Durban, Cape Town, milestones and coming full-circle

A quick interruption of my Stories & Resources series to fill you guys in on what’s happening…

Warning:  Long post.  Lots of photos (’cause there’s so much to catch up on!!)…

The past couple of weeks have been cray-ZEE!!

The crowdfunding campaign… and the fundraising efforts (for my book) devoured significant amounts of time and effort… (and was an especially emotionally draining experience for an introvert… who hates asking for things).

At the very last minute (in true Hat-style)… we decided to pull together a teeny little story-telling evening & show… as our last ditched attempt to raise the needed funds.  I LOVE doing this kind of thing… BUT… (note-to-self)… I get super-stressed if I try to pull everything together on tight-deadlines.  (Even with the help of super-woman-Tracy).  So… we did it… and it was fun… but I was kinda worn-out afterwards.  Here’s pics:

Rehearsing with my 3 fabulous vocalists:  Megan, Christie & Candace... lovely peeps!

Rehearsing with my 3 fabulous vocalists: Megan, Christie & Candace… lovely peeps!

The Storytelling Chair - all ready for the evening's happenings...

The Storytelling Chair – all ready for the evening’s happenings…

And... on the night....  (if I had been more PREPARED and given myself more TIME - we would have included more music!  3 songs weren't enough)...

And… on the night…. (if I had been more PREPARED and given myself more TIME – we would have included more music! 3 songs weren’t enough)…

After that… (and all kinds of other last-minute faffing)… we drove down to Durban for DIFF (Durban International Film Festival).  For those who are newish to this blog – my husband is a filmmaker (mostly editor these days – but he’s also a cinematographer)… and he had two films premiering at DIFF.

We decided to make a family road-trip out of the occasion and took a slow drive to Durbs via the Natal Midlands.  Here’s some pics:

Midlands was cold... and beautiful.  All farmlands, winding roads, farm stalls, lakes, streams... and mist.

Midlands was cold… and beautiful. All farmlands, winding roads, farm stalls, lakes, streams… and mist.

We stayed in this little cottage.

We stayed in this little cottage.

At night, we'd light a fire... drink hot chocolate... and play games or watch movies.

At night, we’d light a fire… drink hot chocolate… and play games or watch movies.

The kids exploring some of the misty forests...

The kids exploring some of the misty forests…

There's a lovely place called Piggly Wiggly... fantastic food by roaring fires... and all kinds of tasteful little craft shops and what-not...

There’s a lovely place called Piggly Wiggly… fantastic food by roaring fires… and all kinds of tasteful little craft shops and what-not… (and good cappuccino!)

We revisited the awe-inspiring sculpture at the Nelson Mandela capture site (always a great history-lesson opportunity)...

We revisited the awe-inspiring sculpture at the Nelson Mandela capture site (always a great history-lesson opportunity)…

Anyhoo…

So – we spent 4 days roaming the Midlands – and I had all these well-intentioned plans to find a quiet little spot and work on my book… (I had lugged ALL my art supplies with me, after all)… but it just never happened.

So I thought:  “Never mind, I’ll get some work done while we’re in Durban”.

But, of course, in Durban…. there were film-festival premieres… visits and dinners with Durban-based family… catch-up chats with film-industry friends… and, of course, giving the kids the whole Durban-Experience (beach, sea, uShaka water park, aquarium, Minitown, People’s Park Playground, etc…)

Happy kidlets on Durban beach...

Happy kidlets on Durban beach…

My kids and the big snake at uShaka Marine World...

My kids and the big snake at uShaka Marine World…

And… so…

Inevitably…

My productivity-levels (despite all my plans and intentions) were… well… embarrassingly low.

I managed one full morning of work (while Nick took the kids to the beach).  I set up all my art stuff in a lovely courtyard at our hotel… (surrounded by bonsai trees and birds with a little fountain trickling nearby… blisssss….) and I drew for a solid 4 hours.

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Later that afternoon, I managed to get in another 2 hours of poetry-writing in our hotel room while Morgan napped on the bed… (and Nick and Joah played games in the kids’ room).

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Back home in Jozi a week later… it was full-steam ahead to prepare for a big Mad Hatter’s Tea-Party charity event at a private school (where I had been invited as a guest speaker).  Again… in true last-minute-11th-hour-style… it dawned on me… just 2 days before the event that Tracy and I had nothing to *give* people.  No connection point… no information… no books to sell… no give-aways… no business cards… no flyers… nothing.

So I spent a full day… fiddling on an illustrated masterpiece fold-out thingy… all hand-drawn… with intricate, fiddly little drawings and poems…

… only to discover that it would have been hideously expensive to print (and we had no time to print it either)…

So – Tracy and I ended up printing 350 really boring flyers from our deskjets… folding them… and sticking heart stickers on them… (lame-o!).

The event itself was fun, though… 350 women-in-mad-hats… about 35 beautifully decorated Hat-themed tables… and lots of money raised for the school charity.  (I was soooo impressed by the effort these ladies went to!)  Here’s a pic:

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And after the Mad-Hat event… (no rest for the wicked, huh?)… we were packing up and preparing for 5 weeks in Cape Town… which is where we are, right now.

We made a road-trip out of this journey too… and travelled via the West Coast to see the Namaqualand Spring flowers.  The West Coast route is definitely the road-less-travelled when it comes to getting from Johannesburg to Cape Town.  And, I must say – we’ve all fallen in love with the route.

There are all kinds of really strange little small towns on the way.  With odd padstals (road-stores or, rather, farmstalls)… usually selling yummy things… and really random, rusty displays of odd’ness.  Here’s pics:

This farm-stall lives in a converted old church.  We drank moer koffie and quaffed nat biskuit... and VERY divine vetkoek (traditional Afrikaans food for the international readers of this blog).

This farm-stall lives in a converted old church. We drank moer koffie and quaffed nat biskuit… and VERY divine vetkoek (traditional Afrikaans food for the international readers of this blog).

The "display" in front of the padstal... I wonder - did that old car crash into the wall many years ago and was never removed?  Or was it placed there deliberately - to make a special art installation??

The “display” in front of the padstal… I wonder – did that old car crash into the wall many years ago and was never removed? Or was it placed there deliberately – to make a special art installation??

Moer koffie... (I am struggling to find an appropriate English word that directly translates the word "moer")... (koffie - is - of course - coffee)...  and nat biskuit (the direct translation would sorta be *wet biscuits*... but it's actually a freshly baked, unhardened traditional sweet rusk).  Very yum.

Moer koffie… (I am struggling to find an appropriate English word that directly translates the word “moer”)… (koffie – is – of course – coffee)… and nat biskuit (the direct translation would sorta be *wet biscuits*… but it’s actually a freshly baked, unhardened traditional sweet rusk). Very yum.

This is where we had breakfast on Day Two.  This place was a sight to behold.  They even had rusted old bedpans dangling from the ceiling.

This is where we had breakfast on Day Two. This place was a sight to behold. They even had rusted old bedpans dangling from the broekie-lace.

Lots and LOTS of rusted plates nailed to the wall of this farmstall....

Lots and LOTS of rusted plates nailed to the wall of this farmstall….

We stayed in two randomly-chosen BnB’s on the way.

The first was a place with a lovely view… BUT… (and we only found out later)… our allocated room was full of dead animals.  Clearly the owner is a hunting fanatic.  Various antelope skins draped all over the room (we counted 8 dead animals)… including skinned scatter cushions… and the piece-d-resistance… a stuffed Gemsbok head mounted on the wall.  We called him Horace-the-Head and his beady eyes seemed to ominously follow our movements around the room.  Morgan eventually shifted her sleeping position so she faced the opposite side of the room… so unnerved was she by Horace.

But… like I say… they did have a beautiful view (and one of those rim-pools… which was too cold to swim in):

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The following day – we drove through some of the most fascinating and diverse landscape that I’ve ever clapped eyes on.  Desert… fynbos… salt-pans… big, black boulders stacked in clumps (resembling the poo of a 4-storey sheep)…

Our good friend and road-trip-buddy, Brett (who is also the author of Rachel Weeping and the director of the film, Sink that Nick is currently working on) kept us all entertained with rude stories… and fattened-up with ginger biscuits from the tannie at one of the padstals.

We also occasionally stopped our cars to photograph Brett doing random things like roam the desert wearing his favourite Masai scarf.  Like this:

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Funs.

Anyhoo… so after all that dry, desert-ish landscape… we reached a mountain pass that zigzagged down into a beautiful valley….

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And from then on… it was just spring-flowers and all kinds of Namaqualand / West Coast awesomeness…

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By the time we reached the coastal towns – it was getting dark and we tried to find a place to stay.  Only to discover… *sigh*… we had made the mistake of road-tripping to Cape Town on a long-*@$!-weekend… which meant that ALL the accommodation at ALL the beautiful West-Coast towns were fully-booked with Cape Town families enjoying their mini-breaks!

