Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good news

We got the house! We haven't signed the lease yet (we're planning to do that on Tuesday, when I get a day off from my residency and will be in Coffs Harbour) but the property has come off the market, the owner is busy installing a new first-floor deck to make the most of the sea views from the upstairs living areas and we've booked a removals company with a provisional date of February 16th for actually shifting furniture from one place to the other. We have a mountain of work to do now, packing, re-packing, labelling and re-labelling boxes old and new so that our belongings can be split between our newly-built shed and the new house. I can't say I'm entirely looking forward to the process but I am looking forward to the result.

Here's to our first evening sitting on the balcony, sipping something cold and admiring the seascape!

And I quote

"The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection"

Bertrand Russell, British author, mathematician, & philosopher (1872 - 1970)

Quote found on The Quotations Page

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lazy Sunday mornings

As a treat we went out for brunch this morning to the Beachstone cafe, which is a few kilometres outside Coffs Harbour in the middle of a new housing development, very close to Sapphire beach. E loves it because there is an excellent playground, and we've got to know the people who run the cafe and own the development. I managed to creep out of bed this morning leaving M to snore while I sneaked into the office to get a head-start on the quarterly business accounts, so brunch - as well as a general feeling of smug superiority - was my reward for hard labour!

Anyway, over two large cappucinos, a plate of lamb cutlets with roast beetroot and puy lentils (M), pancakes with sugar and lemon for E, and eggs, bacon and bubble-and-squeak (me), M and I got talking, had an argument, sorted things out and basked in the glow of mutual support before peeling ourselves out of our chairs and heading back into the world.

What did we argue about? Well it boils down to having fundamentally different approaches to life which, if held suitably in tension with each other, provide us with a good relationship and balance. But boy, if either approach gets the upper hand we end up in trouble, and this time I'm the guilty party. We were talking and I was thinking hard when a metaphor for my approach to life occurred to me. I continually act as if I'm edging around the outside of a building, many stories up, with my back to the wall, hanging on tightly and trying hard not to look down. If I hold on tightly enough I'm safe as I move gingerly from ledge to ledge but woe betide me if I relax my grip. M, on the other hand, moves forward in his life as if striding over flowering meadows with lambs frolicking around him and birdsong on the breeze. My 'internal weather' is a bit like the set of Bladerunner, all apocalyptic shadows, gloom and clouds; M's 'internal weather' is definitely predicted to be sunshine.

This all works, most of the time. As long as we're moving forward I tend not to notice the yawning crevices just in front of me, and as long as M moves forward he basks in sunshine and doesn't pay attention to clouds on the horizon. I don't mean to make this sound as if either of us has a simplistic approach to life: it's much more complex than it sounds and has to do with the life experiences that bring us both to this point, as well as what is psychologically necessary to us in order to do our jobs. Introspection and gloom have often been corollaries of an 'artistic disposition' (look at Van Gogh), so that's my excuse sorted out. M, quite differently to me, has to be positive and optimistic and must project that towards his clients, otherwise they'd have little faith in his ability to achieve his targets. Who wants to spend money with an Eeyore?

Recently, however, I've been very gloomy and depressed and the balance has shifted. M and I needed to talk in order for me to realise how difficult I sometimes make it for him to be as positive as he needs to be in order to produce the goods at work. I've spent weeks shooting down every little bit of sunshine and I've got to stop. Moreover, by making a conscious effort to stop I might facilitate some of the things I want in life too... So that's what I'm going to try to do.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happiness is...

Happiness is unexpected presents!

I did a very small favour for some friends recently, when we were in Brisbane, and today one of them called round with a lovely handmade gift: three small notebooks covered in a painting on paper and some beautiful card, with an instruction sheet.

Just lovely. I feel very happy and very touched at the thought and effort that went into them. Thank you.

A new home?

There's no deadline being held over our heads but our landlord put the house we're living in up for sale last year, and recently he appointed a third agent to try and sell it for him. No-one ever thinks to consider the uncertainty any of this might cause the tenant! We sit on the sidelines wondering if our home is about to be sold out from under us, and trying to make sense of the changes we detect in the overall situation. What we deduce from the appearance of a third agent is that our landlord is getting quite serious about selling the property, and as the third agent hasn't even bothered to talk to us about things and is just sending people through with greater frequency, our suspicions seem to be accurate.

