Shadows

Locked for precious moments alone and naked in the shadows. I’m safe at last among my ghosts, dreaming of the moments where art is as easy as vandalism. Running laughing along the edge of night with paint and knives in my hands, every window smashed behind me. All the trees burning. The smell of it. The apple trees on fire.

It’s a glorious day indeed when I don’t miss you. My pen runs away on the page, speaking atrocities with a blue black forked tongue.

There’s a wind on my back. Paint under my nails. Crushed by love and broken by hate there’s no trace left here of any of it, absolutely no scar, no signature. I’m free to start again.

I find the truth in the old words, and my hands come back from the netherworld, flickering between broken and whole. There’s sweetness like honey on my tongue, bitterness like tears.

I am not her. We are not her. We are not always her. She is us. Waiting like a skin slipped out of. She lingers in the shape of my mouth, the way one foot slips shyly beneath the other. The season turns. The lightning comes. I remember so many other nights like this.

Uncountable nights where I could not be captured. I ate the world and it ran wet down my chin. In the company of nightmares is the only safety I’ve ever really believed in. The only place I’m whole.

To not be here for a little while, please

I would like not to exist this week.

My birthday continues to be one of my most vulnerable times of the year.

I’m not all that adult around my birthday. I’m 10 years old and so lonely I want to die. I’m traumatised and confused and out of step with everyone. I’m surrounded by people I can’t seem to connect with. I’m alien. No one speaks my language. No one touches me. My loneliness and vulnerability mark me as rejected and make me a target for bullying.

I have built so much since that time. My advocacy and this blog has been a huge part of that. I have a community.

Respected is not quite the same as loved.

I am in so much pain.

I am hiding it because I have learned to be ashamed. Because I am afraid of being hurt. Because I don’t want to pressure anyone. I don’t want to take, devour, consume. I don’t want charity, pity, resentment. I want to share, to be connected. To give and be given to.

There’s times I feel myself part of the world, woven into a web of many people’s lives, seen and seeing, connected, useful, of worth, wounded and imperfect but sufficient and loved.

There’s times I free fall. I can’t see or feel anyone. I’m alone in the dark. There’s a memory of pain in me so huge it blots out the sun. I was a child who wanted to die. My birthday is reliably a time I fall. Every year I’ve tried a new approach and every year at best it partly works. There’s no hole deep enough for me to hide from it. I can’t bear to ignore it, to mark it, to celebrate or hide. There’s no right answer, no way out of the pain. It’s miles of barbed wire and the only way out is through.

I wish it was different.

But I can find a way out of the shame and the silent trap. Hey there, lovely ones. This is me right now. I’ll be okay. Don’t panic. It’s not the end. I don’t need to be rescued. Don’t overwhelm me with eulogies. But be kind right now. My moon is dark. Drop me a line. Offer a hug. Invite me for coffee. Send me a sympathetic we’ve-all-been-there nod across cyberspace. Tip your hat in the street, give me that goth-kin wink.

I know I’m incredibly weird and intense. I know I’m not the only one with my heart broken, baying at the moon. I see you too, I see your bewildered and terrified 10 year olds, being eaten by the night. It will pass. We’re all just holding on, my friends. Together and apart, friend and freak.

I would like not to exist this week. But given I’m stuck with it, how then shall we pass the time? I’ll bring the accordion, you bring the tambourine. I’ll bring the communion wine, you bring the hymns. I’ll bring the black lipstick, you bring the fishnets torn at the knees. I’ll bring the pack of cards, you bring the cheeseboard. We’ll meet under the bridge, in your dining room, on the front line, out back of the hospital. I’ll check you out of the ward for the afternoon and we’ll bum a few smokes. I’ll come to tea in a ridiculous hat and sit with my knees together. I’ll read you Keats and Slessor on the jetty over the water and we’ll cry into the wind. You’ll take my hand and I won’t feel a thing. Not a thing.

Using language to support parent infant bonding

Language is so powerful. When Poppy was born we found many people would frame our experiences or her behaviour in ways that were not helpful for us. It’s amazing how many of our common phrases ascribe bad intentions to the child. It may seem like nit picking to fuss over a word, but words build the story that impacts how we understand each other. They create the filter through which we interpret each others intentions.

I first learned about attribution theory in uni, studying psychology, and a lot of things clicked in my mind about people I’d known. Most anyone when depressed or overwhelmed sees the world and other people through a filter that makes the innocuous seem hostile and the mildly difficult downright sinister. Some of us are more prone to this more of the time, living in a world where grey runs to black. How we feel can strongly change the way we interpret others and the world around us.

Many of the stories created by common phrases used about children would pit Poppy against us, as if she was indifferent or even cruel. People would say things like she was “being a jerk” if she wouldn’t stop crying, was “too smart for her own good” if she climbed something and fell off, “had us wrapped around her little finger” if we went to comfort her after she fell over.

On one level this is a way to be light-hearted about the stress of parenting, laugh it off, and validate how awful and exhausting it can be! But for some, in the context of stress and sleep deprivation, this can also take the relationship between parent and child into dark and risky places.

It can be difficult to understand just how painful things can get if you haven’t been there. In the early months of Poppy’s life, I was often sick, very sleep deprived, and feeling at the end of my tether. I’ve noticed that a kind of flip in thinking can happen when things are really bad. If you feel stretched past capacity enough, at some point it feels like it’s not possible for everyone to survive. Survival instinct and maternal instinct start to contradict each other. The maternal (or parental) impulse to protect and nurture is powerful and we tend to see it as the norm. But it’s not always the way, and when threat levels are high and bonding is distorted it may diminish or become secondary. The impulse to protect the child may dissipate next to the sense that there’s simply not enough resources for everyone.

Things can get really desperate if the child’s behaviour is framed as a threat in some way to your own survival. The shift in thinking from ‘we are all in this together, having a tough time’ to ‘they are sucking me dry’ is a risky one both for the relationship and the child.

This interesting article, the neuroscience of calming baby explores what’s going on behind a common phenomenon – babies are calmer when carried and held but will often become distressed when put down. It talks briefly about how important it is to understand that this is an inbuilt mammalian response, to “save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents”. Soberingly, this is important because “unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse”. This is not in any way to blame a child for being harmed, or to excuse harm done to children. It is to examine the context in which otherwise devoted, well intentioned parents can find themselves struggling with furious impulses or not coping.

Ascribing bad intentions to a baby starts to activate a sense of threat, that the child is wilfully harming the parent, deliberately denying them basic needs of food, sleep, and relief from distress. When bonding is good and parent needs are getting met, these things don’t matter so much. But in harder times they can contribute to a sense of being tortured by the child rather than by the circumstances. It’s desperately important to see a child’s distress as distress rather than an attempt to control, manipulate, or do harm. Language is part of how we do this, helping to interpret and contextualise so we don’t distort what we’re experiencing.

It’s also critical not to set up impossible expectations such as “when you cry I will make it better for you” with a child. Overburdened by this sense of responsibility, parents are at risk of feeling intense distress in the form of failure, agitation, and frustration if confronted by distress they cannot sooothe or silence.

