Pockets are like pastry: everything is better with them (and other nuggets of wisdom).

Hello Zoë, it’s me, your bossy Overbearing Thought Processes. Do you remember, about a year ago, you went to the launch of, My Dog Bigsy, at Where the Wild Things Are bookstore? You met a lovely young woman who had just had her picturebook published. She innocently asked “So, are you a writer?”. (At this point, you had half a manuscript secretly percolating, and had shown it to two established book-friends who said “I think you’re onto something here”). Do you recall, Zoë that almost audible click as you hesitated before responding “Oh! No! Well, Not yet! Um I mean, I am thinking about it!”. That was the catalyst — it was time to unleash your genius on the unsuspecting hordes or fantastical future fans *cough*.

This this happened (deeeep breath aaaaand. GO): conferences, writers’ group, critique groups, online forums, Facebook groups, a million new Facebook friends, Instagram, Twitter (not for long), subscribe to this, read that, follow the rules, follow the rules, the rules, the RULES and whatever you do, be yourself, stand out, be professional, be fresh. Don’t be afraid, don’t do the wrong thing. Did I mention the rules? GAAAAH!

You are not at all keen on rollercoasters, are you Zoë? (hells no, I am the type of gal who likes pockets in my dresses* and pens with fountain tips).

But… you are nothing if not an excellent learner (thank you Overbearing Thought Processes).

Well, let me show you what you’ve learned so far (with the disclaimer that this is not advice. This is simply a list of things that you are working through, at the very beginning, right now).

Here goes:

  1. People are really nice — find the ones you like and stick with them. If you don’t feel at least 87.96% comfortable with the people you’re hanging with, you’re hanging with the wrong people.
  2. Nothing means anything. There are people who are great at working a room. There are people who seem to be friends with ‘important’ people. WELL, none of this actually means anything. The only thing you need to concern yourself with, Zoë is this: Write well, write well, write well. Build a decent body of work. Don’t be too distracted by networking or marketing. Just write. Just draw.
  3. The supply/demand ratio is out of your control. There are SO many people vying for the attention of a very small number of ‘gatekeepers’. Statistically, Zoë, you are doomed. BUT. This is not a completely hopeless situation. It’s a little like finding love — you have to find the right publisher at the right time for the right manuscript. SO, refer to point number 1: write well. Draw more. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
  4. There is a lot of talent out there. It may feel like there is not enough room in this industry for you, right? But, if you work hard, take time to learn and keep making friends (for motivation and happiness) then you will be able to find your little space in this author/illustrator world. Don’t rush. AND, again, refer back to number 1: write well (and don’t forget to practise the drawing).
  5. A word about conferences. They are a rollercoaster of emotions, sitting on the edge of your seat hoping hoping that maybe someone will see something in your work and sign you on the spot (I hate rollercoasters). You have read over and over that if you’re new you should go to all the conferences, sign up to courses, build a website, work on your author platform. The only problem with doing ALL of this, Zoë, is that you really can’t afford it! SO, spend your money wisely: invest in some key educational courses (see this one, for example); work on your craft (check out this and this); get some critiques from key people (see this one, for example); enter some competitions like this one, for feedback on your work; but above all, listen to the golden advice given by every single publishing industry professional I have ever heard: “above everything else, write a good story”.

*what is with the pastry and pockets?! This blog post came about as a result of meeting and talking with some wonderful people. One of these people is Penelope Pratley. She drew the delightful image above, which is a portrait of me, Zoë (not Overbearing Through Processes). Check out her new website here.

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JUST! DO! (the work)

I have had a little hiccup (hiccough is awful, ok?) in my picturebook. Not really a hiccup, but some really excellent advice which has stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder how on earth I am going to solve this! I have been pondering and worrying and frowning and then, finally today, I have a couple of hours to sit down. Procrastination is perpetuated and fought herewith: I’m writing a blog post, drinking a cup of tea and trying to ignore my mother’s texts. But, as I do so and as I get out my treasured pencil, sharpener and sketchbooks, it occurs to me, that the only way around this problem is to sit down and DO the work. Just like beautiful Benedict told us to, via Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse: JUST! DO!

