You are NOT alone (and neither am I)

Blogging can be a lonely road.

I don’t *see* the faces on the other side of this screen.   I huddle in coffee shop corners, typing my thoughts, fears and dreams into this laptop… and I release them into cyberspace.

Sometimes (often) – it feels as though I’m just talking… or rather, writing… to myself.

And that’s fine, of course.  I find that talking to myself… and writing to myself… is tremendously therapeutic and I do it often.

But still, there is always that very human part of me that longs to be *seen*… *heard*… and *got*.  There’s always that part of me that yearns for a tribe – people who not only *get* the journey – but folk who are grappling with the same questions I’m grappling with… and chewing on the same kinds of thoughts and ideas… and those who understand my back-story (because they’ve been through something similar).

There was a time when I thought I was alone in my experiences of being weird… and of not-fitting-in… and of utterly hating (and feeling damaged by) my school experience.

There was a time (in the not too-distant past) when I thought to myself:  

“Who are you kidding, Hat?  Most people WANT normal.  Most people LIKE the status-quo.  Most people are not freakish rat-popping, tune-humming, messy-art-journal-making, semi-nomadic, coffee-quaffing, lunatic-creative creatures with strange personalities who snatch their children out of normal-school and take them for picnics in graveyards or whisk them off around the world on a whim!”

And it’s true.

Not everyone is Hat-like.

BUT… after writing this post and this post… and the MASSIVE feedback (that I have never before experienced on this blog)… I have quickly realised that I am NOT alone.

And there ARE people on the other side of this laptop screen…. lots of people, in fact.

And there are many, many (heartbreakingly many) people… who *get* what it feels like to not-fit-in.  Who understand the tremendous pressure to conform-to-the-norm.  And who resonate and relate with my stories of withering in school… because they withered too!

In the past couple of days, I have connected with… and heard the stories of countless people.

Most of the comments (many of which have arrived in my e-mail inbox) seem to be divided into two threads:

  1. Adults who – like me – feel as though they are *still* recovering from the message (perpetuated by a toxic society, the schooling system, the media, etc)… that we are just – not ENOUGH – exactly as we are.  That we need to *fix* ourselves… and change… and be something else or somebody else entirely (if we ever hope to fit in or to be found ‘acceptable’).
  2. Parents (of children who are similar to “Young Hat”).  Parents who recognise the beautiful uniqueness of their child who just doesn’t *fit*… and who are either in a place of questioning (i.e.: “We know something has to change, but we’re not sure where to start”) – or – parents who have already taken steps to ensure that their child is raised in an environment that is most fitting for the unique little being that they *are* (i.e.: homeschooling, unschooling, alternative schools like Sudbury, art schools, dance schools, etc…)

Truth be told, I have been on an emotional roller coaster over the past couple of days.

Because I resonate so deeply with these stories, I have teared up (more than once) whilst reading the comments and e-mails.  And – just so you know – I’m not much of a crier.

But – my heart has also soared too!  This morning, I received an e-mail from somebody who told me that she was “a Gillian” and she’s now, at the age of 37, going back to school to get a degree in dance.

My heart soared at that news.  In fact – I suspect I may have slurped up some (happy) tears that plopped into my morning cup of coffee.

My heart also soars because she has a 10 year old boy… who thrives in school (and who LOVES his maths and his science) – and yet, when the boy read my story of Hat… and when he got to the part where Hat says:  “Perhaps they are right”…  he shouts out “Nooooooo!!!”

Because even at his age… he can recognise that there are others who are *different*… and that it’s OKAY… and that it’s wonderful (because diversity and uniqueness are wonderful) – and it upsets this boy to imagine that somebody feels they need to squash their uniqueness down in order to fit into some pre-defined Box.

We need more kids like that in the world.  Heck – we need more adults like that in the world!

I think we should chuck all ridiculous One-Size-Fits-All expectations that we have of others (and of ourselves) on to the trash heap.  I think that shit should be hoofed out our lives and our hearts like the toxic mulch that it is!