Rose and I translated a lot of common sayings when we encountered them. Someone would say to us things like:

  • “She’s fighting sleep” and we would agree but shift the intention- “yes, she’s struggling to sleep today”
  • “She’s not a very good baby” becomes “she’s having a hard time settling at the moment”
  • “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger” becomes “she sure is a little cuddle-bug”

This was incredibly helpful for me in a few instances where I was struggling. In early weeks I was prodromal (warning signs of psychosis) partly due to severe sleep deprivation. I would get Poppy confused with Tamlorn, the little one I miscarried. Rose and I would tag team Poppy all night to give each other some sleep. There have been times I’ve handed Poppy over in sobbing distress and Rose has taken her out for a morning drive because my nerves are shredded by her crying and my nipples are mangled from her biting and I’m losing it.

It makes a difference to understand that Poppy is behaving as she is supposed to, not to harm me. Human babies often want to be held all the time and use crying to signal fear, pain, hunger and every need they have. It’s also a biological norm for infant crying to send us round the twist, and being able to see our own limits coming up without hating ourselves for them is valuable. Infant needs can be more than a parent can meet, or impossible to understand at times. Nurtured infants need nurtured parents and few of have invested in those kinds of communities before bringing a baby into the world.

Parent needs are deeply important to meet in order to buffer that sense of threat and reduce the fight/flight response being activated in distress. Staying out of crisis mode is partly achieved by treating adult needs as real and significant, and using language wisely to tell the most helpful story about the situation.

So we found it helpful to say ‘squeaking’ instead of ‘screaming’ for example. “Our little person is squeaking again” sounded less dramatic and helped us keep perspective. We talked about “witching hour” and planned around the time every evening that Poppy would be overwhelmed and inconsolable. We used baby wearing to manage her desire to be close in a way that reduced our fatigue and back pain, learned how to rest her face on our shoulder so her screaming didn’t go right into our ear, and use as a mantra “I’m here with you, you’re not alone” in place of wanting to fix it when nothing was working.

In our case, ‘colic’ was managed by reducing stimulation. The lights went off every night at 6pm, Poppy had a warm bath as soon as she started becoming distressed, and we didn’t go out in the evening for many months until she passed through the phase.

Language is a big part of what helped us navigate these huge challenges well. The risk of psychosis in the early days, serious difficulties with breastfeeding, and a baby with undiagnosed functional lactose overload and colic caused by sensory overwhelm. Combined with 2 deaths in the family and a range of illnesses for Rose and I, it was not an easy start. We were and are ecstatic to have Poppy, she is an absolutely beautiful, loving, curious, adventurous child. Tending to the stories we told and the language we used helped us to bond together during those difficult times.

Many creative projects

I made it into my studio for a few precious hours today. I bought this lovely drying rack for hanging wet artworks, and worked more on my illustrated poem project. You can see some of the pages drying on the new rack here:

I have been often ill lately with high pain levels and have not had as much art time as I’d hoped. The top priorities I’m keeping up with: my time with family, my studies, work gigs of various kinds.

I was very pleased to collaborate recently with the Greens SA and paint creatures of the Great Australian Bight during a listening post. Illustrating campaigns that are close to my heart is a special joy.

I was also honoured to be part of a panel at Uni SA about alternative responses to psychosis. I spoke from my Psychosis without Destruction perspective. I gave a brief illustrated presentation using journal entries from my first two episodes, and the body painting I did during my second episode which resolved it.

I am keeping up with my public health studies and learning French. I’ve just handed in an assignment exploring the social determinants of health and proposing an intervention intended to reduce cardiovascular illness for people with severe mental illness.

I was planning an exhibition for my birthday but I’m going to push it back a month or so and see how my health goes. I’m happy with my priorities right now. Family, study, and work are all going well and art and other projects fit in where and as I can. 💜

Poem: Leaving open the doors

Recently, I sat in an office and unraveled a complex dilemma. 
The woman sitting me responded, saying “What I’m hearing
is that you are trying to find a way to engage health
without colluding with those who have oppressed you,
and without contributing to the oppression of others.”

I blinked and then
Cried.

Yes. Yes that’s what I’ve been trying
To put into words the last 10 years.
My refusal to cut the tie
That binds me to the common humanity
Of the most irrelevant and destitute because
They are me.

When I manage to find a door
Through the insurmountable obstacle
I try to leave it open
Behind me.

This blog has been my public road map
Not as a set of instructions or moral imperatives
Or proof of my superiority in some way
No more no less than an honest account of how and where
I found the doors
And the courage to walk through them.

The times I succeeded and the ones I failed. 
In honest truth telling, I believe we are set free. 

You are skilled, she said
At behaving ethically despite being outcast
You are afraid and uncomfortable of the challenge
Of doing so when you are embraced and approved of.

Ah.

All the long years, trying to get in to the town
The truth is I’m also terrified of it
And run back to the wilds, alone but free.

This is about oppression, she said, and power.
My teeth lengthened in my smile
And I promised
To write and paint
The unspeakable things again.
To hold fast to the light burning
To speak my name with blood, pride, and dark joy.
To break the invisible all powerful rules
Seek life
For me and all my kind. 

An easy life

Some time ago I decided to make some life changes to reduce stress. I went looking for where I could shift things to be on the ‘easy setting’, given how many things I can’t change that are very much on the difficult setting in my life. My propensity to love people who have suffered greatly shifts that dial right the way over to ‘challenging’. But one area I could easily change was my garden. I had a lovely full pottager garden (a busy mix of flowering and edible plants) which I could no longer keep up with since Poppy came along. Last year was exhausting for me with heavy caring responsibilities and my health has been rough this year so I’m glad I got ahead of this.

With some wonderful help, my garden has been hugely reduced. We removed the rosemary bush, a lovely pomegranate shrub, a huge jade plant, many geraniums, and mostly what is left are my roses. It was really hard! Paradoxically, I love this new garden more. I can see and appreciate the roses better, I’m out in it almost every night weeding and watering. Our succulents are coming along well and will thrive in pots among the roses. Now that it needs much less care I feel less overwhelmed and it actually gets much more care than before. It’s a source of joy again instead of angst. And roses I’ve hardly looked at in years are suddenly center stage again and breathtakingly beautiful. 

It’s been a delightful week. I’ve taken a little time off to cope with health troubles and that’s eased the depression and mental pressure. I’m enjoying my studies hugely and excited about my work and art projects. A new exhibition is in the works which is wonderful, and I’ve started writing my Multiplicity book again after a very long hiatus. I’ve also taken up French lessons through the very cool app Duolingo. I’ve started seeing a new therapist. I’m experimenting with antidepressants and herbal supplements. Life is good.

Today we dusted off our bikes and patched up the tyres for our first ever family rides. It was wonderful. I’ve been wanting to get more physical activity happening for myself but unable to stretch the budget to include sporting fees and memberships for all the exciting things I’d love to be doing like dancing, kayaking, kick boxing… When the depression overloads me the obstacles are so overwhelming. Yet I’ve had a bike in the shed I haven’t ridden in years but loved and saved up for a long time to get. I’d still love to learn fitness pole and wind surfing but right now cycling is accessible and Poppy loved it. 

I have been earning enough money to pay for my studio rent, supplies, and a new membership with the Society for Children’s Illustrators and Book Writers. I feel so proud of this, to have my art and work paying its own costs and even easing the tight family budget makes me feel really good. It’s not the full time work I was aiming for, but with part time study and rest and recovery time needed for health, it’s good. It’s a big achievement and I’m looking forward to more of the sense of peace and accomplishment that the shifts and growth have been creating. Some things are very hard but not everything needs to be. 

Illustrated poem

I recently attended a book making workshop by wonderful local illustrator Sally Heinrich. Since then I’ve been working on illustrating one of my poems.

