You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
Isn’t it extraordinary that when we look back to our most influential teachers and mentors, they are the same age as when they taught us? That they have somehow remained suspended in mid-air and time, exactly as they were when we were 11 years old, or high school, or university?
What force granted us the means to stamp them into a moment of time? Shouldn’t we apply the same grace as they gave us, and allow them to grow as well?
I think of my most treasured mentors, who filled me with such confidence, love, and joy for my learning, and seemed so limitless and wise. I am 10, 15, 20 years older and in the middle of my own teaching career, and I have learned + fallen, failed and grown. I’ve changed; why should I think they haven’t?
Why shouldn’t I allow them greater wisdom, tenderness, and the passing of time?
It’s so easy to think of them as timeless, and limitless, but they are people on the same continuum, growing, changing, and being affected by life. It’s the same story I preach to all my students, and yet I catch myself forgetting to apply that insight and grace to my own teachers, parents, mentors.
No-one is limitless.
And when you allow that humanity, they become more scarily fragile and vulnerable, but all the more beautiful and touchable.
And I guess that’s the lesson I am teaching to my students as well; that as bright and as energised as I am, I, too, am not limitless. I am beautifully, touchably human.
To engage with life and the world around you, you need to be up for discomfort and struggle. And after a period of intense rest and time away from interaction, that can be the last thing you want. Add to that the very introvertness of my introvert nature, and that’s recipe enough for me to lie on the rug in the middle of my floor and pretend I’m not a teacher.
Every single year, no matter what sort of holidays I have, I always have the irrational thought before going back to school: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH STUDENTS.” Right now, it’s even more basic: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH PEOPLE.”
Why am I so antsy and afraid?!
Am I afraid of the intensity of work? Because I may get hurt? That I don’t think I will survive the roller-coaster that is teaching? Interacting with the staff who give me the shits and drain the life out of me? My own unrelenting standards and expectations? Having less time?
The thing is, these all make sense. And I will survive, one thought and step at a time.
The intensity of work? Yes, it will be intense. I will be in the coalface getting blackened again. But I have done this before, and I have the fitness and ability to do it now. I have the tenacity and determination, and I have been working on my concentration. What I need to remember is how to step out of the intensity of work. To see the little moments and don’t discount them. To hug them tight, because they will sustain me.
That I may get hurt? Of course. I think there are flying shards of glass every day. You wouldn’t be living life if you didn’t step into a shit-storm every once in a while. But I have firm ground under my feet and a quiet confidence. I need to remember that I’ve survived so much, and far worse more capably than I believe. Every day is not supposed to be filled with just all things wonderful and breezy brightness, there is supposed to be some gritty consideration and thinking in there. That’s called living. And I am not perfect. I need to remember that. In living and loving well, I will skin my knees. But my goodness, my survival skills are developing nicely and so is my connection circle of people who love me.
That I won’t survive? Just one foot in front of the other. Look all around you at the people who are surviving, on far less, with more gumption. Take a leaf out of their books and look, learn, and admire. Talk yourself through the stressful moments. You’re allowed to worry and fuss. But don’t stop. Don’t hurry, but don’t stop. And hold a very big flashlight as to what you think is correct for you. Stay in your own lane. When things get crowded, get back in that lane like your life depends upon it.
And oh, the shitty shitty people? Again, we are all one big happy family, and some of those “family members” will give you the shits. Big shits. What sort of person do I want to be? I survived most of 2017 by cocooning myself from the shittiest of shitty people. I’m going to test something new out this year, to see what sort of result it will give me; I’m going to apply grace and lean into the things that scare me, or piss me off. I am going to speak truth and honesty, but with grace and compassion. And I will do it FOR ME, because that’s the sort of person I want to be. When there is a problem, I am going to quietly and courageously stand my ground. I am going to fortify myself with love from everyone around me who really love me for all that I am, strengths, achievements, and weaknesses. In other words, I am going to ruffle some feathers and see if I come out looking and smelling even more authentic.
