Saturday, 2 August 2014

Keep Working on Love - Lessons From Another Dimension

Today I  moved two teenage boys' beds and vacuumed under them. One boy helped, doing the heavy lifting. It was like entering another dimension and having wake-up calls of various sorts. If you find yourself travelling there, take a good vacuum cleaner and proceed with your eyes shut.

One of the various things I discovered in that alternate universe was "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", and I opened the book to this quote: "Jonathan," he said, and these were the last words that he spoke, "keep working on love."

I've been feeling so frustrated by the hate-fuelled wars that are filling the news recently. We need to work on love. It's time to speak love, teach love, and be love.

This planet is a good one, and we learn some hard lessons here. We are all students - but we are teachers too. We have a responsibility. Be love.

Namaste ॐ

Friday, 11 July 2014

Freelancing - Taxes are Fun!

Because taking pictures of my tax credits forms is
more interesting than filling it in...
Okay, no, taxes are not fun. It's that time of year again. I sigh and tut and procrastinate (because spending half an hour taking a picture of my tax credits forms and then blogging about it is one of the advanced procrastination tactics that I have perfected over the years) even though it's NOT THAT BAD.

Truly. Taxes, while not actually fun, are not that bad. The trick is to be organized all year, and THAT is not so hard either. If you are sending invoices, you've got a copy of every invoice in a file. I assume. And if they are electronic copies, you have named them sensible things so that they will be listed in order. If you get into a habit of filing things neatly all year, then at the end of the year they will all be there, looking fabulous, and it will take you just a few minutes to add things up and jot down the totals. If you are collecting receipts, the same tactic applies. (I chuck all my receipts into a cute box under my desk, and from time to time I put them in order and file them away.) Be organized every day, and at the end of the year you can spend more time complaining about it and less time actually doing it.

Things get only a little bit more complicated if you have a portfolio career, where you work in different ways for different companies AND for yourself. I am a Tate temp, so I fill in a time sheet and get paid by them - And some of my National Insurance and so on comes off of that pay. So I keep my payslips filed away as well, and at the end of the year they go along to the Tax Peeps with everything else.

The Tax Peeps must groan when they see my forms coming in. I generally send a few months' worth of invoices and payslips, so that they can get an idea of how I work, and an understanding of why sometimes I make pots of money and sometimes I make none. The most important thing, for me, is keeping records at all times. That way, if I ever make a mistake or there is a query, I've got everything I need to figure it out. Or if needed, hire someone and let THEM figure it out!

If you've got any good tax organizing tactics, do share them in the comments. I am always looking for ways to make life easier.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Weekend Musings after a Shopping Expedition - Be Part of the Solution

Every decision we make should make our world better - This is an ideal that I've been striving for, for years and years. Sometimes, I cave and buy a product from a company I know I shouldn't support. Nowadays I eat (local, organic) meat a few times a week, because it's convenient when you have teenage carnivores in the house. But mostly, I am happy with who I give my money to. 

It's pretty challenging, because there are plenty of products out there that say "FAIR TRADE!!!" in bright shiny stickers. Or "NATURAL!" Or even "ORGANIC!" and it's important to remember that it's all marketing. Don't be fooled. Read the label. 

Buying with a thought for artists and craftsmen is great - I have bought a few great Christmas presents already in the local summer craft fairs, and they are hidden in my cupboard waiting for winter. Buying local produce means that my money goes back into my own community. Food that is grown locally means a smaller carbon footprint. 

It takes a bit more thought and a bit more effort to remember to check the label on my strawberries and not buy them if they've come all the way from Chile in a plane. It takes practice to get into the habit of eating foods that are in season. And yes, I feel guilty when I hop on a plane, drive when I could have cycled, or forget my shopping bags. But I keep thinking and trying, a little bit at a time. 

I got some new jeans today, and a fab top for work. I booked a haircut. I sat in the shade at a café and sipped at my FAIR TRADE (but not really) coffee. I watched people go by, and chatted with a grandmother and her bouncy grandson. I thought how lovely this world is, with all its myriad people, and how I want to hold it tight and keep it safe. It's a good one. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Celebrating Failure with Gold

In January, one of my articles was published in Aquila about the Art of Failure. It was fun to research, and it got me thinking about how we can appreciate brokenness and re-think our failures. 

For ages I have needed business cards, but I refused to have any printed because they had to be AMAZING and UNIQUE, so whenever anyone asked me for one I would say "Ummm, I haven't got any yet," which is professional, no? 

