Fling 2017 – a return to my magical self

Burlesque Jems at the Fling Festival 2017 | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

My first Fling festival was in 2011, and still stands out as one of the most magical experiences of my life.

My first performance there was with my troupe Paper Dolls Burlesque in 2013, running a tent, performing and getting people to dress up and do burlesque themed crafting.

It’s moved to Hylands now (same site as V festival), grown hugely and developed into a proper festival you can camp at, not just a one day extravaganza.

This year I performed with the Burlesque Jems, and was also their photographer for the day, capturing their performances and a few sneaky portraits too.

I made a last-minute mermaid bra so I could mermaid-burlesque (merlesque?!) and it was just a wonderful day – the most myself I’ve felt since before Dad went into hospital. It was amazing to merge two of my alter egos (Lotta Fiero and Kerenza Sapphire), brilliant to be back on stage, scary but eventually great to be out and about with my camera, and wonderfully indulgent to leave my worries and sadness behind and throw myself into festival life for a few hours.

Also, what better example of a multipod in action than photographing and performing all on the same day?

I had forgotten how much of a workout dancing and photography are though – my Sunday has been exceptionally gentle!

Here are a few of the photos – the rest will pop up over at Carla Watkins Photography and Burlesque Jems in the coming weeks.

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

A whole year has passed, and this one so full of enormous and life changing events I don’t even know where to start.

The first and most obvious was buying my house – after endless viewings of places that were either too big, too small, too expensive or in the wrong place, the truth leapt out at me that the house I was renting was the place I loved most in the world. It was home for my kitties and me, and it was just right for the three of us, if in need of a bit of modernising.

So I asked my lovely landlord if buying this house was a possibility, and a few months later, we completed the sale. Then the most whirlwind few months of my life began – with the help of my parents and some bloody brilliant trades, I took down trees, changed the entire inside layout of the house, stripped and redid the wiring and plumbing, had a new kitchen, most of a new bathroom (I put a new bath panel in but left the bath & tiling – it’s already pale blue from my hair dye so figured there was no point buying a shiny new white one to dye that blue too…!), carpets, furniture, a sofa, a new mattress, a new base because I bought a heavy mattress… you name it, I think I’ve done it in the last four months.

In that time, I also moved back in with my parents for five weeks (I can cope without heating or internet but not without either), lost and found (but didn’t really lose, she’s just good at hiding) Clover-kitty, laughed, cried, rediscovered how much I love DIY and my overalls, found out I hate painting after the novelty has worn off, and got rid of a good 50% of what I owned.

Luna, Clover and I moved back in on October 10th, and though at that point I didn’t have flooring, a sofa or a proper bed, it was wonderful to be home. Now everything is more or less finished and it’s just the last lot of unpacking and the garden & studio to go, I am overcome every morning that this is my home, my permanent home, my kitties’ forever home – that it’s so beautiful, and it’s ours, and we get to stay.

There’s a profound change in mindset when you go from renting to owning, and it seems more pronounced for me here as it’s the same house I’ve lived in for a few years. It’s funny how protective I suddenly am of my carpet now I know I’ve paid for it and will have to replace it if anything happens! It’s been the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and in a weird way it’s also only just started – having sorted out the basics, I can now focus on decor, furnishings, fabrics, art and really putting my stamp on it. Eeeee!

So it’s also been the year I’ve put down roots – I have amazing friends locally for the first time since I left uni, and they are a wonderful addition to my far-flung friends, who I think now span every corner of the world!

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The undisputed highlight of this year was the trip to Texas to see Alan Jackson play live. I still can’t believe we got tickets, and such good tickets – we were right at the front, he was no further away than the length of my living room. I’ve rarely been so emotional, and it really was the trip and the gig of a lifetime – and a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see him play live, and I’m so very glad to have been able to do it with both Mum & Dad with me.