My own relenting standards? Oooooooh, yes. Somehow, the perfectionist streak in me rears its ugly head when I am on holidays. When I am supposed to be relaxing and getting myself prepared for a new year, this horrible gremlin asserts itself, I think partly because there are no “normal happenings” around me to beat me back into humanness, and I am allowed to be perfectionistic. Relaxed, but perfectionistic. So to this, I tenderly remember that I am an imperfect and worthy human. I’ll have to yell it at myself, but I know that to be true. And telling myself I’m not perfect, putting myself into context, and putting everyone else into context, their words + failings, faults + successes, helps soothe and encourage me immeasurably. I am suddenly able to touch on forgiveness, even if I don’t yet, or can’t go there, and life moves on again. So again, engaging with life is incredibly humbling and normalising. Having time away to reflect is essential, but getting back into it, also just as essential.
Having less time? I think that’s less disposable, aimless time. I need to get very clear about what is important and how I would like to spend my time. One of my biggest time-sucks and numbing of behaviours is scrolling Facebook. When I am stressed out or feeling small, I need to get the hell off Facebook, get the hell back into my lane and engage with something that really sustains me…creatively, musically, personally, humanly. And all of that takes courage. Because Facebook is like the massive scoop of salted caramel ice-cream. It goes down easy. What I’m asking for is something like hot chicken soup, which takes some time to see the healing benefits and is going to take some discipline, but I have to believe + know that it will nourish me more.
I cannot live life being afraid. The more afraid I am, the MORE I need to practise engaging with the world, listening, being mindful, being present. This whole “warrior + happiness training” thing that I have inadvertently engaged in these holidays because I opened up the Pandora’s Box Of Unprocessed Thoughts and Emotions is not to make me feel good right now. It’s to build up a bank so that I have happiness and courage in credit for when the shit hits the fan. For when I am struggling. That is when I look back and realise the catalogue of events I have survived with grace, the endurance and problem-solving skills that I have, and that I can lean HARD on them. The immeasurable joy in my life, and the joy that emanates from me.
My wish for all of you.
Above all else, I will take care of my heart.
That it beats fully and wholly, with pulse and life.
The thing is, there will always be struggle. But you can rise above that. You can travel through. It will be hard, but you will survive.
But if a heart closes over, if words lose meaning, if emotions are stifled, if life is turned down and muted in colour; then there is no point.
Because there will always be adversity to get through. And it will hurt. But I would much rather hurt at full volume, than to save myself the struggle and feel lukewarm joy. I want every ounce of light and fire of being alive, so very essential, real and complete.
And you know what else?
I look at all the strong and courageous people I admire, all those who work in tandem with their hearts and their values, and all the while, do you know the thing I MOST want to say to them?
You do not have to do this alone.
And incredibly, it’s the thing that I know to be true for myself, and I do for myself, but I do not instinctively turn to as a first point, a first port of call. Why not?
To the beautiful and courageous leaders, the “extraordinary ordinary” people I know, your authenticity and character are unmistakeable. I know that you will walk back into whatever story you are travelling, and keep doing your work. But I reach out so readily to help you feel joy and give light + compassion, support and love, so that you might have the tools to travel and face what you need to. I cannot live your life for you, only you can do that. But I can walk beside you, holding a beacon of light.
So why should I be any different?
Let me ask for help much more freely and readily. Let me tell the story of myself with all my heart. Let me not back away from the details that I cannot articulate, but try harder to find the nuances, the words, and where my true heart lies. Let me check my compass every day.
Let me go against the tide, over and over, for the truth, the very resonance of who I am.
And let me practise this every day, that my heart will become supple with the ability to yearn and reach for love and support in times of adversity.
Because my life, my spirit, and my well-being depend upon it.
Remember this please; above all, keep my heart so brilliantly and wholly alive.
So I am in project “Re-Read All The Great Reads” (as well as reading All The New Reads in parallel, yes this is what happens when I have a brain again!) and this is first cab off the rank, first e-book off the e-shelf, the indomitable and awesome work of Brené Brown: “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”.
And her work reminds me of everything I want to be as a teacher and person, and all the values + ideas I need to simply MARINATE in before I walk into next year. You know, good moral flavouring.
I’m overwhelmed today, so unexpectedly.
Overwhelmed by the love + support around me, which I say thank you for, over and over. It affects me deeply, lifts me up, and means so much. It gives me the courage to be all that I can be, without apology or sacrifice.
