On squiggly journeys and a changing self

Mindfulness & Mental Health, Thoughts & Ramblings

My writing journey began on the back of what could reasonably be called a breakdown. It was my second year in full-time classroom teaching, and I had some big emotional losses as well. On top of that, my depression and anxiety had not been diagnosed – and therefore had not been treated – so I wasn’t in a strong place to begin with.

In true Capricornian style, I was incredibly goal-driven; when I really wanted to achieve something, I would make sure that I did. My first goal was to have a publishing deal within 2 years (it took me 2 years and 3 months), and to publish 4 books a year (I published 3, plus 2 colouring books).

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NZ Book Festival 2015 – 9 months into my publishing journey

But that year, I received some cutting criticism from an author ‘friend’. She was trying to be helpful, but I allowed her words to knock my confidence. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be brave enough to write fiction again. I turned to non-fiction, intending to give myself time to heal and get back into it, and found comfort in non-fiction.

It was easier than fiction. I wasn’t putting my heart on the line, or doing anything wildly new. I wasn’t experimenting with language, and as someone who became a strong essay writer I was comfortable with my skill level. It was valuable work (I Am An Artist and I Am A Writer were made to help others, and also supported kiwi creatives in the process). I could make a deadline and write to it. It kept me feeling like a writer.

At the same time, I returned to my painting practice. My brief stint in art school was far back enough in my past that I felt I could give painting another go. I was back in my comfort zone, feeling free from outside expectations, and enjoyed the immersive process that painting has for me.

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Immersing myself in emotional, process-driven painting

I did get back to fiction, completing the 5th book in my children’s fantasy series, You Can’t Cure A Witch’s Curse, but even with my non-fiction I found it harder and harder to motivate myself. My confidence had picked up, I had 12 books’ worth of evidence behind me that I could do this, I was getting positive reviews for the most part, and I have supportive friends and family.

What on earth was going on?

I was readingย Jonathon Hagger’s eBook on mindfulness when the change began to become apparent. Throughout my journey as a writer and artist, I had been on a parallel (and intertwining) journey of personal growth. I was rediscovering myself, and working on my mental health. A practice in mindfulness was a big part of this. Jonathon wrote that mindfulness is about being, not achieving.

I didn’t realise immediately, but this is what had happened to me. I was no longer as goal-driven as I had been when I set out on this journey: I had become a different person.

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Finding pleasure in slowing down.

So if my motivations were no longer achieving a goal, then what were they? Honestly, I’m still working that one out! I’ve been journalling a bit, and the topic has been on my mind since the ‘eureka moment’, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s got something to do with helping others, something to do with being ‘in flow’, and a lot to do with what makes me happy; the process more than the product. I know it’s something I need to work out moving forwards, because the way I motivated myself as a goal-driven person will not work on my current self.

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Journalling – January 2018

Zee’s Photo Challenge #1

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I’ve been listening to some photography podcasts, and watching some YouTube videos. There’s a lot about settings you can change on a DSLRs that simply don’t apply to me, so I’ve been trying to pick out the information that does (mostly composition). With both my painting and my writing, the point (other than creative satisfaction) is to encourage the viewer to feel something, which is what I’m leaning towards with my photography. There’s also something Jane Thorne said in her interview for I Am An Artist, that she notices things that other people don’t necessarily see interest or beauty in (to quote, like “a gorgeous brick wall”). I hope that my photos can bring attention to some things that are otherwise overlooked.

Crit #1a: Drosera binata

1a: Drosera binata

I took this photo after a re-potting, as documentation of my sundew (Latin: Drosera) collection. They are very small plants, but the close up and focus tries to show how delicate the ‘dew’ (mucilage) is on the plant.

I think this could have benefited from an even closer shot, with a darker, simpler background. I am not sure how effectively I can do this when I eventually swap to my point-and-shoot camera.

 

 

Crit #1b: Ponsonbyย sapling

1b: Ponsonby sapling

I was sitting on a bench getting my earphones out when this little green thing caught my eye. This was actually the second of two shots – the first had too much debris close to the sapling, which drowned it out completely.

I like this shot. Slightly off-centre seems to work, even though it’s not quite rule-of thirds (Ro3) either. I think because the green is such a juxtaposition against the grey/brown, it doesn’t need to be in the centre / Ro3 to show that it is the subject.

