Oh hi, burnout – you can sod off now

There is something very strange about this time of year. So many of the happy-go-lucky, optimistic, sparkly people I know and love in the year are struggling to get through the last few days until the Christmas break – me included.

insta profile picThe last time I felt properly awake, back in September being a steampunk-Alice bridesmaid!

Yep, for the umpteenth year running I am feeling, and so writing about, burn out, in the last month of the year. You’d think I’d have learned by now, wouldn’t you?!

It’s been a weird up and down of a year, and I’ll post a full round up with pictures and links and stuff over the festive period, but I felt the need to waffle into my keyboard today.

It starts in November, when the evenings are drawing in, the leaves fall from the trees (or they do here in England, anyway), there’s a hint of a cold snap in the air, and I find myself perpetually tired. Once the clocks change, it’s like a switch in my body goes to “hibernate” and stays there until the clocks go forward again. I don’t, to the best of my knowledge, have any major deficiencies or illnesses that cause me to feel like this, but apparently I depend more than I realised on sunlight to keep me awake and healthy and happy. (maybe I’m partly plant?!)

November and December have also been really unexpectedly busy months for me – with a return to weekly burlesque classes, co-working sessions with Lizzie, visits from some of my best friends, my first studio shoots for boudoir and bumps, finishing off the renovations, a mini business retreat with Louise Rose, birthdays, Christmas shopping, a new baby and several engagements in my circle of uni friends, a trip to London to see Elizabeth Gilbert and meet up with my fabulous solopreneur friends, four successive sold out Ink Drops boxes (there are still a couple of slots left for January if you’re quick!), a Christmas shoot with local models and photographers, two long-awaited courses, the arrival of my mermaid tail and ice skating and a carousel ride to kickstart Christmas… it’s no wonder I’m exhausted!

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Real title: The Morning After The Night Before. Actually, this is how I feel 95% of the time right now)

And so in the couple of weeks before Christmas, I am inevitably tired, tearful, broke and cross, just as my day job is ramping up to push everything through before the January UCAS deadline and the Christmas break. My own businesses go on the back burner, my house descends back into chaos, my kitties sulk because I’m hardly home, and it’s all very far from the idyllic, calm, sparkly months I’d really like to experience through the winter.

Though actually, writing that list has made me realise my temporary bad mood is just that – temporary! Everything at the day job is completely manic and quite stressful, apparently for lots of us, but it really is only a few more days until Christmas. And except for time with my family and my kitties, and a hula hooping workshop between Christmas and New Year, I don’t especially plan to leave my house until January 4th.

So burn out, you can just fuck right off now, thanks.  I’m looking forward to immersing myself in my exciting new business plans in photography and the Unicornery, to my annual New Year’s Eve year reflection and planning ritual, and loads of time with my family and kitties. And sleeping in my lovely new bed. Which doesn’t play a symphony of springs whenever you sit or lie on it. Maybe I’m not burned out at all, and just catching up on years of lost sleep?!

So now I feel like I’ve slightly misleadingly titled this post – I am definitely teetering on the edge of burnout, which is an improvement on last year, but I’d really like my take away lesson to be to remember to breathe and say no, next year. In another improvement on last year, I’ve managed to recognise it and take some steps to make sure I don’t succumb in quite as bad a way… and I shall be planning carefully for 2016 so the final months of the year are blissful… or at least not stressful!

With love and unicorns, and narwhals too,

Carla xxx

The girl in the mirror

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She is by turns anxious and self assured; startled and calm; awkward and relaxed.

She admires her other self and the way the light sparkles in her hair and her eyes; is thoughtful and a little sad at some of her perceptions of herself.

They make eye contact, and she freezes.

Suddenly she is unsure.

Which side does the dust blur? Which of her is real and which is just a hazy reflection of reality…?

