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It stands to reason I’ve left this one to the end.
Even while I was brainstorming my five points of reflection for 2019; this one was the hardest of all to acknowledge, to commit to, and to want to invest in.
Forgiveness, in all its forms, has been something which has both fascinated and frustrated me for a while, eluding and embracing me with equal unpredictability. I’ve been drawn to books which take it apart, or have it as its central theme. I’ve listened to TED talks and read reflections of courageous people who have survived far more in a week than I have my whole life, and been silenced and humbled by their words. And the reason why is this: I want to learn what it means to forgive as an act of love, when the issue at stake is bigger than the usual ups and downs of life. I want to learn how to forgive, others and myself, when there needs to be a process to the forgiveness.
In my natural, un-worked-on state, I am a perfectionistic score keeper. If there is an issue, my instinct is to apologise for the 27.5% of my part in the proceedings (because I’m alway more right), and readily expect 72.5% pure, unfiltered apology from whoever has wronged me. And I would remember it if didn’t happen, or happen to my satisfaction. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t keep loving or working with the person who had caused me hurt, I just could never fully forget the hurt in a way which allowed me freedom and full access to myself, and my interactions with them when it really counted. When I read that forgiveness is an act for yourself, not for the other person, it was revolutionary. So then, I spent some time grappling with that concept, not wanting and eye for an eye, but to forgive and acknowledge for my own well-being and sense of hope.
Now, in my work-in-progress state, I am a recovering perfectionist and advocate of the compassion which is required to live life well. And it comes back to one thing: We are not perfect. We get up each day, we do our best. Some of us do better than others. But we all require compassion and forgiveness at some point in our lives, and I’d rather be an active participant in the process than have to ask someone to forgive me with no return if I am able.
The inability to forgive easily is simple to explain; we are tender-hearted and we don’t want to get hurt. Holding that inability to forgive in place means that we’re in a deadlock, and even if that means hurting yourself a little, it means that you’re relatively safe from any further hurt from the person who caused it.
But it also holds all of you – your joy, your ability to love and move forward, your vulnerability and tenderness – in an absolute deadlock as well. You might argue that you can function perfectly fine without forgiving certain people and events in your life. But those pockets of darkness that remain unexamined continue to hum and buzz in the background, taking away from your love and joy. And loving yourself means truly examining things, even if there is no answer.
Forgiving doesn’t EVER mean letting the other person off the hook, it means that you’re no longer allowing them to take a part of your joyfulness and will to live life without your permission. What’s to say that you, put under a unique set of circumstances and pushed to breaking point, wouldn’t cause a situation where you required love and forgiveness?
As we walk through life together stretched and pulled in different directions by opposing ideas and different people, we walk with a common humanity. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to like each other. But we can certainly start by looking for understanding and the middle ground, holding fast to our compassion for each other, humanising each other, and getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable place which allows us to recognise that very rarely is anyone 100% right or wrong.
So, in holding forgiveness in my heart, I remember the following:
Forgiveness is for me. When I need to look hard at something, let my first thought be for my own well-being and those that I love. Put pride back on the shelf, take ego off the table, and just look at the humanity of the situation. Then look at what I need to do to match my values; is it speak my truth? Walk away? Call a mediation? Offer an apology? Forgiveness will often be open-ended and messy, and I need to be sure of two things; that I have done the best I can according to my values, and that my well-being comes first. These two things push and pull in opposite directions, but that is what I ask of myself.
Anger is okay. Knowing when to express anger in the appropriate manner, to the right person, at the right time, is a unique challenge. But for those of us hell-bent on being perfect score-keepers, it’s so much easier to talk about all the things a person has done wrongly behind their back, than hold them accountable. And sometimes, anger is the right form of communication. Anger can show the strength of a boundary, the depth of a connection + love, or the value of something. Anger, without being derogatory, cheap, or hurtful, is a powerful and important form of communication.
