Reflect what you desire.
Become what you respect.
Mirror what you admire.'
- Author unknown.
These words say it all for me and I find myself coming back to them time and time again. You can break down each individual line and apply it to a load of examples for how you go about your day to day. We all desire and admire different ideas, values, people and things and so this mantra (of sorts) can work in many different ways, for many of us.
I've written a few blog posts about my own desire to really seek something from within that I've not fully realised and for whatever reason it is through painting and reflecting on the creative process that I'm able to see myself that little bit clearer. It has made the navigation to the unknown a little more structured. That desire for more meaning, more purpose and more substance was the first motivating factor, to go deeper within. Ironically I found myself searching further away at first. In hindsight, I'd say that was to gather inspiration; from others, and to witness actions and results by altruistic people who seemed to be a few giant strides ahead of me in this pursuit for substance. Even as children we look for qualities to emulate and imitate. While I believe we are all largely unique, nearly all of us would admit to modelling oursleves on someone else before making it on our own. Sadly I think some of us are yet to let go of the mold and see our own potentional and what it is that makes us unique.
I'm personally grateful to my phyical attributes (there's a sentence that took 34 years for me to write), which almost immediately prohibited me from ever fitting in any form of 'mold'. My mum still to this day enjoys telling people (yes even, strangers) that she was awarded a 'Mother of the day' award from the local radio station for bithring the biggest baby at the RBWH that week in Arpil of 82. She recieved a bunch of flowers and a printed certificate and supposedly all the midwifes and other mums flocked to the viewing area to see this giant baby. My mum has always been a little bias so I've personally always taken her recount of events with a grain of salt. Surely these 'crowds' of onlookers were also there to see the other babies. Because really, if that were the case, I must have essentially been a one 'baby' freak show.
From that day on I was always going to stand out from the 'norm', and added to my extreme height, to some I didn't look like I was born in Brisbane or even Australia, and even now at age 34 I still occassionally get asked where I come from, a question that's often not been satisfied by the actual answer, which is Brisbane. It's always followed up with "yeah, but what are you. What's your nationality? What have you got in you?" - NO WORD OF A LIE! This is a question I and many other people of some degree of colour, living in this country have been asked since we were tiny (or giant) children. For so long I just knew they wanted to know that my Dad was Samoan, mostly assuming I'm a kiwi - and so I would get straight to that, relieveing them of their burning desire to know! But then I got older, a little more educated, a little more sure of myself and that question simply won't come without a little rebuttal from me. "What am I? Well I'm was born in Brisbane and I'm Australian." What are you?" If I'm not quite up for the heat, then I'll now say, "Do you mean, what is my heritage? And the answer to that question never seems to satisfy either. Because I'm a big mixed bag of ancestoral blood!
The other reason I refuse to let this question slip by lightly, particularly when it's is so ignorantly worded, is because I'm fairly devoid of any form of cultural identity that could really go hand in hand with what people associate being a 'samoan' or even polynesian - entails. I can't speak the language or understand it, I don't know how to cook Samoan food, dance Samoan dances, I've not ever even been to Samoa and my family, for various reasons do not have that mighty, unbreakable family support system that means everyone helps everyone remotely related to them in times of loss, love and faith. Before FB, I didn't even know that some of my first cousins had been married, or had children or were equally in love with creative and artistic pursiuts as I am. So really, when I get asked 'what I am' or 'where I come' from, it's like asking me what my blood type is - a question I can't confidently answer. I always forget and frankly, what does it matter when you want to really know who someone is?
Looks can be mighty decieving and I have felt and seen the looks of disapointment first hand and on more than one occasion. When I was 21 and completing my final prac as student teacher at Woodridge State High School, I witnessed a room full of young polynesian and aboriginal high school students look curiously and almost warmly at me as I walked into their English class room. I'd been told that this practicum was going to be particularly tricky, because the school had some very challenging students, being in such a low socio-economic area and many of the students were merely coming to school to escape something I would never really be able to imagine, and for others there was just no common ground to be found with a teacher in this new country that completely seems to lack any form of 'culture'. I also got told by my supervising teacher that they might actually like me, because I was young and pretty and she suggested I tell them I am samoan (she knew this beacuse she asked me what my heritage was within minutes of meeting me), but either way she warned me I should be careful not to smile too much. It would be an open invitation to get walked all over. I don't know if many of you reading this have ever been visually assecessed by a room full of teenagers, oustide of your own high school experience - but take it from me and any other high school teacher I've met, as an adult it can either shake you or make you and they will know if they've shaken you. For the record I've never stopped smiling when I've met a new class, and yes that has sometimes been to my detriment ;)
Back to the story and the looks of disapointment. These kids were taking me in, big time. First came the question "Hey Miss, do you play basketball?" - another top five in the questions I'm most commonly asked. To which I said "no", and yes there was the first look of bewilderment plus about ten of the boys (who all had basketballs under their desks) looked like I just told them they can't ever talk about basketball EVER again. Then one of the girls asked me if I was samoan, to which I smiled and answered "yes, my dad is Samoan!" And then came the friendly smiles, something a student teacher could only ever dream about seeing on their first day of prac. But inevitably, this warm connection would end when one of the male students asked me a question in samoan and I had to shake my head and apologise that I could not speak samoan. And I swear in that second almost everyone one of those kids, even the indigenous students, looked away, shook their heads and carried on as though I was not even in the room. Just like that, I couldn't walk the talk, or talk the walk. To them, I was no different to any other new anglo teacher they'd have standing in front of them, expecting respect. Connection fizzled.
