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Happy New Year, everyone! How exhilarating to watch the sunrise today at Henley Square, to feel the freshness of the salt and sea breeze, and to take some time out in solitude to be in conversation with my own thoughts.
This year, I did things differently when it came to wrapping up 2018, and I cannot tell you how free and light I feel! I have always been someone who writes resolutions, gives thanks for the year gone by, and puts down goals I’d like to achieve. As I’ve grown older, I realised I was writing these resolutions almost as prophetic hopes, as if I had some sort of guarantee from the universe that they would come into fruition because I was an A-grade student who did her work and followed all the instructions. Of course, I worked hard to achieve everything I asked of myself. But there are so many things in life that you cannot guarantee, and I have learned that you can only live life fully and well, every day, learning to grow stronger in your ideals, your courage, your love, and yourself.
Most tellingly, the “guarantee with the universe” was because I ultimately didn’t trust myself to own my dreams and aspirations, and to take the incremental steps to make things happen. How heartbreaking to realise that! Especially when I know myself to be so hardworking, creative, and determined, with so much imagination and agency to contribute to the world each day! I thought that if someone else had the contract, namely The Universe, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fall-out if things failed, that I wouldn’t be totally accountable, and I had a scapegoat that I could blame. Because heaven forbid if I actually took responsibility for my directions in life fully and completely, and held myself accountable!
The thing is, it turns out that the most conscientious, A-grade student cannot will some things into being or away, just by planning and executing. Unexpected family tragedies, falling in love, raising a family, the opportunities that come out of the blue that grab you by surprise and whisper, “Go, go, go! You have to jump NOW!” You can’t then turn around and say, “Hey, you fabulous but ill-timed opportunity, you weren’t on the resolution list. You weren’t in the plan. Get in line!”
It has broken my heart over and over that my conscientiousness and overall “good-ness” as a person has not allowed me to raise a family. Life doesn’t choose the A-grade students to be mothers. Life just chooses, and we are each given a page to write. We have the power to grow and to use our words and minutes any way that we want. But we cannot hope for someone else’s page, or use someone else’s words. We get ours, and we can be as creative and daring, or as boringly safe, as we dare.
All you can do is live well.
More than ever, I find that my words and my thoughts have far more worth and value than I realise. I think about how many precious thoughts and words I have carelessly wasted over the years, using them without really knowing their impact, just talking so I could hear my voice, or so that I could make myself feel a little less afraid. I look at myself now and think, “What course can I charter? What can I say? What can I do?” I can stand for something. I am not so small that my words don’t have impact; I have more momentum than I have ever given myself credit for. Changing the momentum of the world around us starts in our small communities, in our families, in our classrooms, in our daily lives. You don’t aim to change to world, you aim to live a good life. And yet, how many people angle for a fame and accolades, wasting so much time, energy, and potential on the way?
I feel a slow and rather wonderful shift in how I am walking into 2019. I love life and what I do, there is no mistaking that, even when things suck. I like the grittiness of life, as well as the soaring delight and quiet joys. But life is not one-dimensional. Find the positive light in the grittiness, but let go of the idea that you need to be the beacon for everyone else. You just have to do what you do, as well as you are able, and you will have purpose and meaning. A heat and energy comes off someone who is simply living their best life, and humans cannot help but gravitate towards this brand of beauty and excellence.
I like who I see in myself, and I like who I am becoming very much. So I say to myself:
Let me sink into the woman that wears clashing patterns and wildly colourful outfits with a sassiness that is real and unmistakable. Let me savour the strength of my words and use them well. Let me walk with purpose, be it light and delightful, or with command and presence. I will not be anything just because it makes other people around me feel comfortable. I will walk into myself, and all that I am, so that I am so overflowing with authenticity, the world cannot help but turn their heads and hear what I have to say.
2019; so what would you like to say?
