Monthly Archives: March 2014

An authentic and colourful life….Katwise

It’s hot here now.  When I was struggling to learn Nepali in the early days*, I got confused between pasina ayo (I’m sweating-lit. sweat came) and asina ayo (snow came). Now I remember P for perspiration and P for pasina and boy, oh boy….pasina ayo!  I realise this may be too much information here but I am not telling you the half of it.  I could go into details about my eye…but I won’t. No selfies though.

images-2Instead of doing Samunnat’s Eurosynergy activities (an inventory and preparing our presentation) I did some …research (sounds so much better than browsing online!). Productive procrastination.  Mum encouraged it. You can always blame the mother.  I found the website of Kat O’Sullivan who describes herself as a free spirited girl who makes funny patchwork coats out of old sweaters.

She is magnificent**!  Kat lives in a wonderfully colourful house and travels the world, often in a images-4psychedelic bus.  In her blog she talks about a lot of things relating to creativity…the value of not following every whim; of working with constraints.  She discovered how much style and whimsy you can spin on your business. I am looking forward to that!

house_079She makes some fabulous observations about copying.  People began to blatantly copy her and she felt very vulnerable. A friend talked to her about weaving her art into the narrative of her life.  Her sweaters ceased to be just objects to wear and became little fragments of her charmed lifeauthentic manifestations of her whimsical world…souvenirs of this whole crazy life …[she has] been gifted with.  She realised that her work was imbued with her magic- unique to her.  She realised that by sharing more of her world, the sweaters became like bouquets from her garden. What a fabulous metaphor.  I connected with this because I consciously try to imbue everything I make with a kind of generous, positive energy.  We know that at Samunnat too, what we make is part of a much bigger and profoundly special story.

Infused through it all was her commitment to authenticity and living and creating wholeheartedly.  She writes:

I never take myself too seriously – and I think that keeps my work flowing freelyimages-5 and my expression genuine. A lot of times when people are trying to make art a living they end up trying to meet others expectations, or getting so self-reflective that they lose perspective. I think I have a healthy sense of humor and detachment about what I do and the ability to embrace my many shortcomings as an artist. It is my hope that when people look at what I do they can feel that it came from a genuine place. I want the intentions I put into things to resonate with people, so they aren’t just buying an object, but a little chunk of happy energy.

Brighten your day by reading about Kat.  She would LOVE it here at Birtamod where a riot of colour is almost a mundane everyday event!

*I eventually stopped struggling- my still pathetic Nepali is a source of great amusement here!  I am pretty exceptional with colour, food and jewellery related terms and almost useless in daily conversation!  I can tell you when I am sweating though.

**She even answers emails! All photos and quotes used with kind and personally emailed permission. Howzat!?


Doing what you love

photoIt’s interesting how something can be on your mind and then you find that others have been thinking about it too. I’m not the only one who has been reflecting on work!  In the early days at Samunnat I’d often ask the ladies if they were enjoying their work.  Always, they said. It was new and exciting and we were learning, chatting while we worked, playing with new ideas.  Then as things progressed and we were making hundreds of the same kind of bead, bowing to market choices, working to deadlines, discussing overtime rates, I worried that it would seem repetitive, boring…work like.  I wanted them to be ablephoto to Do What They Loved.

But my initial enthusiasm about notions like Do what you love didn’t fit with my experience of reality.  When I was in paid employment, I loved my job, but there were days when it was tough…busy, draining, boring, repetitive, frustrating and stressful.  I had to accept that there would be days a bit like that for us at Samunnat too.  I knew that the people breaking rocks on the side of the road, or porters carrying loads on a trek photodid not find creative fulfilment in their work.  Being terrifically creatively fulfilled at work is a luxury reserved for a select few.  If everyone was to Do What They Loved it means there should be people who LOVE stacking shelves, cleaning toilets, doing crap jobs to keep the wheels of society turning.  As James Shelley says You can only do what you love as long as someone else makes sure the toilet isn’t backing up. 

I also realised that sometimes, emphasising to people that they love their work makes them very vulnerable to exploitation.  Early on, the ladies would offer tophoto work extras days because they loved what they did.  We said that loving what you do doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect a fair day’s pay.  You work and you get paid fairly. Loving what you do is a bonus and does not mean you get paid less or should do more than you are paid for or is reasonable to expect.  The ladies love that they have a job they can do with dignity.  They love that they can create something beautiful and earn an income from it.  For them, work is work.  It is fulfilling and creative but essentially, and this is the priority for them, it feeds their families and educates their kids.

For  a while when we returned from Nepal I felt like a failure that I wasn’t earning a living from my art. Perhaps I wasn’t loving it enough? It is almost embarrassing how much of a relief it was when James Dillehay suggested that my income did not have to derive from my art. I wish I had read this earlier too:

Do what you love is great advice if we interpret it as, “Make sure you make time for the things that matter to you.” If you love writing, make time to write. But please: Do what you love regardless of whether it’s your career.

photoBecause writers [or creators of any kind], it’s okay to make art that doesn’t contribute to your bottom line. And it’s okay to pay the bills via work that just pays the bills. Meanwhile, make sure you’re also doing what you love.

