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I am trying something new.
In addition to waking up at 5:00am each day as a way of giving myself time to nurture myself physically, creatively, and emotionally, I am setting myself a creative challenge:
I have to create SOMETHING every single week.
I am a full-time secondary school music teacher, so this is an audacious ask. But more and more I am drawn to the truth that creativity is so essential to my wellbeing that I need to explore the constructs of it in more detail.
Composing and writing for me are double-edged saws. I love to express myself and get to the heart of what I am trying to say, yet I struggle and circle endlessly in a painful creative agony getting started when I try to be creative during the term.
I know exactly what it is; it’s the fact that my “creative craft” during the week is teaching; this is where I am being my most imaginative, where I am have the playful and creative conversations, and where I am problem-solving like a MF. All my energies are poured into the classroom.
But I am giving outwards, this is not a creativity that necessary nurtures me fully.
I’ve also discovered that when I am confronted with a choral commission, or a creative piece of work, or even just knowing myself during the term, I am like a stoppered bottle. I feel as if I have to scrape the layer off the outside of myself to find the good stuff, or even just stuff!, and then I wander around with handfuls of words like a sleep-walker trying to figure out what I am trying to say.
I am beginning to see that to care for myself as a creative being, I need to be creative on a weekly and daily basis. Not just for others, but for myself.
So here’s the challenge:
In taking the creative reins I am reaching for a bigger point of healing; while I consider myself playful, imaginative and courageous in the realm of creativity, I haven’t practised the scope of my language, and the repertoire of sounds and words I can use to express myself.
And secondly, I wonder if I have ever written solely for myself. It’s a stark realisation, and one that I am heading straight into with a sense of wild freedom and adventure!
These are the spirits we are working with in classrooms. Let us take care of these ones and live like this ourselves!
When we own our own stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in the stories of someone else’s telling. [Brené Brown, Rising Strong.]
How do I come out from under the incorrect assumptions of others?
By getting up from the disappointment, the disagreement, the difficulty, and continuing to do my thing, which is absolutely and wholeheartedly be myself in line with my values, so that I am breaking the misconceptions.
Someone – and you will all have that someone in mind – can say something about me because they are threatened, want to change the public perception of me, or want to damage my character and plant that seed of doubt in someone else’s mind. It could be by accident or design, but it creates misunderstanding of who I am, how I work, and what I stand for. How do I shake this? How do I bring the my true character forward?
Refuting each claim is one way to do it, but it’s tiring and ineffective. It means that you’re going in to bat for yourself, which is effective sometimes, but it’s your word against theirs, and an uncomfortable fight.
Actions are powerful. I have a lot of faith that if you keep doing what you do consistently, your true character and worth will come through. It’s a humbling act, to keep working and doing through misconception, but it’s honest and accurate, as it allows the other people the opportunity to truly see you.
What people think of you is none of your business, your business is just to get up and do you.
So therefore, if I continue to do me in every way, if I continue to turn up and tell my story, do my work, and live my values, there are now two opposing stories to choose from.
The shadow one, and mine.
Which do you think is going to be the most gripping telling?!
Mine is going to be a FUCKING BEST-SELLER if I’m telling it. 😎
Those who choose to put merit and weight on another person’s inaccurate telling of me are people that are not worth my time and energy.
There is no point in trying to convert them to my story, I’ll just be yelling into the wind. Better to keep telling my story joyfully and saving that energy for my work, myself, my loved ones. Because I’m not going to appeal to everyone, I’m not going to be a perfect fit all the time.
But if the values are strong in my storytelling, no one can mistake the authenticity, even if they don’t like the story.
And those who have the courage to examine both stories side by side, and have the perception to take value in mine will be converted, because I get to re-tell and re-shape all the details of me, my story, my actions, my life, my values in the most accurate, honest, beautiful, breathtaking, and authentic manner.
Yes, it’s annoying to do the U-turn and to have to do the redraft.
But I get to rewrite the script. In rising up and owning my story, I get to say it like it is.
And my god, when I tell my story and I am on fire with the light and heat of my story, it is a fucking magnificent thing to behold. ONE HELL ROLLICKING TALE.
Who would want the shadow version?
I’m holding the pen filled with possibility. No flimsy shadow story will have a piece on me.
And in telling my story, I get the chance to educate people on how to treat me, how to respect me, and how to interact with me, how to connect with me, and how to love me.
I am the teacher to others of myself in the world.
And the fact of the matter is this: You are scared shitless of me.
Of my light,
because the air around me changes when I enter the room,
and I am affecting just by existing, I am so happy to be alive,
and despite saying all the correct words,
that you are not coping with me being me,
and I laugh,
because I can finally see the fear behind the bravado,
the instability behind the big words,
and the insecurity behind the loud voice,
and overly grand gestures,
and will I let this set me off balance, you ask?
NO FUCKING WAY, little man.
Why do we limit ourselves all the time?
The moment we wake up, we automatically calculate what we need to do in a day, and tell ourselves that we don’t have enough time.
We wonder if we’ve got the capacity to be all that we need to be in all our guises, and we start the day stretched before we’ve even tried.
