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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.
I was thinking about all the moments that were ever worthwhile between myself and my beautiful Year 12 Tutor Group this year. They are an amazing crew, so many different personalities, talents, characters, and insights. So many different backgrounds and understandings.
The thing about the Year 12s, the most senior of our students, is that they are the easiest and hardest to support and really know. I naively thought this year would be easy; to have the rapport built over the last two years to draw from. And yes, in many ways it is, as I’ve built a strong connection + have a history and storyline with my students.
But in so many ways, it’s harder. They are focused, stressed, and consumed by their thoughts, their lives, and their studies. They have goals and aspirations, and sometimes no time for simple, playful conversation. They are pulling away into the beautiful young adults they are becoming; strong, courageous, young, scrappy, imperfect, and breathtakingly authentic.
And it turns out that I have a fear-factor in me as well. I selfishly need to see some return on my endeavours to support, connect, and open a conversation. Oh, these are good students, they are polite and open in conversation. They will always talk to and laugh with me, accept my help and guidance, and respond to what I ask for.
But that’s not connection. That’s not really knowing them.
So I have been daring my arse off. Every time there has been a “sliding door” moment; a chance to do something a little more silly and playful, creative, imaginative, or to open ups a conversation that might be a little too tender or joyful, I say yes. I do it. I make sure I cheer at every achievement. I celebrate every birthday. I grieve with them. I bring in lollies, brownies, and tissues and spoil them a little bit. I show my stress, my love for them, my gratitude, my frustration, my sense of fun. I unfurl myself and engage, so that they might as well.
And it’s in saying yes to every silly, playful, scary moment and inviting that awkward few seconds of “What if?”, that I have found the most authentic connection between me and my beautiful class of Year 12s, young adults on the brink of taking flight.
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.
When you are depleted, I think you need to work even harder, harder than you ever have, to keep the pulse of your heart alive. It’s so contradictory, but so truthful and essential. I cannot believe how many times I fight this and then arrive at the same realisation. There’s the recipe for a good life, ladies and gentlemen; to do this over and over against rhyme and reason, just for the sake of you.
Hang tight, my darling girl, because awful, unfair, unrealistic things will happen and you need to figure out a way to get out from underneath them. Look around! There are examples of grace and courage happening every day, from every person who ever lived authentically. Nobody lives a charmed life if they are living fully.
To really LIVE; it means making peace and creating reason from the tumultuous and unreasonable. When you have nothing, give. I know it sounds incredible, but that is what will awaken humanity and connection. Give a smile, a word, a cry, an explanation, a hug, something. Please, my darling girl, don’t close yourself off because it’s a little safer, the cost is too great. By all means, go in there and say your piece. Fly your freak flag. Show your passion and emotion. Fight hard and argue even harder. Rock that boat and make waves. But come back in, connect, love more, MORE than you thought possible. Not in sacrifice, but holding yourself sacred and coming back with tender vulnerability, open to hearing what the world has to say.
And my girl, please, pry open every door or window you close yourself or that gets closed on you. Move every stone in your pathway. Like a swimmer breaking through the surface of the water, gasping with pure will to live, you must fight to keep your heart open as if it were breathing.
Why? For YOU, my darling girl.
For you and those that matter to you. If it happens to line up with those who hurt you, or those you disagree with, then…WHATEVER.
You’re tracking this scene. You’re writing this script. The only goal is to keep that pulse of life, love, hope and connection flowing through your heart, and that cannot be done when you’re wondering where your ego is.
You breathe in that good shit for YOU and ONLY YOU.
You have no idea how your words will hit, and the momentum they hold.
Dare to plant that seed, however challenging the initial connection. Trust that the words will be heard, even if in delayed reaction.
I gave out my “Good Luck To My Year 12 Kiddies” survival packs to each of the Year 12s either in my Tutor Group, Year 12 Music class, or in a lead role for this year’s production of “Wicked” this year.
Each was labelled with a green Post-It note with their name + a simple individualised “Good Luck” message; nothing fancy because I’ve been so sick, and certainly not fancy enough to warrant keeping. I expected those Post-Its to be read, enjoyed, and tossed out, and the goodies in the survival pack to be enjoyed well into production week.
Imagine my surprise when I watched an unexpected Sir Year 12 over the course of this week transfer that dog-eared, scrappy, falling-apart Post-It from the back of his laptop, to his diary, to his Music folder, stuck on by a piece of tape that was losing its stickiness + collecting fluff from over-use.
You just never know who are going to be the sentimental ones, and what they are going to get sentimental about. 😊
I didn’t say anything, but it really made me smile. 🥰
When I was 21, I thought I could make anyone smile. Anyone who was withdrawn, quiet, tired, stressed, angry, annoyed, having an off day, I would make it my personal mission to connect with them and see if I could break their mood, or get a smile from them. I thought it was my business to talk to anyone.
How UTTERLY AUDACIOUS and SIMPLISTIC of me.
And yet, I have been thinking about it a lot this week, and longing for that simplistic, authentic audacity.
Because I realised that I have become safe.
Imperceptibly, and ever-so-surreptitiously, I have become more reasonable, more mature, bounded by rules and frameworks, cautious, and, let’s face it, less happy to give up my energy and time for a possible metaphorical slap in the face if an interaction goes badly. While outwardly I am energised and positive, I have very gradually become safe. I’m on the conveyor belt, and I didn’t even realise it.
