Studio as a sacred space

Glorious studio days recently. Even by artist standards, I have a pretty intense relationship with my studio. Moving into this space, it took me a long time to let go of my previous space and fall in love.

I will be moving to a bigger, brighter, better space in the same building in July and I’m so excited about it. It will also mean I can integrate my office and studio spaces together and have everything under one roof. This should stream line all my processes considerably, mean I don’t need a lot of duplicate stationary anymore, and make it easier to move between admin and art on the same day.

In preparation I’m sorting, tidying, and planning. I have a pinterest board of studios for inspiration. I’m keen to create something both functional and aesthetic. One thing I’ll make sure to do is set my oil palette up on the right hand side of my easel, so I’m not constantly crossing over myself for new paint.

As part of this preparation, I’ve overhauled my watercolour and oil painting set ups. A friend suggested standing for my large watercolour paintings and I’m already noticing the difference; more confident gestures, better blending, and finally making progress on an image I’ve made 5 versions of that I wasn’t happy with so far.

This drawer beneath my glass desk keeps my palettes and paint protected from dust while I’m not there. The large white palette on the left was an op shop find, a flat porcelain plate which is is wonderful for watercolours and much cheaper than specialty art palettes. Watercolour handles so much better on porcelain than metal or plastic, it’s much easier to mix colours and shades accurately.

My oil paint set up is also much better now. This little glass top table was a steal from the local garden supply store. I lifted out the glass and backed it with a few sheets of neutral grey pallet paper for easier colour mixing. It cleans off while wet with a baby wipe, or once dry, with a wall scraping razor.

I had partly completed this artwork in a class last year about painting in the style of the Old Masters. It’s a copy of a painting ‘Arachne’ by Diego Velazquez. This week it was time to finish it.

She still needs a few more glazes but I’m very happy with her.

It was fantastic to get back into oils, I’m looking forward to my next one.

I have a number of irons in the fire at the moment for my next projects and so far there’s promising feedback on a couple of them. I’m excited about starting the new financial year with a better working space to meet whatever comes. 🙂

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. 💜

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. 

Freedom

Hey folks… I’m caught up on my business admin! I’ve reconciled my accounts to date, separating my income streams so I can easily see what’s going well – face painting, mentoring, community projects, speaking, training, and art. (Currently the first four are carrying the show, mostly because I haven’t had an exhibition this year yet…) Not that that’s a problem, but it’s helpful to see what’s paying the rent. 🙂

I wasn’t 100% sure if the breakthrough extended to business matters too or was more of a creative unblocking… I’m not saying I wanted to spend the day doing admin or that I had no anxiety, but it was manageable. I gave myself good snacks and breaks and was kind and THAT WAS ENOUGH. I didn’t cry or have a meltdown. I got a huge page of things done, sorted out all my work emails, and finalised my tax. This has been the biggest change for me in years. And today is a day off with Rose. ❤️

For a treat I mended trousers and watched an episode of The Good Place on Netflix. I’m finding I just have to do something with my hands every day, even if it’s just mending a hole. Poppy and I now have favourite pairs of trousers back, with tiny felt patches. ❤️ The garden has been soaked in anticipation of a hot few days. Everything is in order.

Epidemiology is wonderful. I’m getting top marks on my assignments and generally revelling in finally being past bachelor level education. The extra credibility is reducing my imposter syndrome way down to manageable levels too.

I’ve found my way. I’m sharing breakfast and a cup of tea in the backyard with Poppy and I have a future.

The Breakthrough

Endo has been kicking my butt this week and kept me home when I’d planned fun outings with family. However it’s not all bad because the major breakthrough I had about my work has been stable for a week now and isn’t fading. This time last week I sobbed myself to sleep with regret for all the choices I’d made about my career. The next day I read a chapter in a book (I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher) about people wounded in childhood and stuck. They freeze whenever they approach mastery of a skill. Their work life falls far short of their capacity and is fuelled by very old stories about worth. Early injuries leave deep wounds in confidence and self esteem. They become paralyzed by a need for validation, for someone else to see them as worthy and rescue them. So they are miserable at the prospect of succeeding based on their own skills and hard work. They crave caretaking that didn’t happen and are trapped trying to right an old wrong. There’s other aspects that don’t fit me at all – these people are often narcissistic and lack empathy for others, exploiting those around them, for example. That’s very far from me. My weakness is pathological self hate rather than pathological self love. But the hard work not paying off, the freezing up at points in projects where mastery approaches, and the undefinable but overwhelming misery of trying to ‘make it’ when actually I so want to be ‘discovered’ in some way that would make me feel worthy and cared about… That resonated so powerfully and has unbound me.

Recognising the source of these blocks and starting to unpack those feelings has undone their power. So I’m journaling about how trapped, unloved, and exploited I felt in school, and watching my capabilities come back online. I’m crying for how alone, how freakish and despairing and suicidal I felt then. And feeling the present day traps creak open. Letting go of the vague but powerful dream of being ‘saved’ from intolerable circumstances, and finding my strength returning to do my own work and care-take my own life. Not as a sad second prize because no one else thinks I’m worthy, but because it’s my joy and responsibility and no one else could do it better.

Since then I have been into my studio 4 times! That’s more often than I made it in, in the last whole month. I have picked back up old projects I’d been stuck on and finished them. The blocks are gone. I am full of creative energy and every day I find myself itching to do something with my hands, working out how to fit my day around the primal need to create.

