I’m DONE…

For a number of years now…  I’ve had this growing discontentment with Society and the Status Quo… and How-Things-Are.

I just don’t believe in it any more.

In fact, not only do I NOT believe in it… I think it’s poisonous.  And life-sucking.  And vile.

It’s ironic – because, for many years, I slotted in neatly with Society’s Ideals and the things deemed important by the Powers-that-Be.  For years… decades… I never QUESTIONED.  I didn’t question authority… I didn’t question the government… I didn’t question our way of life… I didn’t question what my school teachers told me… I didn’t question what my pastor told me… I didn’t question what I read in magazines or what I watched on TV… I didn’t question the TV adverts… I didn’t question the assumption that life was to be lived in a certain “way”…

For years…  I just didn’t question.

I slotted neatly into the System.  And I did what I was told.

I shopped the way that my mother had shopped… buying the same brand of dishwashing liquid (Sunlight)… the same household cleaner (Handy Andy)… the same flavour of cheese (cheddar)… the same crackers (Provita)… the same margarine (Rama)…  out of – I dunno – some kind of automatic brain setting – to just continue doing the “done thing”…

These days, I think “The Done Thing” is what’s killing us (literally and figuratively) – and this planet.  I fucking hate The Done Thing!

We moved into the suburban house… and got into debt… and amassed a mountain of *stuff*… because, it was The Done Thing.  And nobody questioned it.

Nobody questioned the debt… the shopping… the regular mall excursions… and the amassing of cheap-shit-from-China.  Nobody questioned the blind allegiance to Big Brands… or Political Parties… or Church Denominations.

I mean… jeez… when I was a kid, I can’t remember a single adult (or person from our church) address… or discuss… or explain… the system of apartheid.  It wasn’t considered polite dinner conversation.  It wasn’t considered “appropriate”.  It wasn’t The Done Thing.  

And I grew up learning not to ask uncomfortable questions… and to shut-up about things that could get me in trouble and cause offence.

Going to church and being a Christian was (for me) the Done Thing too.  My mother became a Christian when I was two.  I was raised in church.  It was natural and *normal* to just… carry on doing… The Done Thing.

Going to school, of course, was also The Done Thing.  I mean, who doesn’t send their kids to school?  What kind of weirdo-nutters would even consider such a blasphemous aberration?

Getting married was the Done Thing…  (in a big white dress… with a religious person to officiate… and mass amounts of Dad’s cash blown on canapés, cocktails and colour-coordinated bunting)…

Babies… and baby-rituals like baby-showers…  all The Done Thing.

Working from 8-5… Monday to Friday… for the rest of one’s life until one eventually retired… was also – very definitely – The Done Thing (whether you actually enjoyed your work was considered irrelevant).

Marching to the Cadence of the Corporate Drum – The Done Thing.

Sitting in rush hour traffic every week day – The Done Thing.

Eagerly counting the days until Friday – The Done Thing.

Voting – The Done Thing (regardless of how corrupt, how power-hungry the politicians are… regardless of how you don’t believe – AT ALL – in any of them… in any of their promises… in any of their systems).

Wearing the latest fashions was The Done Thing (God forbid you mince out of your front door proudly boasting a mullet and a muffin-top)….

Owning a big TV… subscribing to cable… and watching soap operas and Reality TV every night was also The Done Thing.

Being the same as everyone else – The Done Thing.

Fitting In – The Done Thing (children, in particular, learn this from a very early age).

Eating lots of sugar and refined carbs… and feasting on the crappy plasticky food at places like Spur, KFC, McDonalds…  all The Done Thing.

Quaffing down processed, chemically-laden food of all varieties – The Done Thing…  (“What’s actually in a Tinkie?  Who knows!  Who cares?”)

Buying cheap… buying discount… shopping-for-bargains… buying-on-sale… (whilst never, for a millisecond, considering The Price… the REAL price… of what cheap shit costs humanity and the planet)…  all The Done Thing.

Caring more about the articles in the gossip mags… and the latest celebrity scandal (rather than the woes our planet is inflicting upon itself)… definitely The Done Thing.

Caring more about gossip and what-Mavis-wore-to-church-on-Sunday…  than giving a steaming turd about wars, weapons, sweat-shops, child labour which *WE* support with our buying choices) – The Done Thing!

