Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A bit of a surprise.

At the end of November I fired the kiln for the last time this year.  It was a lustre firing and everything turned out well, including this serving bowl, which was an order.

And then ...

I decided to retire.  This was a really big deal for me and a decision I never thought I'd make.  To begin with I didn't think my state pension would bring in as much money as my earnings as an artist but when it arrived in September I was very pleased to find that it does.  So no drop in living standards ...  so I don't need to make a mug ever again if I don't want to?  Or a cereal bowl?  Or promise stock to anywhere?

What's not to like?  I always said I'd never retire because I wouldn't want to.  Finding out I do want to was something of a surprise. 

Let's be clear - you don't retire from being an artist.  An artist is not an occupation, it's who you are.  I'll always be one.  And I suppose I'll still do accounts every year, since I can sell the work I've made and will do.  I can make more things if I feel like it.  I can make different things.  I can work in different materials.  I might write more (or not).  So technically, as far as tax goes, I suppose I won't be retired as long as I'm keeping accounts and selling stuff.

What will I be doing?  I'm surprised to find that the first answer that pops into my head is that I'll  be spending more time on my garden.  Quite traditional. I'll be making sure I have time for my friends and will continue to visit my elderly parents at least once a month.  And after that ...

I don't know!

This makes me happy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Mental Health Awareness Week

We're just at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week.  I really hope it's had an impact and I feel it may have done.  I watched an amazing documentary about Nadiya Hussain, the Bake-off winner, talking about her anxiety disorder.  She was extremely brave to put it out there and allow herself to be filmed exploring her anxiety and what had happened to her in the past.  If you haven't watched it, I wholeheartedly recommend it and you have just under four weeks left on iPlayer to do so.  Bake-off is watched by so many people and Nadiya is such a lovely person that I hope it has drawn people to watch.

Elsewhere other celebrities have talked about their mental health issues more openly as well.  Without any facts or statistics to back it up, I feel that there is increasing awareness of mental health issues.  There's much to do, but it's started.

But what of you and me?  "It's good to talk" isn't just about celebrities. In a way it can damage or enhance their reputation but we don't really know the effect it's having on their families and their 'real' lives.  Ordinary, less famous people may feel they have more to lose in talking about their mental health.

For this reason, I've been very open about mine.  I blogged here when I first started taking anti-depressants and I realise that time has flown by without an update.  Well, I'm doing fine, thank you, on the mental health front.  The first two weeks were hideous, with sometimes overwhelming anxiety.  The doctors I spoke to occasionally at my practice were very understanding but said that it was a known side-effect that should go after a couple of weeks.  It did, but it was a close thing.  I'm so glad I stuck it out.  The doctors were all clear that it was up to me and gave me as much information as they were able, one of them even contacting a specialist to answer one of my questions to which she didn't immediately know the answer.

So a few months on and I'm still taking the antidepressants and expect to do so for the time being.  I'm pleased to say that in spite of a difficult time with injuries and illnesses and family worries, I'm not depressed.  Sure, there have been occasions when I felt defeated, not sure when I was going to escape the vicious circle of illnesses, but it wasn't depression.  Without the medication, life would have been much more difficult.  I was suffering from depression, I knew it, I went to the GP and he prescribed the best treatment.  It really can be that simple.

A friend of mine posted somewhere that the worst lies are those you tell yourself.  Maybe the best way to avoid those is to talk more to other people.  When you actually hear your lies repeated, then maybe you'll be aware of them and realise them for what they are.  I don't know.  But what I do know is that Mental Health Awareness Week is a really good thing and I hope that we will all take on board what we've learned and carry it forward to the rest of the year.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Is it spring yet?

I'd like to start by saying that I certainly do believe in climate change.  What is happening to the sea, for instance, and the melting icecaps just can't be denied.  However, and this may be a little controversial, I don't believe that any patch of unusual weather is a sign of climate change.  We've always had it in this country.

In February we had some exceptionally mild weather, but it's not by any means a first.  I remember the odd week in February where I sat in my attic studio with the window open all day.  I can't tell you what years that happened in because they only happen occasionally, but they do happen.  Then we get the rest of winter, which is what we're getting now.

Mike3 used to say, "He who celebrates the first warm day as the start of spring gets the longest spring but he who waits till the last frost gets the longest winter."  I like that.  So I think spring has begun, but slowly.  Things in my garden think so too.  Some of them like this aubretia, have never totally stopped blooming, even in the snow, and now are really starting to come into their own.

