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In Dymocks and a group of excited + noisy “tweens” exploded into the store, went all still, inhaled deeply and said happily to each other: “Oh, it smells so GOOD!”
There’s hope in the world.
Accurate representation of how Year 12s navigate Year 12.
I’m using this to open my Year 12 presentation lecture this year. 🤣
The first time I watched this, I was in total agony. The music! The drama + suspense! The tragic music at the end! 😳 But it DOES have a happy ending. 😅
And the parallels are just too good:
“The perfect drop. And a controlled launch!”
“This is as good a descent as is possible to make.”
“It’s parents are there to meet it. A little dazed, perhaps, but all in one piece.” 😂
Plus that fact that is David Attenborough commentating just MAKES it.
Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
Day 13: Charlottetown to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
IT’S ANNE OF GREEN GABLES TIME!
Steps taken: 22,489, mostly around the glorious Prince Edward Island National Park, which is on the doorstep of Green Gables. Did you hear that?! On the doorstep of Green Gables.
One memorable meal or food item: I finally got my Cows ice cream, an absolute Canadian staple, and somewhat of a feature in Prince Edward Island. The names are all cute, corny, and cow-related; gems such as “Cookie MOOnster”, “Wowie Cowie”, “Cowconut”, and “Caramel MOOcacchino”. I chose the very aptly named “Cownadian Maple”, which was a maple syrup, maple butter swirl, and maple cookie concoction that was as overly sweet as it was UTTERLY AWESOME. Even the chocolate-dipped cone was fat and rich with over-done chocolate, slightly too thick to bite through daintily, and completely, wonderfully, honest in its welcome. You cannot get ice cream like this in a big city. This is real country love.
One special photograph: Green Gables, in all it’s glory, the place where a feisty little red-headed girl taught so many other girls to love wholeheartedly, imagine possibilities with wild abandon, unrelenting resilience in times of struggle, and to be bold and stand your own ground, and to never apologise for your background because YOU own the story from here onwards. Anne Shirley, you were an inspiration who crept into our hearts before we even knew how to analyse just how extraordinary, and totally “Brené-Brown-perfectly-imperfect” but damn exceptional that you are.
One decent coffee: Receiver Coffee is totally getting my vote! Australian standard coffee in small-town Charlotte. Five stars.
One amazing moment: Seeing Anne’s room. To read the books and to be inspired is one thing, to stand in the hallway and look into a room that has captured the imagination of so many through the words of Lucy M. Montgomery was so very special. And the fact that she is not even a real girl, but made so UTTERLY REAL in the hearts of people all around the world; that makes it even more special.
One unplanned detour/adventure: A chance meeting with Jay + Sujing from Korea who are planning to move to Australia following their teaching degrees. A day of connection + wonderful conversation followed. I am sad, surprised and joyful at how I don’t connect so easily and freely when I am safe at home, and to see how easily and joyfully new connections can be made when travelling. Let me open my heart up, that I may remember this way of connecting, with child-like joy and wonder, when I am at my most busy at home.
20 minutes reading: Anne of Green Gables, on the bus to Cavendish.
30 minutes composing: I’ve finally rolled up my sleeves and hit a commission that I’m editing! What I’m most happy about is not what’s on the page just yet, but the feeling of working, reworking, and getting deeply into a piece, with steadiness and methodical focus. I always have that flip of the stomach where I wonder if I can immerse myself so deeply, or if my mind is too flighty during a trip. Can I do this? What if nothing works? And then I start. And that wonderful reliability and weight falls on my shoulders, and I find I am at peace because I have finally started the process.
Day 12: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
I’m in Charlottetown, and it feels like my heart and spirit have found a place where they can rest a little. There is a warmth + friendliness to Charlottetown that is completely Adelaidian, and I have hit a point in my travels where I have long-needed a rest day. Today’s early afternoon storm allowed me the chance to curl up, soothe the heart, and just “introvert” for a while.