Endless…. unrelenting…. unquestioned…. CONSUMING…. CONSUMING… CONSUMING… (in every imaginable way)…. The-Done-Fucking-THING!!!

Complacent acceptance of the world’s woes…“Oh well, it is what it is.  There’s nothing *I* could possibly do to change anything.  The problems are too big.  Sorry, gotta go… I’m missing an episode of the Kardashians…”…. The Done Thing.

SO….

Suffice to say…

I am DONE… with the DONE THING.

Just letting you know.

 

The LAST list of disclaimers I shall ever write on this blog!

Okay.

If you’ve been on the Living Differently Facebook page… you may have seen a bit of a conversation between my sister and I (on the last blog post about the art and the jobs).  A slight altercation, maybe.  A bit of a disagreement on her part… and an instant freak-out on my part.

Just to tell you a bit about my sister, Soo.  She’s 2 years younger than me… and can probably push my buttons more quickly and effectively than anyone on this planet (except – perhaps – for my mother).

Here are (some) of the areas where Soo and I are the same:

  • We enjoy a lick of sarcasm.
  • We laugh at dark humour.
  • We hate slapstick comedy.
  • We’ve both been divorced.
  • We’re both in love with big, hairy men with brown eyes and clever brains.
  • We enjoy (mostly) the same films.
  • We have a… problem… with the baklava cheesecake at Tashas in Hyde Park.
  • We both love our parents – and each other (in spite of all our differences).

And here are (some) areas where Soo and I are completely different:

  • Soo is atheist (I’m more of a romantic agnostic).
  • I’m married with kids (Soo is not married – but has been in a long-term relationship with Owen for a few years now.  Her animals are her kids).
  • I work-from-home and can’t stomach the idea of ever working for a boss (Soo works for a huge multi-national corporation in a job she genuinely enjoys).
  • Soo generally enjoyed her time at school and likes the idea of studying further (I absolutely loathed school… especially high school… and my idea of “studying further” is travelling, reading and my own personal research into topics that interest me).
Soo and I as kids.  I'm the mermaid.  Who'd have thought that cute, pink little doll could be so fearless?

Soo and I as kids. I’m the mermaid. Who’d have thought that cute, pink little doll could be so scary?

Possibly one of the biggest differences, though… is that I am a complete and utter Word Wuss (you can read more about the dreaded Word Wuss in the Illustrated Guide to my Personalities).  And I cannot abide conflict.  I deeply… deeply… hate conflict – and will usually do anything in my power to avoid it.

And I worry… incessantly… about what others might say or think about me.   And I worry about arguing… and fighting… and whether people will want to fight with me – and insult me… and not like me.   And – because of this continual, present, time-consuming, thought-consuming worry…  I tend to edit myself.  Bite my tongue.  Delicately hide-what-I-really-think.  Smile-and-wave.  Not speak up on something I feel strongly about.

And I add disclaimers.

The Word Wuss (if she could) would add a long list of disclaimers to every single blog post…  to every single Facebook post…. mostly in her attempt not to piss people off or start a fight.

Now… my sister… (who doesn’t seem to have the Word Wuss lurking in her inner psyche)… doesn’t give two steaming turds about pissing people off.  She cares nothing about starting a fight.  In fact – I think she quite enjoys a nice fight!  Most of her Facebook status updates are statements just…. begging…. for a fight!  Almost like… lots of mini invitations to fight!  Like she’s saying:  “C’mon… I dare ya!”…

Soo once threw her popcorn box at the head of a movie-goer, 2 rows in front of her, because he wouldn’t stop talking during the movie.  When the box hit his head, and when he stood up and angrily spun around to confront the box-thrower… she stood up too and hissed:  “Next time it will be my fucking shoe!”

He sat down.

And kept quiet for the rest of the movie.

See… I am not Soo.

I am the person who just sits quietly and passively next to the obnoxious, noisy movie-goer…  silently steaming… fuming on the inside, mute on the outside.  Rude movie-goers get away with their rudeness because of people like me.  People like me, who don’t speak up.  And – to be honest – I am really beginning to tire of my wuss’ness… of my reluctance to speak up.