The rest of the trip was incredible too – it was utterly lovely to catch up with all our friends over there. And I’ve found somewhere else in Texas that I could happily call home. I’ll always love Fort Worth, but the island of Galveston, with sea, sand and shops called The Witchery and The Naked Mermaid stole a little piece of my heart. I’ll go back one day…

My businesses have been a bit quieter in the second half of the year – partly because of the house, and partly because I finally got out of my own way and allowed myself to explore the possibility of making photography part of my business model. It’s my first love, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly accompanied by a camera. As part of that shift and commitment, I have joined Shining Lights, an ongoing mentoring programme for creatives that started out specifically for female photographers. I joined in November this year and it has been transformative already. I’ve also booked a one to one day with my favourite photographer, Kerrie Mitchell – it’s in March and I’m already overexcited! I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Unfurling Your Wings was officially born this year after 18 months of dreaming, writing and rewriting.  22 brave ladies worked through the first ever live course, sharing insights and connection, and generally humbling me with the way they handled some quite big life shifts. I’m now making tweaks following their brilliant feedback, and will be launching properly later next year. This year, as I’m blatantly not going to get round to publishing this post till after midnight!

I have a new venture (well, several actually – when don’t I have new projects on the go?!) and the stock from the shop here will shortly be moving over to the Unicornery, which will launch in Spring/Summer 2016 with unicorns, mermaids and mythical, magical goodness galore!

I did manage a three day business retreat with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, down in Wincanton for the weekend that Hogswatch would have been.  We’re agreed that it was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our businesses – getting away from real life and all the endless things that need to be done when you’re in your own home, escaping to where nobody knew us, and spending three whole days working on our directions, our ideas, our thoughts and dreams and hopes. With a healthy dose of common sense from the other, because both of us can get carried away on occasion!

Out of that I found myself ditching some domains and blogs I no longer use (goodbye, Letters from my Twenties, Girl Meets Van and the Website Beautician), and simplifying and clarifying what I do have, so they fit with my new direction. Which is awesome.

Ink Drops continues to thrive, selling out two to three months in advance, as I write. Turns out there are a lot of stationery addicts like us out there! I love it so much, and I’m so excited to grow our little company in 2016.

I’m feeling more fired up about my businesses than I have been for ages, and I am determined that 2016 is the year I make some really big steps forward!

Kitteny cats and other pets.

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Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

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In sad animal news, this year we lost my beloved Harriet, who got me through so much pain and heartache when I first moved to Essex. I credit her with keeping me sane and alive on my worst days, and though she isn’t my own dog, she’s left a border collie shaped hole in my heart that no animal will ever be able to fill. I’m immensely grateful for a random series of events in September which meant that I got to spend an hour or so snuggled with her on the forbidden sofa for belly rubs before the rest of the household woke up, and which turned out to be the last time I ever saw my gorgeous girl.

My lovely friend Lizzie also lost her wonderful cat Mr M in December – he was one of my favourite ever cats and he is very much missed. <3

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

I had a steampunk and fae alter ego shoot with the fabulous Grace Hill earlier in the year, and introduced my steampunk gypsy alter ego, Petronella ‘Nell’ Blythe Merriman, to the world; there were unicorns aplenty, including an incredible cross stitched one by Sarah; and I finally got my longed for mermaid tail. I’m taking it for a spin on Monday – and I hope to add mermaiding to my income streams as well as keep it as a hobby.

I tried (and loved, despite the bruises) hula hooping with Anna the Hulagan, returned to line dancing, and I took up regular burlesque again as the Jems brought a class to Colchester, yay! I’ve cross stitched and coloured in, tried my hand at NaNoWriMo (I’m still shit at writing fiction but I really enjoy the challenge) and our Crafty Coffee group has grown. I met up and shot with the Colchester photographers’ group, and 2016 holds a writers’ meetup and a photography group at work, too.

