A year in the planning with fellow artist and sister Ekua Bayunu, we were joined by other creatives during the 5 week artists retreat in the tranquil farming valley of Tasarte, in South Western Gran Canaria. Here is 1 of 5 blog entries taking you on a visual journey of each week.
Needing and finding safety.
Settling in, grounding.
Why am I here again?
Plans out the window, welcome in self care.
Curious and exploring with my inner child.
City ‘being’ meets nature.
This is part of the beach where we played most days. Atlantic ocean and pebbles galore!
The colours, shapes, textures or the rock faces are breathtakingly beautiful. Inspiring as and of themselves!
As I played on the beach (yes that’s me! Photo credit: Ekua Bayunu) I thought of past times, whether my ancestors caught sight of these islands – or even swam to them in the hope to escape – as they were shipped across the Atlantic. This ocean holds many, many stories.
Bouncing back to my Creative Mornings. Well, more like crawling. The past few days, my routines have been disrupted by final clearing of my apartment ready for builders then packing a suitcase out of which I will live for the next 2-3 weeks. I’m not used to this. Holidays and short trips are fine, but it’s a challenge making a temporary base in the homes of others I don’t know very well, who have offered to put me up out of sheer generosity and their beautiful hearts. My faith is enabling me to win through my doubts and insecurities about all this. My anxiety and stress levels are being tested yet I know I’m growing in new ways and creating new experiences for myself and those I meet – hopefully good experiences!
This morning I managed to prize my fingers away from my phone and pull out my lovely fountain pen during my commute into Amsterdam. Even if it’s just a 30min train ride, thats time enough to make it a Creative Morning😍
After taking a couple mornings break then recovering from a bout of anxiety and sleeplessness, I’m back on the creative horse. Tackled the hand in the acrylic portrait of my son. I learned a major lesson with this, my very first painted portrait: rub out the grid lines BEFORE you begin to paint!😱😂
Bottom left image is how it looked after trying to rub some lines away with a firm vinyl eraser.
Top left I applied highlighting pens to cover the remaining pencil marks.
Top right I began painting in the form and tones of the hand, doing my best to conceal the white pen marks. Applying the acrylic paint more thickly would have worked, but this paint is already very thin quality.
Bottom right image I tightened up the lightest edge of the fingers – where I painted in the background very recklessly – and covered the affected parts with the Pilot pen. Despite having a thin EF point, after a good shake the white ink flowed out very fast, enabling me to cover a big area.
Today was a struggle to get started. I had ideas but couldn’t decide which medium to use. Began with charcoal then used watercolour as I was looking at figures painted in watercolour the night before. Working from just my imagination (so excuse the weird proportions!) I wanted to capture bodies experiencing the pleasure of just being. 5mins into the watercolour painting, I remembered about the need to stretch the paper beforehand. Lol!😂 I also need a smaller easel where i can lay the board more flat. This standing easel was fine for these small studies but it was still a challenge stopping the watery paint from drooling down the page! The water-like backgrounds came as an afterthought. As I painted, I began thinking of the pleasure I get swimming clothes-free in the sea. The sensation of the water flowing over my skin and how alive my body feels. These are just preliminary sketches for ideas, to develop further. I will need a place where i can go study some sea creatures. Is there something like the London Aquarium in The Netherlands?
Gremlins were on my shoulder the whole 2 hours. I ignored them chattering in my ear, but didn’t allow them to influence me. It slowed me down somewhat, but I did not give up. Thats the key I realise. Keep doing the thing! 😉
Went to art shop this afternoon and bought decent erasers and white gel pens for highlighting drawings. Taking a couple days break before I do day 8. Watch this space!
Spent first hour completing pencil sketch portrait. Here’s what I learned from doing this drawing:
keeping going kills the gremlins.
paper texture is REALLY important when working with pencil.
I need decent erasers!
Its ok to decide a piece is complete even though it’s unfinished.
Next 2 hours I returned to a portrait painting I began about 4 months ago. I’m not used to painting on this scale, nor with brushes. I’m persevering to complete this painting though as I know I am learning a lot through the process. Painting is something that cannot be hurried!
In todays 3 hour session I paused to make some sketches and notes for another big project idea. Even though the work I’m making during these creative mornings are not part of the bigger project ideas I have, working in this way is oiling the wheels and revving up the engine. I’m seeing it like the daily work outs and training sessions, preparing me for the big marathons. Those I will begin when I have my work room set up by mid October. Until then, I will continue with these small projects. I feel much more confident about my abilities as a whole after just 1 week of doing this Creative Mornings exercise!
This morning I set up my easel. I was resistant since I moved over a month ago thinking it’s not worth it, I won’t have time to do anything worthwhile. Well my lesson learned today is using this way of working – spending 1-3 hours making art first thing in the mornings – I get shit done!!!
Working by my window
2.5hrs of work!😍
My living room has double aspect Windows making a perfect light filled corner for working. I astounded myself with the quality of my drawing! Not sure I can express the transformation I experienced today. Despite making art and good drawings of many things, from a young age I convinced myself I was shit at drawing portraits. Not sure what happened for me to entrench this belief so deeply in my psyche but it runs DEEP! Maybe being constantly told ‘But it doesn’t look anything like person A’ or highly critical art tutors. Photo realistic drawings made me highly uncomfortable (sheer jealousy I think!), entrenching the belief in my own inabilities. Well something seems to have shifted in the past year. About a year ago I started nervously to draw selfies my friends had taken. I resumed this a few months ago by starting s painting of my son. It’s still unfinished but it revealed to me that I can push past my deeply entrenched lack of self belief. This morning watching the sketch of my baby daughter unfold, it took my breath away! I just couldn’t believe I’m the same person drawing this who spent decades believing that I could never draw a portrait to this standard.
The technique of scaling up I’m using and working from smaller studies, predates the invention of the camera. It’s used by countless portrait artists over the years whether using studies, photos or live models. Kehinde Whileys huge paintings are made from scaling up photos.
Technique, modern technology and quality materials produces nothing of any value if the hard work of ‘practice, practice, practice’ and endurance is missing.
Another early morning that I wake at 3.30am! Likely tension related to new job as its only happening when I have to go there. Perhaps a coincidence. Despite my mind racing I managed a short snooze before beginning an hour of creativity. Armed with 1 litre of hot water and lemon to sip, I sat to work. It was deathly silent at this early hour so I put on a couple of tracks from Signs an album by Badmarsh and Shri. I hoped to begin a portrait but couldn’t decide on which medium or paper to use. After adding a scaling grid to the photo, I turned to a watercolour postcard pack and used them to make watercolour studies of the mini orifice pieces I made in clay a few weeks ago. A good way to practice my watercolour skills. It was fun and soothing because the gremlins slept through the whole hour. I got a bit stuck with regards to colour – as always with me – but am happy with the outcomes so far! I may consider texture and pattern with the next ones.
After my hour I had 50mins left to prep for my day. I got everything done and even managed to squeeze in 15mins of calisthenics! 😀
I mentioned to a friend that I would still do an hour of creativity on the days I do my teaching. She was shocked that I would wake so early for that purpose. I thought about this and came to realise it’s most important for me on the days I am in an employee role. I am an artist first and foremost even if I choose to do this day job. After nearly 2 decades of pushing my creativity far down my list of priorities and responsibilities, I made a huge change to transform that. This exercise is enabling me to see that my creativity can stay a priority, even when time is limited.
I woke up with still no idea as to what to do. I felt like I needed a plan, but hadn’t one so picked up from yesterdays drawing and worked on the proportions of the figures – 3 interlaced in an embrace. I did not have a protein shake today. Mondays shake triggered IBS symptoms – too much insoluble fibre so early in the day for my tender tum. I completely forgot about setting up music. I slipped into the flow easily. The street noises and peoples movements around the apartment block was ryhtmn enough today.
Two hours in and the composition still wasn’t working for me. I painted it. It looked shit (as far as I was concerned). My gremlins kicked in telling me how my work really is shit and not anywhere as good as anything in the exhibition I saw after to work yesterday at Framer Framed. The words flat, messy, tacky, pathetic, crap etc. rang in my head. The gremlins then started to tell me how no one is interested in what I’m doing, the idea won’t work, I’m wasting this precious 3 hours of time: I had emails to respond to and shit to clean up (washing up from monday night still waiting). I stuck my middle finger up to the voices and continued, wondering if this composition would be best managed in photoshop where I could manipulate size and colours of figures easily – still a gremlin voice, just a more seductive and reasoned one. I allowed that thought to sit with me a moment then realised I wanted to use water colour paint, I do NOT want to spend my creative time on a computer. Im not that kind of artist. Technology has its uses in art, but i like mess! Tactile things in my hands. The paint became uneven and stodgy. Ugh! I persevered. I lost sight of the outlines of the figures under the uneven paint. My heart sant 😦 Without thinking i grabbed a 2B pencil and went over the faint lines i could barely see. The graphite left a silver-grey sheen and really worked against the colours i mixed! I felt a bit better 🙂
15mins before the end of my 3 hours, I had an ‘I wonder if…’ moment and did another quick trace of the composition, omitting one of the figures. Voila! It looked MUCH better, much closer to the felt sense of what I was aiming for. The three hours was not wasted after all!
