About to hit the trail again

Yes, I’m reviving my poor neglected blog, in order to post my coming trip. I’m heading this time to the UK, Canada and USA, and taking two months to do it. A welcome break from mid-winter in New Zealand.

Here’s the plan:

Thursday 1 August, I’ll fly from Auckland via Los Angeles (sigh) to London, England. Then I make my way westward towards Herefordshire gradually. A fellow Outlander fan is meeting me in Worcester and taking me home to Ludlow for a few days. (Thanks Glyn Blythman). Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 2.50.23 PM.png

From Ludlow, we go north to Birmingham, and the Highlander4 Starfury Convention, which will be alive with Outlander fans celebrating all things Outlander and meeting some of the actors from the show. After that excitement, I’ll hire a car and go further north, meeting friends in Burnley, and then up to Edinburgh for the Tattoo. I have a night in the Falkland hotel which was where Claire brushed her hair while the ghost of Jamie watched. Two nights in Loch Lomond. And then a meander south via Stratford-Upon-Avon and a night of Shakespeare in his birth place. I see friends in Bournemouth to finish off and then fly out towards the USA on the first day of September.

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Arriving in Orlando, I have a day to prepare before going straight up to Canada, near Toronto to meet a friend there. After a few days with Nancy, we’ll fly east to Nova Scotia, and spend six days enjoying that area (where some ancestors passed through from Scotland).

Then we return and I fly south again to Orlando, spending a few days with Marcie and Penny, in Harry Potter’s world, in Avatar and other themes we know and love from Universal Studios. I go with them up to friends in Jacksonville, FL until it’s time to fly home via San Francisco.

Come with me, if you like, in this virtual space. I’ll try and post regularly for those who want to share my trip. Only a week or so to go!

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Reflections and Ruminations

PeasantGirlwithEmbroiderybyFilippMalyavin

Peasant Girl with Embroidery by Filipp Malyavin

It doesn’t seem to matter where I look, I can’t avoid seeing the usual persuasive messages to make improving resolutions as the next year rolls around. I’ve turned the television off for now and am now sitting in the peace and quiet of my studio . . . reflecting.

I am not going to make any New Year’s Resolutions! There – I’ve said it. Year after year has gone by, and the same old resolutions rear up again and again, much like in the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, and for once I’m going to do something different. Has my life really changed that much for all the intention put into it at the beginning of each January? I think it’s time to cut myself some slack.

We watched the news tonight, and the New Year’s honours list of New Zealanders who have been awarded various orders of merit. And they probably all deserved them. But I’m a little tired of hearing about achievements, or people who have become famous for this or that, and the huge drive we seem to have for fame, fortune and the reaching of self-imposed pinnacles.

Where am I going with this?

TheAngelusPaintingJeanFrancoisMillet

The Angelus by Jean Francois Millet

For all that I can admire the hard work and achievement of others, there’s another part of me that is drawn to the other side of that spectrum.

The people who have been of the greatest influence in my own life, have not been the sort to be awarded medals or special honours. They have probably never sat down and contemplated how to be nicer, or kinder, or slimmer or simply more happy. It’s probably the last thing they would be thinking of.

In my early years I worked at the Government Printing Office, as a new graphic designer, and was full of the excitement and energy of the job and the potential for improving my situation. Working alongside me in the office were a number of other artists, but nearby there was a plate-making facility for transfering our designs into separated artwork for the presses, and in this area was a small non-descript desk. At this tiny table a little woman sat, bent almost double over her book of accounts. I called her Birdie, for she was as bright and cheerful as one, and she would shuffle over to speak to me first thing in the morning when she arrived. She must have been in her late forties, and her arms were twisted in upon themselves, and her feet were clubbed, and she walked bent over with slow and painful steps. Such was the condition of her twisted feet, that she made her own shoes! And she got herself in to work each day by train from Lower Hutt, and walked up from the station to the building. I visited her once at her house, and we shared a cup of tea and admired her two cats. For all the difficulty each day must have brought her, I cannot remember one complaining word out of her. Not one. She just got on with her life, recognized its limitations and adjusted her viewpoint, and looked for ways to enjoy it. That humbled me and has stayed with me since.

