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Thank you for these holidays. I’ve really needed them, as I led the ANZAC Music Tour in the previous holidays, so these are my first in 23 weeks straight. I think every cell in my body was lying facedown in the cavity that was my body by Week 9 of Term 2!
I feel like I have realigned my compass and learned so much these holidays. Unexpectedly, but so organically, in a natural progression of thoughts, conversations, and connections.
I have rested; my mind, my body, my spirit. I was moving so fast but going nowhere at the end of last term. I was doggy-paddling furiously, only to stay in one place, exhausted, just gulping enough air and love to keep me alive. I will do everything I can to make sure I have greater clarity and space going into this new term, and while things will get busy, I would much rather move slowly and steadily, rather than stay in over-tired limbo. I now that this will take greater concentration than I had the capacity for at the end of last term, and it’s something I need to practise.
I have exercised; I have walked and walked for miles, tens of thousands of steps a day, feeling the strengthening of my breathing, my heart, and my body following my sickness. What a joy to feel the strength in a full breath, and the energy coursing through me from movement, air, time, and space.
I have connected; I feel aligned and back to equilibrium, lifted up from the love and laughter with all my friends and family. The colour is back in my cheeks, and all over, imbuing my spirit with vibrant joy and hope. I feel centred; emotionally healthy from being with people whose words make my spirit echo with safety and happiness, stretch me in new and interesting ways, and who love me with a safety net so wide that it feels like I am floating in a warm summer ocean.
I feel whole and real again. I promise myself that I will remember this equilibrium and at my most busy and stressful, remember that this is what normal is, and not try and make the Pollyanna version of normal from stressful situations, or from people who do not care about my wellbeing.
I have loved; joyfully, playfully, awkwardly, beautifully! It’s so poignantly undoing to realise that I have been Teflon-coated for part of the term, and never realised that it wasn’t normal. Like the frog put into cold water and slowly boiled, it doesn’t realise its environment is not normal until it is scalding the life out of it. Let me love in little snippets every day, or as much as I damn well want. My heart flows, and I will not be scalded into submission.
I have journalled; hundreds and hundreds of words, free-flowing from my pen onto the page, dozens of rain-checked thoughts needing re-examination, reflection, and the sort of self-conversation that comes only from time, space, and safety. That’s not in the middle of the school term, whilst I’m trying to be professional.
That’s when stressful situations get dealt with on the surface level and then get put in a holding pattern. And then, when there is a stretch of time, I open up the skies and let them pour down, like rain. And my tears of healing flowed the same way. I am so grateful for the wonderful ebb and flow in my heart now, that comes from having looked at everything that needed looking at, and sitting next to my heart like and old girlfriend with a bottle of wine, just chattin’. I breathe freely now, and so does my heart.
I have created; my words and music which have lain dormant are awakened, and I am overwhelmed with the beauty and colour of all that I have created. Insights which I could not put into words during the term come out as song, melody, lyrics, or some other nymph-like form of creative expression. I write like I breathe. It is glorious.
I have played; my darling piano, to feel your keys under my increasing deft and strong fingers, knowing that joy of incremental growth again is a mathematical sort of satisfaction, and a clarity of my own self and thinking. I can tell the health of my own emotional self from the fluency of my piano playing, and the colours available to me.
I have cleaned, washed and created room for new energy and thoughts.
I never knew how far I would travel in three weeks.
I feel an overwhelming gratitude and joy in knowing that no matter how great the discomfort, stress, challenge, and pain, that with enough time, I have an internal compass that lines up due north, and I will always be able to find my equilibrium.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for these holidays.
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.
One of the greatest joys in life is having inspiration, agency, and time meet at a crossroads, and bringing a creative project into existence.
Too often we have inspiration but have to fight for the time, cobbling together the tiny scraps in our day to allow space for our creativity. It is challenging and determined work, and catches us breathless, but we do it because we are punch-drunk with the idea and starry-eyed with agency.
Then there’s having time but no rush of inspiration, no idea or concept that makes our heart beat a little faster, and our minds lose all sense of time and logic. Yes, we can do workman-like work to create a committed, workman-like outcome, but again, it’s challenging and determined work with a different sort of struggle.
