Still trapped in the cycle of body-hatred and shame? There’s hope.

For those of you who feel trapped (and yes, I’m aware that not everyone feels trapped)… but for those of you who DO feel trapped.

This post is for you.

I want to instil a bit of hope. (Hopefully).

There is HOPE for those who feel trapped in a place of self-loathing, low self-esteem and body-hatred.

A couple of years ago… this is what life was like:  I hated myself.  There is no other *nice* way to put it.  My self-hatred was so extreme, I would self-abuse.  I  believed that I needed to be punished.  I believed that I needed to hurt… because I deserved that hurt… I deserved that punishment because I was bad, bad, bad… BAD. Here’s how I punished and self-abused:

  • I binged.  And binged.  And binged some more.  Slabs of chocolates, bags of chips, 3-cheese-pizzas, tins of coke, anything and everything I could stuff down my throat in an attempt to numb or anaesthetise myself against the disappointment I felt about myself – and about the state of my life.
  • Bingeing (naturally) only brought on extra large doses of shame about how “weak” and how “pathetic” I supposedly was.  So I would cut myself (mostly my forearms or my stomach)… or I would pull out the hair on top of my head (one by one)… or I would take a wooden baton and beat bruises into my own legs whilst repeating “I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!”.
  • I so desperately hated my body and my appearance – that I lost all interest in taking care of myself.   I wore baggy, faded tracksuit pants and old T-shirts.  I never bothered with hair or make-up… I always used to think:  “What’s the use?”.  I couldn’t even raise my eyes to look at my own reflection in the bathroom mirror when I brushed my teeth in the morning.

Extreme?  Yes it was.

It’s hard for me to dwell on the memories of that time.  They’re not pretty memories.

Here is a photo of me during a really shitty season of my life (at the time – I was cutting):

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And here’s a photo taken a couple of years later.  I wasn’t cutting any more… but I was still bingeing and filled with feelings of shame and self-loathing:

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But there’s hope!!!!  Change is possible.

Today…  I can honestly say… that I no longer hate myself.  I like the person I see in the mirror (and I’m not just talking physically… I’m saying that I like the “me” that I greet in the morning)… and I’m slowly starting to learn to even LOVE the person I see in the mirror (baby steps).

  • I haven’t binged in 3 and a half years.
  • I haven’t cut, beat, plucked-myself-bald… since early 1999.
  • I greet myself with a genuine, self-loving mirror-smile in the morning.  I’m not ashamed to look myself in the eye.
  • I no longer shame my body.
  • I’m not afraid of wearing bright, colourful clothes… of celebrating my me-ness (I even cut my hair short and dyed it pink a while back)
  • I no longer desperately need or seek the approval of others.  If I want to swim in the sea with my kids… then I swim in the sea with my kids.  I no longer fret about irrelevant things like fatness / cellulite / big bum and not wanting to appear in public in a swimsuit.  Those days are OVER.  I don’t give a damn about whether other people *approve* of me – or my body – (or not).

Here is an illustration that I have created for my book, “How Heather got her HAT’ness back”.

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The single most important decision that I made with regards to my journey towards inner-healing… was when I decided to love and respect myself – exactly as I was!!

This was a HUGE departure from my shoot-myself-in-the-foot mentality of the previous 25 years… which was:

  • “I will only like myself when I’m thin”
  • “I will only nurture myself and treat myself with respect when I’m thin – because right now, I’m too fat and revolting to *deserve* love and respect”.
  • “I will only buy myself nice clothes when I’m thin.  But right now, I’m shameful and I need to hide… so I will cover my body with black, baggy clothes and hope that nobody will notice me”
  • “I will only pamper myself with treats like trips to the spa, pedicures and new hair-do’s when I’m thin.  Because – at this size – what’s the point?  You can’t disguise an ugly thing”

Yes… well.

You can probably imagine how *well* that worked out for me… (*insert sarcastic snort here*)

To cut a (long) story short… when I decided that I was going to choose self-love and self-care over body-hatred, fat-shaming and self-abuse… it was the beginning of my journey towards healing.

You can not hate and shame yourself into change.  It doesn’t work.  It never works.

Change only came when I slowly started adjusting my toxic attitude.  Change only came when I slowly learned to stop hating and shaming myself – and my body.  Change only came when I began to believe (a slow journey – by the way)… that perhaps my weight didn’t determine my worth… and perhaps I was worthy of love and respect exactly as I was (flaws, fat and all)…!  Love and respect by others – sure… but it had to begin with love and respect by ME.