This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do for years with my illustrated presentations, to convert them from PowerPoint slides and spoken words to beautifully books. I’ve been learning a lot about illustrations for print over the past 6 months and loving it. The synthesis between word and image just clicks for me. I’m very glad that art has been liberated from the requirement of narrative traditions, but I’m also glad to be finding my own passion for story.

The workshop and project has helped clear a mental block that’s come along with a great deal of sickness this year for me. I love good creative training and workshops, the best are safe creative spaces to fill in knowledge gaps that bringing some unattainable desire within reach. I adore being able to learn art for the love of learning without having to fit my work to a schedule of assessments or the limiting ideas of ‘real art’ of a supervisor. After some inspiration at Writer’s Week too, I’m extremely happy to be writing and painting between work and study. Public health has started up again and if anything I’m enjoying it even more than last trimester. It is such an excellent fit with my values and passion. I’m working towards an exhibition for my birthday this year again. I’ll keep you posted.

Love amidst pain

At times when I’ve been very broke, I’ve felt that a troubling and difficult to name challenge that has been not the obvious stresses – affording bills and medical care and food, but a subtle one. Judged according to choices it’s assumed I’ve made, my life, my clothes, my presentation fits me to a standard. If there’s only one pair of jeans in the op shop that fit me, their cut and colour says little about me except my lack of choices. When I’m with others who’s choices are also constrained, this is understood, and we envy each other when personal taste isn’t inhibited by limitations. It’s a joy when we can forge something close to our sense of self from what we have.

Today I have been resting. My mind is burned out trying to understand some things that are extraordinarily painful to me. I have read and watched movies and curled up on the couch under a blanket. The weather is glorious, late summer and soft sunshine. I am recovering from a horrible head cold that has made my whole body ache. And I am thinking about my life not in an abstract sense as if I could have done anything, but from within the constraints I have faced. The long and terrible illnesses, the homelessness, the loneliness, the terrible suffering and self loathing I am still recovering from, growing up queer and unsafe. I think about the cards I was given and how I have played them and I am at peace. I have an incredibly beautiful life. I adore my family. I have navigated such heart rending and terrifying challenges to be here and to love the way I do from a heart so starved and shattered. It is so far in many ways from what I wanted or hoped for. But it so glorious given how lost I could have become. Queer and Christian can be a death sentence, and when I return to my old home at times, I can see myself on the floor of the bathroom like a ghost. I am curled around myself screaming silently and begging god to undo what I am. I have faced the absolute terror of hell and exile to stand here today. I have faced suicide and self harm. I have faced a loneliness so deep and profound that it felt like it was erasing me from the inside out. I have navigated multiplicity and psychosis, caring and needing care, the loss of friends, the heartbreak of not finding my place in employment.

I would not have chosen this path. I would never have chosen homelessness, or chronic pain, or my string of failed attempts to haul my life back onto the track I was aiming for. I would not now choose our vulnerablity, our financial insecurity, our public housing. I aimed very high and where I’ve landed so far, it turns out, is incredible.

I adore my daughters with all my heart, and the joy in parenting them surpasses anything else in my life. My beloved Rose and I are restored to each other after the terrible strain of last year. We are learning that knowing each other for 6 years does not mean we know each other. That love is in asking the questions and listening closely to the answers. The hand reached across the gulf of miscommunication and expectations. There’s so much love here.

Yesterday I went to a wonderful talk by local artist/illustrators about how they navigated their work while raising young children. It was wonderful and I learned so much. I also realised that their process was only fitted around children, while I was trying to build mine around illness and disability and many other things. It has not been easy and yet I am finding a small slow path.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of someone I had not known very well, the husband of a dear late friend. I was not sure I would be able to go. Death is not something I am reconciled to since I had my terrible breakdown. I felt angry and humiliated by my vulnerability to it. Rose eased me into finding the thorn in my paw. I was terrified of my secret, nagging judgement that his life had been wasted. I recalled heartbreaking conversations with him about his lack of the spark of joy, his envy of my passion. He too, faced many challenges in his life. Only when I found this fear could I see that my block was little to do with him, but my own secret terror that in some way I couldn’t even find words for, my life has added up to nothing.

So I went to the funeral. They read a poem by my late friend. It hurt so badly it felt like I was dying for a time. My heart broke for his friends and family. My heart broke for my friend, and how hard friends can be to come by. How irreplaceable each of us are in the web of our lives. I thought of the millions of people in the world and how easy it is to be lonely. How hard it can be to listen as deeply and carefully as Rose and I are learning again to listen to each other. How life is neither all triumph nor all loss. I listened to the heartfelt eulogies by his friends and saw both his pain and his life in a softer and more loving light. I thought about my friends. I thought about how I would be remembered if I died today, the way I would not want my sorrow or my struggles to be the focus, but my love and the people and things I have loved and tried to learn how to love well.

I went to a therapy appointment yesterday to open in a safe place a big painful box about family and history and abuse and relationships. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe or stay seated on the couch. I couldn’t stop. So much love and so much pain. Agonising dilemmas that are sunk deeply into my skin like razor wire. No easy answers or lights on my path.

When I left I splashed cold water on my face and hair and wrists. I took a cold drink in a small paper cup and I staggered carefully to my car. I sat with my journal in my lap and no words until the urge to vomit passed. I drove home carefully into the sun, taking the route with the most shade cast by trees, and crept into my home to hold my little girl and a hot water bottle for the rest of the evening.

Today I look at what I have built, what I have made of my life with what I’ve given, or found, or forged, and I am content. It is humble but no secrets rot beneath the floor. It is glorious. I am limping and dancing, both. There are many beautiful and wounded people I have built relationships with, of one kind or another, tended these like gardens that need work and effort and understanding. Learning how to listen, how to speak, and how to endure. Gratitude for those who came before me and made my world possible, those who changed my world so that queer people were not vile, those with disabilities were not repulsive, trauma was not a weakness of character, and that those who were sick or poor should be given a wage to allow them shelter and food. I remember their sacrifices and their work and I am thankful. I remember them when I choose to make sacrifices and to work towards a better and kinder world for my children and their children. There is so much love here.

Dancing with depression

I’ve been feeling raw and bleak at times lately. Today I was diagnosed with PCOS (a hormone condition) and PMDD (a sensitivity to certain hormones that causes a bunch of symptoms – my biggest struggle is severe depression on day 1-2 of my cycle. Given I already have mild endometriosis and severe adenomyosis, it’s making Poppy feel like a miracle and I’m holding her pretty close.

I’ve also had a severe digestive virus and a UTI/bladder infection which has knocked me for six.

It’s been a rough 6 weeks for me with many illnesses half of which have me quarantined and infectious. In between illnesses I’m happily enjoying downtime, and sunshine, and art, and chasing up friends for some much needed connection. I’m also about to be back in my studio working on a project dear to my heart which is exciting.

I’ve been rereading Lost Connections by Johann Hari recently which is a beautiful and well thought out book. Strangely enough in the light of it I’m about to try intermittent dosing of an antidepressant to see if it might help me manage the one two unpredictable days a month my head caves in. I don’t have a lot of treatment options left to try.

There’s a strange path I’m finding myself walking. Sadness, grief, loneliness all need to be heard and made space for. Given voice and listened to deeply. And the mind and heart also needs tending to ease them. It’s not a desperate fight against depression. It’s being open to it and the messages of it. Accepting and attentive and compassionate. While also working to be restored. The duality is strange. Burdened by a culture that sets us up to fight with our own mind and tries to numb our alarm systems instead of meeting needs and down regulating over sensitive alarms, I’ve swung far in the other direction of accepting whatever comes. Blown about on the tides. Actively working to change my state of mind or feelings is, in a way, as odd to me as most people find accepting and listening to them to be.