Not only is the creative block gone, but the blocks keeping me stuck in my business are also easing with this new insight. My inbox is organised. I’m keeping up with my studies. I’m writing and preparing my upcoming talks for Sydney and Melbourne. I’m taking time off for days with Poppy. I feel so liberated. Every morning I wake expecting it to have gone away, expecting to find myself full of the familiar exhausting neurotic blocks. It’s like living with a tooth abscess for years and waking up to find the tooth gone and the gum healing. There’s so much joy.

Instead of narcissism overlaying insecurity, I went the opposite direction. Raw vulnerability and destructive, compulsive self sacrifice. So where Barbara’s ‘ragers against the ordinary’ recover through altruism, it’s Rose who realised I will recover through connection to self. The past 6 months have powerfully brought home to me that when love is only ever sacrifice and loss, it erodes something essential. The relationships lose dignity. It corrupts instead of heals. There is something harmful about normalising relationships where one person has no needs, where their needs are never a priority.

This is self denial as habit. It is for me, partly the wounds of spiritual abuse, the child taught in graphic detail she had personally tortured and slain her god. It is the bullied and alienated child in unsafe places. It is feeling unloved and abandoned when I care for myself and wanting others to do it for me – a difficult ask when even I don’t know what I need. How can anyone be attuned to someone so disconnected from themselves?

So, in small ways, we tip things on their head. Rose makes me choose what I want for dinner. I mourn the dream of being loved and cared for by others without having to be connected to myself, but also find deep pleasure in reconnecting. I can finally name the story that’s been killing me, the trap I’ve had my hand stuck in for years. Not just me but those around me who also felt the unfairness of my story and hoped that one day I would ‘make it’ in some kind of karma or restitution. So much power comes with naming it, the dream I cannot ever have where someone saves the child. I know what I’ve been dying for. Now I can let it go and live.

Passion and Balance

One day each week, Poppy and I have an adventure. Last week we went to the museum and looked at dinosaurs and opals. I thought I might be mildly hallucinating at one point but it turns out one of the taxidermy animals is animatronic and occasionally flicks it’s tail. A little sign about that would be nice!

Then one of us chased pigeons, played in a very small but nonetheless very wet mud puddle, and fell asleep. The other one of us packed up lunch and went to look at all the interesting things in the art gallery in relative peace.

It’s been a very recent development that I enjoy the art gallery. I’m absolutely wild about artists studios but have often found gallery spaces alienating. It’s been weird and a little embarrassing. It’s assumed they are my home territory when actually I used to have a lot of meltdowns after visiting galleries and didn’t usually go there if I had the choice.

But I’ve been doing lots of work unpicking mental blocks and old injuries, and Rose has taken me to some exhibitions where I’ve felt less overwhelmed by my stuff and more about to enjoy them at times. They are not home territory by any stretch (even my own studio isn’t that yet) but they are also no longer hostile territory. I wish sometimes it was a bit easier to be me.

Nonetheless, adventure time each week with Poppy is an absolute joy and doing us both a world of good.

This is one of the last little things I made in my flame work glass workshop, a tiny bee. Unfortunately because he wasn’t annealed in a kiln, his little wings broke as he cooled down. I’m currently immersed in research about kilns and torch types and where to buy oxygen tanks from. I postponed a planned exhibition of small sculptures when Rose became really sick, but I’d love to be able to put it together for next year.

This bead worked perfectly: I was practicing a technique that traps air bubbles under the glass. My teacher said I was the most gifted student with glass she’d had in 20 years of workshops. It just clicked. I adored it and I’m so keen to set up a flame work space in my studio.

I’m also hugely enjoying my studies. Epidemiology suits me and I’m loving falling down rabbit holes of information and getting a handle on the big topics. Today I was digging into health prevention, surveillance, and theories of health promotion. It’s fascinating to see how frameworks that fit one scenario so well (such as smallpox) have been such unwieldy tools in other contexts (such as diabetes), and how poor evaluation can make health promotion interventions look successful (eg education leading to increased health literacy) when they actually backfire and fail on the important scales (eg increased stigma, greater reluctance to engage in prevention or treatment). I’m just enjoying it so much.

My other project at the moment is a couple of talks interstate. I’ll be traveling to Sydney and Melbourne next month to give presentations at big events. This always involves a fair bit of preparation, both for the talk, planning the event with the folks coordinating it, and planning the trip. I’ll be doing a road trip and bringing the family with me to Melbourne, which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to meeting the people behind the emails too.

I’m still practicing Kaizen and being mindful of Barbara Sher’s types of scanner, hoping that I’ll learn what schedule suits me best and how to set up my projects so they and I both thrive. I’ve several more wonderful projects waiting impatiently in the wings, but right now I’m finding downtime is important and immersion time helps, trying to change hats all day long is exhausting. Hopefully in time I’ll learn more how to balance everything I love so much.

It was a wonderful week and I’m excited about the week ahead too. We continue to muddle through; work, study, friends, home, family. Learning, helping, creating. Good things are emerging. ❤️

Navigating overwhelm

Poppy and I spent the day together yesterday. We visited a festival in town, spent a long time learning how to cuddle bunnies, pat baby sheep, not to be scared of the chicks peeping.

It wasn’t one of the easier days. She had meltdowns about wearing clothes, and howled all through the bus trip because I wouldn’t let her kick the window. Sobbing hysterically on the seat next to me, wailing ‘Don’t touch me Mummy!’ as I dug deep for patience. There’s nothing like parenting an unhappy little person to make you doubt your competence! The best moment was when she was dancing to a choir, full of vim and delight and I could sit for a moment under shade and rest my tired brain from the high alert state of watching a small person running around an un-fenced area surrounded by traffic.