Workin’.

Tap, tap, tap, click. Squint. Scrub-scrub-scrub, click… sigh… pause… These are the sounds accompanying my precious work hours and every spare minute I have as I slowly, yet urgently work my way towards sending my first picturebook to a Power That Bes (Be’s?). A ‘Power that Be’s’ is one of those publishing people who will spend a good *insert whatever amount of time here*, having a look and deciding its fate. No pressure, Zo. Fingers crossed.

Do you know the feeling? It’s a mix of fear, satisfaction, urgency (time allows Mondays and when the baby sleeps on a Friday), pleasure and physical pain as I uncurl my frame from a now-unfamiliar posture at a computer! I’M LOVING IT! I have been reading blogs, following excellent women authors, watching instructional videos, showing my people when I need flattering, attending a writers’ group, and working working working. Oh, how I cherish my time now. Oh how the days of procrastination seem like a distant memory — days when I would ‘research’ for hours, pitter around my desk and wade through my excellent book collection (thank you excellent bookstore job where I’d spend most of my wage before I even made it home).

Work in general, is harder now. It is slower, but more focused.  I have more drive. And a hunger for success that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I am on another steep learning curve (my favourite curve of all!).  Fingers crossed this little book finds its way into bookstores one day, and into the homes of little kids whose parents love to read to them. And fingers crossed I have more than one in me.

Here’s a list of some of the excellent people I have come into contact with so far. Check out their books, blogs, videos, websites etc.

Excellent women in no particular order:
Jen Storer
Tania McCartney
Nina Rycroft
Megan Daley
Sarah Davis
Renee Treml aaaaaand Chrissie Krebs of course!

Other interesting bits:
Booklinks
Writelinks
CYA conference

Tiny dictators (in twelve easy steps).

  1. Remove pegs from the clothes horse. Throw them over the balcony. Line them up on the floor of the walk-in pantry. Or, just leave them on the ground with the damp clothing.
  2. Remove any flower or tiny unripe tomato from every plant. ‘Mow’ the parsley with a dustpan and brush. Shred the basil. Repeat. Show your tiny friend how much fun it is to do so and encourage him to do it. Again. Again!
  3. Throw all unwanted food on the floor, or swipe it vigorously across the table. The more eye contact with an adult, the better. Triple score if your baby brother joins in and giggles.
  4. Screech at all problems instead of quietly asking for help.
  5. Throw river stones (the expensive ones) down a drainpipe. Throw more. And again. Do it again.
  6. Throw river stones through the fence, onto the neighbour’s driveway. Do it again. Do it again. Do it after mummy has threatened military school (with no idea of what military school is, but it sounds BAD, OK?).
  7. Walk around proudly shaking your sippy cup. Upside down. With milk in it.
  8. Delve your tiny fists into fresh potting soil and then wipe your snotty nose. Then lick it. Then double over yelling cos something funny’s in your mouth. Then screech as you are rushed into the bathroom to remove ‘deadly organisms’ from under your tiny fingernails.
  9. Figure out how to use Daddy’s electric shaver. Wave it around your new haircut. Wave it at your brother’s head. Amble towards the cat. Learn new swear words.
  10. Poo more than four times in a day. Say ‘poo poo’ when you’re about to poo, but hold onto it when sat on the potty.
  11. Climb into bed at 3am, almost every morning, head butt your mum, then strangle her with your tiny arms. Cough in her face. Ask for water. A tissue. Don’t forget to kick Daddy. (I actually love this).
  12. Repeat, verbatim, threats and scolds you have heard repeatedly “MUMMY! THIS IS NOT OK!” “I WILL NOT LET YOU DO THIS!”

P.S. I’ve been absent. Sorry. Been preparing to deliver a kids’ book manuscript to a competition! Have also been running around like a madwoman trying to stop the riverstones, the pegs, the snot, the the the… See how we go from here. xx.

The lessons.

