Ink Painting: Flight

I have greatly enjoyed creating in a range of other mediums lately; white ink over black, watercolours, even posca pens. But there’s something deeply satisfying about coming home to my teal ink paintings. They are my oldest and most familiar medium, started back in the days when I could only afford one colour of ink, a fountain pen, and a single size 6 brush.

When I sit down with my ink, I don’t know what I’m going to create before I start. I create the opportunity and something emerges. It’s an incredibly precious process for me, a kind of therapy. I love that spark, the uncertainty, the sense of not being in control and planning it out but rather, letting go and allowing space for what comes. It’s reflective and magical and sometimes extremely painful, depending on how safe I feel and how well I can process what comes. Sometimes nightmare images take me more than 6 months before I can look at them. More rarely, I connect with the work right away. Often they tell me than one story and I learn more about them over time or find different stories in them. I usually work at night, often by moonlight or candlelight, in a space full of poetry, a kind of altered state. Sometimes I can see parts of the artwork in the white paper as I begin, not a true hallucination, but yet real enough to trace the path.

‘Flight’ builds on a theme about wings that was present in my work back was I was 16 and used to dream of myself walking alone in school with vast useless black wings trailing behind me. Too freak to fit in, but not freak enough to fly.

They remerged at points throughout my life, such as when I gave birth.

I’ve been exploring my giftedness lately, what it means to not be neurotypical but function differently in ways there’s almost no research on for adult populations. It’s taken me a long time to own it and acknowledge how much it impacts my life. Unlike other differences such as my chronic illness, speaking about being gifted brings with it a taint of bragging and a memory of making others feel threatened and rejecting me. It’s vastly misunderstood and surprisingly vulnerable.

There’s little to guide someone struggling the way I do. Speaking to a gifted specialist recently I asked about the adult population, where can I learn from others who struggle? Ah, she said, there isn’t one. Gifted adults who succeed don’t come to see psychologists. Gifted adults who struggle usually assume their struggles prove they were not gifted after all. We know almost nothing about the needs and best supports of the gifted struggling adult.

We know what puts gifted kids at higher risk, such as not having friends or peers, not being academically challenged and getting used to the feeling of being a student who must learn, bullying, perfectionism, performance anxiety, feeling valued only for their grades and skills… We know they are often emotionally intense, vulnerable to existential crises very young, sensitive, and asynchronous in development. But we don’t know much about how to reverse harm or support adults to thrive. I’m trying to figure out that pathway.

Wings, useless, broken, or bound emerge as a metaphor for thwarted desire and unrealised capacity.

I’m glad of my strange, wild art. It was important to me to protect it from college and other artists and the homogenisation that happens in exposure to others. It’s not the only way to make art, even for me, not the best or holiest. At is made in many ways and meets many different needs, it’s a form of mindfulness and intense observation, a emotional catharsis, a complex development of artisanal skill, a way to play, and more besides. All are real. I was speaking with a lovely artist recently who is going through something tough. I mentioned that I explore terrible pain at times in my art and suggested they could do the same. They gave me such a brief hunted look, a flash of anxiety and an absolutely closed door that I understood immediately: art is their happy place, where the joyful and whimsical live. It would be a kind of sacrilege to take their darkness into it. For me, I adore darkness and love in art, all the notes of the song and colours to paint with. Lightest to darkest pitch. It’s what feels authentic to me and it heals something in me that otherwise merely bleeds.

Podcast: Keeping Mum

I’m excited to share this project in which I played a small role.

This beautiful podcast sensitively explores the largely untold story of the experience of children of LGBTIQ parents. It’s a lovely interview of the now adult child of a lesbian mother who navigated raising her family in a conservative community. The marriage equality plebiscite in Australia last year often aired concerns about the effect on children of being raised by queer parents. While there’s excellent research that shows these families are just as safe and nurturing, it’s also helpful to hear personal experiences and accounts.

Produced by Suzanne Reece who conceived the idea, conducted the interviews, edited, and created the sound scape.

I provided a voice over for Suzanne’s poem, some of the background chatter, and the illustration.

First aired on Radio Adelaide, you can find ‘Keeping Mum’ here. Please feel welcome to share it.