My own mother was a sweet and gentle woman, limited not physically but brought up to be frugal and careful with her money, and living with many more restrictions upon her than I currently enjoy. That elusive ability she had to feel joy over so little, is something I remember of her. She made occasions for us out of scant resources, and her face always lit up upon seeing any of us—even if we had only been gone an hour!

MilletbyRomainRolland

Millet by Romain Rolland

My bookshelf has books about people who have moved apart from the norm, and chose to follow a road of hardship and ignominy (in some cases), because they had seen something more important, something that acted upon them in vision or revelation. It became less about them and more about answering that ‘call’. Mother Theresa certainly is within that category, and she worked away all her life answering it not for the celebrity but because it had become as breathing to her. I mention her, because in the end she was very well known, but there are many who have come and gone without sending a ripple through the wider world. Watchman Nee was another, a Chinese man who gave up a promising career because he knew he was called to totally different path. His writings are rich and show a rare insight that is inspirational.

Most recently I came across some school children I taught at a local primary school who are now 45 yrs old. Along with them came a teacher from the neighbouring class. This teacher is now 87 years old, and I popped around to see her yesterday. Her story was amazing. She had a map of the world out and highlighted on it were all the places she has been, where she has offered her expertise as a teacher, freely. It looked like only a bit of Russia, Mongolia and upper Canada were unmarked. She has helped start schools in the most obscure places of the world, in hardship and enduring primitive conditions, and looks and sounds as she did when I worked with her forty years ago. She has an amazing faith, and I sat and soaked up her story in awe.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is how important it is to know yourself. And when you know yourself, and have taken stock of what you have and are, be grateful. I cannot look at any other person and think, ‘this year I am going to try to be more like them.’ Let’s face it, if we sat down and critiqued ourselves based upon ideals others have reached, we would have an interminable list. I will never be thin enough, funny enough, rich enough, pretty enough, loved enough—and to start at the point of measuring myself up against others will always be a disappointing and disheartening exercise.

Instead, I would like it to be less about me, and more about what truly drives me. If it is family or children, wonderful! If it is writing or art or dance or gardening, then let me revel in that. If it is a ‘call’ upon me, to reach out to others and share what I have found, then I will go for it with all my heart. Personally, I have found that the more passionate I am about the things that matter to me, the less I think about myself and what I lack. I would like to be remembered, as Birdie is to me, as the one who knew real joy and gave it back in abundance. That is what I remember about her – her triumph over her straitened circumstances. It is no small thing.

JozsefSoproniHorvath

Portrait by Jozsef Soproni Horvath

It is a wonderful and rare thing to be content. Not lazy, not indolent, not apathetic—content.

Oh – and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The giving and receiving of LOVE

It is not enough to live, we all need to love and know we are loved. I’m going to scuff around the edges of a subject so overworked and laboured that it is almost impossible to go near. The ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ scenario.

However—I am sitting here by myself, the day after Christmas, that one day of the year when we are most likely to see a generous and visible aspect of Love at work—and I am thinking about love, and how we/I measure it.

For we DO measure it to some degree. It is the nature of man to stand somewhere in that spectrum of a conscious awareness of how many people know us and like us, how many love us (despite our faults), how many we easily love back through to the ones we put effort into liking to a lesser or greater extent.

This puts me in mind of one of my favourite books: ‘The Four Loves’ by C. S. Lewis. In it he describes three types of love we humans are capable of expressing, and love as it truly means. Let’s look at the first three, and bear in mind that even here, many do not experience all three.

MitraShadfar painting

(Painting by Mitra Shadfar)

Our first source of love experienced usually comes at birth, from our mother. He calls it ‘affection’ and says it is the love ‘least different to that of the animals.’ He hastens to add that in no way does this lessen its value. It is a love born of need—the need for the child for nurture, the need for the mother to give birth or die, growing beyond that into true affection and care. It is this love that is the least discriminating, Lewis says, because it does not rely upon the beauty or cleverness or skill or similarity in the one loved. And I must agree that in my own experience, the day I found out that my mother had died, (my father having died four years earlier), I felt myself entirely lacking anyone on this earth who had known me so long, and despite my quirks and annoying traits, loved me unconditionally. My siblings know me almost as well and I hope, forgive much, but that reliance I had in my parents’ affection was suddenly gone.

