Photography practice

My photography practice, which I do most days, is an act of mindfulness and gratitude. I look for the beautiful, unusual and notable in my daily life. Most days I’m at home and I go out for walks with my dog in the local area. I am not in fantastic photographic locations, just a rather run down bit of Essex.

But, looking for things to photograph means I am deeply engaged with the world every day. I’m actively looking for beauty, contrast or something different. These are often changes in nature, but also human interaction with the world – graffiti, unusual things dropped, abandoned or just odd juxtapositions.

Although I do venture out with another camera (and currently saving for a DSLR) my most used camera is the one that I always have with me, my iPhone 6S.

I’ve started a hashtag on Instagram BeautifulThurrock, because I am always looking for the beauty here. I would love for it to be picked up and used more widely.

You can read more about my photography, and see a small collection of photos here, join me on Instagram, or see my portfolio here.

The Ikea juggle

I recently was waiting in the car park of IKEA.

There were a lot of people juggling various flat pack packages and goodies from the marketplace, putting them in, taking them out, trying different angles, a different order and every permutation of getting things in the car.

We’ve all done the ikea juggle, we head up there for just a couple of bits and end up not being able to fit everything in the car. Maybe even contemplating leaving a family member behind to fit everything in, yes you would have to make the trip back again to pick them up, but at least it is sorted for the time being!

This is such a problem that IKEA now rents vans by the hour.

Is your life like this? That suddenly you look around and everything is being crammed in? You only intended to do a couple of things, but actually it is all too much? And you are constantly looking at your diary and wondering what you can leave behind, before deciding that you really can’t, so you cram it all in and your husband is left squished against the window like a cartoon?*

Simplicity is the power to reclaim our lives, but it is difficult. Not only do you have to really think about what is important to you, but also your family too.

What makes a big difference to all of you?

My main focus is my creativity, which takes different forms in different seasons, but is mainly writing, music, drawing and photography. At one point I was also sewing and knitting and trying to make many things. I realised this was silly as I didn’t even enjoy the last two projects. I finished up my husband’s Star Wars man sized quilt for his Christmas present (hand sewing the edging with a dreadful cold on Christmas Eve) and that’s it, no more sewing. I have given away the majority of my fabric stash, although I am still trying to figure out what to do with my Nan’s cast iron (that maybe a slight exaggeration) sewing machine. All my knitting stuff is going to head off to a local knit and natter group.

I quite like knitting, but I realised that I don’t have the precision required for it, and also I was knitting when I sat down to watch TV- it was a way of staying busy. I don’t need to do that. I don’t watch a lot of of TV, so it is nice to focus on in when I do so. And also, I can’t do everything – I have to make a decision and this is where I have decided.

My drawing is primarily focused on ink and watercolours, there are a lot of different techniques out there, but I can’t do them all, not least because I can’t afford it, and so I have decided to focus on them.

I need to stay fit and healthy, otherwise my illness creeps up on me, so I have focused on walking and swimming, and more recently tai chi, mainly as these are low risk of injury, but also because I have a dog, walking allows me to think and be in nature, which always feeds my soul, and I have always been good at swimming and it is nice to do something that makes me feel strong. Tai Chi is great for keeping me calm. All of these have very little in the way of equipment and are easy just to get on and do, it doesn’t need a huge amount of set up.

At all of these stages I have had to decide what I want to focus on, I just can’t cram everything in. That has been hard for me to learn and something I continually struggle with. What about you? Do you still try to fit all the things into your life?

If you want help in figuring out your creative goals, or how to simplify your life, I offer coaching.

*disclaimer – I have awesome packing skills, my husband has never been abandoned at Ikea, he may have been slightly squished though…

Creative Cross Training

I’m still drawing and painting and starting to (rather bravely I feel) share them over on Instagram too.

It’s all just for fun, I don’t think it is going to form part of my income at any point, neither are my really tiny poems – often just four, three or even two lines long – I’m also sharing these on Instagram.

wild abandonment and fun in the woodssense and caution tempers reckless brainsprotection found in the undergrowth.lustful thoughts tamed

So why do them? Well, first of all it’s really important that everyone does things for themselves outside of work, and for me this is creative activities. I love that they aren’t digital, which means that they are a rest activity too. A change from sitting still at my desk. I often work on my tiny poems from my bed and paint and draw in a different space from where I work and write. Oh and splashing paint around is incredibly freeing!

It uses a different part of my brain and allows me to think differently.

