Painting: Silver birch tree spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the HealtheVoices Conference

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

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

Walked in the sunshine with new friends.

Washed the day from me, and slept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss my little girl.

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

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.

Strings cut

Yesterday, I got stuck. At the mid point between home and studio, I turned off the road and parked. Unable to decide if I should go forward or back. I sat for two hours, while the rain poured down. I could not work out what I needed. I thought of calling Lifeline, or a friend, I tried to formulate text messages or status updates. I listened and asked inside for clarity. I worked through various options like a game of chess. I got cold.

Poppy was in day care and didn’t need me. Star was going to visit but was unwell. Rose was going to visit but was exhausted and rough and needing alone time. I felt I should go home but was also afraid of conflict and tangles. I felt I should go to the studio but could not make myself travel further away from home.

I came home in the end and tried to sleep. Everyone else slept. A bone deep chill had settled into me, fully clothed beneath blankets I still shivered. I gave up and crept into a deep hot bath, trickling in scorching water until my skin turned pink. The chill finally eased and the paralysis with it.

I often do not know what to say, what I need, what to do. I feel like a puppet who’s strings have been cut. With Poppy I’m purposeful, her needs are clear and straightforward, they sing a song who’s steps I know and believe in. With Rose I’m tangled tangled tangled. I struggle to shake the feeling that I’m destroying my life.

I write text messages and don’t send them. I don’t know what to say. There are no words. I don’t know who to tell. We are so surrounded by love and I am afraid. I try to reach out and find my hand still by my side. Then the moment passes and I can laugh again. My life does not feel so broken and her smile is not full of the ruins of our love. My world flickers between broken and whole. Star drives away for the night and candles gutter out in my heart. Rose does likewise and my anger dies like a wind blown out. I do not understand anything, but walk blindly in fog. Poppy curls up in my lap, wraps her hands around mine. I smell her clean hair, soak in her sweet smile. I have never felt so ill equipped to keep her world bright. Yet I am doing it, following the tides, come what may, cooking, cleaning, cuddling. She animates me. I am hers.

When all the threads unravel the simplicity of story and roles gives shape to the formless and meaning to the obtuse. They hold me like a vase holds water, and I am grateful. The kitchen is clean, the child fed, not all the world is formless chaos. It will not always feel this way.

Difficulty settings and disability

I have thought often lately, about the idea that some people seem to do life on a harder difficulty setting than others. I have been fiercely contemplating how I might be able to lower the setting in my own life. So far I have decided I am going to

  • Replace the jungle of mismatched containers in my kitchen with a set of no more than 4 sizes that stack with matching lids
  • Dig out most of the front garden, replace the shrubs with low maintenance succulents, and mulch it
  • Quit project based work and replace it with a smaller amount of gig based work
  • Meal plan for lunch and dinners
  • Have cooking days and freeze portions
  • Schedule all the chores
  • Create a nest space in the home for anyone coping with overwhelm – bed, laptop for movies, books, headphones, toys, blankets, Lego, and air conditioner
  • Limit Poppy’s access to toys and games, change the system to adults access on her behalf so not too many things can be spread across the home at any one time
  • Initiate a toy/activity rotation system
  • Limit the number of clothes Poppy has in each size
  • There are a range of significant disabilities in my home. It’s time we catered better for this.

    In other news, Rose is still in an awfully rough way but being discharged into my care on Monday. I’ve been instructed to simply ‘stop being her carer’ by mental health staff. When I’ve suggested she stay nearby instead of coming home where I have my hands full and a young child who shouldn’t be exposed to intense distress, I’ve been told by these staff that Rose is too unwell to be discharged to live alone, but not unwell enough for any other care option, and if I won’t take her they’ll send her to a shelter. Meaning I’m expected to care for her while being instructed not to care for her. I continue to value accruing my ‘lived experience’ in this sector. 🙄😒😠 {sarcasm font}

    Star has come down with bacterial tonsillitis and is incredibly miserable. And now Poppy has come down sick. I’ve spent most of day cleaning, meal planning, shopping, organising for Poppy’s birthday this weekend, and trying to keep my head together.

    It would be really nice if someone could unjam the difficulty setting from ‘hellish’ and move it back in the direction of ‘stroll in the park’. In the meantime I’m tremendously glad for generous friends, wonderful family, beautiful art buying customers, wonderful clients, and having a keen sense of the absurd. Because when you find yourself cleaning poop off a small plastic turtle after the least successful attempt to clean the toddler in a bath ever, you’re either going to burn down the house or laugh.

    Still choosing to laugh.

    Art book in a prison

    There’s a lot going on at the moment I haven’t found the right words to share about yet, my darling Star has been in crisis. I will, but I wanted to share some things that were wonderful today.

