Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Studio: the spruce

With the creative energy injection I got in Bali, I've spent most of my spare time since I got back sprucing up the studio, which has been great and a different kind of 'making' than the usual crafty stuff.

I love making spaces pleasing and comfortable. It makes me feel good, makes my mind clearer. It usually doesn't last all that long once I start using the space; the detritus of everyday life builds up like barnacles on the hull of a boat, and then I have to go through a big, refreshing clean up to get it back to feeling good.

But now I have the abundance of two spaces - my bedroom, which is now a lovely quiet space with a large bed and room to move, and my studio, which is big enough to house all my stuff without it looking like a cave of crap.

It's been so great to be able to set up a space to my requirements, the fulfilment of a long-held dream. There are three main areas in my 20 square metre studio: I have a desk for my computer-based work, a sewing table for my crafty work, an empty space in the middle of the floor for doing yoga / setting up my massage table. There's also now a guest bed which means we can now have people come and stay over if necessary. And best, there is storage along one wall for all my empty containers and oils and towels and fabrics and magazines and markers and coloured pencils and photography gear and recording gear and stuffed toys and...

Amazing what you can fit in 20 square metres! The luxuries of a) a spare room, b) a workspace that isn't my bedroom and c) empty floor space cannot be overstated. I am so so so grateful for it.

This past weekend I borrowed A's chainsaw and carved up some old railway sleepers that he had pulled out of his garden (he's building a pool). I made some steps up to the studio, and started on the garden path that will go around the side to the garden behind the studio, also making use of some big fat river stones A didn't want. I've got bruises on my leg from where I rested the chainsaw while trying to start it - I have never felt so puny as repeatedly yanking on that starter cord and nothing happening. And I was a bit frightened of the chainsaw at first, to be honest, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. It's surprisingly exhausting! My cuts are pretty, er, rustic, mainly because I couldn't be bothered to tidy them up. Oh well, just sanded the edges and put some pot plants along the sides.

Next for the studio - installing some sort of bathroomy bits.

But now I need some crafting time, making something a bit more delicate that requires scissors instead of chainsaws and thread instead of giant nails.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Collecting dots

I've been listening to Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking. I'm about halfway through it, so not able to give a full review yet, though I can say at this point I love it.

The starting point for the book was her TED talk, also called The Art of Asking, where she talked about her experiences as a street performer in Boston and learning how to ask for what she needed. As well as talking about asking - asking for money, asking for support, asking for anything - she talks about the importance of finding and connecting with your fans, and weaves in stories of her history, of the important people in her life, including how she met, fell in love with and eventually married Neil Gaiman. Being a fan of both of them, and remembering their respective blogging during the period of their courtship, it's really interesting hearing her reflections on that time. It's also absolutely lovely hearing about how their artistic lives started to affect one another. I heard this quote on my way home tonight and loved it:
We started to blend with one another, the only way we knew how, using art. Collecting and connecting the dots of each others' lives. All art, no matter what shape it is, has to come from somewhere. We can only connect the dots that we can collect. 
Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking, chapter 4 (audio book)
I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of the book. And if you haven't seen the original talk, here it is:

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


I love finding out where people come from, their history, how they got started in life. Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery is pretty good for this, where she takes comedians back to where they grew up and talks about what they were like in their youth, places they loved, their schools. This season I've particularly enjoyed watching her chats with Bill Bailey and Ross Noble.

I guess the thing that I love about it is recognising that so many people I like started off the same way. Just nerdy kids at school, trying to work out where they fit in, having one or two special teachers or a wonderful parent who recognised something unique in them and encouraged them to pursue it. And as they go on, it's not that they set out to forge these incredible careers, it's more them delighting in the silliness and weirdness of life and taking interesting opportunities as they come up.

It's so easy to buy into the lie that people only succeed only because of their connections (like a famous parent, or a rich family or whatever); of course, being well connected make life easier in some situations. But it's so great hearing about Bill Bailey and his mates just starting up a comedy club because they thought it might be fun and having no idea what they were doing. Reminds me of uni days and the open mic night we used to run at Blackwattle Canteen down the end of Glebe Point Road, where performers would stand on the huge common table and we'd all hope that guy who just went on and on wouldn't turn up because he was a bit painful, and I'd make giant pots of minestrone soup and Heath would make coffee. I think my favourite performance was Matt G and his quiet guitarist singing Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah, with the lights glinting off the black water behind him, and the room completely hushed. It was magic.