2015 has been the year I have properly embraced single-at-heart. I didn’t actually know it was a thing until relatively recently, but oh, god, the relief of finding hundreds of other people in the world who just aren’t that bothered about finding love – like me, they’re too busy with their lives and business and animals and friends. And the concept of your primary relationship being with yourself, always – I can’t begin to describe how much that resonated. Though I’m sure I’ll waffle about it on here at times. I love my life, and I especially love my freedom. It can take some explaining, as people tend to assume that if you’re single, you’re looking for a man, even when you assure them you’re not – but it’s lovely to have found a niche at last.

Perhaps that’s part of being nearly 30… I feel like I’ve spent the last decade searching for where I fit and belong, and where I proudly stand out, and what I really want out of life. If that’s the case, I’m extra excited for my thirties!!

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Family and friends – this year would have been completely impossible if not for my incredible parents. My house is a monument of their love for me – from them being there every day to project manage, to diving in and doing the DIY despite their health issues, to housing me and the kitties for far longer than they expected without a murmur of protest, they have made my dream life leap closer and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my gratitude into words. (Though I’ve tried, with a Spotify subscription, C2C tickets for March and a yet-to-be-chosen treat for Mum, plus lots of Christmas presents).

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We also had Christmas at my house this year which was really lovely – though we escaped to my favourite pub for actual lunch, it was so good to host in the house we’d worked so hard on!

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I’ve not seen as much of Gran as I normally do because the house took up every waking moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing her more regularly next year. Here we are in the summer – she takes a great selfie!

I am now the proud cousin of 43 and one on the way – and my eldest odd-daughter (we’re not religious and we prefer odd-daughter and odd-parent to goddaughter and godparent) and her other half have acquired an adorable puppy called Dexter. He’s a puggle. He is ridiculous and glorious. My middle odd-daughter is starting to visit universities and my youngest is halfway through GCSEs. I suddenly feel almost like a grown up- albeit one who swims like a mermaid, wears wings and fervently believes in unicorns. The rest of my extended family is as fabulous as ever, though my aunt and I have been hilariously successfully booking and cancelling lunch with each other for months as life conspires against us… perhaps 2016 will be our year?!

My gorgeous friends. The old and the new, the geographically distant and the ones just up the road. I’d be lost without you and I love you all. There have definitely been some shifts in my friendships over the last few years, as we’ve all grown into ourselves and started building our lives – hopefully the lives we dreamed of. There have been some drifts and some unexpected reunions, some people I get on far better with now than I did growing up, and some whose lives are so different now that though we love each other, we don’t have a lot in common any more.

There are always the people who, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, even if that’s counted in years rather than months, always feel like I saw them yesterday, and we pick up just where we left off. And then there are my new friends, who have all solidified from acquaintances this year. As always, when I click with new people, I rapidly can’t imagine life without them. I’ve not managed to scare any of them off (yet)! And all of them, old and new, feel like blessings.

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Two of my best friends got married this year – one in May, one in March. I was bridesmaid at one and photographer and witness at the other, and oh, it was so wonderful to see two of the girls I love the most formalise their relationships with their frankly awesome men. I’m proud to have them both as honorary brothers in law.

One of my gorgeous uni girls had a baby in November, a seismic shift but a good one for our university group. More or less everyone my age is getting engaged or married, including my first love – we must be getting old! I am delighted for them all but a bit nervous about how I fit eight weddings in next year and possibly more in 2017. My sister-by-choice is pregnant and due in January – I’m unbelievably excited but also apprehensive, as though nothing could ever hurt our friendship, children do change things.

There has been a rash of house buying too – we must be at that age, all of a sudden. But I’m very much looking forward to a 2016 full of weekends away, at weddings, at hen gatherings and at people’s new homes.

Work wise, I passed the three year mark at the university – I have never in my life stayed in a job more than 21 months at the outside, so this was a major milestone.  Having panicked a bit and then realised my panicking was just habit, I’ve come to the conclusion that because I have an incredible amount of freedom on campus, to work how and where best suits me, I’m not finding it as restraining and draining as my previous jobs have been.