    Firstly, Poppy is recovering beautifully. ❤

    She is a changed kid since the surgery to remove her 4 rotten teeth. We are thrilled. Within a couple of hours of the surgery she was eating again! The ear and throat infections are gone, the very pale face is getting colour again, and she laughs again! We missed that sound so much. It’s been a delight to watch her recover.

    The other wonderful thing was today I was allowed to visit some women in a local prison and consult with them about a great project called Inside Voice, which I’m working on. I love consultation so much, it’s a real joy to listen to people’s experiences and reflect on their ideas. I took in my art book Mourning the Unborn, watercolours and a range of ideas and example styles to show them. They were a treasure trove of information which not only validated the approach we’d been planning (always a nice bonus!) but extended it with new ideas and observations that will add a great deal of value to the project in the future. They’ve chosen the style, theme, editorial approach, and illustrations that will guide the project.

    I’ve nearly got everything I need now to start the next phase of Inside Voice, laying out and hand making all the content into a beautifully illustrated art book. I am just waiting on a last batch of images and then painting and sewing can begin. I’ve had my sewing machine serviced, I have new threads and extra large needles, I’ve chosen the papers, everything is ready. I am very excited about it.

    Surgery was a success

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

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

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

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

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

    Surgery and Watercolours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What I want for Mother’s Day

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

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

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

    Poppy is sick

    We are currently arranging dental surgery for her. She’s in intense pain with 4 front teeth decayed, but the nerves still alive. Apparently that’s very rare in a child, usually the nerves die quickly and there’s little pain. So there’s no provisions in our public health system for her situation, she’s been on a waitlist to have those teeth removed for 6 months, and she has another year and a half to go! She’s needing constant pain relief and waking several times a night hysterical. Last night was by far the worst, she woke screaming and attacked me when I tried to comfort her, then crawled into the floor and started bashing her face into the lino. She’s never get done anything like that. Rose and I had to hold her down until the ambulance came. It was hideous.

    The hospital said her situation is so rare they were initially worried that it was something other than teeth. Rose and I nearly threw up with anxiety when they assessed Poppy for a brain tumor this morning! But the conclusion has been that it is her teeth plus a head cold and mild tonsillitis. She’s almost her usual self when the pain killers are working for a couple of hours, then it all goes downhill while we wait to be able to give the next dose. The emergency dental department refused to even see her and said that pain was not an emergency. They will only operate if she develops abcesses. So we’ve been sent home with instructions to keep pain relief happening and do whatever we can to get her the surgery as soon as possible.

    We are home again now, very sleep deprived and strung out, especially as we’ve all got head colds and sinus infections too. Our people are helping us out with meals, housework, and the money needed to book the surgery privately (we have to pay upfront to book it, which is causing troubles because the formal bank loans we are chasing take weeks to arrange and can’t be used to pay back a kind person, only to directly pay the medical bills). We’ll call first thing Monday when the clinic opens again.

    I’ve been carefully saving the money we were donated for traveling overseas for my first international talk. I was trying to honour the reasons people donated it to us, and to spend it on a ‘learning to fish’ thing that would have knock on positive effects on my business and our financial situation. I’m pretty sure no one would judge me or feel misled for using it to help Poppy (if you donated and you’re not cool with that, get in touch) so I’ll use it for this. There will be other opportunities for me to earn money and build my business, I’m confident of that (some of the time). I feel frustrated and guilty that I haven’t yet sorted out my business/work to the point where I can solve this problem without help. But I am so stretched right now thinking about that would consume resources I don’t have. I’m blessed to be part of a tribe who look out for each other, and helplines are helping me keep my head together. Star is having a really tough week of crises too, so both our girls are needing all the love and support we can muster.

    We are sleeping in shifts, watching funny things on Netflix, giving loads of hugs, venting frustration and fear in private, cleaning where we can, and just thinking a few hours ahead at any given time. If I never experience a week like this again, I’ll feel blessed. I hope the next one is better! I hope we have a surgery date soon.

    Poppy on Camp

    Last weekend, Poppy, my sister and I went away camping. 3 days in a tent with a year and a half old bub was slightly daunting but worth the effort. It was a treat to be with her every moment for a whole weekend, moving at her pace and seeing the world through her eyes. Walking to the toilet takes 3 times as long because there’s a beetle must be investigated. First thing in the morning she says hello to the sky, trees, road, rocks, and a bird. There was a major challenge with not wanting to wear shoes and a camp ground with old broken glass not safe for bare feet. She went bare feet in the tent, car, and on a blanket, the rest of the time was shoes or being worn on my back or shoulders. A bag of extra old rags and towels came in handy during a rare pee on the bad during a nappy change, but none of this was even choose to the stress of our last camp together where she wound up in hospital on a nasal gastric tube after contracting a terrible virus!