Here’s a recent photo / artwork of me (also going in the book)…

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I’m not “perfect” (in fact, I have completely disentangled myself from the very idea of “perfection”).  The journey towards healing and self-love continues.  I still have feel-crappy days… and shroud-myself-in-black-baggies days… and food remains my Kryptonite.  But, in spite of those things, I’m happy-to-be-Hat.  I wear bright colours.  I pink up my hair.  I don’t skulk along in the shadows any more.  I don’t hide any more.  I’m not ashamed any more.   I have learned to embrace my uniqueness… my HAT’ness… my quirks… and yes – even my flaws!

So much wonderful change has taken place… but I haven’t “arrived”.  Nobody has.  The journey continues – and I’m more than willing to walk alongside anyone who is still struggling with the issues (mentioned above) that I struggled with for such a long time.  Feel free to e-mail me and send me your story…. heather@themadhat.co.za

Perhaps we can learn from one another as we journey together?

And finally:  maybe low self-esteem, eating disorders and body-shaming is not your *thing*… So – here’s another area where you may feel trapped… where (I can assure you)… there is HOPE:

There is HOPE for those who feel trapped in shitty, life-sucking jobs that they hate!  There is HOPE for those who feel trapped by debt.

(But I’ll discuss that in my next post!)  🙂

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UPDATE on the progress of my Crowdfunding Campaign.  I’m raising funds to print my illustrated book, “How Heather got her HAT’ness back”.   As I write this post… I need to raise the remaining $2500 by the time the campaign closes on the 29th June (Eeeeeek!!) If I do not manage to raise the full amount – Indiegogo takes a commission of 9% (instead of 4%) on the funds already raised.

I can’t print and produce this book without YOUR help…. and I would be so very grateful if you could CLICK HERE… visit the campaign website… browse the photos… have a read of my splurb’ing – and (if you resonate in any way) – you can pre-order your copy of the book – thereby simultaneously backing the campaign and my project.  A gazillion thanks to you (and – of course – to every person who has already contributed!!)… X

Misconceptions about “creativity” and illustrated books

Today – I’m going to respond to a question that I’ve been asked by a couple of people.  The question is this:

“I thought this was supposed to be a children’s book.  Why have you created an illustrated poem for adults?”

Well… the short answer is:  why not?

But I actually have a number of thoughts on this topic.

Why do we only have storybooks, illustrated books and poetry… for children?  Why are these things not created for adults too?  Why do most of us assume that illustrations… and illustrated books are “for kids”…?

I actually think it’s a big part of the problem.  This idea that we (“grown-up’s”) have about the arts as a whole.  Most of us have been raised in societies and schools that devalue the arts… poetry… storytelling.  We’re told from a young age to “grow-up”.  We’re instructed to be sensible, obedient, practical, dutiful and responsible.  And, in many ways, we’re told and taught (and especially as we get older)… that we need to pack away the whimsy, the beauty, the playtimes, the stories, the dreams, imagination, adventure, wonder and art… and we need to store it all in a little box called “Childish Things”.

That little box gets padlocked… and filed away in the deep, dark recesses of our minds where it gathers dust and lies dormant – like an undiscovered treasure.  And many of us NEVER open it up again.

We replace the beautiful, whimsical things with practical things.  Sensible things.

We replace the play with work.  Because that’s what we grown-up’s do.  We work.  Play is for children.

We replace the fables and the stories with “truth”.  When somebody tells us a story, we – as grown-up’s – immediately respond:  “Yes, that’s very nice.  But is it true?

We replace our big, beautiful dreams with “realism”.  We say things like:  “I’m just being realistic“.  We tell ourselves that our dreams are “pipe dreams”… or “fantasies”.  We scold ourselves for dreaming.  We tell ourselves that it’s time-wasting, childish nonsense.  That we need to grow-up and “get real”.

We replace imagination and ideas with systems, structures and 3-step-plans.  We’ve been so programmed to think this way… to Answer-the-Questions (instead of QUESTION the answers)… to Obey-The-Rules… and Pass-The-Tests… and Do-What-We’re-Told… and to be compliant and obedient… and, as a result, many of us have lost the ability to think for ourselves… to initiative NEW ideas… NEW concepts… NEW solutions.