I have been lonely and sad at times lately. Two of my close friends are struggling with severe suicidal feelings. I miss spending more time with them. Did you know loneliness makes you much more susceptible to catching sicknesses? I’m reaching out when I can, being part of things. Glad for many good folks around me. Rose is, when she’s well enough, taking good care of me. We’ve been doing a lot of work to listen and empathise and reconnect and we’re feeling so much closer.

I’ve taken on temporary admin role in a beautiful online friendship group in crisis. I love groups and I’ve missed my groups lately. I’m hoping I can help restore some safety and sense of belonging.

I need some Narnia time out in the wilds, feeling the universe as a poem. I need my hands in earth, my feet in the woods. I need meaningful work and hope. I have a few more weeks before uni starts up again. I got a Distinction (84) in Epidemiology (honours level) so I’m feeling good about that, but I may drop a class to ease the stress if the health challenges continue. There’s a future there for me.

I’ve been struggling under the burden of several complex and sensitive old abuse issues for folks I love that I can’t speak about. A few recent days I’ve allocated to work or a Poppy adventure day, I’ve found myself spending most of it crying and calling helplines instead. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of navigating these relationships and conversations safely, compassionately, and fairly. Hopefully I’ll find a new support person soon.

In the meantime, in between sickness and sadness I watch the sun through the leaves. I touch Rose’s fingers, how soft and beautiful they are. I comb Poppy’s silky hair, listen to her stories, keep house.

And it’s the other way around too.

In between the most beautiful and tender life I suffer painful moments of sickness and sadness.

They weave in and out of one another. I’m here, hurting, and bursting with love. Holding it all to my heart.

Painting: Silver birch tree spirit

Poppy and I spent the day together at one of our favourite parks recently. It’s a chance for me to not multitask and to be focused and present in a way I don’t often find myself doing. It was hot and dry and I found it took several hours before I adjusted to that and felt comfortable. The same for not working or cleaning or doing something on my phone, there’s always a restless period where it’s not comfortable or easy, until something adjusts and stills. Poppy and I bounce off each other and have fun in between little person big feelings. There’s often a time when we start to click together like fish swimming along side each other in a school. An attunement occurs that’s wordless and smoother. We don’t get in each other’s way so much, it’s more fluid and trusting. I love it.

We played on the playground and swings and explored the creek. Then Poppy made some art.

She was slept afterwards so we walked around until she fell asleep in the pram. Then I made some art in the shade of a huge gum tree, while she slept peacefully in the cool breeze beside me.

I wasn’t expecting to paint anything significant. I’ve just set up my travel kit with new watercolours and worked out a formula for teal, my favourite colour of ink. I was entirely focused on connecting with Poppy, not looking to fit anything else into the day.

Yet somehow, this beautiful heartbroken women emerged. It’s about the fifth time I’ve tried to paint her. She emerged without planning, starting from her open, distraught mouth and spreading into snow and trees. Painting intuitively like this is a sacred part of my arts practice.

Her hair began to resemble the tree branches and tangle around the babies and her arms. At the end I suddenly realised she was a tree spirit, which has never been part of any painting I’ve made of her. But it fits perfectly.

Colour matching watercolours with my inks

It’s been a glorious studio day after a week of illness. Endo/adeno misery turned into gastro and UTI horror, along with the rest of my family. Darling Rose was so unwell she wound up in hospital again, which was very helpful and mercifully brief. Poppy was hit the first and lightest with a bad sleepless night of vomiting and then bouncing back. I’m starting to feel better but it’s been a tough month. Vertigo and gout have also stolen a lot of time from me and I’ve found myself falling into deep depression at times and feeling isolated.

Today I was well enough to go into my studio and play. Among other things, I’ve now set up my travel watercolour kit with my favourite colours (mainly Sennelier with a Qor and a couple of Winsor and Newton).

Done a lot of colour mixing. This is completely different for watercolour than with oil paint and I’m having to learn all new combinations and techniques.

I adore my blue black ink, but it’s an unusual ink and one of its qualities is that it doesn’t keep when diluted. So for my ink paintings with gradients I must try to mix small amounts and accept the waste if I don’t use them all. I hate this so I have been practicing a two brush Chinese ink painting technique that blends ink on the brush in one hand with water on the brush in the other directly onto the paper. It works very well for some techniques but I find it difficult for others.

So I have been hoping to blend a similar colour with my watercolor paints, that keep forever between uses. Today I achieved that with a mix of Quinacridone Red and Phthalocyanine Turquoise. I tested it by making two tiny artworks. This one is in inks, with outlines using a dip pen with black ink:

This is in watercolour using only a brush:

They are extremely close in colour! I’m very pleased with this result. There’s a quality to the ink I still prefer, a clarity and depth I don’t find in watercolour but that may well be simply that I’m less experienced with them, and possibly because my current mix has several pigments in it.

Either way, I’m very pleased and the black dog feels eased and soothed. We’ve celebrated everyone starting to recover with a fresh change of bedding and a delicious light meal. I’m going to borrow some new books from the library and take it gently this week while I’m recovering.

Kano ink painting: Blackbirds

I recently attended a workshop about Kano, a Japanese art form involving painting over gold or metal leaf. Inspired by the work of Kawanabe Kyōsai, I painted this scene in ink.

The image is of a knotty tree with small leaves and black birds, and high mountains in the background. They are painted in black and teal ink over gold leaf.

One of the difficult but beautiful things about Kano is how impossible it is to replicate through prints. Photos give you only a sense of the glow of the real work. I can embellish prints where I’ve gilded on top of my painting, but not where it’s used as the substrate and worked onto.

Which brings me to one of my big plans this year: making originals available for sale. In some cases my original artworks were created using substandard products as I was very poor at the time. These I intend to remake so I can offer them confident in their longevity and archival quality. Currently I’m learning more about creating and illustrating books, and working through a collection of orders for embellished prints. I have an eye to create several exhibitions this year and things are off to an excellent start.

Poem: The hope of spring

This morning I sat
By the window, in the golden
Light, breathless and heard
Very quietly, a small voice
Inside me, yearning
To go outside
To stand, even for a moment
In the sun.

Oh oh, I thought to myself
This is the voice I have lost
The still, quiet voice of my soul
The one I used to follow so easily
That nourishes my spirit and makes me strong
I can hear it again!

Outside my window the sunlight
Fell golden on the lilies and the world
Was sweet with the hope of Spring

I sat inside
By my window and watched it all
Through the curtains with my heart
In my throat and my breath
Caught in my belly and
I did not go outside.

Sometimes the most human thing is not our capacity to soar, it’s the way we find cages and sit inside them willingly, singing sad songs about freedom.

I wrote this a few years ago and now that I am finding some freedom to both hear and follow this little voice, it seemed apt to share.

Starting the new year with joy

It’s been a wonderful start to the year. I’ve given myself some extra time off given I was sick with vertigo then gout through the Christmas holidays and it’s been delightful. I’ve made back into my studio at last and been having some wonderful adventures with Poppy.

This tidal river was amazing, full of beautiful little wild hermit crabs!

I was gifted some cool patches by friends so I’ve been sewing them on too. Getting a chance to do something with my hands most days keeps me more settled.

