internal conflict in the studio

Last week Quinn McDonald published The Pull of Inner Critic and Inner Hero and it really got me thinking.   I’ve known for some time that my strengths are also a kind of curse: I guess if you build a strong fortress, then when you are under siege you’re a prisoner in a jail of your own making.

It took a long time to realise that my being a ‘mucker’ (my uncle’s nickname for me), always exploring and trying new things, never settling on anything for long, made me incredibly versatile.   It took time too to realise that being a Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none wasn’t as demeaning as it sounds, because that reframes as being versatile as well.  These dubious titles led to me developing the belief that if someone else can do whatever, the chances are I can.

So this versatility, this confidence that I can do just about anything I want, how is that a curse?  It’s a curse because I want to do everything and I want to do it now and I want to do it perfectly!  And no surprises, that plan just isn’t working out well!

That aspect of my versatile Inner Hero that says “Of course you can!” is countered by the damnable  Inner Critic who provides a smorgasbord of possibilities and as a consequence I’m stunned like a possum in a cars headlights.

Wendy @ Late Start Studio

Tammy Garcia once wrote ‘much better to start late than never begin at all’ which eventually gave me the blog name, Late Start Studio.  And yes, I’m starting late, and I know I don’t have to catch up I just have to start but oh, I want to catch up!  And I want to be a master of something!   But what?    Here I am, stunned, frozen, telling myself “just to something!”  Anything!  Just pick something and DO IT!  But one day I make some crazy stuffed creature, or a little soft sculpture, or paint a page in my journal, make another stencil or stamp or pencil-case or . . . you get the picture.

Versatile Inner Hero on one hand, Inner Critic spilling out all the options like the contents of a suitcase on the other.    I guess I’ll just have to settle for being a Master Mucker!

Those who wait for every little thing to be perfect before they embark on a project or who dislike the compromise of a partial solution are among the least happy.  Ideal circumstances are seldom given to anyone for an undertaking.

Deng Ming-Dao: 365 Daily Meditations, p.295

Quinn McDonald’s guest!

I started my blog relatively recently however the people who have been the most encouraging have been at it for considerably longer and have a clear purpose.   I’m still looking for mine . . . here with this blog and life in general.

One of the blogs I visit regularly is that of Quinn McDonald.  The people who comment regularly give almost as many thought-provoking contributions as the posts themselves and appear to be a cross-section of people, all of whom seem to want to live more satisfying and creative lives.    My contributions are sometimes stream of consciousness rants and when Quinn suggested one as a guest post I was extremely flattered and, rather than procrastinate about it, the next time I had something to rabbit on about I sent it through to her.   I was thinking about all the poor choices I do, all the automatic, thoughtless habits, that stop me from doing and being the best me I can.  You can read it here or go to Quinn’s blog and read it there . . . I believe in giving choices.

Dirty Little Addictions

Yes, most of us have them and from time to time they get out of hand.  I have one: I knew of it’s existence before partaking but eventually a personal introduction was made by a friend, well it was more like the way a new convert would be indoctrinated into a cult and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  At first it was harmless and I thought I had full control, no one, not even me, was being hurt.  Now?  I can’t quite say the same.  The effect of this energy sapping, mind numbing (most addictions are), debilitating and dirty little addiction is that I am wasting my time, time I can never recover.

Because I have had a month off work and don’t need to clear my mind of rubbish by putting even more in its place (how pointless is that!) I am noticing how much precious time this compulsion robbing away from me.

I’ve tried to ration when I allow myself to indulge but to no avail.  Do I need to go cold turkey?  Is that even possible?  Do I need to find myself a 12-step programme and work through it?    I joke that I have oodles of willpower but next to no won’t-power.  Not funny.  I have to come up with a plan whereby I am accountable for what is wasted on this dirty little secret of mine.

Perhaps some kind soul would come and wave a big stick around, threaten, cajole, encourage by turns.  That might be a fine plan but will hardly empower me to make my own decisions, live my own life.  There’s only one thing for it . . . do it myself.  I got myself into this mess and I know I have lots of company but small comfort that is!

I don’t need to tell you what it is; you might try and experience the initial thrill of it for yourself and so it’s better you remain ignorant.  No, I need to ‘fess up to myself, put on my big girl knickers and get on with living! First SpreadRemember, “Each day passes whether you participate or not,” Deng Min Dao, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations.

in search of a hero

Warning, the inner critic causes the use of mild expletives.  You see I have a copy of Quinn McDonald‘s new book The Inner Hero Creative Journal: Mixed Media Messages to Silence Your Inner Critic and I’m working my way through it.  As a first step I let the IC out so we could get acquainted.  If you take a look at the very generous preview on Amazon you’ll see what I mean.  Not that I purchased the book from them . . . Book Depository is a far cheaper option for me, or even Fishpond.