Eventually… at around 9pm… we checked into the ONLY place we could find:  a tiny hotel in Velddrif… tucked between the butchery and the fish factory.  I can not begin to adequately describe the pungent fumes that assaulted my nostrils that evening.  I retched in the car while Nick checked us in.  I retched some more while unpacking… and finally – we were in the room… and we could close all the doors and windows and breathe in the air-conditioner instead.

At least the beds were comfy.

Although nobody could poo in private because the bathroom didn’t have a door.


But now, we’re in Cape Town.  Noordhoek, to be exact.  We’ll be here for a month.  Maybe a bit longer.

We’re in a lovely 2-bedroom apartment just a few steps from the beach.   Here’s our view:

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I’d like to carry on with this post and tell you more about Cape Town… why we’re here… WHY this is a huge milestone moment for me… WHY this is one of those full-circle life-experience thingies… exactly where I’m at with the book…

But – this super-long-winded blog post has gotten a bit out of hand….  (sorry!)…I’ll fill you in about all that in a separate post…  X


PS:  For anyone wanting newsletter updates (although I make a bit of mouth-vomit when I use the term “newsletter” because it sounds so dull and corporate-like) on Hat-Happenings… or the process of my illustrated-book and what-not… just click here!

Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #3

For those who are new to what I’m doing with this cluster of “Hat’s Story” posts…  first read this – and then this.

Okay – moving on, cheesecakes….

This SECOND Hat Story (& resource) post is about changing direction:

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Some tough questions and issues I needed to address after shutting down COPS
  • My burdensome issues with low self-esteem, body-shaming and binge-eating (and what affect they had on the direction my life had taken)
  • Redefining “success”
  • Permission to DREAM
  • My Change List
  • Art Journals and how they can help you figure stuff out (plus photos of mine and tips on how to make your own)

CHANGING DIRECTION…

After I had shut down COPS Creative Corporation, I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

“What now?”, I asked myself.  “Where to from here?”

Those weren’t simple questions to answer.

I knew what I didn’t want out of life.  I didn’t want to settle for *survival* any more.  I didn’t want *normal* any more.

I also knew that I wasn’t meant for a routine of sameness, money-management, corporate-schmoozing or office admin… but I wasn’t sure what I should be doing.  I knew that suburban-life, soap-operas and shopping-malls weren’t for me either… but I couldn’t imagine an alternative.

I mean… what else was there – apart from the *normal* way….?

_Normality is a paved road.It's comfortable

To complicate matters, my self-esteem was at an all-time low.  Many factors contributed to this (I could easily write a book about it all)… but, in a nutshell… I was miserable, unhealthy and oozing shame and self-loathing.

I weighed 131 kilograms (288 lbs) and had gotten into the habit of escaping my office daily… to binge on double-cheeseburgers, packets of chips and slabs of chocolate.

Food was my drug… a numbing mechanism of sorts.  But also… a way to hide.

People don’t really *see* you when you’re really fat.

I remember saying to Nick:  “People judge this book by it’s cover – long before the pages inside have been read”.

Anyone who has struggled with obesity and food addiction will know what I mean by that.  When you’re fat – people tend to see the *fatness*… before they see you.  You are, in a sense, defined by your fatness.   I felt at my most invisible – when I weighed 131 kilograms.

(This – by the way – remains a sore point for me and one of the things that frustrates me most about the way our society is wired.  It’s also the reason why I try to *see* people for who they ARE – rather than judge them by what they look like on the outside)

Ironically… at the time… a large part of me wanted to hide.

I was filled with so much shame and self-loathing that it felt – in a sense – safer NOT to be seen.  There was this weird tug-of-war happening inside my head.  Deep down, a part of me longed to be *seen* and *heard* and *got*… but that yearning was usually always overwhelmed and shoved out of the way by a deep sense of shame and embarrassment.

And so… I blended into the background like the proverbial wallflower.  I slunk along the sidelines… in the shadows.  I didn’t speak up or voice my opinion.  I wore black, baggy clothes.  “Hide” clothes.  My hair was tied up in a messy top-knot.  My shoulders – slouched.  Eyes… focused firmly on the floor-tiles.  Hoping that nobody would notice the “shame” that was me.

And – indeed – nobody did notice.  I was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To most people (if they even acknowledged my existence in the first place)… I was either “the-fat-lady-with-the-small-children”… or “Nick’s wife”… or “Morgan and Joah’s mom”… instead of HEATHER.

Few people knew who Heather was… least of all me.

Morgans 2nd birthday 008

After I had made the Big-Decision and shut down COPS, I came to realise that I wanted *more* out of life… I wanted it for myself and I wanted it for my family and I wanted it for other folk too.  I wanted a beautiful life.

But what was a beautiful life?  And… what might my beautiful life look like?

Before I could respond to those questions, I realised that I first needed to figure out who I was… and what I actually wanted out of this precious, mysterious, temporary existence we call LIFE.

I know that people often talk about living a “successful” life… or being “successful”.  But “success” means vastly different things to different people.

The traditional understanding of “success” (largely perpetuated by our status-driven society) is some – or all – of the following:

  • Big house in nice neighbourhood… filled with lots of stuff
  • Status symbols like posh cars, designer clothing, accessories (watches, bags, shoes, etc) of a certain type of brand
  • Well-paying, corner-office job
  • Recognition or a “high social standing”
  • Being perceived as hot, sexy or good-looking (or having a hot / sexy / good-looking partner)
  • Titles, qualifications, awards or other kinds of recognised special’ness
  • Money in bank (the more money… the more “successful” you are, apparently)

By the time I had shut down COPS, I had been well aware (for a long time) that the *traditional* views of “success” just weren’t… y’know… ticking my boxes.

I have never cared about status symbols, brand-names or special titles.  Money in the bank is, of course, a great thing to have… but I have never viewed “money” as a measure of someone’s success… or someone’s worth (including my own).

So… one of the first important questions I needed to ask myself was:  “What is MY definition of success?  What does *success* mean to ME?”

Because… (well, this may seem obvious to many people – but I missed this logic for decades)… we have two choices in life:

  1. Drift along aimlessly and indefinitely for the rest of our days… on our little life-rafts… allowing the tides to take us where they will… as we endeavour to simply “survive” and “make-do” and “get-by” with our allocated-LOT;  or…
  2. CHOOSE WHERE we want to go (and WHY).  And then chart a course.  And then set sail towards that destination. This is called Living Deliberately.

My years of mucking about and passively drifting along (COPS being a prime example of that) had just created misery and frustration.

So I decided to try option 2:  DO something.  Take deliberate steps and DO something.

And the first DO‘ing step involved figuring out the WHERE… and the WHY.

And so… I started to think a lot about transformation.  I had met (and read about) a number of people who had managed to turn their lives around… and I knew that it was possible to change (I don’t buy into that leopard-not-changing-spots nonsense).  I knew that it was possible to slowly but surely… change course and head off in a different direction.

The question, however… was:  WHICH direction?

So… I began journalling ideas of what a different life might look like.

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I started by giving myself permission to DREAM.

My dreams spilled out onto paper and notebooks.  I drew pictures of the possibilities.  I made lists.  I cut photographs out of magazines.  I created mood boards.  I bounced ideas off Nick – and close, trusted friends.  I asked myself:

  • “What do you actually want, Heather?”
  • “Who do you want to be?”
  • “Who do you NOT want to be?”
  • “What is your version or your definition of success?”
  • “What kind of lifestyle do you want for yourself and your family?”
  • “How do you want to live?”
  • “How do you NOT want to live?”

In response to those questions, a few important themes slowly started to emerge.  And (because I am a sentimental creature – and I keep all this stuff)… I still have the notes I made during that time.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • For a start, I’m tired of hating my body.  It has become exhausting and dull.  I want to re-think the whole “beauty” ideal.  I want to know what it might be like to treat my body with love and respect.  Is it even possible for such a prolific self-abuser?  Would it be possible to like the person I see in the mirror… or… (here’s a crazy thought)… even learn to LOVE her?
  • I’m tired of diminishing.  I’m tired of hiding in the shadows.  I’m tired of pushing myself down, biting my tongue, shrinking, allowing my boundaries to be trampled.  I don’t want to be a doormat.  I don’t want to diminish and disappear.  I’m tired of being “less”.  Invisible.  Silent and submissive.  I want to be *SEEN* for who I truly am… I want to be *HEARD*… I want to have a VOICE.
  • Oh, and I am SO bone-tired of people-pleasing.  Of trying so desperately hard to fit-in and live up to the expectations of everyone else (often at my own expense).  Of trying to mould and shape myself according to who other people think I should be.  To behave how other people think I should behave.  To do what other people think I should do.  To live how other people think I should live.  I’m SO tired of that.  I want to rediscover the Authentic *ME*… and life life on my terms.
  • I want to write my own rule-book and chart my own course.  I want to live deliberately… on purpose.  I want to CHOOSE where I go from now on.  I want to take control of the reigns of my own life from now on.  I don’t want to be passive any more.  I don’t want to drift aimlessly any more.
  • I want to learn how to focus on my strengths, talents and gifts… and the GOOD things about me (instead of constantly berating and criticizing myself for my perceived weaknesses and flaws).
  • I want to seek out a new career.  I don’t want to do any more graphic design for nasty corporate clients – ever again!  I DO want to generate an income – but I want to ENJOY what I do.  And it needs to be creative… and diverse… and different.  Also – importantly – I want my work to somehow impact others in a positive way.  I want to leave a positive fingerprint on the world… to contribute towards the Greater Good in some way.
  • I want to connect with like-minded people.  I want to feel less alone.  And I want other people to feel less alone too.
  • I want our family life to change completely.  I want us to work on ways that we can spend lots of quality time together… instead of just passing each-other in the evenings, like ships in the night.  I want to figure out ways that we – as a family – can re-write the rule-book.  What kind of lifestyle will work best for us?  What kind of dreams do we share?  How can we downsize the stress and the debt… without being broke?  How can ALL of us do what we love?  I think we should throw out the rule-book completely… and just start-from-scratch… and choose a way – a life – that will work best for us… for who we are as individuals – and who we are as a family unit.
  • My version of success:  a happy, content, meaningful life… doing what we love… spending lots of quality-time together as a family… a life of adventure, travel, learning, growing, creativity, diversity… income generated with work that we enjoy… AND… making some kind of positive difference in the world.