I had intended to start up again on my Multiplicity book this week, but I’ve been incredibly busy lately with art sales! Embellishing, packing, and mailing or delivering works has been keeping me very busy and making me very happy. Doing a better job of showcasing my art is one of my major goals this year – as is beginning to offer original works for sale. Off to a great start there!

While there’s always a story behind the art, there’s also always a story behind the purchase. Sometimes a celebration or gift, sometimes marking a loss or holding a previous memory. I’m always honoured when people share them with me, and pleased that my art speaks to some and fits into their story in a way that’s meaningful.

I’ve been in my studio nearly a year now and we are finally friends. I love being there and there’s been a huge burst of tidying and organising lately which means everything has a careful place and there’s space for creating and new ventures. I feel incredibly lucky. I’m paying the rent, I can spend a day at the zoo with friends, and while family health remains a bit up and down, we are muddling along. More good days than bad. Lots of love and creativity. Lots of joy. ❤️

New directions for 2019

I’ve had a challenging end to my year. My first experience of vertigo and then gout! Most unpleasant and a vivid reminder to myself why I’ve been steering towards white collar work despite the lure of engineering fabrication apprenticeships.

Fortunately one of my Christmas gifts from my family was a fantastic second hand laptop (my computer has been ailing for some time and doing a death in stages leprosy type thing despite much coaxing and kind talking to). So while I’m very immobilised by terrible pain in one foot, I’ve been able to read books, install software, and tinker about online. I’ve ordered new business cards:

And made up some new little stickers:

Which I find very fun. I’m trying to think of something short and pithy about multiplicity for my next order, and contemplating setting up a patreon account to send art cards to fans of my work and take suggestions for blog posts…

I’ve been reading about the history of illustrated children’s books here in Australia, which is fascinating. I have a special love of unusual children’s books or ones with a dark subject matter and I have a small collection. I now have a fairly extensive wishlist of new ones I’d like to add! There’s some stunning work out there. I recently bought Hortense and the Shadow while in Melbourne, which is beautifully illustrated with a strange but lovely story.

I have put in new orders for gold leaf, I’ve sold 7 artworks in December and need fresh supplies! I am also considering silver leaf for my gilded prints and artwork because I think it would be lovely and I’ve always wanted to try it. I’m super excited about a new artwork that’s being framed at the moment.

I am open for business again for online mentoring, support, and supervision again, and currently offering discounted rates of $110AUD per session.

And I am making plans for my book about multiplicity. I will be contacting my list and making a call out for interviews shortly! My plan is to get a lot of interviews and reports done before uni returns and I’m busy with assignments. My 2019 is shaping up well. 🙂

To the new year

For all those bringing in the new year from hospital, from suffering, from your own private hell, take care. I know how lonely pain can make us feel. You are not the only ones struggling. I know it’s precious to clear a little time in the year to celebrate and it hurts when life swamps us. There’s a bitterness there brewed more strongly by the brightness of the stars around us, by the beautiful dreams in pieces at our feet. People aren’t supposed to die at Christmas. No one should spend New Year’s Eve bleeding on the floor.

For all the freaks and misfits out there… we are people too. For everyone who feels alone, alienated, lost, the world can be a cold place. A crowded place, but you are not the only naked one in a sea of faceless people. Despair comes to us all sometime. No life is untouched by tragedy. Stay with us.

For everyone who’s life is ending, who is watching it all burn down around them and wondering who they will be tomorrow, hold on. Life is powerfully strange. It takes unexpected directions, unpredictable turns. At the end of everything, a new chapter starts.

To myself, many new years ago, crying silently on the bed with loneliness. You are brave. You will find friends. It won’t always hurt like this.

Goodbye to the old year, to the dreams that ripened, and those that fell to storm or frost. Goodbye to the losses and hurt, to the joy and beauty.

Hello to the unknown. I wish for you that whatever it going on in your world, you find a moment to feel alive. To feel naked, stripped of name and role and obligation to the world. That the stars or the earth or the trees or wind or rain would call out to you and nourish you. Feed you on strangeness and mystery. Life is so much bigger than we make it. Everything speaks with a language and we understand only a few of them. Remind us of our smallness in the world, of our need of it and connection to it. To feel the spaces between the places we are known, the stories we are familiar with. Here, we breathe a different kind of air. We are a different kind of creature.

Run from violence and doom. Risk love. Hold hope. Be true to your many hearts, the broken and the whole. Burn that which must pass and plant that which must grow. Grieve and yearn under the same skies. It is hard to be human at times. Don’t make it harder. Be.

Christmas is extra sweet this year

We have come through a lot this year in my family, eating disorder and breakdown and a lot of challenges. We’re approaching Christmas now with this sense of how lucky we are. Things could have turned out very differently. We came close to tragedy but we are all still here, and there’s a sweetness and joy in that. Making it a fun and special time of year for Poppy is a focus, so we’ve been doing lots of fun things but pacing ourselves so it’s not too much.

We’ve made our own Christmas cards, late. Baked lots of fun gingerbread – dinosaur shapes for Poppy. Made dairy and gluten free treats for friends with intolerances. Visited the pretty light displays. Wrapped gifts. Put up a toddler friendly felt tree. Had naps, swims, and bike rides to the park. Went to a queer friendly rainbow carols service at a local church. I’ve been happily embroidering gifts and getting loads of extra time in my studio gilding prints. It’s been a busy art month for me, I’ve sold a lot of work! It’s been wonderful. ❤️

I am absolutely loving reading more about book illustration and have begun to map out a couple of roughs for possible short books next year. I may launch into my multiplicity book instead though, and I’m keen to exhibit Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors locally, preferably before uni kicks back in. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Christmas can be a painful, exhausting and stressful time of year. It can be meaningless, overtaken by other troubles needing attention. It can also be time to celebrate surviving whatever the year threw at you, to remember our departed with love and light candles for them, to celebrate and reflect and wind down from the doing and the plans and goals.

Whatever you are dealing with, I hope you have some sweet among the bitter, someone who loves you, someone to share with. ❤️

Art that’s available now

Contact me quick if you want one. Happy to arrange for you to pick up from Shine SA Woodville before Christmas. 🙂

If you need it mailed I can put it aside and mail next year. Framed art cannot be mailed.

$100

Even the cats have graves

Digital print reproduction of my original etching, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 8×10 inch, black.

$150 SOLD

The Gap

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 12×16 inch frame.

$100

You are my world

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 8×10 inch, black.

$310

After the Storm

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 16×20 inch, gold.

$150

We Float

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 12×16 inch, black.

$100

Waiting for You

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with genuine crushed amethyst. Unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 8×10 inch frame.

$135 SOLD

Haven

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand torn deckle edge displayed. Custom framed in approx 13×18 inch, gold.

$80

We came so very far to find you

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 16×20 inch frame.

$525

Grief

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 20×30 inch, gold.

My 1,500th post on this blog

Woo hoo!

I have handed in my last assignment and finished my studies for the year. Now it’s time to celebrate, I’ve been so long forward to writing this post, number 1,500.

Did you know I’ve written a total of almost 800,000 words since starting in August 2011? Wowee. In that time this blog has had over 100,000 visitors. That’s amazing.

At the Melbourne State Library for The World of the Book Exhibition. Image shows a woman in purple lipstick looking happy in a large library room several stories tall.

I used to write about one post (article) a day, over the past few years since my kids came along I dropped back to about twice a week. I now average about 55,000 words a year, spread across around 100 posts.