Lessons learned today – I realised I needed to trudge through the shitty compositions, awful painting (my judgements, i know) and extreme self-doubts and attempts at self-sabotage to get to my ‘Voila!’ moment. Important rule: ‘Just keep going and get shit done. No judgements, no shame, no blame, no worrying! Ignore all that and keep your nose to the grindstone and KEEP WORKING!’ . Theres time for all that self flagellation the rest of the day. Oddly enough I felt BETTER, much more positive about the work i did during my 3 hours when i looked back on my efforts this evening. Im sure i still have a long way to go with the piece I’m working on and my ideas in general, but the good thing is that i’ve not given up 😀
I went to bed at 10.40pm on Monday night and set my alarm for 5.30, intending to get 60min of art time before preparing for the day and leaving to get 7.30am train.
I awoke at 3.30am needing to pee. When i reached out to put on the light, I spilled my 1 litre water bottle which soaked my sheets and mattress! After mopping that up and getting very annoyed with myself (awoke the gremlins that started telling me how useless I am blah, blah, blah) my brain went into hyper anxiety and blew up festering concerns into major panic. There were emails which i needed to check I actually sent, in order to quieten my mind. I ended up spending the next hour online at my emails and the dreaded Facebook. It doesn’t take me long to get hooked. I watched a video about how trees talk to each other and 15mins of Beyonce in concert – she’s not an artist I even like! (Too commercial for me). Not a good start I thought, already failing miserably and its only day 2!
I prized myself offline at 5am to work on an image I wanted to enlarge and develop further. It took me 20mins of searching around my apartment to find the drawing which i then scanned and traced, using my iMac as a light box (something i saw another artist do in instagram). I then researched on google some images to help me improve proportions of the figures. 1 hours art work in total – goal reached! I had no appetite for a protein shake and the idea of forcing blended tofu, chia seeds and banana into my system did not appeal to me. No music on repeat this morning as i was afraid if I started searching about in iTunes library i would get distracted yet again and lose precious time! I then began writing this blog, which then left me just 30mins to shower, make up my lunch and leave out to get the train!
(I noticed that the article whose instructions I’m following – This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week– has links to music on youtube. I may try one of those next time)
I made it to station in good time, 5 mins earlier than planned. Even though it was a shitty start to the morning – losing 2 hours sleep, spilling water over my bed, browsing online – I still felt so happy I got some art work done and despite the bad start! It put an extra spring in my step that I reached my goal, turning around a poor start. I felt that I had a sense of purpose about myself because of what i did for MY creativity and it had nothing to do with my role as an employee. I have prioritised that over my creativity for too many decades.
Its 22:45 now, nearly bedtime and I’m still not sure what i’ll do with my art time tomorrow morning. Something will come to me when i awake, I bet 🙂
Despite not going to bed until 3am the first night (stuck in a ‘frozen’ mode in front of laptop after a busy week of visitors), I awoke at 8am, remembering snippets from the article Im following This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week, I threw together the fullest amount of vegan protein into a shake (I managed 27g of protein using a mix of 100g tofu, 2 tbsp of 100% peanut butter, 3 tblsps chia seeds, 1 ripe banana, 2 handfuls of strawberries and some water), found a 9min song, Albinoni’s ‘Adagio in G minor for strings and organ’ to play on repeat and dived into 2.5 hours of art making. It was a bit of a struggle to drink up all the protein shake as i don’t usually eat much in the mornings. I wasn’t sure I needed the protein hit as my body is used to not breaking fast until 11/12 noon. I was also a bit concerned about whether such a rich mix of protein may trigger IBS symptoms. I decided to give it a try in the name of science. Nothing ventured…
By 10.30am when i stopped, I felt such a big sense of achievement! I wasn’t that happy with the watercolour painting I made but by completing it, I knew how to proceed and change the composition and find an online tutorial for watercolour wash techniques when painting human figure. The pencil sketch portrait I began was a pleasurable challenge. I decided when I re-do that, I will use a scaling grid to improve proportions. Playing the music on repeat was quite nice. Not sure what my neighbours thought of it! Maybe put in headphones tomorrow.
The rest of the day went smoothly. I felt more focused on getting through my morning routine. I usually f=drag my feet! I still managed to make an important phonecall, check for any urgent emails before getting to bus stop in time to travel to my first appointment. Plenty of time on the bus journey for my social media catch-up and going through emails! The joy of knowing i actually DID something creative, I worked at the most important thing to me and devoted precious time to it – that stayed with me for the rest of the day 😀
I already am a morning person! I have always woken up with the dawn chorus since I was a child, no matter my working schedule, or how late I went to bed the night before.
So, on reading this article i thought ‘Why not put that early morning energy to productive use for the thing that matters to me the most?’ I do have a set of morning activities that I have been struggling to turn into a consistent routine: drink 1 litre of hot lemon water, Buddhist chanting, EFT tapping, exercise. On days I don’t have to get anywhere, getting through this list can take ages as i am easily distracted, then other immediate tasks take over and before i realise it the days gone and i’ve done no art at all. Since moving to my new home, I’ve not done any art work apart from a few sketches in my notebook.
The idea of getting up and throwing myself into 3 hours of the most important thing to me – my art making – was a novel and exciting idea! Why not? So, I dived into it head first!
I’ve decided to stick to this for 2 weeks and share my experience in a short blog each day. My aim is to do 2-3 hours non-stop creative work on days I’m working from home, and at least 1-1.5hrs on days i have to work out the house.
I decided to try out this way of working for 10 days in total: 5 days a week for 2 weeks.
I will post a short blog for each day. I’d love your feedback or response to the article. Maybe you want to join me? 🙂
This blog entry is to introduce a new page I am starting where I will be sharing my experiences of working with empathy and non-violent communication (geweldloze communicatie in Dutch/Nederlands) – also known as compassionate communication and also giraffe language. I am very passionate about the role language and communication plays in harming or healing our hearts. Whether it be in our relationships as parent, child, friend, lover, partner, siblings, adult, employee, with authority figures or those we fear or feel threatened by. The experience below happened to me a day after 70% of the `UK population voted whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU. The ‘leave’ votes won by a tiny margin of 2%. There is a growing concern about the rise of right-wing xenophobic sentiment and politics spreading across Europe.
Coming to terms with the outcome of the vote and witnessing the referendum campaigns, my heart is troubled. I ask myself ‘well what can I do to create value and stem further negativity and hatred amongst people i meet?’ As a practitioner of the NVC process and a Buddhist following the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, I’ve decided that I will try to meet any opportunities I have to talk with someone whose views differ from mine with heart-to-heart dialogue. I believe peace can be established when we as fellow human beings recognise and touch the humanity in each others hearts. I believe empathy is a ‘muscle’ we can strengthen to enable us to do that.
Before I share todays experience I wish to say that I do not by any means consider myself an expert in empathy, NVC or as a Buddhist. I am very much a work-in-progress, a student of life, working hard with each encounter to build a world of peace, starting with the person infront of me. This is the encounter i had today and how i managed to deal with it:
Tango by the Lake
At an outside social event in a picturesque part of the Dutch countryside, I was pleasantly having a conversation with someone i’d never met previously and before I realised it i found myself listening to sexist and racist comments. I kept my cool, making calm measured responses to what this (white, cis-male, 50+ years old) person said. I responded in a calm, quiet and measured way when he spoke about the inconvenience of having to hold meetings in a public space because of women refusing to attend meetings held in his house because ‘they’re always afraid of being raped’.
I applied my NVC approach of listening carefully then guessing his feelings and needs under each statement and asked him if he felt judged because he has a need for trust and to assure his guests that he is not a threat to them? He did not respond, so I said “Do you recognise the importance for women to feel safe when meeting with other strangers?” He said ‘So I always have to hold my meetings in a public space then?’ I replied by sharing the example of my need for safety being based on taking the best possible care for myself and that rape is used far too often to judge women negatively for their need for safety. I told him the threat of rape is real and not to be mocked.
Changing the subject he then moved on to chat with me about Brexit and tell me that there is a strong feeling amongst most Dutch people who also want to also leave EU because, he explains to me, of the “22 million Muslims waiting at the gates of Europe”. I asked him if he felt unsafe and threatened by people arriving from other countries to make a safe home here? He responded in a voice that felt bigger to me, by asking me if I knew that “there were no-go areas for non-Muslims in Amsterdam and The Hague?… Muslims go around on scooters clubbing people across the head with big sticks?” At this point I’m suppressing the need in myself to release my South London ‘fuck-you’ aggression in full force.
