Sunday, 20 March 2016

Why it pays to put creative work on hold (sometimes)

In my younger years I used to regularly buy fabric just because it was pretty and took my fancy, and even though I had no idea what I'd actually do with it I knew I would do something eventually. I amassed a huge bag full of fabrics and about four years ago I decided that, despite no prior experience, it would be a good idea to make a patchwork quilt. I figured I had a sewing machine, a stash of fabric and a basic grasp of measuring so what did I have to lose?

Over the course of about eight months I frequently sat and traced shapes onto fabric, cut those out, stitched them together. I did it while I sat in front of the TV watching Grey's Anatomy, or Parenthood. Sometimes I'd have a friend over and we'd take turns using the machine to work on our different projects. Gradually I built up more and more panels then the project would get stashed away for another rainy day.

Some time passed and I realised I hadn't touched the quilt for almost two years. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I was pretty poorly and knew I'd be spending the day in the Sofa region watching TV, so I decided to get my quilt box out from the back of the wardrobe and do a little bit of sewing. I figured I might at least cut the fabric for another row of panels if nothing else.

10 hours later I went to bed having traced, cut, and sewn two more rows of panels and it's now starting to resemble something like a blanket. I feel extremely proud.

That's 280 panels so far, with another 120 to go before I even start thinking about the back of it. Who knows when I'll work on the quilt again, but it felt important to acknowledge that sometimes life gets in the way of our creative projects. Since I last sewed a panel I have moved house twice, changed jobs, launched my wedding celebrant business, launched the Bookish Blether podcast, learned to drive, started my coaching diploma. All were projects that required time, money, and/or focus that took me away from my quilt.

But it's ok to stick projects on hold for a few months, or even years, until the timing is right again. If one project takes priority for a while, it might even be essential to put others on hold, or you face the prospect of bumbling along never quite completing anything. This was definitely the case when starting my wedding business. I had to set up a website, write copy, design branding, purchase business cards, make contacts within the industry, all before the bit where I actually do the work of being a celebrant. The majority of my couples have found me through my website so if I'd put this work on hold to sit around and make a quilt the business wouldn't be as successful as it is today. It's only March and I've booked 75% of my target for 2016 with little marketing.

I also realised often feel pressure to work on projects that have a certain level of visibility; a business, a newsletter (*plug* sign up for mine), a podcast, workshops etc etc. That's a pressure I place on myself and as a result it's now rare to take time to do creative projects that are just for me. Personal projects don't have to be for anyone but you, and there's real pleasure to be had in creating something with your hands, whether that's a meal, or a painting, or a few panels of a quilt.

I don't know when I'll work on my quilt again, but I'm glad I've made some progress this weekend and hope I'll see it again before too long.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

I used to be kind of a bitch

I used to be kind of a bitch. Not an out-and-out, running my mouth all over town bitch. But a secret bitch. I hate conflict so I wasn't exactly starting fights but in my head I was a pretty nasty person. I was judgmental, I was spiteful, I was jealous. Naturally I didn't realise this at the time but in my late twenties I noticed something major had changed in my attitude.

I grew up in a wonderful small town in Hampshire surrounded by fields and friends. I loved school, and I did pretty well, but I felt awkward and ugly and believed I’d never get a boyfriend whilst simultaneously believing I would marry Leo DiCaprio. Hey, it could still happen, right?

At 15 my family moved to a farm in the middle of Aberdeenshire and I hated it. New house, new school, no friends. Like, NO friends. I was the odd one out, the weirdo kinda goth kid, I was the ‘English bitch’ (despite being born in Scotland). I did as much as I needed to to pass my exams and then left at 15 to head to college.