Many adults believe that they need other people to govern their lives and tell them what to do – and without those people;  the parent… the teacher… the pastor… the husband… the boss… the “expert”… the government official… they feel unsafe and adrift.

And… as for the WONDER.  Whatever happened to that?

Most adults can’t even get their brains around the idea of “wonder”.  We believe we *must* have The Answers.  We must know The Truth.  There seems to be little room for questioning… pondering… or even a willingness to embrace uncertainty.  Few of us (grown-up’s) are content to embrace the wonder of the unknown… the divine mysteries of life… to be perfectly comfortable admitting:  “You know what?  I don’t know.  And I’m okay with not knowing.  But… ah… isn’t it wonderful simply to ponder on all the possibilities??”

And as for art… and colour… the creative expression of our longings, thoughts and imaginings…

For many adults, “ART” is the domain of The Arty-Farty’sThose people.  Those other people.

“I’m not creative”, people say (I’ve heard this so many times… I’ve lost count).

And yet – as children – we ALL created art.  We ALL were involved in painting, drawing, dancing, drama and poetry.  As kids, we were ALL encouraged to express ourselves in a creative way.  Nobody pigeon-holed us then.  Nobody said:  “You five kids over there!  You are the arty-farty’s.  You are ALLOWED to create art.  The rest of you?  You’ve got NO creativity or talent.  Go and kick a ball or do some sums”.

As children – we were ALL encouraged to express ourselves through art.

What happened?

What changed?  Why were the paints, the poetry, the crafts and the music all packed away?

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One of the reasons why I’ve created my book as an illustrated poem… is because I believe that ADULTS… could do with a nice, healthy dose of ART, stories, poetry, colourful imaginings… and whimsy… injected back into their lives!

By telling my story (which is, at times, dark and difficult)… using ART and POETRY… it’s my small attempt to debunk this crazy myth that illustrated-books-are-just-for-children.

THIS illustrated book is… for grown-up’s.  Yes – I’ll create another one for children (a *lite* version).  But – this FIRST version… this FIRST edition… is for all the adults.

And ESPECIALLY for the adults who have told themselves the bullshit lie that they are “not creative”… or “not particularly talented at anything”… or “not enough”.

ESPECIALLY those adults.

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I have 19 more days to raise the full $5000 that I need to print and distribute my book.  If you would like a signed, first-edition copy of my illustrated-poem-for-grown’up’s… (along with other goodies and perks that I’ll be posting to backers) – I’d be HUGELY grateful if you click on THIS LINK.  Thank-you!  Thank-you!

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PS:  Now… go and paint a picture, take a photo, climb a tree, do a cartwheel, scrape Nutella out of a jar with your fingers, have a bubble bath (preferably with bath-toys), compose a limerick, sing a song, daydream, pick some wild flowers and stick them in your hair, mould something out of polymer clay, wear something outrageously bright and sparkly, play dress-up… (well – you get the picture)…. X

PPS:  Quick disclaimer (added after reading a few comments and suddenly feeling horrified that I might not be making myself crystal-clear with this post).  To all the mathematicians, scientists, engineers (and people generally brilliant at all the stuff I suck at).  Please… please… don’t see this post as a *diss* on your particular craft or skill.  I truly believe that we are ALL creative… that creativity shows itself in ways as diverse as the stars in the sky.  Although I DO believe that the arts (like painting, poetry, drama, dance, music, etc) have been marginalized and generally devalued by society and school and viewed as hobbies and not as *important* as maths or science…  I am *NOT* saying that *I* think that maths or science (or anything – really) – is a “lesser” pursuit.  I see ALL our talents and gifts as equal… and ALL of these things can be expressed through creative means.  There is creativity in business… there is creativity in maths… there is creativity in engineering.  I’m sorry if anyone has misunderstood my stance on this!  Pleeeeeease know that I hold these 4 values close to my heart:

  1. I believe that we are ALL creative.
  2. I believe there is no such thing as a “lesser” or “less worthy” gift / calling / talent / career.
  3. My deep desire – for everyone – is that they learn to truly embrace their beautiful uniqueness and be the best version of THEM-selves.
  4. I have never-ever-ever wanted other people to be more like “me”.  God forbid.  I want YOU to just be… more like… YOU! – and not to let anyone tell you how to live or who to be.  Just be YOU.  Be… YOU!!