I am this:

word wuss

A big part of me admires Soo’s temerity.  Another part of me is scared for her… (and sometimes, of her).  I mean – what if popcorn-man launched himself at her?  (She was, after all, much smaller than him!).  I worry that the crazy chick that she was fighting with on social media a few months ago is gonna physically hunt her down and knife her in the guts (Soo has, after all,  attracted a few stalking lunatics in the past).

And she has lost more than a handful of friends over the years (and gained more than a handful more)…. (Actually, I think many of her friends delight in the fact that she comes out and says stuff that they’re all too chicken to say themselves – but are thinking – nonetheless)!

As for me, I tip-toe neatly around the friends and Facebook acquaintances I DO have.  I wrap them in tissue paper…  too wary… too wuss’like… to call them out occasionally (on things I disagree with)…  for fear that they’ll hate me forever – or – worse – say hurtful things to me.

I am very… very… very…. SUPER-sensitive to Words.  Especially hurtful words.  And insults.

And I try to do anything and everything in my power to avoid the possibility of a mean word being tossed in my direction.  I’ll do anything to avoid a war of words.

As it is, I’m a pacifist who hates war.  I also hate warring with words.

Okay… so back to the disclaimer thing.

Soo thinks I add too many disclaimers to my posts (and to my life).  She says I must stop.

She’s probably right.

But it’s HARD for me not to add disclaimers…. (in the case of this particular post, I would like to add a disclaimer that reminds everyone that I love my sister and this is not an attack on her character! )…

But, if I don’t add my disclaimers, I keep thinking things like this:

  • “But what if they misunderstand what I’m trying to say?  I don’t want people to misunderstand me!”
  • “But what if they think I hate them?”
  • “But what if they think I’m angry with them?”
  • “But what if they think that I think that I’m better than them?”
  • “But what if they think that I’m trying to say that MY way is better than THEIR way?”
  • “But what if they’re just not *getting* me – or getting what I’m TRYING to say?”

So… I keep adding disclaimers.  And tip-toeing… and watering myself down.

It’s quite pathetic, really.

So… in an attempt to take my sister’s advice and to cure my disease of “Disclaimeritis” (as she has called it)… this post is a list of the LAST DISCLAIMERS I shall make on Living Differently.  After this post, I shall try (really really really hard)… to be brave – and to speak my truth… and to stop fretting about being misunderstood or mis-read (or hated).

HAT’S LIST OF BLOG DISCLAIMERS:

  1. I neither want – nor expect – everyone to live the same as me… to believe the same as me… to make the same choices as I have.
  2. I love diversity – and I *like* the fact that the world is full of different people.
  3. This blog is my way of sending out a ping – and searching for a tribe… or looking for connections with people who resonate with me.  I am NOT blogging because I’m trying to “evangelise” My Way… or My “Truth”… or to try to convince others that they are “wrong” and that I am “right”.  For more reasons on why I blog, click here.
  4. I have NO intentions of attempting to convince or convert anyone.  You are all free to disagree with me entirely.  However, I only ask that if you DO take offence at what I write on this blog… that you respectfully just stop reading it – and please… please… don’t see yourself as The Great Corrector… as though you’re going to *correct* my erred thinking and set-me-straight.  Different opinions and respectful debates are one thing… people who view themselves as “Correctors” are quite another.
  5. Just because I educate my children differently to you, does not mean that I think you’re a bad parent for not doing things the same way as me.
  6. I absolutely *get* that there are many different ways to educate and raise children… and just because you’re doing something differently to me, does NOT mean that I think you are *wrong* and I am *right*.
  7. I very seldom view the world through the lenses of Right-or-Wrong… Good-or-Bad… Truth-or-Lie… Black-or-White.  I’m not as dualistic as that.
  8. Just because I hated working for a boss… does not mean that I think that everybody hates working for a boss – and that corporate jobs are *wrong* for everyone.
  9. Just because I hated school and loathed high school – does not mean that I think everybody hated school as I did.
  10. Just because I had some awful experiences with some school teachers – does not mean that I think all school teachers are of-the-devil!
  11. Just because I’m agnostic – does not mean that I hate or ridicule people of other faiths or belief systems (I love diversity, remember?)
  12. I know that Russell Brand and the Trews is not everyone’s cup of proverbial tea – and that’s FINE!
  13. Just because I moved away from the idea that The-Bible-Contains-The-Truth… or that The-Bible-is-the-Word-of-God… does not mean that I expect every other Christian to do the same.
  14. Just because I disagree with people – doesn’t mean I hate them… or even dislike them.  In fact, I have many people in my life (whom I disagree with on a deep level about something or another) – but I still think they’re awesome people and I enjoy their company.
  15. I don’t think you’re *wrong* because you’re not like me!!
  16. I don’t think “I’m Right” and “You’re Wrong”.  I just don’t process the world like that.
  17. I might rant occasionally about my childhood – but that does NOT mean that I don’t have the utmost of love and respect for both of my parents – who loved us deeply and did the very best (for us) that they knew how to do.
  18. I might rant occasionally about The Church.  This does not mean that I consider all Christians to be awful, hypocritical assholes.  On the contrary, I have many wonderful friends who remain fervent believers – and I hold absolutely no grudges against them for that.
  19. I respect your right to believe whatever you want to believe (and hope you will afford me the same respect).
  20. Just ’cause I hate slapstick comedy – I don’t expect everybody to hate it too… and I’m not saying that it’s *wrong*.
  21. Just ’cause I think olives taste vile – I’m not saying that everyone who eats olives are vile too (my Greek eats vile olives all the time)…. (being Greek an’ all).
  22. And… even after all my desperate attempts at being “heard” – and NOT being misunderstood…. if you STILL misunderstand me – and feel that my blog posts are deeply offensive – and some kind of personal attack on you – or your way of life.  I’m terribly sorry…  please feel free to click off this page – and read another blog which agrees with your sensibilities.  Peace!