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Step through the looking glass and meet your alter ego with me, over at Unfurling Your Wings – I’m still accepting beta testers to start on 1st August. More at unfurlingyourwings.com/beta-group

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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52 Project, week 10: indescribable

Week 10 of 2015. In which I embarked on an epic road trip through my soul home of Texas (hopping over into Louisiana the following week), and fulfilled one of my longest-held dreams –  to see Alan Jackson live in concert. I haven’t finished editing the 3000 photos I took over the fortnight, so here are a few tasters:

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(fuzzy because we were only allowed mobiles, not proper cameras)

The gig was the main reason for our visit, and oh, how utterly glorious it was. I cried most of the way through it with sheer emotion at being there after more than 20 years of waiting to see him on stage. AND he played all my favourites from the early days.

I also found time to…

Have the traditional breakfast-with-beer at the airport:

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Drive my fellow passengers mad by taking photos of the pretty clouds on the plane:

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Wake up on Wednesday morning to four inches of snow. In Texas.

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Fall in love with Jon Pardi, who was supporting Alan Jackson (and he’s currently single. Reckon he’d fall for that accent all American men seem to inexplicably find super cute?! Though is it just me whose speech becomes half pure Southern belle and half female Hugh Grant the moment I set foot over the border into the States?)

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Eat ridiculous amounts of the best fried chicken, mash and creamed corn in the world at Babe’s in Roanoake, TX:

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Try a DQ Blizzard on our drive to Fredericksburg:dairy-queen-blizzard

Make a pilgrimage to my Dad’s spiritual home in Luckenbach, Texas and added a charm to my talisman necklace while playing at practising for being a cowgirl:luckenback-cowgirl

Have a makeover before the gig, which was lovely and pampering:

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to be continued…

If you go down to the woods today…

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…you might just catch sight of a curvy faery taking flight.

The first (quick) edit from an impromptu series of self portraits I shot back in August in a quiet moment at my auntie & uncle’s house. The family thought I was stark staring mad but I was chuffed with the results – artfully fuzzy (because it’s nearly impossible to catch a faery being still) and definitely with fae potential.  I’m hoping to get some more finished in the lull between Christmas and New Year – and when the weather warms up, I have some more shoots planned.

I’m generally in the mood for wings and the fae and alter egos at the moment, as my current major project is creating stacks of material for Unfurling Your Wings. Come and join me – it’s going to be ridiculously fun when it’s finished!

With love and unicorns,

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Wordsmith or witch?

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My jewellery has always symbolised what’s important to me – a birthstone, my Aes Sedai ring (the books the ring is inspired by changed my life), friendship rings, and most recently one reminding me of my intentions to photograph more of life. I create my talisman jewellery so that other people can do the same – keep their beliefs or dreams or hopes close by, always.

For day to day wear, I have various charms representing parts of my life or intentions which I wear separately or together on a silver chain – inspired by my Mum, who wears her cross, her evil eye protection, a camel and some other significant charms all together on a gold chain. I love that her beliefs and superstitions sit so easily next to each other like that.

As 2014 draws to a close, I’d like to add to my charms. A pentacle, for my spiritual side and for the witches in Discworld; a hare, for my connection with nature and also for Tiffany Aching (another Discworld reference) and the courage I hope I too have; and cats, to symbolise my two fluffy con artists who have so quickly become so central to my world.

talisman jewellery by Carla | carlalouise.com

But almost every online shop which sells charms goes on at length about pentacles being a Wiccan symbol, and the Wiccan rede or tradition. Which is fine, but also quite annoying, as I’m not Wiccan. I don’t particularly identify as a witch in the traditional sense, either – only that an amalgam of the pagan/hedge witch/nature/druid traditions is what most calls to me from all the religious and spiritual paths out there.

And then that got me thinking – I have always, always been fascinated with magic, witchcraft, spells, the fae, the Other. I am unusually intuitive and more than usually aware of how others are feeling and the potential or actual impact of words and actions – mine and those of others. I feel other people’s pain in a way that is draining – my heart quite literally hurts for a friend who’s suffering emotionally or physically. I’m instinctively aware of the moon’s phases and their effects on me (if not perfectly versed in all their names), and I have a collection of crystals and tarot cards which I use fairly regularly. (I sell them, too – I wouldn’t do that unless I believed in them.) All of that makes me Carla, not Wiccan, or any other particular religion.