We've been "looking" for a while, but now we're really looking, in much the same way that our landlord is now really trying to sell the place, and today perhaps we found our next rented home. We went to see a 4-bed place in Korora, which is the suburb of Coffs Harbour that we used to live in before that landlord sold the house out from under us last time. This house is very near the sea: a track at the end of the road leads down a cliff-path and onto the beach, and it's all far enough from the highway that the only sounds in our ears as we fall asleep will be the wind and the waves. The yard is OK: not huge but not tiny and with a wooden under-cover deck area where we can put our outside dining set and the barbecue; there's a storage shed and a huge double garage where we might actually be able to park both cars. Inside the house is upside down so that the main living areas take advantage of the sea views and the breeze. Downstairs are two small-ish bedrooms, one of which would be E's, plus two large tiled rooms that would become my studio and M's office, together with a kitchen area, a large bathroom and a huge laundry. Upstairs is a large open-plan living/kitchen/dining room, a WC and the master bedroom/ensuite bathroom. Today was a stinking hot day and there was a lovely breeze and the views were fantastic. Now we're down to just three people in the family the house is a great size and I think it would suit us. All we have to do is jump through hoops and persuade the landlord and the managing agent of the same thing.

We've been working out the money, too, and it seems good. We'd be saving $120 a week in rent (because it doesn't have a pool or a tennis court!), plus about $3,000 a year in pool maintenance costs, plus the extra electricity costs of an ageing pool filtration system, and we'd save petrol as well as it's about 6km closer to town so all our journeys would be shorter. Even though it will cost us a fair amount of time and money to move I think we'd save over a year, and as the house is a long-term investment for its owners we aren't likely to be chucked out.

This sets the agenda for the weekend: we're going to be working out our cash-flow forecast for the year, trying to envisage a calendar for moving, and putting together all the documentation we need to go with our rental application. It's a long weekend here so M won't be able to put the application in until Tuesday morning (I'll be away all next week), so my fingers are firmly crossed.

A lovely glass of water because it's hot here at the moment

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And I quote

"Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved"

Victor Hugo, French playwright, author and poet, in Les Miserables (1802 - 1855)

Quote found on The Quotations Page

Things that make me happy

E was 7 last week and at the weekend we had a Hawaiian Hula-hula disco pool party for her at home

Fortunately no photos exist of me in the grass skirt...

All the guests were given leis, and we had a lot of fun

Mostly Down, actually

Yup, try as I might I haven't really managed to be 'up' recently. My family might not believe me given how grumpy I've been for the last few days but I have been trying to sort myself out!

Anyway, they say a change is as good as a rest so despite feeling slightly worried about it, I'm off bright and early tomorrow morning to start a 2-week residency with Tim Mosely in Lismore. For the last few years Tim has been the driving force behind a project called 'Codex' at the Visual Arts Department of Southern Cross University. A couple of years ago, when I'd only been in Australia for a few weeks, I was invited to be a part of Codex 4, and now I'm going to be part of Codex 6. My memories of Codex 4 are slightly blurred by the fact that I managed to contract Giardia part-way through and missed a few days, but the end result was great and did a lot for me in terms of opening doors in the arts world over here.

Tim usually suggests a theme for the project and this year its 'Resistance'. He's gone for Che Guevara, but I've been thinking more about things like antibiotic resistance and insulin resistance, genetic resistance and electrical resistance. It will be interesting to see what the first day or so throws up in the way of discussion! We'll all meet for the first time tomorrow, mid-morning, and it's up to us to negotiate how we proceed. The only real parameters are the time-frame involved (roughly two weeks from now, give or take a few days), the facilities and the fact that this is a project centred around hand-made paper so we'll be making the paper to make the book or whatever it is we decide upon. Knowing Tim, we'll also be doing some pulp printing, which is his special technique for screen-printing coloured paper-pulp onto freshly pulled wet sheets of paper so that text and image can become an integral part of the paper.