Steps taken: 18,476, in delightful aimless wanderings around Charlottetown this morning.
One memorable meal or food item: Chocolate-covered potato chips. Salty, sweet, and so wrong, but utterly delicious.
One special photograph: The wonderful oasis of calm this afternoon when the storm rolled in, an intense cool and hush fell over Charlottetown for a few hours, and there was nothing but the melodically soothing sound of rain, fragrant hot cups of tea, reading, journalling, and Netflix. Everything my weary travelling heart needed.
One decent coffee: A surprisingly excellent coffee at Receiver Coffee + Co, which I had this morning perched up on the breakfast loft.
One amazing moment: This was yesterday when I flew in, but HONESTLY, what are the chances?! A shared meal with old friends who are here for the Charlottetown Music Festival, and whom I met at the World Choral Symposium in 2008 almost exactly 10 years ago. The world is an extraordinary place!
One unplanned detour/adventure: As above!
20 minutes reading: Oh, I have been reading heaps this afternoon! I polished off the final pages of “By the Book”, a modern-day retelling of “Persuasion” which was light and fluffy enough to be energising, started the indomitable Anne Patchett’s “Commonwealth”, and in between all that, began re-reading “Anne of Green Gables” from my beautiful vintage copy I bought today at the local bookstore in readiness for tomorrow’s trip to Cavendish to visit Green Gables.
30 minutes composing: I’m about to dive feet first into some Year 12 Composing + Arranging editing, which will be the last thing I do today.
Day 10: Montreal
And I continue to digress from my little journalling formula, but I was inspired to write this post today.
The Gratitude In Travel
We are so lucky in life, the travellers. To be able to travel purely to reconnect, discover, or learn is such a privilege, the thought of which has overwhelmed me in unexpected moments over the last few days. We get on a plane, somehow we fly thousands of miles and we appear on the other side of the world because we have the means, the technology, and the inclination. Me, as a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian living in “country Adelaide”; I have access to the whole world. I am allowed to see all of this. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel like a tiny star in a constellation, moving around in this extraordinary expanse of universe.
What is it about us humans that makes us long to discover? Where does this need to find out, to follow, to figure out, and to be free come from? It’s so much easier to be safe and small. But left to our own devices, we rarely choose it. We keep wanting more. And once we find out “more”, we keep longing for a “new type of more”.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my health, because to travel you need to be healthy. To be able to be tired and sore at the end of the day, smelly and sweaty with blisters and aching body is a sign that you have embraced all that a city or place has to offer. That your body and health have afforded you the strength and mobility to see all that you wanted is a blessing. That you had a chance to choose where you went during a day, and how much time you wanted to spend there. And for no other reason other than to experience it. No escape, no pain, no hunger, no war. This gives me pangs of both overwhelming gratitude and compassion for those who do not have what I am allowed to have.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my work, which gives me a daily mirror and moral compass to be the best person that I am able. When you’re a teacher of teenagers, you have a mirror held up to you EVERY DAY. Good or bad, it’s all right in your face. You will KNOW if you’re working with integrity, because teenagers live for the smell of it, even if they don’t know how to “do integrity” fluently themselves yet. Teenagers don’t take shit, and they have crap detectors that are the world’s most finely tuned, non-electronic sensory devices. And then, to be able to take this moral compass out into the world and test it out for real, with people of other nationalities, countries, ideas, cultures + experience and figure out a different city? Truly amazing, soul-changing, shaking, affirming, and life-giving. The learning and shaping of yourself and your values doesn’t get better than that. How rich you become when you have the means to travel.