I think I’ve also started feeling differently about my day job since I agreed the sale of the house – suddenly regular income has a lot more appeal than it used to! And the people at work are amazing… it never ceases to astound me how lovely it is to find likeminded people who get me, who think like me and who accept me heart and soul for who I am. Mermaiding obsessions and all!

The day job highlights have to be the day the Comms office called me to say they’d saved some newspaper clippings of me in my knickers (promoting the new burlesque classes) and the sheer enthusiasm that followed the stunned silence when I told my team I was phoning our leisure centre to get permission to swim in my mermaid tail. I can’t begin to express how much it means that I work with people who understand how important everything out of work is!

There has been so much more to this year, and intriguingly this isn’t the post I thought I was going to write – but it’s an apt summary of one of the most rollercoaster years I’ve had. I hope that 2016 is just as epic but a little calmer – I’d like to have some time to breathe without worrying about what I’ve missed, not done or am getting behind on.

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As a final note, my words for 2015 were Freedom, Magic and Simplicity. I think I’ve achieved them all in spades – and they all helped in all sorts of unexpected ways. Simplicity especially, as in January I had no intention of buying a house, but by August I had – and in packing everything up so I could renovate, keeping a focus on the simplicity I craved but had never mastered made it much easier to get rid of stuff. It’s also making it easier to unpack and be very selective about what makes it back into my house from the garage.

There is always magic in my life, but far more so now I have my own house. And I think more than a little magic is in my mermaid tail and my friendships, my family and my kitties being safe and sound despite their tendency to get into mischief. I’ve found the magic of belonging and of finding my place in the world – the home I want to live in for a long time to come, and also greater clarity in my businesses and projects than I’ve ever had before. The confidence I’ve found in my photography after a decade of fear is also nothing short of pure magic. (or PFM, as my Dad would say).

Freedom… has come to me in an unexpected way. I don’t have the full self employed freedom I always thought I wanted, and do still eventually want. What I have instead is a steady income with an amazing manager who understands that I work best when I’m not cooped up – so I can work wherever and whenever is best for me as long as I’m on campus during the working day. Which is fine by me. I suddenly have freedom from renting and the security that comes from making payments towards your own place – sounds odd I know, but it makes such a difference to how I feel. And for the first time in my life I have better control over my money and no debt except for the house – which is giving me unprecedented creative freedom, as I stop wasting energy worrying about my overdraft and instead pour it into my imagination.

And on that note, I’m off to work through Unravelling and Leonie’s planners, and get my bullet journal sorted for next year… and think about what words I want to fuel my 2016.

Happy new year, my loves – congratulations if you read this far, and thank you, always, for reading at all. I can’t imagine my life without blogging and while I’d do it anyway, you guys are the best reason to keep showing up and waffling into my keyboard.

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

A staycation and a surprise decision (well, two)

Excitingly and a little unexpectedly, I think it’s now safe to announce I’m nearing the end of the process of buying my house! SQUEEEEE! I’m delighted not to be moving, and I love this house and the life I’ve built around it, so I’m very happy to be staying.

More on what promises to be the biggest and best creative project of my life so far when all the legalities are completed and it’s actually mine 🙂

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However, this decision indirectly ended up leading to one of the best holidays I’ve had in ages – my staycation! A word introduced to me by an American friend of mine, it describes the time-off-work-but-not-going-away type of holiday rather nicely, I think.

I’d booked the week off thinking I’d head up to the Lake District for a photography holiday, or possibly across to France for a jewellery making holiday (both high on my wishlist at the moment!). But with the hottest week of the year predicted and house completion looming, instead I stayed at home, saw friends, pottered in my garden and started packing boxes up ready for renovating the downstairs part of the house – and I had a wonderful time!

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As any of you who have emailed me recently will know, I’ve barely been near my computer all week – and oh, how wonderful that’s been.

Spending time in my business – making the flurry of custom bracelet orders, packing delights from the shop up for people all over the world, reviewing the first draft of Unfurling Your Wings ready for the beta round in August.

