I totally don’t have self-compassion down pat

I haven’t written anything for a few days over a week, but I have either been creative, organised creative things, or have been working for money. Creatively, I’m working on my first production pair production prototype pair of roller skates* and I’m scoping out activities and engagements for next year. I’ve also discovered that fundamental to any activity I participate in is the need to open up to vulnerability.

My Desire Map planner for next year arrived in the post… I freaked out about the commitment I was making to working on plans that matter most to me… I then played solitaire on the computer… the next morning opened up my Desire Map workbook and began the initial exercises again. What lifts me up? What do I crave? Where do I hurt? To my surprise, I still have the same drives that I had about 6 months ago – I thought that my earlier responses to the questions would have been shaped by the monumental changes that I’d been going through (ending a long and troubled relationship) and that recent responses would be shaped by the monumental changes I’m currently in the midst of (in-between houses, in-between jobs, in-between transportational freedom). Both sets of responses confirmed, though, “this is who I am, this is what I crave, this is where I am wounded”.

I am, like so many other people, deeply afraid of being vulnerable. Stories will differ, but someone has hurt us when our tender parts were exposed. People have said cruel and useless things, and we’ve been stung by their thoughtless and crappy behavior. For me, deeply engrained is the concept that being less-than-stellar at something is an invitation for verbal and emotional attack.

My peak vulnerability is when I am learning something new and am invested in improving my skills (eg yoga, sewing, and writing). To protect my vulnerability I am defensively (and aggressively) private, I focus on perfection, and I also hesitate to the point of not beginning anything. I’m stubbornly independent, I don’t let people see how much I still need help, and I have a fantastic mask in place about how-great-I-am-at-doing-things and that I’ve-got-my-shit-together. This behavior is isolationist – for me, for those close to me, and for my peers.

Recently I started working through own vulnerability by ensuring those I let in to my life are respectful and loving and honestly acknowledging that it’s okay when I get things wrong. In the past I’ve been terrible at respecting my boundaries for acceptable behaviour and have kept myself in distressing situations. Also, while I’m pretty accepting when other people get things wrong (except when they do so with blinding consistency and pig-headedness), I’m far less compassionate with myself. These days I’m taking good steps towards good mental health, but my actions are still internalised, invulnerable manoeuvers. I’m still fucking managing vulnerability, minimizing emotional fall-out.

By going back through the Desire Map and connecting with the feelings that underlie why and how I do things, I saw clearly that by not being explicit about the process of working through, and sitting with, the things that scare me I wasn’t able to do the one thing that really I do best – make authentic connections with others and open the doors to acceptance and forgiveness. Now I’m taking off the mask of I’ve-got-that-(self) compassion-shit-together and am honestly working with how tricksy I can make my life. I’ve been stumped by how many people are saying “I feel that way too!”, and while it’s a good feeling, I’m primarily doing this thing for myself. I cannot truly accept my vulnerability until I get down to the raw bones, to stop hiding behind masks (I’ve been working for a few hours about how to phrase these thoughts, but I know that I’m on the right path when my eyes start to prickle and my throat constrict.)

I have a powerful drive to help and encourage others, particularly downtrodden souls. The inexperienced execution of this drive has put me in shitty situations, and hurt others as well, but I’m not jaded; connecting with people is what I do most naturally. For me to help and encourage others, I need to be compassionate. For me to be compassionate, I need to be compassionate with myself. For me to be compassionate with myself, I need to acknowledge and accept all of me, particularly the aspects that are scared, that hurt. My focus on helping others work through creative indecision and uncertainty is hollow and unfulfilling unless I am explicit with how I relate to such feelings myself.

 

* I had thought that I had the production method down pat, then I swapped sewing machines and gave myself a whole new heap of things to deal with. Fuck.

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So what happened to my rule of creating every morning? Saturday morning – tired from working till midnight the night before, and getting read for work starting at 9:30am that day: I edited a photo and published a blog draft. Sunday morning – tired from a Halloween party the night before: I read my new library book Craftivism. Monday – tired, as I didn’t sleep the night before because I missed my medication on Sunday morning: I napped, and in the late afternoon I completed a sewing project (a Wednesday Addams version of the Vogue 9000 vintage dress for my daughter).

One thing leads to another.