And I think we should do our best to encourage and allow ourselves and others to just *BE* who we truly are (with all our warts, weakness, weirdness and – of course – wonderfulness).  

Because we need everyone – functioning at their best… in their happiest and most content state… to be able to change this world and make it a better place for all.

Thank-you for showing me that I’m not alone.

And remember:  neither are you!

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PS:  I have created a little mailing list for everyone who is interested in the progress of my illustrated book, “How Heather got her Hat’ness Back”.  I’ll be posting an occasional mail with progress photos, stories and what-not.  If you’d like to be added to that list – just click here.   If you’re one of those who commented on my post about my big, crazy dream… I’ve already added you to the mailing list!  🙂  You can also follow my journey on instagram.

Why are most people miserable?

I have noticed something… disconcerting.  I notice it when I drive around this city… I notice it as I sit at coffee shops (overhearing the conversations at the tables next to me)… I notice it in the newspapers… on social media… at the check-out queue at the supermarket… and I can’t help but wonder:

Why are so many people so… miserable?

As you may know by now…  I visit a LOT of coffee shops.  We may not spend our money on cable TV or credit card debt… but I have certainly blown an embarrassing amount of cash at coffee shops!

Mostly, I visit coffee shops that have decent play areas and activities for the kids.  That way, I can get in a bit of work… (and some good coffee)… while the kids  run and play with other kids or participate in activities.

On Wednesdays (which is my “ME-Day” – because Adelaide looks after the kids on Wednesdays) – I visit coffee shops that aren’t meant for kids – and Joburg has LOTS of wonderful coffee shops… (with free wifi… good coffee… and yummy cake!).

Here’s a pic of one of my favourites:

Baklava Cheesecake from Tashas.

Baklava Cheesecake from Tashas.

Sorry – I’m going off-topic… (Baklava Cheesecake can make me do that…)

Anyhoo…

So – when one sits alone at a table at a coffee shop… drawing… or writing…. or whatever.  One tends to overhear a LOT of conversations from patrons nearby.  And I do not exaggerate when I say that at least 70% of these overheard conversations consist of one or more of the following:

  • Gossip and skinner (usually about a relative or friend not in present company).
  • Moaning about jobs and work.
  • Grumbling about money and the costs of living.
  • Complaining about the coffee shop service / food / waiter / decor / music / menu /etc.
  • More gossip (and I mean… the spiteful… UGLY… gossip! – this isn’t merely the discussing-someone-behind-their-back kind of gossip… this is knife-’em-in-the-gut and hock-a-loogie-into-their-eyeball kind of gossip.  This is mean… and VICIOUS gossip).
  • General whinging and bitching about people who are different (to the whinger).  Ie:  different race, different social class, different religion, different sexual orientation, different culture… etc.
  • Jealous Gossip (bitching about people who are, apparently, “too” beautiful… or “too” rich… or “too” clever … or even:  “too happy” (“Just wait, one day, she’s going to catch a proper wake-up call!  Then we’ll see how bouncy she is!”)
  • Worrying and complaining about various health ailments.
  • Worrying and complaining about “the kids”… (whether the kids’ school, the kids’ friends, the kids’ awful fashions, the kids’ stupid teacher, the kids’ lack-of-prospects-in-this-country… etc).
  • And – of course – worrying, complaining and grumbling about the country (in general)… the crime, the government, the taxes, etc… etc..

The above topics are usually held around the “Social Tables”  (Social Tables are friends, relatives or an occasional work colleague – meeting for a social chat).

I also overhear a lot of what goes on around the “Business Tables”.  Usually one (or more) of the following:

  • Moaning about prices… money… costs of living.
  • Bitching about too-heavy workloads (for too little pay).
  • Bit of gossip (but significantly politer than the Social Tables) – usually about a boss or a colleague (not in present company).
  • Grumbling about meetings… and who said what to whom… and what was REALLY meant by it.
  • Complaining about the service / the waiter / the food / the parking / etc.
  • Bitching about the internet connection… the lack of useable plug-points… the waiter’s apparent lack of knowledge on how to “fix” the internet connection.
  • Grumbling and complaining about the country, the laws, the politicians, the corruption, the crime, the tax system, etc…

In a nutshell – I overhear a LOT of moaning, complaining and general misery.  And lots – and LOTS of gossip.  There’s more gossip in coffee shops than there are coffee beans.  They should be called “Gossip Shops” (with some coffee on the side).

