Hello, 2017

Hello! It’s been a little while since I have written here. I can’t tell you why, exactly. Maybe it’s that life has been busy. Maybe I have been conserving writing energy for other projects. Maybe I want to conserve words until I have something burning to tell you. There is a flood of words out there, on our screens, surrounding us and closing in on us. We can turn away, and turn them off. But I feel like, unless words mean something, and actually provide something – a smile, a warm feeling, worthwhile thought – I’ll let them ebb to the edges of my brain.

Home life is good. We have made our little sunshine house cosy, and full of exactly what we need. Nothing more. We have spent nearly every second night with friends or family, filling social cups and hearts with festive warmth.

I hope you too are having a happy, relaxing time.

As 2016 gently folds away, and a new year emerges, I’ve been thinking about what this year has brought me.

Time.

Having just moved to Europe, my paid work slowed in February. I momentarily panicked. But ends got met, somehow, and I realised how wonderful time could be. Time to hang out in English-style gardens, and read novels to my kids by the canal. Time to squander in ice-cream stores, or on long bike trips to flea markets. Time for my children to tell themselves stories, in their rooms or in the garden, without the structure of school hours. Time to get dressed in the mornings – hours, and hours, some mornings, until the day was almost gone.

Money is earned, but time is a gift. The Italians have the right idea. They get to work early, then close up shop by 12.30. They spend four hours eating, drinking and sleeping in the best part of the day, then do a little work in the afternoon and into the evening. The day swivels on time spent together, and soaking up life, rather than being industrious and busy.

What else has 2016 brought?

Flow

Between occasional frantic jaunts, looking for work, cultivating new work or developing would-be businesses, I spent empty hours writing, or drawing. I let myself write anything; in any form, and any length. I started several novels, for various age groups. I tried finishing one. I played with picture book manuscripts, and scribbled ideas.

For about a month, when my eldest was transitioning to sleeping alone, I sat beside her room, with a laptop. ‘Can you lie down with me?’ she’d ask at first. But we had a deal. I had to write her another story about two characters, Florence and Fox. When she woke up, we’d read the story.

‘Are you there?’ she’d called out. ‘I’m here,’ I replied, and tap-tap-tapped a new story for her.

The ritual was a discipline, in kind. Like this blog has been for me, over the years, my daughter’s requirements for new stories helped me write without inhibition. I felt like it opened up my writer’s voice. Words came easily, as I sunk into the characters’ world.

When I had a slice of time, I could have spent it scrolling through Facebook. But instead, I started a new chapter or a new story. May the flow be with me.

And what else?

Grey hairs.

Two, to be precise. And they aren’t sporadic, accidentally born bleached. They are persistent grey hairs. Because this was the year I got older and wiser. It was the longest time I’ve spent away from my parents, so maybe it was the catalyst I needed to finally become an adult.

In 2016, I dumped a box of trophies that have sat under my bed for years, because I no longer need stuff, and I no longer need plastic validation. I write, or do anything creative, because I love doing it. I work on something because I want it to be good, not be awarded. I’ll probably never grow out of that pleasurable rush that comes with receiving an award, or a compliment. But unlike my fourteen year old self, I’m not starting the new year with a wish to win an end of year academic prize.

I also stopped needing others so badly. Years of FOMO seeped away, and here I am at home, on a Friday night (while others are sharing pizza and end of year fuzzies). Happily.

A hang-over from boarding school, I’ve felt the need to be everywhere and with everyone. I have a lot of friends, and nurture each friendship. But this year, I spent time nurturing friendships that nurture me back. With grey hair comes deeper and richer friendship, or so it seems.

And so…

Look through Facebook, and you feel as if 2016 has been the year our idols died, and populism took over the world. But we humans are good at seeking patterns, and finding connections, and making stories. Each famous person who passed away added another notch in the supposedly weird year that was 2016. And yes, some very difficult stuff has gone on.

But I am not wishing this year away. Instead, I am keeping it wrapped up safe in an album of photos, on my mantle.