But I digress.  What I wanted to tell you is that, while I knew the IC is really negative and does not hesitate to criticise me, undermine my confidence and reinforce any little hesitation on my part so that it overwhelms me to the point of inertia, I did not realise what an utter bitch it is when challenged!  So if or when you delve into this wonderful publication, be prepared!  Even my digression about book suppliers started a minor skirmish.  “You can’t stick at anything for long can you!”   These criticisms are always said as a statement of fact, they are not posed as questions.

So yes, an utter bitch and there’ll be more on the gendering of insults and compliments at a later date . . . I have made a note.  If I start in on that particular rant now I’ll get it in the ear again.  I will let you know up front however, I bought my copy of the book, I am not being paid to review it in fact I haven’t read it all yet, oh, and I do follow Quinn’s blog . . . I start my day with a coffee and Quinn in bed . . . just the coffee, not Quinn.  It’s not just her posts that are great, the community of people who comment is marvellous.

This fiendish IC seems to not only carry all the negativity and criticism that I grew up with but has some very tricky and slightly more benign company.  Yes!  There are two of the little buggers!  Do I need to point out that ‘bugger’ is not considered swearing here in New Zealand or in Australia?  Check out this ad, there were several of them over the years and although there were complaints to the NZ Broadcasting Authority but they weren’t upheld.   In fact to call someone a bit of a silly bugger is almost affectionate (mental note, write a post about NZ colloquial language) but I have no affection at all for these two.

IC #1.  You would be amazed at what this guy says to me . . . I’m not sure of its gender but I think of it as male, a great ugly, sticky, black cloud of a fellow who is now out on his own trying to fend off my attack.  What does he say you ask?  Well, as the mouthpiece of all the historical criticism,  both real and perceived (my reality Pete if your reading this) he seems to spurt an almost constant stream of verbal diarrhea aimed squarely at my self-esteem.  I’m thinking that I must have a healthy self-esteem or he wouldn’t shout so bloody much!

The tone of his barbed comments is rather predictable.  They’re barbed like fish hooks that stick in to you and can only be removed with some pain but oh the relief when you get them out!  The comments, similar to the one above, are all about how I’m unlovable, undeserving, unworthy, inconsistent and ill-disciplined, just a jack of all trades and have no originality.  What utter garbage!  But of course now that I’m on to him and challenging at every turn he thinks it time to step up the volume.

Want to know what I do?  I laugh!  And say “Yeah, right!” in a very Kiwi way.  No, not the fruit, they’re actually kiwifruit, I’m a Kiwi and a kiwi is the bird.  See IC, my digressions are f-u-n-n-y!  How do you write a word so the reader says in s-l-o-w-l-y? As if to someone having trouble understanding but in this case, loaded with sarcasm.  I can give as good as I get!

I’ve also reframed some of the comments over the years: jack of all trades is now versatile and flexible in my thinking.

IC #2.  Now this character was harder to isolate because it had a purpose but then went rogue on me.  This one is probably feminine but very, very sneaky now because she doesn’t want to be uprooted.  Mind you if she could join up with an Inner Hero (they get the courtesy of full title), she might just go back to her role of cautionary protector and get something of a reprieve.  You see I think this one tried to stop me exposing myself to criticism but very quickly became the perfect squelch to creativity and originality, to taking risks.  Yeah, Squelch is a good name . . . slimy little character.

Ah!  I feel stronger already!  Expose the enemy and highlight their flaws for a change!  IC #1 has absolutely no sense of humour which it why laughing works for now . . . no doubt he’ll disguise his bitchy self but for now, I have the nasty little bugger cornered!  And IC #2 is just a timorous wee beastie.

I have a Warrior Inner Hero who stands up for the misunderstood, the marginalised, the frail and the less fortunate, and now she has armour on and is standing up for me!  Happy hunting Warrior Woman!

Want a pretty picture?   Here you are. I found this piece of driftwood, shaped like a pregnant belly on the beach a while back and it really needed the stud in its navel.IMG_2366

a BFO strikes again!

I was aware of an earlier BFO (a Blinding Flash of the Obvious) being brought to my attention once more – it was around a line in a meditation that went ‘each day passes whether you participate or not’, Deng Min-Dao, 365 Meditations.

