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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.
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 am quick to write off creative pursuits at the end of a long day of teaching.
Despite thinking of myself as a person who is completely happy and comfortable with being creative, being free and playful in the creative realm when I am truly exhausted seems overwhelming. It seems too draining and frivolous when all I want to do is rest and switch off.
Yet now I realise, while I am on holidays and engaging with all things creative, how utterly essential being creative and playful is, especially at the end of long and challenging day.
Just as the opposite of play is not seriousness but depression; the opposite of not being creative is not being still and restful, it is numbing.
Yes, that’s right. Numbing.
At the end of a stressful day, or an argument, or a lesson gone pear-shaped, or on the brink of a challenging conversation, we need to be more playful, more daring and more creative. I couldn’t believe it, but I see it with clarity now. Every time I sit down in front of Netflix, or YouTube, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I am not “unwinding” like I think I am; I am numbing. I am zoning-out because I have decided that I am too tired to engage with whatever experiences I have had in the day.
But really, I am avoiding.
How? And what if I am truly tired?
Physical tiredness is inconsequential; you can get to bed earlier, exercise and eat well, and make sure that your body is at its optimum to heal and regain its energy stores.
But emotional tiredness? That requires creativity. It requires a vehicle for expression, and a pathway out into the world where it can be seen and demystified.
It requires voice and play in the quiet and safety of your own mind, away from the noise of the classroom. Away from the demands of leadership, of the assault of angular personalities, grief, sadness, and unresolved issues. It is the voice that soothes the abrasive, stark moments of the day.
The balm that is creativity allows you to do the following:
Being creative is your chance to play in the playground of your own self, heart, and mind. What a crucial part of getting to know yourself! Combine with stillness and silence, and you can truly hear your thoughts, that you may become emotionally strong and perceptive.
So as I sit my exhausted self at the piano and lift my hands to the keys, I remember that with each piece or exercise comes new sounds, healing, ideas, chords, tones, and colours.
As I put pen to page in my journal and write for the five minutes before falling asleep, I see the unspoken words coming forth from me, uncensored, raw and real, authentic, alive, and truthful, that I might make meaning out of my thoughts. That I might see all the places where I have been dutiful, or withheld my true self, or could have done things differently. That I might also catch the wild and amazing ideas that are just below the surface, eager to play.
As I sing, I hear and feel the openness of my voice and how this might feel in rehearsal. I find the satisfaction in producing a beautiful sound, and the wholeness of my body as it aligns in song. I think of how I will share this with my choristers to capture that physical, musical and emotional reward.
As I compose, I practise a skill that is words and music combined. I give energy to silent words on the page and bring them into being, all the while aware that they are guiding my thoughts, and giving courage to my new ideas by existing.
The more tired and exhausted I am, the more I need to be creative.
As I luxuriate in free time and start to really trust that I am on holidays, I find myself completely engrossed in various creative ventures. With complete freedom from a teaching schedule, from holding the reins, from mentoring, guiding, loving and problem-solving, directing and inspiring in choir rehearsals, and all together doing work akin to air-traffic control on a daily basis, I find my mind absolutely alive with creativity.
I am joyfully alive, and so happy to engage in playful conversation with myself, the world, and all those creative ideas which have lain dormant for months. Oh, the joy of realising that pathway back into myself is still there, despite the hammering my energy levels and creative being have taken through everyday work!
I find myself writing words and looking back on my experiences, re-living events, examining happenings, and honing my descriptions on a daily basis in a way that makes my own heart flip with recognition. I realise that I have been so busy, and so mentally and emotionally stretched by teaching, that sometimes I do not recognise myself in my words during the school term.
Just keep going, you know the drill.
Journalling now is pin-prick accurate. It is both enlightening, and lighten-ing. My mind feels lighter, like there’s more room and freedom for ideas to play and be seen. There is no protective film or professional work-front to get through; I can just be. And it’s not to say that I am two different people, but there is a treadmill and speed that comes from teaching which inevitably puts you into “teaching go-mode”.
Two speeds, on or off.
Being reflective and compassionate in my teaching costs every ounce of energy I have, and it is solely directed at the students under my care. I give my time and energy freely, completely in love with my work.
I am playing the piano as if I am painting my every feeling and emotion, every sound is a colour that I shape like words being formed. I’m not practising accompaniments, or hurriedly cobbling together a transcription, I am playing from the heart. My heart. I am playing and creating for the pure joy of playing, and it is intoxicating. Plus, those of you who know the hoops I have jumped through in the last three weeks as a teacher and accompanist will know that I also have a fierce ulterior motive for practising; a somewhat fiery determination to play + hone my technique (and sass) to play the goddamn arse off my Year 12 accompaniments. But I digress…!
