Oil Painting: Once I had lain alone

Rose helped me get to the studio for a few hours last week, and I finished this oil painting. It’s a new version of an ink painting I created for my TEDx talk. It’s about a time in my life following a breakup where couples everywhere hurt to look at.

The title is from a poem The Butterfly Token by one of my favourite poets, Maurice Stradgard. I bought his book The Nailing of the Right Hand when I was about 13 from a huge book sale at the local library; the cover intrigued me, it had poppies. I fell in love with the poet and his beautiful poems about love, loneliness, self doubt. The book has been out of print for years, the only other book he published I’ve never seen available anywhere, even second hand. The author himself is almost certainly dead now, his domain name and WordPress site were bought years ago but never used. My book is hand signed and has been treasured. I was never able to find a way to send him a letter to say thankyou. I would never have heard of him or his work without that chance encounter. So much that is precious simply slips us by if we don’t look for it and treasure it when we find it. The whole world is a rain of beautiful, brilliant, illuminating treasures, fleetingly brief.

Surgery was a success

Here we are in recovery afterwards. Poppy is pretty unhappy and we’ve slept most of today on the couch, but it went very smoothly. The four top front teeth were extensively damaged with very intact nerves so we were in for a long painful decay had we not been able to get them removed. Once they could look around more thoroughly they also discovered two back molars were decayed, but able to be filled, so they did that at the same time.

Nursing an infant with teeth removed is slightly disturbing. I looked a bit Germanic battle warrior earlier with blood smeared breasts.

The hardest part of the whole thing was actually the fasting this morning, she was distraught at not being allowed to nurse. I left to go to the toilet at one point and while I was gone they came and took her in half an hour early, because she was so upset they didn’t want to wait. I got back to an empty waiting room while Rose was in theatre comforting her as she went to sleep, which was tough!

She’s eaten custard for lunch and mashed potato for dinner. It’ll be a rough few days and then hopefully a much happier little frog.

We’ve even had one smile this afternoon, gappy but incredibly sweet. What a relief.

Surgery and Watercolours

Poppy is scheduled for surgery on Thursday to remove her 4 front teeth. We’ve been so lucky to have folks rally around us with all kinds of care. We’ve been able to pay the deposits to book the surgery and our fridge is stocked with grapes and soup and pudding.

I am so grateful, so depleted. Wrestling medicine into Poppy on the couch last night, both of us in tears. I am beyond over making my kids do things they find stressful and horrible. I think to myself ‘this is so horribly traumatic!’. Then I think ‘I’m the parent. Make it less traumatic’. So I stop crying, I tell her it’s not so bad, she can do it, it’s only medicine and will be over soon. I hold her when she cries, let her push me away and find refuge elsewhere, wait to cuddle her later. We play and tickle and hide and roar. Humour takes away the sting.

Rose and I went to the studio today, not for work but because I’ve been drowning in caring and need to look after myself too. I sort and tidy and arrange and play and swatch colours. Rose took Poppy to a nearby park with Nana, then came back when she fell asleep in the pram. Rose fell asleep on a couch and I walked Poppy around the studio to keep her settled between labelling drawers and grouping supplies by category into boxes. It was incredibly soothing.

I’ve been testing different brands of watercolour lately and attending information nights for them which are wonderful. I want a good set for my travel kit, and one for doing zine making workshops. I also use Marie’s Chinese Paints, which look similar to western watercolours but handle differently for blending with black ink. You can see them in the two rows on the right on that lovely palette. (My favourite palette! It was recommended by the lovely calligraphic artist Gemma Black during her gilding and watercolour workshop at the Calligraphy Society of SA. It’s Martin Mijello Airtight Watercolour 33 Well Palette)

Swatched below, the Chinese Paints are bottom left on the page. The sakura mat watercolours are the left page long swatches. They’re very old student grade paint but quite lovely.

The right hand page swatches are two travel kits I brought recently for my zine making workshops. The top set I don’t love, too opaque, dusty, difficult to wet, and generally just feel like poster paint. The bottom set I really, really love. They are Micador Brilliant watercolours for Artists, 24 set. For my zine kit they are perfect. Each tray of 6 can be passed around a table and shared, the colours wet quickly and are vibrant. The iridescent blends well with the other colours.

I recently sent off another zine, this one created with the local queer youth drop in group. I’m always so impressed by what gets created in these. It’s also a delightful experience.

Below on the right is my absolute favourite brand of professional grade watercolour, Sennelier. I was recently given a sample by the lovely folks at Port Art Supplies and I’m hooked! This colour is PY153, Sennelier Yellow Light, on its own on the right, mixed with Winsor and Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light, which is also a stunning colour.

The Sennelier is a French brand and made using honey. I love the way it handles, it’s sumptuous.

So, we’ve all come home again in the dark. There’s dinner and dishes and hanging washing, talking through homework, managing medications, cuddles and chats about a big sleep and the dentist taking away the teeth that hurt. We’re nervous, grateful, second guessing ourselves, and laying as much ground work as possible to handle a rough few days.

Thank you so much for your support, donations, well wishes, prayers, and kindness. It’s made a huge difference to us, we wouldn’t be in this place without you.

What I want for Mother’s Day

Today has had its moments but overall I want a refund.

I want infant thermometers to use standard batteries that are stocked by the chemist or the bloody hardware store. I want our road not to be the bloody detour for all the roadworks in the area. I want concentrated baby medications that don’t mean forcing 4 litres of the damn stuff down a screaming infant, and a delivery method that doesn’t involve most of it being spit up or vomited out all over us both. I want severe pain in a child to be treated as a medical emergency. I want all my t-shirts currently covered in spit, snot, milk, medication, and vomit to be magically clean and back in my drawer because wearing them for less than 2 hours shouldn’t count given how hard it was to get clean clothes happening this week. I want suppositories to be less freaky stressful and more effective at staying put and doing their damn job. I want a clearer sense of when to go back to hospital and when it’s just a waste of precious spoons. I want a way to painlessly kill the nerves in Poppy’s front teeth, bring down her fever, and stop having to put her through things she’s hating and distressed by, because I feel like having to hold down my screaming child one more damn time this week is too damn much. I want the sense of guilt and haunting uncertainty that maybe I haven’t done everything possible or made the right calls to go away. Should we have yelled at people last time we were in hospital? If only we’d called the dental service again while it was still a business day, maybe they would have changed their minds? Am I 100% sure there’s no faster way to do this? I want the stabbing pain from my sinus infection to go away. I want the bloody remote to be in reach. I want my girls to feel better. I want to sit out in the sunshine and eat something delightful and feel clean and smell nice and have a cheerful little person on my lap.