RESOURCES & ART JOURNALS

OKAY…  here’s some thoughts and resources for anyone who is reading this (and still struggling to figure out the WHERE’s and the WHY’s)…  (we’ll get to the how’s later)…

Firstly… the resource list at the bottom of my previous post has loads of relevance to THIS post too.  Chew on the questions in there… and, the books I mentioned there are also hugely helpful for those who are still trying to figure out where they *fit*…

Strengths Finder is another helpful resource.

This personality test is a fun (and free) little exercise that adds all kinds of insight (and is a great conversation generator too).  PS:  I’m an INFP.

Ask yourself (and ponder on) the following questions:

  • What can you do better than your closest family and friends?
  • What were your favourite things to do / hobbies / games / activities (when you were a child)?
  • What excites you?
  • What kind of causes get you the most worked up?

ART JOURNALS

who I am

My art journals (and I now have a small mountain of them) have been one of *the* most important tools in my self-discovery / healing / life-changing arsenal.  And yes… yes… I *am* a creative-creature and illustrator but you do NOT need to be “an artist” to be able to create an art journal!

ANYONE can create an art journal.

There is no “wrong” way to create an art journal.  It’s not *for* anyone else – but you.  It doesn’t need to be pretty… or *correct*… or ordered… or neat… or anything else.

Art Journals are not scrapbooks (scrapbooks are lovely – but they are usually meant to be seen and appreciated by otherslike family photo albums – so folk spend a lot of time and energy making them beautiful and perfect).

Art journals are not meant to be beautiful or perfect.  Your art journal is for YOU.  In fact, leave all perfection, politeness and expectation at the door when creating an art journal!   An art journal is… a *SPLURB!*… a big, fat, messy… splurb!  It’s where you can take all the noise in your head… and let it flow out of you on to paper.

Make as much mess as you want.

Don’t hold back.

Express your anger and frustration.  Vent!  Be as potty-mouthed and foul as you like.  Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest, most polite person… your Art Journal is the place where you can be whatever and whoever you want… and SAY, WRITE or DRAW whatever you please!

the fuck-it list

Talk about what enrages you.  Write about what angers and frustrates you.  Express your thoughts… your fears… your hurts… your dreams… your desires… your gratitude… your regrets…

Talk about who you ARE… and what you want… and what you love and what you hate.

Write stuff… draw stuff… paint stuff… stick stuff in there… scribble…

(My art journals are filled with paint, ink, glue, paper, stickers, photos, cardboard, foil, rubbish from the dustbin… dirt, sand, blood, pressed flowers, used tickets, old letters, string, stamps… and yes – a couple of tears have fallen on those pages too!)

I once wrote this post about How-to-Spot-a-Dream-Poo'er... (a Dream Poo'er is, of course, the well-meaning person who finds it necessary to poo on your dreams and aspirations and tell you that your dream is a terrible idea... and you shouldn't even bother because it will never work... and they end by saying something like: "I'm only being realistic, you know".... or "I'm telling you this out of love"....

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There is nothing too taboo for an art journal.

There are no art journal rules… except this one:  allow yourself to be completely free and completely honest in your art journal.  You will be amazed at what you find out about yourself when you give yourself permission and the freedom to be completely… unreservedly… HONEST.  About everything.

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TO SUM IT ALL UP:

In a nutshell… these are the points I’m trying to make in this long-winded post:

  1.  If you change nothing… nothing will change.
  2. If you’ve decided that you DO want change… then there MUST be some kind of deliberate action that follows the decision (change doesn’t just drop from the sky… you don’t *wait* for change… you CREATE change).
  3. In order to live deliberately – you need to figure out where you’re going… and why.  You need to have goals, dreams and direction.  You need to know who you are and who you’re not. What you want out of life… what you don’t want out of life.  The things that are important to you… that things that aren’t important to you.
  4. For me… the process of figuring out the answers to the questions above… took quite a bit of time, pondering, questioning and inner-wrestling.  It didn’t happen instantly.
  5. One of the most helpful things I did (during the process of figuring out who I am and what I want out of life) was to create art journals.

Okay… this post is LONG-winded (and over-due).  We’ve been on the road again – so my internet access has been sporadic (and – most of my time is going into the book… hence this blog being a bit neglected).

My next post in the Story & Resources series will be about the practical steps I took to create change (after I had figured out the “what’s” and the “whys”).

You guys are awesome… thanks for reading… following… and connecting!  X


PS:  Anyone interested in an art-journaling course?  Online – or otherwise…?  Add a comment on this post or drop me an e-mail:  heather@themadhat.co.za  so I can gauge the interest and see whether I should start putting something together.  x

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Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #2

If you haven’t already read my introduction on what these Hat-Stories & Resources are about… read this first!

For everyone else – this FIRST Hat-Story (& resource) post is about un-jobbing.

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • How I ended up in a career that I hated (and the toll it took on my life)
  • The final straw that broke the camel’s back and cemented my decision to change direction
  • A couple of photos of me taken during *those* years…
  • A couple of quotes, links & useful resources for those feel trapped in a job they hate.

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you might recognise the story I’m about to share from a blog post that I wrote  on the 1st January, 2014.  Please bare with me (if you’ve read this before).  I have added extra goodies (and new photos) – and there’s stuff in here that wasn’t included in that post from a few years ago.

The most dangerous risk of all:  the risk of spending your life not doing what you want… on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later”

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Me... in my office... 2007.

Me… in my office… 2007.

I call it my Bathtub Moment.  The moment I knew… with utmost clarity and certainty… that my life had to change.

My life didn’t need slight tweaks and adjustments.  It needed to change.  As in:  completely.  As in:  irrevocably.  The entire trajectory of my existence needed to shift onto a very different course.  And I knew, with certainty, that I could never go back.

It was mid-2007.  At the time, I owned a graphic design and below-the-line ad agency called COPS Creative Corporation.  I’m not sure how I ended up with that company.  It certainly wasn’t on my list of Life’s Big Dreams.  I probably ended up in that position for the same reason that (most?) people end up doing the stuff they do:  I kinda drifted there.  It just… sorta… happened.

It went something like this:

  • I’m a creative creature
  • I needed to make money, so I started doing some freelance design work for a few friends
  • Word spread
  • Other folk approached me and asked me to design some stuff for them too
  • Eventually, there was too much work for me to manage on my own so I hired another designer to help me – and voila! a business was born.
Some of the promotional material for COPS Creative Corporation

Some of the promotional material for COPS Creative Corporation

By 2007, the business had tripled in size.  I employed 9 people (excluding myself).  Six were employed by COPS and, on the home-front, I employed another three – including a full-time nanny (who cared for 2-year-old Morgan) and a housekeeper.

In 2007, my life was… kinda like a runaway train.  It surged ahead, full-speed – and although I knew that I should have been up in the front of the cab, powering the train and tooting the whistle… it felt as though the train was driving itself and I was limping on the train tracks – far behind the train – frantically trying to catch up.

This is not a fun feeling.

Anyone who has chased feebly after their runaway lives will understand how un-fun it is to live like that.

WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE DURING THAT TIME

In 2007, Nick and I lived in a large suburban home which we had purchased, shortly after we had married in February 2005 (as one does).  Morgan arrived in November 2005 (and Joah followed in March 2008).

The house (and attached cottage) was our home… but it also served as a studio for Nick (a filmmaker) – and the headquarters of COPS.

My company created advertising and promotional campaigns for a number of clients.

I was once told, by the owner of a large, wealthy advertising agency… that his job (and mine) was simply this:

“To manipulate people into using money they don’t have… to buy things they don’t need”.