But – I was wondering (and I’m still wondering) why I overhear so LITTLE of the following:

  • People complimenting the waiter, the owner, the barista or the chef on a job well done.
  • Uplifting, inspiring stories shared amongst friends.
  • Laughter…  genuine belly-aching laughter (acidic gossip-sniggers not applicable).
  • Intense discussion over an interesting new IDEA… and specifically, ideas that could change the world for the better in some way (people love to bleat about a problem – but it seems that very few of us are willing to take action towards positive change).
  • Exciting plans discussed… whether a new venture, a complete change of life, a family road trip, whatever!
  • Other people (not in present company) affirmed and valued (which is basically the opposite of gossip).
  • Ideas or campaigns to do something positive about the state of the country… or the state of the world.

Why are so many of us so MISERABLE?

And negative?

I mean – Jeez!  Is life SO awful?

Have we become SO blinded to the beauty around us (and the privileges that we have) – that all we seem to see and acknowledge is everything that is WRONG with the world… and WRONG with others… and WRONG with ourselves??

If anything, my many hours in coffee shops overhearing many poisonous conversations (with a few, rare, happy conversations slotted in-between)… has taught me a thing or two about humanity and about myself.

I don’t want that to be me.

I don’t want to be that person with poison flowing like lava from my mouth (and attitude)…

And I will admit – that on many occasions, that HAS been me.

I have gossiped.  I have whinged about problems.  I have been a misery.  And yes – I understand that everyone needs to vent a bit… and rant a bit… and get some stuff off their chest… (and I’m not saying that we should never be angry or upset).

But…it seems to me that many people have their default setting stuck on “Miserable”.  And for me – that’s such a shame.

And (did I mention?)… I don’t want that to be me.

I want to laugh more… celebrate more… be thankful for this precious life… grateful for every moment that I’m alive.  I want to continually be aware of how fortunate I am… how blessed I am… how many beautiful people are a part of my life… how many amazing ideas and solutions are waiting to be discovered and embraced!

And I want to discuss those ideas… and solutions… and figure out ways to initiate, implement and create positive change…

I want to laugh… huge, belly-aching howls of joy… with tears!  (my cousin Clare is one of the people who makes me laugh like that… I really need to see more of her!)

I want to cry – because I’m deeply moved or touched by something or someone (I don’t want to become immune or indifferent to the stories of others).

I want to be generous with my smiles, my time, my money, my talents and my life.

I want to be known as a “giver” – not a “taker”…

I want to be known as a “doer” – not a “complainer”…

These are big “wants”, I know (and they’ll take a fair amount of change, growth and attitude adjustment).  But I also know what I don’t want:  I don’t want people cringing when they overhear MY coffee shop conversations.  I don’t want to infect others with my bitterness and resentment.  I want to be a HAPPY person – not just for my wellbeing… but also for the wellbeing of others.

I have just finished the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert – and of (the many) nuggets of truth that struck me…  this particular quote hit a nerve:

“I keep remembering a simple idea my friend Darcey told me once – that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people.  Not only in the big global Hitler ‘n Stalin picture, but also on the smallest personal level.  Even in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me.  The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world.  Cleaning out all your misery gets you out of the way.  You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else.  Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people”.

Hello.

I concur.

I think that happiness is the first step towards making the world a better place!

Who’s with me?

OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT ENJOY:

 

Heleen’s Special Walk

Here’s a bit of a photo post…

I’ve already mentioned all of the detail… and all of the love that has gone into the restoration of the beautiful little cottage that we’ve made our temporary home…

But, now I want to tell you about “The Special Walk” (which is what the kids call it).