I took a deep breath and said to him I felt that judging the reason for peoples violent behaviour based on their skin colour and possible religion is Islamaphobic and racist. I said the people on scooters sound like very afraid and angry people to me, just like the white English non-Muslim who killed the UK MP Jo Cox last week. I asked him: “Are you feeling afraid because you hear these stories and need to feel safe in your own country?” He told me (in a voice that I received as angry and aggressive) that he’s not against Islam and its got nothing to do with racism. At this point my alarm bells went off. I felt unsafe hearing his words and I knew my next response to that would unleash the full force of my anger.
Instead I timed out by telling him (still calm and measured) I need the conversation with him about this subject to stop now because I am in strong disagreement with him, even though I hear his concerns for his personal safety, I feel offended and I choose not to engage in a heated political debate at a social event I came to enjoy. I said “I will not continue talking to you about these subjects. I’m happy to talk about something else” (me: deep breath, calm voice, forced smile). He paused and then began to tell me another story about ‘Muslim violence’ and saying that we need to agree to disagree blah blah.
At this point I was unable to hear his words. I stopped him mid-sentence and said ‘Did you not hear my ‘No’ earlier? I will say it again and then walk away from you so you know I mean it when I say i will not continue speaking to you about these subjects. No’ (another forced smile, this time firmly holding my hand up between him and myself).
As i said my final ‘no’ he walked away from me.
I took several deep breaths and continued at the social event, keeping calm and relaxed but still very unsettled. The man steered well clear from me for the rest of my time there and when I said goodbye to the group, I glanced in his direction and saw him (by coincidence maybe?) turn his head directly away from me as others bade me farewell. I judged that as a sign that I touched his heart, but it felt too uncomfortable for him. Sometimes learning, growth can feel uncomfortable. I also felt some discomfort in myself and on reflection accepted that there are things I too can learn from this exchange.
I hope that I nudged this person’s empathy muscle and planted a tiny seed of awareness that others in his life will water and enable his heart to warm to his own feelings, needs and the feelings and needs of those less privileged than him.
I’m sharing this because despite me slipping into judgement and defensiveness (jackal language), I did two things I wish to celebrate:
I did what I told myself I felt is important to do, which is engage in dialogue with people whose views/politics differ to mine with the hope to touch their hearts in some way that they reconsider the fears that drive divisive ‘jackal‘ views like xenophobia.
I did this, realising my limit, AND called time-out instead of getting embroiled in a heated no-win argument that’s so easy to do with someone whose beliefs differ from yours.
Next time I have such an experience I hope to have exercised my empathy muscles enough to stay in the ‘fire’ a little longer.
Bloody hell this heart-to-heart dialogue is fucking HARD WORK!!! 😅
Sometimes the hugest battle of all is to choose joy over suffering. Especially when living with depression. Once I transform the cycle, it’s liberating. Tony Robbins video (see link further down) about the figure of 8 and how I can master my moods that can lead to depression. It was quite scary realising this at first. I was thinking “All those years I struggled. Weeks of despair at a time. Medicating, withdrawing, so much pain… and all along I had the means to shift it myself?!” I had to watch this clip a couple of times before I could accept that in fact this state of depression I would slip into was something I could approach much more easily than I ever thought possible. http://youtu.be/SC91IC4mSxE
Luckily this process of self healing is working for me. I recognise there are different types of and degrees of chronic and major depression. I am a person who has actively avoided prescription medicating for very personal reasons. As a result I am very very open to the idea of self-healing. This may not be the correct path for everyone.
Sometimes it can be a minute by minute battle. Depression is deadly and I am glad that it’s more publicly acknowledged and it’s debilitating effects recognised.
I am now recognising that depression does not have to dominate my life so much. I have moved from fighting mode (which I was never very good at), to acceptance. And now I have tools to assist me, i am not so scared when it overwhelms me for too long.
Sometimes I am powerless when the mood shifts suddenly, taking me by surprise like I’m washed up on a strange shore limp and lifeless, not knowing where my energy and positive outlook has gone.
I realised too there is some benefit in maintaining calm, trusting that there is a reason why I’m there and that I will learn an important lesson out of it. At those times I tell myself I can allow it to wash over me like a huge dark wave. Fighting ends up in defeat anyway. I go under. Deep. Deep. The dark. Water pressure. Unable to breathe. Slowed movement as if in a dream. Separate from reality but still present like a hologram. Hollow. Zombie. On one level I can still function. Outwardly everything looks normal. That’s a skill many depressed people have. We have refined the art of appearing as if everything’s fine. Ok. All is good.
I have given up fighting depression. Yes that’s right. Now I give in. Let go. I open up to it and feel every part of it.
Now I work with tools like Nichiren Buddhism, my creativity, EFT and NVC to transform it with kindness compassion and tender love. Writing and drawing enable the voices of my depression to be heard. The sketches I draw give some insight to my feelings.
I remember when my children were very little. Sometimes they would get so distressed, especially one child who found words difficult to communicate with. Hysterical tears thrashing around screaming throwing things etc. huge tantrum. I learned that a soft approach was most effective. I would slowly approach them calmly talking gently and giving empathy. “Yes it’s awful isn’t it? You feel really angry/sad etc.” I would eventually touch then gently embrace the child. Holding firmly but lovingly breathing deeply, being the calmness, safety and love that they so need. Eventually their anger would melt and they would gently sob as they calmed down. Sometimes find words to describe their feelings. I now try to treat my depression like an angry distressed child and transform it with love gentleness and understanding. My mentor Daisaku Ikeda talks about soft power. I also like that story about the Sun and the Wind competing to get someone to remove their coat. Depression that I experience is very aggressive. I cannot compete with a similar force, it’s not my nature, so the tools I use are tactical.
I went through a long winter last year. I was not doing much paid work. I had plenty of time alone. Having just moved away from my home city and country I was isolated and full of fear. The first time living alone gave me a huge space I could fill and everything poured out! I chose to sit with it. I had the benefit of a friend who worked locally and checked in with me each week. Dear friends who maintained contact online. Social media can be a life line – literally. The counsellor I saw for a year before I moved was available for Skype sessions and I booked in 6 weekly sessions. I also made an effort to talk to one person each day. Even if just to say thank you at a cash till or good morning as I pass a stranger in the park. Most days I sat in freeze state alone.
This is what I learned about my depression during that time:
My depression communicates to me that I am in pain. I need to open my heart and listen from a place of peace and calm. Be the parent. I call that parenting part of me the Mothership. In my darkest depressions I have little contact with the Mothership. It’s hard to hear and feel her. That’s when the dark demons come and dance around me. My fear increases alarmingly and I start thinking of ways to end the torment. It can be torture. I panic. Last time I was in this place I felt the enormity, the huge depth of grief I carried in my whole life. It was overwhelming. Painful. Every pore of my body reeked with pain. It was like I stank of everything I suffered, was denied and everything I hated about myself. Scum. Worthless. And my soul grieved. I cried and cried and cried. As the heavy wave weakened and thankfully contact with the Mothership was regained, I was able to pull myself up a little and find calm in the pain. Some of us don’t. Some of us become so consumed, so disconnected from our Mothership that the only way out is to cut the life support. I am grateful, utterly grateful that I have rarely reached that depth and have never taken action when I was there. My heart goes out to those who have never returned from the dark and for those they left behind.
Depression is hard work. Experiencing it. Working it out. Learning to live with it. It’s fucking tough. All the good advice, therapy, self-help guides out there are all well and good when you can access and apply them. It’s like the horse-to-water saying. It’s something we must do for ourselves.
Develop an inner conviction that depression is not our master, just a messenger.
We are warriors through and through. I bow to you all, my fellow comrades.
I was very excited to have been given the opportunity to share a creative activity at this festival 🙂
Queeristan is an annual festival, now in its 5th year. Held in Amsterdam, it is “…a DIY festival about exploring and countering the normative workings of gender, sexuality and identity in an autonomous space that avoids capitalism, commercialisation, heteronormativity, racism, sexism and transphobia.”
I was invited by David Nys to introduce some creative fun activity to the workshop he ran on the second day of the event:
– Non-monogamy –
“Monogamy and heteronormativity oppress alternative forms of doing relationships.
This workshop will be a space to discuss how they affect us: the relationships between non-binary people,
the privileges of cisgendered heterosexual couples,
the social and legal advantages of monogamous relationships
and any related issues.”
