Monthly Archives: April 2014

I Hope You Like Your Job

Vintage Office Worker

I started the blog post I had set for this week. It was about using some of the creativity techniques I talk about to find joy in your workplace. I’ve decided to scrap it. No matter how I approached it, it felt inauthentic.

The truth is that I have never been so unlucky as to have to stay in a job I didn’t like. Over my career/s I have worked in theater and film, in retail (both enjoyable and not) and as a waitress. I’ve been a canvasser for an environmental group, a junior executive in a fashion company, and a skin care product demonstrator. I’ve worked in offices as a temp and as an administrative assistant connected with desktop publishing. I’ve been freelance, and I’ve been salaried.

The worst job I ever had was when I worked as telemarketer, setting appointments for the sales reps (horrible people at least in the office). Darkest two weeks of my working life! Best job? Not counting parenting, or my current life, it’s hard to say. My time as the Resident Designer and Technical Director of a small theater company in Sydney ranks right up there, as does every movie I ever worked on.

So other than that nasty two weeks, my working life has been pretty closely aligned with my core principles. It’s been either highly creative, or had a nice service orientation. I haven’t always been fabulous at my job, but I’ve never been miserable. Bored at times (the junior executive in charge of the mail order department was frustrating because it seemed like I never got ahead of the orders or returns – and it was just me, alone all day long.)

So I don’t really have a baseline of experience for giving anyone advice about how to bring creative thinking to bear in finding ways to be happy in work that doesn’t thrill you. I found articles about why people don’t enjoy their work, and strategies for quitting elegantly, or seeking new jobs.

Despite what people may believe about themselves, they DO have a wellspring of creative, original thinking inside that they can tap. We are all born enthusiastically keen to learn and discover, and solve our problems – babies are relentless experimenters, applying trial and error repeatedly, endlessly curious. That ability to make new connections that lead to insights is still inside all of us.

Creativity is not just for the arts. Creative thinking is problem-solving-thinking. One could argue that the “problem” in the arts is how to express ideas in emotionally engaging ways. It’s been a way of life for me, for so long, to design, to write, to make – and to know that even if someone was hard to deal with (that awful director that time!) it was only temporary.

I honestly don’t know how to help someone who feels endlessly trapped in their job, who doesn’t have the wherewithal to leave, perhaps because of their responsibilities like their family and home. I’ve always been able to escape, to find something better, to find work where I was truly happy. Indeed I continue to be truly happy as a writer, even if I do make wrong turns into literary cul-de-sacs every now and then.

Families are forever layout

Nothing to complain about.

So this week, no tweets with ideas for implementing anything in the theme – just tremendous gratitude for having followed a circuitous working path and generally having a great time.

Creative thinking Meditation Garden

Five Questions to Start Your Memoirs

Hong Kong Memories 001 (640x639)


My mother had led a fascinating life. It was full of travel to exotic places and strange coincidences. Whenever she told a story, people were amazed. Over and over again people made the same suggestion: “You should write your memoirs”.

My mother-in-law led a fascinating life. It too was full of travel to (different) exotic places, with extraordinary adventures. Her life too was full of remarkable meetings, and adventures.

Both these women were the same age, and both are gone now. They lived through a period of time when pretty much the whole world changed. From being young girls during WWII, to seeing the start of the atomic age, the Cold War (my mother took me behind the Iron Curtain when I was a toddler – now there’s a story), the worldwide eradication of smallpox, and the rise of new media. When these two mothers, living on opposite sides of the world, were young hardly anyone had a television in their home, and if you wanted to contact someone in a hurry you looked for a phone booth or sent them a telegram.

Scrapbook layout - The Long Story

Scrapbooking – my mother and I in 1970

In my own living memory there have been just as many miracles. That Iron Curtain – once such a huge part of how the world worked – is gone, as is apartheid. When I went to school we were told we would not always have a calculator in our pocket, but now not only do I carry a calculator, but a stopwatch, a television, a comprehensive road map, a typewriter, an encyclopedia, and a computer with more computation power than was on the Apollo moon landers – in my pocket. If I want to contact someone in a hurry, I send them a text.

My daughter is growing up in a world where information is at her fingertips. She can stay almost as connected with her friends that live across the world, as she did when they lived across the courtyard.

As much as I love science fiction, and the predictive powers of futurists, there really is no way to tell how the world will change further in my lifetime. Where are the flying cars we were promised, eh? Still, if we don’t tell the stories of the past, our stories of how we lived and how our world changed, the fascinating information will be lost. My mother never did write those memoirs, and there is so much more I would like to know about her life.

Memoir vs Biography

A biography is the usually chronological telling of a person’s life story, usually the whole thing.