My work also allows me the monetary means to travel. I have enough money to pay for food, the flights, insurance, postcards, shopping, souvenirs, presents, experiences, entry fees, and emergencies. I have access to a world outside my own, that my own life may be stretched and enriched by what I experience. In other words, I have money to spare beyond the essentials that I can travel for the sake of travelling.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the love of my friends and family, who hold me like a strong secure net in my adventures. Without their trust, love and support, I would not be able to venture out so joyfully and freely. Without my Dad’s encouragement as a teenager, and quite against the usual Asian-stereotypes + thinking, I would not have begun to test my wings. Now, my wings and sense of adventure are strong and supple. And I cry tears of gratitude for the worry that both my parents must have endured in my earlier years of travel, when I made some stupid-arse choices for lack of experience and money, and that they still let me take flight.
I cry for joy at my freedom.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to learn. Travel, as they say, changes you. And it does. How it changes you depends on what inside you needs changing, and what is vulnerable and malleable to the world at that point in time.
So, here, many thousands of kilometres away from home I say…
T H A N K Y O U.
Day 7: Toronto
My last day full in Toronto, and it’s a family day! I am catching up with my other sister-in-law, the energetic + gregarious Steph and finally meeting her partner Sam. Who is like an instant sunshade for me when I finally meet him!
Steps taken: 15,982, which is surprising since I feeling like I spent more time outdoors today than yesterday.
One memorable meal or food item: The Nanaimo bar, a Canadian speciality. The bottom layer is a biscuit + coconut crumb base, the second is custard-flavoured butter icing, and the top layer is chocolate ganache.
One special photograph: The group photo of my extended family, all miraculously in one place. It felt like we were the Weasley family from Harry Potter, all safely marked as “AT HOME”.
One decent coffee: The delicious and refreshing cold-brew at Boxcar Social along the glorious Toronto waterfront.
Off the beaten track: Today began with a struggle. I had to get my head back into school-mode and draw on my courage and integrity to deal with some decision-making I didn’t agree with. While I’m diligent, it’s so hard to make these decisions where you are away on holiday and wanting to be present here, and you find yourself drawn back into work-mode against your will, despite having put a firm boundary down before leaving. I feel like I am being pulled into a decision I absolutely don’t agree with, and I am missing family, friends, and colleagues back home to talk it through. Luckily, I had my brother and sister-in-law, Robs + Em, to help get me back into equilibrium. I had to work through the issue, step-by-step, all the while anxious and frustrated I wasn’t there in person to be able to give voice to my opinions. I HAVE to trust that my judgment is right and that my decisions, always based in integrity, will have merit.
An unsettling start to the day, which made me so very grateful for the joy of being able to spend it with family, new and old.
And thank you also, wider universe and everyone who loves me, that I work from a place of love, courage, and integrity. It’s such a hard path to walk sometimes, but it’s the only way I know how to be. And this is the case because I have learnt this example from all the people who have played a part in shaping me.
Please let me be at peace with all that I have done, and let me know that my true worth will shine through. Let me trust in this and continue to take joy and delight in my travels.
Because I absolutely must!
Day 6: Toronto
The heat-wave continues. Somehow, I have inadvertently become the poster-girl for the hot weather. The moment anyone I’m talking to realises I’m Australian, I become the one-stop outpouring station for the heat wave that Toronto is experiencing. Now if I’m being truly honest, the heat is uncomfortable and muggy, but TOTALLY survivable from an Adelaide point of view. It’s not the searing, burning, oven-heat that threatens to take off your top layer of skin. It’s sort of mid-range Darwin hot. It hasn’t stopped me on my explorations, but it’s certainly slowed me down. Combined with the last vestiges of jet lag, it’s a veritable sedative. But not enough of stop me!
But rather than say, “Oh, this is NOTHING! You should feel the oven-roasting dry heat of Adelaide in the middle of January!”, I thought I’d cheer on the Canadians and just say, “Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I’m from Australia, and it’s pretty bad today.”
Thought I’d be encouraging.
Steps taken: 22,111, and what started off as somewhat of a rest day where I took the morning off after my delicious brunch at Early Bird Café ballooned out into an afternoon of non-stop wanderings. I re-emerged around lunchtime and finally ventured into downtown Toronto properly, having a second wander through the Toronto Eaton Centre, the St Lawrence Market, Toronto City Hall, Saint Andrews Church, and a mini-wander around the University of Toronto. Met up with Robs + Em to wander through the Art Gallery of Toronto, which was GLORIOUS for the cultural as well as the air-conditioning aspect.