Let me tell you, I think far too much.  Sometimes I write just to see where it will lead me and it helps to quiet everything down.  You see I’m an ideas person my mid is constantly in top gear and I like this about myself.  My ideas are often creative approaches to problem solving or for unusual projects – I have far more ideas than I can possibly carry out.  Or could I?  That’s the thing, that perhaps I could and just don’t because of why?  Because of fear?  Of what?  Of my own criticism?  That it won’t be perfect?  That because it may not be ‘useful’ it is of no use?  These questions plague me, they stymie me and stay me from action on all but the simplest of projects – the ones I know I can do immediately or in one sitting.  I need to break out and try something completely new.  Completely new.

I have an idea of how I would like my life to be.  There I am in my house, light, open, airy, spacious rooms suited to their purpose.  Not making do and wanting something better, it’s simple and well planned.  Sunshine, a garden with flowers and vegetables, trees for shade.  Or rain beating on the roof, the wind howling outside, a cosy fire and music.

And what am I doing in this environment?  I’m . . . I cannot quite see what I’m doing.  I think I’d like to be making, creating, painting, sewing . . . all for pleasure.  But there you go, I’m not certain what I want to be doing.  I know I’d be gardening, talking and eating with friends, relaxing and reading, but with hands busy making things in a workshop/studio that spills over into the rest of the house which sounds pretty much what happens now because the ‘studio’ is more of a large cupboard for storage.  But if I’m too scared to start doing what I think I’d like to be doing, and don’t really know what it is anyway what hope is there for me?  I don’t want to grow old with too many regrets and I’m afraid that if I don’t start now I will – but I do believe I have started by just confronting the issue.  One thing I do know is that I won’t be doing one thing – I’d get bored . . . I think.

Is that what those dreams are about, where I am using my last ounce of strength to save myself and knowing I should care more for myself so I’ll be stronger?  Where I know that I am entering last-chance territory?   You know the dreams, out there on the rocks, the tide is coming in, have to get back to shore.

To continue I need to look at what I have and think about William Glasser’s three Choice Theory/Reality Therapy questions.

  1.  What do I want?
  2. What am I doing to get it?
  3. Is it working?

I need to make a plan – and I do not need to get everything done and dusted, completed, out of the way (of what you might ask), to make all perfect before I start because if I start all will be perfect, unpredictably perfect.  I need to not wait until I have a definitive answer to question 1.

All those photos that need to be sorted, that ephemera from my travels including the 110+ boarding passes, the family photos and family tree – they can be part of it.

I can work out what I cannot move on without doing (finish painting the laundry and bathroom for a start).  Do it and move on simultaneously – the rest can wait or go.  Moving on fearfully is better than staying stuck.  Oh, that’s a BFO!

Dream the I’m possible dream.   Trite but true.

nailing my colours to the mast

toi toi

apropos of nothing – toi toi against a clear, cold winter’s sky.

Those of you who have followed my blog will know that I recently went back to work full-time after a few months of unemployment.   Having that gift of time on my hands, I began to rediscover play and although I have the attitude that it’s never too late, I was becoming daunted by all the fabulous work I saw on the web, often by people half my age.  I need to remember that they have begun by making it their life work whereas mine has been in education.

Yes, I’m one of the many who have looked too much and done too little and become overwhelmed in the process.  Two people who are very dear to me and who know me well, lovingly let me know that the big difference between the artist bloggers and me was, that they did and I didn’t – and they’re right.

While I know I have a creative streak, can be really inventive and have courage, I was starting to think how these artists whose work and writing I admired, had been at it for years, homing their skills and developing their own style – I felt I had little of either yet what I did do was admired by the few who ever saw it.  Logic and emotion were having a difference of opinion.  I was also aware that I was making this shift, this run at a deeper self-discovery, in my 60s.    Was it too late?  Again, head and heart, head and heart . . .

I talked to friends and family who helped remind me of all the skills I have, of all the times when creativity has erupted like a joyous bubble to save me in one way or another.  During lean times – Christmas presents bought from the proceeds of macramé dog leads, vinyl cowboy jackets, rag dolls, or painted plant pots and how I made a living for myself and my son by sewing for clients.  And again during times when I was depressed and the act of creating something lifted me, and my hopes for the future returned.