A Memoir is the story, with usual story structure (beginning, middle, end) of a particular event or period in a person’s life. The sequence of events in one period of the life might be linked by a recurring theme, or the natural bracket might be the beginning and end of an event. The time my mother spent travelling in Asia could be told as a memoir. “84, Charing Cross Road” is a memoir about the author’s connection with that bookstore over many years. Other events in her life are alluded to, but are not the focus. Added together a bunch of memoirs can become chapters in an autobiography.

A biography can be a big undertaking – I know, I’m working on one right now – with lots of research. Memoirs can be much smaller, worked on in manageable chunks. The editing into a “volume” of some kind can come later.

In getting started you might have a theme in mind already. This could be something that you want to record for posterity, or an expression of your hopes or deeply held beliefs. You might keep a journal, and have a wealth of material ready to collate. You might never have kept a diary for a minute, and rely on your memory and repetition of old stories. Memory does funny things, turning a whole period of time to a sequence of moments, flashes,  a montage with the transitions gone.

Practical Matters

How will you do this writing? My husband prefers dictation. He speaks his stories into a recorder for transcription later. That is fast, by the way. Other people prefer to type directly, or even write by hand. Making notes in a journal in point form, or description are a good start. I like to type.

The Questions

If writing memoirs seems daunting, perhaps these five questions can help you get started.

1. What are the most significant events or moments in your life?

I encourage you to start easy – with the familiar stories that come out at family gatherings. Or perhaps the big events – your wedding, the birth story of your child – see where these lead. Try mind storming, look for the links between events.

2. What happened?

Simple, isn’t it? Start with the events. Record who else was part of them.

3. How did I get to that point?

The background may become the story. Why you were there? Memoirs are less concerned with hard facts, dates or addresses, and more with your recollections, feelings and reactions. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t double check your dates, but if the information about which flight I took to Tahiti is not available, that doesn’t really matter in the story of my year spent there.

4. What happened next?

Perhaps you will find a link to the next story this way.

5. What have you kept hidden?

There might be an unpleasant moment or annoying relative who always turned up at these things. In writing a memoir, you don’t have to tell the world, but you should tell the truth to yourself. My mother kept many secrets, of which I know only a few. Some were burdens, other were made trivial by the passage of time. She might have felt freer had she written about them somewhere, even if she burnt it later.

On the other hand, sometimes you just forget things until you start writing.

Write your memoirs

Please share this linked image!

Memoirs I Love


If you find these questions useful, please let me know. I don’t have comments here (due to ridiculous amounts of spam) but I’m on Facebook or here’s a contact box:

Purging – Out With The Old

Candlesticks plates books and more

After discovering how much stuff my late mother-in-law had kept, I have become extra diligent about regularly purging my art materials stash. It’s not easy!

But it is an issue very close to my heart this very month, because despite moving house I still find I don’t have a large enough space in my new workshop to keep everything I have, and still have space to actually work. I’ve already donated some of my large quantities of yardage – finally admitting to myself that I was never going to make anything out of that oversized linen plaid, or the grey pinstripe poly jersey.

I kept many fabrics because I inherited them from my mother or was gifted by my mother-in-law. Many of them are beautiful and useful for my mixed-media pieces and art dolls – especially those with small scale prints. But some of them are just awful – either ugly, worn out or nasty materials.

Conversely I was holding on to a lot of fabrics that were gorgeous drapes or bedding – too nice as they are, too good, possibly even valuable. I will never cut them up. So it is better to sell them, or release them to the universe for someone who will love them.

It has been very freeing – the primary advantage to purging. Freeing both practically – of the space in my workshop – and emotionally. With every item that leaves my space, I feel lighter.

Creative advantages to purges

  • Inspiration

Chances are the job will take some time. Being immersed in your materials will almost certainly spark ideas. But so will removing all kinds of obsolete items from your home and life. Old clothes that no longer fit when removed allow you to be more creative with those that are left.

  • Clarity

I find I can see what I have, when all the extra stuff is removed. The act of gathering, sorting and making decisions helps to see relationships between materials. Is there a great preponderance of one color or aesthetic preference? More importantly do I still respond to that color with excitement and a flow of ideas?

  • Intention

I mentioned “the act of gathering, sorting and making decisions”. This process has a different energy when the intention is to purge and clear, rather than just to organize.

It helps to define your underlying intention, deeper than just making room or being tidy. Is it to make a fresh start, create a place of peace, or break a creative block? For me it’s the fresh start, and the joy of a simplified, minimalist space.

  • Focus

I find myself reenergized by purging and ready to devote laser attention to specific projects. It is a great time to make those lists of new ideas.

  • Rediscovery!

All those buried things you had forgotten about are waiting to inspire you again.


Reasons not to purge

  • Your stuff is unique.