What I have got for Mother’s Day has been the loveliest card I’ve ever been given, by Poppy. A picture book full of mother cats being amazing, a lovely new shower curtain with absolutely no mold on it, a pretty Spiral-lock to tie up my hair, a cool hat, and a light jacket that looks like the night sky. I’ve got family dropping by with beautiful cooked dinner, friends checking in over text, donations to help us with the surgery, hugs when I yelled at Rose for not answering her phone, a lovely phone call with my own mum, and a living, generally happy and healthy baby cuddled into my chest. I’ve laughed, cried, hugged, snuggled, fought, yelled, pinned down, been soothingly patted (by Poppy), cried on, and loved. It’s far from bad. It could be much worse. It could be a lot better. It doesn’t all even out. It’s just awfulwonderfulhardamazing. It just is.

Muse Magazine Interview: A day in the life of a multiple

About a year ago I was interviewed for the launch of Muse Magazine about my experiences with multiplicity. I was holding off on sharing until they put the article online, but there’s been a hiccup with the mag (hopefully temporary) and it still hasn’t happened. So I wanted to share part of it, I was asked to write a snapshot ‘day in my life’:

Beautiful artwork – not mine though

A few days ago, I was struggling with severe stress at work. My partner, Rose, is worried about us. She’s looking after our baby, Poppy, on standby for supportive phone calls all day. I have a very stressful meeting that doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I feel numb and dissociated. There’s very few private places for me to call her. I sit in the empty foyer and phone. My system switches through several people who handle situations where we feel powerless, unsafe, unheard. We are all numb.

Rose is gentle on the phone, human and safe. She directs us outside. We go and stand out by the gardens and the numbness eases. Switching rapidly between parts with different emotional responses and needs, we pace in a circle by the garden, debriefing on the phone. Rose holds the space for us. We calm, like a flock of pigeons that flew up into the air in distress and now feel safer and return to the ground. We can advocate for ourselves again, contain the feelings, feel less frozen.

That night, Rose has a trip planned. I’m home from work and the autumn sunlight is calling to us. I need to be outdoors, I feel dissociated and airless inside. We text our elder girl, Star and arrange to collect her after school from a bus stop in town. We pack nappies and snacks and jumpers for everyone. Rose drives us all into the hills to feel the wind on our faces. We have the windows down. I sit by Poppy in the back to keep her settled. Our primary parent parts watch her tenderly. After a while she starts to wail and can’t be settled. Star needs the toilet.

We reflect inside how we are parents now, not lovers to wander where we will. Now there are noses to wipe and people with short attention and many needs. Rose stops at a park in the hills. I’m enchanted by the trees and switch to a 12 year old who adores trees. Star comes back from the public toilets stressed because the walls are covered in millipedes and she’s afraid they will fall on her. We switch the ones who are frustrated, who want her to be different than how she is away to the back of our system. Gentle parent part comes forward and walks to the toilet with her, feeling for that place between compassion and encouragement. Inside us the child yearns and watches the trees hungrily. The toilet trip is a success. A frustrated part comes out and silently takes a millipede off the wall, not to stress but simply to show that courage is a good thing in life, that the danger is not as bad as it may feel.

For a moment no one needs us. The child switches out, takes off our shoes, runs to the trees. Presses his face against the bark and feels webs in his eyebrows. Feels dead leaves underfoot. Feels human.

Rose calls out for our phone. Poppy is being adorable and she wants to take a photo. We switch to parent again and walk over. Then back to child, enchanted by the sunlight through the leaves. He points it out to Star, but she is feeling cold and goes to sit in the car. Still learning how to be free in these places. Rose comes back with a bag of snacks, shares chocolate and strawberries. The light changes colour. We switch. The carousel inside turns. We soak up life.

Switching is different for all multiples, not everyone switches this quickly or this often or has this number of parts. Some have many more or far fewer or they are all the same age or they switch only every few months or once a year! Please don’t take my system as the ‘norm’.

But that snapshot is quite normal for us, a group existence with many, many switches every day, often quite brief, and frequently triggered by what is needed from us by those around us, or what calls to us in our environment. A carousel that keeps turning.

The Joys of Nature Play

Last week, Rose took Poppy and I out to spend the day in a local forest. It was wonderful. We weren’t alone, it was a big family event and the forest was brightly speckled with kids playing and reading books and flying kites. Nature Play organised it, Rose and I are huge fans of their work. They create opportunities and build skills for outdoor play – like a launching pad to go on to create your own. There’s always loads of low cost inspiring ideas we can easily replicate in our own park or backyard.

I actually approached them when they first started and asked about their organisational structure, because it’s one of the most elegant and effective I’ve seen. Their work is amazing and there’s a powerful team behind the scenes.

So I had a great time. I brought my travel art kit with me, and was having fun sketching the people and painting the forest with watercolours. While I was playing with it, a small group of kids came over fascinated. I was practising some brush lettering and they asked me to paint their names, and ‘Harry Potter’. Then they practised painting their own names with the brushes. (not shown as it’s their names, obviously)

Most kids never get access to a half way decent brush until high school or later – it’s a real annoyance of mine! Hogs hair stiff bristle brushes are really only useful for glue or oil paint. The rest of the time you need a cheap synthetic brush, well cleaned after each use, and small enough to actually do what the kids are trying to do with it! So they get frustrated and discouraged and think they are no good at painting. Learning to use a brush is like learning to use a pencil – it takes some practice! If we gave all grade one students a bent stick instead of a pencil how well do you think they’d learn? Hogs hair brushes are basically that.

I was working with water filled brushes (similar in design to an Asian brush pen, but filled with water instead of ink) which are cheap and super convenient when travelling as they carry the water inside their handle. It reduces a lot of mess and fuss and kids start to learn the basics of brush work – always pull a brush, never ‘push’ it, how firmly you press is how thick the line goes, how to wipe out one colour before going onto another, and when to stop because the paper is getting overloaded. It’s fantastic.