Autumn

It’s late Autumn, cold and grey. The last sunshine is stunning, delicious and golden as warmed honey. Last night I snuggled down into my bed like a happy burrito. I’m creating daily at the moment, a flurry of painting, writing, sewing. Today I baked delicious chocolate chunk peanut butter cookies. I’m still buzzing from making it through my uni trimester despite so many setbacks. A wonderful win to soak up.

My beautiful mural is progressing, albeit unconventionally given the frequent rain. I’m lucky Rose is still a romantic and doesn’t mind ink on the bedsheets or unexpected murals in progress on the oven.

I recently found the notes I took at the beside of a sick friend following an awful psychosis. Back then we discussed an illustrated booklet to help people better understand how to support someone so vulnerable. We spoke about it again today given I’ve recently completed my first short ink illustrated booklet, and I think I’m ready to consider the next booklet project.

It’s evening. Poppy and I are at the park. She is a red smudge in her raincoat, dashing about the green in the fading light, blowing raspberries at me from the top of the playground. The sky turns from baby blue and peach to soft greys and yellow. Birds flit everywhere, looping from tree to tree and weaving a song all around us. The last dogs go home. Poppy falls and runs wailing to cry in my arms. When she quiets the birds have stopped and we can hear the wind sweeping in through the trees. Night gradually deepens and the trees wave slowly like underwater grasses. We find helmet and boots and belongings and cycle back home.

Art as Liberation

Charismatic and flamboyant local artist Fruzsi Kenez is running a series of illustration classes, so I’ve signed up. A couple of years ago I carefully broke down all my business expenses at the end of financial year and discovered that art lessons are one of my favourite things to invest in. Private art lessons rather than college art lessons are balm for my heart. I don’t need to prove anything or agree with anyone. I can come and connect and take what suits me and wrestle with it, love it, hate, reject it, refashion it. At no point do I need to parrot it to pass assignments or mimic it to graduate. Those running the classes tend to be highly engaged and engaging, they don’t have a captive audience they can denigrate or reject. Considering that my art was largely loathed by tutors in uni, this is refreshing.

These art classes are about illustrations in journals. Creating fast, loose, fresh illustrations of items and people around us in ways that bypass careful planning and tap into fearlessness and the joy of markmaking. It’s the artist’s version of automatic writing and just as playful and intriguing.

I used to art journal ideas in ink with the hope of one day having a studio where I could translate them into ‘real art’ – paint. I had the opportunity to show the journals to a couple of established artists visiting the shelter I’d stayed at one day. They were kind and encouraging and told me the ink paintings were themselves ‘real art’. It started a train of thought I’m still exploring today.

Recategorising my journal work as real art – and later cutting images out of the journals to display – was refreshing, a change of perspective that liberated me from restrictive ideas of what ‘real art’ is (large, painted, formal). It helped me treat my passion for ink and paper as a genuine avenue of exploration and has largely created my current arts practice. However there was also a downside, which is that my arts journalling practice froze up. If any artwork I made might now be ‘real art’ that I wanted to exhibit one day, it had to be made using quality materials and with that end in mind. Tension exploded into my arts practice. The combination of pressure to make each work ‘real’ and poverty meaning resources were so limited killed my arts journals. I couldn’t play or practice or pretend. Worse, I became bound up in a need for each artwork to be entirely individual and refused to allow myself to replicate my own works – feeling that this was somehow vaguely theft and plagiarism. How could I sell an original and then devalue it by painting something similar? Not that I could sell those originals, because the first years of artworks were made with inferior products that are non archival and I wouldn’t ethically sell.

There’s not much play in that space, not much riffing off themes or techniques, or even really learning. Art becomes a stab in the dark, sometimes coalescing into something amazing and sometimes falling far short. It carries my heart and rides those winds with so much vulnerability. There’s no second take, no confidence, no mastery. It’s like painting in the dark.

I love painting in the dark. It’s raw, wild, unpredictable, unsafe. It touches things I would never have consciously brought to light and tells stories I don’t know the end of. It is linked to my survival, my psychosis, my deepest self. I tell secrets, break rules, speak unspeakable things.

