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.

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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.

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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!!

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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

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):

sad heather5

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:

IMG_9975

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”.

IMG_0068

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)…

IMG_0074

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

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

My New Year’s Revolution

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the famous Ghandi quote:  “BE the change you wish to see in the world”.

I – for one – have not BEEN the change.  Well… at least not to the degree that I want to… or that I’m capable of.

Actually, I’ve been pretty lazy in the BE-the-change department.   There’s lots of change I *want* to see in the world… but if it requires any kind of discomfort or effort on MY part – I’m prone to grumble complacently from the sidelines – instead of put my money (or my time… or my energy) where my mouth is.

I think most of us have become very adept at whinging and bitching about The-Way-Things-Are… but few of us are prepared for the discomfort of getting off our bums and DOING something about the very things we bleat about.  For example…

  • We whinge and complain about the huge, corrupt multi-national corporations – but we’ll continue buying their products – thereby perpetuating the cycle.
  • Or we’ll nod in agreement with the “Occupy Wallstreet” folk and the plight of the 98%… whilst paying our own staff the least amount of money we can possibly get away with.
  • We’ll agree that the world needs a Food Revolution… and then pacify our nagging kids with McDonalds’ dodgy nuggets and the accompanying plastic trinket.
  • We’ll complain about our governments’ lack of interest in our community – whilst demonstrating the ‘zact same lack of interest by suggesting that it’s *their* job to fix-it (while we passively do nothing).
  • We claim to hate racism… but when somebody in our family tells a racist joke around the dinner table, we don’t speak up.
  • We talk about how advertising campaigns and over-photoshopping contribute towards the low self-esteem of young girls… but then we gossip with our friends about “how fat” a relative has become.

Of course… I could give many other examples (and I’m sure you can too).

I dream of a better world – and a better way of living.

I think we can do better.

I think *I* can do better.

So… as a New Year’s Revolution… I’ve decided to start a little Facebook & Instagram Campaign with the hashtag #babysteps2BEthechange

It’s more of a Pet Personal Project… a way to keep myself accountable to YOU out there… (but feel free to join in!)

Every day, I’ll post a little photo… and a story… of various Baby Steps that I’m taking… or contemplating… or aiming towards… or struggling with:  steps towards BEING the change I wish to see – or, to coin a phrase by a new friend, Georgina – to invest in the world (and the life) I believe in.

Because I’m not perfect… and because I’m painfully aware of my weaknesses, my laziness, my addiction-to-comfort… I’m calling it Baby Steps because I deeply believe that small steps count!  Teeny-tiny baby steps in the right direction is better than no steps at all!  Tiny increments of change are better than complacent whinging-from-the-couch.   One less teaspoon of sugar in my coffee is better than 2-spoons-forever.

I don’t think an All-or-Nothing mentality is going to serve us.  In fact, I think it shoots us in the foot.

Nobody is “perfect”… nobody is “all”… nobody is getting everything right.

But – if a whole bunch of us could just take weeny little steps in the right direction – and truly began to INVEST in the world that we dream of (idealistic though it may seem)…

Well… THAT’s where change happens.

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself;  but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.  It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” – Robert Kennedy

To make things interesting (and because I’m the type with a very short attention span)… you can expect to see #babysteps2BEthechange themes and photos covering a very wide range of topics – roughly broken down into 3 main themes:

  • Changing my mind
  • Changing my life
  • Changing the world

I’m not going to post the Baby Steps on this blog everyday (because I don’t want those of you on the e-mail subscription thingy to be overwhelmed by e-mails!)…  but, if this kind of thing floats your boat, feel free to join in on Facebook and Instagram – and post some inspiring ideas of your own!  🙂

Yay!

And Happy New Year to all!  🙂

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 difference between “what if” and “if only”…

I’m on Pinterest.  As a creative creature who is inspired by visual things, I love scrolling through all the images and “pinning” ideas and photos of things that I find beautiful, interesting or inspiring.

I pin all sorts of things.  Photos of places I’d like to visit.  Photos of hairstyles I wouldn’t mind experimenting with.  Ideas of fun things to do with the kids… and a whole bunch more.

There are a few categories where I find myself continually making internal promises to myself whilst pinning things:

“I must try this!”  I tell myself.  “I must make these polenta-crusted-rosemary potatoes!”

Or… “I must make this yummy-looking coconut chicken!”

I tell myself that I MUST make this:

That I MUST do this:

That I MUST organise my kids’ bedroom like this:

But… do you think I have?

Do you think I’ve completed any of the clever crafts?  Baked any of the rainbow cupcakes?  Sewn any of the pretty dresses?  Followed any of the make-up tutorials?  Visited any of the beautiful places?  Cooked any of the crock-pot dinners?

The answer is no.

Out of my 981 pins…  I have tried… (hmmm… let’s see)… 5 of the Pinterest ideas (and all of them were from the “for the kids” category).

And I don’t think I’m alone.

I suspect that pinning on Pinterest is one of the things we do to while away the hours and amuse ourselves with the “What if’s?” and “If only’s” of life.