Somebody else (I think it was a copywriter) referred to our kind of work as:  “Rolling other people’s turds in glitter”.

Here’s a nice pic of a glitter-turd (that Ranty made with polymer clay):

IMG_4407

And yes – sometimes, that’s exactly what it felt like.  Sometimes, I not only disliked my clients… but I extra-disliked their products and services.  Sometimes, I thought that their products were overpriced and badly made… or that their services were unethically ripping people off.

And yet – I’d don my polite-and-enthusiastic smile… and invent creative ways to promote said turd’ish product… to glitterize it… to make it more palatable to the general public and thus generate sales for my client.

Obviously, this wasn’t true of all of my clients.  I had some lovely clients too.  But it felt as though most of them (and certainly the over-sized, arrogant corporations) required me to do lots of turd-rolling.

My biggest client was a company that owned hotels.

Lots of hotels.

They were a large, hotel-owning company and (like all colossal corporations), they were concerned about one thing:  The Bottom Line.

I did lots and lots of turd-rolling for this company.  And I did lots of corporate brown-nosing in their bling-encrusted boardrooms (while sipping their shitty coffee).  I’d talk the talk and dazzle them with designer jargon and assurances of how gush-gush *amazing* their next campaign would be.

Then, I’d go home… and my designers and I would burn the midnight oil in order to meet the demands and expectations of the CEO and his minions.

My Bathtub Moment was, in a sense, the fruit of this particular hotel-owning client.  And I remember it as though it were yesterday.

Me... taking some photos at one of the hotel-owning client's hotels.  Don't I look terribly thrilled and excited?

Me… taking some photos at one of the hotel-owning client’s hotels. Don’t I look terribly thrilled and excited?


THE LEAD-UP…

When it (the Bathtub Moment) happened, my husband was away on an international shoot.  Nick was usually my reliable buffer during times of stress.  If I had crazy deadlines, he’d ease the load and make sure that Morgan was taken care of during evenings or over weekends and holidays (when the nanny wasn’t there).

But, on this occasion, Nick was away.  For 3 long weeks.

And during those 3 weeks, my hotel-owning client suddenly decided (at the last possible moment) that they wanted to exhibit at Indaba (an international travel & hospitality expo, held in Durban every year).

Not only were they going to exhibit at Indaba, but they needed thousands of printed fact sheets, posters, brochures (and all sorts of other bits and pieces) for ALL of their hotels.

All of these items needed to be designed, printed and delivered to their flashy double-storey exhibit by 7am on the first morning of Indaba.

We had two weeks to pull it off.

Usually, a job of this size would take the printing company – alone – two weeks to produce (at a push).  And we needed to first design and typeset the whole lot… and have it checked, proofed and signed-off before I could forward a single item to the printer.

To cut a long story short;  I worked like a rabid insomniac for those two weeks.  I existed on a diet of coffee and Red Bull.  I slept in short spurts.  I paid the nanny overtime to help me with Morgan in the evenings (she bathed her, fed her and put her to bed).

At one stage, I humiliated myself when I begged Piet, my printer… (like a dog)… I literally begged him… with genuine tears stinging the corners of my eyes to:  “Please, please, please, please… make it happen, please!” when he expressed his doubts as to whether we’d make deadline.

“It has to be ready…”, I begged him, “Please, it has to!”…

Trying to do some last-minute work on the kitchen counter because my office was being used by a staff member...

Trying to do some last-minute work on the kitchen counter because my office was being used by a staff member…

I was worried that I wouldn’t have everything at the Indaba exhibit by 7am on launch day – as expected.  I fretted about what might happen if I didn’t meet that deadline.  What if I lost the client?  And how would we pay all the bills and salaries without the income that the rich, hotel-owning company generated?

The day before the deadline, I was pacing my studio like a restless, caged animal.

I’d phone Piet-the-Printer (a remarkably patient man).

“Hi Piet.  It’s Heather from COPS.  Is the job ready yet?  Can I collect?”

“No”, said Piet, “It’s not ready yet”.

The hotel-owning CEO’s secretary was also phoning me regularly;

“Are you on your way to Indaba?”, she’d ask.

“No.  I’m still in Joburg.  I’m waiting for the printing to come off the press”

What!!?  WHY isn’t it ready yet??” she demanded, seemingly oblivious of how much of my life I had given up and how much turd-rolling I had taken on for her company.  No, wait.  I wasn’t turd-rolling.  For this particular job, it felt as though I had submerged myself in an Olympic-sized swimming pool of corporate poo!

Here's another miserable-me pic.  You know that saying about how a picture can paint a thousand words?  I think this photo says a LOT...

Here’s another miserable-me pic. You know that saying about how a picture can paint a thousand words? This photo says more about how I felt about my life (at that time) than words could.

By 5pm, I was starting to get desperate.  I dialled Piet again.

“Please… please tell me it’s ready”

“It’s off the press.  We’re just waiting for the ink to dry.  Then we’ll score, fold and send it through the guillotine”

“It’s not cut yet?”, I asked, feeling the desperation and panic beginning to rise like bile in my throat…

“We’re doing the best that we can, Heather”, snapped Piet, sounding distinctly unfriendly.  He had a bite to his voice that suggested that he was rapidly running out of his usual supply of patience.

I don't know where I found this pic

By 8:15pm, the last of the printed material was ready.

I had packed an overnight bag, dropped Morgan off at my mom’s and had driven my Renault Modus to the printing factory.  Piet’s night staff had helped me to load 10 000 copies of fact sheets, brochures and posters into my small car.

The printed material engulfed the Modus.  It filled the boot, the back seat (I couldn’t even see out of my rearview mirror)… and it towered precariously on the passenger seat next to me.  I was worried that if I made an abrupt turn in my car, the mountain of printing would topple over and crush me like an insect.

The weight was clearly too much for the Modus.  The axles groaned… the tyres looked as though they would burst under the strain – but I didn’t care.  I had possession of the completed material.

Now, I just needed to drive it all to Durban – 700 kilometres / 435 miles away.


With my overnight bag, 8 tins of Red Bull and a tiny car, overloaded with printed promo-material… I drove through the night from Johannesburg to Durban.

Oh – and did I mention?  I was pregnant with Joah at the time.

Stressed and exhausted, I drove with the windows down so that the cool night air would (hopefully) keep me awake and I would (hopefully) not plunge myself off a ravine… or something.

About an hour in to my drive, I received a phone call.  It was from the hotel-owning client (the CEO himself).

“Where the fuck are you?”, he shrieked in my ear.

Just as I was about to explain… in my most polite, most professional glitter-coated, brown-nosing voice… and tell him that I was on the road and that the job would, indeed, be delivered on time… the battery on my phone went flat.

I drove the rest of the way to Durban with the knowledge that the CEO was foaming-at-the-mouth-mad at me… expecting me not to show up on time (if at all).

Just the knowledge of this filled me with dread.

IMG_4356

Another photo for the evidence file…


I arrived at my hotel at three in the morning.  It was a beautiful 5-Star establishment and I was shown to my lavish suite by a polite porter (I had tried to book a cheaper hotel, but with Indaba on the go, every reasonably-priced hotel room in the whole of Durban was booked up.  Only super-expensive places were available).

I slept for two hours… woke at 5am… showered, dressed, swallowed some breakfast… and returned to my loaded Modus – only to discover:  a flat tyre!

The Modus was going nowhere.

Again, that familiar feeling of panic began to rise;  “Oh crap!  Oh crap!  Oh crap!  I have to get all this stuff to the hotel exhibit… at Indaba… in the centre of town… by 7am!  It’s now 6am… and I have a flat tyre!!”

Thankfully… mercifully… my cousin was also exhibiting at Indaba that year (she and her husband own a lodge in Limpopo).  I phoned Clare, explained my predicament… and her husband, Michel, drove to my hotel, helped me to re-load all the shrink-wrapped parcels into his van… and helped me to deliver the whole lot – ON TIME – to the hotel-owning client’s flashy double-storey exhibit.

After off-loading the trolley, I sank down on to the floor in a daze.

It was at that moment that the hotel-owning CEO arrived on the scene (the one who had cursed me on the phone the night before and who had since left a number of ominous threats on my voicemail).

He was striding, red-faced, down the expo aisle… followed by a small cluster of worried-looking, note-taking minions.  Upon reaching his exhibit, he stopped abruptly… glared darkly at me… and turned his attention to the mountain of neatly-stacked printed material that I had delivered.

Realising that everything was there – on time – he glanced back at me, delivered a curt nod, spun on his heel… and left.

No “hello”… no “thank-you”… nothing.

I was simply the hired help – and I was expected to do whatever it took to deliver the goods.

If I had plunged the Modus off a cliff in the middle of the night… and died… his biggest concern would have been whether there were enough salvageable pamphlets for Indaba.

This… by the way… was one of those slap-through-the-face catch-a-WAKE-UP moments (which cemented my decision to change things):  the realisation that I did NOT matter to those people.  That I was just another cog-in-the-wheel. Dispensable.  Replaceable.  Because what really mattered was money and profit.