My topics shift and have been difficult to categorise helpfully for readers. Posts are often either about art, personal updates, or an educational/thought post, reflecting on or explaining something. Often these merge back and forth. The content is determined partly by whatever I’m encountering in my personal and professional life, and partly by requests from readers, moving across mental health, grief, love, parenting, and work… Everything is approached with an eye to authenticity, compassion, and engaging complexity and depth in accessible ways.

I knew very little about blogging, online accessibility, or SEO when I started out, which is pretty evident from the unhelpful titles I tended to use and the lack of image descriptions on photos. Looking back there’s plenty I’d change! But the task of updating and upgrading such a huge collection has been too daunting so I march along as it evolves, muddling through. What started as a way to update family and friends without having to copy and paste across multiple emails evolved into education and activism, and then most bewilderingly into something that closes some employment opportunities to me while launching me into consulting and freelance work. My readership has grown modestly, expanding across different topics and socioeconomic groups.

My most popular posts are often found through Google searches for help, especially around mental health. Here’s a few of them:

Blogging has been a strange, wonderful, painful, complicated, and delightful part of my life. I have strict boundaries about what I share, and there’s several threads of reasons why I’ve chosen to blog. My blog has been a voice, a call to connect with a broader community than I could find face to face, it’s been a way to humanise multiplicity and mental illness and madness. It’s been about developing inside out language – experiential language that shares from a place of how something feels when you are experiencing it, not viewing it from outside – reclaiming language about suffering from the clinical sector who observe rather than embody it. It’s been a legacy in case I didn’t make it. A set of keys to understand me if I wasn’t here anymore to try and explain my life, my thoughts, my suffering, my love, my art. A bridge, an invitation. It’s been about loneliness and alienation and wanting to ease that for others because they are heartbreaking and skin searing and soul crushing to experience and silence and shame perpuates devastating myths of singularity, of being the only one to feel or think or hurt or need or experience the world the way you do.

It’s been about the informal and imperfect, a zine instead of a book, a conversation rather than a lecture, a brush of the arm instead of a handshake for someone not sure how to be in this world or claim space or speak truths without doing harm or being harmed.

Sometimes I lose the threads. I wake up and can’t remember why I write here and I go silent for awhile. At times I’ve felt embarrassed by my relationship to my blog and my readers, I’ve felt anxious about any sense of my own need, more comfortable with the distance of altruism. I’ve celebrated numbing and felt strong when I didn’t want to write. I’ve been embarrassed by previous sharing or in a new context, confused and frustrated that blogging comes easy to me now but sources of income from these skills have eluded me. I’ve been depressed by the way staying grounded in the story I have the right to tell – mine – has left me with a body of work entirely wrapped around my own life and perspective. At other times I’ve celebrated that. Cast off the master narratives we’ve all heard before and gone deeper into something strange, raw, ideosyncratic, utterly my own. This is my experience, my life, my reality.

I made a large, strange, beautiful thing. 1,500 strong, and I’m proud.

Speaking of Suicide

Awake in the small hours this morning, enjoying the beautiful room here at the Langham hotel. It’s been a huge month for my family and we are feeling stronger and closer than ever. Soaking up all the experiences and processing so many conversations with new people.

I have been learning how to move through many different worlds with more grace. Messages of compassion, authenticity, diversity are reaching fertile ground. Doors are opening into new opportunities. The costs of this work are gradually becoming less, the transitions easier for me. I was raw and vulnerable the night before speaking, but not sobbing or sleepless with fear. Bearable costs becomes sustainable practice.

Yesterday at my work, we spoke of suicide and the aching gulf in those of us left behind. There was a moment of profound anguish, bewilderment, guilt, loss. In every space, every talk there’s a question brought burning in someone’s mouth, and if it’s safe to ask it will be asked. Sometimes it’s like a scream into the night, a supplication to a god, or the revealing of a hidden wound. Yesterday it was the aftermath of losing friends to suicide, and when the words were spoken, I felt like the floor fell out of the room into darkness and we were all strung like stars in the void, glittering with tears.

How do we make peace with such aching loss? How to bear the fear of future grief? How can we possibly understand such pain without also sharing it? How to live well with the ghosts of those we’ve loved who died before their time, leaving so many questions and taking all of the answers with them? What does it mean when people hide their pain from us?

There are moments when all that is different between us is suspended. Yesterday grief united us, here in this confused anguish is our shared humanity. Suffering and death a profound leveler. We are mortal and those we love, die. Sometimes alone and in terrible pain.

So we speak of compassion, dignity, connection, humanity, even in our places of work, those last bastions of self presented as invulnerable success. Not only for the benefit of those who struggle, but also those on the periphery, spared such agony but who do not wish to be left behind in doubt and sorrow. No one falls entirely alone, the cut threads unknit lives far beyond one loss.

We speak and unravel shame, ease the weight of secret burdens. The panel is gentle, compassionate, Georgie Harman lays a light hand on lingering guilt, Dr Eddie Mullen encourages learning and exploring – knowledge is power. They were splendid. I speak as someone who has been chronically suicidal and talk of the great gulf of fitting words to feelings, and of wanting to protect people around me. How deceits start small and with good intentions and grow large and overwhelming. I speak as someone who has cared for others who are suicidal, across a range of settings, and talk of the terrible fear of burdening loved ones, the twisted logic that draws darkened hearts into empty sacrifices that ease no pain.

The moment concludes, we who have been the midwives of it talk, listen, debrief, break bread together, shake hands, conclude. We part ways, step out into the rain.

I hope we honoured your dead, and gave some balm to the living. I hope you felt heard, held in dignity. I hope we served our goals well, safe shepherds for first conversations. The task of being human and remaining humane with each other is not always an easy one, and not without risk or pain. But it what we are for and where we shine brightest.

My art infiltrates the world

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Art sales from my Etsy Shop or in person continue to tick along, and happy customers leaving positive reviews is always a delight. I especially love it when I’m sent a photo or description of the art in its new home, that’s something special.

I was sad to have to withdraw from my FEAST exhibition this year when Rose got sick, but I think it will be all the better for it next year. I’m excited to be presenting a popup exhibition for Vanguard in Melbourne tomorrow called Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors, reflections on mental health, adversity, and resilience. Some works were first exhibited in She Dreams 6 years ago, which was a sampling of art documenting key experiences in the previous 10 years of my life, such as homelessness, mental health struggles and identity. About a third of the works have never been exhibited before, and I’m so pleased they have a home now.

Capture

Selling art is like I’m leaving little traces of my soul in other people’s lives, all around the world. My buyers and collectors are an unusual cohort of oddballs and doctors and patrons and poets. Sometimes they seem to have nothing in common except for resonating with my art. My work is in hopeful government offices and artfully decorated living rooms and bedrooms steeped in deeply private pain. And the art itself is like sea glass, tiny coloured windows into the world. People look not just into it but through it, at something they care about. It snags in the net of their story, brings something to light that’s meaningful and difficult to put into words, whether joyful or painful or so often a little of both.

It’s like sending messages in bottles out on the tide. The world is precious and beautiful and full of darkness. We are each of us alone, and yet not so alone or different as we fear. There are many worlds and wholeness cannot be found by walking only in any one of them.