The one thing I was sorry to have sent to the Goodwill was a vintage leopard print cotton corduroy coat. To be sure it wouldn’t fit me now, but I missed it at the time. It was very unusual, from being vintage.

If your stuff is genuinely unique, then be cautious. But the truth is most things are replaceable.

  • Commercial appeal – you do (or plan to do) commissions

Sometimes you need to keep more than you plan to use in the near future because you work on commissions. Ask yourself if the utility of keeping stuff around for a possible commission, especially if it doesn’t appeal to your own artistic aesthetic, is worth the space it is using.

  • HALT – Hungry, angry, lonely, tired

No one makes good decisions at three in the morning. Frustration can be a great creative catalyst – because a big part of creativity is finding novel solutions to problems.

However starting to toss things out because you have become angry at the stuff might lead to remorse later. The solution: put the stuff you are planning to discard into boxes (better living through labels!) and then revisit your decisions in the morning light, after sleep and a pleasant meal.

  • It’s not YOUR stuff

Not everyone reaches the same place of wanting to let go of souvenirs from their past at the same time. This applies to spouses, roommates and children just as much as to yourself.

I know there are many parents who insist that their children make regular purges of their old stuff, regardless of whether the kids are ready, but I discourage that. Most of the time the kids have no choice in the matter. Once when I arrived at my grandparents’ for my annual visit, they had decided to throw away my (tiny – one small drawer) comic collection. I was outraged then – I’m still indignant. It really hammered home that it wasn’t my home, and my stuff was not my own. Plus it made it very clear that I couldn’t trust them. Absolute disempowerment!

We want our purges to be empowering. My  daughter, after years of not wanting to let go of anything, has suddenly grown up enough to start making wholesale donations of her old toys, even ones that she loved. This willingness has coincided with an upsurge in new drawings, writing and reading, and a more mature sensibility to her interests.


  • “But I might need it”

This is true. You might. But how likely is that, especially if the item has not been inspiring up until now? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. It is part of a general aesthetic, or similar to other ongoing projects? I keep beads and charms because I will always use them on dolls. However I have plenty of paper sheets that I know I won’t use in the forseeable future.
  2. Why did I buy or acquire this in the first place? Was it for something specific that is still relevant to your creative life, or was it part of a box or job lot (or in my case a paper stack) or a gift/donation?
  3. Do I love it? Sometimes beautiful things need no other justification. But just meh? Toss!
  4. Do I need another hobby/art form/tv series to watch/passion? The answer for me is “no”. Much as I enjoy needlepoint, which was one of my mother’s enthusiasms, I am never going to devote my limited time to finishing all those tapestry kits. I must let them go.

The truth is, that unless something is rare and valuable – unique, OOAK, vintage or collectible – you CAN get another if you find you need it. And it will take a long time before something old becomes the much cooler “retro”.

  • Clutter Blindness

At its worst, this is a mental condition, part of the spectrum of issues that affect genuine hoarders, where a person literally does not notice clutter building. They step over the pile of papers or stack of cups, weave around the boxes and shoes without making any kind of judgment that the stuff is out of place. It’s a kind of dysmorphic vision of space, much like people with eating disorders have body dysmorphia where the view in their mirror is not accurate. It can come on gradually too.

Assuming you are not an actual compulsive hoarder, which brings with it a host of emotional issues and often includes keeping actual trash, the best way around everyday minor clutter blindness, is to take photos of your space. The amount of stuff that your eye can slide over easily, becomes very clear in a photo.

  • “I spent so much on it”

It can be hard to throw away something when you remember how much it cost to purchase, especially if it was expensive but is now on sale. You have a feeling that you have invested in it, so it seems a shame to waste that money.

It’s very similar to the feeling that you have already spent so much time trying to fix your broken pipe, that it would waste all that work if you gave up (gave in) and called the plumber. It’s the “we’ve come this far” argument.

It is a false belief. Going further down the wrong road takes you further from your destination. It’s not a real investment if there is no return.

  • Overwhelm – too much

If there is just so much stuff, it is hard to get started. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Here’s how I’m doing it:

  1. I started with the largest boxes – because I knew they contained the large yardages and drapes.
  2. I use my folding tables as staging areas to help sort and categorize my things. They are relatively small, so when they are full, I clear them completely either by putting things away, or putting them in the “out box”.
  3. I start by putting away the things that I definitely want to keep, such as my sewing machine, electronic die cutter, beads and notions. You should always put the big stones in the jar, and then pour in the small pebbles.
  4. A little each day. The other day I had to actually hire a guy with a truck to haul stuff to the Goodwill.
  • Storage space

It is a great irony, that we kept stuff for 15 or so years, that we have only now donated, sold or discarded, just because we had a place to keep it. If only we had made the decision to put a limit on the size of our storage unit, instead of getting larger ones, we might have saved not only considerable money, but time later.