Meanwhile, I've been on antidepressants for more than five weeks and I'm pleased to say that I'm feeling a great deal different.  You're not supposed to notice any improvement for a couple of weeks at least but I started to feel better after about four days.  It's difficult to describe but I just knew I had feelings that had been absent for a while. 

It wasn't plain sailing.  I wasn't warned about the possible anxiety as a side-effect and it was most unpleasant.  Luckily for me it wore off after a couple of weeks, which it does for most people though not all.  And then I was back to being myself.

I think I'd been depressed for longer than I had thought at first.  Life things get in the way which can be blamed for how you feel, but now I am doing and thinking things that I'm aware I wouldn't have done in the last six months or so.  It creeps up on you.

What I don't mean is that everything in the garden is rosy.  I'm not on cloud nine or even cloud six.  Life is what it should be if your brain isn't warping it, in other words there are good and bad days, good and bad things happen, and last Friday at a friends drop-in-for-tea afternoon nobody talked about Brexit at all.

At the moment I'm particularly enjoying this tall euphorbia.  Its vibrant green flowers are very long-lasting and have brightened up my garden for a couple of months.  In the background in a tub you can see a shorter euphorbia with pale leaves but still fairly bright flowers.  It's proved to be an ideal tub plant.

PS, there's still another week of Another Beastly Art Exhibition at Nature In Art, from tomorrow till Sunday.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mental health

This morning I took my first anti-depressant.

Not actually my first ever.  I had a course of them in the early eighties and for those who know the difference, that was for endogenous depression.  After the initial period when my health improved and I came off the anti-depressants, endogenous depression dogged me on and off until these days it's pretty much a thing of the past and I can stave it off.  Therapy in the mid-nineties was probably the most effective treatment.

What I have now is reactive depression.  It took a while to exclude everything else and thank you so much to those people who noticed something wasn't right (who probably don't read this blog!) but that's what it is.  Yesterday I went to the doctor, who asked what the trigger had been.  Well, it isn't so much of a trigger, more a slow burn, but you could sum it up with the realisation that last year wasn't so much a difficult year as a plan of what my life will be for the next few years.  This is because of what's happening to some of the important people in my life and also because of my ongoing foot problems.  And, truthfully?  Brexit plays a part.

I'm doing all the right things.  I don't feel bad all the time.  I'm taking positive action where I can.  But it's bloody hard sometimes.  And when I'm feeling low, I can't do creative work.  I do lots of other useful jobs and am sort of on top of stuff but there aren't many weeks until my next exhibition and I really wanted more new textiles pieces than I have.

I feel hopeful this morning, that something might help me return to my usual self.  I'm only 64!

I'm writing this not to whinge or ask for sympathy but because it may help other people.  Mental illness is illness but in spite of the good publicity mental health promotions have been getting recently, people still feel diffident talking about themselves when they are struggling.  I guess it's partly because of the therapy I've had that I'm able to look at it as just that, an illness.  

So, don't be secretive about your mental health.  Let people know.  It's more of a struggle but you are still you, doing the things you do.

Monday, January 14, 2019

#64MillionArtists challenges - a new year's perspective

Last year I began with a post about challenges in the year ahead - and it turned out there were many.  I knew of some in advance but others jumped out at me and a few are still ongoing.  These include a very close friend (who doesn't live locally) being diagnosed with myeloma (a treatable but incurable cancer),  my parents suddenly unable to live completely independently and my developing plantar fasciitis.

I also began two literal challenges - the Photo A Day challenge and the 64MillionArtists challenge, which to begin with was daily challenges in January but then became weekly challenges.  In spite of my expectations I completed every challenge and have begun a new year with the daily challenges too.

What I have been struck by is how many challengers posted at the beginning of January that last year had been very difficult for them, for reasons which included bereavement and other family traumas not dissimilar to those I had and how taking part in the challenges had helped them enormously.

My first thought was that one mostly hears bad news, because good news is more commonplace and doesn't need commenting on.  My second thought was, my goodness people are really going to town on some of these challenges.  And my third thought was, why am I happily reminding myself that they are only supposed to take five to ten minutes each.

I think one of the values of the January Challenge and then the Weekly Challenge is that it really does help in kickstarting creativity, in prompting people to have a go whose lives have undergone a major disruption.  You may be waiting for the confidence to start or waiting for something to connect to or, in my case last year, glad of something that was my own to do every day.  Once you've got over posting a rubbish drawing and nobody minding, you gain confidence.  Once you've really enjoyed a challenge you have the bit between your teeth.  Once you've got three quarters of the way through the year without missing a single challenge it's a matter of pride to complete the set.  Or so it was for me.