I love what I do, and annoyingly so. And while full-time high school classroom music teaching is bad-assery at its finest, it is also all-consuming. Too easily, music teachers can get onto the endless treadmill of ideas, classroom preparation, paperwork, or even the very positive aspects such as dreaming up large-scale, creative, artistic ventures which completely swallow them up, mind, body, and soul.
Of all the breeds of teachers, performing arts teachers unequivocally SUCK THE MOST at having any sort of balance in their lives. A performing arts teacher who has a healthy work-life balance absolutely all the time is not a true-blooded performing arts teacher, or is delusional.
So now, in this pocket of calm and rest while I have the attention span and energy, I am taking a closer look at the undercurrents of new ideas and change bubbling away below the surface. I know that right now, I am totally in the right place of life and work, happy to invest of my ideas and skills, building a foundation of music education in my school.
But I don’t want to wake up at 50 having merrily gone along with this life without consciously choosing it for myself. I’d like to know that if I hit 50 and I’m still in full-time teaching, it’s because I chose it for myself in a wholehearted and considered manner. The unusual caveat for me is that I genuinely love what I am doing. It is gruelling, soul-immersing, all-consuming, unforgiving work, where you experience such extraordinary positives, but also feel like you’ve sold your spleen in a jar. But I don’t want to blithely arrive at 50, 60, or retirement age by accident, even if I am happy as Larry.
So, thinking ahead…
Love what I do, but look up. It’s okay that I’m completely, sickeningly in love with music teaching right now, but it’s not okay that I allow it to consume me. When I prioritise one extra lesson plan or choral commission over my friends or family, even if the latter can be considerably more work (yes, I said it!), I am being swallowed up. I need to remember I am so many different facets and attributes as a person, and it would be heartbreaking to arrive at the end of my life and all that people could say was that I was good teacher, even if I was. I want to be so much more than that. Even if it frustrates the crap out of my sometimes, and I can’t Sibelius-it down, or put it in tidy little learning plan or Excel spreadsheet. I need a whole other life outside of my work. Refreshingly, life seems to assert itself and remind me of this in no uncertain terms.
Let the edges blur. Over the last year, I have been making a conscious effort to consider things which I think are on the edge of my expertise. These can be leading workshops which are outside of my main areas of choral + composition, going on excursions which having nothing to do with performing arts, saying yes to my god-girlies when they ask me to do something which isn’t my usual “thing”, and saying yes to interesting + engaging events, social opportunities, family gatherings, outings, and adventures. In getting out of my comfort zone and allowing the edges to blur on what I think is an appropriate way for me to use my time, especially when there is very little of it during a school term, I am testing out new personas and ideals which might lead me to new understandings and experiences. In allowing the edges to blur, I am exercising the ability to engage with something which I’m not fully confident in, learn to adapt, and tap into my curiosity in a safe and playful way. Most importantly, I am taking down the walls of my little pigeonhole where I have comfortably placed myself, and where it is so easy to live from on a day-to-day basis. It takes so much more energy to engage with new things, but I owe it to myself not to cover myself with defining labels. I get so indignant when others pigeonhole me…and yet, what am I doing on a daily basis to stretch their understanding of who I am, personally and professionally? It’s my responsibility too.
Wonder and question. There is such an immediacy and excitement to asking questions in a field where you know very little. Whether it’s cooking or car-maintenance, large-scale or seemingly trivial, engaging with others and their passions and strengths is an untold joy, rich with personal learning. The thing is, sometimes I am so consumed by my own deadlines and activities that I forget to engage. I’d like to remind myself that no-one, not even the most self-sufficient person, can fully engage and inspire themselves. As a human, our minds and hearts are made for connection, laughter, curiosity, learning, and love. So let me take the extra few minutes to engage with something or someone that I know very little about, and might spark a new course of thinking.