It is also painful. Sometimes sanctuary and sometimes hell. I have learned that some days craft is better, more what I need. I use my hands in something creative but without the vast emotional risk. I mend clothes, embroider, colour in. My arts practice has this vast gulf between the pleasure of using my hands and the taking of huge emotional risks. Journaling might be a third space for me – personal, playful, creative, mindful, safe. There’s more shades to explore than just palest and darkest.

Parenting with Trauma

Having our whole family sick together is an exercise in the logistics of rationing and portioning a tiny amount of energy to extract the maximum benefit. If I take her for an hour late tonight, then you do the morning, I’ll get you a nap at noon then you take her to the park for two hours so I can work on my assignment… The shifting priorities of dishes, doctors, meals, laundry, and mental health. It’s considerably more exhausting than being sick without kids, largely because of the difficulty of getting enough sleep to properly recover.

Monday Poppy and I went into the city. Rose had important appointments and Poppy was full of restless toddler energy. We had an argument on the bus about her not biting me which concluded with her screaming while strapped into her pram and me not making eye contact with a bus load of strangers. She got her own back by refusing to fall asleep for her afternoon nap. Usually she’ll snuggle down in her ‘cave’ made by covering the pram with a cloth, and knock off. That day she leaned as far forwards as her pram seatbelt would let her to fight sleep. 4 times she gently drifted off anyway as I paced around Rundle Mall rocking and circling the buskers. Each time she’d slip sideways as sleep relaxed her, clonking her head on the frame of the pram and waking up with a howl. Gently tipping the pram up evoked rage rather than sleep, and the fifth time she started to fall asleep I stopped and tried to gently settle her back which cued 20 minutes of hysteria.

I thought she might fall asleep in the art gallery but unfortunately that was the end of the whole idea. She talked to the other patrons, wanted to know all about the art, and once we found the kid’s studio space spent a happy hour cutting a sheet of paper into very tiny pieces.

The studio was set up to invite self portraits, with mirrors and oil pastels. This was mine:

I was glad of the space, it’s the most at home I’ve felt in the gallery.

I’ve realized that PTSD has interrupted our usually very calm parenting approach. Kids this age can be intense, they have huge feelings, test boundaries, and have way more energy than seems sensible. Poppy is fearless, explorative, passionate, creative, and stubborn. Generally Rose and I navigate these traits patiently and with appreciation of their positive aspects. But when she hurts us deliberately we’ve both struggled and the conflict has been charged and difficult to resolve. We’ve been worried about what it means and stressed by our own responses. I in particular lose patience and get angry, but Poppy isn’t easily intimidated which leaves me in a bind where I either behave in more frightening ways until she’s cowed and takes me seriously, or I find another way of approaching this. It speaks to the heart of parenting approaches to obedience and discipline. Do children follow instructions because they are frightened of us, or of the consequences? Or because they are connected to us and trust us? Is it appropriate to scare your child? If so, when and how much? Are boundaries about anger or love? Is breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries about immaturity, defiance, conflicting needs, forgetfulness (it’s easy to over estimate the memory capacity of a small child), or something else?

I’ve been starting to do a bit more reading on parenting her age group and it occurred to me that Rose and I are generally excellent at not taking difficult behavior personally, setting boundaries with warmth, and redirecting troubling behaviors. So when Poppy was getting into constant trouble for climbing furniture in the house, she now has a climbing frame outside for her to monkey around on. But when she hurts us there’s no such framing. We see no positive aspect to such behavior, no legitimate need looking for expression. We talk instead about her being mean, we privately discuss her sensitivity to our stress, her restlessness, her trying to get our attention. We’re troubled by a normal child behavior and framing it as lack of empathy. It’s triggering, evoking memories of being hurt by others and we both move into threat responses. Rose tends to freeze and withdraw, I get angry.

It occurred to me recently we’re misframing the behavior due to our histories. Most children this age want to roughhouse. Wrestling and tumbling and play fighting is a normal developmental behavior. Engaged with care it’s a place for learning about how to hold back and not hurt each other, how to apologise and caretake when accidents happen, and it satisfies the touch hunger and intense energy of very young children. Learning how to wind down into calmness following rough play is a key part of regulating such excitable and energetic kids.