*phew!* (Hope that’s cleared up?)…

Why I HATE asking…

So…

*gulp*

Here goes….

*takes deep breath*.

I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs.  My grandad was a man who didn’t suffer fools and he had a large sign on his office desk which read:  “A friend in need… is a bloody nuisance”.

Grandad valued hard work and independence.  Period.

If you were (in any way) needy… he believed that it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough… and you were, well…. a bloody nuisance.

My Dad, I think, followed in Grandad’s footsteps in many ways.  Dad, like Grandad, was (and is) fiercely independent.  He didn’t like to owe ANYbody… ANYthing.  And certainly didn’t like being in a position of being (or feeling)… beholden… to someone else.

As a result – he never was.

He made his own money.  Paid his own debts.  And never asked anyone for anything.

And he never needed anything from anyone…. including me.

But he would always give.  Dad has always been very generous – and has always found it easy to give (and especially to his family).

But not to *get*.  Never to get.

He doesn’t even like getting birthday or Christmas presents.  They make him feel awkward.  He says he doesn’t need them.

He doesn’t need phone-calls.  Doesn’t need birthday cards.  Doesn’t even need visits.

On the one hand… this makes him the most admin-free family member – because he has zero expectations.  Of anyone.

But sometimes, I feel a bit sad that Dad doesn’t need anything from me.  I would love the opportunity to GIVE something back to my Dad.  Something that he needs.   I would love it if he phoned me and asked for my help with something.  It would honour me, deeply,  to be able to help him.

And here’s an irony:

As it turns out… I’m now married to (surprise, surprise)… a fiercely independent Greek who ALSO doesn’t *need* anything.  So independent is Nick (he who loathes the idea of me “mothering” him)… that – like Dad… he doesn’t really need anything from me.

This is definitely not a criticism.  It’s one of the things I love most about Nick.  I love that he’s never burdened me with a long list of expectations and duties.  I love that he’s a Giver.

But the problem with Givers… is that they find it very, very difficult to receive.

And – in fact – they view “receiving” as “taking“.  And a Giver’s dread is to be viewed by others as a “Taker”.   In fact, I think one of the worst things that anyone could say to Nick… (or to my Dad, for that matter)… (or to Nick’s cousin, Helen)… is to accuse them of being Takers.

Now you have the back-story… here is the point of today’s post:

I don’t view myself as a Giver… or at least not in the same league as most Givers I know.

But… jeeeeeez…. do I absolutely and completely struggle to:

  1. Ask for help.
  2. Receive the help I’ve asked for.

Asking for help is… for lack of a better word… excruciating.

Asking for financial help is even MORE excruciating.  There is so much… shame… associated with the act of asking.  I keep thinking of beggars.  I keep thinking of the words plastered on Grandad’s desk sign… and hear his Lancaster-laced voice, thundering in my head:… “… a bloody nuisance! Needy people are a bloody nuisance!”…

And I think:  “I don’t want people to view me as a bloody nuisance!  I don’t want to be a bloody nuisance to my friends… my blog followers… my family….!”

Everything in me wants… NOT… to ask.

*I* want to be the person that is in the position to give, do, serve, help and encourage.  *I* don’t want to be the needy one… the “weak” one.

But – here’s the thing.  I know this mentality of mine isn’t helpful.

And – more than that – I know it just doesn’t make any logical SENSE.  Because, when my friends and family ask me for favours – I never view them as “needy”, “weak” or “a bloody nuisance”…

In most cases – I feel honoured that they asked me.  Honoured that I’m able to help… honoured that they felt comfortable enough to ask

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So – this post is about ASKING.  

It’s hard and excruciating – but I’m doing it anyway (even if it’s just a way for me to face my own fears).

So – now you know.  I’m asking for your help.  Just click on this link to see why:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/send-hat-to-b-school/x/491271

*big hug!!*…. X

PS:  Here’s a TED Talk by Amanda Palmer (one of the most-watched TED talks… one that prompted me to buy her book… and one that also made me feel very challenged and uncomfortable)….

And finally – I’d love to hear from YOU.  Am I the only person who struggles with asking and receiving?  Do any of you struggle with this too?  Have you managed to overcome these fears?  How would you define a “Giver” and a “Taker”…?  I’d love to hear your story!… x

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.

My big, crazy dream…

I have this big, crazy dream.

I’ve had it for a while.

