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.

Rose is back

Rose is home but not home. She was discharged from the psych facility on Monday. We are doing something that seems strange to most, I’ve asked her to keep spending nights apart. Not because we are breaking up or she’s awful to be around, but because I am so burned out I am on the edge of my capacity to cope. The last time she had a breakdown, so did I. This time I have kids and I desperately need to keep my feet under me. I have had many warning signs I’m on the edge, difficulty making myself get out of bed, or force myself to drive home, lots of crying, episodes of screaming (when alone), intrusive thoughts, intense anxiety and irritability, insomnia. I love her to bits and I’m very empathic. I can’t go offline when she’s with me, I’m so tuned in to her distress I pick up on it and feel it all myself. When she can’t sleep, I can’t sleep. I’m always on duty. I’m also chronically triggered. My history involves a lot of caring, and some very painful memories are very close to the surface at the moment. Helplessness in the face of suicide attempts, profound loneliness, fear, horror, torment. At times I feel like I’m trapped in a cage that’s been dragged underwater, and I’m drowning. Love is the cage, and madness, or trauma, is the water.

Nights alone have been a powerful restorative. I have an evening ritual. I clean and organise and cuddle Poppy and feel at peace and connected. The next day I can meet with my whole heart, however good or bad it may be. I’m not scraped raw and quivering with pain. This was my greatest regret in a previous relationship, that I equated the relationship to living together, and thought leaving one ment having to leave the other. I wish I had left the house but used the time to work on the relationship. Without living with their demons, feeling so unsafe and traumatised, I might have had more success recapturing what we’d lost. I intend to learn from that mistake.

Rose and I did this for a long time during our dating too, we lived 10 houses apart on the same street. That blend of together and apart suited us well and we flourished. Two partners with PTSD is an unusual challenge and needs a very specific approach. We are currently hunting for a room she can rent close by to replicate that time in our lives. Part of my plan to get as much of my life back on the easy settings as possible. We are not sure right now what the future looks like or how long we will do this. We spend time together every day, as a couple and a family. We will keep moving forward day by day, getting back into routines.

There are many hurdles yet before us. Welfare is one, they refuse to offer any rent support to Rose unless we formally, legally break up – absolutely the last thing we wish to do. Community mental health services are another, severely lacking in a sense of responsibility, compassion, or even basic customer service. It’s been a tough week but it’s also been so good to see Rose out in the free air again. Even in such a short time, the weight of institutionalisation was so evident. Out in the world there’s something more adult about her, more dark and wild and free and grounded. I fall in love all over again. Her beautiful eyes, soft hands, kind heart. She’s been so lost at times but she finds her way home. Darkness tears gulfs between us. Love bridges them. She is so precious and I’m lucky to have her.

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. ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ˜’๐Ÿ˜  {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.

    Crisis

    My dearest Rose has had a breakdown, we are both exhausted and limping. She has been in a psych facility for over a week now. We were trying to manage the crisis at home while she crashed, until her distress became so intense she could not stop vomiting. 5 hours, 18 vomits later, some shots of anti-emetics and a lot of tranquillisers in the local ED and finally she could rest a little.

    Our poor little family is shell shocked and run down. Our tribe has rallied and surrounded us with so much love and support. We have both doubted everything hard. Our case worker tells me simply – you can be the strongest, most resilient people ever, sometimes things just go wrong.

    She is working so hard to understand how her world has collapsed, how to find her way back. Is she talking responsibility, a social worker asks me. I think of her desperately colouring in at 3am when the nightmares are so bad she can’t stop crying. Crawling into the shower clothed to find some kind of peace under the thundering water. They gave her a rubber band in the unit, she snapped it until her wrists bruised. Yes, I say, she is very responsible. She is overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s more than we can bear.

    I’m lying in bed so deeply sad it feels hard to breathe. I type messages to people and don’t send them. I look at blank status updates and turn away without words. There is an ice cold patch between my shoulder blades, radiating a chill through my back, into my chest, like a spike into my heart. Aching with cold.

    We talk ourselves into hope. We talk ourselves into despair. Over and over. Holding tight, and on the edge of everything we have loved and built dissembling. We are on fire. We are broken and spilling into the night.