Man, I miss that place. I just went and looked through my photo albums (old school!) for a pic and can't believe I have hardly any photos of the place. If smartphones had existed then, I would have heaps. But when you had to pay to process the photos, I was much more sparing! Rats.

Heath, I hope you don't mind I used this photo, but it's kind of perfectly sums up my memory of the place, sitting watching people making coffee and food while I sat with my notebook and camera, dreaming big dreams. :)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A most diverting weekend

This weekend has been pretty good. Started with lots and lots of coffee, delicious food and amusing company in the form of the Philipses at John Smith in Waterloo. Got some painty craft in, hung some pictures and did some product photography in the studio while watching Newsroom season 2. Made a pav (love making pavlovas - always impressive looking and tasty), then took it and had a yummy dinner with Uns and Streets, followed by hilarious games (I still can't believe I won).

Today I attacked the greenery alongside the studio. I needed to clear a path to get to the pleasant rainforesty garden at the back, a job that included getting rid of a tall tree fern stump. Unfortunately the ground is thick with vines so digging anything out wasn't so easy. Mostly hack and slash and I just leaned on the tree stump with my full weight until it broke off. That was quite good. And it's done! Next project is to make an actual path; A next door gave me a huge pile of river stones from his garden that he didn't want so they will feature in it somewhere. Reuse! Hurrah!

There was even time for a rest before heading to church for music rehearsal.

Paused at Krispy Kreme on the way home from church for a milkshake and doughnut and then found myself in the midst of Tony Abbott's motorcade coming from the airport. That was weird. Also all the cars were white; maybe it's only in America (or TV) that the leader's cars are all black. 

Then crocheted and watched Cilla on the ABC with mum. Enjoyable series - also resonant, watching this talented girl being frustrated at being in the typing pool (which was a good, respectable job) while longing to be a rock singer. 

So show and tell - here's my current crochet project:

I love this rippley project and the colours too of course. The thing about using different colours is I get impatient for the next colour change almost as soon as I start a new colour. I just want to see how it looks!

Craft, church, cooking, singing, friends,  good things to watch and enough rest. Thank God for perfectly balanced weekends! 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

back to reality

So life immediately post-retreat was been pretty good. It's been a pleasant drift back down to earth, finally getting into my studio (above) and enjoying the savouring of big dreams and possibilities.

But then I expended all my energy on moving all my stuff from my room down to the studio and building lots of flatpack furniture (my life is pretty much brought to you by IKEA); mum kept saying "you've done a great job...but you'll be so tired!" and I'd just smile and keep going. And then sleeping has been okay but I'm waking up tired and sore, so I gave in after months of suspecting the bed has been sabotaging me and bought a new bed even though I can't quite afford it (but that's pretty darn exciting, can't wait for it to arrive). And then I forgot to take my meds (WHY is it so hard to remember to take those darn tablets every day?). And then I went back to work and although it was wonderful to see everyone, we had a calendar planning day and boom, there's a year of work just stretching out before me.

And now, although I am sitting in my lovely studio, I am feeling rather sad.

That feels very ungracious, because I've had such a wonderful couple of weeks! I'm trying to let the sad thoughts and the imposter-syndrome rubbish just keep moving on by - it's not based on reality, and is just the result of post-event slump combined with depression. It's pretty much to be expected, really.

Must be kind to myself!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

BHB retreat: departure

The routine we'd set up throughout the week served us well; even though there was nothing scheduled for the morning but packing up and leaving, most people still got up to do some yoga with Jesse, and we also had a quick morning bubble. Clare popped in just before she left for the airport to say goodbye, with lots of hugs and smiles and tears and, of course, a singalong: "Let's gather in a circle. We're going to sing a song by one of the great ancient poets. It goes like this...'I believe that children are our future...'" Lots of cheesy belting. It was great. Not sure whether it's a downside or an upside, but I've had The Greatest Love of All soaring around in my brain since then.