Forgiveness is not an exact science. Forgiveness requires the most creative thought process and tracking than any other brand of problem-solving I’ve encountered. Because you cannot predict how people will respond, you can only deal with your side of things. If you go in with an apology, don’t go in expecting one back. You offer an apology because it’s what you hold yourself accountable to do, and it’s what you think is the right action for you. Forgiveness can be quiet or haphazard, unspoken or spoken, serious or playful; don’t be fooled by its presentation. Forgiveness may also never come, and you may need to figure out a way to find closure, and to make your own peace. If you really want to seek forgiveness, you must be prepared for any outcome, not just the one you want.
Forgive myself. Something I have learned in this past year is to recognise when I need to forgive myself. Often, these times will masquerade as extreme tiredness, or my being unpredictable, distracted, being totally over-the-top, going into myself, not being able to make a decision, and most tellingly, not being able to be fully engrossed in whatever is in front of me. When I get down to the heart of it, it is often a time when I need to tell myself that I forgive myself. I forgive myself that I couldn’t respond to a student in the perfect manner today; I will try and reconnect tomorrow. I forgive myself that I have no energy for my family, I will try and rest so that I am better value over the weekend. I forgive myself the frustration I feel with a colleague because I am on track and they are out of kilter, and it has knocked me off my strong, steady path. I forgive myself that I did not speak up when I had the opportunity, let me make a time to have that conversation, and let me prepare for it. I am not perfect. But I can always try again.
Forgiveness is a skill. Forgiveness is a skill that I would like to continue practising. The more I look gently and tenderly at things which upset, frustrate, or anger me, the more I exercise the muscle which connects me to love and forgiveness. Forgiveness, for all its intangibles, requires the ability to think about a situation from every angle, applying compassion where it would be easier to dismiss. One thing I’d like to do differently to strengthen this conversation with myself is to reach out to friends and family to help me tease out the different viewpoints. What I cannot see, they might be able to lovingly and safely bring to my attention so that I’m not attempting to do the impossible on my own.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t just figure out forgiveness like you can a maths problem, as satisfying as that would be. Forgiveness is like picking up the threads of the impossible fabric from where you left off, and continuing to weave understanding. As you travel through life and get older, wiser, and collect new experiences, this helps in building your repertoire of skills and understandings to forgive. Allow time. Press pause. Go run around and be human. Then come back to the hard work.
Quiet, considered words are powerful. Forgiveness is rarely overt or loud, and requires some degree of stretching to reach a new understanding. If you cannot forgive at an exact moment in time, that is okay. Aim for being authentic and accurate. Quiet, considered words spoken with truth and accuracy are far more powerful than throwing down a careless and flippant apology or acceptance of something when you really don’t feel it. Because the mind and heart keep score, and it’s your job to know yourself well enough that you can understand what is true and accurate for you.
Forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is love in its purest form. It cannot be measured or extracted, it is given. So, let me remember to consider this first for myself, then those most important to me, then everyone I have contact with in my life. Let me strive to be accurate, authentic, compassionate and honest, straddling the line between compassion and integrity. Let me make decisions on how I will act based on my own morals. And let me understand when to hold fast, and when to let go. Let me do so in the highest integrity, compassion and love.
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.
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.
Earlier this year, I wrote post about “being in the frontline”. What I mean here is when you all of a sudden find yourself being The Original and On The Forefront, without even meaning to be.
I’m thinking about it now as I’m reading Michelle Obama’s extraordinary biography, “Becoming”. Apart from being absolutely inspired and deeply affected by her grace and courage in meeting challenges and situations she ultimately never asked for, I am so incredibly moved by her simultaneous fear + courage in showing up in the frontline with her husband Barack, when there was no other example around them.
Yes, there have been other Presidents of the United States and First Ladies, but none who have been so committed to practising their values in such a present, authentic, and genuine manner. There has been no example before them of a black American family in such a high position of leadership, nor young daughters who were going through their formative teenage years so well-protected, yet so warmly loved + free.