I am single and childless, and so it was not, for me, a case of having children looking to me for that same sense of safety and ‘home’. And despite being a loved and familiar ‘Aunty Jenny’ to some of my nieces and nephews—something I value beyond words—it is not the same as being their parent.

Painting by Vidal Cuglietta

(Painting by Vidal Cuglietta)

This leads me to another love C.S. Lewis talks about: Eros. This is the ‘being in love’ kind of love. This love singles out one other, and most times but not always, involves our sexuality and the satisfaction of those impulses. It is much more than that of course; it singles one other person out and when returned, each is wholly caught up in the eyes of the other. They think about each other all the time. Lewis goes into much more detail about the subtleties of this love and it does, indeed, underpin much of our human existence. It is the basis for romance—and in case you wondered, romance novels are the largest selling genre in the world of fiction. We all want to feel special to that one other person, and to feel we have someone with whom we can share our experience of life.

In my own experience, for whatever reason, I did not ‘find’ that person. And I know I speak for many others who did not either, or who now have suffered the devastation of losing their ‘other’. Without plunging more deeply into those miry depths, let me just say that it is possible to appreciate the value of this particular love, without actually experiencing it. Much as I can appreciate motherhood without having been a mother. To be frank, sometimes the idea that there are still many couples out there who are selflessly devoted to each other, and pushing through all the tragedies of life without wavering in their love, is a very heartening thing to me. Long may that be true.

Painting byLeonid Afremov

(Painting by Leonid Afremov)

The third kind of love C.S. Lewis talked about was friendship love. He was clear that although this was not usually regarded by us as important as affection (parent-child-family) or eros (lovers), it was no less important. Here is where you meet someone else with whom you go “What? You too?” in delight at a shared interest or understanding. Here is where you do not just stare like lovers into each other’s eyes, but shoulder to shoulder move forward and gather others of like mind to join you. Here, you love each other by choice and shared experience, out of any range of age or gender, eagerly enlarging your shared experiences and broadening your bounds. This kind of love can be enjoyed and experienced by anyone, and is the one I am most familiar with. Real friendship is something held lightly and carefully, requiring nothing of the other that they do not want to give, and allowing them the freedom to engage as they will. Some friendships run so deep that long absence does not affect them, and a return to their company is as simple as starting the next conversation. Other friendships are truly just for a season, and by mutual consent drift apart (whether they are truly friendship as a love, is doubtful).

At this point Lewis brings up the last Love, and it is here that I struggle to find words to express my thoughts. You see, all of the other loves mentioned are to some degree or other, flawed. We humans don’t have a good track record at reaching our ideals, and the loves already mentioned are ideals—something we know just enough about to value them, but dissatisfying-ly elusive in nature.

As I mentioned at the start, at Christmas we experience a situation that requires of us the need to express that love we feel—in any or all of the ways described above—through the giving and receiving gifts and sharing a meal together. With all the commercialism associated with the season, it’s a lot of pressure on any one person, and even more difficult if you are one of the many who do not have a wealth of those three loves in your life. I truly do feel for you.

Lewis calls this last love Charity. It is an old-fashioned word which has been subsumed to mean many other things, but at its heart it means unconditional, unearned, overflowing acceptance, nay—Love—from One who knows you better than you know yourself. Nothing humbled me more, nor changed my perception of life more, than my realization that this love not only existed but that it was personal and intimate. And I cannot let Christmas go by—with all its reliance on our weak human love—without pointing out that it was in fact, a celebration of the birth of this fourth Love upon our world. I speak from my own personal experience when I say that I know this Love exists. It is not political. It has no human agenda. It is not there to right the wrongs you perceive about the situation around you. Those are all too lowly and small to encompass a Love that is much more than that. (This is another whole discussion I don’t have blog enough to go into here.)

It is the sort of Love you can only surrender yourself to, without conditions.