It wasn’t one of my easier days, wrestling a sinus infection and struggling to get up to date with the grad cert I’d been a late enrolment in… The challenge hasn’t been the content of the course it’s been the online format, which was a surprise to me.

So Wednesday for example I went into uni and hoped to get some work done after an appt, then discovered I couldn’t complete one assignment because the necessary information had been sent out prior to my enrolment, so I didn’t have access to it. So I hopped on a computer and figured I’d listen to a lecture, then realised I didn’t have earbuds with me so I couldn’t do that without disturbing others. So I came home and tried to access the lecture on the laptop I’ve been borrowing, but it’s embedded in a power point and the open office software messed so badly with the formatting I couldn’t follow any of the text. So I dug up a pair of earbuds and tested them in my phone to make sure they worked, then headed off to my office which has the microsoft office suite on my desktop. Where I discovered that desktops can’t process earbuds with inbuilt mics unless you have a splitter to separate the signals. So still no lecture for me. At which point I cried and came home.

The trickiest part is that I’m navigating these challenges I need to keep my mental space together. The more I struggle with things the stronger my sense of anxiety and displacement become – that I shouldn’t be in higher education, that I don’t belong and I’m going to fail (again). I’ve been talking myself gently through all the challenges for a couple of weeks and bouncing back well, but yesterday with uni and a work challenge not coming together I fell in a hole. I got back from my day with Poppy and couldn’t make decisions anymore. Should I try to get more done (everything is due on Sunday! and I’m late with everything!) or try to rest and clear my head? Bath for restoration or bed for sleep? Poppy woke me up hourly the night before and I felt like my head was a watermelon hit with a hammer. Am I getting sick with the cold everyone’s had, in which case this might be the clearest I feel as I go down over the weekend, or is this mostly sleep deprivation in which case don’t soldier through, rest and come back to it.

My mind obsesses about the problems, trying to solve them even when it’s clear I’ve no capacity left to think clearly. It adds in bigger, older ones I haven’t solved – what am I doing with my work life? How am I going to schedule everything? Where’s the next job coming from? Smaller problems get unimaginably large as the overwhelm diminishes my capacity. Everything clusters together into knots where I can’t assess priority anymore. It all feels urgent and impossible, the unmopped floors, the people I haven’t caught up with, the tax I haven’t quite finished, the assignments due in days… I notice the biggest anxiety is in thinking I’m supposed to look like I know what I’m doing but I’m scared it’s becoming obvious I’m unprofessional/incompetent/unskilled. I’m afraid this is the reason I’ve failed at all those job applications, and the more anxious I am that it’s my fault, the more desperately I try to show I’m competent rather than bewildered. A customer texts asking if I’m free for a gig and I seize up, unable to message back because I have a social engagement at that time and I can’t decide if I need the income or the time with friends more, can’t even work out how I would work that out, and my car died last week, very expensively, so if I say yes to the gig I’m also taking Rose’s car from her and making a choice about her access.

The longer I don’t text back the more my head is screaming with alarms about not being professional, and the worse the sense of failure and self loathing get. Once they are too strong, I can’t push through them enough to write back, can’t work out what to write, can’t make the decision, and everything I do, including continuing not to write back, is utterly utterly wrong, self sabotaging, and proves I have brought all the bad luck in my life on myself. I can see it happening but I’m swept along in a avalanche. Every move I make is wrong, and I can’t reach out for help because I think that’s probably wrong too. I open texts and messages and can’t work out what to write or who to send it to. I can argue all the cases (reaching out for help is a good thing, chasing being rescued is a bad thing, so and so won’t mind hearing from me, I’ve been leaning on so and so too much) and I can’t work out a fair or reality based guideline. I’m just lost and inclined to blame myself. My thinking spirals in on itself and the intelligence which is so useful and incisive in some areas becomes destructive beyond my control.

Overwhelm is such a huge part of dealing with parenting and mental health and yet I find it’s not talked about that often. It’s been a big part of my focus in my family for the past couple of months – what sets it off, makes it worse, makes it better? Carving up my life and rearranging it so it’s not part of my baseline anymore.

So yesterday I went to bed but couldn’t sleep, had a bath and felt physically a bit better. Visited friends for board games and found that I couldn’t do the games and run the mental programs of trying to figure out my study and business/work. That was desperately needed and nothing was engaging me enough to get me there until then. The mental break was restorative. Last night Poppy only woke a couple of times. Real rest, mental and physical. So today, I’ve read over the email from my lecturer that has bewildered me every time I’ve looked at it for two days and at last I think I can see what he wants, I think it’s just an odd grammar structure possibly part of English as a second language (wild guess on my part) where the the question asks What but really means How or Why. Maybe this is normal for public health? I don’t know yet. I’ll adapt.

These are the skills and patterns I need to get this cert. I am going to figure this out.

Deep breath. Soothing internal voice. We can do this. Back to it.

 

Reconnecting with my daughter

Poppy is two now! She is one of the greatest joys of my life. I never thought I would meet anyone else who loves swings as much as I do! We spend hours on this little swing in our back yard, or bigger swings at the park. ‘Higher, Mummy!’ She sings to herself on them, her own complicated versions of Twinkle Little Star or Indy Wincy Spider, concluded with giggling. Sometimes like yesterday, she stays on so long so rocks herself to sleep. Her little head droops and eyes close. I gently bring the swing to a stop and gather her into my arms, soothing the storm of tears about wanting to be back on the swing until she calms back to sleep.