(At first glance the accompanying photos of my latest discovery for the Colourful Journey might seem totally unrelated to the content of the post but the people working here at a nearby Nepali lokta paper making business were happy to show me around. Slightly surprised by my interest but happy enough.  Some of these people make 600 sheets of paper a day each and I doubt that this is particularly creatively fulfilling. They are relieved when the sheet of paper turns out well, they were pleased that I like it and proud, but most of all, they were glad they had a job where they had a steady income, where a husband and wife could both be employed and where their kids could potter around nearby. They had a job where they worked decent hours and were able to do the other stuff that keeps a Nepali family chugging along.  The observant reader will notice a fire in the background.  The entire village ran to the scene, one man carrying bucket of water.  Eventually, a good 20 minutes later, a fire truck arrived.  The first I’d seen in the country.  By then the fire was basically out but it was good to know they existed.)



Life and Death

e1191109ebcdab31b6503debc3cbb179Guess what!? Austin Kleon reads obituaries too.  (Yes, I have mentioned him before!  I loved Steal Like an Artist and meant to write more about it) He describes obituaries as near death experiences for cowards.  I read obituaries. Not the ones of famous people but the ones about the heroism of ordinary people recounted with love by those they leave behind.  I usually cry.  As Kleon says in Show Your Work, they aren’t really about death; they’re about life.  In a wonderful newsletter this week, Maria Popova (Brainpickings) quotes illustrator and author Maira Kalman saying: the sum of every obituary is how heroic people are, and how noble.  I so agree with Kleon who says reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.  For me, verbally acknowledging each morning that all things end, all things change reminds me to not take for granted for one second, the preciousness of life.

Like many people on planes last week I was more nervous than usual. I refrained from sending an email to family from the airport telling them who the authorities should check if anything went wrong.  That would have made them more anxious! (But why would you board a plan for a 9 hour flight with no hand luggage? Travelling light obviously down to an art! And what was that bandage around the hand hiding? Surely not just a wound. Ah, the blessing of a vivid imagination.)

I sensed a collective relaxing of shoulders when we did all finally land. Sheepishlyannaquindlen_shortguide exchanged grins that indicated our slightly embarrassed relief.  I’ve been on planes where the passengers applauded when we landed. This time the relief was not audible, but just as obvious.

Lately the realities of life and death emphasise the value of living rather than existing (and go straight to Brainpickings for more on this. Gosh Brainpickings is good. Have I mentioned that?) I think I’ll buy A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen.  This resonated so powerfully for me:

It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes.  It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen…the colour of our kids’ eyes…it is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking.  I was reminded of that wonderful paragraph in Toni Jordan’s Additions where she says:

DSCN2559Most people miss their whole lives, you know. Listen, life isn’t when you are standing on top of a mountain looking at a sunset. [Mind you, that can be very lovely!] Life isn’t waiting at the altar or the moment your child is born or that time you were swimming in a deep water and a dolphin came up alongside you. These are fragments. 10 or 12 grains of sand spread throughout your entire existence. These are not life. Life is brushing your teeth or making a sandwich or watching the news or waiting for the bus. Or walking. Every day, thousands of tiny events happen and if you’re not watching, if you’re not careful, if you don’t capture them and make them COUNT, your could miss it. You could miss your whole life.”

As I was about to board the plane, and seconds before I had to turn off my phone, shots of my grand-child-in-utero, already besottedly adored, came through.  I allowed myself to feel incredibly happy acknowledging how profoundly vulnerable this made me.  I savoured those wonderful moments, cried, showed the man next to me and touched the dear face that appeared on the screen.  Quindlen says:

Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. [my emphasis! Can’t wait. We do great ears in our family] Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.



A New Day

photoSome readers will notice a strangely symbiotic link between Samunnat Nepal’s Colourful Journey blog and this one (and if you haven’t spotted it by now why not?) It may be explained in part by the strangely symbiotic relationship between the blogger (s) involved?? Go with it.

Kopila and I have been preparing our talk for the Eurosynergy Conference in Malta next month and the connection of the sisterhood is something we have discussed more than once. Samunnat Nepal has been abundantly encouraged and supported by people from all over the world and this is one reason why we want to encourage as many people as possible to sign this petition for Amnesty International. Read more about it here or here.

This connection, the sisterhood, is something that has been very much on my mindphoto this week.  Every morning, one of the things I say to myself as I have my little sit, is Knowing that we are all strength and struggle, may I nurture connection and that sense of belonging that only happens when we believe we are enough ( sort of paraphrasing Brene Brown of course in the Gifts of Imperfection).  Every morning I have sent love and thoughts to a number of sisters who are really facing some big challenges.

I think art can be so powerful in expressing that sense of connection, that love.  Recently, as I was preparing for the DD class, I had a sense of needing to create quite different piece to what I was doing for the class.  I often talk in classes about starting, following even tiny hunches and having faith in the photoprocess to see where it will go.  I followed this merest hint of a thought and then, once I began (and I think this is often the way after starting) this piece took on a life of its own.  Very soon after beginning it, it became abundantly clear which of my precious sisters it was for.  It became abundantly clear what elements to use and include that would have meaning.  The photos show different aspects and I hoped it would say all that I was unable to say in words, to convey all the love, the hopes, the strength I was sending.

The ladies of Samunnat sometimes send a piece of their jewellery to sisters we know who are facing challenging times. I have done the same thing. With just about everything I make, there is a story.  A necklace may arise from thinking about some person (like this one for my mum for example), or a situation, or an emotion.  And so often my art has been made because I don’t have the words to say what I want.  And that means that sometimes you need to start it before you have the words.  Or the clear finished image of what you are creating.  Just create…just start….see what happens.