And then, there’s that magical, unexpected combination where inspiration, agency, and time meet at the crossroads and something truly creative and excellent is borne, coming to life with the sort of tenacity and heat that radiates from anything which has momentum.
When this happens you become a willing, humble vessel for the work, set alight by inspiration, powered by an energy which is not entirely all your own, propelled forward with a courage to give voice and breath to this tiny, audacious idea which wants to be born.
It’s a thrilling way to have a conversation with creativity.
These are the lyrics for my new choral commission, Magic Happens in the Silence.
“Magic happens in the silence
You can walk beside your heart
You can see between the moments
You can dance amongst the stars!
Light illuminates the impossible
Words alight and tell your soul
You can count between the seconds
Stand and see, you become whole
There is magic in the silence
That you never fathomed possible
That you never thought would pull you
With your compass firmly fixed upon the stars
Where you are
Where you are
Listen to the magic in the silence
Of knowing all that you are.”
I am quick to write off creative pursuits at the end of a long day of teaching.
Despite thinking of myself as a person who is completely happy and comfortable with being creative, being free and playful in the creative realm when I am truly exhausted seems overwhelming. It seems too draining and frivolous when all I want to do is rest and switch off.
Yet now I realise, while I am on holidays and engaging with all things creative, how utterly essential being creative and playful is, especially at the end of long and challenging day.
Just as the opposite of play is not seriousness but depression; the opposite of not being creative is not being still and restful, it is numbing.
Yes, that’s right. Numbing.
At the end of a stressful day, or an argument, or a lesson gone pear-shaped, or on the brink of a challenging conversation, we need to be more playful, more daring and more creative. I couldn’t believe it, but I see it with clarity now. Every time I sit down in front of Netflix, or YouTube, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I am not “unwinding” like I think I am; I am numbing. I am zoning-out because I have decided that I am too tired to engage with whatever experiences I have had in the day.
But really, I am avoiding.
How? And what if I am truly tired?
Physical tiredness is inconsequential; you can get to bed earlier, exercise and eat well, and make sure that your body is at its optimum to heal and regain its energy stores.
But emotional tiredness? That requires creativity. It requires a vehicle for expression, and a pathway out into the world where it can be seen and demystified.
It requires voice and play in the quiet and safety of your own mind, away from the noise of the classroom. Away from the demands of leadership, of the assault of angular personalities, grief, sadness, and unresolved issues. It is the voice that soothes the abrasive, stark moments of the day.
The balm that is creativity allows you to do the following:
Being creative is your chance to play in the playground of your own self, heart, and mind. What a crucial part of getting to know yourself! Combine with stillness and silence, and you can truly hear your thoughts, that you may become emotionally strong and perceptive.
So as I sit my exhausted self at the piano and lift my hands to the keys, I remember that with each piece or exercise comes new sounds, healing, ideas, chords, tones, and colours.
As I put pen to page in my journal and write for the five minutes before falling asleep, I see the unspoken words coming forth from me, uncensored, raw and real, authentic, alive, and truthful, that I might make meaning out of my thoughts. That I might see all the places where I have been dutiful, or withheld my true self, or could have done things differently. That I might also catch the wild and amazing ideas that are just below the surface, eager to play.
As I sing, I hear and feel the openness of my voice and how this might feel in rehearsal. I find the satisfaction in producing a beautiful sound, and the wholeness of my body as it aligns in song. I think of how I will share this with my choristers to capture that physical, musical and emotional reward.
As I compose, I practise a skill that is words and music combined. I give energy to silent words on the page and bring them into being, all the while aware that they are guiding my thoughts, and giving courage to my new ideas by existing.
The more tired and exhausted I am, the more I need to be creative.
Well then. One serve of courage, please!
When I was 21, I thought I could make anyone smile. Anyone who was withdrawn, quiet, tired, stressed, angry, annoyed, having an off day, I would make it my personal mission to connect with them and see if I could break their mood, or get a smile from them. I thought it was my business to talk to anyone.
How UTTERLY AUDACIOUS and SIMPLISTIC of me.