They had a wonderful time and ended up working on a collaborative drawing for me. This one contains flowers, a bee, several tanks, and a fair amount of blood, I’m told.

Kids can’t resist art supplies. Me neither. It was a great day.

Hope for self hate

I’ve been reading again, avidly, using apps on my phone and ebooks. (Poppy destroys physical books) It’s wonderful. For fiction I’m reading works by Tanith Lee, Patricia A. McKillip, Jonathon L. Howard, Sonya Hartnett, Matthew Hughes… For lovers of multiplicity in fiction I highly recommend his Henghis Hapthorn series!

Nonfiction I’ve been reading about scanners in books by Barbara Sher, rainforest minds (a guide to to the well-being of gifted adults and youth) by Paula Prober, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Giftedness, scanners/polymaths/multipotentiates, and creatives are all areas I’m exploring. How do other people function? What kinds of work are they suited to? What are their vulnerabilities and how do they navigate them? I enjoyed reading this article of career advice about combining different skills by the cartoonist behind Dilbert. This quote in particular resonated with me:

The weakness of an art is its dogma. And when I’m competing against an individual from a different discipline, I try to find the dogma of that discipline. When I’m competing with someone within a discipline, I try to find their personal dogma. — Josh Waitzkin, Chess Grandmaster & World Tai Chi Champion

How fitting, and fascinating. I recall when I was wrestling with my sexualities in counseling, being revolted by some of the ideas espoused by the facilitators of the local support group for same sex attracted women. I was disgusted by the use of the word ‘het’ as an insult, by bi-erasure, and what felt to me like being indoctrinated into a culture – what music I was supposed to like, clothes to wear, how to style my hair. A closed and exclusionary world. It took me a short to move from deeply intimated and anxious/submissive to stripping away the dogma and embracing the beautiful history, courage, and love that is the best of queer culture. And wearing my hair however I damn well like.

So I’m moving past dogma in other areas and reading about people who are hypersensitive, intensely emotional, rapid learners, who constantly seek challenges and struggle with anything once there’s little left to learn. It’s been quite profound. Scanners as label warms my heart, partly because it’s not linked to anything as complicated and grotesque and risky as IQ, with all the challenges and misunderstandings we have about intelligence and human worth.

It’s a box I’ve left closed for a long time. Opening it has been fascinating. The most interesting outcome so far has been the first shift in my voice “I hate myself” that I’ve experienced in many years, a sense that beneath the rage and self loathing lies a different truth altogether: “I don’t understand myself.”

So I’m working to create a new space. Currently I’m most overwhelmed in the area of work/business/career. I am polarised between being barely able to think about it, and drowning in total overwhelm. I’m using my Morning pages (3 hand written pages about anything, a reflective tool suggested by Cameron) to wrestle a new space: gentle curiosity. Why am I blocked? Where is the pain and fear coming from? If this (life, work) was set up perfectly suitable for me, what would it look like?

It’s always an amazing experience, reading about yourself in others’ stories. It’s happened for me many times: reading about PTSD at 18. About attachment disorders, about victims of abuse. In some ways about multiplicity but mostly I didn’t fit the dogma and common stories there. About queer identity. It’s been some time since I found myself reflected in another face. Reading about scanners and rainforest minds has been the most hopeful thing I’ve found in a long time. There are many other people out there like me in these ways. Brilliant people who take 15 years to get an undergraduate degree, or never do. People who thrive on challenge and are constantly being told to slow down. People who can tie themselves up in moral knots so tight they can’t breathe. Obsessives who can’t “focus” and want to explore everything.

And just as I’ve done with being queer, or being multiple, they find friends who are not threatened so they can shine and struggle. They find careers that are good enough and leave them time to explore, or that embed challenge and variety and meaning in them. They stop trying to be what they are not, and learn what they are, and work with that. Which exactly what I’m trying to do. These books give me hope.

Cookies and campfire

Surfacing from the terrible week, my mind has been clearing. Today it offered only a handful of “I hate myself”s almost like afterthoughts. I’ve been noticing that there seem be to be a particular vulnerability around an bring to do with work or my business. I feel fragile but settled and even joyful.

Yesterday Poppy and I painted in the backyard. She chose a pearl purple paint at Officeworks the other day and spent an hour exploring how it changed her paint water and running it through her fingers. She painted my hand with her finger with such careful seriousness, the moment felt profound. I’m so glad to be a parent, to have these precious girls in my life.

Today we had my birthday party, a backyard campfire with cookies. I decided on cookies because it was much easier to bake a range to fit various dietary needs, and I made large batches and sent gift bags home with the guests. It was such a joy.

Our baker has not been out in awhile, in fact few of us have been out except for the one being totally overwhelmed, and switching was wonderfully liberating. There’s a common misconception that multiple can simply switch out whoever they want, or get rid of anyone being inconvenient. Few systems work that way, and constantly suppressing inconvenient parts tends to have its own downsides. Having someone distressed stuck out is horrible, but it does happen. It has been a relief to get a break from it here and there and see the world through different eyes.

Our baker wanted to make everything, spent a happy morning writing a huge list of everything she c felt like baking and narrowing it to 5 recipes, compiling the ingredients list and cross referencing with what we already had in the house. We made dairy and gluten free peanut butter chocolate cookies, gluten free gingersnaps, regular anzac biscuits, and sugar free banana date balls. We baked spuds on a fire and folks brought toppings with them to share. There were marshmallows and cold drinks. The kids played on the play ground or in the loungeroom with a train set and toy kitchen. It was happy mayhem for the most part.

Birthday over for another year. Thank goodness for that. Hoping this week is better.

Embroidery museum

Today was a treat, Rose and I went out for a lunch date. I took her to the SA Embroidery Guild Museum, which was gorgeous. Their display is small but beautifully set out, with audio and video as well, teaching particular techniques on display. I was surprised to discover their impressive library, amazing catalogue of embroidery samples that some kind souls were hard at work archiving, and a lovely gift shop.