This is one of the reasons – the main reason – why I’m obsessive (and defensive) about getting my shit together. Regular sleep, decent food, quiet social life. Drama (a crazy life) is expensive, draining energy and what little time we have; lives are whittled away by one stupid act after another. My life spiralled out of control for years, and from living within emotional chaos I now find myself abhorring drama. It freaks me out, reminding me of old times, and I know just how easily crazy times begin. It seems that the less I want drama in my life the more others’ want me to be participate in theirs (this is partially hindsight, but there are some people who don’t want others to make different/ better choices – they are afraid it will make them look ‘bad’).

I want to make things, to challenge and encourage people. I rein in my life so that I can do this. From a Zen perspective, it’s good to stop stirring up the waters, let them settle, and look through the cleared water to see through to what’s at the bottom. My existential kicker is that the lotus grows from the mud – clarity makes no difference whatsoever. I’m defensive about finding clarity, but that in itself is just another thing muddying the waters. Everyday though, I aim to disengage and find some kind of balance.

 

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Image: sycamorestreetpress.com

Rules of Engagement: Creativity

One of my favourite TED Talks is the ‘Rules of Engagement’. Kate Bingaman Burt talks about the fear of the blank page – what do I draw/ paint/ write about? She notes, though, that if someone said “draw anything, but only use purple” it would be fundamentally easier, like a switch had been flicked. I’m sure there is a neuropsychological mechanism in place, but it’s easier to say ‘human brains need some kind of boundary through which they can engage the world’.

I was talking this over with a friend yesterday, how the rules of engagement apply to any personal and social situation. Though I’ve been working on my own social rules of engagement (it’s been a wild year, including the Pandora’s box of psychologist sessions) I’ve never made rules about how I engage with my creative work.

‘How to write’, ‘how to work through creative blocks’, ‘how to focus’… these articles are a-dime-a-dozen. I’ve read some really fantastic ones, and ideas have stuck and started to grow in my mind… but I’m still terrified of writing. I’m two years behind in my business plan. Today, though, I’m writing my own rules of engagement for creative work. The timing is fortuitous for big changes – three years ago I was wrapping up my studies in Melbourne and winging back to Brisbane, today is All Saints Day when I remember the people who’ve made a difference in my life. Summer is here, and the jacarandas are in full decaying bloom. It’s time to step forward.

Rules of engagement with creative work:

1. Make something with my hands every day. Write something everyday. This is not the same as completing something or publishing everyday, but it creates a routine and that is something my brain relishes. I don’t want to complete something every day of the week. I like watching things grow and change over time, and I know this will happen only with momentum each day. Inertia breeds doubt, and I’m going to squash that fucker.

2. Morning is my time. Not first thing, but after coffee, breakfast, and my daughter has left for school. Ideas pop, and my brain is fresh and clear. The day is young, I don’t have to start wondering about feeding or clothing people. I will not give this time to housework, social media, or talking to others. This is my time, for my thoughts and energy without competition. I have limited time and focus, and will use it for things that are best for me.

3. Build a support group. I have so many friends that are makers and writers I’d be fucking crazy not to ask for help. I’m stoically independent (read: stubborn) and have tried to ‘go it alone’ for so many years; frankly, this has gotten me nowhere. Everyone needs encouragement, to share ideas, and to both offer and receive assistance. We are social creatures.

Stay-behind-yellow-line-QR

I thought there’d be more rules, but I’m starting to understand that it’s the concept of boundaries – and that they are personal boundaries – are what really matters. I’m already feeling more relaxed about my creative work. I know this is the initial rush of having found focus, and I’ll wait to see how I feel about writing tomorrow. In applications for this year’s TED Talk at Southbank we were asked ‘what is the question no-one is asking?’; my response was ‘what would the world be like if people made their own rules for living?’. I guess I’ll find out soon.

Where’s my stitch(es) at?

Project Carpet Bag has been more encompassing than I thought it would be, though I haven’t sewn a stitch.

Helping Catherine get her shift sorted was an important step for me, and we’ve done so of the last 3 months (3 months? JESUS CHRIST this year is flying by). Meeting up for about 4 hours every 2 weeks does not make for dramatic progression, and we’re moving forward slowly despite the ever-present urge to do-all-the-things-at-once. Catherine looks fab in her new shift, and is making more.