This year I begin in a different place but because I got so much out of last year's challenges, I'm taking on 64MillionArtists challenges again.  I don't need things which are just for me as much as I have more time for me than in January last year and the problems are not so urgent and consuming.  I have re-engaged with my creative work and set goals which I met before Christmas.  I've begun new textiles work which I'm keen to get on with so I do find myself thinking perhaps I'll miss this one, but I'm going to try not to.

Last year I learned a few things -
  • in spite of being essentially a 3D artist, challenges which involve writing are often the easiest and most enjoyable
  • challenges which involve photography are often the easiest to tick off
  • I'm pretty bad at drawing but occasionally surprise myself
  • I didn't want to engage much in 'making' challenges, with a few exceptions
  • I really loved connecting with other challengers
- and I see that these are excellent reasons for continuing with the challenges.

Here are a few of my favourite things that came out of last year's challenges.

This one encouraged me to research and I found it fascinating that Stroud is such a hotbed of protest.  I found a connection with history which has often been absent in my life.

This was a photography challenge, Finding the Light.  I was pleased to have made a photograph where shape and shadow were so difficult to separate.

This challenge was lovely because it made me condense what I thought about relationships to a formula I'm still happy with today and because it stretched my Photoshop skills successfully.

This was a joint effort with another challenger.  It was called The Bridge.  We bridged the gap between us, never having met and not really knowing much about each other.  She supplied the photograph of the stone pillars which she'd built and I photoshopped in the oak beam and tweaked the background.

My favourite challenge, Walk with Nature.  I went out for an hour, it made my bad foot hurt a lot, but I then felt inspired to work for several hours to produce the finished piece.

and finally ...  a quick drawing I felt pleased with.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A significant step forward

Dear People,

You have no idea how great it was to delete you from my address book. 

I will be 65 in a couple of months’ time and this feels really significant for me.  For one thing, I didn’t get to celebrate my 60th birthday properly because of bereavements so I intend to celebrate better in some way this year.  For another, I’ll get my state pension in September and already feel the freedom this bestows on me with regard to the work I make.  Now I can really choose what I want to make, regardless of whether it will sell or not.  And finally ….  well, I realise that I’ve been moving into a different life space and that this move will somehow become complete when I’m 65.  I will be of an age where people retire or semi-retire or don’t but from now on nothing matters in the way it always did.  There is a sense of liberation which I wasn’t expecting. 

Throughout my life I have always kept all addresses, just in case, deleting only those of people who’ve died or moved without trace.  This has been really important to me.  I know I can make contact with people I’ve not heard from for 10 years if I wish.  I’ve carefully updated my Addresses document regularly, and keep a small paper version of my most used contacts (mostly phone numbers) in my Filofax.  (Yes, I’m that dinosaur.)  The Filofax version is often reprinted in January.  I do a lot of ‘housekeeping’ tasks in January and they always make me feel good.

Today our #64MillionArtists challenge was to write a letter saying something we’ve been meaning to say to someone, so I opened my Addresses file to find a lucky recipient.  What I found instead was a whole host of lucky recipients, you whom I am never, ever going to need to contact again.  I deleted you aIl!  It’s done and I can’t ever get you back. 

In some cases you are people or organisations that I can easily find contact numbers for on the internet.  This, it has to be acknowledged, is an important factor but it really applies only to organisations or suppliers. 

In some cases you’re home tutors.  I don’t feel any affinity for you and when I see you in Waitrose you don’t seem to recognise me any more.  Some of you are counsellors who were friends when I was counselling; I can’t even bring to mind some of your faces any more and again, those who I do remember, seem to ignore me in Waitrose. Occasionally one of us says hello and may even have a brief chat but I’ll never need to contact you.  Some of you are artists but again I haven’t seen anything of you for so many years, or you belong to organisations that I might have applied to join but didn’t and at this stage won’t and even if I do, I’ll be applying on my own merits regardless of who I once knew.

And finally, a few of you were friends. Surprisingly, this was easier than I expected.  I never thought I’d be able to delete a friend from my list of addresses but I have.  I thought about what you offered as friends and then I thought about why we drifted apart.  The reasons for drifting apart were nearly all because I don’t want friends with your views and values any more.  I feel some shame for continuing contact in the days when I did because of what your friendship offered me.  But not much.

So, farewell.  Or not.  I probably don’t care any more.  I feel great.  Liberated, forward-looking, positive and hopeful.