Last night when Poppy started to get rough with Rose who was crashed out on the couch with a migraine, I didn’t get charged. I chose to see her inappropriate behavior as a need for rough housing and set a boundary with patience rather than frustration. I told her Mamma was sick and could only have gentle play around her. When Poppy kept being rough I removed her to the bedroom not as punishment but as an appropriate location for rough play. I gently with her permission threw her onto the bed, threw a big stuffed lion at her and told her this was where the fierce and grouchy creatures play. She was thrilled. She ran growling at me to the edge of the bed, waited for me to put my hand in the centre of her chest, then braced herself for me to gently push her back, screaming with laughter.

Later that night with Rose asleep and me exhausted on the couch with Poppy, she started to rough play again and I forbade her from getting on the couch with me. For the first time she was easily redirected into quiet play and spend a calm hour making complicated meals with her toy food instead.

There’s no problem with her empathy, Poppy is an incredibly affectionate and loving child. She’s not unusually aggressive or showing signs of attachment damage or deprivation. In mislabeling her normal needs as something that disturbed us, we introduced a charge into our relationship that she gravitated towards. Kids do this without knowing why, they can sense it and it’s irresistible. It’s why they do mad things like grin at an adult who’s already at the end of their rope and angry with them. They are still getting a sense of their own power in the world and what they can and can’t do. Navigating our own trauma as parents is about recognizing blind spots like this, paying attention to threat responses needlessly activated, and prioritizing basic needs like sleep, connection, and companionship so we function as best we can. For me at the moment on bad days I’m dealing with chronic irritability and low grade suicidality. Sleep deprivation and feeling isolated turn my world black. Over and over in a thousand little ways we choose safety together, celebrate freedom and autonomy, look for loving ways to speak about the unspeakable things, and link into the world around us. Without our wider networks of friends, family, therapists, without kids rooms in art galleries, and foodbank, and doctors who see trauma survivors rather than welfare bludgers, we couldn’t do this. But together there is so much strength, sufficient grace. Enough to let us all grow.

Reclaiming Self Care

I meditated this morning because I couldn’t sleep. I’m still sick and low on coping. Curled into a tiny warm nest alone in my bed I would drowse to sleep then wake with a tiny start a moment later, like surfacing from warm water into a cold breeze. I needed that sleep, so badly. Heartbroken I settled for rest. Finished my ebook – re-reading Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, translated by Felicity David, which is both lyrical and brutal and contains lines such as


Deep inside I know that trying to fathom things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.

Peter Hoeg

Stunningly succinct. There are many ways of knowing, none of them are complete and few can even be translated.

There’s no simple arithmetic for life’s distribution of happiness and sorrow, no such thing as a standard share.

Peter Hoeg

How often are we told this when we talk about resilience? How often is resilience treated as an individual heroic quality when it is about invisible resources of community, about the luck of the share of sorrow allotted us.

Mother’s Day yesterday was strange, full of unexpected things. We all have the flu or some mix of head colds, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis. Rose and I woke up to a cold sunny morning still full of the stunned wonder of being parents and no longer feeling like our hearts have been raked over on this day. There has been so much illness lately our gifts were small. We are too contagious to join any gathering, too exhausted to make any fuss. We spoke to mothers and daughters on the phone, exchanged a small painting and some warm socks. Tag teamed Poppy all day who is better enough to need activities but too sick to have much cope. It was not a bad day, if a little lonely, constricted by the weather, slightly sad. I kept myself busy with a movie while Poppy and Rose napped in the afternoon and when it ended found myself down a rabbit hole of the mind and feeling suddenly skinless, vaguely suicidal, and terribly vulnerable. I woke Rose and we played a small card game and the world tilted back on it’s axis and normality returned.

A friend once told me at the point of not being my friend anymore that it was obvious I hated being a mother. I find myself swallowing protests when I share about illness – I adore her, I adore being her parent. I wish I was less ill. It has been a hard 6 months for my health. I find myself trawling social media feeling heartsick and alone and diffused with a vague bitter resentment. Catching no flies with vinegar. Trying to hide my rage at what’s been allotted me. Remembering the way the boy who stalked me returned to my school and how we each in our pain asked different things of our mutual friends: me for them to see the profound changes in me, imperfectly labelled ‘PTSD’ and stand by me, connect me to my world again, be comforting.