Due to my experiences… as a creative creature who lost sight of herself (for many years) – and then – found herself again… I have wanted – for a long time – to use my specific talents and gifts – in helping and encouraging others (whether kids, teens or adults) to EMBRACE their beautiful uniqueness and to love and accept themselves (exactly as they are right now).

And so… I wrote a poem.  And (kinda like Dr. Seuss likes to do)… I illustrated it too.

Here’s a titbit (PS: read the words on each page out loud for the best effect):

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“You need to stop day-dreaming!  Work hard at school!

You must pass your tests and obey all the rules!

Study your maths and your accountancy

You’ll need them one day in a job – wait and see!”

“Stop playing those games!  Stop fooling around!

Stop laughing so loudly.  You need to calm down!”

“Your art’s just a hobby, your jokes are not funny

You need to pass science if you want to earn money!”

“You need to be cultured, refined and mature

and dutiful, dainty, discreet and demure.

You’ll get a good job and you’ll marry one day,

life will work out – IF you do what we say”…

And Hat started thinking:

hat pic

“I’m sucking at schoolwork.  I’m just getting fatter.

I’m good at the stuff that does not seem to matter.

Perhaps if I *fix* myself – all will be well,

’cause people want “normal” from what I can tell.

If I tone myself down and re-program my mind,

then I’ll be like the others… and all will be fine”

And thus, on that day, Hat resolved to reform

she would be like the rest and conform to the norm.

She tossed out her weird stuff and went on a diet,

she banished her dreams and became rather quiet.

She even threw out her collection of hats.

She stopped writing poems…

and she stopped popping rats.

Out went her artwork and prized peacock feather…

then “Hat” was abandoned…

she called herself… Heather.

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Okay – so, there you go.

That was about 1 third of the book I’ve made.  Update:  it’s finished!!! 🙂

My Big Dream is two-fold.  Firstly – I’d like to see this poetry-picture-book published – and distributed far and wide… with the hope (and the big-fat-dream) that it will help somebody to think twice before attempting to mould themselves (or their kids) according to other people’s expectations and ideals.

The second part of my Big-Fat-Dream… (and probably the part that most excites me, because I’ve been dreaming about this for bloody ages)… is to create a unique little short-film… of this poem.

So – there you go.

I’m putting that little dream “out there”.

Do I attempt to crowd-fund this thing?  Update:  That’s exactly what I did!  Thank-you, backers!! 🙂

Do I put a “donate” button on my website?  (uh… no)

Do I brown-nose friends-in-high-places… (not that I have many of those).

Or… is this just another one of those well-meaning little projects that gets tucked away in the cupboard and kept as a cute little heirloom for my future grandkids…. (?)

I dunno.

Any thoughts???

Drop me an e-mail:  heather@beautifullifeproject.com

Hat x

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UPDATE:  11th November 2015

The book is finished!  80 full-colour pages of illustrated poem about finding misplaced MUCH’ness and having the courage to be *SEEN* for who we truly ARE!

You can buy a copy from Amazon here, if you want.  🙂

LOADS and LOADS of love, gratitude and hugs to all the amazing people… blog-readers… crowd-funding backers… who made my dream come true!

Now on to Book #2 (the “lite”, kid’s version…)

And… the film!  (Squeeeeee!)

Is “work” more valued than “art”?

A couple of months ago, I watched Amanda Palmer give a TED talk on the art of asking.  For those unfamiliar with Amanda Palmer, she’s a musician and singer – who began her career as a street artist called “The 8 Foot Bride”.  Anyhoo… during this season as the 8-Foot-Bride (check out the TED talk for the full story of what that entailed), she says this:

“And I would get harassed sometimes. People would yell at me from their passing cars. “Get a job!” And I’d be, like, “This is my job.” But it hurt, because it made me fear that I was somehow doing something un-joblike and unfair, shameful”

Omigod.  How very very… achingly… familiar I am with that feeling.  The feeling that (cringe! cringe! cringe!)… that I could ever *ASK* for money for my art… seems, almost blasphemous!

Here, she talks about passing-the-hat after a show (with some of her musician friends):

 “…but there was this one guy in the band who told me he just couldn’t bring himself to go out there. It felt too much like begging to stand there with the hat. And I recognized his fear of “Is this fair?” and “Get a job.”

And later, she says:

“And the media asked, “Amanda, how did you make all these people pay for music?” And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don’t want to ask for things. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable”

So… Amanda’s talk has provided me with a LOT of (very!) uncomfortable food-for-thought.