Yet still, spontaneity and creativity took back seats, being a parent and provider took over.  As a classroom teacher I still managed to inject some art into my life – it’s amazing how much of the curriculum can be taught to young children using art!  Out of the classroom now, I use intellectual creativity to help others problem-solve.  Unfortunately this is only enough to keep a small spark going.  I’ve been doubting my skills, talent, and I guess, myself – and feeling I will never get up to a standard that I know in my heart I’m capable of.   But I also know that if I don’t do anything, I will never achieve what I want.  I sometimes feel a bit like a voyeur in my own life – looking, but not doing.  Imprisoned by perfectionism!  Do you know that big one too?

After sinking into this fug, I’ve heard or read things that have caused me to take some action.  Some were in posts on favourite blogs, some were words of encouragement and support, words of understanding and words that jolted me awake – BFOs, Blinding Flashes of the Obvious.

As an example, one day I opened Daisy Yellow and there it was, the quote I use under the heading of my blog with Tammy Garcia’s blessing, “You don’t need to catch up, just start.”  It felt like ‘permission granted!’

I’ve not been in the habit of doing something until I was sure I could do it – and I knew that that perfectionist procrastination wasn’t going to get me where I want to be, so I challenged myself and started the blog just following instructions and working it out as I go along.   As a now recovering perfectionist, starting a blog before I knew how to set it up or what it’s purpose would be was a really big step – I can highly recommend learning as you go.

There must be so many men and women out there who have poured themselves into their work and families and forgotten how to play, who have squeezed their creativity into a small box to open later, only to find it rusted shut.  Or, like me, have used it in other ways, creatively solving problems and finding practical, yet creative ways to express myself.   Still, it’s a struggle to find my own style so I’m spending time working in the style of . . . as recommended by Jill Berry when Ricë Freeman-Zachary interviewed her.

I’m going to listen to more podcasts, and look at less images because words often spur me into action. And the podcasts I’ll listen to?  I’ll start with any of Ricë’s.   She made a podcast Tammy Garcia recently and I heard her say “ . . . if you set out to make it perfect then you’re not going to be satisfied with anything.”   Yes, another BFO.

I’m going to openly work in the style of the artists I admire, giving credit to them as I go, and then maybe, I’ll find my own.   So what if I don’t have so much time available?  If I really want this, to be able to say, even if only to myself, “I’m an artist” I’ll find time.

And I do believe I have now found the purpose of this blog, to share how one woman is striving to express herself freely, with child-like creativity, and to show that you do indeed just have to start – even if you’re a bit late.

There you have it.  Watch this space!

a significant change of pace

I have done nothing but day-job work all week, arriving home happily tired and usually with some professional reading.  I know it will settle down but in the meantime the poor bear didn’t get mended, very little of my grand-daughter’s cardigan got knitted and I didn’t open my little Moleskine all week, not to mention the brocade quilt!  I’ve been productive and busy so why give myself a hard time about it?  I know I am not Superwoman, don’t want to be Superwoman, never aspired to be superwoman, in fact the whole concept of a superwoman stinks!  Ah, I feel better now that I’ve given her a small ‘s’ which is all that particular friend of my inner critic deserves!

Starting work full-time after a year’s part-time work and 3 months of being unemployed has been quite a shift – albeit an energising and intellectually stimulating one.

With winter coming on I start each day with a 20 km drive through the countryside just after sunrise and reverse the trip at sundown – I don’t even mind the smell of the occasional truck full of sheep as they remind me of sheep being driven down the road past my father’s shop when I was a kid – I’m immediately transported back and can hear the sound of their feet on the macadam, the dogs barking.   Smells are so evocative aren’t they?

Monday and Friday, as I leave the beach behind for the week, I leave even earlier when it is still dark and arrive home with the sun just setting beyond the horizon of the sea.  There is something I find truly wonderful about leaving a sleeping town in the early hours of the morning – I love that sense of adventure and new beginnings that it engenders.

The day job.  I have absolutely wonderful colleagues – knowledgable, generous, hard-working, humourous, caring – and a job that requires us to be endlessly creative in how support people to solve the difficulties that face them each day.   I just love a challenge and think perhaps creative problem solving is my strength – I just wish I was as adept when it comes to my own!  Maybe I am . . . when you’re so close in, sometimes it’s hard to be both objective and yet free in your thinking.

On Friday (yes you North Americans, it’s a perfect, calm, sunny autumn Saturday morning here), I attended a day of strategic planning – more wonderful colleagues meeting up with a clear focus – and had some reading to do about goal setting to overcome the discrepancy between the current situation or conditions and what was desirable.  I came upon the words CONSTRUCTIVE DISCONTENT.  Fantastic descriptor don’t you think?