I remember last time as being stinking hot! The weather forecast is predicting around 32 degrees C in Lismore, and the university campus is an airless hole, situated in a natural depression that was once the caldera of a local volcano. So I'm taking shorts and T shirts - out with glamour, in with sweat for the next few days, I think!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

And I quote

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory"

Albert Schweitzer, French philosopher and doctor (1875 - 1965)

Quote found on The Quotations Page

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Making Time

I was reading a post by Colleen Gonzalez on Eric Maisel's blog and boy, did it ring true... Essentially it was about finding time to do the thing you're really passionate about and this seemingly simple simple task is something I trip over, again and again. What hit me in the solar plexus was a comment from Suzanne Kelsey about the importance of MAKING time,

"The irony is that once your kids are grown, and even if you suddenly have 40 hours a week to write, the habit... will not come any easier. There will always be reasons not to start"

Perhaps it's all blindingly obvious to those who have already nailed the habit of making time to do the thing they'd otherwise be moaning about not having enough time to do, but for the rest of us - or at least me - it's good to be reminded of this simple truth!

Last year my Daily Drawing blog was an attempt to make a little bit of room in my life for drawing, every day, and it has really worked: now that particular project is over I find myself drawing every day anyway, and feeling as if I've missed out if I can't manage it, so I've proved to myself that I can do it. Now what I have to do is enlarge the activity if you like, and encompass some bigger projects.

And I quote

"The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase; if you pursue happiness you'll never find it"

C P Snow, English novelist and scientist (1905 - 1980)

Well that's me done for then, isn't it!

Quote found on The Quotations Page

Happiness is...

A cocktail with friends on a Friday night at Bar Fiasco, down by the beach.


1 lime, chopped
3 teaspoons caster sugar
15 ml sugar syrup
ice cubes
60 ml vodka

Muddle the lime and the sugar and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and vodka, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass. If you want a minty lime cocktail you can add mint leaves with the chopped lime and sugars and muddle them together.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I did a bit of a u-turn this morning, reflecting on what I intend by this blog, and I deleted a post that made me feel sad - something I've never done before! The transformation is surprising: a lifting of sadness, and a small sense of renewed energy. What was I doing that made me feel sad? I was focusing on the past and letting it bog me down.

There are a couple of key points hidden in those sentences: I very much have the power to create (and change) my own mood, so it isn't all about outside agencies affecting me, it can also be about me affecting myself. Daft, isn't it? But I therefore have the power to change things: even if I can't stop the outside agencies (and I'm not talking about the FBI here!), I can change how I respond to things, which is something I've always known and too infrequently remember.

Phew, now I've hammered that into my head a bit this morning I can think about things I was mulling over yesterday and the day before when reading Eric Maisel's Creativity blog. Jan Allsopp over at ...'In my spare time' alerted me to Eric Maisel some time ago but it has to be said I've not been an avid reader until recently when I noticed some of his posts popping up, titled "Traits of the Creative Personality". Aha! I thought. Now I'll learn some of the mysteries of being more creative and I'll be happy... and of course, it's not quite that simple.

Eric Maisel suggests ten 'traits of the creative personality': confidence, depth of knowledge, social unconcern, patience, organisation, openness to experience, love of challenge, divergent thinking abilities, tolerance for ambiguity, and self-trust. How do I score? Well actually I'd give myself 7/10 which surprised me. I could do with working on my depth of knowledge (it isn't a journey that ever ends, I think), and my confidence waivers enormously depending on how I'm generally feeling, but otherwise I'd say I do OK. And there's another lesson for me: actually I am already equipped, after 43 years of learning, with many of the skills I need in my personal, professional and artistic lives - I just don't realise it, or at least I frequently forget. Maybe the aspect of myself that I need to work on most is self-belief, which is subtly different from self-trust.

How am I feeling today? Mmmm, I'd say I'm moving towards another full-glass sort of a day, especially if I can manage to do some work. And something happened that made me and M very happy yesterday: my stepson has found himself a room to rent in a shared house and will be moving in there next week. That sounds awful but in fact he's 21, he's been itching to get out for ages, and our lives have all been miserable living together for over a year. I am looking forward so much to the weight of resentment and lethargy lifting from the house, to feeling comfortable in our home again. We will hopefully return to the pleasant time we all had when he was at university for a year: he came home in the holidays and was pleased to see us and we all had lots to talk about... Moving out will give him and us the independence and privacy we all crave, but we'll still be here for him, helping out if needed.

Happiness today is: our children recognising that they have power to change things in their own lives and actually getting up and doing it!

I'll go with orange juice this morning as it's only 09:50! Might move to a full martini glass later...