Because, yes!  Asking IS counterintuitive!  I definitely don’t want to ask for things.  It feels… needy… it feels like I’m begging… it feels like I’m greedy.  Mostly  (and this is my personal issue)… it doesn’t feel like it’s a *fair* exchange.

I don’t doubt that I’m a Creative Creature – able to create a whole bunch of creative things.  I don’t doubt my natural artistic ability.  What I DO doubt… is the *worth* of my art.  Does it have any value?  Is it worth anything?

The irony is that…  when I switch off from Hat-the-Artist mode… and I become Heather-the-Graphic-Designer or even Heather-the-Illustrator… it’s like a whole different set of values enters my head.  Heather-the-Graphic-Designer / Illustratior has (or – at least – HAD… until I shut the whole bloody lot down)….  a “Real Job”.  And, back then, I didn’t mind charging clients for my “real-job-work” either.  It was a fair exchange:  a few hours of (my) boredom and misery in exchange for their money.  I mean – isn’t that how the whole world works….(?)  We accept money from our employers – and, in exchange, we obey their orders… sit at our desks for a designated amount of time per day… and do their bidding?

“Real Jobs” are not expected to be fun or fulfilling.  In fact, if they ARE fun and/or fulfilling… you’re probably doing something wrong (or thus goes the unspoken assumption… and especially if you’re from a certain kind of middle-class upbringing).  You’re not supposed to (gasp!) ENJOY your work… your “Real Job”.  Real Jobs are there for us to… endure… to suffer through so-that-we-can-pay-the-bills-at-the-end-of-the-month.

Real Jobs are *necessary*.  They’re about responsibility… and respectability… and duty… and about NOT being a ‘taker’ or a lazy-arse-bum.

Consider this chapter written by John Holt:

A man writing, sympathetically, to a radical paper about life in small towns in Iowa, where in order to pay their debts, many full-time farmers have to do extra work in meat-packing plants – as he says, “shovelling lungs” – says, “The work ethic has been ground into these folks so thoroughly that they think anyone who doesn’t hold down – continually – a full-time painful job… is a bum”.

They don’t want their kids to be bums.  Back To The Basics, for most of them, is code for “No-More-Fun-and-Games-in-School”.  Most of them don’t care particularly about reading, as such.  They read little themselves – like most Americans, they watch TV.  What they want their child to learn is how to WORK.  By that, they don’t mean to do good and skillful work they can be proud of.  They don’t have that kind of work themselves and never expect to.  They don’t even CALL that “work”.  They want their children, when their time comes, to be able and willing to hold down full-time painful jobs of their own.  The best way to get them ready to do this is to make school as much like a full-time painful job as possible.

Now – my post isn’t about education (even though education and schooling is in the context of the quote above)… it’s more about how I seem to have absorbed the same mentality mentioned in the paragraph above.  I view somebody with a “good work ethic” as somebody who – well, let’s be honest – holds down a full-time, painful job!

Somebody like my Dad (even though he ran his own businesses – he was never in them for the enjoyment… or because he was passionate about the product or service he was creating.  He was in it to make money…. to be a responsible-respectable-provider-for-his-family).

And he was – and still is – a dutiful, responsible, respectable, hard-working Provider-for-his-Family.

Dad worked… and worked… and worked some more.  He spent long hours at the office.  He’d come home late at night… exhausted and irritable.  He’d eat his supper, watch TV and go straight to bed.  As kids, my sister and I barely saw him.  He was like a ghost.  Either too busy – or too tired – to attend our school concerts or prize givings.  Mom was the parent who raised us.  Dad was the Working-Provider… mostly absent – and, as we would have defensively told you, “understandably so”.

And we all admired him… deeply… for this “incredible work-ethic”.

What an admirable thing:  to work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work…. WORK (regardless of how unhappy, exhausted, unfulfilled or miserable one was)…  (regardless of how little quality time spent with loved ones).

A Good-WORK-ethic easily trumped all of those things.

Even to this day – there are many people whom we admire (in my family and in Nick’s) who are all deemed to have “an incredible work ethic”.

We proudly refer to them as the family work-a-holics.  And they make us proud… those work-a-holics.

They’re not bums.  They’re not takers.  They’re not lazy.  They’re not selfish. They work-damn-hard!