2016 has been a year of growth for me. It’s been a year of excitement. Depth. Exploration. Experience. Productivity. Time. Pleasure.

And what will 2017 bring? Let’s turn the page, and find out, shall we?

Creative Spaces

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I’m not sure if it was the labour itself, or perhaps the new event of being forced to sit, with little to do for long periods of time, but when I became a mother, I had a new, insatiable creative itch. Stories, ideas, thoughts, concepts, images swam through my mind. I longed to take a net, and capture them.

But between wrapping a baby, carrying a baby, feeding a baby, walking a baby around the town, and rocking a baby to sleep, it seemed I had little to no opportunity to cast a creative net. It was frustrating, because the pool seemed so deep, yet so alive with life. All I needed was five minutes – an hour, to reach in, and catch what I needed.

Around that time, my great and amazing friend Fritha was starting her journey as a life coach, and was looking for someone to test her new skills with. My arm, tired from carrying child, shot into the air, as if coffee hung from a cloud above.

One hour chat with Fritha changed everything. The first thing was identifying what I really wanted. Was it to amble around the lake, admiring the fish? No. It was to lower the net, and start making something happen.

What was stopping me? So much, I asserted. A baby. And all her many needs. I have absolutely no time.

She encouraged me to look at my week, not as a whole, but in fractions.

‘So, when are you having these creative thoughts?’ she asked.

‘Walking the pram.’

‘How often is that, would you say?’

‘Most days. Twenty minutes to town and back.’

‘OK. So that’s seven days. Forty minutes. So at minimum, you are spending two-hundred and eighty minutes being creative a week?’

It sounded like a lot. But it was true. I started to get excited. Where else were these creative pockets?

Hanging clothes. Washing up. Rocking baby to sleep in the dark. The creative minutes piled up before me.

‘And what time does Baby go to sleep at night?’

‘Around seven.’

‘Then?’

Then… well, exactly. Then. Then my creative life really began. All those thoughts accumulated through the day, baskets of creative fish writhing and alive, were waiting. And all I had to do was open my computer, and let them free.

It was a wonderful feeling.

I discovered blogging around that time. I blogged most nights. Not because I felt I had to. Simply because I had to. The need was irrepressible. My husband kindly washed dishes while I wrote short stories and posts. The accumulative effect of being creative was like a snowball, ever growing the more I rolled.

In recent years, I haven’t had a structured nine-to-five job. My work day has been broken over many hours and days, a week fragmented into slices of parenting and shards of work. I worked when I could, and parented around work. But thanks to my early conversations with Fritha, creativity was never far from hand.

I’d sit down to work, and before launching into a project, would quickly tap out a blog post that had been burning within. Between dishes and folding the washing, I squeezed out a status update. Or maybe jotted down the outline of a picture book. Creative ideas were everywhere, as long as I was looking.

As busy as we were, technically, my week was bursting to the seams with creative space.

The richest space of all, ironically, came from what was otherwise the hardest hour of my day.

As a constant do-er, I found lying down with my kids to help them sleep initially lovely and wonderful, but later challenging, the longer it took. Some nights, lying beside my eldest, waiting an hour and a half for the wiggles to cease seemed like a small torture, as lovely as she is. I longed to get on with my night.

But then I let my mind sink into a creative space. The richest, deepest most wonderful creative lake there was in my week. Stories formed, almost in tact. Blog posts too. Entrepreneurial ideas I felt convinced would change the world. My subconscious was in overdrive and having the time of its life.

And as soon as the child’s arms finally became heavy, I lifted them off, and turned my thoughts into words on a page.

My life as a parent is never static. Nor is my husband and my work schedules. Things are forever changing, particularly this year, as we travel Europe with two small children, and no official address, taking life as it comes.

My creative spaces are sometimes elusive, and harder to find. Lately, they’ve appeared in the swimming pool, in the forest, running through the gardens and at seven in the morning, when I am the only one in the house awake.

The important thing about catching fish though is to do it. If I harness that creativity when its there, it grows.

Where are your creative spaces in the week? 