We topped it all off with soup and salad at the central markets, and explored my needlework project collection from the days I was very sick and turning my creative passions to tiny and delicate artwork in the form of beading and embroidery that could be done from bed or couch.

I’d been hoping the extra space of my studio would open the door to large installation artwork again, but today I felt very inspired by the small scale too, beautiful fabrics and threads used to make delicate heirloom pieces. It’s a lovely medium to speak with, and I’m thinking it could work very well in artist’s books or their covers.

Self care

Brr. Self care today is going to an artist workshop. I wouldn’t mind if it was sleeping in instead, but sometimes you go with the self care you booked in a couple of months ago when it sounded like a fun idea! It’s been an intense week and I’m happy to be out of the house for a bit.

Focus on Family

I was sitting on the couch nursing a sick feverish Poppy yesterday, and thinking about the last couple of weeks. I’ve taken some time off work lately to pour some extra love into home and family and it’s been wonderful. There are huge changes afoot and as my business continues to develop I’m feeling less overwhelmed and obsessive. It’s easier to take time away, and I feel liberated to spread my energy across home and work, and my creativity and passion. A lot remains to come clearer but I’m happy with the direction things are taking.

I could do with more sleep, as usual, and I would love less sickness going on – my periods have returned so I’m back dealing with regular misery myself too, but between family counseling, books about creativity and business, regular date days, journaling, and the occasional much appreciated nap, things are going well.

So, our big news is that Star was booked for surgery on her knee, quite out of the blue and with only 2 weeks notice! This is wonderful news, she has been desperate for the surgery and struggling to afford her rehab costs as well as hospital cover for private surgery planned for the end of this year. We were told she was unlikely to come up on the public wait list for several years, so her surgery scheduled for tomorrow morning was a real surprise!

She has also just passed her tests and gained her provisional licence, something she’s been looking forward to for years. I am so pleased she’s going into the surgery with a big win, because it’s tough to prep for it (she needed a blood test and has a big phobia), and she’s had a really tough time with her mental health since the assault when her knee was injured. We are all going the surgery will be the turning point for better times for her.

e’ve been busy preparing, we’ve bought a lovely second hand couch which is a recliner, so there are more enough seats for everyone with achy joints to be comfortable.

I’ve also bought this wonderful standing bench to use for making or fixing things. It was only $30 second hand.

And we’ve all been doing lots of cleaning and organising. I’ve been tackling the sheds and Poppy’s toys and crafts.

So, fingers crossed everything goes well tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, we’ll deal with that too. Life is an adventure and that means sometimes it takes you way off script. You can’t hang everything on all the plans working out perfectly. But boy has it been nice to see our girl feeling happy and hopeful.

Glorious art

Inks and watercolours

Sewing and oil paints

I spent all day in my studio today, and it was wonderful. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a couple of art demonstrations recently and I have been greatly looking forward to a chance to play with new techniques and supplies.

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way recently and I’m in love with Morning Pages. 3 handwritten pages every morning when I can, it’s a perfect type of focusing for me and I’m making great progress with all kinds of blocks and struggles.

My realisation today is that I tend to preference risk taking in my art – big projects, new skills, new supplies, large artwork. This would be fine except as soon as I encounter a roadblock or glitch, my inner critic goes to town and I get frozen up. Then my critic goes to town because I’m frozen and it all spirals into a painful mess. So today I insisted to myself that I would start low risk and explore and play – cheapest new paints first, small papers, simplest techniques or skills I already have, and go from there. And suddenly I’ve unlocked the most joyous and productive day I’ve ever had in a studio. Piece by tiny piece, I am learning what makes me tick and how to care for my artist and create a business that fits well. Today was a good day.

Watercolour forest

Sumi ink and Chinese watercolours, Magnolias

Orchids and dragonflies, watercolour

Poppies and butterflies, watercolour

Sumi ink and Chinese watercolours, peonies

Watercolor florals

Hand made books

The most fun I’ve had in long while has been visiting a local book maker and repairer. I adore seeing people’s studios, learning so much about the skills and inspiration behind their work is a treat.

I was particularly taken with the design of several beautiful old books such as this gorgeous concertina-fold book of prints:

The ‘pages’ are actually a long strip of paper folded, with a print on the same colour paper pasted to each fold. I fell in love with this stunning book of watercolours:

Which also opens and reads as a regular book:

Because each of the beautiful double spread paints are actually a single page, folded down the centre and glued along both edges to each fellow page. There’s no spine or centre gutter or binding at all, so it opens flat perfectly. I adore it.

An ancient Chinese ledger made from rice paper also stole my heart, but I was too busy admiring it to take pictures for you!

My current book making project has been progressing. I was asked to explore hand made vs digital layout of the content – same format just different tools to get the job done.

I’ve been really impressed with how user friendly and accessible Canva and Desygner are. InDesign isn’t bad either, but for intuitive design and speed the apps are amazing. I’ve used the desktop version of Canva quite a bit too, it syncs with the app on my phone and is really easy to use.

In the end it was decided to go with the hand made approach, which makes me extremely happy because it means more time spent with my brushes in my studio instead of with my computer in my office, and a more handmade feel rather than polished magazine feel to the whole project. I’m really looking forward to the content being signed off on so I can get into making the final. 🙂

Fresh start

I cut all my hair today and I’m feeling much lighter. It’s been a hell of a week. Poppy got sick out of nowhere. I woke at 3am to find her spiking a huge fever and having convulsions. One ambulance trip and a day in hospital later the conclusion was it’s an unknown virus but nothing dangerous and we all went home. It’s taken a number of days for her to kick and in the meantime, Rose and I have come down too. It’s such a non specific thing (headache, stiffness, aches, tiredness) it’s been hard to tell if we’re sick, sleep deprived, or depressed.

Hospital involved taking Poppy’s temperature, checking her pulse and oxygen saturation, and wearing an ID bracelet, all of which she found extremely upsetting. So we brought home her used pulse ox set and ID bracelet to add to her toys for play, and Rose brought a new under arm thermometer that lights up green for normal temp, orange for elevated and red for very high. Since then we’ve been playing ‘What colour are you?’ with Poppy, Mummy, Mama, and sister, and Poppy is now quite happy to have her temperature taken and check out what colour she is. Hopefully if she needs a stay in hospital again these things won’t be so traumatic. Rose is the mastermind behind this, she’s a genius.