Honestly, at one of my lowest ebbs when I was a teenager, when all hope felt gone and despair clutched at my heart, having heard (but hardly believing) that I had but to ask and God would reveal himself, I cast myself down by my bed and did just that. As I knelt hardly knowing what I was doing, but waiting, I felt a growing presence behind me. It was personal. It wasn’t a thing (the universe, mother earth, a weird extra-terrestrial). It was Love personified, and I felt for the first time unconditionally loved. So much light filled me and seemed poised just behind me, that I feared if I turned around and saw that much love, I would die. I was answered in ways I had never dreamed, and I have never been the same since then. I cannot ‘unsee’ Love as he exists.

You would think that I would have looked different from that day on, wouldn’t you? In fact, the glory is that I fail and fail again, I know disappointment, and singleness, and childlessness, and health issues, and yet, despite or because of it, I can never, ever shake the deep unswerving knowledge that I am Loved. And it makes all the difference.

And if it is true of me, believe me, it is true of you.

Jenny

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2018 was a good year

Two things involving words that I have not done for a while: I haven’t written a blog and I certainly have not sent off any Christmas cards. So here I sit on a Friday night, deciding to kill two birds with one stone.

Looking back at this last year, I must say it is a vast improvement on some of the recent previous. We lost Mum in 2016, and it took a while to get used to not having her wonderful presence around. Last year I wrote my longest self-published book ‘Auckland to Orkney’ after spending weeks roaming Scotland. I figured I’ll have a go at jotting down the significant events of this year, which (unbelievably) is nearly over.

February: The week long camping trip up at Kai Iwi lakes. This is a wonderful summer tenting holiday–usually–and although my sis and I got a few days of swimming in the clear fresh water and reading, the winds began to howl around us, and the rain threatened, so we packed up and went North instead. Visited a few places I haven’t been in a while and stayed in motels or B&Bs.

April saw the weather more settled and a small but heartwarming gathering of our small church to see the sun rise for Easter morning.

May and June: Helen (sis) and I headed off for six weeks to the UK. We hung out for a few days with our dear friends in Bournemouth visiting some of the local sites.

We flew from London to Tirana, Albania, to meet up with some folk from small house church gatherings along with other women from the UK, USA, Canada and the Netherlands. It was glorious.

Then we went to Paris for a couple of days, staying in Montmartre.

We took the fast train to the south of France, and stayed in St. Remy, Provence, going out each day to visit various of the many quaint picturesque spots nearby. Every day was full of glory, from a clear green river that poured out of a mountainside, to the Van Gogh sanitarium where he spent many years, to the Roman ruins just outside St Remy. Two weeks of enjoying Provence- and we even found an early field of lavender.

We flew direct from Marseilles to Dublin, where Helen experienced Ireland for the first time, and I saw how much it had changed since I saw it thirty years ago. Our trip to Ireland finished with a trip out to County Wicklow.

July, and we were well and truly back in wintery Auckland, both of us at new jobs. Mine was as a PhD Administrator for the School of Engineering, Computer & Maths Sciences at AUT University. I am working three days a week there, but it is busy, and the other two days are spent even busier at home. I had found out the day before we left to go to the UK that my first fiction book – An Unexpected Highlander – was accepted by a publisher, and so I came home and began my second historical romantic fiction (of course!). Somewhat surprisingly, my strongest supporters turned out to be a group of engineering tutors and supervisors who I got to know going up to level 6 to make my coffee in the morning. I became known as ‘Enid’ in honour of Enid Blyton. But of course, truly, my largest band of encouragers are the many friends I have made through the Outlander fandom, who all love well – Scotland, history, adventure, romance, and a good yarn.

And so the long winter months progressed:

By September, I completed the final edits on my new book, and in October it was published and for sale through Boroughs Publishing Group (LA) or Amazon. Needless to say, I was and still am, excited and thrilled.

Also this month, I received an intriguing request from someone I didn’t know. Initially I ignored it until the person identified themselves as a child who I had taught back in 1980, in my third year teaching. They had organised a meet up at a local pub, and to my delight and surprise, a small group of ex-pupils from Edendale Primary School were there, and one of the teachers I had taught with. A happy reunion indeed!