Here’s what I know…

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Here’s what I know…

I hadn’t lain next to my six-year-old for a long time, because this is the year she became a Big Girl, and learnt to take herself to bed. Beside me, she whispers stories to herself. Urgent. Animated. Dialogue rapid and varied, as she swings between characters. Her narrator voice, too, is strong.
‘Go to sleep,’ I urge. ‘School tomorrow.’
But, she carries on, without a pause. Suddenly, she stops. Then I realise. She was telling herself a story to help herself sleep. The girl who never easily slept. Who feared sleep – dreaded sleep, because it took so long to arrive. The girl who learnt to whisper stories that form into dreams.

Here’s what I know…

A littler girl, my three-year-old, spends ten or so minutes getting dressed. She needs long socks. But the right kind of long. She needs big shoes. But black, and bigger. She needs sticking-out plaits, nothing less than horizontal. I do my best to meet her Pippi requirements.
‘Annika,’ she asks her big sister through the day, ‘does Pippi like bananas?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi eats a banana.

‘Annika, does Pippi like riding bikes?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi rides a bike.
‘Annika, does Pippi like broccoli?’
‘Yes,’ says Annika. So Pippi eats broccoli, and I smile over the top of my three-year-old’s head at ‘Annika’. Thank you, I say with my eyes, and she nods in an understanding way.

Here’s what I know…

While Gregor paints houses, I relax into days with my kids. I am soaking up time with them while I have them. Before my eldest is at school full time, and while my youngest is still at home. I literally can’t get enough of them.
Today, though, one is at a birthday party, and the other is at school. I have been at home since 8.30 writing. It is now nearly 7pm. I took a break for lunch, and a run, and now a blog. But those hours have been time enough to lose myself in a new manuscript.
I have always written, and studied a little bit of creative writing at university. Yet I still feel like such a novice. So I have been reading books about writing, critically reading every children’s book I can, attending workshops and doing online courses. There is still so much more I need to know, but even reading manuscripts I worked on a few weeks ago, I realise how much I am learning. And need to learn.
In the last three weeks, I’ve started three different manuscripts. I get so lost in each one, plot, characters and story forms, then a new voice leaps into my head while I am riding my bike, and a whole new outline starts to emerge. I am sticking to the one I am working on today, though, until it’s finished. The story is captivating enough to keep me going. I love the characters. A boy who talks to his resident tortoise, the only one in his life who truly understands him. A mother who blindly follows her criminal husband. A little girl, who blindly follows her new friend, knowing that everything will work out in the end.
Words drip and drip and drip, and it’s such a 
pleasure to write. My daughter needs stories to sleep. I need stories to fill my day.

But maybe we all do.

The uncurling, unfurling of Spring

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Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations. It is not much matter if things do not turn out well. ~ Charles Dudley Warner

I didn’t know this until yesterday, but the first day of Spring here is not the first of the month. It’s actually the 21st. I guess it’s the equinox.

Purple crocuses and yellow daffodils bloom along sidewalks. Children play among the snowdrops in the forest, pulling them out in handfuls, and stuffing their pockets with droopy white flowers and dirty bulbs. The sky occasionally breaks into fits of laughter ~ blue streaks of happiness as it wakes from winter.

Hello, Spring.

I spent the first day of Spring in Amsterdam with my friend. We share a love of second-hand dresses, so inevitably ended up at the Jordaan markets, trawling for vintage wear in piles. I have never had so much vintage to trawl through. It was intoxicating.

A day of shopping and drinking by the canals was very humanifying, if there’s such a word. Humanity making? Or maybe, I mean something more like: adult-ifying. I love my children, and cherish their company. But occasionally, stepping out to walk narrow streets, to talk adult talk, and shop at will is a very nice thing to do.

I felt like such an adult and such a human, that today, I wore one of said vintage dresses and a vintage hat, got on a bicycle and rode into Utrecht to meet another creative lady. We spent an hour or so at a women’s prison (EX-women’s prison, of all places), doing creative things, and then cycled home.