    I loved the moon rise, afternoons making art together, listening to my sister read books to Poppy, the gorgeous little wrens (juveniles!) and a rare robin. But by far my favourite moment was the last night, listening to the weather change. At night we were snuggled together in bed under Rose’s favourite blanket. The wind picked up and tired through the trees and Poppy was afraid and clung to me. It rained lightly and the wind blew leaves onto the tent with a tapping sound. I held her close for several hours and stroked her back and soothed her back to sleep. It was primal. I felt more connected and close than I have since her birth, where I was taken away from her for surgery. No one interrupted us, we just lay close and held onto each other, listening to the wind in the trees. The dark was a bit frightening so I set up a torch to offer dim light and she calmed and feel asleep in my arms. It was very precious. I’m so glad we went.

    Through the night

    Poppy is starting to recover. Rose is out at the markets getting us some fresh food, and Poppy and I are resting in the backyard, hoping the morning sun will do us both good.

    I still feel horribly ill but the bleakness of a long night with a sick child is behind me for now and the world looks more cheerful and full of possibilities. The pepper tree is humming with bees, our tiny orchard of potted trees are bedraggled after a week of neglect, but still alive. The kitchen is full of dirty dishes I’m ignoring but the used tissues have all been cleaned away from the floors by the couch and bed. Not all the washing was hung out while wet, but we’ll live. The cats have food, I’ve had a hot drink, and no one has thrown up on me in many hours.

    I recently discovered the generous online world of Mark Carder, who is the artist behind Draw Mix Paint and Geneva Fine Art supplies. He uses oil paint in wet on wet technique, and his videos are informative, unpretentious, and very accessible. His restricted palette and colour mixing technique is the least intimidating I’ve seen for starting out with colour theory. It was a lovely escape to occupy my mind.

    My other recent discovery, which kept me occupied during hospital last weekend with Poppy, is Udemy. Recommended by someone in an Australian freelance support group I’m very glad to have found, Udemy again has highly accessible information and training as videos, this time for a small price. So I’ve been learning more about InDesign and book layout whiling away the small hours in ER.

    It’s something I learned from years being sick. I need to do things that keep my mind busy, keep my hope for a loved project alive. Even if I’m barely learning or retaining things, having this whole different internal life helps me to not panic or despair when my day to day world is miserable. Yesterday Poppy and I even did a bit of watercolour brush lettering practice together during a better moment.

    I’m booked for a fun workshop next week, zine making with a queer youth group, so I’ve been gathering my collection of zines and handmade books as inspiration. It’s quite wonderful to see them all together. I finally finished one of my own tiny zines (a zine is a handmade magazine, usually black and white, simply printed or photocopied and sold for a couple of dollars. It’s like a short, punk book, DIY, and anyone can do it) and got it to reproduce and fold correctly. It’s about chronic illness and identity. I’m thinking about taking the components of it and remaking it as a handmade book, similar in feel to Mourning the Unborn. Books are becoming more and more a part of my art world. I find them an interesting intersection of my passions, many art books are stunning in form but lacking in content, while cheap mass produced text based books are often entirely the reverse. Handmade books can be a place of harmony in both.

    Currently one of my projects has taken me far more into digital than physical media and my heart is breaking being away from my studio for so long. I’m looking into a laptop and internet connection for my studio, so that at least if I’m stuck looking at a screen all day, I can paint in my break. I made it there for a few hours this week between other work and Poppy being ill and the difference in my mental health is tangible. I painted something horrifically dark and unexpected but that’s what I love about my art, not being in charge of it, letting it say what I need it to.

    So I’m learning about colour mixing and scale and so many skills necessary for technical competence in oil painting and at the same time there’s questions in the back of my mind: is this what I want? Is this the skill I most want to develop? Is this what I want my art to look like? Does the process speak to me? Is it meaningful, meditative, or tedious?

    Do I want to keep developing digital skills? Does it open doors I care about or take time from things I love?

    The same kinds of questions about my work: Is this what I want? How do I make it less stressful? Where is the stress coming from? What do I find easiest? What’s reducing my overwhelm? Where are the opportunities? What skills do I need to be developing? What kind of working life do I want to model for my girls? How do I make that happen?

    And in all cases I know there’s something else I want to pursue. Not instead of, but perhaps alongside or beneath these other skills.

    Why do I want these other skills? Well, I want to earn money without being in so much pain. I want my girls to grow up thinking of work as something that contributes to their mental health, not tears it apart. And the art skills are partly curiosity and wanting to make something better and partly insecurity and wanting to be accepted. The art world has not been a very kind place for those feelings and I suspect no amount of skill on my part would entirely change that.