Mid-October I flew to Brisbane, and was picked up by a fellow Outlander fan and her husband, and stayed the night with them before Amanda drove us on a lengthy day-long journey down to Glen Innes in NSW for a ‘Through the Stones’ Outlander Gathering. Here I met up with a wonderful boisterous bunch of mainly women from the ANZOFs group (Australian and New Zealand Outlander Fans), and we spent three days delighting in all things Scottish and Outlander, even meeting David Berry, who plays Lord John in the show.

In November, I sent my second novel to the publisher and am currently awaiting the response. I am halfway through my teen novel about a boy who is transformed by a magical pearl and can breathe underwater.

It is now December. Endless functions rounding up the year have happened at work. I have taken to cycling the three days I work in town, to try and improve my exercise – if the weather is not too bad. Have even managed to cycle a couple of times with my older brother and younger sister, which was great. We are all looking forward to summer, which has only hinted at being here. Christmas is a couple of weeks away, and then the true holidays begin.

I hope you who are reading this, have a peaceful, festive, fun season, and can face 2019 with hope and cheerful anticipation, as I am.

What is someone’s creativity and diligence worth to you?

A word about copyright.

We live in a world bursting with opportunities, with a cornucopia of innovation and design, with an endless stream of entertainment at our fingertips. Much of what is available to us comes free, through a stream of social media apps that allow us to be able to share them with our friends or just enjoy for ourselves.

But are they really free?

If we lived in a world that had to be constructed out of our own abilities, with materials we had grown, and using skills we had acquired, imagine the cardboard kingdoms most of us would be forced to survive in. But we don’t have to rely upon our own abilities. Most of what we use is available to us because someone, somewhere, had an idea, found a producer, and distributed what we want/need to us for something that benefitted them. Nowadays, it is usually money, but it once might have been swapping or trade of some sort.

I digress.

The last two weeks have forced me to face the unpleasant side of human nature, the side that would steal or snatch from someone else what is rightfully theirs. And there is that side in us, that wants something for nothing. (Just check out the terrible videos of Black Friday sales to get some idea of what we become when there’s the possibility of getting something for much less than its worth.)

I was informed by a friend on FB that someone was selling my ‘Gabeaux Tapestry’ mugs on Amazon.com. And sure enough, when I went over to Amazon and put the words Gabeaux Tapestry into the search bar, I saw my small book that I had self-published there, and also a long range of products using the words Gabeaux in the title or copy. These are exact – or close – copies of the actual products sold legitimately through Redbubble.com here. And by the way, I invented the word ‘Gabeaux’ for my tapestry as well!

My mind drifted back to the years I had gradually worked on these 32 panels of tapestry design, and the initial idea that had burgeoned in me when I saw the Bayeux Tapestry and thought of doing the same for Outlander. It was hard work, and took a long time, but I loved every minute of it. IT COST ME. To find that some unscrupulous company or person, (changing their name regularly on the product) feels it’s okay to steal and sell my design is disheartening at the very least.

ALL OF MY GABEAUX PRODUCTS are for sale solely on Redbubble here.

Thanks to all of you who have written a review on these products saying they are stolen. I do appreciate the support you have given.

Then I found that my first published book, An Unexpected Highlander, was offered for free on some sites as a download, and to make it worse, some reviews below the download stating how happy the recipient was because they had searched for a free download for ages. Seriously? It is $3.99 to get it for Kindle – a paltry sum considering how long it took to write. (Smoke was coming out of my ears at this point). I have notified the publisher. Please spend the little amount asked for to download it from Amazon here, or Boroughs here. THANKS. (And yes, please write a review!)