Today, and everything about it, reminded me in full force that words count, actions matter, character is seen, and love is unmistakable. That you can NEVER UNDERESTIMATE what you might be contributing to the world, andhow everything that you are changes and affects the people around you, always more than you realise.
We celebrated the beautiful Ruth Howley today; her work and extraordinary contribution to Pulteney, her generosity of spirit, her compassion towards others, and her diligence in leadership + teaching.
I’ve known her for less than 2 years. This was a friendship + working partnership that totally caught me by surprise by how dear it is to me, and how greatly I value it. You’re not supposed to find a kindred spirit in under 2 years, but sometimes, if you’re incredibly lucky, you just do.
So thank you for being my compass.
Some people walk into the room, and without a word, the room changes momentum, and life, joy, and connection are possible. That’s Ruth.
And that’s what I hope to be.
How does she hold it all on her delicate shoulders?
She mustn’t receive a lot of unfettered, unattached, no-strings kindness at all. She must spend her time wondering why she’s received certain comments, attentions, emails, presents, and it must corrode her soul, no matter how much integrity she holds her heart to. The challenge must be intense, and heart-breaking.
I wonder how she stays connected and open. I wonder how she walks into each day, knowing the battles she must face, but living for the minute, the moment, and the hour, still being present, even though it costs her so much some days?
It must cut so deeply, all those careless words swirling around her, like shards of glass and just as ragged and dangerous to her spirit. And she walks through this shit-storm with grace.
I do not always agree with her. But fear must cut a path that dictates some of her most challenging decisions. Imagine having to work from a place of compassion, surrounded by fear? I couldn’t do it. It would break me. How does she stay whole?
She is a mother. To see that beautiful picture of her at the formal with her son, both arms around him with an open smile, was poignant. How does he walk through each day? How he must be challenged too, with the responsibilities he faces, despite being told to just be normal. There will be fears, compassion, anger, resentments, and maturity above his years from holding this role with his Mum. And she is just a Mum. Yet she cannot be “just a Mum”, with the bad days, and the bad hair, and needing too much coffee. She has to be superhuman. All the time.
She is just a Mum, wife, daughter, woman, sister, friend, who happens to be in an excruciating and gruelling job, which does not offer much forgiveness.
I wonder where she goes when she has a bad day, who she checks in with? I wonder if she socialises with anyone at work? How hard it must be to want to connect, and yet, you are an island. Everyone else is allowed that one human ounce of integrity and humanity, and she is not. How must it feel when the people around you are angry and resentful when she is sick or away, or distant or preoccupied, rather than forgiving and compassionate. What made her so different that we lock her away in an ivory tower? I am grateful that when I am sick, I am allowed to be human. She is only human, please let her be.
She must tell her story over and over, she has to make clear her intent every day with courage because people don’t believe her immediately. How much that must cost. She cannot rely on previous work; the time is always changing around her. How do you even begin to navigate this?
That smile is all the more heartbreaking, because she has to guard herself all the time.
I wish her joy and connection, and a pathway to her heart.
I remind myself that I need to walk that path regularly for myself. I am so grateful that I know my heart.
As a teacher, you go into each day trying to do all you can to lift those students up. But every now and then, you have a day where you wonder if you’ve done enough. If you’ve made the right call, if you’ve hit the balance between perception, compassion, and hard-arse that affects them.
I’m not talking about beating the life out of them, as effective as that might be for immediate results. I’m talking about deeply affecting young people and modelling the behaviours I live my life by.
The compass I followed today was that you cannot shame someone into changing their actions and behaviours. Shame is an unbelievably effective way of getting the results you want, as a teacher. But is it a lifelong and willingly learned lesson? No. I really don’t think so.
Either way, that’s where my compass led me today.
I hope with all my heart that I’ve made the right call.
After some deliberation, I’ve decided to leave this original post on my timeline as a celebration of an extraordinary and very much loved person, my wonderful piano teacher, Clemens Leske Snr.
When two well-loved friends and colleagues rang me out of the blue to tell me that he had passed because they knew how much he meant to me, I was honestly just overwhelmed with memories and thoughts, and much love.
We’ve since found out that it was ANOTHER Clemens Leske who sadly passed this week, who was ALSO living in Sydney having hailed from Adelaide. “Our” Clemens Leske Snr is very much still with us, as his students are fondly saying at present!