Stomach-flips and uncertainty. Yes, my teaching life is comfortable. Exhausting, interesting, but totally comfortable. Yet I look back to all the times I have grown significantly in confidence, leadership, or grit, or produced a work of significant creative light or merit, and it has ALWAYS been through adversity and struggle. It’s because when we’re comfortable, we do the same thing, because it works. When we are in struggle and facing uncertainty, we know that we need to adapt and grow to fit the changing requirements. Does it feel good? Hell no! It sucks. NOBODY ever looked at a period of personal, financial, creative, or professional struggle and said at the time, “Oh, GOODY! A struggle! AWESOME!” But whenever I look at the significant growth milestones, they are always centred around those times where I have been forced to create new understandings. So why on earth would I wait for adversity to learn something so vital? Why not look for opportunities to take those stomach-flipping leaps of faith while I am healthy and settled?
Catch the keystones. In being happily ensconced in my work, I have very little motivation to question the path I’m on. But I’d like to ask myself to notice the moments when I am doing something new and I find myself totally in the zone, totally “in flow”, the doing something which is the perfect balance of challenging, interesting, engaging, and allowing me to create gritty forward momentum. And then catch that keystone and don’t let go. Make the unexpected connections, say yes to the slightly left-of-the-middle ideas, consider things I wouldn’t normally consider, engage in the interesting conversations, and keep asking myself questions. What else could I possibly imagine myself doing, or want the responsibility of doing, and when? Once I catch these ideas, then it’s much easier to create a timeline to build up momentum for when I would like to make a change.
Side hustle. Mine is so accidental, it’s laughable, but my side hustle has always been writing and composing. I am the definition of a reluctant composer. I write because I love writing, and people like what I write so they keep asking me for more. Have I EVER put the right amount of weight, attention and time on this side-gig? My God, no. Embarrassingly so. And yet, choral directors and choirs from all around the world hunt me down and ask me for my music. For this, I have to do a shout-out to all the incredible people I have worked with in Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Voices, Birralee Voices, and Young Adelaide Voices for fuelling the fire and sharing my music, and my work, so warmly and openly. To each of these extraordinary people, I am indebted. But I take care of my composing as well as I take care of a cactus. And I’ve killed a cactus before…! So let me take this honour of being able to compose and write, and my absolute love of choral composition for children’s and youth choirs, and hold it with greater love and responsibility. Look into taking care of it as I would an extra part of myself, a thread and possible next pathway in my life, rather than just a hobby. While I love the freedom of writing and composing purely as a creative outlet, it’s a conversation with myself I’d like to engage in more, and in a more supported and responsible way. Choral directors + choristers have entrusted me with their ideals, let me practise my voice in composing more regularly.
So there it is. Tiny signposts, significant value. Let me begin imagining a future with purpose and consideration, whilst fully engaging with all that I have right now.
Oh, that war with creating + creativity which drives us creatives mad. And, if you’re a working-creative, as most of us are because we like to eat, then finding snippets of time can be such a challenge.
But, for those of you out there who love to create, answer me this. How much more yourself and alive do you feel after you’ve directed that creative, imaginative energy someplace? Even if starting the project is absolutely excruciating, when you are in it up to your armpits, making, generating, imagining, dreaming, gathering, speaking, composing, writing – whatever your means of creating, after you share a little bit of yourself with yourself and the world, you cannot help but feel more whole.
As Brené Brown advocated from her research, “Un-used creativity is dangerous. It metastasises.”
We are deeply human, and therefore, we must create.
Finding my voice in all the tiredness and noise is an immense challenge, and one I’d like to explore more deeply in 2019. I am a composer + writer, and a full-time teacher. My teaching takes every bit of creativity and energy from me, but I find that when I am composing + writing, I have a voice that is uniquely my own, and I owe it to myself to nurture and celebrate more consistently. How can I be an effective teacher of a creative subject if I do not explore my own creativity? Just as I am a practicing musician, I would like to consciously make time and room to be a practicing creative.
Finding my voice. When I am on the work treadmill, in go-mode, my truly authentic and creative voice takes a while to surface. I would like to find a pathway back to that voice by practising using it, by playing with ideas. I can find time, always, but finding the strength of purpose to commit to practising my creative voice will be a habit which requires focus + persistence. But when I find that voice and I am in the sweet spot of creating, there is nothing more real or authentic. And then, what I have to hand on to my students in composing + creating becomes more relevant + meaningful.