And then I remembered the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where broken ceramics are mended with gold. I love this - Being broken doesn't mean the ugly end! The way that an object is repaired should make it stronger, show the flaws, celebrate the history. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we did this with our lives as well? We are all flawed and broken. We have failed again and again. I would not change any of my failures for the world. My mistakes were my most important lessons, and the greatest beauty in my life came from them. 
And the way I fixed things made me stronger and more beautiful. At least, that is what I would like to think! Some of the best people I know have taken responsibility for their sufferings and turned them into their biggest assets. 
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." - Scott Adams
Anyway, if I look at my art failures in the same way, the unfinished pieces, the ones that ran, the ones the cat walked over leaving prussian blue footprints in the sky... They really are beautiful, and useful - if I can somehow find a use for them as business cards. I got a new card guillotine this week (squee), and somehow my printer will be convinced to print on heavy gauge watercolour paper. And who wouldn't want a business card that is truly one-of-a-kind, with the flaws detailed in gold? (If you want one, let me know!) 

I have had a fun morning, pulling out old paintings and generally splashing paint around. Then the cat came along, lay on my creations and licked her bum. 

She is my harshest critic. 
"There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Deep Thoughts

Prologue: I haven't posted here for two weeks. In that time, the cat has ignored me. I thought it was because I have made her wear a bell, hoping to give the young birds a chance to learn the wicked ways of the world before they are caught and shredded into an explosion of feathers all over my living room. 

The moment I sat down to write this, Maggie came along and lay across my keyboard. Such is the mystery of the Cat. 

                                     *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I apologise for my two-week disappearance. I will blame it on the sunshine! I've been having epic lying-in-the-garden-with-my-book evening sessions after work, walks, and enormous spring cleaning and office organization weekends. Also been thinking deep thoughts, while I observe the bees working merrily among my weeds. (My weeds are doing SO WELL! I am really proud. And the bees and butterflies are thrilled.)

Some deep thoughts concern internet responsibility, and I have posted a few rants on facebook about how dumbasses should check their facts before they share 'news' about a new kind of deadly spider or Ryan Gosling's baby or how cancer can be cured by eating llama poop on alternate Tuesdays. People share these things, and say "OMG this is unbelievable!"

Guess what, it's unbelievable because it's PRETEND! Someone made it up! And you are a dumbass!

And my brain is going "Oooooh, you are being mean. Just because YOU are a perfect genius of complete brilliance and you know everything, doesn't mean you can be a know-it-all pedant at your friends and family." (My brain can be horribly sarcastic sometimes.)
"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" - Mark Twain
And then I had a long conversation with my son, where I said that just because a scientific theory has not been disproved yet, doesn't make it un-disproveable, and that blind faith in science was as bad as religion. He said I was a crazy lady, because I mentioned Panspermia as a think-outside-the-box mad theory that has not been proved or disproved because it is a THEORY, just like, say, evolution. And then I remembered that teenage reality is fixed and absolute, and there is no point arguing with them. But it was too late, I am now a conspiracy theorist in his eyes, who believes that life on Earth was seeded by aliens.

It could be worse, I suppose.

I have been wondering (and researching) how humans get these fixed ideas about things. Why we believe 'unbelievable' stuff we see on the internet. Why we have faith in climate change, or religion, or that women should cover up, because men are so weak and stupid they cannot take responsibility for their actions. We like to Believe, and if facts come along that challenge those beliefs, we feel stressed out - stress hormones actually flood our brains and put us on the defensive. This is part of what makes us social humans, bonding us together with the cultural beliefs of our tribe. Anything that threatens our beliefs is evil and must be stamped out!

If someone is repeatedly taught something as a child (say, breasts are immodest and breastfeeding in public is disgusting) then no amount of logic will make that person feel comfortable with the sight of a breastfeeding mother. They will make up all sorts of reasons to convince themselves that women should not bare their breasts, even making others responsible - "Oh *I* am fine with it, but you will offend the elderly/those who cannot breastfeed/the priest/men who cannot control themselves and will have to rape someone."

I have always felt that the truth is in people - if you can make them laugh, put them at ease, and introduce them to possibilities then maybe their minds can be opened to the beauty of truth. There is so much cruelty, desperation and injustice in the world, because of fear. And making people more afraid - "You must believe this truth, because you are wrong and you will suffer!" - will not bring anyone to truth. I know this. I have tested this in lectures with young people, who only needed to laugh and be respected to see truth for themselves. They needed to learn that they were intelligent enough to work it out for themselves. If we can look at someone and say, "I see your truth, and it is good. What do you think about this idea?" then conversation becomes possible, and everyone walks away wiser and more thoughtful.

Usually, I am good at shutting up and letting lies and stupidity blow away. I like all people - even religious fanatics, even gang members, even liars, because I think that all people are a precious and fundamental part of the universe. But for the last few weeks I have had a hard time with Patience and Acceptance. Maybe I'm getting older. But not wiser. I'll work on that.

ॐ Namaste,

Nan