I studied TV production in a class with only one other woman, a wonderful woman but my total opposite. She went to fancy clubs, was friends with footballers, worked in a designer clothing store, looked incredible. Naturally I was jealous. I was really into music and made friends at gigs, mostly guys. I dated some awful men who seemed wonderful at the time. I drank what seemed like a normal amount but I now recognise was way too much. Every time I met women I just didn't seem to get along with them. I believed they were judging me, excluding me from their cliques, bitches to the core. On nights out I felt like women ignored me but in hindsight not once did I initiate a conversation with them. If my guy friends got a new girlfriend I was privately livid, because of course she'd hate me and of course she'd ban me from seeing my friends, and of course I'd be rejected from our group. This never actually happened. I didn't make an effort with the friends of my boyfriends because I assumed they were all secretly lusting after them, a threat to our relationship.

I believed all women were bitches and all women hated me. But the bitch was me, and I can see now that my bitchiness was the pure product of two things:

  1. Jealousy
  2. Insecurity

I was jealous of what other women they had, the friends around them, the life choices they made, the clothes they wore, their beautiful hair, the holidays they took, the in-jokes they shared, the confidence with which they carried themselves.

And I was jealous because I was deeply insecure. I didn’t feel confident, I worried about my looks, I was always seeking approval. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I always believed my boyfriends would cheat (sadly they often did). I didn't have much money. My insecurity made me feel like everyone was out to get me. That people were laughing at me, that anything they had or did meant I was being kicked down.

Around 23 things started to change. I worked in a ski centre and the women I worked with were all older than me, much more carefree and much less interested in drama. I began to see the world through their eyes. Life was for adventure and adventure meant being open to conversation with whoever you met. They weren't out to get me, they had their own shit going on, but I was welcome to be a part of it.

In 2008 I started blogging and suddenly I was making friends with women beyond my tiny social sphere, women who were older than me, younger than me, from all over the world. And they were so damn supportive it blew my mind.

Truthfully, I only realised I used to be a bitch when it dawned on me that I'd stopped being one. Somewhere in my mid-late twenties I got really good with myself. I had a job I loved, a boyfriend who makes my heart sing, a bit of money saved up. I had a small group of close friends who I felt very comfortable around. Getting good with myself peeled away those layers of insecurity and the jealousy slipped away too.

Suddenly women were not my natural sworn enemies but my potential best friends. I was interested in everything they had to say, wanted to know how they'd come to be themselves, where had they been, where had they shone, where had they fucked up? I was no longer jealous, I was in awe. Twitter amplified this, I was able to chat to and meet women who'd I'd have never otherwise had the confidence to speak to. As my confidence grew I wanted to connect with more people, and connect them with each other so I started running a few events.

I met so many women who made me understand I wasn't alone in my experiences. They too had felt excluded and insecure. They too had been the odd one out. They too had felt that horrible feeling that you'll never be as good as anyone else.

A weird thing happens when you feel jealous and insecure. When you don't like yourself you become so so toxic that you don't see that you can be happy, and then there's nothing worse than other people's happiness. Other people's happiness is a slap in the face. A personal insult.

I remember standing in a supermarket in 2007 and seeing a magazine cover which showed Britney Spears shaving her hair off and hitting a photographer with her umbrella. At that moment I knew I was part of a bigger problem. I'd spent years gorging on celebrity gossip and for the first time I could see the consequences of media intrusion and the role I played in it.

The world gives us so many opportunities to hate on other women and I now refuse to take them. I mean there are people whose ACTUAL JOB is to criticise other women (I'm looking at you Daily Mail staffers). We've got enough shit to deal with without ripping each other apart at every opportunity.

Sure, sometimes there are pangs of envy, that's a natural way to feel when a friend gets a book deal, when one quits her job to travel, when another gets an incredible (and well deserved!) promotion. But that feeling of envy is tiny compared to the feelings of pride and admiration and respect and happiness that flood my brain when I see women doing well.

Jealousy holds us back big-time. It limits our potential, stops us seeking opportunity, keeps us small. I now know that other women's success doesn't inhibit mine. The only person who inhibits my success is me. We can all do great things, even greater if work together, encourage each other, and keep our inner bitch at bay.