And yet, I have been thinking about it a lot this week, and longing for that simplistic, authentic audacity.
Because I realised that I have become safe.
Imperceptibly, and ever-so-surreptitiously, I have become more reasonable, more mature, bounded by rules and frameworks, cautious, and, let’s face it, less happy to give up my energy and time for a possible metaphorical slap in the face if an interaction goes badly. While outwardly I am energised and positive, I have very gradually become safe. I’m on the conveyor belt, and I didn’t even realise it.
Why am I thinking about this?
It’s been an exhausting and challenging few weeks at school, where students are starting to get tired and edgy. Behaviour problems are starting to fully show themselves, assessments are due, encouragement and full support are required where my reservoirs are running low, and I am trying to fit more and more in. And while I get everything competently done, I thought about what total a whack-job I was in my early 20s as a teacher, where a behaviour management or teaching issues were just situations requiring a creative solution. I all but rubbed my hands in glee, ready to embark on a round of solution-mongering.
I was so damn creative, audacious, and fearless.
Why? Because I had no track record. I had absolutely nothing to lose, no history of success or failure, no existing street-cred, and I had classes to teach. And my God, I found ways to connect with those students + staff out of sheer desperation + innovation, keeping up by the day, and sometimes by the minute. And because I had zero behaviour management skills, I behaviour managed like Martina Hingis played tennis: SMART.
I am a featherweight, literally. I am just under 5-foot and about 45-50 kgs, depending upon how may Tim Tams I eat. My voice back then did not carry a metre, let alone a rehearsal room with 70 over-excited students. In my formative teaching days, I had no “older-male-student” presence whatsoever when I behaviour managed; some of those 6-foot-plus boys could have sneezed and I would’ve been annihilated. I had zero ability + knowledge in navigating bitchiness, drugs, alcohol, underhand remarks, social media bullying, in short, no street-cred whatsoever.
And I had classes to teach, and curriculum to get through, and boundaries to set.
So I built connection. I had the audacity to think that if I could make every interaction with each student + staff member as real, authentic, joyful, and positive as possible, I would at least have money in the bank.
It became a game to me; I wonder how I can make that staff member smile? How could I POSSIBLY start a conversation with a kid who has zero interests which overlap with mine? How can I deliver soul-sucking information to students about their grades, their actions, or their poor behaviour in a way that values them?
I spent hours driving home thinking through words and conversations, learning the power of changing one word, or how I chose to deliver something, what order I would say things, where I would say a kid’s name to show value + care, and how I chose to build hope and worthiness where there was such decimation in their self-esteems without taking away from poor work + behaviour.
That was then, when I was “young and scrappy”, and full of energy and front.
Now, I have things in place. I am mid-career, and I have frameworks down, confidence in my abilities, and structures and staff who will support me.
And I realised this week, whilst trudging through a challenging, emotionally draining week, that I have recently forgotten to be audacious. I have been taking the slightly safer option, the path of least resistance. I haven’t started the random conversations, I haven’t given the extra compliment to the kid who is trouble, I have allowed systems to work their systematic magic, and in truth, I have been sapped of energy. I haven’t got what it takes to be full of audacity, engaging with conversations that half the time might elicit a weird or slightly off-centre reaction. I have no time for the quirky, no energy for the playful just to be playful.
And that what I LIVED for in my beginning years.
But, my God, I should. I should, because that is the connection that is missing.
Because some of that unreasonable audacity is what will shake me out of my routine, and back into the fresh and unpredictable present that is teaching, and life.
What if I said hello the the person who perpetually was withdrawn in the morning and made it a challenge to see if I could learn something new about them? Do I need to be mesmerised + completely interested? Well, highly likely I won’t be to that extent. But I can still make a connection. I am not learning anything or connecting with anyone if I have walked past this person for half a year and know nothing about them and continue talking to the same people. How both big-headed and fearful am I that I think someone else is not worth my time, or that my time is THAT limited. There are people in much more demanding jobs and lives who find time. So can I.