Most mornings we share breakfast together in the back yard. Porridge, cereal with banana, eggy toast, and tea. Under the tree my heart expands, wakens more softly and looks at the day with a hopeful spark.

All my life I have so deeply wanted to be a parent. I am so grateful and so fortunate. She is glorious. And over the past month, I’ve learned to my surprise that I love and am well suited to being a stay at home parent. When both Star and Rose needed great care I quit work and felt like my life had ended. A sense of fatalism and despair. But I also felt something I didn’t expect. Joy, relief, new hope. As I match my days to Poppy’s needs and rhythms, a life emerges that is splendid. There’s peace, and fun, and connection. So I keep building on it. I find that my ideas about work are deeply poisoned. I am trying so hard to understand and recover from them. It is slow, painful, frustrating. Full of flashes of insight (work is my punishment for being on welfare) and such profound shame and self loathing I cannot understand anything or progress anywhere. I sit in front of my shrink sobbing until I want to throw up and there’s no understanding.

I’ve quit work. My work now includes peace and connection. There’s moments I simply sit and look at the sky. There’s tickling Poppy while she shrieks and tickles me back. There’s holding her as she falls asleep and feeling my heart expand and burst softly in my chest. A hundred invitations to be present in my life in a way I haven’t been.

Softly softly, the carer counselor tells me. We lose connection with ourselves and want to change everything, make it all right, now. Little changes for carers drained to the last drop. Choose what I want for lunch. Sit in my favourite place. Don’t always offer to do, eat, watch what the other person wants. Undo the impulse to destructive self sacrifice one tiny decision at a time, a few times a day. Tuning back in to my self and owning my own choices.

Rose and I realise that I’ve also stepped back from her pain in a way that’s blocked me from connection. She’s vulnerable, as the non gestational, non biological parent. Even more so with a terrible history of losses. I am sensitive to her fear, her desire for closeness to Poppy. When Rose is around Poppy, I fade into the background, unobtrusively. I cook or clean and care but I do not play or adventure or adore. I don’t step into the place that makes Rose sad or afraid. And in this way, for the best of reasons, I step out of my own life in a tiny thousand ways. My own relationship with Poppy. I become a caretaker instead of a parent. Rose has always seen this and been puzzled by it. She would try to cue me back in touch, help me notice when Poppy was trying to get my attention, encourage us to spend time together. I would read her buried anxiety and unthinkingly step back. Love as sacrifice. A vicarious life. My needs last. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone so out of touch with themselves they are barely in the room.

Rose emerged from her breakdown to find what she’d been hoping for has happened. Poppy and I sing to each other, snuggle, connect. She invites me back in, learns to celebrate alongside the little wince when I’m connected. I pay attention to my pull off course, the inclination to fade back and make small course corrections, a hug, eye contact, a few shared words. This child has two parents.

I am discovering the power of limits as well as nurturing. That a deeply loving yes must be bounded by the capacity for a deeply loving no. A willingness to let the other hurt in pursuit of their own growth. I adore Rose but should never have withdrawn from Poppy to make her more comfortable. Nor would she ever have asked that of me! There’s a kind of nurturing that is life giving and a kind that stifles, incapacitates, infantilises, wounds. I have mixed them up together and not been wise in my caring. Those I love and tend have grown both stronger and weaker in my care. I did not mean to harm but I have harmed. Stripped of agency, responsibility, the belief in a person’s capacity, they drown in their own vulnerability. If we never hurt we are unable to learn or choose. My love and caring has set people free and eased loneliness and suffering, but also created a kind of institutionalisation I did not foresee, and trapped me in a dungeon alongside them, also being tortured by their demons. Most carers know these places, these dilemmas. They are deep and difficult.

We are taking many steps a to a new life. Small errors are turned by time into routes way off course. The power of leadership, parenting, caring amplifies our weaknesses and impacts those we’re responsible to. Growth is a lifelong process, and sometimes tiny changes have huge impacts. Poppy takes me by the hand and asks ‘Swing, Mummy?’. We go swing.

Disability and Employment

Some weeks ago, I was asked if it would be okay for Julia Gillard to quote me in a speech. I said yes, and she described me as ‘erudite and charismatic’ and quoted from my video with the SA Mental Health Commission about Mental health in the workplace, in this speech to the Diversity Council of Australia. Which is pretty awesome.

Julia is the Chair of the Board of Directors for Beyond Blue, and they were pretty keen on the message too. CEO Georgie Harman got in touch to share the video and invite me to speak on a panel at the Disability Employment Australia Conference #DEA2018. So today I trundled off to the Hilton to meet some new people.

There were some seriously awe inspiring folks there showing us what can be achieved with a disability. Which is inspiring and fantastic, if not intimidating. Conferences tend towards the shiny. So I did my thing and was vulnerable in public. I spoke about failure and shame. I told them I was possibly the least successful job hunter in the history of the world, and gave them a 5 minute run down on hundreds of job applications, rejections, sad experiences with DES providers, a microbusiness cert 3 for people with a disability where we were repeatedly told business is easy (spoiler alert, it’s not), NEIS, freelancing, jobs that evaporated after I applied, jobs that evaporated after I’d been successful at applying, training as a peer worker and still not being employed! It’s no bad thing to have someone speaking from failure. There’s so much you miss otherwise.