I’ve never considered discontent or criticism to be necessarily negative although many do – to me it’s simply a signal that change is needed.  The trouble is, when I read a phrase that resonates such as ‘constructive discontent’ it rambles around in my mind and I start thinking and thinking and thinking and . . . you know what I mean?  I need to DO something with this!

So while I haven’t been terribly creative in the evenings, my days are endlessly challenging and satisfying.  Lucky me!

Lucky me this morning too – a plunger (French press) of coffee, return to bed, laptop, favourite blogs, washing on, sunshine pouring in – and to top it off I have a fresh new copy of Cloth Paper Scissors that was delivered to my mailbox!!!

I’m one very happy woman!Walking to the beachAnd with this just 2 minutes from my front door?  Blessed in the extreme.  Of course life throws up challenges which I sometimes struggle to keep in proportion, but . . . life is so good.

Now, what to do, what to do. . . .?  The library have found a copy of Jill Berry’s Personal Geographies on interloan for me, my machine is calling, I want to call some friends and . . . I think I need more than just a weekend!

are you brave enough to be vulnerable?

Some people have the courage to be vulnerable while for others, they have to be brought to their knees first.

Looking back at the road from Tibet down into Nepal. While it wasn't really on this crazy angle, it was road works all the way.

I put my hand out the window and took this photo over the cliff into the mist below. Sometimes you just have to put your hand out, or up, and you don't know what you're going to get. A metaphor for life?

At the Voodoo Cafe earlier this week, Ricë Freeman-Zachery interviewed Jill Berry.  During the interview, Jill had some words of wisdom about the value of allowing yourself to be vulnerable – you learn that way.

Also this week, friend posted this link to Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability on Facebook – sorry, I don’t have the facility on this free version of WordPress to embed a video.

If you have ever suffered from self doubt or that inner critic, I urge you to watch – it’s 20:20 minutes long, wise and witty.  When you’ve watched please come back and leave a comment – let me know what resonates with you.  There was a bit 12:50 in that shook me – as well as many other a-ha moments.

Love and courage.

why a late start?

Truth to tell I started when I was just a kid mucking around – never able to settle on one thing, trying everything.  I could swing a hammer, use a drill and saw, and I sewed clothes for myself without a pattern from the age of about 10, my first commissioned drawing was from a boy in my class when I was 11 – it was a girl in an itsy bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini so I think it was my artistic skills that were the attraction!  And the subject matter of the drawing will tell you I’m in my 60s.

After reading Diana Trout’s March 14th, I thought I needed to say a little more about why Late Start Studio.

As I approach retirement and experience unemployment, temporary I trust, I have the opportunity to start again, to learn how to play again.  So here I am, living just a few houses from a beach, able to put some serious effort into learning how to play again – how to just muck around for the sheer creative joy of it and learn about life in the process.  Isn’t that what play is all about?  There must be millions of unremarkable remarkable women and men in the same position as me – I’m unique yes, but my situation isn’t.

Serious effort into play, serious play or playing seriously?  Either way it’s a challenge after a lifetime of working, making the most of creative opportunities as they arose however they were for practical purposes for the most part – to add to my single income and two kids to support, lifestyle.

Christmas presents were bought using the proceeds of little vinyl sheriff jackets, variations of the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls, painted terracotta pots, or beaded, macrame dog leads, the occasional dressmaking commission.  You get the picture – it had to pay for itself and I had to fit it in around teaching and parenting.  I had to be pragmatic.

In the meantime I’ve found my inner critic has been quietly gaining strength and needs constant redirecting or gagging.  My critic started off by thinking it was keeping me safe and then becoming to big for its britches and trying to take over!   What?  Just do it for you own pleasure?  Who do you think you are?  No-one will give a damn!  I will win – it’s a no-contest – there’s no question about that.

Now I have the opportunity to make, play, to just muck around again, so I carve pumice stone, make driftwood stamps, the occasional journal page, sew dress-ups and dresses for my grand-daughters, quilt, doodle, make MUKKA creatures, grow vegetables, walk the beach, and generally find there are not enough hours in the day.   Mucking around is to be recommended as an antidote for just about any emotional ailment.   Heartsick, lonely depressed, anxious?  Muck around – preferably with others!

Quite how I will manage when I get a full-time job I have no idea!   Perhaps I could find an anonymous benefactor to sumptuously support my lifestyle?