Creativity as a practice. Creativity doesn’t just spring up when bidden like a willing genie. In fact, it’s the most unwillingly, cunning, slippery little son-of-a-biatch that I’ve ever met. Like most teachers, I can find whatever time you need me to find in a week if I try hard enough. But finding the headspace?! Good luck! So, as with practising the authenticity of voice, I am going to commit to practising my creativity like a habit. This will mean writing, performing, playing with ideas, working snippets of melodies, active listening, and analysis. I cannot grow without drinking in all the inspiration around me on a regular basis, and I know that I would like to be purposeful in my creative ventures, rather than leaving them to chance. Therefore, my creativity will be a hobby that I will pick and prod away at with curiosity, purpose, and a new level of responsibility.
Daydreaming. To the complete opposite end of the spectrum to everything I have just said, I’d like to find unstructured daydreaming time, where ideas can be immersed in rich, creative limbo and take shape + structure. These times will very likely be in the shower, on my drive to school, on my morning walks, my weekend runs, or anytime that I have where I do not have to actively be engaged with anything else. I am going to allow myself permission to do sweet nothing and daydream.
Play. I look back at my 25-year-old self and realise I was so innately playful as a young composer + teacher. While the joy and authenticity is still there, I want to be in it all, being the one who throws the confetti into the air, or who asks the crazy “what if?” Being playful in how I approach my daily tasks will strengthen not only my problem-solving abilities, but keep my creative muscle strong. It also requires regular leaps of faith, something that becomes all too easy to sidestep the older we get.
Tiredness. This one is an eternal challenge, and the thing which most quickly kills creativity. For this, I would like to tap into my tiredness and temper it with a gentler creative activity; reading, writing, or active listening. I lost a lot of time this year in mindless busy-work versions of procrastination, and if I were able to gently discipline and guide those moments of tiredness, I might restore my energy levels in a much more productive and artistic manner.
Start. This one is excruciating, and if you’re a creative, you will damn well know what I mean. So this one is simple. JUST START. Do the shitty first draft, do the totally rubbish throw-down of lyrics, or chords, or melodic ideas. Because from the rubble will come a gem, and from that start will grow embers of excitement and discipline. You cannot pick when ownership will take shape on a creative project, but it always does. Inevitably, there is always a connection, a moment where you fall in love with what you’re doing. There is ALWAYS a turning point.
Authentically human. Create for the sake of using my voice, and because I am so completely human. Not for an audience, not with untold limits. The fact that I am creating art must be for myself, so that someone else might be moved and see themselves reflected in what I have to say. There is no greater drain on creativity than when you create with the expectation that you will please someone, or conform to someone else’s ideals. Even in a commissioned work, the voice must be authentic. Set down your framework and requirements, be it words, vocal ranges, abilities, and so forth. Then play within the parameters. You voice begins there.
I am reflecting upon 2018 and drawing out the themes I would like to follow in 2019. The amazing thing is this; while I set out to do some investigative work on what threads I would like to develop, the themes themselves chose me. I never gave that statement much weight and thought it so clichéd when people referred to their main body of work, or significant moment of enlightenment, as something which “sought them out.” But here I am, being sought about by 5 main themes for 2019, themes which I grappled with or eluded me, fascinated me or challenged me, and I gravitated to these instinctively. How do I know this? I made a starting-point list a few weeks ago, put it away, made another today, and found the original one. They were freakishly word for word, right down to some of the starter dot-points.
There are 5 themes, and today, I am going to explore CONNECTION.
I would like myself to know that I can be tired AND connected. That tiredness is no excuse not to connect deeply, to reach out, to soften, to communicate. As in introvert and as a performing arts teacher, where music teaching is like a high-contact Olympic sport played on a daily basis, my tiredness + need to be away from all the noise can be overwhelming. But I’d like to ask myself to articulate. Put things into words, particularly the tiredness and stress that I am feeling. I can be tired AND connected.
