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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 Anyone who was withdrawn, quiet, tired, stressed, angry, annoyed, having an off day, I would make it my personal mission to connect with them and see if I could break their mood, or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.
Mostly, I live + let live but there are times, I confess, where this is my sole modus operandi. 😂
Happy New Year, everyone! How exhilarating to watch the sunrise today at Henley Square, to feel the freshness of the salt and sea breeze, and to take some time out in solitude to be in conversation with my own thoughts.
This year, I did things differently when it came to wrapping up 2018, and I cannot tell you how free and light I feel! I have always been someone who writes resolutions, gives thanks for the year gone by, and puts down goals I’d like to achieve. As I’ve grown older, I realised I was writing these resolutions almost as prophetic hopes, as if I had some sort of guarantee from the universe that they would come into fruition because I was an A-grade student who did her work and followed all the instructions. Of course, I worked hard to achieve everything I asked of myself. But there are so many things in life that you cannot guarantee, and I have learned that you can only live life fully and well, every day, learning to grow stronger in your ideals, your courage, your love, and yourself.
Most tellingly, the “guarantee with the universe” was because I ultimately didn’t trust myself to own my dreams and aspirations, and to take the incremental steps to make things happen. How heartbreaking to realise that! Especially when I know myself to be so hardworking, creative, and determined, with so much imagination and agency to contribute to the world each day! I thought that if someone else had the contract, namely The Universe, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fall-out if things failed, that I wouldn’t be totally accountable, and I had a scapegoat that I could blame. Because heaven forbid if I actually took responsibility for my directions in life fully and completely, and held myself accountable!
The thing is, it turns out that the most conscientious, A-grade student cannot will some things into being or away, just by planning and executing. Unexpected family tragedies, falling in love, raising a family, the opportunities that come out of the blue that grab you by surprise and whisper, “Go, go, go! You have to jump NOW!” You can’t then turn around and say, “Hey, you fabulous but ill-timed opportunity, you weren’t on the resolution list. You weren’t in the plan. Get in line!”
It has broken my heart over and over that my conscientiousness and overall “good-ness” as a person has not allowed me to raise a family. Life doesn’t choose the A-grade students to be mothers. Life just chooses, and we are each given a page to write. We have the power to grow and to use our words and minutes any way that we want. But we cannot hope for someone else’s page, or use someone else’s words. We get ours, and we can be as creative and daring, or as boringly safe, as we dare.
All you can do is live well.
More than ever, I find that my words and my thoughts have far more worth and value than I realise. I think about how many precious thoughts and words I have carelessly wasted over the years, using them without really knowing their impact, just talking so I could hear my voice, or so that I could make myself feel a little less afraid. I look at myself now and think, “What course can I charter? What can I say? What can I do?” I can stand for something. I am not so small that my words don’t have impact; I have more momentum than I have ever given myself credit for. Changing the momentum of the world around us starts in our small communities, in our families, in our classrooms, in our daily lives. You don’t aim to change to world, you aim to live a good life. And yet, how many people angle for a fame and accolades, wasting so much time, energy, and potential on the way?
I feel a slow and rather wonderful shift in how I am walking into 2019. I love life and what I do, there is no mistaking that, even when things suck. I like the grittiness of life, as well as the soaring delight and quiet joys. But life is not one-dimensional. Find the positive light in the grittiness, but let go of the idea that you need to be the beacon for everyone else. You just have to do what you do, as well as you are able, and you will have purpose and meaning. A heat and energy comes off someone who is simply living their best life, and humans cannot help but gravitate towards this brand of beauty and excellence.
I like who I see in myself, and I like who I am becoming very much. So I say to myself:
Let me sink into the woman that wears clashing patterns and wildly colourful outfits with a sassiness that is real and unmistakable. Let me savour the strength of my words and use them well. Let me walk with purpose, be it light and delightful, or with command and presence. I will not be anything just because it makes other people around me feel comfortable. I will walk into myself, and all that I am, so that I am so overflowing with authenticity, the world cannot help but turn their heads and hear what I have to say.
2019; so what would you like to say?
I wasn’t going to head out today. I haven’t been sleeping properly in the heat, I am tired + feeling very introverted, and I thought I’d just have a very low-key day before NYE celebrations, which are boardgames, pizza, and wine until we all fall asleep, long before midnight.
But I got up and went for a run and picked up some extra groceries. Ran into a friend who needed to connect and it was a warm, playful, and tender conversation. I could see how much she appreciated the time and connection in her face and eyes. And the connection lifted me up and made me less tired and more open.
I thought I’d stop into my local coffee shop, where there is a lovely guy who brings me the paper and always remembers my coffee order and I, in turn, make him smile and cause his heart to flip just a little. Isn’t it extraordinary that when you feel so tender and tired, that you might still light up someone else’s world? I think that of so many people who are special to me, yet I never apply that thinking to myself. I never consider the effect I might have on others when I am tired…and it’s more than I realise.
Then over to see my Grandmamma, who is 98 years young. Walked in to hear yelling and swearing at the nurses for making her wait an hour for her assisted shower, and the nurses laughing and nudging me that she is the most feisty, spirited, entertaining and determinedly uplifting resident they have. She knows them all by name, and has given them nicknames. In the 3 months that she has been there, she rules the roost and can abuse them all soundly, as well as remembering details of their husbands, wives, children, and families. Her marbles are all there. She is unbelievable.