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Spending time on my business – sorting out my filofax, arranging a day to go through my accounts with my VA, rejigging my plans and goals and directions, and brainstorming new things with wonderful likeminded solopreneurs. And trying and failing (again) to implement an editorial calendar. I really do prefer writing and posting when the mood takes me 🙂

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Spending time in my life (which I am trying to do far more often) – having breakfast in the garden (and eating cake for breakfast), drinking Prosecco in a secret garden in London, a burlesque workshop and a festival, playing with costumes, reading three books in a day before I consent to getting out of bed, cups of tea and putting the world to rights with my Gran… all of the things I love but so rarely seem to have time for in my life lately.

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And spending time on my life – reviewing my dreams, directions, goals, and working out how best to move in those directions. Writing, photographing, musing and walking. Playing with my Wild Unknown deck, musing over the meanings of the cards I’ve drawn. And, because I’m the list queen, making checklists so I actually do the things that are important to me each day, week and month.
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The biggest and most concrete realisation of this pottering, journalling, meditating and generally giving myself room to breathe has been that I want to keep this day job as part of my portfolio for much longer than I had initially planned. Yes, I was surprised too.

The grand plan was to do two years and then shift gracefully into working for myself full time.

And then I adopted my beloved kittens, bought a house and maybe most significantly, made real friends through work. And now I find I’m reluctant to leave the place where I see those people each day, where the work is varied and interesting and I have lots of autonomy and flexibility, while still being able to switch off when I leave the office.

Though I still hate the concept of the 9-5 and the insistence of organisations that employees be in a specific place at specific times, rather than assigning work and letting us get on with it whenever and wherever is best for us, I think I’d be very sad to leave this particular day job (or at least, the people in it) behind just yet.

Longer term I definitely still want total control over where and when I work – yet I’m reluctant to plan more specifically than a general direction to move in, because who knows where I will be and what I’ll be doing in a year’s time, never mind in five or ten years?!

So the biggest result of my staycation (brain-cation?!) is that now my short and mid-term plans involve growing my businesses in a slightly different way, so they’re entirely flexible, and then when I reach the point where it’s financially possible, I can shift the balance.

Part time instead of full time at the day job, and at least half of my time spent on my own ventures and projects. I can see the balance I want very clearly…

Likeminded people, and a beautiful campus, and a flexible but challenging job. Structure, and an office to go into when I need or want to, and watercooler moments with lovely colleagues.

A thriving business which helps women step into their own power and live the lives they’ve dreamed of. Another thriving business which connects stationery lovers and their longing for a simpler, slower, more organised life (and just happens to supply beautiful stationery as well).

And plenty of time for new projects and classes, for making and experimenting and reading and learning new skills. For spending with my friends and family. For entertaining in the house and garden of my dreams, and for relaxing there in my own personal sanctuary. For movement to be built into my life and for stillness and quiet to be as present as noise and being busy.

Not at all what I expected or planned when I quit London for a portfolio career – but intriguingly, it feels exactly right for where I am and what I want right now.

Who knew?

With love and unicorns,

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Approaching 29

Seven weeks into 2015, and just a few hours from my 29th birthday.

I’m not one to get overly hung up on ages and dates, but I did get a bit of a shock at Christmas when I showed my cousin my 30 for 30 list, and blithely declared I had 25 months left to do it all in. She swiftly pointed out that a) maths clearly isn’t my strong point and b) I had 13 months left, not 25.

Oops.

That list rapidly became ‘daydreams to do’, because my 29th year is already packed full of wonder – there are some things on that list I know I will do in my life, but I also know I won’t do this year – I don’t want to squish in all the experiences, I want to have time to anticipate and then savour each one.

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So what have I learned, in my almost 29 years on the planet? Here’s a list, in no particular order:

Sometimes the things you’re most opposed to can lead to the most glorious moments of your life.

I definitely don’t want children (the cats are quite responsibility enough) – but I’m properly excited for more of my friends to have children, so I can be the cool auntie who brings inappropriate presents and has them over for weekends full of sugar and fun.