We start with “can’t”; when an idea or suggestion is put forward, we think about all the things that will make it hard, rather than going first to all the possibilities.
Everything makes us feel weighted and tired, and it’s because we try to cram too much into a day because we are so arrogant that we think ourselves somehow different from everybody else that of course we can do what nobody else can. Apply that to parenting, self-care, teaching, maintaining a home, eating good food, and our relationships. The thing is, we need to time to give value to all of these things and to be there to feel those moments fully.
And scariest of all, we believe everything that people say. We are so foolhardy and gullible that we openly believe all the negatives put on the table about us, and most dangerously, we believe and invest in the opinions that absolutely don’t matter. Of our bosses, our superiors, of those who have not earned our trust. We agonise over comments that would be so much easier to figure out a way to let go, because our egos have been bruised. It’s ironically challenging, being human, isn’t it?
The thing is, all of the negatives, the fatigue, the impossibilities, and the can’ts are all going to happen. You can’t Teflon-coat yourself, or be so prepared that you are bullet-proof.
So isn’t it so much easier just to go into the day?
Isn’t it easier just to go into each situation, get stuck-in, problem solve, and get in up to your armpits rather than the unnecessary worry and preamble?
We all get stuck in that. I get stuck in that.
I write, and re-write, and agonise, and wonder, and rehearse, and re-rehearse. That is one of my best personality traits, my care and thoroughness, at my worst. Burning holes in every bit of joyful spontaneity and casting distrust on any of my boss-level ability to adapt and problem solve.
So today, and every day, I am going to undo those limits. Life is messy, and you can’t dress rehearse.
Pause, take the layer of worry off and drop it like a heavy coat.
The day will happen whether you worry and agonise over something or not.
You will need to walk into whatever is scaring you no matter what.
Why don’t you spend the time and energy thinking about how you will navigate, rather than how you will avoid?
There are so many minutes in a day that go wasted in worry, and we look back on each weekend, each Sunday afternoon, and wonder why we got so little done and feel so wrung out? I am sure that it is, in part, because of the limits we put on ourselves.
Embrace the sucky, amazing, glorious, messiness. Go and live, my darling people!
Lyrics for a new choral commission, Impossible Compass.
The concept behind this work is the paradox of finding your internal compass, the one that holds the values that you live by, your ideals, your best heart and self.
To find your compass
You must travel the world with your heart in your pocket
Catch due north, and it’s gone, like a whisper in the wind
Walk into the north wind, and you will realise
It was there all the time in your heart
In the place where you came into being
But stay in one place, safe and secure
You won’t find it
That anchor of belonging
You won’t know what it’s like to really know
How to stand alone and ache with longing
When you are more yourself in solitude
Then you will belong
But, my darling girl, keep running and moving
And turning and twisting
And pulling and driving
Forward, always away, never still
And your compass will never align
And while you’ll be free
You’ll never find
The crossroads of joy and ache
That give weight and meaning to life.
No-one asks to be a nomad when they are born into this world
But that’s who we are
We’re the map-makers and dream-sketchers
Tracking pathways to the sun
But that deep sense of longing
That comes from being anchored deep
While still moving and turning
And living and flying
In the wilderness of your life
In the silence of your thoughts
In the love that springs from living
Sits beside you, and nestles in your heart
Whispers into your ear:
My darling child, I’m here.
I am a sucker for completing everything on my list and then allowing myself to have the reward.
“When I’m done with writing reports, then I can give that person a call.”
“When I finish cleaning, then I can have a glass of wine.”
“When I get to that savings goal, then I can treat myself to a brunch!” (Which will probably be pancakes…!)
I am a big fan of delayed gratification. It is well-documented in the “Marshmallow Challenge”, which pits 4-year-olds against the temptation of having one marshmallow immediately, or wait 4 minutes and get two, that those who can delay gratification work smarter, longer, harder, and are much more effective regulators of themselves and their decisions as adults.
But when that reward becomes, “…then I will allow myself to unwind, decompress, get out of go-mode, and be myself”, we hit dangerous territory. If I only allowed myself to be playful and have fun when I ticked off everything on my list, I would never catch the snippets of joy. I would never be the girl cracking jokes, or leaning into the tender moments, seeing the wistful glance, or able to grab the unexpected opportunities, and I would never experience anything from a different point of view.
Being so rigid with my expectations of myself can produce great rewards, and discipline is a wonderful task-master for effective living.
But there MUST be moments of the unexpected, particularly when it comes to humanity, joy, play, and love.
Simply, there is no perfect time to be human. You have to do it right now. You need to catch those unexpected moments of connection, take the two minutes to run over and see someone in person rather than hiding behind your laptop, grab the coffee (and eat the cake!), choose to laugh at the joke and engage, rather than worry about meeting every deadline that is crowding you.
You have to look hard and practise catching and creating those moments of humanity.
You can’t dress-rehearse love, or grief, or sickness, or death. They happen. Life unfolds, with all it’s intensity and colour, and if you don’t decide to be a part of those moments right now because they aren’t conveniently on your schedule, then you will miss out on so much.