And I didn’t like that feeling.

I didn’t like feeling like a cheap, replaceable cog.

I didn’t like feeling as though the primary purpose of my career (and the purpose of my creative gifts)… was to make money for other people… to help rich corporations get even richer.

It sounded like a pretty shitty and meaningless investment of my one, short, precious life.

“The price of anything is the amount of LIFE you exchange for it”

– Henry David Thoreau –


Michel dropped me back at the hotel.  I went to my suite, put on some music and sunk into a very hot bath.

I so desperately wanted Nick and Morgan with me.  I wanted them in that hotel room with me.  I wanted to lean against my husband and feel the reassurance of his warm hugs.  I wanted to scoop up my baby girl and just BE with her.  I wanted to see her beautiful little face.  I wanted to listen to her happy giggles.

But I was alone in that tub… in that big, 5-star-suite.

Exhausted… stressed… and alone (well, not entirely alone – I had a baby boy growing inside of me at the time).

And that was when my Bathtub Moment happened.

I started to cry… as in howl-cry.  Big salty tears plopped into the steaming bath water and I howled some more.

And then…

(and this is important)…

I started to QUESTION!

Here are the uncomfortable questions that I asked myself in the bathtub that night:

  • Why am I here?
  • What am I doing?
  • Why am I doing this work?
  • Why am I putting up with these turd’ish clients?
  • Why am I running this business?
  • Is it worth it?  Is it worth the humiliation, the stress, the time spent away from my loved ones?
  • Was this my dream?
  • Did I even want this?
  • If I didn’t want it – then why am I doing it?
  • Is this all there is to look forward to?
  • Is this what life is supposed to be like?  An endless cycle of working, eating, sleeping, stressing and bill-paying?
  • Is it possible to escape this?
  • Is it possible to change this?
  • Is it possible to dig myself out of this hole?
  • Is it possible to redesign my entire life?
  • Is it possibly to live differently?
  • Is it possible to be happy?

What are YOUR uncomfortable questions?

Deep down, I already knew all the answers to the questions I was spewing out.  I already knew what needed to be done.  The Bathtub Moment was simply the first time I had articulated it to myself… the first time I had given myself permission to feel… and dream… and to decide that I wanted something else for my life.  Something… different.

And so, right there… right then… I decided.

Just like that.

The decision was made.

Change


After I had returned to Joburg and after Nick had returned from his shoot, I sat down with him and told him what I wanted to do.

“I want to shut down COPS.  It’s killing me slowly.  It’s robbing our family.  And the stress is not worth the money I make.  In fact, I suspect we’d be better-off financially without all the debt, salaries and extra expenses”.

Nick agreed.  And that was the end of that.  We closed the business.  Shut it all down.  My staff found other work.  I phoned all of my clients and told them they’d have to find a new design agency.  We sold the computers.  Shut down the shop.  Paid the last of the bills.  And just like that… it was gone.

COPS Creative Corporation was no more.

And just like that… I had the freedom to decide:  “What do I actually want to DO with my life?”

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car you are still paying for… in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it”

Ellen Goodman


RESOURCES:

BOOKS I found useful (whilst trying to answer the question:  “What do I really want to do with my life?”)

  • The Element – how finding your passion changes everything (by Ken Robinson).  He also has a book called “Finding your Element” – which is a much more practical guide (but I think I prefer the first book).
  • The Four Hour Work Week (by Tim Ferris)
  • Eat, Pray, Love (by Elizabeth Gilbert)

I also recently came across a book called Roadmap – the get-it-together guide for figuring out what you want to do with your life”.  Although the book mainly seems to be targeting younger folk (perhaps high-schoolers and university students) – they DO have some fabulous thought-provoking, practical exercises in there that, I think, could spark a few ideas (for those who feel *stuck*).

INSPIRATION:

This is your life

“If you like conformity, competition or pretense… then ordinary reality is a great place to be.  If you’re interested in personal growth, however, you’ll need to go through the cracks in ordinary reality and find out what’s on the other side”

– Troy Dayton –

BLOG POSTS about asking ourselves those big, deep, scary questions about whether we’re *surviving*, *getting by*, *making-do*… or are we LIVING…?

PONDERTUNITY (a pondertunity is an opportunity to ponder, think, dream, deconstruct old ideas and re-imagine new ones)

Ask yourself some of these questions (I found the questions uncomfortable – but my responses to the questions were telling):

  • How do you feel about where your life is at… at the moment?  Are you happy?  Are you content?  Are you miserable or frustrated?
  • What is the biggest cause of frustration in your life right now?
  • How did you end up with the job you now have?
  • Was it your plan (to work where you’re working now) – or did you just kinda end up there?
  • Do you enjoy your job?
  • If the answer is no… do you have an idea of the job you’d like to have?
  • Have you ever thought of changing the direction of your life?
  • If the answer is yes… what would you like to be doing?
  • What holds you back?
  • If you never, ever had to worry about money (ever again)… what would you DO with your life?

And finally – to end this post on a positive note… I need you to know (and especially those of you who are reading this post without any knowledge of my back-story)… that my story DOES have a happy ending *insert whoop of glee here!*

Here’s a recent photo of the current “me” (compare to the misery-me photos above – and you’ll see that a LOT has changed):

MADhattersTEA_WEB-57(1)

I LOVE my current life-work (to coin a phrase used by the folk who wrote the Roadmap book)… everything has changed.

It wasn’t a quick-fix.  It didn’t happen in an instant.  It was (and continues to be) a journey.  A journey of baby-steps… a series of teensy-tiny-daily CHOICES… a continued, every-day effort to question…. re-define… re-align… and live deliberately.

“Tapping into your purpose takes a great deal of discipline, because you have to ask yourself the question every day when you open your eyes:  ‘Who am I?'”

– Penny Brown Reynolds (quote taken from the Roadmap book) –

It’s a journey.

I have definitely not *arrived*… (any regular reader of this blog will know that!)…

I don’t think anybody *arrives*.  I think there are folk who camp on the side of the road, indefinitely.  Preferring not to move.  Preferring not to change.

But for those of us who choose to move… and change… and grow… and explore…  I don’t think the journey ever ends.  There’s a new lesson around every bend (and that’s what excites me!)… I like not knowing what-comes-next.

I embrace the beautiful unpredictability of life… it’s what makes me feel truly-alive!  :-)


Anyhoo… so that’s Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #2….

I know it was pretty long-winded… but the truth is, I’ve only TOUCHED on this topic.  I have so much more to say and share about escaping a nasty, life-sucking career and doing what you LOVE… (but this post would turn into a book!)…

So – moving on…

The NEXT post in this Hat’s Story series will be about what happened after I had shut down the business and stopped doing the only thing (graphic design) that I thought I was good at…

By the way – feel free to respond in the comments… or on Facebook… or drop me an e-mail heather@themadhat.co.za

Lots of love to you all!  Hat x

Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) – #1

As most of you already know, I have written and illustrated a book called “How Heather got her HAT’ness back” – which is currently in the final-final stages of production – and should (if all goes according to plan) be printed by the end of August.

As I’ve gone through the motions of crowdfunding… and promoting… and chatting about the book, I have connected with a lot of people – and a couple of you have asked me a couple of questions.

And a couple of those questions have been asked again and again, like these:

  • “HOW did you get your HAT’ness back and find yourself again?”
  • “HOW did you stop shaming your body?”
  • “HOW did you lose all that weight?”
  • “HOW did you escape the rat-race?”
  • “HOW do you educate your kids differently?”
  • “HOW did you get out of debt?”

And I have a lot to say about those things (and many other things).  A LOT!

So – being the perfectionist, all-or-nothing person that I am…  I collected a mountain of resources to share with you:  stories, tips, advice, inspiring books, articles, blogs, links & quotes… strategies that had helped me… pondertunities… creative exercises… photos, art, ideas… (and a gazillion other things)…

And I began to compile colourful resource-zines and creative-courses that I wanted to share with you…

… but…

… because it wasn’t all *PERFECT*… and because I haven’t really had the time to create a PERFECT thing to share with you guys… I didn’t share ANY of it – at all (did I mention that I have a problem with the All-or-Nothing mentality…?)

And so… all that content… all those stories… all that (potentially helpful) information… has been stacked in a giant filing cabinet – and NOT shared (even though it could prove really helpful to some folk)… because… (*sigh*)… I haven’t deemed it to be “ready” (read: perfect enough) to share with you.

So… today – I say:  No more!

Starting from today – I am going to share a series of pretty intense blog posts that will each contain the following:

  • My story and experience (surrounding a specific topic or issue)
  • Photos & Art
  • Creative exercises & ideas
  • Pondertunities (questions & thoughts for YOU to ponder too)
  • Tips, links & resources to the stuff that helped ME.

The posts won’t be “perfect”.

But – that’s probably a good thing.

I’m kinda done with trying to be *perfect* anyway….