I wonder why we never really give a thought as to whether their work makes them happy?  Or whether they actually enjoy their work?  Or whether they find any sense of value, meaning… or fulfilment… in the tasks that they perform…. day-in and day-out for the (majority) of their short, precious lives?

I mean – my God – it’s estimated that our “work” takes up about one third of our lives… isn’t it important… that we… I dunno… enjoy what we do?

Isn’t it important… that we do something meaningful… and valuable… with our time?

Isn’t it important to be… happy?

Is that SUCH an offensive aspiration?

Duty before happiness!”…  Responsibility trumps meaning!”Routine and Respectability above passion… fulfilment… joy!”  “House-and-Car above experiences and making-beautiful-memories”….

Isn’t that the world we live in?

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying… and the number one regret (especially amongst men) was that they deeply regretted working-so-hard (instead of spending time with their loved ones).

And – it seems to me – that I, too have bought into this mindset so deeply (even if on an unconscious level)… that even though I am now doing what I LOVE (instead of loathing my work… my job)… I still feel a deep sense of inner guilt.  I still feel as though what I do now (see?! I can’t even manage to call it ‘my work’)…  my art, my music, my offerings, my various projects…  don’t have any *REAL VALUE*…. because they are not “Real Jobs”… they’re not “REAL work”… because they are not boring or painful or tedious…

And – because they are not boring, painful and tedious…  they somehow are not… “valuable”… or worth anything.  And certainly not, you know… worth… actual money…!

Do you hear what I’m saying?

I (in my role as “Heather the Graphic Designer”) held down a full-time, painful job for many years.

You may be wondering what a painful job looks like for a graphic designer / illustrator?  Well – you could read part of that story here (regarding the endless deadlines, stress, brown-nosing the corporates and generally not having a life)… but mostly, it had to do with… in a sense… prostituting my creative gifts in exchange for money.  Very little of the work I did (during the years I ran my design business) was… in any way… personally fulfilling, meaningful, happy – or, for that matter, even creative!

It was about following instructions (given to me by the client).  It was about adding ugly colours and dodgy fonts (because the client insisted upon it – and they were, after all, paying money for the work – so I’d better give them what they wanted).  It was about creating mountains of marketing material that would promote products and services that I didn’t like… or believe in (and, in many cases, which I thought were shitty and dishonest)… again – all in exchange for money – which seemed fair enough.  It seemed like a “fair” exchange.  A fair exchange:  my “hard-work”… my hours of boredom and busy-work doing-exactly-what-the-client-wanted-me-to-do… in exchange for payment.

I never felt guilt about sending them a bill for my services back then.  Money… for that kind of crappy-WORK… was deserved.  Payment was “fair”.

But now?

I could spend many happy hours creating a piece of art… but do you think I could ask you for some MONEY for it?

God no!  I enjoyed it too much!  It was fun… it was hours happily spent…  but it wasn’t *work*….

… and thus… it’s not *REAL*…

and thus it has no value.

See?  Told you I was screwed up!  😉

As a side note:  The Oatmeal (a guy called Matt – who used to design-for-clients and now creates hilarious comics instead) perfectly illustrated the typical Graphic-Designer’s experience in a comic that almost had me wetting my pants with gleeful laugher.  If you’ve never understood the painful process of graphic design… just click here!  (tee-the-hee-hee!)

 

Why I can’t stomach the ‘good colouring’ chart

The "Good Colouring" Chart...

The “Good Colouring” Chart…

Okay.

As a reasonable person… (who tries to see differing perspectives)… I’m going to approach this little colouring chart from two directions.

To be honest, my first response was one of instant, irritated frustration.  But now that I’ve given it some thought and calmed down somewhat…  I’ll offer this perspective instead:

Option One:  This Chart Was Designed to Teach Children how to Follow-The-Rules

If the purpose of the chart was to help children understand The Rules (of life, school and perhaps, even…art), then the chart does it’s job.   Most schools teach kids – from an early age – to follow-the-rules and colour-in-the-lines… and to be compliant and obedient little worker bees.   If that’s the purpose of this chart, then it succeeds.  If the idea of the exercise is NOT to encourage children to be creative thinkers and initiators… then full-marks, ten out of ten goes to the teacher who created this chart.  If the idea is to demonstrate to children that art… (as in life)… has a “right way” and a “wrong way” – and that colouring in the lines is the *Right* Way (just like fitting-in and living within the constraints of the Status Quo is also the *right way*)… then, well, the chart isn’t so bad after all.  It does what it was always meant to do (kinda like schools).