After brainstorming about making models of different relationship styles, I set about finding materialsI needed in local art shops in Amsterdam and NL. I discovered that plasticine is very much a British phenomenon. It’s like play dough and Fimo but is much more elastic and malleable. Also it is reusable. It doesn’t dry out and cannot be baked hard. This is essential for professional use in stop-motion animation (think Wallace & Gromit). I like the impermanence of this substance because for me I like to focus on process in art. The fact that the outcome is ephemeral, non-lasting, brings even more value and beauty to what was experienced and achieved. The other benefit is because it’s reusable, there is little environmental waste.
Luckily I had a short trip planned to London and picked up supplies from 4D Model Shop in time for the workshop.
Back in Amsterdam I was ready for the workshop, armed with 2kg of Newplast plasticine in a range of colours that even included different skin tones, a bunch of cocktail sticks, paper straws and some nervousness (it was the very first activity I’d run in this setting, with such an international and diverse mix of adults), I took my place in the workshop.
The discussions covered a range of areas concerning non-monogamy, couple privilege, solo polyamory, marriage and how the law affects people in alternative relationships. All stimulating stuff to then ponder and discuss during the modelling activity.
After a short break participants returned and were invited to dive in and play with the plasticine and come up with something that reflects their thoughts, ideas or experiences of non-monogamy. The outcomes were as unique as the lovely people who created them. From polycules and chain links to a rubiks style cube! It was also a delight to hear the conversations that were taking place amongst the participants too. Some got so involved in the making that even the snacks I brought were included in their models! I asked each participant if they wished to share an explanation of what they made, which you will find below some photographs.
If you are one of the participants, do leave a reply below
about how you found the experience
and what you got out of it.
Many thanks to everyone who took part, and
especially to David Nys who invited me to run this activity 🙂
Sculpture (above) – what the colours mean:
White – established relationships
Orange – undefined relationships
Green partners of undefined
Red – children
Purple – ME
Green on bar – non-romantic relationships.
A totem of priorities (photo above).
TOP – myself
MIDDLE – my children
BASE – my friends.
polycule (photo above) –
ME The different colours blended, show the mixed facets that make up who I am.
Close balls aspects of my life that are important: sports, hobbies etc.
Short sticks close food friends room mate
Long sticks important relationships but not as close as others.
Ambroise’s Polycule (above):
Light green – me
Orange – active “healthy’ relationships
Yellow – dying relationships
Purple – “finished” relationships, but yeah, its complicated.
Black – non sexual but yeah, you know, its not exactly amibguous
After about 7 weeks without drawing portraits and as long without updating this blog, I dove in again this week. I am aiming now for short blog entries along with evidence of my work-in-progress. This week I sat down to begin drawing in my sketchbook when i got a FaceTime call from my sister. I didn’t want to ignore the call, so found myself yet again, NOT prioritising my art 😦
Then I saw an opportunity in that I could sketch myself while we spoke (I can keep myself still more than person I’m chatting to online!). Using the camera like a mirror, I proceeded to make a sketch of myself.
Because the sketchbook was at an angle on my lap, the head and shoulders were out of proportion, so i spent some time this morning modifying it by taking a still shot of myself (selfie) to help gauge where the changes needed to be made. Where will I be without technology, eh?
However I am not alone in using technology to make portraits, so i will no longer be feeling guilty about it. Famous old dead painters like Caravaggio and Vermeer used techniques like camera obscura. I will confidently continue with playing around with digital cameras and your selfies! Beware, I could be prowling around YOUR online photo album for my next piece 😉
Letting go of my need for perfection was just one tower of belief whose foundations I needed to shatter in order to feel confident about sharing recent portraits I sketched from friends selfies.
As my regular readers may know, over the last 6 months since my move to Amsterdam, my full-time job has had two parts – both interconnected:
working on overcoming old patterns of belief and behavior that hold me back from achieving my full potential, and…
creating stuff – drawings, sculptures, painting, sewing etc.
As I work on one area, it opens up something in the other.
What I share here is a strange connection, but I will share what I understand of it. This experience illustrates I think, this quote about how everything we need lies within us, not outside. This may involve releasing and letting go of some things in order to revive or reveal other things.
This occurred in a week where I felt huge lake of anger just below the surface of everything I was experiencing. I wasn’t able to dig deep enough to understand what it was about (maybe I was afraid to?), I just felt its presence.
It finally showed itself one morning during my at-home interval training. I was aiming to get past the 2 weeks of just doing 13 press-ups to hit 15 press-ups; I was at 13 then got fierce with my body, growling like a demon as I pushed out the last 2.; by no 15 I was howling and screaming like a werewolf at full moon, but I did it, without any physical damage/pain either. I felt like a beast! (Did I beat my chest and punch my fist in the air like a Spartan warrior, I wonder?!) I shouted, growled and swore and roared for a few moments afterwards. It was like I had broken through to that lake of anger. The tears then came. Tears of rage. Deep fiery rage; anger like a pool of hot molten lava – all directed at one person. It was like I felt each moment of suppressed anger was finally bursting forth. Anger that I buried each time I was threatened to keep silent ‘or else’; each time I was hit with things or words; each time I was never able to fight back; each time I had to unwillingly submit to this person’s control over me. Its like I had become possessed by some demon as I sat and crying in rage as I beat the floor with my fists, allowing this latent anger in me full expression.
Somehow that extra physical exertion had released some of that anger that was trapped in my body. I got a pen and paper and began to write out all i was feeling, in the form of a letter. This outburst had given voice to a part of me I had rarely (if ever) displayed or let loose. And never directly focused on this particular person. I had extened understanding and forgiveness to them, but never gave my anger towards them any outlet. I had convinced myself I was ‘over’ being angry, I had risen above that. The details of who and why I was focused on this person I will not share here.
After I wrote the letter – it was a nasty letter full of what my raging demon would do to this person if I ever let her loose physically – I then took a shower.
I felt a kind of peace rise in me that I had never felt before. A calmness. The undercurrent of anger I felt all week had faded. Like my outburst had brought her forth, given her a form (I drew a couple of sketches as well as writing). After my shower, as I was getting used to my feeling of new calmness and joy, a thought came to me. “I want to draw a portrait”, I heard myself thinking.
Now, its common knowledge that I have been an art teacher for 18 years and done many life drawing classes etc. yet one thing that I do NOT do unless under duress, or cannot find a way of avoiding it (its part of a course or exercise I’m teaching or doing) is draw faces. I have always tried to avoid them. I’m still not sure why. I can only imagine its because I am a perfectionist and I also fear criticism. I am also my own worst critic, so have done very well over the past few decades bullying and judging myself into believing I am crap at drawing portraits. Even when I did my life sculpting classes, I never took sculpting the head very seriously and constantly joked and mocked my own efforts during the class. So why oh why this thought sprung into my head all of a sudden after my anger/rage episode? I can only imagine that it was some kind of somatic release that somehow brought me to such calm I decided to tackle one of the biggest fears of my creativity.
So what did I do? Living alone, I have no ready subjects to sit for me, so I started browsing on Instagram (avoidance tactics maybe?). One of the people I follow is an artist that manipulates people’s selfies on his ipad then does paintings of them. I thought: “Hmmm, maybe I can find some of my friends selfies and draw them?” I immediately remembered two photos recently posted that struck me and I began with one. My first idea when I studied the photo of actress and friend Tanya Moodie was to do a water-colour. I thought that too huge a leap, so I just picked up the nearest black pen, drew out some guide lines and proceeded to sketch. I put on music and found myself ‘in-the-zone’ scribbling away with the pen while studying the image I’d enlarged on my lap top screen. A couple hours went by when I decided to stop the first and move onto another. I was drawn to the energy in Tanya’s selfie and how she cropped it. Her features claiming the space in all their power and beauty. I wanted to capture the essence of the expression. I was not focusing on technique and proportions. I did a second sketch about 5 days later of the same selfie and was unable to recapture the energy of the first one. With the second attempt I was thinking too much about proportion and less about essence.
After completing the first sketch of Tanya, I was on a roll. I found a photo my sister Ekua Bayunu shared with me that I found so beautiful. I started remembering some basics, like using pencil to make guidelines and initial sketch BEFORE starting with the pen. I felt drawn to paint her in oils, celebrating her as a classic beauty, but that’s not so do-able in the heat of the moment! (I never EVER considered using oil paints before – they were always a no-go-zone for me – so that was another breakthrough thought!) I wanted to capture again what I felt when I studied the selfie – beauty, vulnerability, classical, exuding a strong presence, a power within all these qualities.
Just as well I can draw what I mean – words sometimes fail me! I continued drawing late into the night and continued the next morning, completing Ekua’s and then starting a third. The third turned into a pencil sketch as my pens were running out! I’m not a fan of pencil sketches. I find when i do them, I cannot get enough depth like with pens. The drawings tend to look flatter.