PS:  Feedback appreciated!  And especially if you have any particular questions or topics you’d like me to address!

Hat x

The post about religion and politics that I DIDN’T want to write…

Have you ever changed your mind about something?

Think back… (if you’ll indulge me)… to the person you were 10 or 20 years ago – and the beliefs you held back then.  Are you exactly the same person?  Do you have exactly the same outlook on life?  Exactly the same religious beliefs?  Exactly the same political beliefs?

Have you not… grown… evolved… or changed your mind, since then?

Are there not things that you believed-to-be-true (then)… that you don’t believe-to-be-true now?

I am assuming that most people who read this post will agree that… in some way or another… they’ve changed their minds about something over the past number of years.

  • Maybe you don’t believe that The System and the rat race is all that it’s cracked up to be (whereas before, you were an ardent defender of capitalism)…
  • Maybe you’ve been contemplating some uneasy thoughts about climate change…
  • Maybe you’re questioning debt and consumerism…
  • Perhaps you’ve been seriously doubting the outcomes of traditional schooling – something that you’d never have done 15 years ago…
  • Maybe you’ve been pondering on some pesky scriptures in the Bible that never bugged you before (but now they do)…
  • Maybe you have a close friend or relative who has recently come out of the closet – and you’ve been questioning how you feel about homosexuality.  Maybe – a few years ago – you were completely anti-gay in your beliefs… but now… well, you’re not so sure…
  • Perhaps your politics is shifting too.  Maybe your stance on war has changed… or you’re re-thinking things like the death penalty… or you’re still not entirely sure where you stand on the issue of gun control…
  • Or maybe you feel that there’s a God-shaped-hole in your life and you’re seriously considering returning to church…
  • Or maybe even your temperament has changed.  (When my dad was much younger, he was quick-tempered and intense.  It would take just a tiny spark to send him into a red-faced rage.  35 years later… he’s a far more laid-back, mellow guy.  He even recently got his first tattoo!)  Perhaps you’ve noticed a slow change in your temperament too?

Of course – there are a gazillion examples of different views and stances…

… but my point is… we change.

As life goes on… and as we grow… as we experience more of life… as we see more of the world… as we read more… as we learn more… as we expose ourselves to people different from ourselves… we change.

Mostly – the change is gradual.

Yes – there are occasional epiphanies and light-bulb moments… when – suddenly – we’re exposed to a different thought… or a way of viewing the world that makes complete sense to us and we think:  “Wow – I never thought of it that way!”.  In instances like that – perspectives can shift pretty quickly.

But mostly… change is a slow, gradual process…

Now – here’s another question:

Has somebody ever FORCED you to change your views?

Has your mind… or your opinion… or your beliefs… ever been changed because some angry, ranting person forced you to shift your views?  Has somebody ever managed to argue and bully you out of your beliefs?  Has somebody ever managed to shame you into changing your views to fit theirs?  Has it ever happened that anger… and rage… and shaming… and has caused you to say to yourself:

“Oh gee.  They must be right.  I am totally wrong.  Therefore – I shall now change my mind and see the world in the same way that they do!”

No?

Well – me neither.

Nobody ever changed my mind *for* me.  I changed my *own* mind.  Nobody ever forced me to believe differently.  The change came… at it’s own pace (the pace was snail-pace slow for my views on religion and politics… but the pace was pretty quick for my views on education, among other things).  There were countless *reasons* why I changed my mind and my beliefs.  Never ONE reason… never ONE person.  But nobody ever changed my mind FOR me.  And certainly not by means of angry rants and shaming.

I am seeing so much anger… and hearing so much ranting and raging out there in the world.

It seems to me… that people out there… really seem to believe that they can somehow shame others into change.

Take the gay-marriage debate, for instance.  On both sides of the belief-system fence… you have people fighting, arguing, shaming, ridiculing, hurling insults… and everyone seems to be saying:

“I am RIGHT and YOU are WRONG!”

“WE are RIGHT… and YOU are WRONG!”

Do you think that anyone’s mind is being changed by all this hating, fighting, name-calling, ridiculing and arguing?

Are the religious people suddenly going to say:  “Omigosh!  Those liberals are SO right – and we are hopelessly wrong and deluded!  They have shown us the error of our ways.  Thankfully, our minds are now changed – and from this moment on – we are changing our stance and will be completely accepting of the rights of gay people to marry who they choose from this moment on!”

And… from the opposite perspective… will all of the Bible-verse-quoting and the threats of hellfire and brimstone… change the minds, hearts and beliefs of those who are either gay – or who support a gay person’s right to marry?

And – if we’re all clear that this ugliness WON’T change the minds of somebody else… then why do we do it?

What are we possibly hoping to achieve with the shaming and the name-calling?

And, let me make a quick distinction here:

There is a big difference between making our beliefs known (as a way to say:  “This is where I stand on this issue, folk”)… and the other thing:  “This is where I stand on this issue.  I am RIGHT about this.  You are all WRONG.  And not only are you wrong, but you’re stupid and deluded and you need to catch a wake up!”

I *get* that folk want to be heard and make their position clear on issues that they feel are important. 

That’s why I *get* the rainbow Facebook profile-photo-thing.  For many people (myself included) it was simply a way to say to our friends and family who are gay (and I have many)… “We celebrate this milestone with you”… but, more importantly than that, for me… it was also a way of making it known that I am a *safe* friend (and for some of my gay friends who have endured some terrible judgement and persecution – it is a big deal to know who can be trusted to love and accept them – exactly as they are).

One of my gay friends expressed it this way:

“What may seem like a gimmicky rainbow wash over a profile picture is actually a message to some closeted, suicidal person who is struggling with sexual identity that you are a safe place for them to just *be*.  It’s a flag waving outside of your digital front door saying that they can come inside and talk to you without fear.  Respect to everyone nailing their colours to the wall around the world”

ALL of my friends (regardless of their religious beliefs, political beliefs or sexual orientation) are welcome in my home without judgement.  I wanted my gay friends and family to know that they are unconditionally accepted in my home and in my life.

But… hear me…

I also *get* why a number of Christian friends and family posted their stance too.  Somebody posted a Facebook meme:  “Share if you believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman” (obviously those who resonated with that message shared… and those of us who didn’t… didn’t).  Somebody else posted a photo of himself and his wife colouring rainbow butterflies… and the words:  “The only rainbows you’re going to see on our profile pictures today are these ones”.

Okay – I *get* that too.

My Christian friends had just as much of a right to state their opinion on the matter and to make their position clear.  We all want to be heard – and I don’t think it’s helpful to silence people.

I might not agree with their opinion…  but… okay?  So??

Do I delete every Christian Facebook friend and family member??   (I have many of those too!)…

Do I post all sorts of ranty I’m-gonna-prove-you-all-wrong articles on their Facebook walls?  Do I throw *my* scriptures and Bible verses around too?  Do I ridicule their beliefs?  Do I hurl insults?

No.

I do not.  And I will not.

Firstly – because I just think that all this fighting, ridiculing and shaming is hurtful… and accomplishing absolutely nothing (except for even more divisiveness in the world already depressingly divided).

Secondly… I do NOT believe that I can *force* somebody to change their mind… on ANY issue (and especially not when it comes to a person’s deep, personal beliefs).

In fact, I think it’s impossible.  And when we attempt to force – or shame – people into changing their mind… all it does is cause hurt, anger and heartache… and make matters so much worse.

I’m not in the business of amplifying hate.

As a quick disclaimer… I need you to know that there ARE times when my tolerance runs out.  If people post deliberate hate-filled vitriol on my Facebook wall (any kind of vile, racist comment or “God hates fags” comment)… then yes, they are hastily jettisoned from my friends list.  Stuff like that actually makes me feel physically ill.

But I DO think there is a significant difference between “This is *my* position” posts – and (the sadly more common):  “You are all deluded and wrong, wrong, WRONG!” posts.  The former is a personal statement of belief.  The latter is an attempt to control and shame everyone who doesn’t believe the same way.

————————————————————

I have changed – in so many ways – over the past 10 to 15 years. To coin a phrase by Joan Didion, “I have already lost touch with a couple of the people I used to be”…

For the most part, I view these changes in a positive light.

I have changed my views on spirituality (I used to be an extremely dogmatic Christian – but I’m now somewhat of a romantic agnostic).  That could also change (and probably will).  Speak to me in another 10 years and I’ll let you know.

I have changed my political views (there was a time when I aligned with conservative politics… now I align closer with liberal – if not libertarian views – tinged with a hint of occasional anarchy).   As with everything – this could ALSO change… speak to me in 10 years’ time, and I’ll let you know.

I have changed my views on traditional schooling.  There was a time when I was vehemently anti-homeschooling.  Now – I not only home-school my kidlets – but lean more towards a very informal, relaxed kind of home-education known as unschooling.  The *me* of then… would not have recognised the *me* of now.

I have even changed my views of ME (I no longer hate myself… if that gives you some idea).