Option Two:  This Chart Was Designed to Teach Children the *Right* Way to Create Art

To be honest, I’m leaning towards option 1.  Because “colouring in books” and “colouring in sheets” have nothing to do with “Art” in the first place.  Art is about creative expression.  What – pray tell – is creative (even slightly creative) about colouring in a picture that somebody else has drawn?  And… jeez… if you can’t even add your own creative expression whilst colouring… and choose your own colour palette… or draw outside of the lines… what’s the point?  It’s definitely not art.

One of my pet personal hates is colouring-in-books for children…  or colouring-in-sheets.  I think kids should be allowed (and encouraged) to create… and express themselves… in whichever way they choose.  There is no *right* way to draw a cat… or a flower… or a sun.  Walt Disney was scolded by his teachers at school for drawing faces on flowers… and it seems like Society is still hell-bent on imposing similar stupid rules on our kids today.

My mother (bless her) banned colouring-in-books from our home.  We drew – on paper – what was inside our head.  We didn’t colour in neat little cartoons that adults had drawn.  To this day – all of my artwork comes straight out my head.  I don’t copy from other people’s illustrations, photos or references.  Mom did me a huge favour… encouraging me (in a multitude of ways) to express myself fully and authentically.

This came out of my head yesterday morning… while waiting for a coffee to arrive.

This came out of my head yesterday morning… while waiting for a coffee to arrive.

A couple of years ago… when life was very different… my daughter spent her days at pre-school.  And the pre-school teachers seemed to love colouring-in books and colouring-in sheets.  “Art” lessons simply required handing out some photocopied sheets of a cat or a dog… and instructing the children to “colour in neatly”.

It was only 3 years later, when I took my daughter out of pre-school, that I realised how something so seemingly insignificant as colouring-in-books (and the accompanying rules) had really taken it’s toll on my little girl.

We were doing art at home… and I had supplied her with a colourful range of paper, pencils, paint – and encouraged her to draw.

“What must I draw?”  she asked me.

“Anything you want!”  I said.

“But I don’t know how to draw” she said.

“Of course you do!” I encouraged her, “Draw what’s in your head!”.

She agreed to attempt to draw a mouse.  But… no sooner had she made the first marks on paper, she began getting very upset.

“It’s all wrong!” she cried

“It’s not wrong!” I said, “I really like your mouse”

“But it doesn’t look how it’s supposed to look!”, she said… with tears streaming down her face.

Morgan had already – even with only 3 years of pre-school – been so programmed to believe in “right” and “wrong” and rule-following… and how things are “supposed to be”… and “supposed to look”… that – in her mind – only the neat predictable cartoons, illustrated by adults, were “right”.

Her beautiful art – in her eyes – was *wrong*.

It took 2 years of gentle encouragement (and – of course – NO colouring-in-books and stupid rules like ‘colours must make sense’) until Morgan really began to embrace her own, unique creative expression.  Today, she draws confidently and many, many hours of joy has been derived from making art.

Here’s a little picture that she drew (about year ago).  I love it!

IMG_0936

All of this reminds me of The Logical Song by Supertramp.

It goes like this:

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful – magical…

and all the birds in the trees, they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully watching me…

Isn’t childhood like that?  When kids are so full of innocence and wonder?  When life is beautiful, miraculous, magical?

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical…

and then they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical…

Well… yes… that’s what school did.   That’s what school taught.  Even Morgan’s pre-school taught those lessons to her.  Taught her how to obey orders, be ‘good’, follow rules, fit in with everyone else and comply.

Watch what you say, or they’ll be calling you a radical… a liberal… fanatical, criminal…

“Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable, respectable, presentable…” (a vegetable)…

(That’s how I often feel about posting in this space…  we can’t be TOO honest… too *radical*… we need to watch-what-we-say….)

There are times when all the world’s asleep, these questions run so deep for such a simple man…

Will you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?  I know it sounds absurd – please tell me who I am!

Well…  I know who I am now.

And I know who my kids are.

And even though Society… in general… is *still* trying to tell us fit-in, slot-in, follow the rules, be normal… colour-in-the-lines… we have found *SUCH* freedom in saying:  “No thank-you.  We’re doing it OUR way”.

stupid7