His silent plea was for a closed door behind us. Let us never speak of it again, let things be as they were before.

How could my need ever be honored over his? It wasn’t and it rarely is. The one who is ashamed asks so little, aligns so well with what we already want – silence, disconnection, ‘moving on’. The one who is suffering needs so much of us, unbearably too much. To find words for unspeakable things, to see the wounds.

I am reading about Indigenous history and health in public health and touching the vague shape of a most terrible fury and despair of the colonised. The tiny words pinned to pages trying to explain the ravages of racism are like withered brown leaves trying to evoke the shape of massive trees. There’s a desolate rage under everything.

I am constantly confronted with the phrase to ‘ask for help’ when in trouble. It is a papercut, a stinging pain, a gathering storm. I recall the diversity of suffering beneath the behaviours of eating disorders when I was a peer worker in that sector. Under one common banner were so many wounds, children staggering beneath the weight of ill parents, domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, deep unspoken grief. I would so dearly like to ask for help, some nights. To lay myself to rest in the care of people who will tell me what to do, and I will follow the advice and be healed. But obedience has never led me true.

I can never forget my first efforts to heal from trauma, being given a meditation CD by the psychologist and told to listen to it twice a day and follow the instructions to relax my body, step by step. I did so as my guts churned and the hairs rose on my arms. The choking sense of oppressive control crept over me like a weight. I went back in distress saying the CD was making me feel worse. I was told to try harder and listen more often. After weeks of distress I gave up. The psychologist was frustrated with me. I crept away from therapy feeling like a failure. Years later I read 8 Safe Keys to Trauma Recovery where Rothschild calmly mentions that about one quarter of people with severe trauma find calming/relaxing exercises distressing and need a different approach. Rage bottled in my throat.

Last night at 2am with Poppy still sleepless I exploded from patience into furious, helpless, ashamed meltdown. Rose tagged and took her back to the lounge while I sobbed hysterically in bed, PTSD pulling every tendon in my body so tightly they thrummed. Irritability and anger pushing away people I love and making less safe those who depend on me and should never be made to feel responsible for my feelings.

You cannot exercise enough self care to accommodate being in a house on fire. Rose has had a long road back from the kind of mental health care that medicated her as an 8 year old and left her convinced of her own brokenness, hyper vigilently monitoring her moods and mind, utterly cut off from the story that would have saved her: you look crazy and your abusers look sane. This is the heartbreaking reality.

They are more successful at forgetting, you, despite the pathological blindness of an entire industry intended to address human suffering, you cannot forget entirely. That industry, mental health, can save you. It has the power to see what you cannot and patiently, lovingly, help you reframe what you see as personal weakness. To give context – like a forensic process. This is shape of the knife that made that wound. This is why you are hurting. This is why you hurt those around you. This is how to stop.

When it is blind the power is also blinding. Suffering is stripped of human context and relabeled as illness. Self care becomes a parody of itself, a deepening of this willful not knowing. Meditation as rejecting of the disturbing thoughts, the messages from nightmares. Eating salads and taking antidepressants as an obedience to the social contract that sees health as a virtue, a sign of strong individual moral character, determination, self control.

The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. 

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Asking for help evokes the most powerful rescue fantasy I’ve ever known, paralyzing me. Self care is an easily corrupted concept, containing excuses for ignorance by the comfortable, the exploitation of the vulnerable by those who wish to offload responsibility for productivity and efficiency without providing for needs, and the severed mechanical meeting-of-needs of the ‘mentally ill’ who are trying to atone for their inexplicable brokenness.

I meditated this morning not to make the pain or the anger go away but to help myself make room for it. To ease the frantic despair that seeks solutions, resolution, answers where there are no quick fixes. So that I could sit at my table this morning and see the light falling through the leaves of my tree onto my keyboard and feel one tiny step further from shame, a tiny step closer to accepting who and how I am in the world and shaping my ‘self care’ to fit me, rather than change me.

Today it was enough.