    We only get so much time on this planet and there’s only so many skills you can chase. What I’m truly interested in isn’t a technique, it’s about where the art comes from. The muse, the altered state, the sublime, the creativity and individuality and unconscious mind and how we engage with it. It’s the ‘brownies’ (think ‘fae’) that narrate the novel the writer scribes. There are many different kinds of skills and the ones I’ve developed are perhaps less obvious in some ways, but still the heart of my work. Creatives range across many scales in how they work – Amanda Palmer’s “blender” of how transformed the output is from its inspiration, works that are carefully planned in every detail and those that are intuitive, art where the key is the final result and art where the process is more important… There’s such a huge range.

    My art was changed by a single conversation many years ago. I was in an art program for women who had been homeless, and one of the visiting tutors looked at my little note book of ink paintings. I told her they were nothing special, just ideas and sketches so I could later paint them. She told me they were artworks in themselves and didn’t need to be rendered in paint to make them ‘legitimate’. (What is art? What is real art? How profoundly these questions shape us)

    One of my favourite artists is Michael Leunig. He is highly skilled in the art of social and political commentary. He expresses his ideas in writing, poetry, ink drawings, and paint. His primary career (as far as I can tell) has been as a political cartoonist with newspapers. His drawings are deceptively simple and yet capture such vulnerability, absurdity, and brutality. They are highly skilled works in an entirely different way. I adore them.

    If I shift my technique more towards realism or some other form, what, if anything, will be lost about the way I work now? How can I tell without trying it?

    Into this soup is also the image of Stephen King’s desk; “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around“. Something in that resonates, that’s hard to put my finger on. Something about authenticity and why we make art.

    I paint and write because it helps keep me alive. I stop an artwork when I’ve captured enough of the feeling or thought that I can let it go. I loathe most of my own art at least some of the time. I have a collection of art merely because I’ve honed my skills at sitting with that loathing and not destroying the work. For all the randomness about what gets created, when, and how, it’s highly specific about which needs its meeting any I’m doing it.

    One of my art tutors at college loathed the trope of the mad artist. As someone who is mad, multiple, queer, disabled, I’ve loved it. It’s my many coloured cloak, my rainbow cape, my book of a thousand faces, my acceptable disguise. It’s a role I can play and a way of fitting in to the world that excuses me a multitude of vulnerabilities and ideosyncracities. It’s a convenient lie.

    There’s also a truth to it, somewhere in the muddy foundations. That my madness, my pain, and my art are bound up together in ways I still don’t really understand. That psychosis speaks with the voice of my soul when I’ve forgotten to listen. That the sublime also houses trembling terror. That the world of the interior, the felt sense, imagination, dreams, are just as real, powerful, binding, giving of health and life and death and darkness as our domestic world, consensus reality. That indeed even that binary is too gauche, that there are many millions of worlds, that we are rarely in consensus about our reality.

    I once watched artists at work and saw split lives, split studios, split identities. The artist and teacher. The commercial artist and the tiny sacred flame of the art that really ment something to them. Pro Hart walking along the wall in some long forgotten documentary, painting trees on multiple canvases- three here, then three here, then four on the next one. His gallery in Broken Hill is bustling with art styles and subjects I would never recognise as his, passions I never heard of because all the world wanted was that red dirt and blue sky and the stands of scrub trees.

    What do we pay artists for? The original? The image? The idea? How do artists live? Leunig by honing to a fine art his ability to draw something every week without fail that’s topical, pithy, insightful, and evokes emotion. Traditionally cartoonists used cheap materials and didn’t even bother to keep the originals. Now with collectors those works have become more valuable and precious. Pro Hart sold his ‘originals’ (my family owned several at one point, an odd payment for an old debt. We used to get paid in strange things at times, cartoons of eggs, once a whole box of fresh, prime cherries) with minor adjustments on the popular theme. What does original mean when the artist is walking along a row of paintings, adding trees with a dash of the brush?

    We each try to find a living in an industry that ignores us living and fetishises us dead. An organisation recently purchased some of my artwork. I worried to a friend that I was an Albatross, brought in when hopes were fading, a long bet, and that while I thought I was doing good I merely killed whatever I touched. (such darkness lurking beneath the veneer of success) She laughed to me that I was instead an asset and frankly worth more to some dead than alive and perhaps should make all my chai lattes myself from now on in case of poisoning. I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

    So I make art and sell prints and embellished prints and hide my originals safely away for the day I might have customers who value them. I barely let one work brush against the imagery of another, rarely paint series or sets, and get anxious when people tell me my art evokes someone else’s. My madness around ethics is woven through everything, my prints are an ‘honest’ way of reworking a theme or making an artwork more affordable. I wake up the morning after creation and am as surprised as anyone else to find what’s been left on my canvas. I keep the works like treasured relics, I also hate them and can’t bear to look at many of them much of the time. They are pieces of me, talismans from other worlds, my secret keepers and safe places. Glimpses into my mind. Messages from other selves. Things that keep me alive.

    Depressingly Romantic and cleche and fitted neatly to an acceptable story about art that has shielded me but also strangles me and hides the reality of my own work and needs from me.