So what I wrote today, and what I mean with full heart, and that I was so glad to be able to reflect upon today:
“A teacher of such gentle compassion and musical excellence who had a profound effect upon me, and the teacher and person I would become. A mentor I loved with all my heart, trusted, and respected, because I knew that my skills and self were safe under his care, and that he would ask the absolute best from me without damaging my love of music + learning. When I saw him at the Gala Concert at Elder Hall in 2015, I was overwhelmed but unsurprised at the sheer number of friends, past students, and colleagues who came to celebrate himself and his wife, Beryl Kimber. So utterly different! She was bursting with exuberance, colour, and WORDS!, and he the very quiet and reserved one. But such a special love between them.
I had him as a Single Studies scholarship student during high school between the ages of 15 to 17; the ages where you are the MOST annoyingly smart-arse, impressionable, fragile, and skeptical. He quietly and simply loved + taught me, exactly as I needed, and I flourished musically and as a person. I fell in love with sounds, performance, rigour, and excellence. I practised as easily and as naturally as if I were just breathing. I loved playing completely and won the Don Maynard Music Prize for Year 12 Music under his tutelage.
To sit in the same room as him was to share space with someone who taught without pride or ego, just pure gentleness, fierce and unrelenting excellence, and overwhelming love. It is a light that I carry with me daily when I teach. My heart overflows today.”
…and still does, with joy.
Have you ever felt vaguely off and sidelined? That somehow, just by walking through your day and trying to do the right things, there are people reacting to you in a slightly “off” manner? That they are not seeing you for who you are, that there is the vaguest whisper of misunderstanding, and you want to explain yourself, but you don’t know how to?
That’s how I feel right now. I know that I’ve walked through today with love, compassion and integrity. But I just feel uncomfortably not right. Like I’m being seen through a filter that I didn’t ask for. Actually, that’s exactly it. I’m being seen through a filter of preconceptions – or misconceptions – that I haven’t asked for, that just slightly put my integrity off kilter. It’s not enough for me to want to explain myself, but it is enough for me to feel a little tired. I know that I have to work a little harder for my true character to shine through, to correct the misconceptions, to step in, to let my actions speak clearly and firmly, to restate my boundaries. All the things that keep you a little on edge.
I wish so much that I didn’t have to.
So I took my slightly-off-key self home tonight and wondered what I would like to do.
First, I’m proud of how I walked through today. I just kept re-drawing the boundaries, over and over, until misconceptions were softened and I was seen. By the end of 3 hours of rehearsal, I could feel the change. I knew I had done the right thing. But the opening credits of today were hard. Walls were up, eyes downcast, and I was uncomfortable without asking to be. I just kept working with the task at hand, all pride and ego aside, quietly holding tight to my compass through the dark.
Should I explain myself? Should I jump right in and bulldoze my way into understanding? Actually, this is my instinct. ME, ME, ME, listen to ME right now, because WHAT YOU’RE THINKING IS WRONG! But I need practise at leaning into discomfort. So I figure this:
My character is as true as they come. If there is a hard line there, it’s meant to be there. The boundaries are hard-won, and my compassion is alive always. What I ask for myself is that I work SO hard to look after MY HEART ONLY. I will NOT look over at the lowered eyes, the misunderstandings, or the slights. I will ONLY walk my steps, live my life, and follow my compass. I will be swayed, oh yes! I’m utterly human! But I will bend in the wind, and then pull myself back on course. I will walk on my path, in my own lane, doing all the things that are what I would choose to do in integrity, compassion, and love. I will match my character over and over.
Because my life and how I live is proof enough of who I am. My LIFE is my EXAMPLE and MESSAGE, and even if that means walking through ache and discomfort for a while, I cannot help but been COMPLETELY SEEN if I do things that I know to be right. I cannot be what I am not, I cannot undo hurts and misunderstandings, I cannot soften hard lines that should be there because they are decisions I have made. But I have a HEART THAT WORKS, and I know that I am constantly learning to be the best version of me that I can. Therefore, let me fill myself up so that I am FULL TO OVERFLOWING, so that there is NO MISTAKE of my intent, my character, and my integrity.
Let the world, and all the doubters, see me for all that I am simply through me living my life without apology or sacrifice.