Why am I thinking about this?
It’s been an exhausting and challenging few weeks at school, where students are starting to get tired and edgy. Behaviour problems are starting to fully show themselves, assessments are due, encouragement and full support are required where my reservoirs are running low, and I am trying to fit more and more in. And while I get everything competently done, I thought about what total a whack-job I was in my early 20s as a teacher, where a behaviour management or teaching issues were just situations requiring a creative solution. I all but rubbed my hands in glee, ready to embark on a round of solution-mongering.
I was so damn creative, audacious, and fearless.
Why? Because I had no track record. I had absolutely nothing to lose, no history of success or failure, no existing street-cred, and I had classes to teach. And my God, I found ways to connect with those students + staff out of sheer desperation + innovation, keeping up by the day, and sometimes by the minute. And because I had zero behaviour management skills, I behaviour managed like Martina Hingis played tennis: SMART.
I am a featherweight, literally. I am just under 5-foot and about 45-50 kgs, depending upon how may Tim Tams I eat. My voice back then did not carry a metre, let alone a rehearsal room with 70 over-excited students. In my formative teaching days, I had no “older-male-student” presence whatsoever when I behaviour managed; some of those 6-foot-plus boys could have sneezed and I would’ve been annihilated. I had zero ability + knowledge in navigating bitchiness, drugs, alcohol, underhand remarks, social media bullying, in short, no street-cred whatsoever.
And I had classes to teach, and curriculum to get through, and boundaries to set.
So I built connection. I had the audacity to think that if I could make every interaction with each student + staff member as real, authentic, joyful, and positive as possible, I would at least have money in the bank.
It became a game to me; I wonder how I can make that staff member smile? How could I POSSIBLY start a conversation with a kid who has zero interests which overlap with mine? How can I deliver soul-sucking information to students about their grades, their actions, or their poor behaviour in a way that values them?
I spent hours driving home thinking through words and conversations, learning the power of changing one word, or how I chose to deliver something, what order I would say things, where I would say a kid’s name to show value + care, and how I chose to build hope and worthiness where there was such decimation in their self-esteems without taking away from poor work + behaviour.
That was then, when I was “young and scrappy”, and full of energy and front.
Now, I have things in place. I am mid-career, and I have frameworks down, confidence in my abilities, and structures and staff who will support me.
And I realised this week, whilst trudging through a challenging, emotionally draining week, that I have recently forgotten to be audacious. I have been taking the slightly safer option, the path of least resistance. I haven’t started the random conversations, I haven’t given the extra compliment to the kid who is trouble, I have allowed systems to work their systematic magic, and in truth, I have been sapped of energy. I haven’t got what it takes to be full of audacity, engaging with conversations that half the time might elicit a weird or slightly off-centre reaction. I have no time for the quirky, no energy for the playful just to be playful.
And that what I LIVED for in my beginning years.
But, my God, I should. I should, because that is the connection that is missing.
Because some of that unreasonable audacity is what will shake me out of my routine, and back into the fresh and unpredictable present that is teaching, and life.
What if I said hello the the person who perpetually was withdrawn in the morning and made it a challenge to see if I could learn something new about them? Do I need to be mesmerised + completely interested? Well, highly likely I won’t be to that extent. But I can still make a connection. I am not learning anything or connecting with anyone if I have walked past this person for half a year and know nothing about them and continue talking to the same people. How both big-headed and fearful am I that I think someone else is not worth my time, or that my time is THAT limited. There are people in much more demanding jobs and lives who find time. So can I.
What if I did those things for my students + classes which elicit the raised eyebrows, embarrassed yet half-game laughs, and shook them up a little? I’ve been comfortable, with my ensembles, with my thinking, with my support, with my teaching. I wonder what it would be like to do something which is just slightly outside of my current comfort zone, knowing that it will cost me a more courage, time, and energy?
What if I sat still enough that I could find the words to speak to the kid who is being a little shit, and continues to be a little shit in my classes because they are so broken by life? Rather than just letting the behaviour system do its thing, how could I change the script so that the consequences happen, but my WORD resonate with value and worthiness? My instinct right now? I want to kick a few of the kids I teach. That’s how much they are pissing me off. But I wonder, audaciously, how willing I am to think about this creatively. I’m not pinning myself as the next teaching Messiah, God no. I will still want to slap several kids for being completely remorseless, unaffected, Teflon-coated turds, even if my conversations and words are well-received. But let’s play this creativity game a little.
How can I do things differently when I am uncomfortable?
How can I connect with kids who don’t want to be connected with, who refuse everything, and who are going through the motions of a behaviour management plan already? What can I say or do that will actually carry momentum and resonate?
Why the hell would I want to do this?
Because my greatest joys in life have come from the accidental, audacious interactions. When I was 21, I thought I could talk to anyone and affect change. I thought that all my words carried some life and momentum, and I naively and audaciously believed that my setting out to make peoples days a little brighter served a higher purpose.
And the reflection back was threefold; when a risk paid off, I was catapulted out of my comfort zone into new connections, understandings, unexpected moments of joy, learning, and hope. I learned so much from being so naively confident and interested. I was absolutely engrossed in life.
And I would hate to look back and realise that I had become reasonable and normal, colouring within the lines like a good little girl, when I had the imagination, capacity, and ability to be creative, human, and audaciously unreasonable.