One memorable meal or food item: My brunch at the Early Bird Café on Queen Street West this morning. Touted as “Toronto’s Top 10 Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots”, not only did it deliver in aesthetics, but the food was absolutely sensational. It was healthy and locally-sourced, but tasted delicious. I had a breakfast bowl with avocado, roasted tomatoes, sweet + white potatoes, mushrooms, kale, pickled radish and miso-flavoured “polenta congee”. Drool! And because it sounded so cool, I also ordered the “Blue Life Smoothie”, which was a blue spirulina, coconut water + flesh, banana, honey, and cacao-topped delight. The photo does not do it justice; this wasn’t a sort of blueberry-smoothie blue, it was a robin’s egg, baby-blue colour like no other.
One special photograph: Not sentimental, but definitely very cool; look at how these shoe displays have been organised!
One decent coffee: I didn’t have a coffee today. The smoothie took its place!
One amazing moment: Realising that I could pick the Canadian accent over the American! I chose people who very obviously looked like tourists to practise on, but there’s this wonderful mellow softness to the vowels in the Canadian accent that you don’t get from an American one. Go, those musician’s ears!
One unplanned detour/adventure: Deciding to take 5 extra minutes in the St Lawrence Markets, which led me directly to the maple butter tarts, the same ones that are mentioned in Anthony Bourdin’s Toronto Layover episode. So of course I had to have one!
20 minutes reading: A very Kinfolk-ish looking magazine called “Cereal” that was at the Early Bird Café this morning. There was a great article about the quality of living + sustainability in Tasmania!
30 minutes composing: Not so much composing, but composing-related. I’ve been invited to do a fabulous project where I will be mentoring + guiding up-and-coming composers, and this is right up my alley, my bread and butter. I LOVE the process of working with secondary and tertiary students, finding their voice, and linking individuality, sound, nuances, and practicality in their compositions. As a passionate educator who composes, I have seen and heard too many ensembles become vehicles for composers to show off their voice. While this is fine in one sense, I believe that the most relevant and satisfying experiences for ensembles, particularly children and youth ensembles, requires connection and understanding from the composer writing for them of their personality, their abilities, and where they need to develop. Not writing to be clever, but writing to deeply inspire and connect. An excellent composer who has full command of their language will be able to write and make an ordinary ensemble sound lifted up, nurtured, well-fitted, and musically extraordinary, because they are maximising every bit of their potential rather than writing for the sake of being clever.
So…I am constructing the framework for all the things I would like to teach in this project, all the things that I would like these new composers to consider, as well as how I think as an educator, and how all encompassing it is.
And I am loving it.
Day 5: Toronto
I AM GOING TO SEE HERBIE HANCOCK LIVE. That is all. I’m not even a TRUE Jazz head. I’m just a nerdy muso whose love of learning encompasses all things jazz; a jazz-infused “Girl Friday”, if you will. I know people who would give their ears to be in my spot, metaphorically speaking!
Steps taken: 19,788 mostly in my new favourite haunts of King + Queen Street West. Went back for a closer look at some of the funky and fabulous shops today, bought my FIRST piece of clothing; a pair of red, high-waisted culottes which I miraculously DON’T have hem. WHAT A WIN. They were from Frank + Oak, and I love that they are a Canadian-based clothing company. Explored Spadina Ave and the Chinatown precinct, happily immersing myself in the noise and mayhem on this hot + humid Toronto day, but also finding that my staying-power was only about 30 minutes before I started wilting after my morning of walking the streets in my new favourite neighbourhoods. Embarrassingly, I have been in Toronto for 2 days and spent a grand total of 5 hours in the downtown district.