They had no example or blueprint to follow; they simply had their values + moral compass to hold fast to. They had good educations, hard-won, and a work ethic that would put most of us to shame. They were intelligent, loyal, optimistic, yet courageously gritty. And they had the power of not taking anything for granted, including family. And when you are the first of anything, there is always going to be fear, opposition, and prejudice against whatever decisions you make, and whatever path you are laying down. Because it feels new and different. You are riding that storm along with every other person around you who is looking in on your work, and there is no means to check against the societal measuring stick if you’re doing okay, because there IS no previous example.
The more I read of Michelle’s words, the more I fall down the rabbit hole of wanting to discover more. And the more I read and watch of both herself and her family, Barack, Sasha, and Malia, the greater and deeper my admiration and respect for her, and Barack, and what they have achieved. That they remain good people is the most amazing to me. I cannot imagine what it would have cost them emotionally, and what they have navigated together, unified.
She took on that role like a BOSS. With no example, she MADE every example…from the authenticity and warmth of her words, to the veggie garden on the grounds of the White House. From her dress, the way she connected with others, her parenting, and her initiatives, she pioneered a pathway for others to follow which seemed so innate and natural, but was anything but while she was in the driving seat. She made choices knowing that in some way, they mattered. And that weight is what truly GAVE them weight to the world.
I am reminded by this extraordinary woman and her family that when I find myself on the edge of something new, be it personally, creatively, or otherwise, that looking sideways for the measuring stick or a predecessor is not always an option. And that being on the frontline, being the first, you need to be prepared to face the wind sheer of challenge and opposition, and it is not easy. But if you keep walking, clear on your moral compass, with courage, persistence, grace, and clarity above all else, you will gather momentum. You will create waves.
Because the human race can’t help but respond to something of integrity, value, and excellence.
Have courage when you find yourself in that frontline. Because it might be an honour bestowed upon you to lead it.
p.s. Can we just talk about those PHENOMENAL Balenciaga thigh-high gold sparkly boots for just a god-damn second?! DAYUM!
When I think about the teacher I am, where I’ve come from, and who I will continue to become, I cannot help but marvel at how different I am. I am not the same person or teacher that I was even a year ago; I am more. There is greater depth and understanding, gradients of colour, shades of understanding, more weight, more presence, more joy, more freedom.
Yet how often do I look at my own mentors and teachers and think of them as being exactly the same, somehow frozen in time in their ideas and thoughts? Ridiculously shocked that they look older, and are less energetic than they used to be?
Let us be gentle and joyful with each other, and allow ourselves the grace to change. Let us put into words the gentle shift of time, so that those around us can see that we are becoming, constantly.
I love who I am, and who I am becoming. I am grateful I get a new class of students each year to share this with, and wonder with slight disconcertment at my first set of students 16 years ago, and how I would have taught them now.
Let us realise how incredibly beautiful and powerful we are as agents of change, as we are moving and changing entities ourselves. Isn’t it extraordinary that every year, I will teach with a slightly different viewpoint, depth of passion, and colour?
And let me have the grace to allow myself to change, that I do not have to replicate the expectation over and over. That all I need to do is be. Essentially and authentically.
Grandmamma turns 98 today!
Blowing out the candle + clapping herself.
A month ago, we couldn’t have even imagined this day, as she was being operated on for a broken femur. There has been no pom-pom waving, no positive talk, no rah-rah, but somehow her body is healing almost as fast as her spirit is determined to have one day more, and one day more after that.
She is extraordinary. I have learned more from her just being than anyone teaching me about courage could put into words.
Exhausted + buoyant all at once. Thank you so much to the exceptionally excellent Pulteney staff I work with, whose words + laughter lifted me up and filled me to the brim today. I am so inspired by the joy, compassion + love you share with each other and myself. I am 4 (or more accurately, 3.88-ish! 😂) years old at Pulteney, and I love the feeling of realising I have become a little over-loved, dog-eared, and worn-in, in the best way possible.
Thank you. 😊
Flying joyfully free into holidays + feeling light, but anchored. 🌟