I was honest and passionate. It was hard. I thought TEDx was the most exposed I would ever feel in a talk but this was bizarre because it’s still something I’m wrestling with. It’s raw. Career has been my holy grail my whole life. I don’t come to a Disability Employment Service Provider for a job, I come for an identity! For a sense of purpose and meaning and connection. So I don’t have to be a bludger, a leaner, a long term unemployed, a hopeless case, a complex needs client, an underachiever, a dropout, a misfit, a failure anymore. I come because I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life and I don’t want my children to be poor. I come because I’m so tired of pity and shame. I want to be a real person with a name tag and a business card and a place in the world.

So I talked about adversity and diversity and the complications of our lives where we don’t fit one box. Multiple intersections of difference and disadvantage, complex diagnosis, chronic pain, queer identity, homelessness.

We were asked how to motivate people to want to get help into work, and I said of course we want work – make it safer and make it more dignified. I talked about how essential work is but how risky too. Job hunting can put our financial safety nets at risk, can expose us to bullying and toxic workplace cultures, and can put more failure and rejection in front of us than our mental health can cope with. I also talked about how out of reach work can be during crisis, that often my personal definition of success is painfully simple – everyone I love is still alive at the end of the week.

I said that I’ve learned that I can’t successfully job search when I’m drowning in shame, terror, and rage. A bit like dating, I need to be okay with myself as I am. That means we all need to understand just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean I don’t work. People like me work a lot. We are often well suited to informal roles that fit around our disability. We run unpaid support groups on social media, we raise kids, volunteer at school, help out friends, care for family. We often create our lives in the gift economy, and transitioning to paid work is a very different culture. I shared how I’ve needed psychological support to help me see that having to make hard choices – like caring for a family member in crisis over finishing a degree, doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

I shared how many folks like me wind up freelancing so we can navigate our disability, and what a baptism of fire that is for many of us. I shared about the amazing Freelance Jungle and how essential that support has been to me. I talked about how changing my focus from what skills I want to use, over to what business model suits me best, fits around my limitations and causes the least stress has been far more helpful for me. Finding my own way of using skills that more closely mimics the informal work I do fits so much better than the rigid 9-5 model, or the huge, impossible to schedule projects that take years to finish and pay. It’s not about the skills, it’s about how the work is done and how well that fits. So I’ve moved away from project based work and back to gigs – short term, easy to schedule, and much less stressful for me. I mentioned that there’s a certain level of absurdity about funding an organisation to help me find work instead of just hiring me.

It was stressful, fun, exhilarating, exposing, and surreal. There were many interesting people to talk with, which I greatly enjoyed. My anxiety was pretty off the charts at times, but that’s the nature of that kind of personal work.

Georgie gave a fantastic talk about how we need to take care of our staff and our workforce too, to lead by example and prioritise mental health in the workplace. She was a strong advocate of the value and worth of people with lived experience. We both promoted the value of peer work in the disability employment context: that if you have never seen anyone do what you are trying to do, that is a very large gulf to bridge. People who share their experiences – the successes and failures – give us so much richness in figuring out our own paths.

So I hope I held a space for the human experience of disability and unemployment. There was a great deal of passion and sincerity from the people I spoke with. I was glad to be included.

 

Bagpipes for lungs

I’d like to be updating you on my my projects, but it’s just my health. I got half way to the studio today before having a huge asthma attack. I had to choose between going to the doctor, the hospital, or home for my inhaler, or pulling over and calling an ambulance. Not easy! I started to go to the doctor, then changed my mind and came home. I found I could breathe provided I did shallow breaths through my nose. Rose met me at the door with an inhaler and we got the next appointment with a GP. He’s changed my antibiotics to a different type and said the ongoing infection is triggering severe asthma. So I’m now on a stack of new meds and a nebuliser. It’s going to be a fun night of waking every 3 hours to dose me, Rose has her hands full with me and Poppy to look after, and there’s the constant vague worry of trying to decide when it’s time for hospital. My chest aches and when I breathe I sound like a kitten attacking a bagpipe.

But, I’ve got a soft bed, Netflix, the cuddliest bug around, and hopefully I’ll be feeling better in a couple of days. Fingers crossed.

I’m so glad I’d already recently decided I can’t pull off a primary income for my family (at the moment). This time last year Rose was in hospital with a chest infection. My family has a lot of extra needs. I simply can’t check out for as many hours a week as a primary income requires. But I can focus on income streams where I can shine even when unwell or on call as a carer. But what I can do is take the pressure off a bit, earn enough to keep my studio open, help with medical costs, afford my shrink. It’s not what I was hoping. But it’s a lot better than banging my head against a brick wall every week. At some point you just have to adapt! It hurts but it’s also taking a lot of pressure off me. I’ve sold four artworks this week, booked two face paint and glitter tattoo gigs, and things are going well despite coughing up a lung. I still have my art residency with SHINE SA and feel a great sense of belonging with that community. A career doesn’t have to be primary to count. It’s isolation that does so much of the harm. I was thinking of the years I’ve spent hanging around mental health organisations, and how it’s been within a sexual health organisation I’ve finally found a genuine understanding of diversity, and a sense of being valued. I’ve got art exhibitions planned and some in the works, and as soon as I’m better I’m going to finish and show you this beautiful handmade book I’ve been working on. I feel terrible but I still feel part of life and that’s so precious to me. ❤

Painting in bed

All last week I was awake half the night with Poppy who was very unhappy with a throat infection. Pratchett, who died 3 years ago, has been keeping me company through an ebook on my phone. There’s an astonishing kind of magic there, that he can have been dead for years and still be present in a way that’s warm, human, and real to me. I fall in love with books all over again.