In the meantime, I’m resting as best I can and nibbling away at work, and hope to be back on my feet for real and less sore very soon.

Gourmet Meals with St James

A new project I’m working on at the moment is developing a fresh gourmet menu with St James Quality Cuts. It’s quite a wonderful change from the rest of my work, and I find it marvelously clearing for my mind to shift between such diverse tasks. This is a little trick many creatives use – let yourself recharge and brew on one project while working on something completely different.

St James is a gorgeous little family owned butcher – owned by some of my family in fact, providing a huge range of pies, desserts, platters, and take home meals alongside their meats, veg, fruit, milk, and pet treats. For such a small crew and kitchen they work hard creating an amazing array of excellent meals.

They needed a menu overhaul, and clearer, easier systems in place for storing ingredients, accessing recipes, and methods for preparing all these meals. So I’ve been in the kitchen creating pies, testing flavours, and investigating what great local produce is available for summer and winter menus for them. There’s definitely no complaints about this project in my house – tasting nights are a new favourite, and bringing home choice bacon and ham is never an unpopular decision either. 🙂

It’s funny, at first I felt terribly anxious and out of my depth with this project, I’ve never done anything like it before! Then I realised I set up all the house cleaning systems in my home, the rotating menu, meal planning, shared shopping list, household budget, and have spent years adapting meals for various people who are dairy free, lactose free, gluten free, celiac, fructose intolerant, FODMAP, allergic to nuts, pepper, soy, or eggs. Like so many people, especially women, I have years of experience developing skills that I have few avenues to gain formal recognition in. Fortunately the wonderful world of freelancing cares much less about certificates and far more about competence. I’ve brushed up on safe food handling and current best practices, and the new, improved gourmet menu, recipes, and systems are making excellent progress.

Today I’ve been testing, among other things, sticky maple syrup lamb shanks with mashed potato, chicken korma, self saucing chocolate puddings, and pear and rhubarb crumble. If you’re local there’s a fridge full of these ready to go. Rose and I finished every morsel of the samples I brought home tonight. 🙂

Dearest Star

Star, our beautiful teenager is much more difficult for me to share about discretely than it is for me with Poppy, but I don’t like to leave her out entirely, either. It’s been a hard year for her. The injury to her knee saw a huge downturn in her mental health, and a kid who has got back up after so many knock downs before, got knocked off her feet and lost some hope that life was going to work out. Some days she explains to me how unhappy she is and my heart breaks. I remind myself often that my job is not to pressure her to be happy, it’s simply to love her.

She finished school last year with straight A grades, despite many days off and a lot of distress. Anxiety and chronic pain are constant companions, but she is also vibrant when happy, courteous, diligent, and incredibly helpful. She is always gentle with Poppy even when she’s frustrated about her room being raided for interesting things.

She’s in contact with all of her biological family now, an excellent and challenging process. I’ve always firmly believed in the idea that we all need many parents – I remember reading Clarissa Pinkola Este’s Women Who Run with the Wolves many years ago and loving her assertion that all women need at least 5 different mothers to grow to adulthood. So we do not compete, or rank relationships by which are more ‘real’, or dismiss their importance. Star needs all her family to grow, and they are all real, important, and deeply influential. It’s not always easy but when there’s peace, she thrives, and she is patient beyond her years when there’s stress in those relationships.

Some days I feel so inadequate and overwhelmed, parenting a teenager I only met a few years ago. I have to make calls about her best interests and balance the needs of our whole little family and I’m certain I don’t always get that right. Some days the stakes feel high and I’m afraid I’m making the wrong choices.

Other days I see her growing, the kindness in her friendships, the quiet leadership, her blooming communication skills and I’m so incredibly proud. She has worked so hard to be different and she certainly stands out! I love our times in the car together on the way to school in the mornings, when she opens up and tells me about her life. I love being part of first experiences for her, like being there the first day she was taken for a motorbike ride and came home exhilarated. I’m glad to be there on bad days when she needs a hug.

Currently her joy is learning to drive. Many highly intelligent kids are restless to grow older and reap the rewards of adulthood and Star more than most has craved the freedoms of adult life. She’s rarely happier than behind the wheel, gaining hours of driving experience towards getting her licence.

We have been together over 2 years now, and adulthood is approaching so quickly. In the blink of eye this time will be just a memory, the stress of year 12, her first day at uni, the four of us crowded into our little unit. Among all the stress and sadness and difficulty, there’s such love, such joy. She is growing into a wonderful woman and I’m so proud to know her and have played a small role in the end of her childhood.

My Exhibition Sold Out

It was amazing. The feedback was wonderful. People really engaged. And I sold all the art on the walls and then some!

I’m wiped out today and hanging on the couch with Poppy.

There will be updates with links and pictures and all the wonderful things for you very soon.

But for now – wow. My first exhibition since Poppy was born, and my first sell-out exhibition. I am dazed and amazed and SO EXCITED!

I was trialling the idea of one night exhibitions, in a community rather than gallery setting, hosted by an organisation – in this case my wonderful place of residence SHINE SA.

It was great. Hard work but fantastic. I already have interest in hosting it again, and SHINE SA are looking into how they might be able to keep it on display longer. I’m excited about sharing it in different settings with different communities! (Sing out if that’s you)

My favourite part of yesterday was people taking me over to a work to tell me what they see in it, and why they connect with it.

photo courtesy of Janiece Pope ©2018

Hearing that the ideas resonate, that the art speaks to people, that tricky topics suddenly feel safer to think about or talk about – music to my ears. This is a brilliant way of raising awareness, bringing people together, and exploring a topic in a rich, authentic, and ultimately liberating way. I’ve found my thing.

One learning is that I need to outsource sales. Rose is so much better at that side of things than I am, not because she’s ‘sales-ey’ but because she’s less flighty/fried on the night and more comfortable discussing people’s needs. (I forgot to even mention the work was for sale or how to buy it.) She’s come home with a plan to explore how we could offer payment plans to people who need to pay off their favourite work – something she does all the time with beautiful hand made kids clothes or quality baby carriers that would normally be out of our budget, so she’s very familiar with that side of things.