There are – of course – many other examples that I could share of how (and why) I changed…

But – mostly – I keep these stories close and don’t share too many of them on a public forum like this blog (and especially those to do with religion and politics).

Here’s why I don’t post about my religious or political beliefs on this blog:

  • Well, firstly – it’s not that kind of blog.  There’s loads of blogs out there that discuss religious and political beliefs.  This isn’t one of them.
  • Our beliefs are such a personal part of being human – and I never want anyone to feel that I am promoting *MY* beliefs as “The Truth” or “The-RIGHT-Way-to-Do-Life”… (or that everyone else is *wrong*).  I just don’t see the world through those kinds of dualistic lenses.  It’s not the way I’m designed.
  • I have zero interest in attempting to evangelise people in the hope that they become more like *moi*...
  • I remain a constantly changing and evolving living creature.  Therefore, it doesn’t really make sense to me to carve my beliefs into stone.  They’re probably going to change and shift in a couple of years anyway.
  • And lastly – as a Lover of Diversity – I would never want blog followers to feel unwelcome, ridiculed or judged in this space – based purely on the fact that we might hold a different set of religious or political beliefs.

A final thought:

I have a born-again-Christian mother (in full-time ministry) and an atheist-activist sister.  None of us share the same religious or political beliefs…in fact, I’m not sure if it’s possible that you could find 3 more different people.

But… all three of us manage to love each-other unconditionally – in spite of our differences.   And hey… maybe in a couple years’ time – Mom will feel differently about gay marriage (or maybe not)…  and maybe – in a couple years’ time, Suzanne will be attending a spiritualist bootcamp (or maybe not)… and maybe – in a couple years’ time, I’ll be back on the worship team at a Christian church… or I’ll be a Buddhist… (or maybe not)…

The point is – we change.

Can we not extend some grace towards our fellow human beings as we change, grow and navigate the world together? 

I’ll end with this quote (I’m not sure who said these words, but I resonate!!):

“Be an encourager.  The world already has enough critics”

Stuff I learned about myself (and you) while crowdfunding

So – the grand ol’ crowdfunding campaign to help me raise money to print my book, “How Heather got her HAT’ness back” is now (thankfully)… over.

Those of you who are bone-tired of hearing me harp on about the crowdfunding can now heave a sign of relief.  No more e-mail bombarding and pleading Facebook posts… it’s over.  It’s done.

My crowdfunding goal was to raise $5000… and we managed to raise $3981… just-just short of $4000 and 80% of our goal.

81 people contributed… with backers from South Africa, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Hong Kong, Poland… and even Estonia, Norway and Peru.

$3981 is enough… yes… to PRINT the book! (woo-hoooo!!!)  And come hell or high water… I’ll make sure we find the outstanding amount so that every backer (wherever they are in the world) will receive their books (and gratitude-goodies) posted to them as soon as the copies come off the press.

So – in a nutshell – the crowdfunding campaign was necessary… and I’m glad we did it!

But… it was NOT easy for me.

And I am glad-glad-glad-GLAD that it’s over!

In fact – I feel an enormous sense of relief… now that it’s done!

Me & Tracy.  Tracy - by the way - is the "Andrew" I was searching for a while back.  She has been an invaluable support... in ways too numerous to mention.

Here’s a nice photo of Tracy & I (taken by my friend, Tracey Kelsey). Tracy – by the way – is the “Andrew” I was searching for a while back. She has been an invaluable support… in ways too numerous to mention.

Here’s what I learned about myself during the last 40 days of crowd-funding:

1.  I REALLY DON’T LIKE CROWDFUNDING (or ANY kind of fundraising for that matter). 

Well.  Okay.  I knew that from the get-go – but now I really-REALLY know.  I hate asking for anything… and especially help… and especially-especially money.  It goes against every inch of Patterson-Pride that lurks in my DNA (I think my dad – for example – would rather gnaw off his own digits – than… ever *ASK* – perish the thought! – somebody for help or money).

So it was VERY hard for me to ask for people to… y’know… *give* me…. y’know… actual… y’knowMONEY to support this campaign.  I felt like a beggar for 40 days.  It wasn’t fun.

…but, to my credit:

2.  WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE – I’M A DOER… NOT A SIT-ON-MY-BUM-AND-HOPE’R…

When I launched this crowdfunding campaign… I made a decision that – regardless how hard and difficult it was to ask… I would force myself to do it anyway.  I would actively campaign… I would *DO* what needed to be done… and I would not just sit passively – waiting for funds to magically materialise in my bank account… waiting for Oprah to call… waiting for a giant hand to descend from the Heavenlies bearing a huge wad of cash – garnished with a velvet bow.

I would not *wait*… I would *do*.

So… DO is what we did.  Tracy and I had regular meetings and updates.  There was endless Face-booking, e-mailing and newsletter’ing… we even pulled together a last minute Songs & Stories evening in a last-ditch attempt to raise the remainder of the funds…

At the end of it all (even though we didn’t meet the goal)… I told Tracy that I still felt a certain sense of accomplishment… because I had done-my-part.  I hadn’t been passive.  I had been very pro-active… and that felt like a nice, healthy little self-esteem boost.  Noddy-badge for me.

3. CROWDFUNDING IRRITATES AND AMPLIFIES MY *ISSUES*…

Those who have stuck around on this blog for a while… will already know that I have… uh… *issues*...

We ALL have issues (obviously)… but the effect that crowdfunding had on me – was like putting an allergy-prone person in a small, musty room… surrounded by bales of cat-hair and buckets of pollen.  I itched… I scratched… my eyes watered… I broke out in a What-Will-People-Think-or-Say-about-Me rash… every day!

I ruminated obsessively too.

I lay awake at night and pondered my fate:

  • “Nobody’s gonna fund this book…”
  • “I’m just pissing people off with all this nagging and begging”…
  • “Nobody cares about my crazy dream“…
  • “I’m not a REAL artist”…
  • “By the end of these 40 days, my blog followers will ALL have left… because they’ll be bone-tired of my neediness and begging!”

Blah-blah…. (I’ve already chatted a lot about these ruminations and inner ramblings quite a bit – so I won’t go into TOO much detail here)…

I wish I was one of those confident people who have the ability to market themselves without cringing, squirming and awkward-moment’ing with clockwork-regular melt-downs of insecure rantings (whilst finding solace in jars of Nutella and late-night-oily-popcorn)…  but – yes, well… sadly, not.

Hence… I am GLAD it’s over – and hopefully I can now return to some semblance of rational-human-behaviour.

(Pity my poor long-suffering husband).

And now … (*drum-roll*)… here’s what crowdfunding taught me about YOU (as in:  The-People-Out-There on the other side of this computer screen):

1. THERE ARE LOADS OF FLIPPIN’ AWESOME, GENEROUS PEOPLE OUT THERE!!!

Apart from the 81 kind souls who contributed financially… I have found myself wonderfully overwhelmed by the generosity, kindness and the words of support and encouragement… from SO MANY people.  Lots of kind folk shared my campaign on social media (even if they weren’t able to financially contribute).  Others sent e-mails of support and encouragement.

Seriously… (and I know I tend to be a bleeding-heart idealist)… but I absolutely DO believe that the majority of people out there in the world are GOOD people.  GENEROUS people.  KIND people.

NOT mean-hearted, mean-spirited selfish people.

And the knowledge of this fills me with hope and happiness.

2.  EVERY TIME I MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT PEOPLE – I TURN OUT TO BE WRONG.

There were certain people whom I expected to fund my campaign (I’ve written about the miseries of expectations on this blog before)… and – as Shakespeare rightly said:  “Expectations are the root of all heartache”.

I found myself feeling a bit… disappointed… that certain people – whom I had *expected* would support the campaign… remained ominously silent (thus significantly amplifying my already out-of-control inner thoughts and insecurities).

And – interestingly – many people whom I DIDN’T expect would support me… (either because I thought it would be too expensive for them… or because I thought they just wouldn’t be interested)… DID support me.  A friend from primary school – whom I haven’t seen for years – whom I assumed wasn’t particularly keen on Hatty things… deposited $100!  Another friend – whom I assumed to be broke – deposited $120!   A very conservative, religious friend of my mother was another one who donated very generously (and I wasn’t expecting that at all).

So it just shows.  My assumptions about people are usually always WRONG.

(Now I can just remind my Ruminating Self of that fact… my insomnia should improve somewhat).

AND FINALLY…

I feel grateful, happy… and loved.

I am over-the-moon-delighted that there’s a little tribe of people who *get* the Hat-Thing… and who have been sooo supportive and encouraging.  My cup runneth over! ;-)

Now… if you’ll excuse me… I am going to disappear into my studio.   For the next 2 solid weeks, you’ll find me here… surrounded by blobs of paint, scraps of paper, glitter, photos, scribbles of rhyming words (and lots and lots of empty coffee cups).  During the next two weeks… (while I wait for the campaign money to arrive in my bank account)… I shall be finishing off the last pages and pieces of the book – and then uploading the whole lot onto the printer servers…

Stuff is happening, folk!  This big-crazy-dream of mine… is actually happening!  :-)

To every person reading this:  THANK-YOU for journeying with me!! 