I curate exhibitions carefully and their location with equal care. It’s simply not okay to exhibit works on such personal topics carelessly. My collections are chosen like a work of music, with a range of light and dark. They have variation in tone and voice. I understand entirely that some of the most painful are both the most resonant and those that sell the least often. That’s okay with me, when I first paint these, I often can’t look at them myself for many months. I understand why there’s some art you love, but couldn’t put on your wall. But when they are grouped in collections, they all link up to each other in a kind of web or net. The lightest and the darkest become linked, like lights and shadows. They fit together to create wholeness in a way no single image – or single story – could ever hope to do. Complexity and contradictions are rich in meaning. So even if most people take home the most hopeful and uplifting (which isn’t always the case), I am quite content because I know that linked in memory are the other works in the collection. The lights and shadows fit together even if only one is visible at a time. The dark and the light of the moon.

Last week I stepped up to a podium in Sydney, looked at the timer and realised my talk needed to be shortened by 1/3rd on the fly, and I didn’t rush. After 8 years of speaking I’ve finally come to understand that more important than what I say is how people in the room feel. If they feel safe and connected, my message speaks louder in the subtext than all the abstract explaining in the world about dignity and compassion. I illustrated that talk and there was such a buzz about the art afterwards and online I was inspired to learn more about the world of illustration and art that engages and communicates alongside text. It’s been a joy and I’ve found much that I am inspired by. I’m looking forward to learning more.

It’s been a long, strange, wonderful and tiring week. We have arrived in the hotel now and it’s calm and peaceful. Tonight we walked the streets in the rain and watched the lights in the river. My family are bundled into clean soft sheets in a comfortable bed and I’m typing on an old oak desk, thinking about tomorrow. Life is very beautiful. I’m hoping to create a sense of safety and meaning tomorrow, to give buzzwords like resilience back their grounding in sorrow and adversity and love. Art will be part of that, hopefully speaking when words are not enough, a silent presence when there’s too much noise to hear.

Adventures with Poppy

One day a week, I remind myself that I can be tuned into my anxiety about the future, or I can be tuned into Poppy, but not both at the same time. It sometimes takes several hours of deliberately not being focused elsewhere for me to actually feel myself settle and connect. She changes from being one responsibility among many I am juggling, to a relationship I’m sensitive to, we speak in a shared language, track each other, are sensitive to minor changes in mood and state. She is a joy to be with.

Today we went into town and listened to a busker play beautiful music. Then we spent some time in the museum, looking at the butterflies and examining shells under a microscope.

Once Poppy had run off her morning energy, we wandered more sedately through the One Mountain, One River, One Sage: Treasures from the Shandong Library exhibition. The beautiful old handmade books were delightful. ❤ We wandered through the Royal South Australian Society of Arts exhibition on the way home, and Poppy carefully re-stacked the pram so the bags were in her seat and she could ride home tucked into the basket beneath. There’s so much joy here.

Why we need to value failure

I sometimes sit on panels or committees with very aspriational and ambitious intentions to help make some aspect of the world a better place. In spaces like that there can be a culture of success worship. We have all usually been chosen because of our perceived capacity to bring something of value to the table. People often showcase their ‘shiniest’ selves and hide mistakes, failures, struggles, and losses. This can have a number of difficult outcomes.

Firstly it often makes those in that space feel slightly disconnected and lonely. Aware of our own struggles and imperfections, or wrestling with the costs we are paying (however willingly) to engage, it is easy to be taken in by the masks of success, sanity, competence, and imperviousness around us.

Non-violent psychopaths – people who are often charming, glib, manipulative, and very harmful to anyone they have power over, thrive in environments such as these. They excel at looking amazing often because they are unrestrained by anxiety, morality, concern for others. There is no inner conflict, so like apex predators they are eminently comfortable and able to tailor the environment to suit their appetites at whatever cost to others. Stealing credit, undermining others, and presenting a brilliant facade to those in power over them are all skills well suited to success cultures.

Another challenge is that when we seek to improve circumstances for other people in some way, there’s a disconnect between the kinds of people chosen for the group who will come up with the solutions, and the kinds of people stuck in the problem. They are rarely the same people, even if they share some similar characteristics.

For example, I was at a conference a little while ago discussing disability. A couple of speakers with lived experience were sharing their stories and they were amazing experiences, heart felt, exceptional, incredible. Intended to eradicate the brutal impact of low expectations for people with disability, and I think they did an amazing job of this. In their company I was not even slightly ‘shiny’. My goals were smaller, my gaps wider, my struggles longer and more humiliating and complex.

I felt both uncomfortably raw and fiercely glad to be there, because these amazing success stories are so far from what many people live with. I held a space for failure, for struggle and loss. That is by no means my whole story! But it was an important one to share in that space. This is part of the reality we need to face and explore and understand. Success cultures make us afraid to invite it in or acknowledge it, when the truth is there are many failures on the path to wisdom. The capacity to struggle is directly linked to the capacity to learn.

Not all cultures admire success, some are quite the reverse. Any blogger can tell you that in some spaces agony and exposure gathers the adoring crowd, who drift once the blood clots and the wounds heal. In these spaces, sharing success is a stressful declaration of courage. Earning money from our skills risks censor and shaming, moving from the gift economy to a market economy may cost friendships and reputations. Our own frustration, ambivalence, and inexperience can mean we navigate such transitions with bitter fury rather than grace.

There’s nothing wrong with success, nor with the recognition of skill, experience, and capacity on which we base our understandings of rank. When I want to learn something I seek out those who are skilled. I look for and deeply value quality in every area of my life. When I am fortunate to have a skilled and passionate dentist I know I am so lucky. I put up with a level of unpleasant disdain to learn excellence in the preservation of oil paintings.

But expertise is always build upon learning, and learning means mistakes and reflection. My favourite quote about it is

An expert is (someone) who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. -Niels Bohr

So, here’s to having the courage to include the dissident voice, share the hidden story, and hold a space for the uncomfortable. Failure can be utterly terrifying, but also incredibly valuable.

At the HealtheVoices Conference

The flight was beautiful, I journalled and watched the clouds. I’m resting, soaking it in.

I’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art and wept on the floor at Hoda Afshar’s 2018 exhibit Remain, about the experiences of refugees on Manus Island. It’s stunning, and as much as I love public health and all the many things I do, it makes me deeply glad to be an artist and to want to stretch myself further, build my work in these spaces of such vulnerability. This is our history, being preserved here, the forbidden stories being told. Art can do that and I’m so in love with it.

Walked in the sunshine with new friends.

Washed the day from me, and slept.

Put on a beautiful dress I’ve never had the chance to wear, (non binary, gender queer people can wear dresses too if they want to) and shared a fancy dinner.

It’s a delight to be here. The alienation I’ve so often felt – in galleries, hotels, places inhabited by people with wealth, isn’t so present today. This is not my world, but I don’t feel at war with myself being here. It’s okay to visit. There’s no rage or burning anguish. I’m able to take in the pleasures and enjoy the luxuries. I’m curious and listening. Other people’s stories and experiences are always so interesting, the overlaps and the gulfs between us such rich food to share.

I keep thinking of the Pt Lincoln conference where I slept in my van in the national park because the bare hotel room stressed me. How hard it was to be there, how excited and exhausted and far beyond my own limits I was. The beginning of my breakdown, falling into the void. Months of anguish to come.

I can stand in galleries now and I’m not in burning pain. I can sleep in the hotel and enjoy the smell of the hand soap. I can walk into and out of this world without losing myself. I’m not numb and I’ve not gone native. I’m just no longer responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world.

I cried a little during a video call home with Rose and Poppy. It’s my first night away from her since she was born, and alone in my room is very alone indeed. I can hear the building air conditioning, and the gentle rumble of the lifts, but no people. I feel insulated like a single bee in a vast honeycomb. If I can’t sleep I might go sit downstairs in the bar to be near to people.