Okay.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Disclaimers over!!!

If I start adding more disclaimers to future posts – please feel free (like Soo says) to call me out on it – and to remind me to stop being such a Word-Wuss!

I am now going to stick this Anthony Hopkins quote somewhere where I can read it (and absorb it) every single day:

“It is NONE OF MY BUSINESS what other people say about me or think about me.  I am who I am, and I do what I do.  I accept everything and expect nothing.  And it makes life so much easier”

 

 

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

 

 

Why I don’t like kids’ parties…

“I can’t have this conversation again”, I said to Nick, “I just can’t do it…”

We had just come home from another child’s birthday party.  I can’t remember which child.  It could have been a child from our extended family… it could have been a child belonging to one of our friends, heck – it could even have been Morgan’s birthday party… or Joah’s…

We all know about kids’ parties, don’t we?  Whether you’re a parent or a reluctant aunt, uncle, cousin or friend – you’ve been to a child’s birthday party.

As parents, we’ve all thrown birthday parties for our kids.   It’s one of those *done* Parent Duties… and I get it.   It is a celebration, after all… it’s something for our kids to look forward to and get excited about… it’s an important milestone… it’s a time for us to take lots of photos for the family album – so we can look back on these important milestones and say to our kids:  “See that?  You probably don’t remember it, but it was your second birthday party.  You got lots of presents and you made a lot of mess.  See how loved you are?  See all the people who care about you?”…

It’s nice gesture, I guess.  Kid’s parties are nice enough (well, for the kids, anyway) … so… this post isn’t about the parties themselves (and I am not – repeat: not – trying to infer that there’s something ‘wrong’ with throwing birthday parties for children)…

The problem (or, at least, for me)… is what happens at these parties.

(And I’m not talking about what the kids get up to…)

It’s almost like clockwork.  It happens again and again… whether at one of the parties that we’ve thrown… or at a party that a relative throws… or at a party thrown by one of our dear friends.

This is what happens:  you see familiar people… familiar faces… people that you haven’t clapped eyes on for exactly a year (because the last time you saw them was at – *surprise!* – last years’ party!).  And – when you see these familiar people… you have to have that familiar (and very dreaded!) conversation…

… and it goes something like this:

“Hey…”

“Oh hi there… long time no see…”

“Yep, long time… about a year ago…”

“Yes – exactly one year ago…”

“Yes… how time flies…”

*insert brief awkward silence here*

“So…. how’s life?”

“Life’s good… it’s all fine.  Same-old same-old, you know?”

“Still working at the same place?”

“Yep… still working there.  Nothing new to report.  What about you?  How’s life for you guys?”

“Oh, we’re fine… doing fine, thanks.  Plodding along as usual, you know?”

“Yep – I know…”

*insert another awkward silence*

“Anyway… gotta go… think I’m needed in the kitchen…”

“Sure… see you around….”