    I make most of my money consulting, or painting children’s faces and arms. Being kind, welcoming their creativity, entering their imagination, exploring the power of masks and costumes. It fits so poorly with people’s ideas and the cultural narratives that I actually keep my face painting entirely separate from all the rest of my work : art, training, writing, and community development. I once tried to combine them and lost 2/3 of my customers over half a year. Even in my recent business development classes I was encouraged to cull the face painting as the redundant work that didn’t fit. We could sell the rest as a kind of package that made sense, but a face painter is not an artist, or at least, certainly not my kind of artist, they are a ‘children’s entertainer’. And those who hire face painters are not comfortable with people who work in mental health, share troubled inner worlds, or make art on dark topics. So I’ve just redone my face paint website to be simpler, more beautiful, answer all the common questions, and link to everything needed. This website is next but with the huge blog, it’s a much bigger task. And separate the two stay. You would think being multiple would make me more comfortable with this, but actually it makes me more uneasy. It’s been the work of my life to bring home keepsakes from other worlds and selves, to keep them safe, collect them, rearrange them, learn to bear to look at them, and try to understand what it all means. Who are we? What is this world?

    Art as self reflection, investigation, meaning making, myth making, storytelling, catharsis, therapy, navigation system. Art as the way into other worlds, the way back from them, and the talisman to remind us it really happened. Art as transformation, changing who I am, how I see myself, how I live in this world.

    This perhaps, is what’s beneath the myth of the artist as mad genius, troubled soul, person-who-still-feels. The artist as a philosopher who tests their beliefs in their life, and shows us the work in progress, the inner world, the little man behind the curtain. Art as vulnerability and the personal in public, coded and locked and hidden to greater or lesser extents depending on their ability to communicate and ambivalence about being seen. It is confessional poetry, and intimate sharing in blogs, it is painting the woman you love over as over again, it is mutilated self portraits. It is breaking the taboos about what we do not say, do not look at, and do not share. It is driven by altruism, ego, vanity, loneliness, love, pride, despair, hope. It is an investigation of what it is to be human. And to me, it sits perfectly comfortably alongside painting kids.

    This is not the only kind of artist, nor is it superior to any other. But if we see types of artists as a range of archetypal roles, falling in and out of cultural favour, this is one. And in the same way, we are all, all of them, in some way; the craftsman, the artisan, the hobbyist, the maker, the storyteller, the witness… Most of us need to create in some way, have an artist of some kind within us. The mad artist, full of passion and prone to self destruction is real, in a way. And what’s interesting is that few of them make it as artists. I’ve met very interesting mad people who make incredibly interesting art, but unless someone validates it as real and keeps originals and opens galleries, few of them will be remembered as artists or known in the art world. Few of my favourite artists were respected or revered at college.

    I wonder if we would know of the abuses of war if those artworks were made by someone other than Goya, someone with perhaps less technical skill, no name as an artist? Would we still care about them? All those split lives the artists were living, at least one had to be validated or have income for their artwork to count as real. Goya’s horror of war is validated by his career painting portraits of the rich. He was a real artist. The works we love him for most did not sell or were not publicly shared in his lifetime.

    I found a different way to split my own work – I layer it instead. I don’t paint anything for the punters. I don’t have my commercial work and my personal work. I have my personal work, printed, embellished, framed or packaged, and sold to those it speaks to. It passes through my hands many times, physically and digitally, literally processed across half my system before it touches another person. Layers, each protecting the work of the other. The madman who splatters ink at midnight leaves a gift for the artisan who carefully applies gold leaf without a breathe of air to disturb it. Self destructiveness is honed instead into a pattern of embellishment, a willingness to see value even in what we don’t understand. Polished by much handling, what were scrawlings in the backs of journals attain life of a kind, are validated by own treatment of them. (art is whatever someone who calls themselves an artist claims as art)

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the splits. They are the diversification of a healthy small business in a difficult industry. They are a way to bring what your heart needs into the world without starving. They are a way to keep the market that thinks if it pays you, it owns you out of your inner sanctum, your mind, your creating space. We all need a way to not be driven mad by the pressures, to hold onto whatever is authentic and find a market for it. To define for ourselves what means, or original, or art. To get out of our own way without being crushed by the values and expectations of others.

    I am growing something. Dreaming a new dream of work, what it looks like, feels like, its role in my life. Naming and untangling from the brutal sense of debt and worthlessness half a lifetime in receipt of welfare has left me with. Where to from here? I’ve spent the week sick, dreaming of my studio, afraid that I’d pushed myself too hard and lost my health, lost my chance at work. Work was a harsh master for many of my ancestors. I want something better for my children. I will dream of something better for us.

    Fresh start

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

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

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

    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.