One memorable meal or food item: I had an amazing super bowl for brunch; or “BLUNCH”, as they like to call it. It was quinoa, sautéed kale, turmeric cauliflower, roasted capsicum, yoghurt, pickled carrots, hummus, and poached eggs. That kept me going until about 2:00pm, when I felt it was absolutely essential to stop for a salted caramel + popcorn gelato.
One special photograph: I found Adelaide Street! A little spot of home!
One decent coffee: I was back at Sam James this morning and it was still just as good.
One amazing moment: Seeing Herbie Hancock live! This man has spent SIX DECADES honing his craft. And he kicks my butt to the curb with every single note + idea that he comes up with. Warm + personable, he commentated between sets, introducing himself with heartwarming Southern charm as “Uncle Herbie”! But what simultaneously cracked me up and blew my mind was when he quoted “Watermelon Man” in the middle of “Chameleon” whilst originally embarking on a meandering yet intellectually challenging rendition of “So What?” It was all very “Jazz Inception”, with a motive within a motive within a chart.
And am I PROUD to be able to describe this to you as a classically-trained musician who has fallen deeper and deeper in infatuation with Jazz?!
One unplanned detour/adventure: I didn’t cause this one, but it certainly ruffled me up. A few rows in front of us in the Herbie Hancock concert was a man hell-bent on videoing the entire thing. Despite numerous warnings + reprimands, he continued to video and ARGUE BACK with the security guards. When he finally put his phone his phone away, the whole section around him had been vacated by angry concertgoers, who had clearly had enough. And that man continued to be able to watch this amazing concert and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It left me utterly frustrated and with a bitter taste in my mouth; that people who were doing the right thing and enjoying the show respectfully had to leave, and this idiot causing all the fuss and discomfort was allowed to stay. I absolutely don’t like physical violence, but I was honestly disappointed he wasn’t removed. He DESERVED to be removed.
It also resonated with me so deeply from a teacher point of view; all I could see was the 13-year-old kid who had never heard the word “no”, or had it firmly enforced.
One act of kindness: I tried on a GORGEOUS dress today that I would have totally bought if they had my size. I loved it so much that I tried on a size medium, which of course gaped everywhere. As I was taking it to the change rooms, another lady coming out spotted it and exclaimed, “Oooooooh! Preeeettttty! Are there any more left?”
“No, sorry, I’ve got the last one right now and I’m about to try it on. I’m so sorry!”
“Oh, damn! No worries!”
When I realised there was no way I could salvage a size medium and make it work without looking like I was walking around in a glorious red + orange potato sack, I took it out of the change rooms and rather than giving it back to the shop assistant, I hunted down that lady + gave it to her to try on, and hung around to see the result.
It fit her perfect! She bought it, and was so excited that she asked to please take a selfie with me, so she could tell everyone about the little Aussie to helped her find her new dress!
20 minutes reading: A book that I’ve pulled from the bookshelf of the apartment I am staying, Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.
30 minutes composing: I did this FIRST today before I left! So proud. Not composing, but editing for Year 12 Composing + Arranging. My poor Year 12 kiddies are feeling the weight of the deadlines, and it’s showing in the quality of their drafts!
Against my will, I am utterly deflated by the email response of a parent to a kid who desperately needs to find solid ground + clear, loving boundaries.
It is extraordinary the scope of responses from one extreme to the other to the same issue, and therefore what a kid gets modelled to them as appropriate, which in turn influences how they respond to the world around them.
Oh, the TRYING that has gone into this kid! I wish this family knew how much we wanted to love and support their kids. For all their kids to actually CRACK A SMILE. Wow, that would be healthy.
Anyways, this is not about the family or the kid.
I wrote that I am deflated “against my will”. I thought I was ready. I thought I’d considered the responses. Was not ready to be utterly disappointed + flattened. And it was a SLOW creep of disappointment after the initial impact.
And while I’m certain I’ve got it right for the well-being of the kid and this will fade + heal, I’m totally fine with being deflated right now.