And with that, we make our excuses and hover elsewhere (pudding table, perhaps?)… trying to avoid eye-contact any more awkward conversations with the Familiar Faces Folk.

But they can’t be avoided – those awkward conversations… they just can’t.  If you’re at a kid’s birthday party – those awkward conversations are GOING to happen.  Introverts (like me) can whinge and cringe all we want – but if we’re doing a party *For The Kids*… then, along with the territory comes everyone’s relatives and friends and all the unwelcome bloody mingling too.

I have done 8 years of children’s birthday parties… and, over the past 8 years, it felt (on many occasions) as though I was living in some kind of eerie Groundhog Day movie.  The parties (whether our parties – or the parties of relatives and friends) had that same familiarity…

Same venues… same guests… same party food… same off-key happy-birthday-song… same jumping castle company supplying the jumping castle…

Little changed.  Except, of course, the kids… who were getting bigger by the year.  And the grown-ups… who were getting bigger too (but probably not in the way we’d have liked).  And we were all getting greyer too.  We were all getting noticeably older.

And yet – the conversations were all the same.

The married couple who had been fighting and nagging each other a year ago… were still fighting and nagging.  The man who hated his job and bemoaned his long working hours was still bitching about his job a year later (and a year later… and a year later….).  The women who discussed diets and weight-loss solutions were still talking about diets and weight-loss solutions!  The people who complained about the government were still complaining about the government.  Those who enjoyed gossiping were (you guessed it!)… still gossiping!

Groundhog Day, I tell you!

I could almost predict what would be said…  who would whine about what… who would gossip about whom… and who (inevitably) would say the fateful words:  “Ah… yes, well… some day…”

Because… apparently… *SOME DAY* it was all going to change…

And SOME DAY life would get better…

And SOME DAY they’d quit their awful job and find something they’d be genuinely interested in…

And SOME DAY the weight would be lost…

And SOME DAY they’d have enough money and/or time to do what they really wanted to do…

And SOME DAY everything would all-work-out-for-the-best…

And don’t get me wrong, I have made many “Some-Day” promises to myself (and others) over the years!  I’m certainly not immune to all the Some-Day’ing

But eventually… it started grinding on my nerves… like sandpaper…

And I often had to restrain myself from shouting:  “DO… or do NOT.  There is no try.  There is no some day.  Either we change… or we DON’T.  Either we MOVE… or we don’t.  The rest is an illusion!  If you don’t like your life – then, for God’s sake… CHANGE it!  I beg of you!”

But I couldn’t say that… because, it would have been rude… but also very hypocritical.   I too had talked-the-talk on many occasions… and I had also sounded like a stuck record:   “Yeah, we’re changing things… yeah, we’re selling our stuff… yeah, we’re getting outta here….”  (and sure enough – I’d be at the exact same party a year later – spouting forth the exact same diatribe).

But then, one day…

We DID change.

And we DID sell our stuff… purge our debt… take our kids out of school… rent our home… and embark upon a long-term nomadic existence.

A part of me (reluctantly) credits those awkward party conversations for giving us the push we needed to change.  When I said to Nick that I couldn’t *do* those conversations anymore, I meant it.  I was bone-tired of feeling as though the years were just tick-tick-tick-tocking by and that nothing and nobody seemed to change (apart from our physical appearance).  Almost everyone seemed to be… I dunno… waiting for something to *happen*… for life to change on it’s own (without needing to sweat and struggle and fight for something different and new).

Dr Seuss calls it “The Waiting Place” (which he describes as ‘the most useless place’)… and I quote:

“…people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go,

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or a No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting”

Perhaps the awkward conversations I’ve had at so many children’s parties reminded me so poignantly of The Waiting Place.  I recognised it in others… but even more disturbingly, I recognised it in myself.

And so… eventually… we packed up (literally)…. and left The Waiting Place  (although, I suspect I’ll be back for a few more visits before my life is over).

This awesome book talks about the dreaded Waiting Place...

This awesome book talks about the dreaded Waiting Place…

I type this whilst holed up in Amish country, Pennsylvania… far far away from Johannesburg and all the familiarity of home… including the Familiar-Faces-Folk (whom I can now comfortably and politely avoid without having to invent any far-fetched excuses).