    Nesting under critters

    I’m doing a great deal of reflecting at the moment on my work and career and how I’ve got to where I am now and what’s next. 

    One thing I’ve resolved to change is the way my imposter experience makes me relate to others. When people value my work I can become overwhelmed and avoidant. At my first solo art exhibition, several people approached me wanting to buy work. I took their email addresses and promised to get in touch the following week. Instead, I froze up and didn’t speak to most of them for 3 years! 

    It’s difficult to run a business with this approach. 😉 So I’ve been making time to meet and touch base with others lately, to hear about their projects, discuss potential collaborations, and gather skills and find resources. It’s been quite wonderful. 

    Today was a bit exhausting driving all over for appointments and meetings, but this evening has been wonderful – talking to long distance friends and being nested under critters. I’ve got a lot of good people around me and they make me feel that the blocks in front of me are not so high, and the dreams not so out of reach. ❤

    Happy first birthday, Poppy

    Cake is in the oven, baking. I have backup sponge cake in case of emergency. I’m nursing her to sleep then I’ll make chocolate popping candy spiders for treats, and whip a white chocolate ganache for the cake. Nothing is essential and if anything doesn’t get done, everything will be fine. Nothing needs to be perfect. I can’t quite believe I’m making my daughter’s first birthday cake! I’ve been waiting for this a long time. 🙂

    Reflections on the past year:

    When Poppy was about 6 months old, I baked peanut cookies. I was gifted a second hand Kenwood mixer for Christmas and I love it. I learned to bake using my Mum’s mixer and I feel very at home, delighted, familiar. Our baker comes out and hums happily around the kitchen, thinking of Grandma. Flour sprinkles into the floor like the lightest snow.
    A few months ago was bin night. As we dragged out the bins Rose and I started pulling weeds from the front yard on impulse. It was dark and starry and the garden had been soaked so the earth was soft and wet. In about 20 minutes we filled our green compost bin. We had mud on our feet. Grasping nettles firmly in the dark, fingers fumbling around thorns. A dark joy rising, to be in the earth, in the night, hands in soil, the scent of roses.

    Changing Poppy first thing in the morning. She wakes with a sleepy smile and stares into my eyes. Milk runs down my body and spatters like rain on the linoleum. Poppy is so alert and so focused on the world around her but in moments like these it’s just her and I alone and something wordless between us. I have to watch for them or they are easy to miss. It’s a kind of knowing, quiet and strong.

    Sick with gastro. Wracked with pain and vomiting. Crying quietly so as not to wake my family. Poppy needs milk. I lie on my side too exhausted to weep and Rose brings Poppy to nurse. I have to hold both her hands or she is like a kitten and folds her sharp little nails deep into my breast, kneading. Her hair is fine and soft as down. I fall in and out of sleep. In my mind I am alone, unloved, unlovable. I have no tribe and no one is coming. The world is dark and cold and everything hurts. It passes.

    Zoe has a new passion for escape. She jumps our 6 foot fences and escapes when frightened of fireworks. New Year’s Day I call everywhere and Rose visits the local pound looking for her. I’m a tangled mess of grief, guilt, fear, relief, and shame. She comes home herself, exhausted and sleeps for 2 days. She whines and wakes everyone up several times a night to investigate the back yard for possums. I sleep her in the laundry with access to the back. For one night she is content. The second night she gets into our neighbors yard and then panics and can’t get back into ours. She’s hysterical by the time I find out and go over to bring her home.

    Zoe guards our home and barks at passers-by. Each time Poppy is startled she bites me when nursing. One nipple is bloody and mauled. It won’t heal until I get a cream to treat infection. I rest it for days and pump on that side. The air conditioner floods the bedroom. It rains on the nappies that were drying on the line. Poppy loves Zoe and plays with her tail. Zoe kicks Poppy in the face. It’s all too hard. I’m pinned between love, responsibility, and fear. Fear of judgement from others paralyzes me. I can’t find a way through. I spend the morning in bed crying. I’m rescued, family takes Zoe in and cares for her. 

    I miss her every moment. My home is so peaceful. People walk past our house and Poppy nurses unaware. I go from 15 bites a day to 1 bite every 3 days. The guilt is like a tidal river that comes up and down. The stress eases away like floodwaters draining, leaving mud and debris and wide open blue skies.

    A friend we haven’t seen often visits. I cook pancakes. We watch cute animal videos on YouTube. Poppy loves cats but bursts into tears at the video of a hedgehog taking a bath. Star plays the guitar in her room and my heart melts.

    Rose has a tooth extraction. It’s a difficult procedure and there’s a lot of pain. Five days later she’s still hurting. At 4am she’s overwhelmed by it. I hold her. We can’t tell if it’s infected or just slow to heal. There’s only the ER open. We talk through options. I push for hospital but she’s demoralized and afraid. What if there’s nothing wrong and they are mean? Hospitals are not safe places for Rose. I stroke her hand. She falls asleep with an ice pack nested under her ear like a little red and white bird.