Given my fears around drawing portraits it seems such a contradiction to then feel more comfortable sketching with a PEN where mistakes cannot be rubbed away. Am I such a sadist to myself?!
I enjoyed working on this pencil sketch. It took me some time to get the depth necessary. I had to really PUSH myself to keep working the shadows darker etc. It was challenging, yet also enjoyable. It was like i was my own teacher, coaching myself through techniques I know and have taught to many others over the years, yet never sat and really taught myself. Not in the same compassionate way that i did with my students. I would never have judged a students’ drawing as rubbish, not good enough like how I have judged my own work over the years. Writing this, I realise how very harsh, cruel even, I have been towards myself. As much as i have tried to be the best teacher to my students, when it comes to teaching myself and nurturing my own creativity… hmmmm. Time for some forgiveness work.
Its like I had entered a strange portal where I was actually enjoying sketching from these photos and the critical judgemental voices were nowhere to be heard. I felt pleased with my efforts and shared them with my sister and eldest daughter for some feedback.
NOTE: when you defeat fear in one arena, it raises its ugly head in another!
Thankfully now that I have some tools to assist me: my Buddhist chanting; my NVC practice; my now regular use of EFT, I am able to identify when I get stuck in fight/flight/freeze and work though it. I have the time to work on these things. Something I am extremely, deeply grateful for. The ugly fears revealed themselves again, when it came to writing this blog and sharing the drawings online. My fear was of being ridiculed: I was afraid of what others would think of me and so it was not safe to share them publicly. These are all old patterns of belief based on conditioning over decades of my life.
Rationally, logically, of course I agree with you there is nothing for me to be afraid of, or to feel unsafe about. I know people will not be standing in the streets pointing and laughing at me because I’m the person who did that weird portrait drawing where the nose/eyes are wonky! These limiting beliefs only become powerful and significant when they hold us back from following our hearts.
So using EFT, I voiced my fears to myself, gave myself some compassion and assurances I needed to feel safe and confident. I connected sharing the drawings with a fear of revealing/sharing my vulnerability. Tapping on this revealed a need for safety. I then tapped to change these beliefs about it being dangerous for me if I shared the sketches. As well as the EFT, I assured myself also by imagining the worst-case-scenario (in this context it would be poisonous judgments and comments like what you read everywhere online, my friends and others pointing and laughing at me, saying what an awful artist i am – I played all of this out in my head!). I then took a leap of faith. I finally shared Tanya’s selfie drawing with her. She loved it and shared with me how the sketch touched her and why. It was beautiful for me to hear that because even though a drawing is not perfect, it can still have the ability to touch someone’s heart. This is a huge lesson for me to remember, and a huge nail in the ‘it-must-be-perfect-at-all-times’ coffin!
I know these fear gremlins will continue to rear their ugly heads in the arena of my portrait drawings and in other areas. I am much better at sniffing them out and dealing with them now. In the meantime, I am also on the look out for more interesting selfies to sketch.
You never know. Your next selfie may be my next portrait 😉
Here in the Netherlands it is Korkusvakantie, the crocus flower being a common sign of the seasonal change. Something is definitely shifting for me too. I find the words ‘epic’ and ‘seismic’ quite fitting for my change.
Why? Because this cycle of change has felt like I have fallen in with my hugest inner demons and done battle with them, just like dear Gandalf at the end of Episode 2 of Lord of The Rings. One of my favourite parts of the film. Now, its no surprise as to why it resonated with me so much.
I knew back when I first watched it, it felt so compelling yet i was unaware that one day my time would come to let go and just face my demons. “You shall not pass!!!” Says Gandalf to the giant Balrog of Morgoth. To stand up for oneself against the external forces and distractions is only half the battle. I believe that the moment Gandalf is dragged into the pit is when the real battle commences.
Imagining myself in Gandalf’s position, falling off the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, I see that as the time when my inner demons come out in force and I either face and transform them, or I remain a victim to them, consumed by our own darkness. Since my move to Amsterdam, I have found that this experience is sadly not a one-off Hollywood epic moment like the film clip. My fears can reveal themselves time and time again, just to remind me that there is much more richness to be drawn out from my life. The only way to get to those diamonds is to dig them out of the dark bit by bit and polish them until we shine.
There are some gems in my life i have only just uncovered because I have dared to ‘go deeper and go broader’ (a phrase I fondly recall from an SGI-UK Buddhist course I was on last summer 2014).
I also began to look through notebooks and sketchbooks from 15 years ago and have discovered ideas bursting from each one. I have a lot of work to catch up on!!! I am glad i am in a place where I can devote time to my creative calling. It has taken some time.
I feel like I have broken a seal.
The blockage was a thick slab of fear – a denial of my authentic needs.
Something i had to do in order to survive.
Needs i had buried very deep many years ago in order to keep them safe.
Now it is safe. it is time.
Things are now beginning to flow.
More, much, more to come….. and its starting to feel ok.
The result of my latest ‘excavation’ this week, can be evidenced in the amount of work i’ve been able to produce, and progress I’ve made to find a kiln i can hire for firing. I share some images here with notes under each one.
I unpacked the last of my sculptures this week and I am pleased to report that each one is still intact!
🙂 I am so very HAPPY about this 🙂
They still feel like little babies to me. It took me a while to feel safe with packing them just a few months ago. Unpacking them was also a very emotional journey and something I could only have done when I started to feel safe here in my new location, my new home. So, it is a good sign. I am celebrating the occasion by sharing a video of the sculptures that I made when they were on display at my art open day last May. Please ignore the quality and editing. I made the video using my iPhone, the morning after the event, so the wobbles are revealing some tiredness. The music is called ‘Healing’ – very appropriate for me and my current journey.
So whats been going on in the shed-to-studio conversion? My last blog about the studio is that I completed the flooring in my premier laminate flooring debut.
Since then. I have put together a cutting table using an old door and a couple of trestles, made a sewing machine table with some Ikea table legs and an old wardrobe shelf. Spent a couple of days unpacking more boxes, sorting and filling drawers and cupboards. Within days the place was ready for use!
There was a tiny issue with the weather getting colder. As the outdoor temperatures dropped into single figures, then even further into -2ºc for a few nights this week, I needed to take action to be sure my fabrics, yarns and papers would not get ruined and frost bitten. I also needed enough warmth whilst working. Trying to cut fabric using a pair of heavy 10″ solid metal cutting shears is no joke in a temperature of 6ºc!
My bf came to the rescue with a garden shed heater that stays on 24/7 and emits a low temperature heat, enough to keep the frost and damp at bay. I have another heater on while I’m working to keep the room temperature in double figures. I know the legal temperature limit for classrooms in the UK is 12ºc, so I aim for that at least. Which is manageable when I’m in my sheepskin slippers, fleecy jumper and hat.
I am starting off work very slowly, by doing some very basics:
1. Making a pattern for an A-line skirt. I’ve not made a pattern from scratch for a long while. Decades. I pulled out my old pattern cutting book. So old, it has the price in shillings and pence! My scissors emitted a well-missed sweet sound as i cut the skirt fabric out. More of that to come.
2. My next project is to work with a doll pattern from the Doll Fashionistas book I found some months ago. The brown wool fabric is an old wool jjacket of Alexander’s. It is quite felt-like so ideal for this, and a good colour. I’ve so far made the body and the head. I am following the book’s instructions for now, but can already see where i will be making modifications. not happy with the head shape already, but i can see more clearly how to make an effective doll head pattern from starting with this one.
I will persevere as much as I can to work in the studio over the coming winter months, but it will be a challenge. It needs at least 40mins to get up to 10ºc and thats ontop of using the low level garden shed heater. i am a little worried about heating costs. I may move the sewing machine into the apartment if necessary in the New Year. It is going to get colder in the next few months. Brrrrrrr!!!!
This has been a week of losses, actual losses and realisations of what i have lost or let go of in order to be here. I am still in a phase (i hope its a phase) of feeling very displaced. I left London my home of 49 years, to settle in a not-so-far-away land of The Netherlands. After 2 years of regular weekend trips and a few weeks here and there, I felt I was familiar enough with this new land to settle in quite well. As with all perceived situations, you can plan for a lot of things, but there are some experiences that you only realise will occur after the event. There is no preparing for EVERY eventuality.
With every action there is a reaction with every choice there is a consequence. Thats scientific, its one of those unwritten ‘truths’ we learn in life. I am learning now to appreciate what i have gained and the things I have lost due to this move, that I can now – on reflection – be grateful for and really appreciate.
