from a rare form of throat cancer while always determined to be present, alive to the world around her, and human.
So step up. How will we affect change? What will I do? I have everything I need to contribute to the world…how will I choose to use my talents, my voice, my ideas, my gifts? How will I love and connect?
That longing and agency to LIVE a good life; when you step into that thought FULLY, like these amazing people have, what an extraordinary gift that is.
You know that Autumn rain that is temperate, but not cold? That is not harsh, but is undeniably cool and soothing? One that makes the windows misty and grey, and the insides of houses and cafes seem warmer without even trying?
That is what I long for right now, and that is what is predicted for us in Adelaide this week. Beautiful Autumn rain.
The sort of rain that makes you long for pumpkin soup and woollen socks, to be wrapped up in cuddly large-knit throws, with hands cupped around a hot chocolate. Molten and dribbling cheese toasties. Baking.
On the couch in a nest of pillows, reading, or dreaming, or writing, or composing, or conversing, letting time draw longer and longer, deliciously, into the afternoon.
It’s the time of shedding leaves and shedding fears, embracing change. It’s a time of preparing for deep rest and reflection. A time to lay down foundations, slowly and methodically. There will be no green and promise right now, only gentle goodbyes.It’s the time where stocks and stews are made to nourish the soul, and the heart, where life still has a steady optimism and heartbeat before the real metamorphosis of winter begins. It’s transient, but not unbearable. It’s shifting, it’s changing, and it’s beautiful.
I love this rain, still welcoming to walk outside in, fresh and new, but pulling enough that you’ll want to be inside, dreaming. And if it’s constant, in steady slow blunt tears, there’s such a cleansing beauty to it.
It inspires and washes away, without harshness, like a person lit up internally by their work, glowing. It’s the focus that goes into creating. It’s simple and nourishing. It’s inspiring.
I love the safety and serenity of routine. It’s not the predictability I crave, but the idea that in this passage, I can change one variable and watch an infinite number of little nuances change afterward. How I choose to start my choral rehearsals even though there is a set routine; how I create a change in momentum when there is a framework.
The thing is, change shakes us up in the best way possible. Some of it can be self-inflicted, and some of it is as out-of-the-blue and unpredictable as they come. Either way, you need to adapt. Sit with the newness of it all, figure it out, ask for help, wonder, worry, celebrate, and play with the puzzle pieces. Without change, there is no new life. No new discoveries.
The tiniest change, such as smile and an extra word of conversation can change me, or positively affect my health, or change my attitude. The bigger changes, such as a loss, a death, a sadness, the passing of life and time, change of job, or living situation, the birth of a child, a new friendship…all of these add richness and complexity to the safety. The safety is charming and unashamedly safe. But change, with all its haphazardness, and sometime pure stealth and quietness, can take me by the sleeves of my well-worn jumper and pull me forward into living in the most unexpected, creative, and innovative ways.
Today, I’m looking back on all the little changes. And I am so happy for the monumental ways they have shaped my life.
This is an article I wrote for the Pulteney Weekly Review, the first article I have written for the school.
“From The New Music Teacher…”
And silently in my head; And I hope you know what you guys have signed up for!
From The New Music Teacher: The Article [Text]
You know the opening credits of Mr Bean, where he lands in a new environment and then runs around trying to find his bearings, arms flailing, look of wide-eyed terror? That’s how I felt, and probably looked, in my first few weeks at Pulteney. Starting in Week 8 of Term 1 is a privilege that I would not wish on anyone, yet I could not have been more supported, welcomed, and whole-heartedly embraced by a community. With no time for opening credits or staff inductions, it was straight to business with music classes and ensembles from Year 6 to 12, a Year 11 pastoral care group, and all the concerts and events that came with these groups.
With each day came new discoveries, new faces, new understandings…and many, many failures in the name of learning. For example, in my second official week of teaching, I released my Year 8 Music class 20 minutes early, and then had to chase them through the school and finish the lesson in the middle of the quadrangle…as a parent tour group calmly walked passed…”Yes, I’m the new, OTHER, Music teacher…”
Now, in the middle of Term 3, on a pontoon after an epic few weeks of concerts and competitions, I take time to express my thanks and gratitude to the Pulteney community for welcoming me and supporting me through this year. The community spirit at Pulteney is so strong and secure that the moment I walked into my teaching role, I noticed it immediately…in the parent support groups, in the school events, and in the way other staff and students relate to one another. It’s a healthy and affirming environment to be.
I thank Kym Wilson and Ali O’Connell for their unwavering support of me, and constantly getting me up to speed; and the team of instrumental teachers for their limitless work and care that they pour into the music students, which allows them to flourish in the ensembles I direct. I thank the Pulteney staff for their whole-hearted support of me, with some even making the effort to visit me in the Music Centre to welcome me in those first few frantic weeks. I thank the leadership teams across the whole school, in Prep, Middle and Senior Schools, as I have the very unique responsibility of teaching across almost the entire cohort of students. With their compassion and deep understanding of their students, I have been able to build an understanding of my classes to be able to teach effectively, as I developed my own rapport with my classes.
Most of all, I thank the students I teach. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at how you have handled an unusual and sudden change of teacher. Here, I particularly acknowledge my Year 11 and 12 students, who have embraced me as a teacher and trusted me enough to lean into my teaching in their very important senior years of study, without question, just a genuine desire for excellence in learning.
The joy I have experienced working with you each day, getting to know your personalities, and making new musical discoveries has been truly wonderful for me. There is a genuine curiosity and desire to learn in our students, and I am privileged to be able to work with classes who are willing to take a risk, be innovative, and embrace new challenges.
I look forward to continuing to help you grow, musically, academically, and personally, in whatever way I am able.
With spots, stripes, and ridiculous amounts of colour!
Ms Annie Kwok