Keep in conversation, don’t avoid. I didn’t realise it, but there are days where I am so on a mission, or so peopled-out, that I do not invite conversation. I can keep a conversation short by setting my boundaries compassionately and warmly, but clearly. I don’t have to avoid. I am being small and petty by avoiding others. When we teach, we’re in a world which brings us in contact with such an extraordinary variety of personalities and people. Learn to take the responsibility for drawing clear boundaries, and don’t take the easy route of looking down and walking fast. Engage, because we are all walking in the same direction.
Look up. Look people in the eye when you have a conversation, that is such a powerful way to say, “I care, and you matter.” Again, I didn’t realise this, but the worthiness and connection which flows from one person to another begins with a conversation that is unhurried, even if it’s brief, and with proper eye contact. When I am in a hurry, I rush things and I don’t look up. In that sense, I’m not really seeing the other person. Even more sadly, I am not allowing myself to be truly seen. Get better with my words, go gently, but firmly. But look up.
I am not perfect, and I need to remember that. I am not perfect, God knows I’m not. But how many times do I haul myself over the coals for decisions I’ve made wishing that I was. I am not perfect, and I need to know this and own it. And from this, I need to allow myself to be clumsy, goofy, awkward, but ultimately, marvellously human + connected. In the times and situations where I find it the MOST challenging to tap into that side of myself, the more I need it. Remember that.
Invite people in for them. Just because you’d like to hear how they are going. By all means, invite people in and build networks because of their skills and ideas. But also just because. No one is too busy to do that. Not all the time, but at least a little, as a regular practice each day.
Keep in conversation with myself. I get so good at getting on the work treadmill, that I forget I am supposed to be a living, breathing human with feelings and vulnerabilities, not a machine. I have a tendency to be a machine, and then I am a procrastinating goddess of laziness masked in busy-work. I would like to get better at articulating exactly what is bothering me, or which direction I need to go.
Habit. When I work, or complete a task, it is not through just fear, or because my job demands it. Unless there are absolutely no redeeming factors and it’s a case of “get her done!”, then I’d like to put value on what I do. This makes things a whole lot scarier, but that what creates real connection with myself, my work, and the people I am working with. I do this automatically with my students and my teaching, but it surprises me how long it takes me to connect with things like choral commissions + personal ventures. Partly because I am afraid that I don’t have what it takes and the ideas won’t come, but mostly because I haven’t figured out how to connect with the work, or the course of action. For example, once I look deeply at the commission, the choir or the students I am writing for, and once I get used to polishing and creating in that little pocket of imaginings + creativity, there is value…and true connection.
Finally, I need to reach in and connect with myself. I remember times when I have been playful and silly, serious and affecting, electric and commanding, joyful and authentic, and I realise that life is a whole heap more meaningful if I am connected to myself. Challenge + adversity present more clearly if I have a pathway back into my heart, and there is no avoiding looking deeply at myself no matter what I am up against.
Reach in, take my heart by the hand, and walk side by side with it. It’s the very least and most important thing I can do myself, to love myself as I would a dear friend.
This is truly excellent.
I still dream of growing tall. 😂
This is exactly how I feel about teaching! I’m always surprised, amazed + humbled when people comment on how much I love my teaching, and how innately and naturally it comes to me.
YES to how much I love teaching, I wouldn’t put up with it otherwise!
But everything else? I practise, and I practise my arse off. I drive home rewriting lesson plans in my head, I test out weird and wonderful choral warm-ups when I’m walking around the block, I rehearse the difficult conversations I need to have with students with long-suffering family members, kindred-spirit colleagues and friends. It may look unconventional, but I PRACTISE.
The most humbling of all? Everyday, our students hold up a glaring mirror to all our weaknesses + faults. I practise being the best person I can with the tools I have.