Poppy is recovered now, full of life and somehow extra words and communication now she’s feeling better. She sleeps with her hand touching my back or her feet resting on my leg. I am often surprised at my own wordlessness with her. My world revolves around her like a hatchling in a nest, and we venture through day and night together, yet there’s few poems since Tam. Still stoppered.

It feels like I haven’t met her yet. I don’t know who she will be or what worlds she will walk. Sometimes I live so much in her future I forget she is here now. I remind myself to wake up and look and she delights me with a grin and a kiss. She will never be this age again, never again be who she is right now. She’s astonishing.

Rose has been sleeping upright in an armchair to help manage pain from her ear infections. I find myself awake in the small hours, trawling Facebook, unsatisfied, lost. I’ve read all the books I can afford to buy and I can’t stop looking for something, and can’t name what it is. At last I realise simply that I’m lonely. I message Rose, she’s awake too. She comes to bed for a little while and I snuggle into her warmth. For the first time in a long time I unpeel my spikey armor and bring my soft vulnerability to her instead of sharp, prickly fear. We rest in the dark, wordless, holding hands. Thinking not of the past or the future but simply present in the night, velvet soft and beautiful with the child sleeping next to us.

I’m on day 8 of being sick myself, virus gone bacterial and dropped into my chest. I woke earlier this week to discover that a friend of mine, Amber, had died suddenly. She who survived so much suddenly taken from us. I spent the day crying in bed. I’ve spent the week in bed. I hope I’ll be well enough to attend her funeral.

So much illness brings its own fears. Am I annoying my friends? Have I missed some underlying cause? I find myself picking at the threads of my life, trying to work it out. Why am I hurting? Where have I gone wrong? I’m so depleted – how do I recover? What do I need? The picking brings no answers, it unravels certainty, brings doubt to every choice I’ve made. The only thing worse than being sick is also being afraid everyone else is bored and out of compassion, and that maybe you’ve accidentally brought it on yourself. After a while, with an effort, I stop picking and remember that in the middle of the illness is the worst time to ask such questions. I’ve no brain for it. Rest, fluids, kindness. I go back to bed and buy myself another book to read. Help Rose manage the new and unpleasant ear medicine in the hope of keeping her out of hospital.

Today the infection is worse but paradoxically I feel better. Good news is bouying me. I have new support and new projects on the horizon. I’m planning an art exhibition for later this year, I have a mentor lined up for my guide to multiplicity, and I’ve been selling art this week. I’ve borrowed a laptop while I need to be at home which has helped so much. Today I’m starting the painting for my handmade book for prisoners project, in bed.

Chronic illness and caring complicate my work and career goals, but I’m finally adapting and finding paths through. Letting go of the things I can’t have right now, like the time to create a solid primary income. Instead figuring out what works around my needs and my family, how to have the resources to be on call for them and trickle in enough paid work to keep up with my studio rent and my shrink fees. (Thinking of Frida, painting from bed in her body brace) There’s a kind of power in being able to do this, to still engage, to contribute, to feel connected and chase my dreams even from bed. I’m about to close down some aspects of my business and open new ones up that better fit my situation and my skills. Figuring out a model that works for me has been a major focus for the past year, and it’s finally emerging, as is the support I need to make it happen. I’m excited to launch it soon.

So here’s to life, my loves! It’s complicated at times. Full of grief, loss, sickness, plans gone astray. But also incredibly beautiful. I’m still a part of the world, part of the community mourning Amber, part of a team who cares about prisoners, part of a tribe who turn up with lunch and cry about heartbreaking things and laugh over a board game. I am here, in the heart of it, anchored by love.

Transformational Breakdown

Hi everyone, I have so many half written posts in drafts at the moment it’s ridiculous. 🙄 Life has been weird lately. My psychologist called it ‘a transformational breakdown’. Haha. That means it feels like we’re having a breakdown, giving birth, and blooming at all the same time.

One night this week we got very cranky while making dinner, drank a bottle of cider, switched to kids who felt stupidly ill because of the alcohol (multiplicity can be dumb that way) then found the couch, a blanket, and Star Trek Next Gen. There’s been a great deal of being very grown up lately and frankly it’s not all that good for us. One of the funky things about our system is that we can kind of shift into whoever is most needed. So if or family need someone unafraid to take a spider out of the house without making fun of them, we can be that. And if someone needs a whole lotta nurturing we’re pretty good at that too. Or research, or arty days in the backyard, or being firm about boundaries or whatever. There’s some things none of us are good at (coughadmincough) but we can adapt and respond to what’s needed of us, at least in personal relationships.