Medieval merriment

I currently have pluerisy, a very painful inflammation of the lungs that can happen when an infection hangs around too long. Rose kindly helped me get to my favourite fair of the year anyway and I did my best to stay warm and avoid too much smoke from all the cooking fires. Poppy went as a dragon, and apart from being unpleasantly car sick part way there, had a great time watching the dancing and fighting and playing in the skate park and a big burned out tree. It was lovely to touch base with friends and familiar faces. The campfire space looked after by two Aboriginal women is one of our families favourite places to rest. Today we ate damper and yarned and felt at peace amongst the hubbub. A friends dropped in this evening for 5 minutes and stayed for 3 hours while we ranted about health and science and parenting at each other. 💙 I’m crawling into bed exhausted but sated. Today has carried me along like a leaf in a river and tumbled me gently into exactly what I needed. Rare and precious.

My journal and bone pen are calling my name. Nights like this alone in bed for a little while in the shadows I find myself breathing sweeter air.

Participatory Research

My favourite article of the week has been this one on Community Based Participatory Research by Green and Mercer. I particularly like the discussion on the first couple of pages about the common subjects of research getting entirely fed up of the process and refusing to be involved unless they were treated as knowledge holders themselves rather than merely objects of study. As a person who lives at the intersection of multiple forms of disadvantage, I feel this! I’ve witnessed many people become utterly fed up with being part of research into their experiences and despite their passion for learning and knowledge and health, step out entirely. I’ve participated in a great deal of research myself and it’s incredibly uncomfortable how frequently my experiences don’t fit the framework provided, or are distorted by underlying assumptions I can’t correct.

For example, as a voice hearer I am often invited to be involved in research about voices. Most is predicated on the idea that voice hearing is a harmful experience or that voices are either helpful or harmful in a simple, fixed binary. For those of you who know, my voice is neither. She generally speaks the same phrase on a loop (“I hate myself”) and I would describe her as profoundly distressed. Trying to answer questions about her and my balance of power in relation to her often means I’m aware my data is being warped to fit a theory that was conceived light years away from my experience – and worse, that will not be impacted by my actual experience in any way.

So, participatory research. Fascinating, collaborative. Like so many of these things, it often works better on paper than in practice where lofty words like collaboration and community become code for collusion, petty arguments, and the plundering of the cheese board at the meeting. It’s harder than it sounds and like any genuinely collaborative venture, it’s easy to derail if anyone involved wants to poke a stick in the wheels.

Some of the better research I’ve been part of has given me space somewhere to share what I think and feel or how my experiences do or don’t fit. It also follows up in some way with the conclusions. There’s a relationship, a sense of reciprocity at least in the process even if we don’t agree at all about anything else. It doesn’t have to be participatory to be collaborative in that sense. Nor does participatory research bypass issues of exploitation or harm in and of itself. The nature of community is the diversity of perspectives and voice – it is rare to be able to accomodate each of them.

The other kinds of research (and I include interview here) feel exploitative. My experiences are collected as evidence of ideas I don’t agree with and contorted to fit arguments that don’t include me. Or they are simply inept, using my time to educate themselves on matters they haven’t bothered to read about. If I had a dollar for every interview that began “So, what does it feel like to have DID?”…

Research fascinates me. It’s something we all do in our own way, whether it’s asking our friends online, checking out a review, reading a memoir or book, we are all constantly in the largely unconscious and informal process of gathering data and testing hypothesis. How did they do that? Does it work better if I do it like this? Perfecting a recipe, buying a car, learning to ice skate, dealing with grief. We navigate experiences, community, and skill building. Sometimes giving a little thought to that process can hone it in powerful ways for us. Who are we looking to? What questions have we not thought to ask? What’s unsayable? And how do we relate to each other, as objects of study or scrutiny, or as people who likewise are looking at us?

Good research is powerful. May there be much more of it.

Poppy’s green pigs

Poppy and I had the most impossible adventure day of all time recently. My phone gave out. Our bus tickets ran out. All plans went astray. I tried many things to fix our situation and merely wound up feeling incredibly stressed at not being helped by people who could easily have done so. Cried all the way home.