Guys, I sold a whole exhibition! I’m not even sure how to feel, I’m kind of thrilled, and a bit confused, and sort of anxious that it’s all been a big mistake or someone’s going to be really angry with me somehow, or that it was just a crazy fluke and doesn’t mean anything. (How much art do you have to sell before it’s not a fluke anymore?) Why do I feel embarrassed by it and embarrassed about my reaction because it’s not quite on script of just feeling excited? Why does life always look and feel quite different from what you thought it would be like? I don’t know.

Links, photos, good stuff on the way when I can move again, I promise.

And more art, of course. I’ve started a new collection while I was finishing up this exhibition, and it’s beautiful. ❤

Behind the scenes of the Exhibition

Here’s a sneak peak of the hanging space and gilded artworks. Preparations for the exhibition on Friday night have reached the point where it’s overwhelming and I hate all the art and want to set fire to it and pretend I never thought of doing one.

I don’t like this point terribly much. If I could figure out how to skip or at least minimise it, that would be awesome.

In the meantime I’m keeping on, juggling a couple of projects and missing my happy mood. I’ve navigated a number of challenges with hanging and framing and I’m generally just over all the last minute crises and feeling like I’m such a cliché artiste with all the insecurity and mood swings and indecision.

Maybe if I was a better artist I would feel less anxious and vulnerable and destructive. Maybe it wouldn’t make any difference at all.

Last night I dreamed that Poppy died, I woke distraught at 6am and couldn’t get any more sleep. She was dragged from my arms into a drain too small for me to follow. I watched her sleep for the next few hours and tried to put my thoughts back together.

A friend, not a close one but someone I had created some wonderful projects with, has died, and her service is on Friday a few hours before my exhibition.

I’ve seen my TEDx talk finally. It’s good. I trembled for several hours after watching it, feeling all the fuses blow in my brain. When I stopped shaking and could drive, I went home to bed.

I’m realising that being a freelancer doesn’t mean I can schedule every hour to be highly productive. Sometimes you have to make time to shake. This seems blindingly obvious but also difficult to grasp.

I had a spectacular weekend, happy and excited and bubbling with inspiration. I snatched hours to paint ideas and explored new techniques on YouTube on my phone. There were board games and friends and feeling like I’d found my place in the world.

I know how this works, I’ll pass through the darkest hour and the project will come together. I wish it was easier for me. I wish I’d learned to hold back a little, give myself something left for the return trip. All this vulnerability in public gives me the worst hangovers. But the other side of it, the connection, that’s amazing.

Work, Failure, and Identity

My business mentor sent this amazing article to me and it made me cry. https://www.inc.com/magazine/201309/jessica-bruder/psychological-price-of-entrepreneurship.html

So many quotes spoke to me:

Though driven and innovative, hypomanics are at much higher risk for depression than the general population, notes Gartner. Failure can spark these depressive episodes, of course, but so can anything that slows a hypomanic’s momentum. “They’re like border collies–they have to run,” says Gartner. “If you keep them inside, they chew up the furniture. They go crazy; they just pace around. That’s what hypomanics do. They need to be busy, active, overworking.”

I know that place! This is explored in much more detail in Exuberance: The Passion for Life, by Kay Redfield Jamison, which I found very helpful for understanding the intensity I bring to my work and creativity process. My favourite quote from her book is “If exuberance is the Champagne of moods, mania is its cocaine.”

Back to Bruder’s article: from a guy who put everything including his house on the line and only came through with hours to spare at the worst point in his business.

Afterward, he made a list of all the ways in which he had financially overreached. “I’m going to remember this,” he recalls thinking. “It’s the farthest I’m willing to go.”
…emotional residue from the years of tumult still lingers. “There’s always that feeling of being overextended, of never being able to relax,”

I know this place too. I over reached, just before falling completely apart several years ago. I went way beyond my personal resources to attend a conference, and at the end they invited me to create a network and be paid to do so and I came home to choirs of angels singing. Then they all went back to their lives and not one single person moved the plan forward. I waited and sent polite emails and my stomach dropped and my heart broke. As my confidence fell apart, so did every business opportunity I’d been working on. 10 unrelated arrangements with different people fell apart and so did I.

The alternative mental health community has not been a safe haven for me in this way. It has contained essential and valuable ideas, but also Tall Poppy Syndrome, a lot of lone wolves with no community capacity, and significant issues with poverty and hostility to those who make money.

Some make successful businesses and ventures from their skills and experiences. Some, like me, struggle and struggle, looking desperately for a validated way to a fair income. Poverty and all that came with it for me – inexperience with money, self depreciation, discomfort with marketing, had a cost that got bigger every year. At one stage an interstate org was arranging me to visit for a week long series of training and workshops. I was ecstatic. When they asked me for a bio I froze up. They knew I was bad at marketing myself, and good at what I do, but the freeze spooked them and they canned the project. I hated myself so much I wanted to die.

In my little world I hear often of others success. Those chosen to give keynotes at conferences, invited to overseas opportunities, paid consultants with the ear of people who can fund their projects. There’s so much failure and comparison and fuel for self loathing. The standards are impossible. The hurdles to be included and treated as a professional are impossible. Peer work is a nightmare risk, and hidden behind our inspirational heros are so many untold stories like my own of exposure, unemployability, and brutal failure. It’s a cruel trick and the stakes are exceptionally high.

I’m painfully, constantly aware that for many others, my own modest successes represent the same pain and lost opportunities. That people look to me and feel the mix of inspiration, envy, and sadness with which I regard my own role models.

So does cultivating an identity apart from your company… “Other dimensions of your life should be part of your identity.”… it’s important to feel successful in areas unrelated to work.

For me, who has donated thousands of unpaid hours to my networks, considered a tattoo of my own logo, and invested my career with profound meaning about the value of life, my identity, and my place in the world, this advice is profound and difficult to follow.