By the way, I should mention that there is no perfect way to grieve, heal, or apologise. You take time, you pick your moment, and you go in, ALL IN. You can’t create the perfect reception for an apology if you have to give one. There is no guarantee that the other person will welcome a hard conversation, or if they will to listen to you at all. You do it because you choose to, it’s driven by your moral compass, and it’s in your integrity.
Same goes for love. There’s no containing the unexpected, playful whisper of love and connection. You can’t conveniently compartmentalise it until you’re done with your Official Day Self. You just are. Don’t be foolhardy and ignore all you responsibilities, your goals, your daily activities, but let life in to play when it invites you. It’s unexpected, delightful, stomach-flipping, and all that is real. And when the unexpected decides to tug at your heart, let it.
Don’t let go of your lists. That’s being ambitious, motivated, and working with agency.
But dare to catch those unexpected invitations to play, in life, in living, in yourself.
Without those, you will never connect, fall in love, wonder, day-dream, or create.
Schedule is KING, but daring to wander, dream and play is LIVING.
As I luxuriate in free time and start to really trust that I am on holidays, I find myself completely engrossed in various creative ventures. With complete freedom from a teaching schedule, from holding the reins, from mentoring, guiding, loving and problem-solving, directing and inspiring in choir rehearsals, and all together doing work akin to air-traffic control on a daily basis, I find my mind absolutely alive with creativity.
I am joyfully alive, and so happy to engage in playful conversation with myself, the world, and all those creative ideas which have lain dormant for months. Oh, the joy of realising that pathway back into myself is still there, despite the hammering my energy levels and creative being have taken through everyday work!
I find myself writing words and looking back on my experiences, re-living events, examining happenings, and honing my descriptions on a daily basis in a way that makes my own heart flip with recognition. I realise that I have been so busy, and so mentally and emotionally stretched by teaching, that sometimes I do not recognise myself in my words during the school term.
Just keep going, you know the drill.
Journalling now is pin-prick accurate. It is both enlightening, and lighten-ing. My mind feels lighter, like there’s more room and freedom for ideas to play and be seen. There is no protective film or professional work-front to get through; I can just be. And it’s not to say that I am two different people, but there is a treadmill and speed that comes from teaching which inevitably puts you into “teaching go-mode”.
Two speeds, on or off.
Being reflective and compassionate in my teaching costs every ounce of energy I have, and it is solely directed at the students under my care. I give my time and energy freely, completely in love with my work.
I am playing the piano as if I am painting my every feeling and emotion, every sound is a colour that I shape like words being formed. I’m not practising accompaniments, or hurriedly cobbling together a transcription, I am playing from the heart. My heart. I am playing and creating for the pure joy of playing, and it is intoxicating. Plus, those of you who know the hoops I have jumped through in the last three weeks as a teacher and accompanist will know that I also have a fierce ulterior motive for practising; a somewhat fiery determination to play + hone my technique (and sass) to play the goddamn arse off my Year 12 accompaniments. But I digress…!
I am composing as if I am speaking. It’s magical to be playing with a palette of words, like coloured beads, and creating a thread of sound which is both an expression of my thoughts, a message I want to bring to life, and a connection of music and living ideas. It’s slippery, frustrating work, catching and refining those beautiful, elusive melodies, and yet it’s a conversation I am absolutely, completely enraptured by.
And I look at all that I am doing; journalling, writing, reading, composing, speaking, creating and I ask myself: What right do I have to be this creative in so many different fields?
Yes, I am on holidays and I have time to indulge my creative self and spirit. But shouldn’t I choose one place to refine? One place to strive for excellence, and to hone my ideas? Why am I being so selfish, so carefree, so audacious with my creativity that I am squandering hours joyfully engrossed in everything expressive?
How wasteful. How audacious. How selfish!
And then I think: Why shouldn’t I?
I am not being creative to strive toward excellence, even though I know that if I do it for long enough, excellence comes off what I create naturally, like a heat and light that others gravitate toward.
I am being creative for myself. I have a voice that is fluid and alive in many different mediums, why shouldn’t I delight in using it?
It actually doesn’t matter if I don’t reach a level of excellence in anything that I do at this moment in time; the only thing that matters is that I create.
That I create because I am human, with a heart that works, and a spirt that is alive.
That I create because I feel, and that alone is enough for expression in any medium.
That I create because I am moved to do so, filled with inspiration and something to say.
That I create because it creates freedom, movement and life within my cells, mind and body, to allow new ideas to connect, and new understandings to form.
I am not creating for anyone. I am creating because I am human with a voice.
I can hold as many paint brushes, notes, sounds, keys, words, threads, and ideas as I want.
Create with quiet regularity and commitment long enough, with enough openness and courage, and excellence and uniqueness will resonate from my words, my music, my playing, my conducting, my voice, and my ideas. The authenticity will be unmistakeable.
Let me remember that I am creating for myself first, and if it resonates with others, then I am lucky and joyful indeed. If my creative and artistic endeavours gives voice, understanding, and connection to others, then what a privilege be allowed to affect them.
If I’ve moved someone with my creative work, well then, T H A N K Y O U.
For allowing me to move you.