Rose sat with us while we tried to put my head and our day back together. Poppy found a texta and drew me on my left arm. Mummy being sad. On my right arm she drew Mummy being happy. Then she covered the drawing in hundreds of green dashes. According to Poppy, this is why Mummy was so happy. Because she was covered in small pigs. Ha! She’s glorious.

I am so struggling with depression at the moment. It’s invisible one moment and drowns my whole world the next. I feel so alone in it, thrashing in so pain I can’t seem to ease. It’s frightening to show it, to feel like I’m a bad actor trying to play myself and it’s leaking around the edges, ready to overwhelm and terrify people. I feel so angry and disconnected and frustrated. And yet there are green pigs. And tonight, watching Brene Brown on Netflix and laugh-crying at her experiences, feeling her pronouncements – if you are brave you WILL fail – soothe a deep pain in me. It’s raining, the light is strange and stormy. We’re sleeping with the window open, the cold night breeze full of wet garden smells. It’s a beautiful world here. Listening to Rose argue with Poppy about getting into her pajamas. Ruminating on research I’m doing about universal basic income schemes for an essay. It’s good to be able to stretch my brain when my heart is feeling so bruised. At least something makes sense to me.

For a little while the pain eases. I can breathe again, can see in colours other than blood red. Breathe them in, my lovely ones. Try to give them what I have, not only pain but poems, laughter, clean washing, so much love.

Community Mural in Development

At my birthday party last weekend, my friends started this mural with me. I’ve wanted to paint murals for a long time, and trying to think of something fun to host it seemed like a good idea. I bought a panel of marine ply, undercoated with Rustoleum, and we used house paint brushes and bulk size artist acrylics in a limited palette (blue, red, yellow, brown, and white). I mixed the colours people chose and gave a bit of instruction on using brushes but that was it. The design – children playing in a tumble of autumn leaves – I drew on freehand with a sharpie.

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Those who wanted to join in chose whichever part they liked and painted. It was cool to see people experimenting with textures and brush stroke styles. The limited colour range keeps it all cohesive despite many different hands, and the limited palette means all the colours relate well to each other. The only thing I’ve noticed so far is a tendency for not a lot of variation in value (darks and lights) which doesn’t matter so much in such a cheerful piece.

I was hoping to create something fun and heartfelt to display in our backyard. It will cheer up and add colour to the play area for Poppy, and remind me of my friends and family who’ve added to it. I know it’s often stressful to make art when you haven’t done it in a long time, so I wanted to make it feel safe and meditative. Creativity loves a bit of challenge, but too much is inhibiting and creates frustration. I also reassured folks that I will be going over the design when it’s finished and outlining everything so there was no need to worry about imperfect edges or the odd smudge. They really do add to the texture.

I have been doing some research in the local hardware store and I think for future murals I will consider buying exterior paint for the added UV protection to help it last. I’ve been making more artwork on board rather than canvas lately, which I prefer for indoor or outdoor larger scale artworks, so this was a fun way to explore that.

I’m looking forward to finishing this and fixing it in place. Probably another 2-3 arty afternoons will have it done, weather permitting.

My birthday was harrowing this year, I spent half of it crying and was horribly suicidal. I’m glad it’s behind me and I’m going to put some real thought into understanding how I can deal with it differently for next year. So far none of my approaches have been great.

But my favourite part of this was those small moments when I could see someone else disappearing into the art, the steady even brushing of paint, blending into paint. Those moments are a kind of meditation and they are precious. May we all have many more of them.

Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

To not be here for a little while, please

I would like not to exist this week.

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

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

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

Respected is not quite the same as loved.

I am in so much pain.

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

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

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

I wish it was different.

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

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

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

Using language to support parent infant bonding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many creative projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poem: Leaving open the doors

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

I blinked and then
Cried.

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

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

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

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

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

Ah.

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

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

An easy life

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrated poem

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

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

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

Love amidst pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing with depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s the other way around too.

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

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

Painting: Silver birch tree spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour matching watercolours with my inks

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

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

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

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

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

This is in watercolour using only a brush:

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

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

Kano ink painting: Blackbirds

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

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

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

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

Poem: The hope of spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting the new year with joy

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

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

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

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

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

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