My tiny poems, especially when I combine them with my photography, means I am looking all the time for the little things that make me smile, or are unusual. As they are so tiny every single word has to count, so I am refining my writing skills each time.

gift from its creator.Beautiful and preciousin its fragilityI love sitting with my notebook and rearranging the words, testing different ones and seeing if I can really convey what it is I saw or thought about.

I guess there is a question around why share them at all?

Well, it is great to be involved in the communities on Instagram. I get inspiration and encouragement from the hashtags I regularly use. Sharing regularly means I have to make time in my diary for my own creative work, in addition to the work I do for clients.

I know my own creative practice makes my client work stronger too, It’s cross training. If you are training for a marathon all of your workouts cannot just be running, you will get injured. You need to include strength work, maybe swimming or yoga too so you are using different muscles and working your body differently. You also need to include rest periods.

My client work is primarily consultancy, writing and leading workshops, so writing tiny poems and painting works different muscles and creative thoughts. A good thing I think!

Good business


There was a man standing in my doorway, this always makes me suspicious.

He explained that they were starting a milk round in the area and they were looking for enough customers to make it worthwhile. He said they wouldn’t just do milk, but all dairy products, bread and potatoes too.

I asked if I could pay and change my order online. He reassured me that I could.

I like supporting small business, plus I don’t eat gluten or dairy, but my husband does, and its easy to be able to request them as he needs them, rather than popping to the corner shop, where inevitably more than bread and milk is purchased.

We waited a few weeks, and nothing. Then, one Friday morning when I went to take Buster for a walk I almost tripped over some milk. Excellent.

Each week more milk arrived, but we never got asked for any money. One day I bumped into the milkman as I was up early with Buster and said we hadn’t had a bill or been asked for money. He explained he he had knocked one Saturday morning but we hadn’t answered. Right.

I asked him about ordering and paying online and he said that wasn’t possible. Right.

He gave me a scrappy piece of paper with all the goods they could deliver listed on them. Right.

A couple of weeks went past and we still hadn’t had a bill, I hate owning people money and not knowing how much I owe. In the end I put a note out with the bottles saying to cancel the order.

A month and a half later and I still haven’t been asked for the money. One or other of us is nearly always in on a Saturday morning. Or they could put a bill through the door and ask for it to be left out. Or something.

The stupid thing is that they are a small business, I am happy to pay, but they are not making it possible to do so.

And as for telling me I could manage my account online, a blatant lie, then you are making it very difficult for me to give you my business.

It’s the same as a small town near where I have a few friends. The restaurants all close at 6pm. Even when there is an incredibly well publicised event on in the town and there are several hundred people all wanting to buy food. They close at 6pm.

They are open for lunch, but some of them are staffed by people who seem to hate the general public. I can sympathise, working in a restaurant is my idea of hell, but then I chose to do other types of work. Why set up your own restaurant if you hate people?

My local chemist? Open Monday-Friday, closed for lunch and they don’t accept cards.

Good business practice is often quite easy and boils down to simple things. Make it easy for people to give you money. Open when your customers want you. Make up little kits/packages of your products so people can easily grab them – that applies to physical products and services. Bill them on time. Under promise and over deliver. Make it easy for them to order from you.

And of course, all of these small business will be moaning that big retailers are putting them out of business. That no-one likes the personal touch any more.

Well yes, the big retailers make it easy for me to give them money. By being open. Accepting cards. Having good staff (for the most part). None of this is complicated or costs money. It’s just good business practice.

Hesitancy

 

I posted twice in May, which is well below my average. Why was that?

It’s not like I haven’t been writing. In fact in my WIP notebook in Evernote for this blog I have 9 notes and another five for my other blog.

I think it’s hesitancy. I seem to have let perfection get the better of me. I nearly always let my posts sit a while before I share them, it allows space to assess it, proof it etc. That’s just good practice. Sometimes there are posts that quite frankly deserve to never see the light of day, in which case I move them to the ‘not used’ notebook in Evernote.

These don’t deserve that fate, I like the articles each time I read them, I’ve corrected every little thing that I can find.

So, I’m not letting this post suffer the same outcome, I’m scheduling it today, for Monday, with only a couple of hours to sit and I can check for errors.

Then next week, and every week until I have cleared the backlog, it is two posts a week. I firmly believe that if I don’t use my ideas then more won’t come in. So I need to honour my ideas and use them.

Hesitancy be damned.

May’s Reads

Another monthly round up of a selection of my reads. I have completely forgotten to take pictures this month, which isn’t very helpful!

IMG_4923Lisa Congden swimming

I loved this book, Lisa’s passion for swimming sings out from the pages, her illustrations are gorgeous and really bring the stories to life. Lisa’s infographics were informative and a joy to look at. I am really excited to see Lisa give the keynote speech at Blogtacular in June!