That was a feeling I've not forgotten and it really made me feel sad, a bit pathetic and so white! To put this into context for you, I had spent the previous 21 years of my life being one of a few 'brown' faces, positioned high and always sticking out on a 6'2 frame - I never remember feeling like I was anything less, but I always knew I looked different to my mostly blonde, mostly short pals. Many people in our community knew us as the tall family, with the kiwi dad that got around in a van. My dad grew up in NZ but both of his parents migrated from Samoa and then my dad became and Australian citizen after meeting and marrying my mum. But for whatever reason, people always assumed my brother and I were Kiwi and Maori. I still get playful slegding over the All Blacks football team winning or losing a game against the aussies, which is so laughable because I hate football, have the smallest amount of interest in it and wouldn't have an actual clue what people are even talking about. And I don't pretend to know either, I'm proud of my complete lack of interest in the sport. You see the disapointment to a group of teenage islanders. This tall islander chick not only sounds and acts white, she actually hates most sports! Total fruad. Yes, I'm a coconut!
So lets get back to that desire to attract what we reflect, become what we respect and mirror what we admire. Basically to figure out for ourselves who we are and how we want to be known, because I know for all of my efforts and determination to communicate what I am, who I am and how I see myself I CAN"T EVER control how I will be seen. The little collection of stories above has proven that. It's called unconcious bias, and even now that I have the words to label it I still don't think it will ever actually stop occuring, but it does make it easier to understand why it happens, and more importantly to understand there's a need to talk more about it and make it concious so that when we meet each other, see each other and talk to each other we can question our own questions before we come across as ignorant. And yeah people can argue that the world is becoming far too PC, but that's just fear of difference and a lack of understanding, and a lack of willingness or ability to listen to anyone that doens't look, sound or think like us. And all of this understanding came into my world when I first came across Yassmin Abdel-Magied. If you don't know who she is, then you've clearly not read my blog before, or seen my paintings from this year...and that's fine, becuase you're here now! Hearing Yassmin speak on 'unconcious bias' and her amazing ability to find common ground with just about anyone she encounters, is something that strikes a chord in everyone. I could go on and on about my admiration for Yassmin...and I have here.
But what I really want this blog post to be about is the result I've had from seeking and finding amazing women to look to, listen to and be inspired by in order to hold a higher standard for myself and how I ultimately define who I am, what it is I wish to attract, reflect, become and mirror. Time and time again I keep finding myself in the presence of such women. It continues to happen and in truth it always has, but the exciting part for me is that I'm concious of it, and I get to see what I really want to become. And what I really want to become is a confident version of myself - in my body, my mind, my voice and my actions.
There's another great quote that I love to re-read and I think it's fitting right now:
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”
― Edmund Lee
Last friday night I was surrounded by amazing people who I feel so fortunate to have met and to now be associated with, these women are the hearts and minds and insatiable drive behind the 'Global Women's Project'. Their major fundraiser this year was the 'Trailblazing Women of Hertory' an art exhibition to celebrate the stories of women who paved the way for all of us today and for tomorrow. There are 39 incredible portraits of trailblazing women and each is accomplanied by a story in the words of each artist. The gala launch was brilliant, packed to the rafters and absolutely buzzing with good energy and Yassmin herself gave the keynote. She dazzled and I mean DAZZLED absoultely everyone in that room. I felt immensiely proud to know Yassmin and to watch the faces of everyone as many of them heard her speak for the first time. It was magical.
Many people came up to me after hearing Yassmin speak and wanted to know all about the portrait I had created of her. Many wanted photos with Yassmin and myself with the painting and yeah, you get the idea - it was a big boost for my ego! Women and men were coming up to me wanting to talk about how inspiring Yassmin was and this is a topic I could talk about for days. I talked so much I actually lost my voice completely by Sunday. The painting ended up selling to the highest bid of $2000 during a silent auction of 6 of the works, on the night. An amazing result that I'm still getting my head around. At one point later in the night Yassmin was standing next to me when one lovely lady came and thanked us both for inspiring her to get back in touch with who she really is and what her wider contribution has been. I immediately stepped back and gave the floor to Yassmin, I honestly believed that people were just sweeping me up in the Yassmin mania. I shirked off her praise and directed it straight towards Yassmin. Yassmin immediately shot me a serious look, pulled me aside and quietly told me to "lean in!" - she gave me the reminder that I should have given myself and often give to others. Two powerful words from one self-assured young woman, directed right at me. In that moment I couldn't have loved her more. And in that moment I regained some clarity to see myself for all that I am and what I've been doing in the process of shining a light on those that inspire me. I know I've been inspiring people too.
Thank you to the these amazing women of the Global Women's Project, who in my mind are all trailblazers and who put themselves out there to help and empower others to fulfil their full human rights.
If you would like to support the wonderful work of the Global Women's Project and learn more about them, please click here.
If you would like to learn more about Yassmin Abdel-Magied, click here.
And if you would like to find out more about ME you can do any of the following:
Find me on instagram, on facebook, subscribe to my mailing list or email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my ramblings. Enjoy these photos from my incredible weekend in Melbourne with the Global Women's Project.