The secret to making this work is kinda the same as the secret to making parenting work for anyone – looking for that Venn diagram overlap area of where your needs and the needs of the kids overlap. If you just meet their needs all the time you burn out. If you just meet your own you’ve got a kid in a 10 hr old nappy. But there’s a kind of dance to figuring out if we all go to the library on Tuesday that will give the eldest time to get books for her homework, we can borrow a new Charli and Lola for the little one and I can pick up the book of knitting patterns and start Grandma’s present, the kids need to get out of the house but I’m really tired so I’ll take them to the playground next to my friends that’s fully fenced so I don’t need to chase them and see if she wants to catch up for coffee…

Of course it can’t all be overlap. Sometimes you do things simply because they need to be done, like dental appointments. Sometimes it is about one person’s needs – there’s no other reason you’d go to a dance by 6 years olds or listen to someone learning to play the recorder. 🙂 There also comes a point where we just need to do our own thing. We lived alone by choice for ages because being hooked into roles and having switches triggered by people around us was tiring and overwhelming. When you’re busy turning into what you think people around you need (or will like, or love) it’s hard to have a sense of self identity, to know who you are or what your own needs are. That’s true of everyone, although perhaps in our case a little more blunt. Sometimes you need to have nobody need you and to just see who turns up. Systems are self balancing, to the best of their ability, they switch out who they think needs to be out. My family are never going to need my poet but we need them out because they take care of our soul and renew our spirit.

We can’t live life with one part forwards all the time without losing out on so much of the world. No one can look at the world through one pair of eyes, one archetype, forever, without missing so much. And while it’s a gift to be able to tune in to what someone else needs and turn into it for them, it’s also a kind of cage if not attended to with some care. Sometimes you need to annoy or even embarrass each other, to be weird, different, inconvenient, and entirely moved upon your own tides. Blue lipstick days. I’m here for you but I’m not here for you, owned by you, of you, made to fit your empty spaces. I’m stranger by far than your dream of a perfect partner, parent, friend, guru.

I don’t buy the dichotomy we’re presented with – that I can be the best ever carer or I can care for myself. To choose between tuning in to another’s needs or my own. We do not recover well when our carers are in crisis and suffering. We are bound in their cages and suffer with them. If I wish to be deeply attuned, my own heart calls too. My life calls too. It’s not one or the other. It’s to listen or to not listen.

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” Jung

So, I am home, finishing EOFY business admin, having meltdowns, having awful fights with Rose because we’re stressed and broke, feeling trapped in the domestic role I never wanted. Hanging washing and more washing and having strange panics about the cleanliness of the house as if attention to the kitchen counters has become a metaphor for how loved I feel, whether my needs are also attended to. I read blogs about autism and books about giftedness and articles about eating disorders and synthesise it all into a treatment program that is working brilliantly, and at night I lie awake hating myself for not being at work.

There’s hope for us. Today we took a break from the hideous interminable admin to chat with a friendly editor and mentor about our multiplicity book and imposter syndrome and how a blog feels generally manageable but a book is something more formal, official, tangible and we can’t quite transition, can’t quite stop researching and let it be a thing, incomplete and unresolved but good enough as it is. She laughed and we laughed and there was more common ground than difference. She reminded me a little of my late friend Leanne, who was also an editor and would have loved this project, if I’d been brave enough to tell her we were multiple while she was still alive.

We are doing well. I am hysterically exhausted. Star is thriving, Rose has been terribly ill with migraine and ear infection but is finally recovering, Poppy is currently unwell with a chest infection and I’m getting very little sleep.

I have withdrawn from work but I’m also hard at work on a new business model and I think I’ve finally cracked something I can actually do for the next 6 months while I’m also on call and caring so much… which is profoundly exciting.

And I’m still working on a new exhibition for later this year. Holding onto bits of my own stuff and upskilling rapidly in how to run a household with multiple disabilities and challenges in a way that everyone gets what they need – including me. We are still here, still together, holding on. Still kind, still in love, still hanging in there, still believing in better days.

I have no idea what’s going to emerge, but I hope the damn ‘breakdown’ part eases up soon.

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.
For more information see articles listed on Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

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.

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.

We’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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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.

SaY Your History – Join in on a local project

Childcare in aged care, uni students living with residential care folks, I love a good project that gets the generations connecting with each other, and I’ve been invited into a great local opportunity.

Calling Adelaide young people and seniors – we’d love to involve you in this excellent project about capturing people’s stories in video! This fantastic opportunity is a collaborative effort between a number of different organisations, and I’ll be supporting it with some training/facilitating. You don’t need any experience, I’m really happy to help you learn some new skills and get to play with some documentary techniques on simple equipment you probably already have access to at home or school. This can be very useful for school homework or your own creative projects.

For young person aged 13 – 25yrs we are running a FREE workshop on interviewing and filming techniques!

Wed Dec 6th
6-8pm
Free
Onkaparinga Youth Enterprise Hub, Colonnades Shopping Centre

For more info or to book in contact Alice on alice.sheppard@onkaparinga.sa.gov.au or 0400 279 328.

img_20171204_1453416781491573420.jpg

If you are a senior, the young people would love to interview you and hear some of your stories and life experiences. We are hoping to run a couple of filming days to get everyone together and give the young people a chance to try out their interviewing skills. The first is this Saturday, and it would be fantastic if you could help us out! (your family and friends are also welcome)

Saturday 9th December
Between 11am—4pm
Refreshments provided
Free – of course!
McKinna Road, Christie downs

Questions or RSVP to Jules on 81860048 or email juliferguson@internode.on.net

The fantastic people behind this initiative are from:

  1. Healthy Cites Onkaparinga is a non-government community based organisation
    advocating for better health in the Onkaparinga region.
  2. Fleurieu Cancer Network is a non-government community organisation advocating for better services for people with cancer their family and friends.
  3. City of Onkaparinga Youth Committee is a group of young people aged 15 – 25 who are dedicated to representing views of young people in Onkaparinga and are involved in various leadership opportunities.
  4. Seaford Rotary was newly chartered on November 26, 2016. This new club is doing
    things differently to many traditional Rotary clubs with less focus on meetings and more focus on community projects and partnerships.