LondonTown, Susannah Conway

I’m a massive fan of Susannah’s work, and this photography book is beautifully composed and laid out. I lived and worked in London in my twenties and this brought back fond memories, as well as seeing the changes that have occurred since I left! I stayed in Euston recently for a project and I loved heading out away from the main road and seeing what was about. This book reminded me that is the way to see London and encouraged me to head up to explore and not to just head into meetings.

Wildwood. A journey through trees. Roger Deakin

I have had this book for a while, mainly because so many of the nature books I read point back to it – Robert Macfarlane (a particular favourite) especially. The book is odd and slightly disconcerting, I think because to me the book feels like it has been written in a completely different world to the one which I inhabit, which I think it is. His description and detail of various trees and countrysides is astonishing. I think this is one to revisit a few more times before I really sink into it and learn to appreciate it fully.

Slow things, The Emma Press.

This is a short collection of poems from the Emma Press, the compilation mixes styles, but all are loosely based around the theme of slowness, slowing down and not rushing around. Some thing we all need and of course poetry is an excellent way to do this.

The crossroads of should and must. Find and follow your passion – Ellie Luna.

I wasn’t overly impressed by this one, although it did make me realise that I am on the right track with my work and where I want to be heading. If you want to read this type of book I highly recommend Ken Robinson’s Finding your element.  I love his work and think this is an excellent example of the genre, probably because it is the least fluffy and with the most amount of work. It amuses me that I read this book a long time ago and identified what I am doing now – or at least working towards doing.

Enough – Patrick Rhone

Another ‘meh’. Nothing I haven’t read in a billion places already – about cutting out extraneous things in your life to focus on what will truly make you happy. Being content with enough and not buying things to make you happy.

The magician’s assistant – Ann Patchett.

This is not a fantasy book, in a swords and sorcery type of way, but a beautiful book on loss and the complexity of family lives, while remaining engaging and not depressing! . I loved this book and managed to savour it, rather than devouring it all in one go. It is similar in style, although not in topic, to the rest of her work, a small, dense time period, detailed descriptions and beautiful language. I find myself engrossed in her work and wanting to spend time, alone and undistracted with her words. I highly recommend it.

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Perfecting your art…or tweet?

I have the immense privilege this week of working with Royal Acdemy of Music students on a project which is making conducting accessible to people with disabilities with James Rose.

Part of my role is updating social media in real time, across James’ accounts on Twitter, instagram and Facebook.

I asked the musicians during a break if they could retweet, like etc. our posts, as well as writing their own posts using the hashtag #jroseconducts.

To my amazement, these millennials don’t use social media. One said she used Facebook to stay in touch with her family and one said she had a Twitter account and never used it.

It struck me that these students spent a lot of time rehearsing – we are together for four hours each day and this project is on top of their normal workloads. Everywhere you go in the Academy there are people practicing, going over the same phrase time and time again, even when I left at 9pm there was still music resounding throughout the building.

Maybe all that time that they could spend on social media they spend perfecting their art instead.

Alexandra Franzen (a favourite business writer) makes her thoughts about social media quite clear here and here and says at the end of her life:

I will calculate all of the minutes that I spent coming up with thousands upon thousands of tweets — thinking about those tweets, typing those tweets, editing those tweets, publishing those tweets, tracking to see who “liked” and “re-tweeted” my tweets, and then re-sharing my witticisms on various other platforms — and I would probably come to the grim conclusion that it was somewhere in the realm of 1.8 million minutes spent on Twitter, alone.

I go through phases of getting highly involved with social media, around the April Love 2016 project for example, and I am currently enjoying Instagram and the various photography and poetry communities I am finding on there.

Howver, I really notice on Sundays how much more relaxed I am and I think a big part of this is I don’t use social media or the internet on a Sunday. I may expand this to Saturdays too.

On the other hand, it seems like if you want to make it these days social media is the only way to do it.

Most of my favourite authors aren’t really on social media -Neil Gaiman is a notable example, but he uses it as and when he wants to.

I guess, as with everything, the middle path is the way ahead. I can use Instagram and not get obsessed with it, in fact, after this project I might well take all social media off phone again.

What about you? What is your relationship with social media?

April Reads and Reviews

April Reads and Reviews

This is a selection of my best reads for this month. It was an excellent month of reading, and I will be reading more of the books by these same authors as they were all very strong, enjoyable and some of them quite a challenging read.

The Maytrees, Annie Dilliard.