I have a body form on the go, ready to be finished up this Saturday. From here I’m going to draft a pattern for a yoke skirt for some delish fabric from The Fabric Store. So, I’ll have a skirt… I had intended to have so many more decent garments to wear by now, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Firstly, I didn’t allow myself enough finances to purchase the fabrics I wanted (getting that sorted). Secondly, I’ve been crazy busy (not sure how to handle that). However, what I have been able to do is focus. I’m not lured by op-shop finds (except the blue silk dress from the McIntyre Centre at Graceville), and I haven’t purchased any new items of clothes (other than the Guns’n’Roses t from Target, just because I loved it). Not feeling like I need new things is a huge weight of my shoulders.

My shoulders, by the way, are changing. I’ve finally started circus class with Vulcana after 15 years of telling myself I couldn’t do it. I’m a potato, completely unfit, and I am enjoying myself. I may even have muscles on my shoulders in the next few months. I’ve also been to the dentist after 6 years of telling myself I couldn’t do it. I’ve reluctantly given up drinking alcohol. It’s confusing (what do I do now?), and I look wistfully at the wine bottle in the fridge, but I feel better for it. We had virgin margaritas and tacos for my birthday on Monday.

Vulcana

So, Project CB has had an effect I hadn’t counted on – knowing I had a choice and could realistically act on it. My plans in the next 2 weeks (around my job-that-pays-money, job-that-pays-love-and-pocket-money, training-for-second-job-that-pays-money, volunteer-work-1, volunteer-work-2, repairing shoes and negotiating with my last maker in the USA) – finish that body form, draft that skirt, make some leggings with Catherine. Also, the Brisbane vampyre ball is in August, so we’d better work out now what we are wearing so that it can happen. I’m also going to pattern up some footwear for me and the man. Not for the faint of heart.

The photograph is of the glorious Vulcana – if anyone can pinpoint the copyright/ acknowledgement and let me know I’d appreciate it.

Limitations of patience

I’m a pretty patient person; I believe things/ situations/ people will work out because I *know* everything is basically okay. I believe the best of people, and that I’ll understand the world through time and experience.

This stance, however, is very self-focused and ultimately harmful.

I cannot know the world. It is too vast and complex for me to understand, and I can only ever know a small part of it. Also, people have vastly different experiences and motivations, and I surely should think twice before I ascribe my “normal” motivations on another (read: some people are just douches). By thinking that I know the answers, and that through time they’ll shine through, I put myself and my relationships in the path of potentially destructive situations and people (read: sometimes I can be a douche).

I think I’ve found my limit of patience – when waiting for things/ people/ situations to pan out stops me from fulfilling my everyday life. This plays out through starting to doubt my own motivations and self-worth/ feeling so frustrated I am sick to the stomach/ dishes stacking up because I am finishing a tricksy stage of a project… it is a long list, and I need to pay close attention to it.

What does this have to do with shoes? I need to walk away from the sewing machine if I’ve been trying for more than 10 minutes to sew a seam and it still doesn’t work. Drink some water, ask for help, boogie about. There is no sainthood with sewing machines. Saints Crispin and Crispinian were doomed for their beliefs, callings higher than the idea that this, too, shall pass.

Why I suck, but don’t blow

Why I suck, but don't blow

I suck because I am not confident; I over-promise and over-extend in the hopes of making people happy – happy with me and happy with the world. I am not confident that they’ll accept me/ my work as it is. I suck at working with the time I have. I suck because I become so focused on my work that I forget with world around me. But I don’t blow as I haven’t given up yet, I keep on believing that I can be excellent to myself, and excellent to others.

Bones and glue

Rethinking the nature of a biography, I realised the importance of overlooked details. Bones are good, but something must hold them together. So, my interest in shoemaking stems from –

  • the challenges it presents – shoemaking is a unending mathematical puzzle, and maths is sexy and stimulating;
  • it is an ancient craft, and somewhat unknown in our post-industrial age – I believe we should engage with such crafts, broadening our own horizons and sustaining them for future generations;
  • it relies on physicality and presence – I am constantly aware of my hands, body, and breath when I make shoes; if my mind wanders, I make errors. Plus, I thoroughly enjoy being aware of my world.

I’ll be exploring these specifics through the blog – the whys and hows of making shoes, why it matters as a craft and how you can sustain it, and the importance of presence in all things.