More stuff on shelves

More stored stuff.

I believe that having a self-storage unit contributed to the sense I had that everything in my life was temporary. It prevented me from really committing to our old apartment as my home. I was always expecting to move. I didn’t make certain changes or upgrades that would have contributed to our comfort, because I had that temporary “for now” feeling – and that feeling went on for 16.5 years. That’s not temporary.

Now in our new house, whenever there has been some grumblings about the idea of getting a storage unit, I remind everyone – the stuff expands to fill the space available. We will only end up holding on to stuff we don’t actually need or want. It will cost us money, and it will cost me the sense of home that is starting to grow in my heart. Ironically it will cost us the freedom born of stability and security, that finally having a home of our own has given us.

 ….In with the New!

This is the other half of the phrase, isn’t it? The joy of being able to bring new things, for your newest interests and projects, new inspiration, new gadgets, new solutions. Fresh new paper and fabrics – oh wonderful.

*If you suspect that you have a problem with hoarding, in that your stuff is interfering with a joyous life, and you keep your home a secret, please seek help. Here are some links.

The International OCD Foundation

Help For Hoarders – UK

Oprah’s How to Stop Hoarding page

Here’s a study participation opportunity

Purging Creativity Blast

Design Principle – Repetition

Giant Macramé

Looking out the window at CAFAM

In the past months I have written about the Elements of Design. Now I am starting on the Principles of Design – which may act on all the Elements to create meaning.

For a very nice summary of both the Principles and Elements, I rather like Annie Borges’  two posters. I especially like how her definitions show relationships between Principles. Actually discussing them separately is tough, just as it is hard to discuss Elements in isolation (eg line creates shape).

Repetition is the first I want to tackle, mostly because it is very easy to see and use. Repetition creates texture, rhythm or emphasis. Repetition can alter something completely, and works closely with Symmetry and Balance.


Think of Repetition in music – the way the chorus repeats, the return to the melody line after a bridge, repetition of lyrics (“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…”) that engender enjoyment and participation. Of course repetition can go too far and become silly or boring (“Friday, Friday, Friday….” …etc…)

Poetry – repetition gives rhythm and unity. It helps build the emotion – especially when it is read aloud.

For example in her poems Maya Angelou often repeats phrases in a kind of chorus. I especially love “Still I Rise” for that. Sometimes it is more subtle, within the vowel sounds.

Repetition in Nature

Consider honeycomb, feathers, leaves and fur. Consider atoms. Consider galaxies. Consider genes.

The repetitive work of bees

Repetitions of the same building blocks to create recognizable forms.

Visual Repetition

Rather apropos of this topic, I visited the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Sunday. All three of the current exhibits, as well as the window display of oversized macramé, specifically referenced Repetition as an important aspect of the works.

19,275 Stamps

Part of Shirley Familian’s exhibit

First I was thrilled by Shirley Familian’s Stamp Art, where she uses multiple postage stamps to create repeating patterns. The images on the stamps themselves become subsumed by the overall pattern, but still invite close examination. I read that she catalogs and counts all the stamps that she uses. Some of her work resembles mandalas, while others are witty because of the underlying object.

Lipstick on Your Collar by Shirley Familian

Lipstick on Your Collar by Shirley Familian

Upstairs the exhibit Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin intentionally explores “repetitious gestures” and “the repetitive labor that both artists employ”. They use pinning and stitches taken from art quilting with photographic images to build very thoughtful works. One of their interests is Ayeneh Kari – or Persian Mirror work – using multiple tiny mirrors in the decoration of Iranian buildings. Mirrors symbolize hope in the Iranian culture.

Finally a retrospective of mixed media artist Timothy Washington’s body of work showed repetition in his use of motif, material and forms, as well as recurring themes about the body and race.

In all of these exhibits Repetition was more than just a tool for expression, but one of the most integral parts of the works.

Using Repetition

A single shape may be repeated to create a texture or pattern. A whole image may be repeated to create a Warhol. Repeated images or elements in a design become a motif. Another way to include repetition is to have multiples of the same shape but in different scales.

In a composition, balance is often created with repetition of color, especially in a triangle.

Pieter Breugel – The Peasant Wedding. c 1568

Knitting and crochet create a whole design by sequential repetition of stitches. I find the repetitive movement of crochet and loom knitting to be soothing and meditative.

Repeating lines create shadow and density. Engravings depend on repeated lines.

Repetition as Action – Practice

In most creative endeavors, the repetition of practice helps us improve our ability to express our creative thinking. Most things get easier with practice, and we hope get better too.

As with so many of the Elements of Design, and now the Principles, once you start looking for them, they appear everywhere.

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