The owner of the house, Heleen, calls it a prayer walk… and the detail she has created on this little river-side journey is astounding!

The beginning of Heleen’s prayer walk starts with this red doorframe (just a little taster of what’s to come!)…

prayer walk entrance… once you walk through the red door, you need to keep a look out for all the tiny details and treasures she has installed along the way.

Every now and then, there’s a rock or branch with a meaningful scripture or prayer beautifully painted… or there’s an artwork etched out of stone.  You never know what you’ll find, or what’s in store behind the next corner.

We also found mushrooms… porcupine quills… feathers… and – of course – Heleen’s little love-letters and art installations….

Occasionally, just off the path, she has created special little quiet spots… with tree-trunk seats and pretty views of the stream (I think she designed them as prayer-places).

At the end of the walk, stone steps lead the way to a beautiful, shady picnic spot – right next to the river… and a large stone beautifully etched with the words:  “Dit is vol bring” meaning “It is done” or “It is finished”.

I’ll let the photos tell the story…

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Joah and mushrooms

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About money and a sneak peek into my big idea

something new

So… anyway…

I have been pondering this whole online-business thing for a long, long time.

Just so you know, I’m no stranger to the idea of owning a business.  Nick and I have both worked for ourselves for – well – most of our adult lives.  I’ve made my money (over the years) doing the following:

  • Freelance graphic designer (later owned a graphic design business)
  • Freelance illustrator
  • Freelance photographer
  • Musician & songwriter
  • Music & vocal arranger
  • Speaking engagements & teaching workshops & courses
  • Big projects sponsored by corporations (like VENT!)
  • Occasional concerts where I was paid as a musician or singer.

My income has ebbed and flowed over the years.  When I had my design business, I was bringing in a lot of money (but had a rotten, stressed-out quality of life in return).  Other times (like for the past couple of years) – I’ve made very little money – but have invested enormous amounts of time and energy into projects and work which fulfil me in other ways, like:

The stuff above makes little to no money.  But it does make me happy and fulfilled… and, in all, I’m a much happier person (and certainly better company for my family) than I was in 2007.

Continue reading

25 Ways to Live Differently (and to suck the marrow out of life!)…

Want to know the kind of life I advocate for?  This…

1.  Toss out the TV

It’s the ultimate time waster!  Just think of all the hours wasted, staring mindlessly at a light-box.  Life is full of wonderful adventures waiting to happen.  Don’t waste it away staring at a screen, watching Reality TV, soap operas and bad movies.

2.  Seriously re-think your job

If you wake up every morning with a smile and a sense of purpose – awesome! yay!  If, however, you wake up every morning with a deep sense of dread… then maybe it’s time to re-think a few things about your job.  Change doesn’t necessarily happen overnight – but everyone can take baby-steps towards the life (and the job) of their choosing.  For some inspiration, watch this:

3. Think twice before you buy more “stuff”…

Why buy STUFF when you can spend your money on experiences and adventures instead?  Instead of getting in to debt and accumulating more stuff – rather go camping for the weekend with your kids… or visit a museum or an art gallery together… or picnic at the end of an airport runway, watching the planes coming in to land while you pop strawberries into your mouth and listen to Bill Withers… or invite friends over for board games and wine… or play dress-up with the kids.

Make memories with your loved ones!  Can “things” and “stuff” and expensive shoes and name-brand bags really compare?  (Me thinks not).

Here’s a brilliant website packed with inspiration and food for thought.

4.  Don’t buy glossy magazines that make you (or your kids) feel shitty about yourselves.

ugly beautyNuff said.

Continue reading

The Surprise Package Company

Okay… this is a random post… about an idea that has been simmering in my mind.  I even illustrated a logo for it…  here it is:

tspc

I actually got the idea while reading a children’s story in an old book from the late 1940’s.  The book is called Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories.  The story is written in a really old-fashioned way… but the sentiment behind the story absolutely grabbed at my heart – and I thought:  “I want to start a Surprise Package Company!”…  and… so that’s exactly what I’m doing!!  (I’ll keep you updated in future posts about the what’s, why’s and how’s…).