Then a bunch of us headed out to Ubud and Hanoman St for a quick poke around in the boutiques. So much lovely stuff. Our first port of call was a bag shop that H had recommended, and about ten of us bought bags - the owner was so chuffed. She just beamed and said, "you are my first customers today - it's a very good day!" And yes, even though I make bags, I bought a lovely teal leather slouchy bag that will serve as inspiration for when I finally learn how to work with leather.

I bought some earrings for mum and myself from a silver shop. I asked the lady where the earrings were made and she said her husband made them, and she was starting to make some too. She proudly took out a tray with some gorgeous works in progress, showing me how she soldered the pieces. That was something that was lovely about looking in the shops rather than the markets; the people usually had an actual connection to what they were selling (rather than it being more touristy stuff that was the same at every stall). We were told that a little goes a long way in Bali, so we were all very happy to help contribute to the local economy!

Back to Villa Gaia to wash off the sweat in the pool. We had already checked out, but the staff were happy for us to hang out there while they cleaned and prepared for the next group. We ordered in some yummy food and chatted, and then suddenly it was time for the first group to go to the airport. Lots more hugs and goodbyes, and then half an hour later the next car went and then...I was the only one left! My flight wasn't until midnight, and I knew there were others who were leaving late but they had gone into town separately from the first shopping group and I had no idea where they were or how to find them. But I was pretty chilled actually, so I just sat back on a beanbag, blogged, read my book, snoozed.

Eventually they came back and were shocked to find everyone gone. They had been planning to come back for goodbyes but the timing hadn't worked out. We decamped to J's accommodation a bit further down the road at the lovely Luwak Ubud Villas. My oh my, it was so beautiful, and I was so grateful just to have some space to chill with some people instead of feeling like I was in the way at Gaia (even though they never made me feel that way of course!). We sat by the pool and had some dinner and good chats.

And before we knew it, time to head home. The airport was fairly smooth, though J and I were a bit bemused by the number of checks we had to go through. Once our flight was called it seemed to take forever for them to open the gates and for everyone to get seated, and we were just ready to be home.

Getting through Sydney airport was a breeze, so quick! And my lovely mum at the end, waiting for me with a huge smile and huger hug.

It's so great to be home, to do my washing, to be in my space, to scratch my cat behind the ears, to eat mum's spaghetti and meatballs. But it has been wonderful to still feel the connection as I see the constant trickle of Facebook messages as people from the retreat get home or move on to the next phase of their trip. And after friending each other on Facebook it's doubly nice to see them popping up in my feed - new people I feel I already know and love, but now I get to see another aspect of their lives. We all miss each other!

Friday, 7 November 2014

BHB retreat: day 6

Our last day of retreat! It feels like it's gone just the right pace; slowly but never boring, quickly but not so fast you can't keep up. Everyone's hearts were very full as we did our yoga and our morning bubble. Clare talked us through new ways of thinking, new beginnings, encouraging each of us to be our own creative hero. And we're all each other's creative heroes, I think - we're all looking forward to getting home and getting stuck into our own things, but also keeping up with each other and seeing what we're all going to do.

Afternoon crafting with Pip also included an informal Q&A about book publishing, blogging and online stuff. It was really helpful and also made me realise how much I already know about all that stuff. Most of us also agreed to film testimonials about the week to promote future retreats. We got set up down by the ducks on the edge of a rice paddy, and the ducks were very keen to be involved (so noisy!).

Then we had to get ready for the night's partay - crazy makeup and bling encouraged! We gathered for our final afternoon bubble and the crew handed us all cards they had written to us. As we stood for the last time with Jessie asking us to close our eyes and breathe in...breathe out...there was a pause, then suddenly Nelly's Hot in Herre came blasting through the room and that was it. Lots of crazy, fun, sweaty, joyous dancing. Then, because Clare was leaving early the next morning, we all took turns having photos with the crew (even though we were all super sweaty and there was no good light so we had to use flash). Here's me with Jessie, Lisa (Clare's sister and co-retreat mum), Clare and Pip (note by this stage they had been posing for photos in the heat for about half an hour, hence the weary looks):

The night evolved into a bit of a pool party complete with the two doctors in the group bombing everyone in the pool, and then a chilled lazing about, doing more craft, listening to C play the guitar and chatting til we all drifted off to bed.