I am so tangled with my business and career aspirations it’s hard to tell where one end and the other begins. It’s been an incredible challenge to set up any kind of business model because I am the business. Having missed out on formal education and all the doors opened by validated skill sets and access to professional memberships, I have found a side road to my goals where that validation is irrelevant and the professional bodies are largely nonexistent. It’s the Wild West of consulting and freelancing. The clients are gun shy because of slick assholes who overcharge and under-deliver. And the contractors are unprotected from most forms of exploitation, have no minimum hourly rates, unions, or HR. Just this last week a client decided not to honour my invoice and paid me only the amount they arbitrarily decided I should have charged. I’m so glad to have found pathways that bypass the formal with all those issues, and yet I’m so poorly equipped to navigate them. The very qualities that have driven me to freelancing are those that leave me vulnerable. Upskilling is largely a brutal process of learning from my mistakes. The mental health costs can be significant.

I’m tired. Several psychologists over the years have suggested I simply sit back and enjoy my pension. I’ve stopped going to therapy with them after that. There’s meaning in work, inclusion. As Helen Glover put it, you attain citizenship when you pay taxes. I want to be a ‘real person’. At times it’s killing me. Sometimes I have to step back from this capitalist cultural fusion of work, money, and identity. I have to find a way to embed compassion and the context of a culture that is often not kind to those with illnesses and disability into my own understanding of the value of work. I’m starting to shift how I see it all, and transitioning to a clearer business model where I sell certain skills or outcomes rather than clients asking for anything they want I can do- it helps. It puts a small buffer between my business and my soul.

Let me finish with a recent poem I wrote:

My business is not
Who I am in the world.
It is not
My identity, my value, my self respect
Not the sum of me
My place
My impact
My legacy.

My business is a project
One project among many
A way to earn money
Make a difference
A way to be in the world.
It is not the only way
The one, true, right, way
The sum of every effort until now
Validation for all that came before
The reward for every tribulation.
It is just my business, one dream
Among many.

My business is not
Proof that I’ve ‘made it’, or
Evidence I’ve settled, given up, sold out, lost faith.
It doesn’t mean I’ve gone over to the other side
Become a success or failed a character test
It’s something to be proud of but not the only thing
It’s a part of me but I am not
A piece of it.
If it died I would still be here.
My business is not
Who I am in the world.

Art Print Workflow

As part of my business mentoring I have been tracking the time it takes me to do various tasks, and setting up workflows like this. It’s been illuminating.

One thing I’ve found is that some of my estimations have been far off. Gilding, for example, takes me literally 4 times longer per artwork than I’d estimated.

Another thing it’s brought to my attention is the stark difference between making art for the love or need of it, and making art as a business. See how many of those steps are not about making the art? Most of them. They are about inventory and stock management, sales and marketing, following up email enquiries and event planning.

These are not awful things, but they are not, as one might imagine an art business to be, mostly days spent in the studio with a paint brush. And they do make me question if this is a business model I want. I do get a great deal of pleasure from selling my prints and hearing where they’ve gone and why and what needs they have met. I like meeting people at openings and exhibitions and using my art to build communities and share messages. But a lot of this workflow is frankly, tedious and uncreative and time consuming. All of which takes me out of my studio, away from the creativity and connection I love most.

I haven’t stopped making prints. But it’s good to be aware of the model I’m using. I might be able to tinker and tweak it so it suits me a little better. Continuous improvement is something I am good at. Trying to build the business while also making the work continues to feel rather like sewing my own leg on while skateboarding, but stopping work isn’t a great option and many of the business skills are best learnt on the job anyway, and decisions best tested before committed to. It’s frustratingly messy and slow but things are emerging.

On the good news front I am working on a commission at the moment that I am very excited to share once I’m further into it. Having an artistic project again is delightful. There’s good news waiting in the wings so watch this space. 🙂

Poppy and Art

How jolly our Christmas has been. Good people, lovely food, thoughtful gifts. Poppy has some awesome new musical instruments.

I’m disconnected from work and being present. Playing games, making puzzles, cooking meals. Setting up my reading list for next year on my phone apps… One day I’ll read paper books again regularly but mostly I read one handed while nursing so ebooks are so convenient. 

Currently I’m half way through Growing Gills which has been full of excellent advice for a creative business person. It’s extremely interesting to see where other people get stuck and how they get unstuck, or less overwhelmed. 

I’m also still making art in little snatches here and there, using my travel kit. My recent addition to it was black ink filled water pens and I’m loving playing with my watercolour set. This is Poppy in the bath with her amber necklace. 🙂 

Hope you’re having a lovely break too.

Hanging out with my girls

Our gruelling Christmas preparations include walks to the park and episodes of Trollhunter on Netflix. 

A few weeks ago I asked everyone in my family to name one thing they find really special about Christmas so we could make sure it happened. I wanted to bake something that made the house smell nice. Star wanted to see Christmas lights, and Rose wanted to decorate a gingerbread house. 

Last night we roamed the lights of Lobethal and came home with fresh cherries, delicious baked goods and pot-plants. Today is baking and gingerbread decorating, and wrapping the last of the gifts while watching The Nightmare Before Xmas. It’s all very low key and low stress and I’m having a ball. Yesterday everyone in the house had an afternoon nap! 

We have no decorations up this year because Poppy would just tear a tree apart at this age, but we had some last minute pay come through so we could buy a bit more food and plump up the gifts, so there’s loads of Christmas cheer and we’re looking forward to some lovely shared meals with friends, bio family, and extended family over the next few days. It doesn’t get better than this, really. ❤

See my little art gallery at SHINE SA

One of my business development tasks recently was to decorate my office space to help me feel more comfortable in it. There was a little glitch with the audio during recording but it’s still a nice walk through. 🙂

My Artist residency at Shine is going incredibly well. I’m thrilled to be here, and having such wonderful people around for a chat over lunch or to collaborate on a project with is a delight. I’ve been spending my hours so far (I exchange hours towards SHINE projects to say thankyou for the venue and resources) mainly in a collaborative project going into local prisons and facilitating art workshops and conversations about sexual health. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m very excited about next year.

My torn heart

Oh my heart. Yesterday I borrowed a memoir of Judith Wright, wonderful Australian poet. This morning Poppy slept fitfully and woke me at 6. So I’ve been exploring the world on my phone, looking at artist’s books and reading about illuminated manuscripts. I looked up Wright on Wikipedia, hoping she might still be alive so I could write to her about how much her poems have ment to me. But we’ve already lost her. 