On Friday I said goodbye to someone I have known for about five years. When we sat down and quantified the time, I was shocked. FIVE YEARS. To put the significance of five years into perspective, let me highlight several key ‘fives’. The downstairs. For five years, I lived in my treasured downstairs flat, the first time I lived on my own, away from the controlling gaze of parents or the irritation of housemates (although, for the record, I think I was more irritable than they were irritating, mostly). That downstairs flat! What a great time in my life! I went to parties, design functions, procured and disposed of a boyfriend (or two), worked for my dream design studio (or two), made friends with the people whom I had only known as my heros, fed many friends over many dinners, met my annoying next boyfriend who turned into my husband (who knew?!), ahhhhh…I treasure those memories and look back with a wistful fondness for what I almost knowlingly took for granted. High school. Five years of secondary school where I met some of the friends I still have today and some of the teachers who cared about me and took the time to help me formulate an idea of who I might become. The years where I worked my guts out to ensure I was going to get the hell out and live the city life I craved without really knowing what I had been missing, but knowing there was more. Let’s be parents together — let’s shun alchool, coffee, parabens, preservatives, see a naturopath, a psychologist, a fertility doctor, an acupuncturist, start a business, close another business, get a ‘real’ job, start IVF, get pregnant, stay pregnant, haaaave the baby. BIG times. Moments in time which begin and end from the first day to the day when you can say it has been five years! FIVE YEARS! Somewhere in amongst those times, I met a woman who taught me some excellent ‘stuff’. And, on Friday, approximately 1, 825 days later, we said goodbye.

Shit.

Such a moment of disbelief (like the moment somebody says “it’s not you it’s me”, though this time it was believable). An end point, however, that helped me face the fact that I am a grown up now. I can do this. I’m all over it. Or, I will be soon. I promise.

So, do you want to know what I learned in five years? Here it is, in a nutshell. Worth every moment of gulping-for-air honesty, fearful of being found out, then relieved to have been and reassured I was still ok. Not ok—better. Here goes (deep breath):

  1. Notice what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. (Another wise woman once said to me “take up as much space in the world as you need to”.)
  2. Figure out what you want, then gently, but strongly, stand by it.
  3. “That won’t work for me” is enough. There is no need to explain.
  4. Breathe.
  5. Read poetry aloud.
  6. Be kind.
  7. Your husband, and children—your family—come first.
  8. Ask yourself at what personal cost does pleasing others come?
  9. Give yourself a break.
  10. Go on a holiday. A proper holiday.

Et, voila! My ten steps to living a less-than-perfect life. You are welcome. 

Any questions?

The trees have ears

I love snippets of conversation — listening in to other people’s lives, quietly, secretly. Is there a website for that? An archive of unconnected phrases, exclamations, ums and uh-huhs. “No she didn’t!”

I walk the paths of our neighbourhood, where many a mysterious, snippet of a one-sided mobile phone conversation was overheard: two women, earnestly walking through the minutiae of their day, their problems unleashed, now halved. A man, loudly bleating “he called, on my birthday, said ‘I love you’ (he’s never said he loves me), then doesn’t say ‘happy birthday’, then…”

I love the way people express themselves so freely, as if I am not listening in, silently judging, seeing how they measure up, how their lives compare to mine. I feel so unafraid of my own anxious mind when I hear that everyone else is dealing with the familiar awful boss, unscrupulous threat to suburbia, or inexplicable family upheaval.

The equality.

There are rainbows all over the internets and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Part of the smile comes from the simple happiness radiating from my Facebook — those rainbow profile pics are so fun! Changing my profile pic on Facebook to the transparent rainbow over a pic of me and my husband felt fun and easy to do and a simple way to send a signal and join in the fun. But, the reality of the situation only really sunk in when a friend of mine said,

I wonder if anyone realizes just how much a simple profile picture change means to those of us still hoping for equality. Thank you x

I thought about the people I know who are directly affected by the announcement that the USA Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal across the nation. There are those who are resolute in their decision that marriage is not for them; there are those who have been planning their weddings for a while now, hopeful that their fantasy will become a reality. Many of these people have been together for far longer than any marriages I have seen come and go. I smile as I think about these people, our friends, and realise that it’s not about whether a man should be allowed to marry a man, or a woman a woman — it’s about being two humans, choosing to lean into each other and shape a life, together.