Monday, January 12, 2009


I wanted to see if I could find a visual way to measure how happy I am on any given day, and the phrase "glass half full" occurred to me. I thought it might be fun to show how I'm feeling by displaying pictures of glasses in various states of emptiness - and no, they aren't all full of alcohol!

A full martini glass, because I'm pleased with myself for having figured out a few 'Blogger' things

I may take them out later on if I don't like them all of a sudden.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Artistic Pursuit of Happiness

What am I doing? This is a question readers of my other blogs might well ask, so I thought I'd better explain. I'm not very good at being happy, a fact that I am forcibly reminded of in the run-up to Christmas each year. As I've aged the year has assumed a series of patterns around me: first the speed-up of time as the Northern hemisphere's Spring looms, then a slowing down of time through the northern Summer, until a build-up to that teetering moment at the top of the rollercoaster at the end of September and wham! I slam into Christmas, rebound in the week between Christmas and New Year, and enter the start of the next year feeling thoroughly miserable. Interestingly moving into the Southern hemisphere a couple of years ago has done nothing to change the pattern. I guess 40 years of Winter in December/January/February and Summer being in June/July/August isn't going to change for me very quickly. I find myself wondering if it ever will change, or if it's bred into my bones.

The long and the short of it is that I suffer from depression, and have done since I was a teenager. There are lots of reasons why, and most of those reasons have taught me important things and make me the person that I am so I have no regrets, but unfortunately I also have quite a bleak outlook on life. I keep it all at bay, usually, by staying busy - very busy - too busy! - but the hiatus between Christmas and New Year always catches me out. Everything around me stops. Work stops, school's out, you're in between the highs of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve... it is at once a time of relief (possibly the only time in the year in which I don't feel guilty for not working) and despair.

What does one do? In my case, the best remedy is to start a new project, and this is it.

I've spent the last few years intermittently working through a river in my art. Well I'm sure that river will be there, every now and again, for years to come but I've been looking around for something else to focus on. My work has never been either figurative or personal, except in a very sideways sort of a way, so I find myself slightly surprised to realise that this year I'd like to try something a bit different. Last year's project was The Daily Drawing, 366 (it was a leap year!) small drawings, each 7 x 7 cms square, done on little pieces of Somerset Rough Not etching paper that I'd saved up from when I tore the paper for an edition of prints to size. The project's finished now, but it has reawakened pleasure in drawing, something I've lost sight of over many years. And I got excited by drawing people, and by how personal the project ended up being. Laying out some of the drawings on my printing bench I saw a visual diary of a year of my life. OK, many of the drawings were patterns or botanical details, but lots of them were small markers of what was going on, from M being in hospital several times, to E's school sports day, to the round-and-round-and-round frustration of a particularly BIG argument with P.

What is this project, then? Well it's all a bit woolly and may only gain clarity as I go along, but the intention is to explore the meaning and definition of happiness, hopefully in a way that is artistic as well as personal. I guess I'll be reading, writing and drawing and whatever I read, write or draw will go up on this blog. Will it help me? I don't know. I think I've spent so much time fighting misery that I'm not very good at being happy. Living has always been a struggle that has required enormous amounts of energy. I'l be 43 this year and I'm tired of fighting. My mother died aged 63 - much too young - but it's created a future milestone in my own mind as it did for her (her own mother died aged 58, and I remember the emotion with which my mother greeted her 59th birthday). If I was to have another 20 years alloted to me, what would I like to achieve in that time? Being happy would be a very good start. My mother told me all she ever wished for on New Year's Eve as the clock struck midnight was for her and those around her to be happy, because it encompassed the ideas of having health and sufficient wealth, and so I've always wished the same. I'm not sure how my mother approached the idea of being happy. My friend Helen tells me that she thinks happiness is truly 'living in this moment', with the implication, I suppose, that living NOW precludes the two possibilities so prevalent in my life of living in the past and worrying about the future.

It's clear to me that there are many different notions of what happiness is and how to attain it, so I plan to explore at least some of them, with the aim of noticeably improving 'how much' happiness I experience between now and roughly this time next year and, if possible, improving my overall capacity to be happy. I may need to revise some old and unhelpful ways of thinking, I'm sure I'll need to absorb some wisdom from others, and perhaps I'll create something new as a result. As for the rest, we'll have to wait and see...