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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.
“Behind The Curtain” [Martin Watson, Miami]
I have just finished reading Stretch, by Scott Sonenshein. And yes, it stretched my understanding of what is possible!
The premise of the book is that the less you have, the more you are likely to maximise it and use it well. I am inspired, as I can see parallels in my own life + goals this year!
For example, I have always been a thrifty cook. I industrial cook like a teacher who is going into hiding for a month, just in case I come home and even have an inkling that I might be too tired to cook, so that I have absolutely no excuse to eat badly. But the excellent off-shoot is that I’m also saving and able to put this money somewhere else. The fear factor kicks in as well; in terms such as this one coming up, where it will take every ounce of energy just to beach myself on the couch at the end of the day, industrial cooking is KING. Something interesting I’ve noticed in this cook-fest is that I get very creative with what’s in the pantry and fridge. I have created the most wonderful “accidental masterpieces” from using only the spices available, stock in the freezer, canned goods, and leftover bits and pieces. Part of this fires up my creativity, the other is because I’m determined to use only what’s available and not spend any more money. AND be healthy. So I am stretching in many different directions in a wholly satisfying manner.
And this all leads to the real reason why I’m stretching in my cooking; I am saving for a very special retreat in the middle of the year, the one holidays where I allow myself to go off the grid for a bit, abandon my Year 12s to let them fend for themselves, and be totally nomadic and uncontactable. This is more money than I’d normally spend on a mid-year, non-overseas holiday. But, determined not to dip into my savings, I am stretching…and far more easily than I thought I would be. Flights, accommodation, and the retreat itself are all paid for. I’ve even managed to put aside some cash for spending money. I’ve not touched my savings, or even thought about abating my usual savings rate over and above my mortgage. I’m stretching, in the most satisfying way.
And finally, I see it in my teaching. The kid that doesn’t come blessed with “natural talent”, which I actually think is a total and absolute curse, stretches. Coupled with determination and grit, and a complete love for what they do, it’s impossible to predict how much. When they are on that path, stretching and getting creative over what capabilities and skills they DO have, and maximising them, is far more satisfying than watching the kid with “talent” who squanders the opportunities to develop. And sometimes, even more frustrating, the “half-arsed” develop”. The sort of development that happens in a flurry just before assessment time. That’s not stretching, that’s academic bleating.
Stretching. It’s satisfying!
I used to wonder why things would stress me out so much, and when I actually committed myself to the seemingly insurmountable job at hand, it would take around 11 minutes. ELEVEN MINUTES FOR HOURS OF WORRY!
And when I wondered some more, I realised that things ARE scary when they are a nebulous cloud of unsorted mess. The vast unknown. And it all seems so difficult to begin navigating; too tiring, too much, other things to worry about, such as dishes + ironing.
But if you just start, however small, and find a tiny pathway in, or start unpicking one thread of the giant knot, it somehow becomes a little more possible. A little less IM-possible. You’ve moved the arrow along the continuum, and you’ve inched your way along.
I am prepping for 3 major presentations right now, all as exciting as the other, all jostling for my time. Just even THINKING about them as a large, inert, combined mass made me a little bit of a hot mess. So I started unravelling them, just a little, bit by bit, on my walks. I am an avid walker, and this is where I get my best organising and thinking done.
So the first presentation; what was I going to do first?
I walked and created a plan. And after starting, all I had to do each day was do one thing more to chip away at it. Two weeks’ worth of “tiny chipping” is vastly more invigorating and useful than one day of “immense vomit on the page in a crazed state” could ever be.
Each day, I made my dot points.
Each day, I toggled between presentations and came up with new ideas.
Each day, I surprised myself at the clarity of the ideas, the quality of what I was coming up with, and the amount of work that was getting done in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes when I was absolutely on a roll.
Because the fact of the matter is, you’re only really good for about 20-30 minutes, then it becomes hard slog of much lesser quality. Why not just take tiny, incremental steps?
The magic trick? To really want it. To FOCUS.
I can waste 10 minutes faster than a toddler can destroy a clean house. But when you start deciding that you actually really want those 10 minute pockets of time, then it’s a little bit surprising what’s possible.
Of course, you can decide that 10 minutes is for glorious wasting, to be squandered in leisurely fashion. Or you decide that in those 10 minutes, you’re going to get the washing on, brew a cup of tea, fold the sheets, and to a quick dust-bust. It’s actually possible, I’ve tried, without trying!
As for finding a pathway into those scary topics, that “walk-plan” is god-send. It also works for rehearsing challenging conversations, figuring out where savings need to go, decompressing from a manic day in the classroom, figuring out what warm-ups to do in choir rehearsal…or just buying time.
Every step, new breath in, sense of life flowing, new health in the veins, and just a little bit further along the continuum of problem-solving.
Insurmountable mounds of work are hard work, but the become far less stressful after you’ve dived in and done the thinking behind them. The fear factor goes out of them. They just become a pathway to walk, rather than a mountain to scale.
Bach meets New Orleans. Little bit of a musical amuse-bouche! 😉
Creativity and ego cannot go together…
…if you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind
your creativity opens up endlessly.
Just as water springs forth from a fountain, so does creativity.
You must not be your own obstacle.