 

Crit #1c: Hunua Falls

1c: Hunua Falls

This was about the third shot. I first took one over the railing off the falls, and thought that it’s no different to any other photo of the falls, so what’s the point? I already have some good photos from the last time I visited.

I remembered something I’d heard about giving context with foreground, so I tried keeping the railing in the shot, and was pleased with the outcome. When I look at this shot, I feel like I could be back at the balcony right there in the photo. I’m not sure if a flash illuminating the railing would have worked better – it does seem a bit dark.

On exploring point-and-shoot photography

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I remember getting my first camera as a child. It was our first holiday to India at eight years old (I was born in India, but moved to New Zealand that same year so didn’t remember what it was like). My sister and I were both given these pink-on-pink Barbie cameras, and it was one of the presents I loved the most. The whole process of photography was exciting – finding things that interested me, framing the shot, hoping I hadn’t done anything wrong, and waiting to see how it turned out.

For me, photography has been just for fun, though like many I harbour a desire for professional skills. Like writing, I just never thought I’d be good enough (and also in this case, afford the gear), but this year I am moving forward in my own hands-on, experimental way. I am using 365Project as a way to encourage me to photograph every day, and will be signing up for the 100 Days Project for the same reason.

Thus far the photos I’ve taken have been digital photos taken on my phone, but I have bought an old 35mm film point-and-shoot camera off TradeMe (for non-kiwi readers, that’s our version of eBay), and am just waiting for the film to arrive. I look forward with a nostalgic glee to using an actual viewfinder, having to be creative with less control, and the cross-your-fingers-and-wait aspect of film photography. Fun times ahead!

My new old film camera!

 

On allowing creative play even though I’m a ‘grown up’

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As you will all know by now, I have recently established a new publishing company called Blue Mushroom Books (if you visit the About page you can read about why I started it etc.). Initially, this was to separate my fiction and non-fiction (i.e. personal writing and commercial writing), but it has also afforded me significant creative freedom.

I feel that as long as I allocate time and energy to growing Blue Mushroom Books in alignment with its primary goal (i.e. sharing the awesomeness that is New Zealand), I am ‘allowed’ to do things with my personal creative practice that are just for fun.

Creative letter making with washi tape, scrapbooking memory cards, and found art.

This year, prompted by fellow creative Catherine Mede, I have begun making flip books and sending letters. I bought some fun children’s puzzles and a Harry Potter snitch 3D model, as well as an old 35mm film point-and-shoot camera to eventually take over my 365project photos. And I picked up my ukulele again! It’s been awesome to give myself permission to do these things – just for fun.

‘Cause Harry Potter.

It also means some changes on this blog. It’ll be less writing focused (though to be fair I’m not sure how writing focused it was in the first place!) and more about whatever creative stuff I’m doing, reading, watching, or possibly a reflection. I certainly haven’t given up on fiction, so you’ll still hear about my books as they happen, but it will be more about my version of ‘the creative life’ than anything else.

I’m not sure how my newsletter will fit into all of this, or whether I’ll ever really get my YouTube channel off the ground, but for now I am enjoying the freedom – and learning – of play.

One Word 2018: Trust

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For the last few years I have been using the idea of ‘one word’ as a type of New Year resolution. With my birthday so close to January 1st, I don’t usually do resolutions, but use my birthday as a day of reflection and planning. However, I embraced One Word and have found it helpful.

In my second year of One Word, I chose the word ‘sparkle’. This was a particularly good one because when I didn’t feel like I had any energy (or hope) it reminded me to find what little spark was there to hold on to.

Last year my unofficial word was ‘experiment’. My experiments have shifted my career path and my health significantly. While I still enjoy the wondrous, imaginative world of fiction, my career focus is on the factual wonders of the world, and I allow more time for creative play. I look after myself better and am firmer with my boundaries.

This year I settled on the word ‘trust’, which has meaning in several ways for me: to trust myself; to trust in my talents, intelligence, and creativity; to trust that everything happens for a reason; to trust others, especially in the light of current and upcoming collaborations; and to trust that life / my life has a purpose, even if it is one that I concoct for myself.

I wrote a letter to myself with these and other thoughts to pull out when I am feeling down, and it’s already been used so I am grateful to past Zee for doing it!