    Rose is napping and I am cooking dinner. Star has cuddled Poppy to sleep. Frying chicken sets off the smoke alarm. I run out to it and clip our esky  (cool box) on the way, breaking my little toe. Rose races out of bed to help me. “Poor love!” she cries, “I’m so sorry I slept, I can do the rest of dinner.” I push her out of the kitchen, hopping. Snarl at her “Go away! I’m being nice to you! I’m cooking while you nap, don’t wreck it!” Rose wisely decides not to argue. Poppy sleeps through the whole thing.

    Poppy shows the developmental signs she’s ready to start trying food. Strawberries, nectarines, and watermelon are big favorites. Banana and mashed potato not so much. As she gets older she discovers the pleasure of dropping food then stomping on it until it’s squished into her toes. She giggles madly.

    I crave bed with a single-mindedness that’s embarrassing. The sheets are changed far too infrequently but I’m so tired by the end of the day I never care. Crawling under my blankets is a kind of bliss. My evenings are spent anchored by one nipple to a small person. I learn I can download books onto an app on my phone. If I turn down the screen brightness and add a blue light filter, it’s almost like reading a book but can be done one handed in the dark. I’m thrilled.

    Poppy discovers she can squirt milk by suckling then coming off the breast and leaning on it with her hands. She shoots milk up her own nose and giggles. I spend half my life damp. She hates the breast pump with intensity. I pump milk for day care and she stands at my knee howling with despair that I insist on sharing her milk with this mechanical baby. If she can reach it she pulls the plug or runs away with the hose. 

    Poppy gets older and doesn’t coo at me like a little dove anymore. But she does sometimes talk to me in soft little hoots like an owl. She lays beside me in bed, kneeding her sharp little toes into the soft skin of my belly. Her eyes are night sky blue and dusted with stars.

    Rose takes Poppy on adventures to gardens or the zoo. She comes home full of joy and exhausted and falls asleep on the couch after dinner. Poppy hurls all her belongings over the loungeroom and sits in her toy box. 

    I pick Poppy up from daycare. She runs towards me and we snuggle. My heart explodes. She touched a chicken today, I’m told. Or licked a fence. Or carefully piled dirt on a doll. I wish I could book myself into daycare. It’s been a long time since I touched a chicken. She cries for exactly 1 minute, then falls asleep on the drive home, every time. 

    Birthday mornings are presents in the big bed. Rose wakes is all for the minute Poppy was born. Star tears a little corner on the gifts so Poppy can unwrap them herself. Poppy tears apart the wrapping with a huge smile. She gets duplo, a wooden toy, an octopus bath toy, a frog book, wooden whistle, small trampoline, and baby bike. Everyone decides 7am is too early and goes back to bed for more sleep. It’s a good day. 

    Happy first year, little love. You are my bright and shining joy. 

    Birth Workshop

    I had a beautiful, and traumatic birth with Poppy. It’s complex. I was glad to have the opportunity recently to attend a birth workshop with Rose and unpack some of my experience. If you’re in Adelaide you’re welcome to attend the presentation of our group’s reflections this Wednesday. Details here.

    Poppy fell asleep in my arms in our last workshop. Rose snapped this shot of me while we were meditating. She is the most beautiful, joyful, tender heart of my world. It was precious to reconnect with that sense of the sacred that was so present when she was born. 

    Melbourne by night

    This is how Poppy lets me know she’s ready to head out. 🙂

    All the cultural delights of Melbourne, and so far Poppy has been most impressed with this port in the floor. 🙂 We had a great night roaming the markets and city.

    How to tell if it’s been a rough night number 651: you find yourself googling ‘how to tell if you’re a narcissist’ after broken sleep, cold room, fibromyalgia pain, and a little person with night terrors. Feeling a bit fragile today. Off to see Van Gogh. 

    Poppy and I visit Melbourne

    Here we are sharing a chocolate cherry waffle on the way!

    We are hitching a lift with friends and going to spend the long weekend in Melbourne. Rose kindly set up the trip to give me a proper rest. Mammoth work projects and end of financial year business admin has been taking a toll. Even more pertinent, Van Gogh is being exhibited at the NGV and it’s not often in your lifetime you get a chance like this!

    So we’re all packed and off on an adventure. I’m nervous and excited and don’t quite know what to expect traveling together. Rose has held my hand through all the jitters and worry about traveling and how much still needs to be done at home. Now I’m feeling free and light and hopeful. Getting back onto this blog has been wonderful, even though there’s so much pressing work. I love to feel connected to my online world, and to reflect on what has been and what’s yet to come. It calms me and give me focus, helps me find my connection to myself again. 