As the crocuses unfurl purple petals to meet the occasional sun, so do I. And I do it on a bicycle, in a dress, because I am not a crocus. I am a lady. And I am starting to make deeper connections, and feel more independent, and more confident in a different country. And it’s exciting.

For the last few nights, I’ve lain awake at 3am composing blog posts or stories or something. Don’t worry about work, I don’t even need to tell myself. Enjoy these precious moments. And the blog posts, and the stories unfurl like the crocuses.

While you, many of my Australian friends, put on the soup, and start filling the larder for the winter, we in the northern hemisphere are Springing. I am planning new things. Making new things. Starting new things.

What’s unfurling in your world?

Running from insecurity

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A few things happened this week.

On Monday, we flew back to the Netherlands with a little girl who had a temperature. She lay in bed for twelve or more hours, listening to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and generally feeling horrible.

A day later, the other little girl lay in bed, waking up every couple of hours to vomit. I sat next to her writing, and building a website for a new writing business.

When not look after sickly children, I ran through the forest, and around the forest. Running, I felt good. My mood lifted and inspiring thoughts flooded my mind.

I think I was trying to run something off. An icky feeling. It wasn’t a temperature, and it wasn’t a vomit bug. It was a sort of… insecurity… bred from being out of my comfort zone, living in a foreign country. Bred also from lack of consistent work, and a general vague feeling of uncertainty.

I wrote last week about self-doubt, and how self-doubt is a regular friend of mine. I think, in truth, this self-doubt, and ongoing insecurity has been manifesting since my book came out last year.

And it’s not that the book hasn’t done well. It has. It was well-reviewed, and I have received so many lovely messages about it. I know that mostly people who buy the book like it, and that’s such a lovely feeling.

But there is an unexpected feeling that comes with sending a book, or any major creative project into the world.

It’s like everything you’ve been working towards, and dreaming about has happened, and… life goes on.

As you know, I made as big a song and dance about my book launch as possible. I tried to avoid the feeling of a slow fizzle by making my own bang. But the month of the book launch took a lot out of me, and I definitely experienced a comedown, coming home to a quiet little sunshine house.

I filled the gap with new manuscripts, booking tickets for overseas and a fantasy search for real estate in rural north coast. But the vague feeling lingered.

Earlier in the week, I read an article by my bloggy friend, Jodi Gibson on Huff Post about the other side of living your passions. Life goes on, Jodi says. Kids still fight. Laundry still piles up. Nothing major changes internally or externally. Yes you are living your dreams, but that doesn’t necessarily make you feel different.

I chatted over email with a friend about this recently. She too has a book out, and hers has done really, really well. And yet…that insecurity chases her too.

Is this the payoff for living a creative life?

The trouble with insecurity is that it seeps into other corners of my life. In school, I worried so much about whether people liked me or not. It’s something I grew out of, on the whole, feeling confident and secure in my adult friendships. Taking things less personally if a slight does occur. Having more perspective.

When generalised book insecurity seeps in, though, I start doubting all aspects of myself. Suddenly, I am reading too much into Facebook interactions, or lack of. I am suddenly worried when a person or two drops off my author page in search of better things. Have I said something wrong?

I leap out of bed every morning to consult my email, because news comes in from Australia overnight, and if I am going to get an exciting, newsy email it will be in the morning. When my inbox is quiet, I am trawling Facebook, looking for something to feel that particular gap.

Life is funny, isn’t it? I am living overseas. Living a sunshine gypsy dream, and here I am complaining about things; running around forests in a hope to run away from myself.

In the last few days, I have been building a website for a copywriting business. I told my friend about it, and I told her her about my insecurities.

‘Build your website. Put it out there. Act. God’s Dumb Waiters,’ she said.

God’s Dumb Waiters.  Standing around you are people holding the things you need to make the next move. They can’t hear you though. They don’t know what you want until you get up, and start moving around. They don’t know what you want until you act.

Running around the forest is one solution. Getting on with it, putting insecurity and doubt aside is another. Launch that website. Submit that manuscript. Enjoy the time you’ve got here, not working. Make the most of every second. Be grateful. And act.

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