I miss my family and friends around me in easy reach. To hear the front for bang, or their chatter and laughter, a problem that needs solving or feel the frustration because someone’s finished the bread and not replaced it. Mostly I miss their energy and their spirit. I have been parenting for 25 years, most of that as a single parent, so my children of all people knew i needed to make this break and have supported me. I do so value my solo time in my apartment, existing on my terms and doing my own thing, getting to know myself in a way i have never done. ever. Listening to my inner voice. hearing my body speak and respond to what I feed it and how i care for it. I have discovered what a sensitive soul i am. Something I have buried because i believed from childhood that it was a sign of weakness and an inconvenience.
I miss my work in education. Hearing of the loss of an ex student I knew this week, aged 18, brought that home to me starkly. He was always smiling, joking and friendly with an infectious cheeky grin. As i reflected on my memories of him, I came to realise the immense gratitude I had for each child i taught. For they each one brought me something unique in our relationship. I began a few weeks ago to share a list of gratitudes in a gratitude project. It was due to building an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that enabled me to turn this sad, sad news and find some peaceful reflection through my memories. With the children i raised and those I taught i have spent most of my adult life surrounded by youth. I guess it has rubbed off in keeping me youthful in spirit and attitude. I now do not have that in my life. I would like to return to working in education while I am here in NL, but it will take time – learning the language fluently enough for one thing!
Some things in life we take for granted. Like our sense of ‘placement’ our sense of belonging, our rooted-ness (is that a word?!). I have always since childhood felt ‘out-of-place’ with my family, many of my peers and also with a lot of colleagues and other adults as i grew up. I guess i felt a bit like an outlaw. Not confirming to the norm, or the mainstream. I was always attracted to things, experiences and people who are different. As a result i have always felt on the outside of many things.
Yet sitting here in my apartment in Amsterdam, fighting with my sense of loss and displacement in order to go out and buy a draught excluder for my studio door, I have come to realise that the ‘rug’ that has been pulled out from under my feet that makes such a simple task seem so difficult is the sense of belonging to an environment. Even though i may not have related much to a lot of the people that populate the city of London, I belonged there. i knew my way around, I was street-wise, I knew how to and how not to interact with strangers, shop assistants, bus drivers etc. I didn’t have to think when travelling on the tube/train/bus/crossing the roads because I understood the ‘flow’ and the ‘pace’ of things. I could slip-stream into my environment and get things done, go where i wanted etc. without a second thought.
Here, two months in to my move, it takes me hours to pluck up the courage to leave my apartment and go up to the DIY store. I have pass that difficult road crossing where the trams seem to come out of nowhere. Do I try to tackle it again today on my bicycle or do i just walk? Will the friendly young assistant who speaks English and helped me last time in the shop be there again, or should i be prepared with a translation for ‘draught excluder’? Will I remember the pin code for my Dutch bank card and not type in my UK one like last time? Oh and I need to take a bag as the shops don’t give out bags here. Will i remember to lock my bike carefully on the crowded post and not lock it onto another bike like before? Small, insignificant things that have now become huge obstacles to me. Living most of my time alone means I do not have someone around to be that voice of encouragement, or just a presence that i can use as motivation to push myself forward.
I have slowed down considerably as a result of this displacement, this feeling of living on wobbly ground, being unsure of myself and whats going on around me. Not having a job to go out to; no routine I HAVE to follow apart from my weekly Dutch lessons and chanting; also with a limited budget hampers this process as it means i am spending a lot of time alone. At times enjoying the solitude. At times feeling lonely.
I have spent years feeling lonely but distracted in a house full of children, their friends, a busy job full of colleagues, distractions everywhere. This is different. This week I feel there is no wind at all in my sails. Nothing. last week i was energetically preparing for a job interview which went very well as far as i knew. I was told I would be informed of the outcome on tuesday, two days ago. Its thursday evening and still nothing. No wind. Stillness. Unkowning. I am not used to not having anything to ‘drive’ me. If its not the needs of one of my children, its my job, or my supporting role in my local Buddhist group, or a project i’m working on, or a social event. There was always something to keep me moving, thinking, planning, preparing. Now I have time to do…well nothing.
It took me 3 whole days to pluck up the courage to spend a few hours in bed during an afternoon. Talk about breaking an old habit! Also changing a mind-set. For me, to stay in bed most of the day is lazy, hopeless, neglectful, irresponsible! I am now learning that if there is no need for me to be up and off doing something that needs urgent attention, no one is going to starve or suffer if i do nothing for a whole day, then it is ok! 🙂 I am very nervous writing about this and sharing it publicly! What if a future employer reads it, or one of my children. Argh! Folami is a grown woman who spends all day in bed. Shame on her. Booo! Hiss! 🙂 Some habits are so ingrained!
Taking time out to enjoy stillness, to be at peace with myself is one of my goals in making this move. Yes I have plans to work and set up my creative business. Yes I know exactly what i want to do and where I want to be. Yet today, this week, my energy and it seems the universe is calling for a different pace. Roll down the sails, pull up the oars and just float along on the still waters.
I have no idea where this phase of stillness will take me. I continue my daily Buddhist chanting and study to maintain strong faith that i am still on course to achieve my goals. In the meantime i will relax in the moment, use this time to write and reflect and get to know myself.
Hi folks. A very quick update as i realise I have not posted a blog entry recently. I’ve been slowing things down a bit as i hit a huge emotional wall over the last two weeks. Everything was coming to a head and got quite overwhelming.
This week, things are improving. I’ve been getting back into the studio to tackle the flooring. With very little time to do it himself and my eagerness to get the job done, I managed to convince A to give me a tutorial on laying laminate. I’d already watched him do a great job in the apartment and felt confident about tackling a very straight forward rectangular space of 2.5 x 5.5 meters.
Having gotten over my fear of the jigsaw when making a new seat for the swing, I embraced the challenge and after 2 days of slow and careful working to lay the laminate and move all the boxes and equipment (with lots of breaks as I’m still not 100%), I have nearly completed the job – my very first laminate flooring project done all by myself! (except the first three rows 😉 ) I’m so relieved we had enough underlay sheeting and boards.
I am also grateful that the jigsaw blade did not break (I had an experience years ago with a jig saw and broken blades, hence my anxiety about using one again) and all my fingers are still intact. I plan to fully finish the floor by the weekend and then can start unpacking all my art and sewing materials. I am so, so, SO excited about this!Once I have a clearer idea of the space, I may even set up my loom by the end of the year 😀
…and what you really need is just 5min to relax with a hot drink.
An article posted by Independent newspaper raising the issue of NHS banning their staff from drinking cups of tea whilst on duty, found me drawing comparisons with the rules I’ve faced in my career as a teacher.
In my teaching career of 18 years I have had periods of supply teaching, including part-time in the past 2 years. In this role I have seen the insides of many different staff rooms and classrooms. From the huge banquet sized staff rooms to small windowless cupboards with a tiny sink and 2 chairs, what they all have in common is cups. Cups ½ filled or barely touched cups of coffee, tea or bottles of drink.
As a member of the teaching staff in a challenging inner city school with a tight timetable, students in need of assistance, detention, extra help or just doing your safeguarding (break time) duties, timetabled breaks are just on paper only for many staff. Time to grab a hot drink before the next lesson is just that, time to grab the cup, not time to drink it too!
In one school I worked in, hot drinks were banned from the classroom. Nor were we allowed to stand holding a cup or flask of warm drink whilst on playground duty in freezing winter – for health and safety reasons. Kettles in staff rooms were also banned for the same reason. Yet no one had heard of an incident involving a student being hurt with a hot cup of tea (as tempting as it can be sometimes!).
I kept a kettle and tea bags secretly stashed away in my store cupboard. Even then, I still had half drunk cups lined up on the shelves. I was reduced to ‘going to fetch some more paper’ from the store cupboard so I could step in and grab a sip of a half cold cup of herbal tea.
Two years after leaving my permanent job, my brain is still wired to a timetabled control of my daily liquid intake – and output. Not having time to sit and relax with a drink is also a way of avoiding a toilet call in the middle of a double practical lesson. There isn’t always another member of staff you can call on to cover you while you pop to a toilet to relieve a call of nature. So your body gets conditioned. You train your body to ignore the call for hydration until the very end of the day. If you’re disciplined enough, you will reach for a bottle of water or cup of tea before the bottle of Merlot.
The result of this level of liquid control? Dehydration, which takes its toll on your body at some point. For me it was IBS. not all the symptoms, but enough for me to seek help from my GP then a specialised nutritionist. We went through my daily diet. it was all pretty balanced and healthy. Then the question of drinks. When I sat and thought about it, I could mention the amount of bottles I filled and how many cups of drinks I made and I then remembered how my house was looking like a staff-room. Half drunk drinks everywhere. I was still not drinking enough liquids for my height and body weight! My body was still ‘on timetable’. It was time to retrain my brain to hear and respond to its natural messages of thirst and full bladder.