    Rose has messaged me from the unit tonight. She’s vomiting again, chronically, and her blood pressure has spiked. They are taking her back to the ED. I feel broken. They plan to send her home in a week. I cannot fathom caring her, as well as my children, and myself. I don’t know how to keep us all safe. She is the mother of my child. The heart of our world. I love her so dearly. I am so tired. So scared, and so sad.

    Morning in bed

    This morning both girls are playing on my bed, tickling and giggling. Star sits Poppy on her lap and they read a book together, Star doing the sentences and pausing for Poppy to fill in the animals.

    Outside my window our stubborn pomegranate tree is golden and starting to shed leaves. Through the white curtain lace it’s a spectacular sight. I’ve cut it to the ground several times over the years for not fruiting. It regrows each time. When I finally bought a replacement it suddenly produced 5 fat red pomegranates. It’s a pathetic output for a big tree, but I only eat about 5 pomegranates a year anyway. I gave the new tree away.

    There’s eggs and bacon in the fridge for breakfast, warm dressing gowns for trekking out to the cold kitchen to put the kettle on.

    After a month of feeling our family is on fire, it’s sweet nectar and I drink in every moment. I love this family with all my heart.

    Poppy continues to looks stronger and healthier by the day. Star has had her first stable week following 9 months of unfolding crisis. This morning there’s laughter in my house. Rose is away early to the markets, planning a baby shower for my sister. There’s life instead of fear and pain. My heart rests. My heart sings.

    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. โค

    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.

    Sunday mornings done right

    Looks like this:

    Pancakes for breakfast

    Face painting to amuse bubs while teen sleeps in

    I’m reading again now I’ve figured out ebook aps on my phone. And I’m doing morning pages, and I’ve started a Daybook. Yesterday’s class was about more than art, it was about intuition and connection and community. It fed my soul.

    I was afraid when I stopped going to art college that I would lose out on learning, which I love so much. But I’m finding that workshops and informal learning is deeply precious to me, patchworking an education tailored to me and my community. I won’t ever stop learning. And now I’ve grasped it again, I feel so much more alive. ๐Ÿ™‚

    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.

    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.

    Holding ghosts

    This is always a hard week for Rose, with anniversaries of miscarriages and other losses. In the past she’s grieved alone, with no grave to mourn by and no recognition of her loss. So today I took her to a cemetery.

    I had permission from a friend – the mother of a lovely girl who died far too young, to sit under her memorial tree and remember Rose’s little ones and our Tamlorn. We sat in the shade her beautiful tree with Tam’s ashes, shared a birthday cake for the 7 children not with us, and cried.

    It hurt. It was hard to do, many kinds of pain are shrouded in shame and a trick of the heart that says don’t look, don’t go, don’t feel it, it’s too big and dark and will destroy you.

    It hurt but it was not unbearable darkness.

    It eased the loneliness of loss but it was not epiphany or resolution.

    It did not cure, but it had meaning.

    We left roses beneath the tree. I made an ink painting to remember the day. Then we left to pick up Poppy from daycare, and held her tight, all the rest of the night.

    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.

    Poppy is 18 months and Rose and I are dating again

    At first it seems there’s no visible difference from the complete shift in your world from focusing on each other to wrapping yourselves around children. You check in, keep a wary eye out for signs of trouble but everything mostly feels smooth and unchanged. The lack of sleep, lack of adult time, debriefing space, opportunities to not be adult all add up but none of it seems to be costing closeness or connection. The relationship is getting almost no attention yet is still growing just fine, like an old rose bush in the yard.

    Then somewhere you find yourselves without warning on the edge of a precipice, watching each other and seeing the pain in the eyes and the numbness in the heart, wondering which of you will let it go first and how many millions of pieces everything will break into when it smashes on the rocks below.

    The world wears through the skin into bone and through bone into void. The foundations are strong but they cannot hold forever.

    2 years now, Star has been with us, and Poppy is now 18 months old. We are still asking the questions, gently, what does love look like here? What do we each need to thrive, or when that’s out of reach, at least survive?