Living on my own has been one of the best decisions I ever made. And it isn’t lonely.

Occasionally, you’ll make decisions which will change your whole life and turn it upside down. But mostly, you’ll move towards your dreams step by (sometimes painfully small) step.

We overestimate what we can do in a day, but (massively) underestimate what we can do in a year.

Pets are actually small, furry family members, and just as precious as fellow human beings.

I can tassel twirl. And as part of the Paper Dolls burlesque troupe, I also do it on stage. The shy, gawky, nervous 15-year-old me is staring down the passage of time, awestruck and slightly embarrassed and bloody proud of how I’ve dealt with my body image issues in the last few years.

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I’ve learned we shouldn’t pigeonhole ourselves too early in life – discovering at 19 that I was creative, after a lifetime of being told I was academic and not creative, was the single biggest revelation of my life to date.

If you don’t like your job, get the hell out. Don’t quit without a plan, but start looking – knowing their shit is no longer your problem when you hand in your notice to a place that’s wrong for you is an amazing feeling.

Your first broken heart hurts like hell.

You learn an absolutely ridiculous amount about yourself from relationships and their endings. Seriously, it was like a crash course in How Carla Works, both times – in very different ways.

Never, ever settle for being second best or someone’s backup choice. You are worth SO much more than that.

Try everything that catches your fancy, if it’s possible – I have a room full of craft materials, half of which I’ll probably never touch again, but all of it has brought me joy and new skills at some stage.

Serendipity and coincidence are sweet – and never get old.

Old friends and new friends are just as precious, but in different ways. Don’t abandon the old in favour of the new unless you have good reason to do so. And don’t assume that just because someone is very different to you, that you can’t be friends. Variety and different perspectives are always good!

Don’t feel guilty about things you can’t control or influence. Spend your energy doing what you can, but remember that everyone has their own free will.

Nothing is original, but no one can do what you do like you can. And never second-guess people’s reactions to what you do. Telling people about my alter ego coaching and course has been eye-opening – the reactions have been amazing from even the most unlikely people.

If you make a daft statement like “I love this house so much, I can’t ever imagine crying while I live here” when you move into a new house, you are highly likely to be proved wrong within the week.

Having good friends within walking distance is unbelievably sweet – especially after close to ten years of trekking up and down the M25 on a regular basis. (I’m still working on getting certain people to move up here….!)

It’s ok to stop doing things you don’t want to do – whether that’s a business, a job, a relationship, a house… it’s good to have a plan first, but you don’t have to do anything forever unless you want to.

Life is too short to worry about your weight or what other people think of you. Wear, and do, what makes you the happiest.

Oh – and if you want to dye your hair, go ahead and do it. I waited 9 years to dye mine blue/turquoise – and while I love that it represents me so perfectly right now, I do wish I hadn’t waited so long.

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Here’s to the very last year of my twenties!

With love and unicorns,

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Why being interested in ALL THE THINGS is actually a good thing

Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.

If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.

Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.

I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.

Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)

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Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.

My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life –  work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.

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Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.

(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)

Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.

An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.

I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.

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So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.

And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.

When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.

Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).

The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.

When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].

And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).

I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.

And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.

It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.

Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.

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To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.

Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.

Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.

I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.

I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.

So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.

With love and unicorns,

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Popping my (Hogswatch) cherry

The last weekend in November is Hogswatch.

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(for the uninitiated: Hogswatch is Discworld’s equivalent to Christmas. Discworld is Terry Pratchett’s alternate universe. Wincanton (a real town in England) is twinned with Ankh-Morporkh (a fictional city in a fantasy universe) and every November, a bunch of, in Terry’s words, bloody loonies descend upon Wincanton to celebrate Hogswatch. Clear as mud?!)

Though some of my friends go regularly, I’d not made it last year as it was my parents’ 40th anniversary. This year I was nervous but exc;ited – and hadn’t put a whole lot of planning into my costumes. I knew I was performing twice, and one of those involved chip packets.