Reflecting on this past behavior also brought up the sensation of constantly being on ‘high-alert’ through out each day. I rarely if ever felt calm and relaxed in my role as a teacher. One had to be ready for any incident, always mindful of all the needs of each child in your care for that lesson, for every lesson each day ( 4 to 6 lessons each day (around 20-30 children in each; five days a week, plus your tutor group), whilst also considering the challenges some of the pupils in your tutor group may be experiencing in their day, planning work, projects etc, for the next week ahead in your head whilst teaching the current lesson, remembering reports to write, follow-up on calls you have to make and a ticking time-bomb reminder of some sort of planning or data analysis that needs completing by a deadline. And that’s just work. I raised 3 children as a single parent during most of my teaching career, so add on the planning, thoughts, feelings etc, surrounding their needs. All of this was outwardly focused, on those in my care.
Very little if any focus was on me. I paid enough attention to myself to be sure I stayed alive, clean and presentable. Some days my emotions were eeked out over a few drinks with friends when I could bare my soul a bit, weep into my drink, get some empathy from other friends who also experienced this form of ‘high-alert’ living. Socially and mostly secretly, I binged on sex, food, alcohol – sometimes all three at once. Holidays, breaks? I had them but they were the kind where you needed a holiday afterwards to recover!
Only when my children were grown up was I able to experience a fully relaxing holiday. I would have the odd weekend away on a course, or with a friend/lover, but never a whole week where I could just shut down and fully relax. No visits to tourist locations, no hanging out with friends. Just relaxation. My current partner took me on a week in Sardinia to a secluded cottage last year. No internet, no neighbours for ½ mile and they were mostly sheep. No hotel, secluded beaches, our own private grounds including tennis court. The only human contact we had with others was at the supermarket. It was blissful. Oh my! I had no idea life could be like that! This is what I needed to start a slow journey of pulling myself away from ‘high-alert mode’ and towards hearing my own inner voice again.
My move to Amsterdam, time and space away from close friends and family is giving me time to reflect, to get to know myself, to listen to the voices that were screaming out inside of me all these years, that I kept suppressed in order to get the job of surviving an abusive childhood, parenting, teaching etc. done. And I have some beautiful memories of many parts of my life. Yet I remain very good at burying my needs and feelings. Something survivors of abuse do.
I have learned through my therapy that being in this form of ‘high alert’ is a form of stress and an instinctive survival mechanism. Imagine you are under threat of real danger – someone trying to break into your home, or you’re in a war zone – the last thing you would want to do is bring attention to yourself. You want to hide, protect yourself. Working with challenging young people (and many of them traumatised too) mean’t that anything could happen. I have experienced sudden violent outbursts amongst my students. From barrages of verbal abuse, fights using bits of furniture and equipment to a knife attack – all in my classroom. When in a situation of high alert where you have to be ready for ‘surprises’, expressing one’s own needs will bring attention to oneself, expose you, make you vulnerable. I found it was safe to stay still, freeze, instincts on high alert, until the threat has passed.….until you feel safe.
It became so common in my life, from a childhood living in a home full of anger, arguments and threat of fights or beatings, to a teaching career with unpredictable children and my own family too as I experienced abusive relationships and also raised a child with ADHD. There was a big part of my life – decades – where I shut down having an inner dialogue. Yes, something was sorely lacking – my inner voice, addressing my feelings, my needs. Even basic ones like quenching my thirst. I’m sitting here at 1pm in the afternoon. The last time I had a drink was at 8am this morning. I’m in my apartment, alone, nothing urgent to do. I went to put the kettle on to make myself a drink (yes the message got through, I am thirsty), yet what I do instead is sit down and write this article *sigh*
I am finding it difficult to embrace how time is working for me right now. There are 2 levels I’m experiencing. A steady pace of getting-things-done, interspersed with a much slower pace, a kind of timeless suspension which I find myself immersed in when grappling with moments of deep reflection. Sometime I just ‘freeze’, do nothing for minutes or hours sometimes, sitting, staring into space or clicking on links online just to pass the time. I know it is linked to my childhood coping mechanism, which I learned about from recent counselling. Having the time to sit with these ‘frozen’ moments has enabled the ‘thawing’ process to occur, when I can begin a dialogue with myself about why I am in that state (usually panic, fear, anxiety). I can then gently and compassionately pull myself through with reassurances and addressing my feelings and needs at that moment.
I am having a lot of these…. Being still in a time of transition can be beneficial if approached with tools that are enabling, rather than my usual tools of biscuits and red wine J I am sitting with these moments in a very patient and compassionate way now, using tools such as the NVC dance http://www.cnvc.org and the philosophy of my Buddhist practice . I came across a couple of quotes by Carl Jung that touched me. I have not read his work but am familiar with it through friends who have studied him. I like how he talks about the dark. I experience a lot of ‘darkness’ – through my depression, my ‘frozen’ moments and also transmitted through some of my work. I am looking for a good book by Carl Jung to begin reading, so please make suggestions 🙂
Each day I’m amazed at how the sunlight and mild weather continues. The lighter paint colour draws more natural light into the studio too. Plans for a glass panel in the door will enhance this further. until then I’ll be using a daylight bulb on cloudy days. Painting now complete, I now have to wait for the flooring to be fitted.
Loving the decaying nature of the Autumn months falling all around me, I decided to photograph the metal decay on the shelving unit from the old shed. I wanted to find the beauty in the rust, so captured some shots and edited through VSCOcam and instagram. I could see this turning into a huge project with translations into paint, fabric, glazes…..oh the possibilities! Using Instagram to showcase my photos is just one way I am maintaining a creative outlet.
I attended 2 drawing events this week. Meet-up life drawing with Amsterdam International Life Drawing Society. I found maintaining a balanced proportion of the figure very difficult and then the added challenge of foreshortening did not help! I do enjoy the effects of the strong spot lighting.
Friday night I visited a drawing event that was part of ADE and organised by The Open Draw a space that’s run twice a month that encourages everyone and anyone to come and have a go at drawing or doodling. No models, no set instructions (although a theme or idea is shared sometimes). I found the organisers so warm and friendly! There was a DJ at the event and those of us at the doodle table could draw what we wanted or draw something in response to the music. Which is what I did. it was lovely to just make marks in an abstract way. I love the discipline of life drawing, yet sometimes I forget how fun doodling and random marking making can be. There was a table full of drawing equipment including pastels, water colours and ink. My colouring materials are still packed away so I immediately just went for some colour which was refreshing to use. Here are my three interpretations of the House music played by the DJ that evening.
That night was a nice mellow introduction for me to ADE week. I was baptized win thetemple of Techno the following night when I attended Scwumn meets Incognito – the music, lightshow, projections were absolutely amazing!!! http://instagram.com/p/uUahPjvI60/ I need more of this music! What I love so much about instrumental sounds like Techo, Dubstep etc. is not just the amazing heavy sounds, but also the fact that the music is a backdrop for everyone. I hear some music that I love in other genres, but I choke on the lyrics. Like this I recently heard by Mykki Blanco. The opening few minutes are mind-thumpingly good to me – and then he starts to say his lyrics and I cringe. I’m hearing repeatedly ‘nigger’ ‘fucked ya bitch’ etc. and my heart sinks. I try to ignore the words and sentiment, but its difficult to appreciate the awesome sounds when my heart is uncomfortable. Old age I guess! I hope he releases an instrumental version soon. Or maybe there’s a way I can filter out his voice……..
I always encouraged the children I teach to question everything – yes, including what I teach them 🙂 Here is my answer to the question “why?” I believe it feeds our curiosity (many of those I taught 11-16 yrs had already had their natural curiosity for learning dampened); stimulates our inner fire (we are not empty vessels to be filled with the beliefs/opinions of others); enables us to consider other possibilities (there are always alternatives to the ‘wrong/right’ ways). For me questioning everything is also about asking myself: “Does this theory/experience/statement etc. serve me in what I want from life? In what way does it affect me/others? Does it create value in any way?”
This has been a week of confronting and overcoming fears. From the threatening advance of cockroaches, fearing failure, fearing success , to fears about my finances. I no longer see it as a battle though, so ‘confront’ is not appropriate. A couple of images and quotes appeared to me this week in social media that have echoed my present relationship with my fears. This quote by Osho resonated with me because one of the benefits of moving away from busy, hectic, fast, stressful, London is the relative contrasting calmness of Amsterdam.
Whilst here I am learning to just sit with my fears, feel them and listen to them. Fear is like a part of me who doesn’t get listened to. The more she is ignored, the louder and more paralysing her voice of doom is and the more fearful and anxious I feel. If i fight her and try to ignore her even more, depression sets in. I’m mostly now able to listen and offer her the empathy, comfort and compassion she needs / I need. Then all becomes calmer. Spending time with myself, fewer distractions, I can gently steer myself back to focus. If it takes 2 hours then so be it. I avoid judging and berating myself.