    Rose and I have found ourselves at the raw edges, feeling worn. Parenting is an intense commitment built upon the strength of a relationship we’ve barely tended. So we’ve started up family counseling again, and set aside some hours each week, alone. Date lunch. Once a week soul time. We go someplace and talk, about us, our lives, our dreams, our hearts. Like the old days. We unpick and re-weave ourselves like old shawls. For a couple of hours we are the only people in the world. We sneak out of life and hold hands and talk about love.

    Something that had withered, grows new shoots. Soaks up the sun and rain and hearts cracked open. Feels alive again.

    How easily we lose one another, side by side in the same bed, working in the same kitchen. Yet how neatly the rift is mended, like a darned sock, the jagged edges drawn back together, the cold pushed at bay.

    Darkness is all around us and our souls do not cry loudly as they fade. They speak the quiet language of loss, the ‘failure to thrive’ of the adult who so wants to thrive.

    We run far out beyond the horizon, holding hands. And run home, hearts aching for our children, longing to hold them. Always walking both worlds, like selkies. Slipping one skin to show another, knitting our lives from the days and nights, the poems and the tears that lay in our hands, like pearls.

    Dearest Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    TEDx Video Launch: Emotionally Safer Sex

    The video of my TEDx Adelaide talk is coming online! Happy dance!

    SHINE SA have partnered with me to celebrate the launch, and everyone is invited!

    There will be a screening of the video, and an exhibition of the beautiful artworks I created to illustrate the talk. There will be nibbles, wonderful people, and an opportunity to hear more about the topic and behind the scenes of the TEDx talk.

    I would LOVE to see you there.

    • Friday, Feb 9, 5:30pm
    • SHINE SA, 57 Hyde St, Adelaide

    Grab your free ticket here (to help me cater, I hate running out of lamingtons!)

    Facebook Event here.

    For those who can’t attend, I will be sharing the video online and popping some gorgeous prints up in my Etsy shop. ๐Ÿ™‚

    “I believe that just as there are ways we can prepare for sex that make it physically safer for ourselves and our partners, there are things we can do to make it emotionally safer, too.”

    More info:

    Summary of TEDx video
    ‘Safer sex’ can be about much more than preventing unwanted infections. For many people, sexual experiences risk leaving emotional bruises, and sometimes our struggles and differences can make good sex seem out of reach.

    Sarah K Reece shares personal stories, beautiful artwork, and practical advice about how seeking to make sex emotionally safer has helped her navigate challenges such as a trauma history, anxiety, queer identity, mental illness, chronic pain, and physical disability.

    Art Exhibition
    This intimate exhibition of 8 ink paintings explores our physical relationship with our own bodies and our partners. The artworks are hand gilded with 24k gold embellishments and show very human, diverse experiences of the joys and sorrows of sex.

    *The artwork does not display graphic sex acts, nudity, or abuse and is suitable for viewing by children.

    Bio
    Sarah K Reece is an artist, writer, trainer, and community development consultant, managing or contributing to projects with a wide range of communities such as prisoners, rural carers, queer youth, and psychiatric inpatients. Sarah specialises in working with people who are vulnerable due to experiences of adversity or diversity, and has founded local and international networks that support more than a thousand people.

    Endurance

    I have lost my bounce back after too many crises this week. I am tired and angry and depressed. Every member of my family has been in crisis or the ER at least once, and my sleep has been badly interrupted.

    Yesterday, Rose was cooking dinner with her broken/damaged ankle and using a chair to sit at the stove. She tipped a pot of boiling water and spaghetti into the sink. Some of the water caught in a bowl in the sink. Poppy climbed the chair like lightning and dunked her hand in the bowl of boiling water.

    So, I sat in a cold bath in my underwear for 20 minutes with her, nursing and keeping a hose of cool water running into her burnt hand while she cried and fought me, screaming ‘no’ and trying to hide her hand from the water. It was very hard to hold her still without bruising her wrist or arm, and I found the best approach was to chase her hand with the hose and let the cool water run down her arm over it.