I moved over to Twitter for some light relief, and there amongst the Thanksgiving greetings and memes, was one I had done a year or two ago. I had used photoshop to put each member of the cast of Outlander around the table, and put Mrs Fitz and the Laird at the far end. It took a while to do this, and I got nothing but the pleasure of knowing that people would enjoy it, out of doing it. I signed it with my customary @sniskybobfry twitter handle. In this instance, though, the person who put my old meme up, had carefully cut around the edge of the piece to obliterate my name, (also cutting out some of the people at the table), and added a Happy Thanksgiving over the top. Now, in the big scheme of things, it’s nothing really. I’m glad she liked it enough to save it and use it. But it really wouldn’t have hurt to leave my name on it as author, and I might have even been credited in the post, which would have pleased me. But no, she wanted the credit for herself. Sigh.

Thanksgiving2

And on that note: I AM THANKFUL for all the people who have regularly encouraged me and laughed at my memes, bought my book and my tapestry products.

Ah well, it’s amazing how precious one’s own work can become when you labour over it for hours, or days, or years—and had I never done so, I would probably not have felt the surge of disgust and dismay over the last two weeks that I have. Regardless, I will keep creating and keep hoping to make a little money out of some of what I do. And I will be careful to credit others I see doing the same—even the big fish in the pond, like Starz/Sony and their Outlander production. When I hear people suggesting there might be a way to get a copy for free from somewhere, I am equally disappointed.

Anything worth having, is worth paying for. You will value it more as well.

 

 

The Past Comes Calling

For a brief window of time after leaving school, I was a primary school teacher. I loved the first three years–one spent at Whangarei, the next two at Edendale Primary in Sandringham, and then I was thrown out on my ear to fend for myself. Those were the days when you were paid to be a student for three years at teacher’s college, and then you needed to serve out your bond for three years, and after that you were on your own. That fourth year was always a tough one. You usually got given the tough kids, the old prefab for a classroom, and the lion’s share of playground duty. That’s how I experienced it anyway. After two months of crossing town to get there, and struggling through the days with unmotivated students, I would come home and sniffle back a few tears. Finally I gave up and pursued my love of art and illustration.

Anyway, my last full year of teaching was in 1980, and I loved this class. As with all my classes, I read profusely from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and A. A. Milne. These were children aged between 7 and 9 and ready to take on some of these amazing stories. A few days ago I got a message on my Outrageous Outlander page from someone who requested I call them. I ignored it. Then he sent a photo of the class of 1980 and identified himself, and said that some of the class were meeting today for a drink and a catch up. Naturally I decided to go and see how they had turned out.

Here’s the class of 1980.

Jennyinclass1980

With some trepidation I made my way to Sandringham to meet up with some of these students after 38 years absence. To my delight there were students from the neighbouring classrooms as well and also their teacher, who I knew as Janie Watts. I have a great two hours telling anecdotes, hearing the same, and putting faces to some of the ones in this pic.

ReunionofClass1980

I have told the duckling story for many years, partly because it was so funny, and partly because it is humbling to realise that I did such silly things back then. Yes, I set up a crude bench in the room with the legs facing OUT, and put a small duckling inside. And yes, the sweet child with the pigtails in the front row put her legs up against the bench and it came down, effectively squashing the duckling. It was Bart’s first pet – and Bart was there today.

My colleague has long since left teaching as well, although she has done plenty of unpaid teaching at mission stations around the world. I am going to find out more from her in coming days.

MissJeffriesandMrsWatts

My head is still whirling with the pleasant couple of hours spent seeing these fine men and women again. I hope the next time, a few more will come.

ThreeclassesfromEdendaleMyClassof1980

A Handy topic

Hands

I have very mixed feelings about my hands. If I were to look at them objectively, they are certainly not beautiful. In fact, judging by the poetry, paintings and literature of the past, my hands are a good indication that I come from good solid peasant stock. Much as I’d like to believe I was from a long line of needle-working ladies, spending their days in a turret room embroidering or sipping tea, I just know my ancestor was down in the dairy milking the cows or planting potatoes.

A lady’s hands look like this:

HandPainting    HandPainting2.jpg

A peasant’s hands look like this:

Handspainting5

To top it all off, I am a big lass, and you might think I could wear those gaudy rings but alas, I can NEVER get any in my size. If I had ever married, I’m sure I would have had a ring or two sized to fit and probably loved them. The thing is – I’m so used to using my hands for so much, that I can’t imagine how to do all the things I do with annoying metal bands around the fingers. I can’t even bear to have long fingernails and worry about breaking a painted nail. How can anyone type with any passion with nails like that?