So after a 3.30am alarm, staggering out of the house (watched by some very confused cats) at 4.20am and a 3 and a half hour drive, I arrived in Wincanton. Threw myself at my Travelodge room and slept and slept and slept.

At 10am, I found myself at the Memorial hall with Annastasia, surrounded by fellow loonies in outfits and costumes  varying from mild to extreme, and I couldn’t stop grinning.

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We taught a burlesque workshop to seven brave ladies and one extremely brave gent. Our chosen music, to match the theme of Going Postal, was… no, not Return to Sender, or any of the usual suspects. We went for Postman Pat.

Then I could wander to my heart’s content (and also packed in meeting Anna’s parents, the Boggises (who have long been heavily involved with Discworld and Hogswatch), long chats with new friends and some shopping, as well as a sneaky nap after lunch.

Come 5pm, I was in the green room, taking fuzzy but excited pictures of myself:

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And then we got up on stage and danced. And oh, I had forgotten how much I enjoy performing. 2014 has been so busy and so manic (pfft, so much for my word of the year of “balance”) that I haven’t had much of a chance to dance at all, and it is still an unmatchable feeling to come off stage to appreciative applause (and sniggers, in this case).

Also got to sing the Twelve Days of Hogswatch (harder than you’d imagine, when you’re standing at the front holding up the words but you can’t actually read them yourself… it goes something like “On the FIRST day of Hogswatch, my true love sent to me, a mumble mumble blah blah blah. On the SECOND day of Christ-Hogswatch, my true love sent to me, TWO something mumble…” And that’s entirely sober!

Then the traditional sausage supper at the Bear, and on to the Pink Pussycat Club. Where we danced another number… dedicated to Rincewind the wizard, it involved a red pointy hat with stars on, three kimonos, doing some suggestive things with a potato masher and having a fight over some crisps. And the final reveal was…

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(photo credit: Paul Heyes via FB)

(if you don’t get it, don’t worry… it’s a long story. If you want to get it, read Interesting Times.)

Here’s another pic of us during Postman Pat…

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(photo credit: Tatyana Arbuzova via FB)

As cheesy as I know it sounds, the whole weekend felt like coming home. I didn’t feel like a newcomer (apart from when Nanny Ogg/Renta made me have a Hogswatch Virgin badge…), and as I’ve often found with my more niche hobbies (most notably model horsing – this felt a lot like that), there’s an instant sense of kinship. I even found some more stationery fiends (and friends) during our letter writing salon (an Ink Drops venture) on Sunday.

We were all letting our real selves out to play – our alter egos, but the ones we wish we could take back to everyday life with us. As so often recently, Lotta and I were perfectly in tune. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Having made so many new friends and felt so at home so quickly, coming back to the round world (not the Disc), and the prospect of the day job and doing housework were less than appealing.

I put this off by popping in on the way home to see my ex-headmaster and his family – which I know sounds weird, but my primary school was muchly special. Totally failed to get any photos of us all, but he did keep the sign when the school was demolished to make way for flats…

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And it was so lovely to catch up after more than a decade.

So I drove home to my silly kittens through the night, arrived at 10pm, fell into bed to dream of the Disc, and woke up still half there today. I spent this morning waving photos at anyone who would look, and am now settling down to the important work of planning next year’s costumes and skits.

Big thanks to Annastasia for giving me the chance to attend – it’s now an immovable fixture in my calendar.

Happy Hogswatch… I hope you’ve been naughty AND nice!

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PS for any non-Pratchett fans, normal service will resume shortly. If you’ve read him and don’t like it, fine. If you’ve never read him then for goodness’ sake go and borrow a book from your library and try one. You’ll never know if you don’t try…!

PPS You don’t actually have to be a fan to come to Hogswatch. I would love, love, love to see some of you there next year! Or at any of the various cons I hope to now attend in 2015 🙂

PPPS If you fancy creating your own alter ego, hop over and have a look at Unfurling Your Wings. It’ll launch a little later than planned due to some mad new VAT laws, but on the plus side, it’s now going to be a much more immersive experience, with goodies coming to you in the REAL ACTUAL POST.