  • “If only I were so organised!  Look at her perfect pantry!”
  • “If only my kitchen looked like that kitchen”.
  • “If only I could afford to dress like that”.
  • “If only I could visit that beautiful place”
  • “If only I had her body”

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with “if only’s”… to a degree.

The problem comes when we “if only” our entire lives away.

And I’m sure you’ve seen this happen as much as I have.  I know many people who have been “If only’ing” for years… decades.  But they’ve made no effort – and taken no steps towards changing their lives… or following their dreams… or doing the stuff that makes them come alive.

They while away their entire lives… saying to themselves “If only…”.

Which is kinda the same thing as saying:  “Yeah… right.  As if!”

Which, I think, is a terrible pity.

“What if?” – I think, is something significantly more positive than “If only…”.

“If only” is a yearning for something that the yearner believes is a pipe dream… a pointless fantasy… something that could never, possibly happen.

It’s like me saying:  “If only I were a man”…

Not gonna happen.

“What if…” is has a slightly more positive spin.  I think that “What if?” is Phase 1 of any dream.

Our Big Dream also started with a “What if?”….  it went something like this:

“What if we sold our house?  What if we purged our stuff?  What if we home-schooled the kids and travelled the world?  What if we tossed out the Rule Book? What if we lived differently to the way we’ve been taught and told to live?”.

We thought about those what if’s a LOT.  We discussed them… we dreamed about them… we started researching the possibility of making them happen… and we discussed them again… and when our minds were made up, we started planning… and doing… and changing our lives.

And that’s the thing… in order to achieve your dream… you have to take the “What if?” to the next level – and DO something about it.

And you know what? Pinterest was actually rather helpful in this regard!  If you visit my Pinterest page, you’ll see that I have a board called “Food for Thought”.  The things I pinned there were little snippets of motivation that nudged me towards embracing the “What if’s?” – and taking steps towards making our dreams a reality.

And speaking of Pinterest…  I think I view the whole thing very differently now.

I haven’t pinned anything under “Food” or “Style” or “Home” or “Organising” for many months now.  Those boards always made me feel a bit guilty.  Like I just wasn’t measuring up in those departments.  Like all the promises I was making to myself of how I would need to become a ‘better‘ mother… a ‘better‘ cook… a ‘better‘ organised person… a ‘more‘ stylish person… were just draining me.

I’m never going to make those Christmas ornaments.  I’m never going to follow that make-up tutorial.  Or buy the glitter nail-polish.  And I’ll probably never make that raspberry pavlova… and I’ll probably never make upside-down biscuit cups for mini scoops of ice-cream.

The photos are fun to look at, sure – but I’m done with comparing myself… and feeling like some kind of a failure because I just don’t “DO” that kind of thing.  It’s not authentically me.  It’s not who I am.  It’s not how I’m designed.

These days… I mostly pin things that inspire me and make me happy.  I no longer pin things that make me feel pressured to make or do things that are just NOT important within the big picture of my life.

These days, you’ll see a lot of things pinned under “Art”, “Food for Thought”, “Graphic Design & Illustration”“Fun”, “Inspiration” and “Stuff that makes me happy”.

Stuff like this, that makes me smile:

Or stuff (like this) that makes me giggle:

Or stuff (like this) that inspires me and nudges me and affirms my decisions to dream big and live authentically…

And… as a whole… I think I’m a much happier and more content pinner than what I was a year ago.

Wait – scratch that – I’m actually a happier and more content person – as a whole!  🙂

The Busy Trap

I had posted the link to this blog on my Facebook Page a couple of weeks ago – but I wanted to keep it forever immortalised on my blog because I think that this article hits the nail on the head!!!  The article was written by Tim Kreider – here’s what he says:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are.  It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing:  “Busy!”.  “So busy”.  “Crazy busy”.  It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.  And the stock response is a kind of congratulation:  “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are;  what those people are is not busy but tired.  Exhausted.  Dead on their feet.  It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed:  work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in.  They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy.  They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t working or doing something to promote their work.  They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.  I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours.  I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation.  But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities.  They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups.

I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopaedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day.  Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life;  it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.  Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France.  She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years.  She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain.  She says it feels like college – she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night.  She has a boyfriend again.  (She once ruefully summarised dating in New York:  “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”)  What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality – driven, cranky, anxious and sad – turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment.  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school – it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness, obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason.  This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretence of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion.  More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible;  if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.  I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

I am not busy.  I am the laziest ambitious person I know.  Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day.  On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie.  This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day.  And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

But just in the last few months, I’ve insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy.  For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do.  I could see why people enjoy this complaint;  it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon.  Except that I hate actually being busy.  Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve.  It got more and more intolerable until finally, I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations.  There is no TV.  To check e-mail, I have to drive to the library.  I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know.  I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars.  I read.  And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months.  It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice;  it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it, we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.  The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration – it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.  “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth.  Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring:  history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams.  It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.  That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.”  This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites.  My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed pay check, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays.  The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do.  But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle.  My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play.

My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.  I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd.  Life is too short to be busy.