    I hate having to do that, holding her down, no time to soothe her into complying, over riding her desperate attempts to protect herself. There’s a ball of pain and rage in me today that has nowhere to go.

    Ambulance to the hospital for assessment and then home the same night. We were very lucky. She’d closed her hand so tightly the inside of it was barely burned and the outside was red and a bit swollen but nothing serious.

    My nerves are shot. I want to cry, scream, shake, and throw up. I also want some quiet time to myself, maybe in a long bath, and about 6 hours more sleep.

    I have nipple thrush again. Nursing feels like stabbing hot needles into my nipple. There was also a bit of a bacterial infection in one, it’s taking a long time to heal.

    Some weeks are marathons, endurance tests. Can you get through them without discharging the stress in destructive ways? Eating everything/not eating/starting fights/self harm/insomnia/self medication… Whatever. The stress goes somewhere.

    What helps reset when there are no reserve left to draw on, no spoons at the back of the cupboard?

    Hand over the baby or walk away. Last night I was at the end of my tether with a worked up baby not sleeping at 1am. I dumped her on Rose’s lap with a movie and went to bed to sleep.

    Connection and validation. We feel so alone in our dark hours. My future turns black and depression sets in. I feel trapped, doomed, and too miserable to even cry. I have to force myself to drag my focus away from my future and into now. What do I need right now? What do I need to do right now? Hang the washing. Eat something. Put out the fire.

    Humour is an excellent remedy for self pity and taking life too seriously. A comedy or a mad friend are balm.

    Sex or masturbation at the right moment can signal the end of crisis and a calming back to yourself or your relationship. Like a ship coming back to harbor or a bird to the nest.

    Finding a way to scream. In my old life I would sometimes park somewhere undisturbed, wind up the windows, and scream. I’m crowded now and rarely have that chance. Finding a balance between discharging emotion without frightening the family – big feeling are normal. Write, draw, paint. Cry in the shower. Explain what’s going on and why, don’t make it a secret and don’t make them feel frightened or responsible for it. We feel the intensity of the horror ending whether it happened or not. Our bodies and minds react similarly to tragedy as they do to a near miss. Culturally we have less support for the time we need to process, but the feelings are the just the same. Denied, we will have to numb and discharge then in covert ways that often do harm. Set them a place at the table.

    Yesterday I was calm, nurturing, pragmatic, and focused. Today I am rattled, angry, scared and despairing. It won’t last forever. This is not the future, not the new normal. Stay present in the moment. Listen to the pain. Be part of it.

    Darling Poppy

    Her unblemished newborn skin is now a tapestry of grazes as she explores her world. She’s cheerful, fearless, and affectionate. Currently she loves throw things, climb heights, push a small trolley around the house, and swim short distances unaided. She has a terrifying habit of climbing up furniture then hurtling herself off it to be caught by unsuspecting people who walk past. She likes to try to stand on the handlebars of her little bike, and can climb a ladder with rungs spaced over a foot apart. 

    She’s intensely social and becomes distressed and destructive if stuck home or with not enough people for too long. Awake at 10pm at a friend’s wedding she’s still exploring with excitement and charming the guests. 

    She’s discovered she can scream and shriek so car trips can be interesting and we’re all suffering some degree of hearing loss when she’s unhappy. She frets when people cry and comes over to pat them on an arm. When she needs contact she follows us around the house tugging on clothes and asking for a ‘tuddle?’ or brings us a favourite board book to be read to her. 

    She adores music and often sings to herself or us. The Pussycat song, a medly of mews, is very popular. Dancing is also her thing. 

    The three of us, myself, Rose, and Star, are all tuned in to different things and care for her in different ways. Star still has the magic touch and can often help her to sleep within a few minutes. Star will pick up on a particular wiggle that means she needs a nappy change. Rose is so aware of her capacities with swimming and able to judge so well the limits of what she can do physically. I pick up on her sense of cabin fever, when she’s reached the limits of amusing herself and needs something new. 

    Mornings in bed together are still my favourite time. She is very busy little person and mornings are quiet and content and precious. 

    She is magic and I adore her. 

    Hanging out with my girls

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

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

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

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

    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.