A part of me is filled with sweet relief… to be far away from the almost-strangers and their awkward, Groundhog Day conversations…

But I also know I can’t avoid them forever.

Or maybe I can…

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Pink, dolls and eerie awkward-moment’ness…

Okay.  Stop the bus.

Before I carry on with all the other news and photos and posts and stuff…  I just have to tell you what I saw in Ohio last night.

Some of you might ask:  “What’s the big deal?” – but for me… the South-African-in-America… it was eerie!  And weird… like maybe one of those strange cultural experiences that one has while travelling… like watching people pierce their eyelids in religious rituals… or failing to comprehend why somebody would want to crunch down a pig’s tail… or cringing in awkwardness while women smooch and snot on the glass coffins of blackened, mummified priests…  you know?  That kind of thing…

An experience that has you both gasping in wonder… whilst simultaneously feeling eerily disturbed…

Can of you remember the scene from Little Miss Sunshine when Richard (played by Greg Kinnear) settled down to watch his daughter compete in a kiddies pageant – only for it to gradually dawn on him what a kiddies pageant actually was?  Do any of you remember the expression on his face?  Well… last night, that was me.

You may be saying:  so tell us, Heather!  What’s the big deal?  What are you gabbing on about?

The answer:  A doll store.

Yip.  A doll store.  More specifically “The American Girl Doll” Store.

A vast area of pink decor and glass cabinets with an endless range of American Girl Dolls displayed with a baffling array of matching accessories.  Never have I seen so many dolls… so many accessories for dolls… so many shoes for dolls, pets for dolls (and never-ending matching accessories for the pets too), cribs for dolls, outfits for dolls… rows upon rows upon rows…. of stuff-for-dolls, overseen by pink-bedecked smiling ladies who stuck star stickers on to the little girls in the store (mine included)… and made sure that excited children didn’t “handle” the merchandise too… “enthusiastically”.

Apart from the dolls, there was an entire section devoted to fashion for little girls AND their “babies”.  There were racks of matching accessorised outfits for little girls – and next to each outfit was a miniature, matching version… for the American Girl Doll to wear.

Here’s a photo:

Want a matching pink outfit for you and your doll?  It's all the rage, apparently...

Want a matching pink outfit for you and your doll? It’s all the rage, apparently…

But my mouth-gaping bafflement didn’t stop there.  It got freakier.

There was a hair salon.  Not for little girls… but for DOLLS.

Here is a photo:

The Doll Hair Salon...

The Doll Hair Salon…

Little girls and their mothers were lining up for this special service.  In the photo above, you can see that there’s a display cabinet of different dolls wearing different hairstyles.  Once the style is chosen, Mother will fork out $20 (!!!)… and the “baby” is strapped into a pink doll chair, like so:

IMG_1686

The stylist will ask the little girl the name of their “baby” – and will actually, uh… talk… to the doll (and it’s “mother”) while styling the hair.  Oh – and don’t forget the purple hairdressers sheet-thingy that gets draped around the doll before the styling begins (you can see that two photos above too)…

Creeeeepy!

But, I’m not done yet…

You can also take your American Girl Doll for a bite to eat.  There is… a little restaurant in the store too!  (100% pink bedecked, of course)… where women, their girls… and the girls’ dolls stop for a bite to eat.  There’s even special pink chairs that get attached to the restaurant table (that you can buy for a small fortune).  They look like this:

Special chair for Baby to sit in at the dinner table...

Special chair for Baby to sit in at the dinner table…

I tried to take some sneaky photos of the patrons at the restaurant… all eating with their American Girl Dolls attached to the table on their pink chairs.  So – excuse the photos…  I couldn’t properly document the situation without being noticed…

A milkshake for this Girl Doll and her "mother".  I wonder if the waitress asks Baby what she would like from the menu?

A milkshake for this Girl Doll and her “mother”. I wonder if the waitress asks Baby what she would like from the menu?

IMG_1690

IMG_1691

Okay… so you may wonder – what do these very-average-looking, plastic dolls cost?  It’s not like they’re hand-painted, porcelain, collector’s item dolls.  They look – to my untrained eye – like your average, plastic, made-in-China doll.  I could probably pick up something very similar (although admittedly, without the endless accessory options) from Game in Joburg for… about R150 or – at a push – maybe even R200 (which is about $20).