Love, Hat X

I’m DONE with diminishing (and I hope you are too!)

There’s a famous quote by Marianne Williamson (often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela) that goes like this (bare with me if you’ve read it before):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others

This quote… as seemingly simple as it is… has been something that has caused a LOT of soul-searching (mostly of the painful type).

You see… I was taught to diminish.

And I learned that lesson well.  Very, very well.

The lessons began when I was much, much younger (back in the days when I still loved acting, performing on stage and amateur theatre).

Here is a photo of the *me* from back then (performing and singing on stage as Boy George):

Mini Pops

And here’s another one… at my tramp-themed birthday party:

tomboy6

But, I was told:

  • “Stop showing off!”
  • “Calm down!”
  • “Keep quiet”
  • “Your jokes aren’t funny.  You just look silly”
  • “Your cousin (the one in the straw hat on the left of the photo above) is the drama student, not you”.

I got it.  I got the message.  I stopped acting.  I stopped performing.  I removed myself from the stage.

And Hat started thinking:  "Perhaps they are right.  Perhaps I DO need to change.  Perhaps I AM ridiculous".

And Hat started thinking: “Perhaps they are right. Perhaps I DO need to change. Perhaps I AM ridiculous”.

At the age of 16, I joined a church.  A couple of years later, I joined the church worship team… but… there was this shadow of worry that lingered like a toxic fume.  Was I *performing* again?  Was I showing-off again?  Was it sinful and wrong for me to be *seen* on the stage?  Did I think more highly of myself than I ought?  Was I sinning by seeking *approval* and *applause* from PEOPLE – instead of from God alone?

So, I told myself again and again that I would NOT perform… or be *seen*.  Instead – my job was to diminish into the background and make sure that God was always first.  I used to repeat again and again:  “More of you, Lord… less of me… less of me… less of me…”

When you keep telling yourself to diminish… eventually, you DO.

IMG_3776

This kind of thing… passed around in Christian circles… reminding each-other NOT to be splendid… NOT to shine… NOT to be extraordinary. But rather… to shrink, to be less, to be small… a quiet little unseen mouse in the corner. But at least (we told ourselves)… we were “right”… we were “humble”… and God-was-pleased.

My mother used to talk of me “hiding behind a pot-plant”.  Because that’s exactly what I’d do.  If our particular event called for the worship team to be up on a stage… I would try to find myself a shadowy little corner at the back of the stage (preferably next to – or behind – a pot plant)… where I could hide behind my keyboard, keep my head down and put-the-Lord-FIRST.

And I believed that God was pleased by my shrinking.  I believed that’s what God wanted.  I believed that it was very Good-Christian of me.  And that it was the *right* thing to do.

At the time – I wrote a poem (I get a bit of vomit in my mouth when I recall this short excerpt):

I have no need of compliments, nor people’s vain applaud.  This is no proud performance, MY song is for the Lord.

I scorned compliments and applause.  And I believed that any kind of performance was proud, sinful and wrong.  In my mind, being a Good-Christian meant “becoming invisible”… and “serving from the shadows”.

Church – of course – wasn’t the only source of the Diminishment Doctrine.  School… society… the media… they all played a role in teaching me how to hide.   As a woman – I quickly learned that my worth would always be determined by my external appearance.  So… when I started getting fat… I tarred myself in shame and black baggies… and hid… and disappeared… and lurked in the shadows… and hoped not to be noticed.

The Diminishment Doctrine was authored by a whole concoction of pastors, prefects, parents and ad-execs.  Problem is – I lapped it all up – like the good, obedient, eager-to-please little doggie that I was.

Yet another photo of the years when I wore only black clothes and tried my best to disappear...

Yet another photo of the years when I wore only black clothes and tried my best to disappear…

By the time 2007 arrived, I had mastered The Art of Diminishment.  Mastered it.  I had managed to make myself almost completely invisible (except for a tiny tribe of very close people – who *saw* me)…

And… then…

…somewhere… somehow… I read that blasted Marianne Williamson quote for the first time.

And her words:

“We ask ourselves:  “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Which was – like – the story of my life.  In fact – I didn’t even ASK myself any more.  *Obviously* I would never aspire to be “brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous”… because those things were wrong… and selfish… and bad… and vain!

And then her next words:

“Actually, who are you NOT to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking…..”

Okay.  Slap. Through. The. Face.

What?

What was that?

“Who are you NOT to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented fabulous?”

*gasp of horror!*

“Your playing small does not serve the world”.

I remember initially feeling offended by those words.  Smallness… “humility”… serving-from-the-shadows… diminishing… emptying ourselves… being LESS… these were all *GOOD* things…!

… (weren’t they)…?

And I was forced to ask myself this inevitable (very, very, very, VERY uncomfortable) question:

“If I truly believe that being small and diminishing has – in some way – served the world… or been a good thing… or helped others… or benefited humankind (or God) in some way… HOW might this have happened?  Can I think of a single example of how my hiding and diminishing has been helpful or *good* for ANYONE?…. Anyone at all….?”

Of course…

I had to face the ugly truth.

WHAT had my decades of diminishment, invisibility and shrinking accomplished?

NOTHING.

No – wait – not only had it not accomplished anything… not only had it NOT served or helped anybody in any situation… but – instead it had wreaked an astonishing path of destruction.

My self-esteem?… my health?… my sense of worth?… in absolute tatters.  My talents and gifts (that I’d potentially be able to use to help or serve others?)… all packed away in the dark, dusty corners of my mind… lest I be guilty of “selfish ambition” or “proud performance” or “vanity” by unpacking those talents and exploring ways to share them with others.

Not to mention the utter hypocrisy… of parenting from the shadowy places of diminishment.

“You’re beautiful, valuable and acceptable – exactly as you are!” I’d tell my daughter (whilst believing myself to be ugly and worthless).

“Follow your dreams!” I’d encourage my kids (whilst simultaneously refusing to give myself permission to follow mine).

Well.  I’m done.

Done, done… DONE.

I’ve been done with the diminishment doctrine for a long time now (the journey began in 2007 – and continues still).

But today – I was reminded – once again – of how this toxic poison regularly tries to sneak back into my life…  and especially when I’m in vulnerable-mode (as mentioned in the previous post)… and even MORE especially when I’m asking people to back my Big Dream.

When stuff like this happens, I’m bombarded with Diminishment Doctrine thoughts like:

  • “Who do you think you are, Heather Costaras?”
  • “Do you think you’re so special?  Do you think you’re so talented?  Well – you’re NOT!  You should just leave the illustrations to the REAL Artists out there”.
  • “What right do you have to think you can publish a book?  You’re not a REAL writer!  You’re not a REAL singer!  You should just give up this crazy idea… and come back to the shadows.  It’s where you belong”.
  • “You are being VAIN, PROUD and SELFISH!”
  • “Why do you think that anybody gives a damn about your stupid book and your stupid story!?  You’re not some celebrity! You’re not important!  You’re just some bland mother-of-two from the suburbs of Johannesburg.  Nobody gives a shit about YOUR story, Heather.  Pack this crazy-stupid dream AWAY!  You’re just making a fool of yourself.”

But… you know what?

I’m DONE with diminishing, shrinking, playing-small, hiding and making myself invisible.

The time has come to (finally)… SHINE.

As we are ALL meant to do.  And that nasty little voice can shout, scream and tantrum all it wants.

But… nonetheless… I’m going to shine.  And I hope that you will too.  And – as we let our own light shine… we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

—————————————————

To end off – here’s 3 recent – and very Hattish photos from our Mad-Hat tea-party (shot by my very dear friend, Tracey Kelsey):

We clearly don't take ourselves very seriously these days...!  ;-)

We clearly don’t take ourselves very seriously these days…! ;-)

Much giggling...

Much giggling…

Cupcake boobs - tee-hee!!

Cupcake boobs – tee-hee!!

————————————————————

If you’re based in Joburg and you’d like to hear me TELL… and SING… this story (about shining)…with added artwork, photos, slides and what-not…  come along to Fisherman’s Village at 6pm on Saturday the 27th June.  There will be comfy couches and a roaring fire.  Bring some cash if you want to buy coffee, cakes or hot, freshly prepared jaffles.  :-)

And – if you’d like to pre-order your signed, first-edition copy of “How Heather got her HAT’ness back” – click here.  I only have 5 more days to raise about $2000… in order to get the book printed & distributed.  This is scary & terrifying… and a huge part of me yearns to hide myself… and my dream… from all of you.  But another (much more stubborn) part of me says:  “No!  I will *DO* this thing.  I will not chicken out!” So please bare with me.  I’m gonna promote the shit out of this crowdfunding campaign until it closes on Monday the 29th.  After that, I’ll return to *normal* blog-posts.  x