And then, of course, there are the age spots. Mine seem to be coming in early. I have a strong memory of my beloved Mum’s hands – bent over with arthritis, spotted with many, many discolorations, but always busy and so constantly working on things she loved or things for people she loved. Playing her mandolin, cooking endless meals, sewing, knitting, reading, playing Scrabble. My own hands – sadly – are showing signs of going the same way. The joints are getting painful and swelling, the spots are getting darker, and this is on top of being large ‘capable’ hands anyway.

HandsbyVincent

BUT – and here’s where I’m going with this. I LOVE all that my hands have enabled me to do. They’re not beautiful or decorated or photo worthy, but they have taken images in my head and made pictures with them: Books, diaries, blogs, oil and water paintings, illustrations, cartoons, memes. They are the primary way I express myself. They are how I have made my living, both as a graphic designer and now in my many and varied guises.

I rarely remember to use hand cream, I often forget my gloves, I try to hide them from photographs, but for all my meanness towards them, they have served me well.

So, this is a small but necessary tribute to the appendages at the ends of my arms, even now touch-typing the words of this blog. I hope they give a warm and firm handshake when I meet people, and I hope they continue to be a vehicle for all the ways I want to express myself.

Hands2

God bless all the peasant women down my line, who pulled up potatoes, peeled vegetables, chopped wood, did laundry, mended clothes and endured chilblains. I would rather have my strong, capable, ugly hands than the weak slim white ones of a true lady.

On the strength of that, I might just go and give them a rest and a dab of cream.

Living life with passion

This post is a little reminder to myself – as much as anything – to ‘seize the day’. I remember various moments in my life when something was said or revealed that brought forth a resounding YES inside me; something that I might never have been able to put into so many words.

everyoneattable

One of those moments was the movie ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ with Robin Williams. When he, as an English teacher, inspired his students to ‘seize the day’ and they grasped what he meant and everything changed, I was transfixed. Yes, lots of other things happened in that movie and a terrible sadness at the end, but it did not change the central truth he had espoused.

dead-poets-society-cast-now-poster

Now don’t get me wrong: I do NOT open my eyes upon waking and spring out of bed full of the joie de vivre. But I do wake up most days feeling positive and running possibilities through my head for what to do, dependent upon weather and inclination.

My list of possibilities runs like this:

Coffee and catch up with friends

Cycling on my electric bike with or without friends

Trying my hand at baking

Going for a walk somewhere, or just for exercise locally

Hanging out at the local library

Reading

Watching a movie either at the cinema or online

Picking up a manuscript I’ve started and writing some more of the story (for a novel)

Doing an Outlander meme just for fun and putting it up online

Planning a future trip somewhere

Meeting with my house church and singing and sharing

Doing a painting or illustration

Breakfast at Bach

There is another list I have, which is along the lines of things I need to do, but which I have no passion for – things like dusting (way down), taking my car for a warrant of fitness, housework, going through my clothes and dispensing with the unwanted ones. And here’s a small truth I have discovered over the years: If I get even one of the things on this latter list done now and then, my favourite things can be approached with more freedom and lightness of heart.

I feel sure I am talking to the converted here. Many people know what it is to have a passion about what they do, and the things they get excited about can be astounding to me. I work as an administrator for people doing PhDs in Computer and Mathematical Sciences. I have held a thick thesis in my hands full of gobbledegook and symbols, and look up at the earnest and shining face of the student who has devoted the last few years to compiling this tome, and recognise someone who is as passionate as I. . . for something I cannot begin to understand.

Or I meet someone for whom my second list of undesirable tasks is what gets their heart racing, and wonder how I could be so different. So it’s much LESS about WHAT you do, as about actually recognising what you love doing, and finding new and deeper ways of getting involved with whatever that is. And there will always be other people who share your specific interest.