Here’s the bedtime story:

WILFRED’S SECRET

“I wish I could be a pirate!” said Wilfred.  “Everything is so dull, and I want to do something exciting.”

“Yes,” said Gwen, “do let’s find something to do.”

It was holiday time.  School had been closed for about ten days, and the children were getting tired of their playthings.  They wanted something new.

“Of course, we can’t be pirates,” said Gwen, “because we should soon be taken to the police station.”

“Of course,” said Wilfred, “but can’t we think of something?”

“Let’s think.”

“I’ve got it!” he cried.  “Let’s call ourselves the Surprise Package Company:  I’ll be the president, and you, Sis, well, you can be the secretary.”

“Alright, Wilf,” said Gwen, willing to do anything her big brother suggested, “but what shall we do?”

“Do?  Why, give people surprises.”

“What sort?”

“Oh, good ones, of course,” said Wilfred.  “We’ll find people who need things done for them, and then make them wonder how the things happened.  I think we’ll get lots of fun out of it.”

“So do I,” said Gwen.  “What shall we do first?  Let’s start soon.”

“All right.  I’ll make a list of things, and then we can decide which to start with.”

Wilfred found a pencil and paper, and made his list.

“Now, mind,” he said solemnly, “don’t tell anybody what we’re planning to do.  It’s a secret.”

“Of course not,” said Gwen, “the very idea!”

2

That same afternoon when Mother returned from town, she dropped into an armchair and stared.  What a transformation!  After dinner she had gone out hurriedly, leaving all the dirty dishes in the sink.  Now they had disappeared.  The kitchen had been tidied up, everything was in its place, and the table was all set for supper.  The empty coal scuttle had been filled, and yes, even the windows had been cleaned!

3

All was quiet and still.  Nobody was about.  What kind person could have done all this?  Wilfred and Gwen came in from the garden.  Mother asked them if Auntie had called during the afternoon.  Wilfred said no, he didn’t think so, but it did look as if someone had been busy.

“Well,” said Mother, “isn’t it just lovely!  I haven’t any more work to do today, and I can have such a nice quiet rest this evening!  I wonder who did it all?”

Mother opened a letter she had found on the mat when coming in.  It read:  “The Surprise Package Company called this afternoon on a little matter of business.”

“I wonder what that means?” said Mother.

“I wonder,” said Wilfred.

“Let’s have supper,” said Gwen.

And they did.

4

The next morning two children might have been seen going down the street leading to the little home of Mrs. O’Higgins, a poor, bedridden old soul for whom nobody seemed to care.  The boy, who was holding something in his right hand, knocked gently on the door.  There was no answer.  The boy peeped in at the window.  Mrs. O’Higgins was fast asleep.  Quietly opening the door, the boy walked in, followed by his sister.  Tiptoeing across the room, the boy placed the parcel he was carrying upon the table beside the bed and went out.  The little girl was so excited that she fell over the doorstep.

“Gwen, do be careful!” said the boy.

The noise had awakened the old lady.

“Who is that?” she called.

But the door was shut, and the two children were scampering away as fast as their legs would carry them.  Mrs. O’Higgins picked up the parcel.  It contained three eggs.

“What a mercy!” she said to herself.  “But who sent them?”

Looking at the wrapper, she read, “With love from the Surprise Package Company.”

5

Frank Morley, a school friend of Wilfred’s, was ill with mumps.  Of course he had to stay indoors and was very miserable.  From his bed he could just look out over a small patch of garden, surrounded by a high brick wall.  One afternoon he was gazing vacantly out of the window when all of a sudden he saw a square box topple over the garden wall, and slide down to the ground, held by a stout string.

“Mother, quick!” he called.  “Do see what that is in the garden.”

Mother, all surprised, brought the parcel, and Frank opened it.  Inside were four smaller parcels.  One was labeled, “Open Monday”; the second, “Open Wednesday”; the third, “Open Friday”; the fourth, “Open Sunday.”