I am composing as if I am speaking. It’s magical to be playing with a palette of words, like coloured beads, and creating a thread of sound which is both an expression of my thoughts, a message I want to bring to life, and a connection of music and living ideas. It’s slippery, frustrating work, catching and refining those beautiful, elusive melodies, and yet it’s a conversation I am absolutely, completely enraptured by.
And I look at all that I am doing; journalling, writing, reading, composing, speaking, creating and I ask myself: What right do I have to be this creative in so many different fields?
Yes, I am on holidays and I have time to indulge my creative self and spirit. But shouldn’t I choose one place to refine? One place to strive for excellence, and to hone my ideas? Why am I being so selfish, so carefree, so audacious with my creativity that I am squandering hours joyfully engrossed in everything expressive?
How wasteful. How audacious. How selfish!
And then I think: Why shouldn’t I?
I am not being creative to strive toward excellence, even though I know that if I do it for long enough, excellence comes off what I create naturally, like a heat and light that others gravitate toward.
I am being creative for myself. I have a voice that is fluid and alive in many different mediums, why shouldn’t I delight in using it?
It actually doesn’t matter if I don’t reach a level of excellence in anything that I do at this moment in time; the only thing that matters is that I create.
That I create because I am human, with a heart that works, and a spirt that is alive.
That I create because I feel, and that alone is enough for expression in any medium.
That I create because I am moved to do so, filled with inspiration and something to say.
That I create because it creates freedom, movement and life within my cells, mind and body, to allow new ideas to connect, and new understandings to form.
I am not creating for anyone. I am creating because I am human with a voice.
I can hold as many paint brushes, notes, sounds, keys, words, threads, and ideas as I want.
Create with quiet regularity and commitment long enough, with enough openness and courage, and excellence and uniqueness will resonate from my words, my music, my playing, my conducting, my voice, and my ideas. The authenticity will be unmistakeable.
Let me remember that I am creating for myself first, and if it resonates with others, then I am lucky and joyful indeed. If my creative and artistic endeavours gives voice, understanding, and connection to others, then what a privilege be allowed to affect them.
If I’ve moved someone with my creative work, well then, T H A N K Y O U.
For allowing me to move you.
I am in Sydney for Gondwana Voices National Choral School and with a few days of joyous wanderings to myself, I am in total heaven.
The nostalgia hits hard, making my heart somersault at the most unexpected moments; the dirt and heat of the trains, the impossible hustle of Town Hall Station, the buzz of tourists and sunny ease of Circular Quay, when all you want to do is get from Point A to B, the cocoon which comes from a coffee in a quiet alcove in Glebe, the eclectic assault of Newtown, and the hipster, “single-origin-coffee-smashed-avo” vibe spilling out unapologetically from tiny nooks and crevices of mis-matched, town-housey cafes onto the pavements of Surry Hills.
I am pulled and pushed right back to 2014, to all the struggle, new connections and learning in a year of leaping into the unknown in a manner unprecedented for me, someone who finds pure joy in the ordinary.
Every smell and sound is a reminder and overwhelmingly, I am most reminded of how lucky I am to have taken this opportunity, and how slight a change in mindset can change the momentum around you forever. The thing is this; 5 years ago, despite all, my spirt was unfathomably naive, strong, and buoyant.
Here I am, wandering Sydney as a tourist, and I realise how easy it is to just exist in this exciting yet unforgiving city, where just the commute home can exhaust you, and daily interactions ask more of you than you expect because of the emotional cost of living.
Your brain goes into overdrive for day to day work + survival, and I wonder how young students with not a lot of money figure out how they will make their way when there are hundreds of others, equally as hungry to find their path, doing exactly the same, and doing all the right things.
And yet, some determinedly optimistic part of me thinks that it is still as simplistic as how hard you want to work, how you see things, and how you choose to interact with the world. Sitting on a train going to and from work, you could easily pass 10 years just existing. Just making enough of a living to survive with some semblance of happiness and comfort. But then, sitting with a coffee, dreaming possibilities, or looking out over the harbour on a humid summer morning, and you can wonder what you might do differently. What can you choose for yourself that is a step above just living from one day to the next?
I have everything I need to make whatever leaps of faith I want right now; time, energy, support, love, good health, a wonderful network of friends + family, a beautiful home, food, financial security, and a rewarding place of work. I can literally choose whatever door I’d like; I can take whichever version of sliding doors I dare to reach out for and walk through or pass.
Part of me thinks I was so much braver and grittier in my year in Sydney than I am now, despite being much more sure and confident professionally and personally here and now, five years later. I marvel at how intrinsically the same, yet different, that I am now and how I will awaken the parts of me that have been lying dormant due to a secure way of living.