It was such a wonderful day, filled with positivity and love and creativity and fun, with a whole bunch of people I didn't even know a week ago, but who feel like good friends now.

Here's today's page:

Thursday, 6 November 2014

BHB retreat: Day 5

Today was a bit of a weepy day. In some ways that's a bit funny because the session was on business and nuts and bolts type stuff, so you wouldn't think it was particularly emotional. But everything is cumulative and when were thinking about the question 'what is the problem I want to solve in the world?', it got a bit overwhelming. Still, there was a lot of good stuff in there.

Side bit of joy - in the course of conversation, I discovered that Defah, who has been like the retreat mum, is the daughter of the man who made our wonderful handcrafted dining room table! I love these little connections thahave been coming up all week. It's like those little nudges that make you feel "yes I'm definitely meant to be here".

On that point, it is amazing that so many of us in the group actually felt like it was a fluke that we got chosen, or that they must have only let us in because someone else pulled out. So many of us didn't believe we were worthy to be here. There were a lot of tears around that point! But the team has reassured us again and again that they spent a lot of time reading our applications and putting together what they hoped would be a really cohesive group. We all know that us being here means that many others couldn't be here. So it really is a privilege.

In the afternoon we did some weaving with Pip. She is the most encouraging teacher ever, not just because she's enthusiastic about what she's teaching, but that she's so delighted by people giving things a go. I will miss our crafternoons! I'm determined to hold more of my own when I get home. 

After our afternoon bubble (sharing session) we had the honour of some local dancers coming to perform traditional Balinese dances for us. Normally they have adult dancers come, but unexpectedly the dancers performing for us were about nine years old. Some were a bit uncomfortable about it but the girls were lovely, danced so beautifully, and were so pleased to do it (and we were assured by the staff that it was legit). 

Every move of the dances has a special meaning. I would have loved to have known more about the significance, though I suspect as an outsider to the culture it would take a bit of study to understand. 

We'd been asked to write on cards something we could offer to support others or something we could teach or give (a bit like the giving tree at the BHB unconference) and I hadn't been able to think of anything. But then J came up to me and said, "have you put your card up? I've got an idea for you. You can write me a melody." Great idea even though I'd never thought I could write anyone a melody before she asked me. I also put that I could give a massage to anyone in Sydney and could also teach an Egyptian bellydance shimmy for those times when you have to shake it off. 

Then E asked me whether i'd consider doing some illustrations for a health talk she gives to teenagers. It's funny how you think you have nothing to offer but when you hear what people need you go "oh yeah i can do that!"

Here's today's drawnaling:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

BHB retreat: day 4

Today was kind of a day off. Well, a day out, anyway. We've been in our own little bubble here at Villa Gaia, where everything is safe and quiet and clean and everything you want or need is nearby. Some people are staying at other places nearby, so they leave the bubble everyday, but for most of us who've been staying here, we haven't ventured out.

The excursion was to Tirta Empul, a Hindu water temple where the Balinese go for purification. It was built in AD 962 at a bubbling spring. I don't know whether the Balinese Hindu buy tickets to visit as we did, but it's definitely a tourist destination. It's rather beautiful.

I was feeling quite nervous about it. I wanted to go and observe, but I didn't want to participate in the ritual, which involves getting into a pool and drinking water from ten of the spring-fed fountains as a rite of purification, and later praying and being blessed by a priest. It's a beautiful ritual, and certainly deeply affected all those who went through it, but as a Christian it wasn't right for me to participate in something religious that I didn't believe in. Thankfully - and this is one of the lovely things about this retreat - nothing is compulsory, and you can get involved as thoroughly or as minimally as you want to. So I went along with the group and took photos and enjoyed the day, but didn't get in the water. Some of the other girls asked me how I was feeling and was I enjoying it, but nobody seemed too fussed that I didn't participate in that aspect. During the 'dry' part, everyone kneeled on the hot ground in front of an altar and prayed (not sure to who as the priest spoke in Balinese or Bahasa), and then a priest blessed them. When he approached me, sitting on the sidelines, I just said "no thanks" and he  moved on.