As it was Monday, Frank opened the first parcel.  It was a box of paints – just what he had been longing for!  Frank thought he had seen the box before but did not know where.  Inside the box were the words:  “With best wishes from the Surprise Package Company.”

“Whatever is that?” asked Frank.

Nobody knew.

6

On one occasion the Surprise Package Company was caught.  Wilfred and Gwen were paying a second visit to Mrs. O’Higgins.  This time they had taken with them some flowers as well as eggs.  As quiet as mice they crept in, placed their gifts upon the table, and departed.  The children were so anxious to get in and out without awakening the old lady that they did not notice a gentleman sitting quietly in an adjoining room.  It was the doctor.

7

No sooner had the door closed behind the children than he went across to the table, picked up the parcel, and read the note:  “With love from the Surprise Package Company.”

“So this explains what the old lady has been talking about!” he said.  “And now I can understand what Frank Morley told me yesterday.”

And this explains, too, how it came about that a few days later a letter arrived at the home of Wilfred and Gwen, addressed to the Surprise Package Company and containing an invitation to luncheon at Dr. Brown’s.

The children had a wonderful time at the doctor’s, and there were two surprise packages that made up for all they had given away.  Of course the children could not understand how the doctor had come to know about their secret, and he wouldn’t say a word.  It was all a delightful mystery.  Wilfred and Gwen were as happy as children could be. Wilfred said that it was much better than being pirates.

8

“Young Designers” shoot

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by Quizzical Pictures and asked to be a judge / mentor for the SABC TV show called “Young Designers”.  The concept of the show is typical of most reality TV competitions: 12 young designers are chosen to participate in the show…  they can be graphic designers, interior designers, fashion designers… and everything else in-between!

Every episode – they’re given a design task… and most of these design tasks require them to cross over in to other design disciplines that they may not be used to.  So… for example… fashion designers may have to conceptualise and design a new logo… or graphic designers may find themselves designing and sewing a dress.

Every week, a new judge/mentor oversees the episode.  The judge/mentor is considered an expert in a certain design discipline (ie:  flowers / interiors / fashion / architecture / etc)… and the judge/mentor needs to set a task for the participants to complete in a certain time-frame.  The judge/mentor also judges the work of the participants and chooses who wins… and who loses.  The ‘loser’ is eliminated from the show.  The winning designer who survives elimination for 12 episodes is the winner and is declared the best Young Designer (and receives a very nice prize).

Obviously, since the show hasn’t aired yet… I can’t tell you much about the designers… and who won, who lost… or even what the prize is.

But I can tell you it was great fun to shoot (although utterly exhausting).

Initially, I was approached to be the judge/mentor for the Re-cycling / Up-cycling challenge (because of my affiliation to WOODO).  However… at the last minute, the Illustration judge/mentor pulled out… and, because the producers at Quizzical Pictures knew that I was also an illustrator – they asked me to fill in.

So… yes… I was the judge/mentor for the Illustration Challenge…  but, because the day was SO(!!!) busy – I didn’t have time to take any photos of my shoot.  BUT… because they needed a new judge/mentor for the Re-cycling / Up-cycling challenge (they can’t use the same person twice) – I recommended they ask my mom (since she’s genius with re-cycling and up-cycling… after all, almost everything at Fisherman’s Village has been re-cycled or up-cycled).

Here’s some photos of the Re-cycling / Up-cycling challenge of Young Designers.  For those who live in South Africa, it will be broadcast on SABC 3 in the first few months of next year.

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IMG_2845Above:  Mom

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IMG_2866Above:  The crew were quaffing enormous quantities of Red Bull to keep awake… they had been working an insanely busy schedule with very little sleep.

IMG_2875Above:  The Re-cycling / Up-cycling shoot at Fisherman’s Village went on until late into the night.  The whole challenge took place in The Boma (which is mostly made from bits and pieces of stuff that my mom has scrounged and sourced over the years).

Anyway… so there you have it.  It was loads of fun!  But right now, I’m getting back to my illustration.  🙂