Next time I so want to see the National Art Gallery too.

Tomorrow I’ll be listening and presenting. I wish I’d brought my loom work project, I want to do something with my hands. There’s too many people to talk to, I sit in the middle of it all and let it wash over me like a river. Some of it I can catch and touch and the rest will flow past.

It’s hard to sum up what I do, my advocacy work across many domains. I haven’t used the phrase ‘multiple’ yet, I will tomorrow. I feel tired. I remember being at a conference 8 years ago and discovering 2 other multiples there, the joy I felt! Some people here have a very clear message, a very specific advocacy focus. I admire that. I think in some ways my work around adversity is that for me, but there’s other threads I’m still finding words for.

I miss my little girl.

I love this life. There’s so much joy in it. I’m glad to be here.

Advocacy, Success, and Vulnerability in Public

I wrote this post a long time ago and let it rest until I felt ready to share. I’ve wrestled a lot over the past few years with these issues and I’m making my peace with an imperfect and very human place in the world.

I miss this blog, but my world has changed a lot in the last year and I’m having to find new ways to engage and deal with new risks. I’m in a strange place it’s difficult to find words for – so much has gone right lately and I’m so ecstatically happy. I’m also so stressed, sleep deprived, and vulnerable. All the happy endings don’t take away the pain that came before, they just make it harder to accept and speak about. They add shame and confusion about why you’re still hurting when everything is so perfect.

I had the strange experience the other morning on my birthday of waking up and being excited to be online because I knew I was going to be getting birthday messages. For a few hours I felt special and cared about and safe. It made me realise even more strongly how unsafe I’ve been feeling lately. This blog is reaching a new audience, of people in positions of power and wealth. I feel exposed in a way I haven’t felt before. My lovely video about diversity in the workplace reached thousands of people and I found myself feeling embarrassed to be handing out my ‘face painting’ style business card to CEO’s and heads of industry. Thrilled and excited to feel like I have a career path, and also exposed and ashamed, even by this beautiful blog. I want to hide how I got here, how these skills were developed.

I use myself as an instrument. It’s a key aspect of my work as an artist/poet/writer, and also as a facilitator. I tune into my self and my body and I notice things. I notice when I feel defensive and I get curious about that. I notice when I feel afraid, or angry, or when I want to hide. I accept the feelings and the gut instinct but I try not to act on them until I’ve thought them through more. My world has changed a lot lately and I’m sailing through some pretty intense mood swings as I navigate the excitement and joy of that, and the stress and fear of it too. For the first time since I started sharing online I recently found myself gripped by an intense fear about having this blog public. The change in readership, or rather, the new readership has thrown me. People with power and money are people I find difficult to see as people and tend to see as embodiment of their roles, distant authority figures. My experiences since early years has been that they do not understand me or my life or the ways in which I am harmed while I am under their care.

I am practising spending time in new cultures, practising dealing with my prejudices and stereotypes, making myself make eye contact, speak as equals, see the people behind the roles, have empathy for them, understand them, find our shared humanity. Trying to get over a lifetime of instinct to flinch or snarl. Wrestling with a lifetime of thinking as these people as ‘the other’ and not being able see the ways in which we are alike, the burdens they labour beneath, the loneliness of their roles, the ways in which they too are brilliant, or unsafe, or wounded, or split off from their own truths. The contexts in which they live and the pressures that shape them. What does courage look like in that world? It’s different to what it looks like on the streets or in poverty. What does compassion look like? What are the things it is impossible to say, or even think? Where is the pain held and what does it look like? What does love look like in this place?

I came home a while ago from a shiny event with people who have done many impressive things and fought off the impulse to tear apart this blog. I felt unbearably exposed and wanted to go back and pull down everything in which I struggle, every post that showed my confusion or distress, every evidence of pain, every raw expression of loneliness or bewilderment or grief. It was unbearable. I quivered with distress. I sat with it and did nothing but listen to it. What is going on, my heart? Why?

Success has a kind of draw, I’m finding. A lure, like a light in the deep ocean, the fish come close and everyone hopes to be part of it, to have a little of the glittery phosphorescence rub off on them too. I watch people elevate or dismiss me depending on who in my system is out that moment, and whether we are showing our shiny side or our vulnerable one. I watch myself respond to the environment with pathological shame for my humanity, and a desire to conceal my awkward fumbling. I am not and never was uncertain. I am not and never was hurting. I am just shiny. I am success embodied. I am desirable. I never make mistakes. I never hurt. I am never lost. My livelihood depends on this. My life depends on this. Be the shiniest fish in the dark deeps. Don’t let anyone see anything else.

No one is saying these things to me overtly. But I feel the fear in the air, magnified through my own terror and my own vulnerability and my history of powerlessness. The carefulness in how we present ourselves, the concern about what others might be thinking or saying about us. Image management. A deeply ingrained caution, a reluctance to be seen. I feel it in my own impulse to run, in the way that we flinch from rawness, the honing of our masks of professionalism.

And the wrestle that comes with this, as I gnaw on my limbs and feel shame and distress. Why am I feeling this way? What of my values and beliefs? What am I turning into? Self destruction like a lure beneath the struggle, my own terror of being changed into something I do not recognise or respect. My instinct to set my life on fire rather than face my own darkness. I too, want power, and money, and crave status. I too, want an easier life for myself and my children, even at the cost of others ease. I too, can choose not to see what is inconvenient for me to acknowledge about the shadow I cast, and the prices we pay – or make others pay – for success.

The struggle itself is so worthwhile. There’s something beautiful in it. Even in the aspects I feel ashamed of. It tells me things about the world and myself, and about people and what we bring out in each other.

I resist the urge to hide. I retreat from being public at some times and in some ways, but don’t destroy the evidence of my humanity. I hold tight and look and learn and decide how I will respond.

I’ve also been able to see some things more clearly that had eluded me before. Like fish in water, in some ways it’s most difficult to understand the context you are most familiar with. I’ve spent so much of my life so anxious about the effects of power and the lure of money that I’ve not appreciated the effects of powerlessness and the harms of poverty. My ‘safe place’ to return to when I am afraid of my own ambition is not safe. It is merely destructive in a different way.

When I was very young
I was taught that power corrupts
No one mentioned the acid of powerlessness
The way it leeches you of worth
Hope, value, voice. 

I was warned of the dangers of money
But not of the grinding misery of poverty
The way it is like a thorn in each heel

The chronic pain of it, how it shapes your movements
Closes doors, leaves scars. 

(I think of all my friends who died of exposure,
And I remember all the ones who died for the lack of it. -Nick Cave)

I’ve been so pinned between
My fear of success and my horror at failure
Devoured by my demons in a place without peace
The truth is – there’s no limit to the number of days
I can sacrifice on the altar of proving myself worthy.

There is no way to live without risk
And the first loss is joy
It is lightness and laughter and play. 

Surely, if I have found ways
To be human despite all that’s befallen me
I can risk success?
If poverty has not destroyed me, I can risk money?
All my life I’ve feared losing myself, 
One hand on the self destruct button
Who says poverty and vulnerability are safe from harm?

They are no haven of purity, just
A familiar kind of hell. 
Just devils I know. 

A life deeply lived calls for courage
Sometimes courage looks like walking out onto the street
With no idea of where a bed or meal or kind face will next be found. 

Sometimes it looks like putting on my best clothes
Going to work, and getting paid.