After that we walked through a maze of markets. We were some of the first people at the temple that day so it was uncrowded, which was good in that you could move around easily, but bad in that we were basically sitting ducks for the stallholders, all selling similar things. They're a lot more aggressive than at the markets in Malaysia, surprisingly. I tried to walk away from one stall and the woman kept grabbing my arm. "Miss! One dollar" was the refrain, and if I stopped it would be "buy two for good luck! Please miss, I am only just starting my business, please, for good luck." There were an awful lot of people only just starting their businesses. Hmm. I bought some batik sarongs and songket fabric that I will use to make bags with when I get home, and a couple of lovely skirts.

Back at the clubhouse, a few of us had a swim in the midday sun, then after lunch Jessie was running a longer intense yoga session. J and I decided to sit it out and do our usual craft thing, and sat upstairs with Pip having a lovely chilled time. I went down and joined the yoga crew for the last half hour or so, so it felt like I got a bit of everything.

I had another wonderful massage, then it was another movie night. We watched Brene Brown's TED talk (worth looking up - I can't be bothered finding the link on my ipad :P ) and then The Breakfast Club. Now I go to bed with Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About Me) going round in my head.

Didn't do any drawnaling today, but here's some embroidery I did while sitting with Pip and J - it's called a whipped spiderweb (whipstitch over 8 spokes):

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

BHB retreat: day 3

Today we had the lovely Rowe Timson come and do a workshop on iPhone photography. She is an Aussie living in Bali, and I eventually put it together that her mum is the woman behind 3Annies, the most gorgeous camera bags that i have admired for quite a while; I got to gush over hers.

Because the workshop was on iPhone photography, of course that meant we were allowed to bring our phones out. it was really nice to see that everyone was still present though - we were using our phones as cameras, not to connect with our lives back home. We roamed the villa to take some shots - so here's more of a look at where I'm staying, what's been dubbed the BHB Clubhouse (well the things I've liked looking at here anyway):

More people commented on my song and how much they loved it - I might have something here...after dinner I decided to work on it again but got distracted by singing fall at your feet with a couple of the others. Clare came running down from upstairs to join us, which then turned into everyone grabbing ukuleles and learning to play I still haven't found what I'm looking for (which we modified to I've finally found what I'm looking for) and singing as many harmonies as we could cram in to throw your arms around me. Love a big spontaneous singalong! Turns out it was the 14th wedding anniversary of one of the women and she walked down the aisle to that song, so it was extra special. 

Here's today's drawneling page:

Sunday, 2 November 2014

BHB retreat: day 2

Today was all about courage and songs.

Yoga this morning was a surprise. The last three songs on Jessie's playlist I don't think she'd been expecting, but she went "oh Paul Simon! Do people like Paul Simon?" Then the last two songs were Jeff Buckley's "everybody here wants you" and "hallelujah", two gorgeous songs that transported me straight back to my Uni days. And also made me think about the person that I was then. Tears came, unbidden, but it was actually really nice just to let them fall and let the emotions wash over me and not grab onto any of them.

I spent some time praying, looking out at the beautiful landscape, and praising God for all that he has made and all that he's given me.

The morning session with Clare was about songwriting. I was delighted that she used Taylor Swift's 'shake it off' as an example of really simple yet really effective songwriting; we sang it as a big group with acoustic guitar and it sounded fantastic. We did writing exercises, we walked around singing to ourselves and making rhythms, and we wrote songs.

Even though I'm a very musical person, I've only ever written a couple of songs, and only ever let a couple of people hear them. I love seeing other people songs, but songwriting is something that I've always been a bit afraid of, while really wanting to do. It's that imposter syndrome thing, and also recognizing that it is so easy to criticize people and so easy to criticize music, that I harbor this feeling that my stuff will be terrible and easily criticized.