I always loved painting – oils mainly – but over the last few years, my living space has so reduced that I can no longer find room to set up a canvas and leave it for days. What it forced me to do – once I got over my feeling of frustration – was to allow my creative energies to flow into words instead of pictures, and I discovered that I really did love to write. I paint the same pictures in my mind, but as a flowing story, and then describe it, and recently I actually finished a novel I started as an experiment. After some editing and changes, I sent it off and to my utter astonishment, had it accepted by a publisher.

Now, of course, I am hooked. My book comes out in October – no, I’m not revealing its name just yet – and I am still amazed and thrilled that my imagination conjured up a story that a publisher wanted.

Anyway, if you’d asked me ten years ago what I would be doing today, I couldn’t have guessed. It has so much to do with following trails and meeting people and traveling, and opening doors and dealing with sudden changes of circumstance. And amongst it all: maintaining a passion for living and trying out new things. Going on adventures you were too afraid to do on your own when you were younger. Looking after the people you are close to, and being kinder. Watching your negative attitudes and words and consciously turning from them. I have so many people who have inspired me in these latter statements, the list is longer than I could name. . . these are the people to watch.

Okay, ramble over.

HandaIsland

Rollercoaster ride

I’ve been back just over a week now, and fully adjusted. That means I’ve gone from this:

IMG_4647

to this:

WetBusstop

From places that are so dry that the ground is hard and baked:

Dry

to a place where every crack and cranny seems green-tinged with mould and moisture. The grass is sodden, the roads seem never to lose their wetness, and the trees drip over my head as I walk to work. Winter in Auckland.

I’m trying to keep up the exercise, although it is SO EASY to huddle indoors and stay dry. But I’ve just come back from a cycle between showers feeling refreshed and energised again.

It’s amazing that my body has coped with the utter difference in the seasons, and the opposite timeframe, so that I am once again sleeping when I was walking the dry streets of Provence only recently. And I’ve started a new job, which means working at one of these:

Desk

At least my new desk allows me to stand now and then. And if I shut my eyes I can still smell the dry air and imagine myself beside the pool in St Remy, Provence.

EnjoyingSun

I can even here the cicadas – can you?

Just an observation about British vs USA actresses. . .

Now please, don’t be offended. I have no intention of denigrating the talents of any of these actors, but it is an interesting thing to me how different the perceptions and expectations of older women actors in both countries come across.

I’ve just come back from seeing an excellent documentary/movie which felt just like taking tea with the gorgeous women we know and love in so many British dramas and films; all of them Dames: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins. Here’s the pic of them:

Tea With Dames

Three of them are 83, and Joan is 88. At no time do I remember seeing them play parts that were not entertaining and rich in character – often quirky characters but always absolutely riveting on screen. Note that they have grey hair, wrinkles, and no botox or plastic surgery apparent. Just some wonderful CHARACTERFUL faces.

In the prelude to seeing this film, the shorts were shown of this one from the USA that is coming: Bookclub. Four very fine actresses are in this as well, although it was marred for me for two reasons: 1) the silly premise – it just feels flippant and lightweight and revolves around four older women (all totally made up and glamorous in every shot!) and their love lives. 2) to some degree or other they were trying to look 30 years younger than they truly are. Oh, they were playing older women, but not as I know older women – these were women who relied heavily on looks and plastic surgery. Here they are:

BookClub

If the goal is to try and look as young as you can, then they succeed. I go to movies or watch series on tv for much more than that. This is not a movie I’m interested in seeing AT ALL!! Admittedly, their ages range from Diane Keaton (72) through to Jane Fonda (83), so they’re a tad younger over all than the British women above, but what a different journey and experience they have had in their ongoing careers beyond their 40s.

Any of the movies or series I have seen the ladies in the top picture in, have been compelling viewing for me, and very much about women who are comfortable with who they are right now: Witty, funny, sarcastic, charming, and all of their vast experience is written upon their faces. I want to be like that in ten and twenty years myself.

The ladies in the lower pic have worked very hard to maintain their careers – I’ve never seen them play anything but attractive, funny women trying to bumble along in life with as much panache as they can. No other types or roles are apparently available to them any more.

My rave is over. My point is made. Be who you are and be glad, and grow old gracefully. Please.