IMG_4569

I’ve run across Dillard’s name or books referenced in a lot of my reading of late, so I got this from the library. It is not a book to be read in bite sized chunks, it needs substation portions of time to get to grips with its style. There isn’t any dialogue, which I actually quite like and the use of language can be quite dense at times, but this makes it a beautiful read. As does the subject matter, of love, life and death, which is quite a lot to take on in a slim novel. I will look out more of her books and probably revisit this one as I think it will greatly benefit from a second reading.

 

 

IMG_3748Oliver Sacks. On the move.

 

This book was on BrainPickings 2015 top reading list and I can see why. And oh dear – just like a lot of the books I have read of late it has spawned a vast number of entries in my ’to be read’ list. I loved reading about this man’s life and found his cross of science, care of patience and outright recklessness of his youth to be an engaging and enjoyable read. It made me long for my motorbike again, which is never a particularly good thing.

 

 

Version 2The Graveyard book. Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is possibly my favourite living author, in fact I have his picture and a quote above my laptop, and he narrates this audiobook. He is an extremely good narrator and speaker, as well as writer. This book is actually a children’s book, but don’t let that put you off. This book is based on Bod, a boy who grows up in a graveyard. Yes, a somewhat unusual topic, but done so brilliantly with Gaiman’s usual style of fantasy that in his hands doesn’t seem fantastic, but totally plausible. It is my dream to be able to write like Gaiman…

 

I really enjoyed this book – I listened to it as an audiobook. Since I’ve become gluten and dairy free, I have become so much more aware of the sensitivities of my body, changing my diet has meant a big reduction in pain and fatigue – a huge reduction in fact. This book makes it really apparent how under researched the gut really is and how much it can affect our lives.
Essentially we really should listen to our ‘gut feelings’ as it is beginning to look like we essentially have a second brain in our stomach. Not literally, but the gut can have that much influence over our lives.
I have made a few changes as a direct result of this book – plastic chopping board for meat, clean tea towels and dishcloths every day etc. I have always been scrupulous about washing my hand after handling raw meat and eggs, but it is always good to get a reminder.
I loved the authors light-hearted way of talking about this serious topic and it managed to balance hard-core science facts while remaining accessible and interesting. I wish there were more such books about other topics on the body.

 

How to paint a dead man. Sarah Hall.

I actually chose this off the library shelves, which is unusual for me, I normal get books on recommendations, but I was drawn by the title. This was nonlinear and following the lives of several people at once. I loved the different styles of writing for each of the different characters, with different narrative techniques and language. Another book which was devoured very quickly.

IMG_3618

Wildflower. Drew Barrymore.

This book was so much fun and light-hearted. Drew writes in a way that makes you feel like she is with you telling you the stories of her life. There is no sense of pomposity or negativity at all. There are lots of ‘so’, ‘really’ and multiple !!!! and ???? throughout, giving it a really enjoyable air!

 

 

 

 

 

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Rumi, Lion of the heart. Translated by Coleman Barks.

I’ve seen snippets of Rumi’s poetry across the internet, normally superimposed on a pretty scene, but I hadn’t actually read any of his poems. This little edition is a beautiful collection and I savoured it over a couple of weeks (unusual for me). However, the layout was atrocious, but the commentary is excellent and the translation seems to be a good one (as far as I can tell, not actually being able to speak Persian).

 

 

 

IMG_3621Angela Carter, The bloody chamber

I have read a lot of Angela Carter, but surprisingly not this version. As usual it is fantastic, dark and twisted. Right up my street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Version 2The Lie Tree. Francis Hardinge

Winner of the Costa book award in 2015, this was a fantastic YA read, with a strong female lead, who wants to be a natural scientist in an [alternative] Victorian England. It focuses on evolution, especially linked to religion and the threat it poses to established doctrine. The story is fast paced and deeply enjoyable and I really didn’t foresee how the book would end.

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Being outdoors

Getting outdoors!Being outdoors is vital to me, I genuinely think I wouldn’t be as well as I would if I didn’t get outdoors. It’s kept me moving and walking on a daily basis, even when I am struggling with my health. I may have to use a wheelchair in town and on hard surfaces, but outdoors, on soft ground I can walk fairly well. And that is oh, so important to me.

Being outdoors heals me, feeds me and allows my brain time to decompress, compost and develop new creative ideas.

Get outdoors

Looking for the small, beautiful things each and every day makes me happy and gives me vast amounts of joy. Searching for the small things means I am rooted in the here and now, rather than letting my mind run away all the things I MUST do, or how my life SHOULD be happening.

The outdoors is such a blessing for us all, I love it.

 

 

This blog post is an entry for the ‘take me outdoors with the #cscollective’ competition for @canopyandstars