I was always the girl standing on the edge of the bridge, throwing metaphorical streamers into the wind when I had nothing else to give, and coming into work each day on four or five hours of sleep, and being joyous and playful when that was all I had to offer. To be sure, I worked my arse off. I learned and studied the curriculum I was responsible to teach, I prepped my lessons over and over, I worked at my composition like some sort of obsessive creative habit.
My creative work was as determined as it was impossible, and I never questioned it. I wrote five choral commissions and fulfilled a Composer-in-Residence position that year with limited access to a piano, limited energy and time, and with 3 months of travel and very little money to spare. My God, I was a daring and audacious little biatch! I make myself laugh even now as I reflect, how the hell did I think I had what it would take in time and personal resources to make that year happen when I was so stretched and depleted?
But I did it. Snippets of writing and composing in tiny moments of the day, by the window in the corner of the Conservatorium High School staffroom while everyone else was at lunch, snatches of time in every coffee shop in Surry Hills and Paddington, and sometimes even with a delicious and savoured brunch on the weekends when I could afford it. Something I can afford without thinking now, and that very fact makes me so tender for the me from five years ago. Stolen weekends in practise rooms at the Sydney Conservatorium, where I asked for time on Saturday and Sunday mornings when no other university students were practising, and I would finally be able to hear what I was creating.
Damn, I was courageous.
And in these few delicious days of wanderings, mostly down memory lane with renewed wonder, I am reminded of how to be courageous now that I have everything I need to do so.
From Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. This paragraph makes me “smile out loud” every time I read it.
Her word resonate with surprising urgency for us to embrace our creativity. So powerful for me to read now as I am in a period of intense writing + composing.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” you darkest interior voices will demand.
“It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am I constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labour alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I’m on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go.”
Now you’re the one doing the talking.
My cousins + god-girlies have moved into their beautiful new home, where the girlies finally get their own rooms. And Mels + Vanessa have been busily individualising their rooms and totally unleashing their creativity. Auntie Annie Gu-Gu inspired, of course. 😁
This is seriously what I would have done to my own room when I was growing up if I wouldn’t have been whumped within an inch of my life for vandalising the family home.
How COOL is this?! 😍
Ian + Bianca, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR NOT LOSING IT! 😂
Tomorrow, we plan to raid IKEA and Kmart for goodies to decorate their rooms with.
And of COURSE, I will spend a ridiculous amount totally living vicariously. 🤣
Love Liz Gilbert, and so much admire what she has done creatively and personally. It’s not my path to walk in the same way as her, and probably never will be, but I admire that someone so sensitively aware of the world around her can be so free. And that freedom didn’t come naturally, she had to practise over and over. In so many respects, she has lived with a fullness, grittiness, and freedom so much above mine despite what the world decides to say about her. It cannot be easy, to be in constant conversation with yourself and your fears. But so enlightening and exquisite, to know your own heart.
Her words on creativity have inspired me to do the best I can to keep the thread of creating going as I embark on a new school year. I will struggle with tiredness, competing demands, and being a vessel for solving problems, but I would like to try and keep my authentic voice, just a tiny little flame, alive for as much as I can.
Because creativity is as much rest, repose, and a life-source as silence. As necessary as breathing. Create, and you heal some part of the stress and struggle of the day. It is the means to articulate from the soul what you cannot in plain words.
On creativity [Richard Ford]
I say that to you only because whatever you are doing right now is clearly bringing you no pleasure, only pain. Our time on earth is short and should be enjoyed. You should leave this dream behind and go find something else to do with your life.
…however, I will say this. If you happen to discover that after a few years away from your craft, that you have found nothing that takes its place in your life – nothing that fascinates you or moves you, or inspires you to the same degree that your craft did…well then, I am afraid that you will have no choice but to persevere.”
“I realised that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewellery for the inside of other people’s minds. Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. And when you come to that realisation, the creative process becomes less tortured and more free. [Tom Waits]
“See over there
A created splendour
Made by one individual
From things residual.”
Just finished reading “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, made even more dear to me because it was given to me by a wonderful friend for my birthday.
I experienced every scope of feeling in this book; gasps of surprise, shivers of wonder, warm glows of love, pangs of anger and grief, the poignancy of small and simple joys, and the overwhelming anguish of final death.
Don’t you ever think it’s astonishingly wonderful that we get to feel the whole gamut of emotions as humans? That we get to do something so refreshing and cleansing as cry, long slow tears, or laugh with such buoyant joy? That our whole bodies move and are filled with something more divine that just our mortal flesh?
To be able to feel the entire spectrum of feeling, an alphabet of emotion that spills forth is sure the most wonderful blessing that you can have as a mortal human.
To be able to imagine and create scenarios that don’t exist, to understand, to wonder, to hypothesise, and to heal; extraordinary. The highest of human thinking + compassion.
To be able to choose what you do with that force of feeling, and how you will use that moment, the greatest gift of freedom.