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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.
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.
Look at the awesome postcard wall my Year 11 tutor group kiddies are constructing! 😍
I came across this article in my travels today…can you imagine if each school or community created one of these? What if it became a community project to understand the unity of human suffering, of practicing kindness + compassion, and that we are all connected in life, through a wall of shared clothing + goods? To ask students to look through their own clothing and choose out things that are genuinely of good condition and can be passed on, not just because they don’t like them any more, and that there is someone else out there who deserves not just access to warm and serviceable clothing, but something of value?