What if I did those things for my students + classes which elicit the raised eyebrows, embarrassed yet half-game laughs, and shook them up a little? I’ve been comfortable, with my ensembles, with my thinking, with my support, with my teaching. I wonder what it would be like to do something which is just slightly outside of my current comfort zone, knowing that it will cost me a more courage, time, and energy?
What if I sat still enough that I could find the words to speak to the kid who is being a little shit, and continues to be a little shit in my classes because they are so broken by life? Rather than just letting the behaviour system do its thing, how could I change the script so that the consequences happen, but my WORD resonate with value and worthiness? My instinct right now? I want to kick a few of the kids I teach. That’s how much they are pissing me off. But I wonder, audaciously, how willing I am to think about this creatively. I’m not pinning myself as the next teaching Messiah, God no. I will still want to slap several kids for being completely remorseless, unaffected, Teflon-coated turds, even if my conversations and words are well-received. But let’s play this creativity game a little.
How can I do things differently when I am uncomfortable?
How can I connect with kids who don’t want to be connected with, who refuse everything, and who are going through the motions of a behaviour management plan already? What can I say or do that will actually carry momentum and resonate?
Why the hell would I want to do this?
Because my greatest joys in life have come from the accidental, audacious interactions. When I was 21, I thought I could talk to anyone and affect change. I thought that all my words carried some life and momentum, and I naively and audaciously believed that my setting out to make peoples days a little brighter served a higher purpose.
And the reflection back was threefold; when a risk paid off, I was catapulted out of my comfort zone into new connections, understandings, unexpected moments of joy, learning, and hope. I learned so much from being so naively confident and interested. I was absolutely engrossed in life.
And I would hate to look back and realise that I had become reasonable and normal, colouring within the lines like a good little girl, when I had the imagination, capacity, and ability to be creative, human, and audaciously unreasonable.
Why are we always in such a hurry? It’s because we ask more from ourselves in a certain amount of time and with a certain amount of energy than we can possibly give. We squeeze in one, two, or three last things into our days, only to be left feeling frustrated and vaguely empty because we are exhausted from the ordeal, or we have done everything superficially; everything from loving our families, finishing tasks, to taking care of ourselves.
While I absolutely follow the rule of “done is better that perfect”, and relish in the crazy productive dash that allows me my wind-down time at night, I think that we have become a generation obsessed with maxing out our time, getting more “bang for our buck”. This includes working hard, and partying even harder. Why does everything have to be “done” before we are content? And what content is there to be gained by just wallowing in nothingness afterward, exhausted and unable to connect? Is it because there is no expectation of us? Or because we are so hampered and hemmed-in by daily demands that we long of simplicity and some sense of personal freedom? And why should an email inbox produce such anxiety in people that we dread opening our eyes in the morning?
I think that pushing ourselves sometimes is correct, that we should be pulling out all stops sometimes. But these should be for exceptional events, like a baking all-nighter to create something beautiful for a child or family member, the unexpected creative project, the 5-hour long Skype session with someone special. Because that is the right and human thing to do. Because we are made of love.
But I don’t believe in using ourselves up like some inexhaustible resource. We are not designed for that, and it’s just not sustainable. So how do we deal with this?
We can choose to get kinder and clearer on what we can actually do in a day, an hour, a spare 11 minutes. We can choose to be kinder to ourselves when we do not finish something, knowing that we have done all that we can in a day. We can choose clarity of planning and thinking more deeply and comprehensively about things that matter. How conceited we are to think we can pull off anything amazing just because we decide to pour an excess of time into it immediately? What was ever created like that which didn’t drain the life-blood of the creator? Yes, there are some extraordinary exceptions, but everything worth having, be it a strong relationship, a creative project, a deep friendship, a beautiful composition, or raising a healthy and happy child, all require consistent, loving attention and time.
What if we did all our daily tasks in the time they should take for each of us, with full presence of mind, and the awareness to connect, laugh, reflect, consider, and be joyful?
And what if were to stop running around thinking we are each so special that we can each be superhuman, and choose the right amount of things to fit into the minutes that we have. Do each thing with care, and your days become so much richer + worthwhile than a blur of nothings.
Forgive yourself your beautiful humanity + tender vulnerability, and choose to live well.