    I feel alive again. I get lost and find my way home, over and over. Right now I feel alive and bubbling over with joy.

    If you’re in Melbourne this weekend and want to catch up, sing out. 🙂 

    My amazing day off

    What a glorious day. 

    I stayed up to 3am last night finishing the major project my team and I have been working on for weeks, the state wide consultation. Today was planned for a quiet, family day… Taking Poppy to a sensory play group, hanging out with Rose, catching up after all the long days and late nights I’ve been working lately… Tonight was date night and I had free movie tickets from my birthday waiting to go. Thursdays seen to be difficult days to make plans for lately. 

    Instead of most of that we wound up supporting friends through labour and birth! Rose cared for kids while I was support person in the birthing room next door to the room I birthed Poppy nearly 10 months ago. What an extraordinary privilege! 

    So strange that so many things I’m doing at the moment overlap the same skills sets – birth support, facilitating groups, mentoring, consulting, crisis support, workshops and education, parenting​… Being able to connect, listen, tune in, hold the space, and get out of the way are all essential skills in each of those areas. I feel like I’m falling over my primary saleable skill set, the one linked to income, finally making sense of it. Funny, just the other day I was writing up a consult that discussed the formal vs informal economy and I thought about how much my world has been in the informal and how people have been incredibly generous and supportive because I have been generous and supportive. As I’ve transitioned to full time work I’ve been feeling a little sad at moving away from the informal, at being less available for friends and family and attaching a dollar value to my skills and time. 

    But on the other hand, at times I’m able to do what amazing people have done for me – throw money at a problem and help it go away. That’s new and wonderful.

    Today was an opportunity to be there for a friend and I felt so many shifts in myself too. I’ve been struggling with birth trauma since Poppy came into the world nearly 10 months ago. I rarely talk about it and I’ve been wrestling with it, finding little keys or insights here and there but still deeply lost. Today, seeing birth through the eyes of a support person instead of the one giving birth, it felt like a circle that had been broken came together again. I could see things differently, literally from the other side. I could experience and connect back to my self in that place. I could be an anchor and hold the space for those there today. Being present and connected and witnessing something incredibly precious.

    When baby was safely here and everything was settled I dashed off to pick up Poppy from daycare. When she saw me she lit up and I curled down on the floor to meet her. She crawled into my arms and I tumbled her to smell her hair, kiss her face, hold her hands, her tummy, her feet. She feels new and glorious and her eyes are full of stars. Rose and I manage to meet at the last movie session of the night and we sit in the aisle while Poppy plays, we cuddle and hold Poppy and hold hands and change nappies and eat popcorn and ice cream all the way through Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been a glorious day.

    Poppy has a lucky escape

    I had a terrible scare last week. I wrote this while we were in hospital for observation:

    “I’m sleep deprived, incredibly uncomfortable, and longing for home. We’re back in the local hospital with Poppy. She’s made a miraculous escape from a horrible home accident. One of the worst things I’ve ever seen is my tiny daughter curled up inside the wreckage in my laundry, her little body so vulnerable between huge besser bricks and cast iron pots. 

    I was cooking dinner last night with Poppy at my feet playing. There was a horrific crash like the house had fallen in and I spun around to see my laundry a disaster area. I couldn’t stop screaming Oh my God! over and over. I ran to it and found Poppy curled up in the middle of it, screaming hysterically. I scooped her into my arms ran for my phone and called an ambulance while checking for blood. 

    Somehow in the few minutes I made all the needed phone calls, turned off the stove, and packed a bag for hospital while Poppy wailed in my arms.”

    We were kept in overnight for observation. Watching the bruises appear on her skin at 3am was one of the saddest experiences. But all has been well! Her x-rays were clear, she’s been alert and active, and we have escaped anything serious. Her bruises are already almost healed.

    We think one of the large besser bricks grazed her cheek, ear, and shoulder. 

    I pulled her out of this. She was curled in ball where the jar of peanut butter is, under the table top, in a triangle between the dishwasher and the bricks.

    We came so close to tragedy. We have been so lucky. The overnight vigil at the hospital we just watched and waited to see if our luck would run out. She is a fearless, adventurous child, already walking and now climbing. Our lives split into the possibility of loss, both Rose and I looking into that dark place and wondering if there was a way to survive it. 

    Then suddenly, the sun comes out. Poppy is fine. We are all okay. The world keeps spinning and the sky doesn’t fall. The other life is left behind like a nightmare we wake from. It lingers in dreams. The bruises fade. 

    Tomorrow family comes to help us bolt furniture to the walls and make the home safer for a climbing toddler. 

    Poppy plays on my lap, squeals with delight at being bounced on my legs, sings Mumumum at me while I grin madly. How long I’ve waited for that song. 

    The silence did not fall. The song goes on. My heart is unbroken. My life is rich. My world is still beautiful.