My sweet loves

We have been so lucky with our family. Mornings are still my favourite time, curled in bed together, pale milky light coming through the big bedroom windows. Poppy sleeps beside us, legs resting on mine, cheeks flushed pink after nursing. Lately I’ve been waking early and wanting to go to bed early. Twenty years ago this was my sleeping pattern, I don’t know why it’s returned now. But lying here in the dark beside her, she smells of sweet rain in my arms. Her hair is a mop of thistledown, her breath smells of milk. I love her so much my heart aches. I’ve waited my whole life to be a parent, and now I am it’s such a comfortable fit. It’s incredibly hard work, but there’s an anguish and emptiness I used to just live with that’s full of contentment now. Both my girls are beautiful and perplexing, brilliant and challenging and so very loved. 

Life as a working parent is exhausting, delightful, sad, and a wonderful privilege. Driving away from Poppy in tears is a sorrow that’s hard to let myself feel. Coming home to a bundle of excitement who wraps around my legs and shrieks “tuddle!” While I try to unload my arms to cuddle her is sheer inconvenient, ebullient joy. Earlier this week I went to several meetings with orange marker scrawled down one leg from where she had decorated me the night before. I was delighted. 

I have new clients, new projects, and good prospects for my business. The business development course continues to be an intense rollercoaster of emotions, as I unpick the mess and touch on deep connections – identity, place in the world, worth, and old traumas. From stuckness confusion and overwhelm a new model is emerging with a new clarity. The clarity is wonderful and painful in equal measure, opening some doors and closing others. My system is in upheaval, each of us mourning the compromises we make, that none of us can be entirely who we are on this world, but share our work between us. We mourn the days not spent in the studio, the days not available for collaborating on projects, the time we don’t have for further study, the hours spend away from our children. The clarity heals and hurts. We find new languages: you are a community development consultant, she tells us. And we feel whole. And we feel sad. Oh, this is who I am in the world. I’ll never be a psychologist now, or a doula, or a manager, or an art historian. I’ll never run a clinical mental health service or be part of the army or work as a naturopath. I won’t finish my arts degree or go for that curating doctorate or join that post graduate group. So much sadness and it’s hard to let go. Wrenching. 

But also a system coming into joy. Yes, we are community developers. We are a community! It’s in the bones of us; multiplicity, plurality, duality, polyphony. We are artists. We are writers. We are educators. This we do, paid or unpaid, thanked or unrecognised, on display or hidden. This is who and how we are in the world, gravitating to the meaningful, creative, authentic, and communal. Seeking to ease suffering and loneliness, to promote compassion and diversity. 

There’s no guide for me for multiples and work. No mentor, few peers anywhere in the world. It’s lonely at times. We explore, trying to figure out who thrives where. Learning different outfits are needed at studio and office, for grounding the best parts and being able to function. Meltdowns, behind the scenes, are frequent. Overwhelm and exhaustion are constant questions to self: do you have a viable model yet? Do you know how to thrive? 

The Dissociative Initiative was our baby before Poppy and Star. The business has been my love, my great passion, since Rose. Trying to find a place in the world. Learning to unpick the traps I got stuck in along the way. An alternative mental health community full of brilliance and rage who attack as exploiters those who make money from their work. Clients who think you work only for the money. A welfare system that hides how it works and treats you as a cheat, a thief, and scammer if you ask for details and try to understand or predict the money. How am I supposed to develop literacy? It’s still almost unbearably shameful to set up a budget to track spending. Years of grinding poverty have left me toxic with needless shame and afraid to look, unable to control what I do not believe I deserve. The triggers and feelings mimic eating disorder stress. Just as invisible to the outside, just as deceptively simple to solve (‘just eat a steak, you’ll be fine’), and just as paralysing and destructive. 

It’s okay to look at it. It’s okay to understand exactly what I’m earning, how it impacts welfare, how my rent is recalculated based on income, how much I would need for a house deposit and how many years that would take. It’s okay to look at what my art costs me to make, how long it takes, at how many unpaid hours I spend on the road to do training and workshops. It’s okay to rejig an approach that was about charity and covering costs to be about income and supporting a family. It’s not predatory or manipulative. I feel like a young adult who has known only rape trying to believe in the idea of sex. Kissing my first lover and then shaking and howling as my body panics with dark memories and shame. And yet holding them. Seizing them. 

Seizing this beautiful thing and holding onto it while feelings shake me from ecstacy to despair. Just holding on. From all the wounds and grief and tangled sorrow, I believe something amazing will emerge. So many have midwived this with me, believed in me, held hope for me, paid bills for me, fed me. Piece by piece I have crawled away from a life and a belief system utterly destructive to me. And I’ve dragged with me courage, and joy, and honesty. The kind of wisdom you get from screaming yourself hoarse at 3am. The poverty and my own wedding to it, is just as self destructive as taking a knife to my skin. The way it became safe, a haven from fears of my own greed, of exploitation, manipulation, slick deception. Self preservation until I could see a different way and believe in a different path, just like the knife was. 

All things want to grow. It is their nature. 6 years ago I was offered this beautiful home, and I slept in it alone. Now it overflows. Now I sleep sideways in the space between my lover and my child, tangled in sleepy limbs and writing about life in the sleepless early morning. It’s beautiful.