But no.  If you want a “real” and “authentic” American Girl Doll (because – to many people – brands mean everything!)… you will need to fork out about $110 for the basic doll (with one, basic outfit)… and pay a shit-load more if you plan to accessorise… or get it’s hair done at the salon… or whatever.  (South African readers – that’s R1200 for an American Girl doll).

Now – this may seem an obscene amount of money (for me) to pay for a plastic doll… but, make no mistake, hoards of women were sweeping through that store with their credit cards and leaving with arms laden with pink bags… bursting with dolls and stuff… for… dolls….

Stuff.

for…

Dolls.

Is it just me?  Am I overly weirded out by all this?

Is this just “normal”?  Am I blowing it out of proportion?

I *get* that many little girls (mine included) like pink, glittery things… but stores like these seem to… almost… to pounce on that tendency, and capitalise on it… in order to market mountains of needless crap to little girls who… let’s be honest… will forget most of it in a month – and soon, those super-expensive accessories will be lying under the bed… or broken… or accumulated into yet another toy-box of you guessed it… STUFF!

Needless… meaningless… clutter-inducing… money-wasting… *STUFF*…

But, maybe it’s different for other folk.  Maybe stuff-accumulation is just the order-of-the-day.  What do you think?

PS:  I had a long talk with Morgan afterwards.  She asked why I wasn’t prepared to buy her one of the dolls as a Christmas gift.  I told her that she had never wanted a doll… or even thought about a doll… until she entered that store and was bombarded with “want”.  Dolls had never mattered to her before… and now, just because she had visited a huge, pink store – she now “wanted” something that she previously hadn’t even thought about (television advertising has this affect on kids too… one of the reasons why we haven’t owned a TV in years).  I told her that I was prepared to spend money on something special for her… something meaningful… something that she had genuinely been thinking about for a while.  But I’m not buying shit just because we walk into a big store and my kids *see* things and then – out of the blue – decide that they *want* them.

PPS:  Apparently, you can get the American Girl Doll knock-off from Target… for $20 (and most girls can’t tell the difference).

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The (exasperating) assumptions people make…

Today I woke up to a comment posted on this blog.  It was from a guy name John, and he thought he needed to lambaste me for my “lameass starbucks life”.  Here’s the comment:

gee whiz you women talked about everyone being miserable and didnt even explain that peoples problems have to be fixed for them to live a happy go lucky lameass starbucks life like yours. all you said is “COME ON PEOPLE SMILE!!!” oh and by the way the lady who wrote that lameass eat pray love book left her soon to be husband to “make her dreams come true” so maybe there are reasons people are miserable ya think??? do you wake up everyday and go to work and get cussed out for 12 hrs a day? do you quit your job over and over again only to end up in another $10 an hr hellhole doing heavy lifting and feeling like your 60 at age 30?? do you ask girl after girl out only to get rejected because you’re not good looking and dont make enough and yet she will date the drugdealer down the street??? Ever think that all that shit people talk about has some VALIDATION TO IT!! AND THAT THEY’RE NOT COMPLAINING ‘FOR NO REASON’. put yourself in their damn shoes and maybe you wont be so bright eyed and bushy tailed as you drink your mocha frappachino. cheers 🙂

*sigh*

Want to know what’s interesting?  I’m actually sitting here with a smile on my face.  Seriously!  I’m sitting here in my lounge… kids playing and laughing nearby… music drifting in from Nick’s studio…. (with my cup of steaming coffee on the table next to me)… and yes, I have a smile on my face!

(in spite of John’s ranty comment).

A good friend passed away yesterday… and I still have a smile on my face (because every time I think of Wayne – and the colourful-crazy person he was – I can’t help but smile! ).   It’s a different kind of smile.  You know what I’m saying?  It’s not a “funny-ha-ha” smile… because this time is definitely not a funny-ha-ha kind of time.  But it’s a smile that appreciates and remembers and is grateful for the time we had with Wayne… and it’s a smile that sees how a community of caring people have gathered tightly around Wayne’s wife and child – flooding them with love and support.

And it’s a smile that Gaenor hasn’t chosen a formal church ceremony to honour her husband – but (and this is so typical of the person Wayne was)… rather a Bring & Braai… at their home… to “celebrate his life”) – and celebrate his life we all will!  (Wayne would be revolted at the idea of kitsch, gaudy, organ-led funeral… he’d hate that!  And I smile too… picturing his look of horror at the very thought of it!).