Home, and I realise how differently my day could have gone. Home, and ready to write, be creative, and interact with the world. Ready to engage with the day, and all the people I love.
My god-daughters will arrive soon with all the additional supplies to make dumplings and peanut-butter cookies that I don’t already have in my pantry + fridge. I’ve received a text that they are so excited to see me and cannot wait for Twister + Monopoly tonight.
My cousins just sent me a picture pavlova that will make it over, as well as my favourite Bird in Hand bubbles.
How absolutely amazing that we underestimate our place in the world, and how very vital we are.
Happy New Year to you all, much love, and take your place in the world. Even at your most tired and quiet, you are so very important. Your light may be small and tender some days, and dazzlingly bright others. That’s absolutely okay, you don’t have to be “on” all the time. But don’t wait for the perfect conditions to interact with the world. Just step forward, at your most authentic, in whatever form that you are in, love and care for your tender vulnerabilities, and allow yourself to be fully seen, appreciated, and loved.
See you in 2019.
Oh, that war with creating + creativity which drives us creatives mad. And, if you’re a working-creative, as most of us are because we like to eat, then finding snippets of time can be such a challenge.
But, for those of you out there who love to create, answer me this. How much more yourself and alive do you feel after you’ve directed that creative, imaginative energy someplace? Even if starting the project is absolutely excruciating, when you are in it up to your armpits, making, generating, imagining, dreaming, gathering, speaking, composing, writing – whatever your means of creating, after you share a little bit of yourself with yourself and the world, you cannot help but feel more whole.
As Brené Brown advocated from her research, “Un-used creativity is dangerous. It metastasises.”
We are deeply human, and therefore, we must create.
Finding my voice in all the tiredness and noise is an immense challenge, and one I’d like to explore more deeply in 2019. I am a composer + writer, and a full-time teacher. My teaching takes every bit of creativity and energy from me, but I find that when I am composing + writing, I have a voice that is uniquely my own, and I owe it to myself to nurture and celebrate more consistently. How can I be an effective teacher of a creative subject if I do not explore my own creativity? Just as I am a practicing musician, I would like to consciously make time and room to be a practicing creative.
Finding my voice. When I am on the work treadmill, in go-mode, my truly authentic and creative voice takes a while to surface. I would like to find a pathway back to that voice by practising using it, by playing with ideas. I can find time, always, but finding the strength of purpose to commit to practising my creative voice will be a habit which requires focus + persistence. But when I find that voice and I am in the sweet spot of creating, there is nothing more real or authentic. And then, what I have to hand on to my students in composing + creating becomes more relevant + meaningful.
Creativity as a practice. Creativity doesn’t just spring up when bidden like a willing genie. In fact, it’s the most unwillingly, cunning, slippery little son-of-a-biatch that I’ve ever met. Like most teachers, I can find whatever time you need me to find in a week if I try hard enough. But finding the headspace?! Good luck! So, as with practising the authenticity of voice, I am going to commit to practising my creativity like a habit. This will mean writing, performing, playing with ideas, working snippets of melodies, active listening, and analysis. I cannot grow without drinking in all the inspiration around me on a regular basis, and I know that I would like to be purposeful in my creative ventures, rather than leaving them to chance. Therefore, my creativity will be a hobby that I will pick and prod away at with curiosity, purpose, and a new level of responsibility.
Daydreaming. To the complete opposite end of the spectrum to everything I have just said, I’d like to find unstructured daydreaming time, where ideas can be immersed in rich, creative limbo and take shape + structure. These times will very likely be in the shower, on my drive to school, on my morning walks, my weekend runs, or anytime that I have where I do not have to actively be engaged with anything else. I am going to allow myself permission to do sweet nothing and daydream.
Play. I look back at my 25-year-old self and realise I was so innately playful as a young composer + teacher. While the joy and authenticity is still there, I want to be in it all, being the one who throws the confetti into the air, or who asks the crazy “what if?” Being playful in how I approach my daily tasks will strengthen not only my problem-solving abilities, but keep my creative muscle strong. It also requires regular leaps of faith, something that becomes all too easy to sidestep the older we get.
Tiredness. This one is an eternal challenge, and the thing which most quickly kills creativity. For this, I would like to tap into my tiredness and temper it with a gentler creative activity; reading, writing, or active listening. I lost a lot of time this year in mindless busy-work versions of procrastination, and if I were able to gently discipline and guide those moments of tiredness, I might restore my energy levels in a much more productive and artistic manner.
Start. This one is excruciating, and if you’re a creative, you will damn well know what I mean. So this one is simple. JUST START. Do the shitty first draft, do the totally rubbish throw-down of lyrics, or chords, or melodic ideas. Because from the rubble will come a gem, and from that start will grow embers of excitement and discipline. You cannot pick when ownership will take shape on a creative project, but it always does. Inevitably, there is always a connection, a moment where you fall in love with what you’re doing. There is ALWAYS a turning point.
Authentically human. Create for the sake of using my voice, and because I am so completely human. Not for an audience, not with untold limits. The fact that I am creating art must be for myself, so that someone else might be moved and see themselves reflected in what I have to say. There is no greater drain on creativity than when you create with the expectation that you will please someone, or conform to someone else’s ideals. Even in a commissioned work, the voice must be authentic. Set down your framework and requirements, be it words, vocal ranges, abilities, and so forth. Then play within the parameters. You voice begins there.
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.
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.
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. 🌟