Paper Dolls Burlesque at the Fling Festival 2013

Quick post today, but wanted to share the photos of our tent at the Fling Festival a couple of weeks ago – it was the most glorious debut for my burlesque troupe. And who knew, when we took that first class eighteen months ago, what it would lead to?

Here we all are with our fab stage kitten Lou:

Paper Dolls Burlesque | carlalouise.com

And here are the rest of the images – squeak!


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The Fling always defies description, but to be there as a performer, helping to create the experience for other festivalgoers – it was a privilege, and one of the best days of my life.

Check us out – our troupe is Paper Dolls Burlesque, and we learned (and continue to learn) the art of burlesque with  Jem Ayres at Burlesque Jems.

 

Announcing our tent at the Fling!

You may or may not know that I’m a founder member of Paper Dolls Burlesque – a group of my closest friends, who are a very talented bunch in various crafty pursuits, and who have been brought even closer by our love of burlesque (our weekly classes with Jem have been a fantastic way to make sure we all meet up regularly!).

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Last week we got a call to ask us to host a tent at the Fling… a one day festival of quirky amusements for over 18s.

And so I am delighted to announce that we will be hosting a tent of burlesque delights. With dancing, dressing up, mini makeovers, tassel making and even the chance to get the glue and glitter out and decorate your own Paper Doll – it’s going to be a glorious day.

The Fling has been a highlight of my year each time I’ve been – who knew, leaving the last one, that I’d be a performer at the next? Just shows what can happen when you’re doing things that make you happy!

If you’re near Chelmsford, please come and join us 🙂

www.chelmsford.gov.uk/fling

www.paperdollsburlesque.co.uk

xxx

[lifestyle] Puppies, corsets, notebooks and sunshine – a perfect weekend?!

Burlesque (well, a Ducking Fabulous stall while wearing my burlesque gear, to support the girls who were performing at the venue), zooming around in Poppy with the roof down, puppies, lunch with a dear friend and lots and lots of SUNSHINE… it’s been a thoroughly brilliant weekend.

2013-04-20 16.58.47 She generally has a sweeter expression than this – I think she was unimpressed by the camera shoved in her face! 

While driving around in Poppy, roof down, singing (badly) to 99 Problems, I realised that even with sunglasses and a convertible, I will never be cool. This is rather a relief.

Talking of roof down, I nearly wet myself laughing when I stopped at traffic lights and a random chav yelled “oi, someone’s nicked yer roof” – I’ve certainly had more original heckles. It amazes me how much attention she seems to get, especially in this part of the country where there are much more expensive, shiny and generally showy cars around. (It’s ok – I still love her best!)

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This is serious market research. Does your outfit affect your sales?!

The Pamper Yourself Vintage fair was great fun and I finally got to meet Hattie of Whats your tale, nightingale? which was fabulous. Lovely to catch up with some of the Jems, and Annastasia was an absolute star and helped with my stall as well as dancing 🙂

I’ve done at least half my admin outside, and I even managed to sit and read a book for a bit this morning. Acquired a hammer (Dad will be relieved, he’ll have sole ownership of his again), a blue beach type chair for garden relaxing, a photo tent, another copy of the Free Range Humans book and a copy of my door key so that friends don’t have to leave when I do if they stay during the week. Excellent.

I even managed to make a summery casserole (oxymoron, no?!) in the slow cooker – so my only fail of the weekend would be choosing and writing cards for two of my favourite people in the world, whose birthdays fell on Friday and today… and then in the madness of stallholding, forgetting to take them with me to post. Silly girl… so if either of you are reading (I suspect you’re not, lol) – they’re going in the post tomorrow, I promise!

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And on that note, having filled the blank page (and many others) in the fading sun with notes for Ink Drops, the Ducking Fabulous shop and my two super secret projects, I am off to bed with a book.

I hope you all also had thoroughly fabulous weekends!