Geez Wayne, dude.  We’re going to miss you.

So, in spite of John’s ranty comments on my blog… I will remain “bright eyed and bushy tailed”.  It’s a choice I make – and I make it all the time.

John assumes that I have never walked in his shoes (or the shoes of those going through a tough time).  My life is, apparently, just a happy-go-lucky… lameass… starbucks life!

No, dude…  I CHOOSE my happy-go-lucky, lameass Starbucks life!  (well… not quite Starbucks… since the famous coffee brand hasn’t quite made it to our neck of the woods).

  • I CHOSE to walk away from an abusive, life-sucking marriage.
  • I CHOSE to quit a career that made me miserable (even though it meant I needed to work like a rabid dog… for much less than $10 an hour… so that I could gain experience in the field that I was actually interested in).
  • I CHOSE to stand up to the cussing boss (and he never cussed at me again afterwards).
  • I CHOSE to do what I loved – and to find a way to earn a living from what I loved (instead of settling for years of misery in a 8-5 job).
  • And then I CHOSE to take a really big risk and start my own freelance business.
  • I CHOSE to marry Nick (one of my best decisions, ever).
  • I CHOSE to stop shaming my body.
  • I CHOSE to stop hating / cutting / beating / abusing myself.
  • We CHOSE to downgrade our lives, get rid off debt, ditch the TV, homeschool our kids, live with only one small car, etc… so that we can afford to live life on our terms (and I can drink lots of single-tall-skinny-lattes and cappuccinos with foam! – also MY choice)
  • We – as a family – have made a series of CHOICES that allow us the freedom to travel (whilst earning a steady income).  It has nothing to do with “luck”.  None of this has magically “happened”.  None of this has dropped from the sky.  We CHOSE the life we wanted… and we have walked a road (with many challenges) to make those choices into a reality.

On a daily basis…. I CHOOSE to be happy (and sometimes, I get it wrong.  Sometimes I mope and whinge… but, most of the time, I choose to pick myself up… dust myself off… and embrace the unpredictable beauty of life).

And don’t even get me STARTED on the many awesome… strong… women that I know (I live in Africa, remember?)… who break their backs tending crops… washing clothes by hand… earning a tiny income to feed a large family of children (often orphans that have been generously ‘adopted’)… who cook over fires… carry water from rivers… and whose hearty, belly-aching laughs you can hear from the end of the street…. whose warm hugs engulf your sadness… whose generous hospitality has you re-evaluating your priorities in a way you never imagined possible.

I don’t want to make any assumptions about you, John…  but I assume that you’re not a 60 year old woman living in a poverty-stricken, disease-ridden rural area of Africa… feeding, clothing and schooling 9 children (many of them orphans) on the minuscule income you get from cleaning other people’s homes?

Talk about a tough life, huh?  John?

But my point isn’t actually about whose life is “tougher” than whose.   It really isn’t.   All of us know people who are both better off and worse off than ourselves.

My point is this:  how do you CHOOSE (and it really IS a choice) to deal with your lot in life?  How do you CHOOSE to respond to it?

Will you wallow in your misery?  Pass the buck?  Blame everyone else for your misfortune?  Whinge?  Complain?  Insist on being miserable… indefinitely?

Or will you take a leaf out of the book of my beautiful friend, Adelaide… (a single mother… who has endured the most unimaginable suffering in her life)…  who laughs heartily, loves deeply, gives generously, warmly supports others – and chooses happiness, laughter and general bright-eyed-bushy-tailed’ness over misery and pessimism.

Your choice.

Quick Disclaimer:  Re-reading this post –  I realised that I might come off as sounding as though I’m really angry or offended by John.  But the truth is… I’m not.  I was a bit exasperated this morning (when I read his comment for the first time) – but I’m not raging… or angry… or hurt.  I seem to have grown  a thicker skin after all these months of blogging… and besides, I have made so many wonderful friends (through this blogging process) – and the joy of those connections far surpasses any negativity thrown my way.

John doesn’t have to agree with me – or my way of life.  I’m totally okay with that.  I guess I’m just a bit irked by his ASSUMPTIONS about who I am.  I have this “thing” about not being *got*… (guess I’m going to have to get over that, huh?).  🙂

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