Well, after a couple of hours, I had written a song, collaborated on it with three other people, and performed it in front of everybody. It was a wonderful experience. We named our band the Painted Mermaids in homage to the amazing mermaid tattoo one of the women has on her arm. We've been encouraged to work on our songs 10 minutes a day while we're here if we can, because as Clare says, "we're all songwriters now!"

Everyone is so encouraging and supportive. We all feel like we could try anything. And I guess that's why we're here!

Here's today's drawnaling (our drawing journaling):

And now movie night: Finding Joe. And kit kats. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

BHB creative retreat: day 1

We start the day with yoga. A sweaty, challenging and yet wonderful hour of yoga. Then delicious breakfast.

Some people are staying off-site, so as we gather around in a circle to start the day this is really the first time we've all seen each other. Clare Bowditch, the woman behind this whole thing, arrives, and as I'm sitting near the door she gives me a hug first. She says, "hi I'm Clare, it's so good to see you!" I say "hi I'm Bec." And she says, "I know!" This is the first of many signs that these people actually care about us, that they've read our applications carefully, and gotten to know us a bit through social media. They want to build a good community, and want to get to know us as much as we want to get to know them. It is a lovely feeling. 

The common areas are designated a no devices zone. So no cameras, no phones, no computers, just us and paper and pens and whatever else we need to make stuff. It's actually quite refreshing, as we are all building relationships with each other, and not constantly looking at our phones or connecting with the outside world, we're just being present. And there's a lot to be said for that. We're allowed to use whatever we want in our rooms (obviously, as I'm blogging now). We're also going to have a photography session later in the week where we learn a bit more about how to take good photos, and there will be times when we are allowed to take photos of each other and the stuff we're doing. But I love the principle that we need to actually get to know each other first before we're allowed to start taking pictures of each other.

So much happens during the day. But it never feels rushed or pressured or over tiring. I mean, we're all tired, but not in a completely overwhelmed way. we are able to go off on our own when we need to and lie down in our rooms if we need to do, which is wonderful for me. I get to have half an hour here and there lying under the mosquito nets on my princess bed. And that recharges me and enables me to interact with people for another couple of hours.

So we sing, we listen to Clare speak, we journal, we draw, we do craft with Pip, we swim, we laugh a lot, we watch the ducks running around in the rice paddies over the back wall. We eat more wonderful food. We start to get to know one another.

I am so grateful for being here, and grateful to have a whole week to luxuriate in this exploration, in playing, in feeding creativity, and getting to know new people. It is such a gift, this time.

As I don't have any photos of the sessions or anything else here is my journaling from this afternoon, summing up the morning. 

And tomorrow, I get to have a massage!

BHB creative retreat: arrival

So I am exhausted. But it's a really good exhausted if that makes sense. I was undecided about whether I would blog this whole trip, but I think I need to because so much is happening I can't keep it all in.

After a pretty good flight in a comfy Virgin business class seat, eating rather delicious food, I arrived in Bali.

I had to take a photo of the salt and pepper shakers in business class because I love the design of them. And how often am I going to fly business class? I could have kept them I suppose, but I was proud of myself for not collecting more clutter and just taking the photo as a memory. Also, do I really want to be that guy?

I then stood in the customs queue for about an hour, but I just happily checked social media to while away the time, and read my book. (The worst thing about being in a long queue is when the people around you in the queue complain about being in the queue, but you're all in the same situation. What's the point of talking about it? For an hour?)

I met up with the driver and E who were waiting for me outside. It took us another hour or so in crazy Bali traffic and winding back streets to get to our accommodation – Villa Gaia in Ubud. I've been worried about what I would say to her, a total stranger, for an hour but thankfully we got on pretty well, and she was very conversational so I just had to ask a few questions and the conversation never hit an awkward quiet patch. 

By the time we got there, dinner had already started because we were late. But there was still plenty of food, mostly vegetarian and so tasty. It was pretty overwhelming walking into a room about 23 people, all excitedly talking. But there were lots of smiles.

Not long after that it was sleepytime yoga with Jessie, which was blissful, and then we all went to our rooms. It felt really late because of the travel, but it was only about 9 PM. 

Here is the gorgeous room and huge bathroom (with an outdoor shower!) that I'm sharing with T.

It is so nice having a shower outside :-)