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It happened before I even knew it. I was in the middle of it all before I realised I had slipped into the cocoon of “safe and ordinary”. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out, or being in second-gear for a little while. But when I held up the way I was interacting with my beautiful students this week, the way I let small things get under my skin, and the way I was taking my choral rehearsals against my 25-year-old self, I realised I had allowed myself to cross the boundary of “commanding and mature” to “safe and ordinary”.
Call it what you will, I was not pushing boundaries because inch by inch, I had gone into energy conservation mode. This has worked for a while, so let’s keep doing it. The kids won’t respond to that. There will be discomfort, noise, and chaos, so let’s stick with the familiar. And worse still, That formula works, they can’t possibly do more than that right now.
I used to be unashamed in my haphazard ways of pushing up against boundaries. I did it just by existing. When I was making my way as a new teacher and choral director, I would throw ideas around like beads, with the wayward and infinitely optimistic view that some of them would land on the bullseye. It wasn’t that I was fearless, it was that I was so utterly unaware of what conventions were that I had to build them every day. There was no “way that it was done”. There was only “here and now, let’s find a solution!”
And yes, it cost me energy, pride, ego, time, and caused regular discomfort to my choirs, my classes, my colleagues and my students. But I just took it as the norm. I didn’t set out to be a hell-raiser, I was just in a glorious journey of joyful, addictive discovery and creativity.
And I look back and marvel at how brave I was.
Let me look back and take a moment to imbue my current, confident, joyful self with some of that haphazard fearlessness. Rock the boat. Walk the unseen path. Let’s get curious and daringly uncomfortable because there is so much to discover. Don’t choose “safe” just because it’s easy; choose with clarity and consciousness as to what the situation needs.
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.
The EXPRESSION on this doggo’s face when he realises what he has done!
I feel like I am on some sort of holiday course for “emotional warrior” training right now. Every question that I have not asked, have put on hold, or not faced properly because there wasn’t the time or space is coming up right now. In WAVES. Which is good, because I have the time to think about all of the yammering, noisy questions jostling for my attention because I’m not consumed by teaching, but it’s also bloody exhausting!
So here’s my thought for today:
Whatever is scary, new, interesting, or different, walk TOWARDS it. Take a step in the direction which scares you, and is counterintuitive. Have the conversation with yourself, step-by-step, and talk yourself through the steps. You are NOT too big and mighty for that, in fact, in your clarity and gentleness is real courage. Speak your fears and frame the words into new understandings. All the times you were too tired, too busy, too distracted, too important? Maybe there was a whiff of truth in all of that but in the end, were you being really truthful? Or was it fear that is showing its face again, and dictating how you reacted to life around you? Break through the waves of scarcity. Things will get busy, manic even, but you too will survive. You will figure it out, if not now, then soon, because I have faith in your abilities. Walking purposely and thoughtfully, having a rhyme and reason, is a unique sort of peace. Having clarity is one of the greatest untold joys of life.
There is no perfect time for anything…!
There are moments of preparation, intensive + alive, for a moment-in-the-making. There is hard work, and dedication, and loving a project so very much that you can’t help but think about it in the spare minutes of the day.
There is consideration, so that you are not leaping in a fool-hardy way, without thinking, but without hesitation…it’s sort of a “planned spontaneous leap of faith!”
But really, the ideas + the moments + the magic captured in errant pockets of time…there’s no dictating those. You just take a leap of faith.
It’s in the 10-minute snippets of dreaming that the best ideas come forth.
It’s in the extra bit of conversation that a wonderful connection is made.
It’s in the small gesture of kindness that compassion is grown.
It’s in the thought, that led to the wondering, that led to the growing, that led to the impossibly present idea, that leads to a creative venture taking flight…or impossible healing to take place…or to fall in love…
It’s in that tiny little extra look, caught in playfulness + vulnerability, that love is felt so resonatingly.
It’s in EVERY moment that I don’t expect, that one of my students has taken my words, and put them into their pockets and treasured them for a lifetime…without even the slightest thought from me that it might be THAT interaction, or THAT moment.
It’s in the moments I am undone, that I am most loved.
So rather than just leaping + flailing, what if I were to leap + stretch my arms out + feel the wind on my face, like some fool-hardy optimist?!
I know how to pick myself up and repair…but I will never know what will come out of a moment if I do not try.
It’s always the same, that stunned, irrational feeling that overwhelms me when I begin a new composition.
Now clearly, I love composing, because I keep going back for more, and I keep saying “yes” to choral commissions. And there are moments of pure synergy where I don’t even know where the notes come from, and how the words connect with their final sounds.
But the thought that reverberates in my head EVERY SINGLE TIME I start writing?
How did I ever do this?! How did I EVER write what came before this one?!
What came before seems…extraordinary. Insurmountable. Unmatchable. Unfathomable. That SO MANY PLANETS lined up all at once for the sake of that particular choral composition. And I listen to my past compositions, head propped in my arms, with my stomach doing flips at my current commissions.
And I actually LOVE the creative process. I love the uncertainty, and I love getting down on my hands and knees, up to my elbows in notes and ideas, sounds and nuances, phrases and colourful snippets of harmony…I love playing in the puzzle pieces.
But the start is torturous, even for a realistic optimist like me.
So this is how it goes. I sit at my piano, blank manuscript pad propped up on the music stand, in a fierce face-off. It’s a desolate wasteland. Nothing works. Every possible harmony or phrase I test out, I have already heard before. I’m surrounded by half chewed-up musical ideas, and metaphorical tumbleweed.
Then I play with words…sounds of words, lyrics, ideas put together in different combinations. It’s just as agonising.
Eventually, I conclude that I have just have to make a haphazard, totally rubbish start. I pull up a Word document, vomit every conceivable idea onto the page, and press save without a backward glance. I do the same with my ideas at the piano onto my phone, and the manuscript onto Sibelius.
I press save in the hope that, like good wine, it improves with time and being left alone in a dark place. Sadly, it never does. But my eyes + mind see different things, and my ears hear what I couldn’t hear previously.
A tiny snippet of an idea arrives; a shy little phrase, an errant, unexpected harmony that I fall in love with.
Suddenly, I have a little row of seedling musical ideas, then I find myself in the middle of a garden of sounds, pruning + shaping entire pages of my composition, encouraging a particular phrase one way, cutting back one to its core in the next. I am engrossed. I don’t look up, and an hour passes easily. More and more notes fall into place, and I start to embody the personality of the piece, and choir who will be singing it. Nuances are being discovered, and shaped.
Then there is the day, some time later, when I stand up, dazed from the intense work, stretch my weary arms + shoulders, and find that I have a Piece of Music, a Brand New Composition…a Living Entity.
I know every sound + word in that piece. I know its spirit.
I take a breath…because now, in all its perfect completeness, having it loved it so intimately + knowing its every colour…I have to let it go.
It’s an extraordinary process.