A line stands out to me, how she explored the relationship between inner experience and objective reality. Yes, that she did so well, spoke with such a clear voice I feel I know her. Like all my favourite artists, you can see her in her work, and she was a balm to the loneliness I suffered for so much of my life. 

It’s nearly the end of the year. I stand upon a precipice. 2017 has been kind, harsh, strange, sad, wonderful. A coming out of the desert and into communities of work. My online groups of freelancers are a treasure of wisdom and practical advice. I’ve wrangled with clients and invoicing and admin, read books, contracted mentors and support. Earned money and invested it carefully. I stand some days in my dining room – which is now a hub for my family, with chairs and a dining table where homework gets made and meals eaten and lately, Christmas gifts wrapped. I look at how small the space was I used to sit and paint and think about how frustrated I was with myself that I couldn’t do more, when it’s amazing that I accomplished what I did in such a tiny spot with so few resources. 

Now I have a studio and my heart, which was torn into several pieces when I pulled apart my home earlier this year, is putting down roots and growing strong. My home, my studio, and my office gallery. I adore being among the other artists at the studio. Even when I’m alone there, there’s a sense of recently departed company in their empty spaces I find companionable and comforting. I can create there, freely, and play with my supplies. I’ve never had enough resources to play, paper and paint have been much too expensive to experiment with. I’ve recently moved my beading supplies there, and taken trimings of silk and velvet. I want to make another Art book. 

It’s not the wilds but it is on the edge of them. Close enough to create. The wilds themselves, that inner place of experience, those are elusive to me. I don’t often go there, rarely write from that place now. Children and family and my work fill the hours. They don’t come to the wilds with me and I have never much liked going alone, feeling exiled. But I speak the name of it, Narnia, and I remember it exists. I sneak into it a moment, under the stars, putting out the bins. I touch it in my artbook. I step in and out of the world. 

I talked to a new therapist this week (she writes, sharing more than is wise for a professional. Working people, especially women, must split their lives and show no human weakness in their working world. How will clients trust me? How will they meet my eyes when they’ve seen me naked? One must respect the divisions of the role. The stripper’s stage name. Don’t blend the worlds. Don’t remind them you’re human.) The new therapist offered me ways to be always calm, assuming that was my goal. Ways to meet the world with equanimity, come what may. We argued and she smiled at me in a way that was possibly intended to be disarming but felt merely humiliating. The props may be cardboard and gold paint, but the magic was never in the stage. It was never about what’s real. 

I work and I live as lover, partner, mother, and that gap between inner experience and outer reality opens wide and closes tighter. I make art and people buy it. I write a blog and people send me money to thank me for sharing and changing a story in their mind that was harming them. I help projects happen and get paid. The world doesn’t end. I leave behind the cult of activists who claim that only unpaid work is holy. I walk away from the communities where anyone who is paid to help another person is an oppressor. I begin to understand that intentional ignorance, financial illiteracy, programmed shame when I ask to look, is part of poverty and welfare and it binds me to a broken, abused machinery that was intended to protect me, but instead hurts me and then blames me for it. I am in recovery.

My experiences transition to a shadow of a different kind. I stop writing, sharing, being naked in public. New categories force themselves into my life, change the shape of things. Is being at the studio work? What is work? I can’t share personal things on a business website. What is personal? What is business? My world shifts to family. My writing shifts. If I write about sitting in the dark with an infant at my breast and the other nipple weeping a sad milky blood trail over my body, have I transitioned from a mental health blog to a ‘mommy blog’? Are they the same readers? Does that matter? Is loathing the term ‘mommy blog’ mysogynist, or is rejecting the implied derision feminist? 

I’m looking behind the scenes of career paths and it’s becoming less abstracted more concrete. My anxiety reduces. I’m beginning to understand that spreading myself – ourselves – so thin (despite our sense of sacrifices and comprimise) has slowed everything, that building the skills and networks and becoming literate with the industry of each profession is time consuming and requires dedication. That the skills to make the thing or do the work are only half or less than half the job. The rest are the skills to be employed or freelance, the skills to get hired or contracted, to navigate bosses or clients, to spot and take on opportunities, to walk away from bad situations, to deal with uncertainly, to create a career. I’ve had no useful training in those things. This year I’ve done so many things; facilitation, illustration, copywriting, service design; I’ve worked with people at the very top of heirarchy and prisoners at the very bottom. I’ve watched the Pursuit of Happiness and other stories of breaking out of poverty and noticed the same message reoccurring – don’t show behind the scenes. Don’t let them know you’re not one of them (yet). 

I’ve thought about being homeless and letting the fun colours grow out of my hair because I learned those in the services only look out for their own. I’ve thought about what it might be like to be black and unable to meet that requirement, of the affection of relatives who wish I was more like them, less queer. Identity and public identity. Who we are and how we present ourselves. The dictates of professional identity in various industries. Corporate identity with reduced individuality, rooms where the windows can’t be opened. Task focused spaces. In another world entirely, the farmer who lives in the land with his labor. No personal and professional divide. The copywriter who rarely meets her clients, working from a stone house in the hills and doing video meetings over the internet. Such different lives! Such different ways of working, networks, business skills, industry norms and challenges. Different worlds. 

Have I learned enough yet to thrive? Not yet. But I know vastly more than I did at the start of it, and I’ve begun to build professional networks, not in a slick, manipulative, or abusive way, but simply the community of people engaged in work to learn from, share with, and take part. Clients, companions, competitors, mentors. Many questions remain. I love and need to make art, do I really want to keep selling it? I love to write, can I keep sharing personally or will that cause problems with my work? Can I earn any income for my writing? I can make resources for vulnerable people, can I show they are valuable to those with money to fund them? Can I help people care enough about multiples or prisoners or voice hearers or homeless queer kids to fund projects? Can I learn who and how to ask? Can I put down some of the big lingering projects I’ve not been able to fund, grieve them, and move on? Or let go of work I’m good at and love but that doesn’t fit well with my life anymore? Can I figure out the easy path for me instead of proving myself by doing the hardest things and taking the biggest risks? Can I get through a year without being diagnosed with exhaustion? Can I make my work sustainable? 

We’ll find out. Here’s to the next year, friends and readers. It’s been one hell of a ride.