With quite by chance sighting the full moon on wednesday night after staying up late with a bottle of red wine and too many Netflix episodes, I was fortunate to capture this shot on my digital camera out in my garden at 1.30am. A friend commented on this full moon being about Mercury in retrograde. I found this article about Mercury in Retrograde and found similarities with my present state. Rising from a mist of fear anxiety and insecurity, I now feel able to pick up from last week and return to sorting out my studio. I found myself with a higher level of energy to move around boxes and being applying another coat of paint. I also cleaned up the garden trash and threw out old boxes and other rubbish. It felt soo refreshing!
Still more boxes to move and painting to complete before the flooring is laid in the studio, but I am confident with my new-found mercury-in-retrograde energy I can get it done much quicker 🙂
Hello everyone 🙂
As some of you know, I have moved to live in Amsterdam. I plan to set up a studio from which i will do my sculpture work in clay, sewing soft sculptures and create bespoke clothing and soft furnishings. I have decided to return to this blog in order to record the progress of this mini adventure. It has been a great start 3 weeks in. There are also issues arising – because this is life!
My current issue is with an infestation in my new apartment. The past residents did not have hygiene at the top of their list, so i inherited a community of…cockroaches….EWUGH!!! They began to show their faces about a week ago. I got into such a state today and wrote this piece of writing (below) for the Gratitude Project that I am part of on Facebook, run by Iris Van Ooyen I am using this to update this blog today and contribute a few lines and photos each week to mark my progress:
Day 17 Thursday 2nd October
I’m feeling very isolated with a problem I’ve discovered in my new home – cockroaches 😦 I tried chatting to a good friend about it and she just squealed in disgust constantly! I’m now afraid to tell any of my friends about this. My partner is very blasé about it and tells me i have to accept it as this is an old building and ground floor location. Its not possible to block all the holes to keep them out. I am LIVID! I feel so unsupported and isolated. I’m struggling to see the ‘benefit’ in this and I’m near to tears. I got some boric acid and made up poison which i’ve put everywhere. All my foodstuffs are sealed in containers. This morning was the last straw for me, as i found one climbing up my Buddhist altar! I now feel that the whole apartment is heaving with them – a whole commune of them under the floorboards just waiting for dark then they take over the place. I know I’m sounding quite hysterical, but i’m feeling very overwhelmed. Most of my belongings are still in boxes so now i’m panicking thinking they’re living in the boxes with my stuff!!!
I wrote that first paragraph around 10am this morning and have sat here in a pretty vulnerable state for 2 hours, crying my eyes out. I tried but couldn’t think of anything to be grateful about, I was just too upset. As I sobbed and sobbed it slowly dawned on me that it is not just about cockroaches. Thats just triggering other stuff I realised. I decided to seek out what the bigger picture was about this infestation. What do I have to learn from this? As I asked my life this question, the word that came to me ‘out-of-the-blue’ was SHAME! I wanted to talk and share my pain but was too ashamed to even talk to my close friends about it for fear of being judged/rejected/mocked/not taken seriously.
So not very surprised. I also realised I had shame of failure AND success. I was afraid of setting up my studio and working for fear of it all failing. Then shame would say “see, I told you so! It was a stupid idea. What the hell were you thinking? Go back to teaching, know your place!” Then there was the shame of success: “Who the hell do i think i am trying to be successful? I’m not that good enough”
I then did some hours of online browsing to avoid facing this ‘shame’. I then stumbled on Brené Brown’s TEDtalks on shame and vulnerability . They were recommended to mien the past by my counsellor and others, but I’d never watched them before today. It rang so many bells of recognition I got a headache! 🙂
I made avid notes and then decided that i needed to act with courage and not hide away putting up a ‘front’ of success and ‘isn’t-everything-wonderful’. Yes things ARE great, but there is also shitty stuff happening, like the mosquitos that haunt me each day (I’m clearly a delicacy for them) and the cockroaches all over my new apartment. There, I’ve said it. Yes. F**king roaches 😦 I’ve been silent about these monsters since I spotted them 2 weeks ago because i felt shame. That if I shared the fact i had cockroaches people will think of me as being bad, nasty, unclean etc., my plan of moving to Amsterdam is now doomed. I am still afraid of that, I am afraid of ‘losing connection’ and ‘losing face’. But having been inspired by René, I am diving in and embracing vulnerability. I may run the risk of losing friends and not having any visitors because of this. Maybe my plans will fail. Well, I will still continue to work at loving myself and being the best i can be (as i top up the poison, block more holes and squash the nasty buggers to death!).
I learned today that my fear around applying colour to my 3D work, lies in a deep fear that i do not know enough about colour theory and am unable to talk about it in an artistic manner. For me the creation and application of colours is instinctive. I need to ‘feel’ my way through the palette. i have a very small initial idea. I then need to just start, being a journey that invariably ends up in a place i could never have planned at the outset! Thats what happened today and it was wonderful 🙂 I finally broke a ‘spell’ and feel much more confident about completing my ceramic sculptures that have been sat in a bisque state for over a year.
This is the work I’ve been focusing on for the past 8 weeks – yes, FOOD, glorious FOOD! 😀 I have to say, that this has been the most interesting educational project so far. Working algonside wonderful professionals like Virginia and Ceri, learning from the wisdom of some amazing local ladies and gentlemen of South London, with the added bonus of being able to sample some amazing dishes too 🙂 My task was to create an education pack that would enable the workshops to continue to share the delights of Caribbean cuisine far and wide. And especially so to facilitate the coming together of different generations and world cultures – all around the most delicious dishes and food produce
Here is my all-time favourite Caribbean dish, ackee and salt fish with fried dumplings. Although this may change, as I hear the cuisine of Gaudaloupe is to-die-for! For more information about the project, follow this link to the project Facebook page and watch out for the Cook Like A Caribbean website too! https://www.facebook.com/groups/CooklikeaCaribbean/?fref=ts
I’m so excited about finding this doll book at a bargain ‘jumble sale’ price while browsing in The Book Warehouse in Waterloo. Doll Fashionistas gives very clear instructions for doll making, including how to add dye to create a range of skin tones and how to paint on facial features then stitch in certain places to ‘mould’ the form into a more realistic face. I’m not planning on my dolls being catwalk fashionistas though. More like fashion-failed trauma dolls…watch this space! 😛
I had an idea knocking around in my head for forming shapes using pin tucks. Pin tucks is a form of stitching small channels of fabric that was common to create a smocking effect, or decorate the front of a shirt. here i used it to create a ‘pucker’ effect of lips. I used darker threads as its just a mock-up pier, but i like the contrasting effect. leo the loose threads. Sometimes
With a challenge set by my partner to make a kilt in time for New Years eve party, I throughly enjoyed the challenge of dusting off my pleating skills! I’ve not made a pleated garment for many years. It took much less time than I anticipated and my now very rarely used iron did a pretty good job fixing the pleats. In three days, I was able to transform a piece of 1.5m fabric into a little mini kilt and even found an old kilt pin to finish it off 🙂
I travelled to the sculpture studio via Imperial Wharf today and so I popped into the Roca Gallery. Very timely as its just a few days before the RCA Glass and Ceramic students show finishes. Here are pictures of the pieces i was drawn to. I am loving the lacquer on stoneware work of Enrique Perezalba Red. In particular the piece titled ‘Nectar’. Here are some collaged images of the work I liked and interior of the gallery:
… my motto from this week onwards! i decided to make the most of a rare occurance of covering lessons for an absent art teacher this week, and do some sketching myself. You are never too talented, experienced nor too old to do some more practice of the basic skills! Sketching a photocopy of shiny objects was a good challenge.
Materials: cotton poplin, kapok stuffing
Size: 12 dress size
Breast shirt addresses the issue of female gender identity and equality in the workplace: opportunity, pay and sexual politics, how women manage multiple roles. How do we choose to respond to that in our appearance – how we present & modify our bodies and how we cover it? This piece invites the viewer to consider the challenges and complexities women navigate in a dialogue with their bodies and expectations of society.
Dressmaker’s dummy addresses the preoccupation women have with our body size and shape, conforming to social norms through standardised dress sizes. We readily slip into acceptance of these standards then we question and modify our own bodies (with ‘shape-wear’, diets etc.) when we find it doesn’t conform to current ever-changing fashion trends.
Invite for my first public show since the early 1980s.
“My work for this exhibition has evolved from a series of drawings and paintings of the female torso. This led me to explore women’s relationships with our own body and how this is affected by personal and public critique. My aim is to provoke thought and question issues related to identity, gender and sexuality – interwoven with my own curiosity, ideas and experiences.”