Back in the glory days of a relatively new relationship, my husband and I decided, that marriage was for us. For me, it was an easy yes or no, will we or won’t we—and it was entirely up to us. It was almost automatic. Of course we’ll get married! We belong together! The only things we had to consider were what we were going to wear, what we were going to eat (the most important), and who we were going to invite! Imagine not being allowed to get caught up in the delight of planning a celebration of the love we had grown together! Inconceivable!

So, from where I sit, in my cosy, mundane, beautiful life, I sincerely hope that very soon, my Australian friends who love each other and who want to commit to each other in a legal and formal way, will be free to make that choice. Will they or won’t they? It really doesn’t matter. As long as they can be free to decide for themselves.

The anger.

Lack of sleep — it sounds so innocuous. How about sleep depravation — sounds a bit dramatic. As parents of two young kids, we hear both of these phrases spoken loudly, with pride, worn like a badge of honour, a competition over who has the worst life right now. Someone complains, someone nods knowingly, both secretly convinced that their own shit is the most annoying, the most exhausting, the most. THE most.

We ache in our heads, our fingertips, our backs and necks. Our eyes rasp under crackling lids, our teeth perched tenderly in tightly-bound jaws. There are snipped orders, snippy responses, half arsed pleas for forgiveness and underneath it all a perverse pleasure, knowing that we are fighting the good fight, being excellent parents, if not excellent partners. All this is based upon how much sleep we are NOT getting. The excellence in partnership awards will be handed out, with little glory, possibly in retrospect, when we realise we have survived. There is pride in knowing we haven’t already killed each other, to be honest. And perhaps, with badges gathering dust and memories fading, we will join the ranks of sympathetic cluckers who really can’t fathom the crushing weight of not being able to simply finish a task soon after starting.

Exhaustion is the thing which provides a framework for the rest of this story to reside in. A story about anger. Fury. Loathing (of self and others). Disbelief. But, the anger — it is a flash. A sickening fire from my belly to my heart, then straight back down again. It putters out. It rears back. It roars in my belly, burbling up from my gut, then my neck and out of my mouth like a long, colourful stream of a magician’s neverending kerchiefs. I haven’t felt such fury since the last time I was shocked to realise that despite my best efforts, somebody dared to be unhappy with me. It is so overwhelming that I can’t sleep. I find myself having fantasy conversations in the shower, imagining how three or four sentences will be heard, listened to and provide the magic little tweak, a creak which will be audible as their brain gets it: what I have offered is not a punishment, but a gift! How can you possibly see it any other way? Sigh. Poor me, right? Poor me. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to stop the ongoing diatribe in my head.

Actually, I do know. I know to take long deep breaths and notice those breaths. What they feel like, how they sound, how my nose twitches with the cold intake of breath, how my chest rises. For me, this is the answer. The only way to stop the claptrap in my over-thinking, over-scheming, over-dramatic head. Breathe until you notice a shift. And when it shifts back, breathe again*. And again. Remind myself that I am an adult. And, adults know that there is always an end, a new beginning, a way through the shit into a new moment, a new day and a new angle on a tired old relationship. My GP explained it beautifully the other day: when babies are sick, they don’t know it will end. They just feel miserable. At least as adults, when we feel miserable, we can hold onto the knowledge that at some point, even if that moment is imperceptible, there will come an end.

*May I add, this is really, really hard when you’re angry. 🙂 Much easier when you’re sad.

Then this happened…

The kid just realised he can get himself out of his new bed. I heard a loud crash In the playroom downstairs (not his head) and almost expired with fright. Raced downstairs to big eyes in an angelic head just playing with his trains like it was no biggie. 37 times back in bed, out again, back in bed, out again, etc etc… Many protracted requests for water and offers of medicine cos daddy is sick… The kid has inherited my procrastination gene and his father’s determination to succeed. #wearesoproud #unexpectedlyripsnortinghilarious #tryingnotolaughhurts #alot