But words – now words have incredible power. I love, and I firmly believe, in words working magic. As spells, manifesting, crystallising intention or just putting yourself out there – whatever you call it, you will have noticed at some point in your life the power of declaring what you truly believe, voicing your dreams, giving life to that which you most crave through words, whether spoken or written. (It’s said that millionaires write their goals down every day, and billionaires twice a day.) And symbols like the pentacle or the hare (or a typewriter, a flower, whatever works for you) are just as powerful – they create words and associations in your mind. Which is the first step to making your dreams real.

And though I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a witch, I do use words and symbols and rituals, every day, to create my magical life. A life which I’m told inspires others (a concept I find humbling and exhilarating in equal measure). A life which is an evolving creation in itself – a journey, not a destination. A life made out of words.

So am I a wordsmith, or a witch? Or a little bit of both?

Traditionally, witches have a terrible reputation. The definition usually involves evil spells and an ugly old crone. In my life, as with all women, I’ll be maiden, mother and crone – in age if not in actuality. Beauty is subjective – but while I don’t for a moment believe I’m ugly, neither am I about to claim the alternative title of enchantress – the dictionary definition of “captivatingly attractive” is not something that could be consistently said about any human being I’ve ever met, and especially not me first thing in the morning. Plus I don’t put spells on people.

Instead, I believe in magic like most people believe in the sun rising each day. I refuse to let being an adult dull my imagination and sense of wonder. I listen to people and I share stories and I create words and symbols and images – in the hope that these things will encourage other people to live out their own dreams.

I am not a Wiccan. I am not an enchantress.

But I am magic, I am creative and I love words. And so I suppose I might just be a witch… by my own definition.

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With love and unicorns,

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P.S. Want to find your own alter ego, witchy or otherwise? Hop over to Unfurling Your Wings and get your name on the list – the list for early access closes soon!

 

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.

Witchy portrait fun

My first Halloween/Samhain with my two familiars, and I thought I’d have a bit of fun.

In preparation for trick or treaters, I had positioned my broom by the front door, bought most of my local shop’s supply of miniature chocolate bars and dug out my pointy hat.

Luna-kitten was looking rather obliging, so I also made a Halloween picture while I was at it…

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Loving my new lens!

Thought I’d share the best outtake too – I’ve never seen her look quite so horrified at my antics.

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Clover was very sensibly snoozing on the back of the sofa, just out of shot. She’s a great witch’s cat but she doesn’t like to flaunt it.

And as Saturday was the start of NaNoWriMo, I have accidentally now written almost 5000 words of a story/book about how Luna and Clover came to be witch’s cats… it’s so much fun letting my imagination out to play!

Discovering photography

I discovered photography in 2006, when working at the Telegraph with a creative director who was utterly obsessed with the medium.

He helped me choose my first ‘proper’ camera – a Panasonic DMZ-500 bridge, I believe – and encouraged me to go out shooting at lunchtime, on the train, at weekends.

self portrait with my first bridge camera | carlalouise.com

(with my beloved Panasonic – and to give you an idea of timescale, LOOK HOW SHORT MY HAIR IS…)

I took self portraits everywhere, mainly because I found it easier to use myself as a model than faff either asking a stranger or organising a proper shoot.

self portrait at the Telegraph circa 2008 | carlalouise.com

self portrait on the train circa 2008 | carlalouise.com

After my intern year finished, while my boyfriend of the time revised for his Masters exams, I took myself off on photo walks around our home town. I took accidental pony porn, terrible close ups of flowers, pictures of cars, dogs on walks, woods, people, shops.

Most of them were technically awful, but by that time I was addicted to the feel of the camera in my hands, the click and whirr of the lens, the ability to capture a moment in time by pressing a button.

Eight years on, I’m still blogging and still photographing – and recently rediscovering just how much I love the click of that shutter and committing moments to paper or pixels. And the pull of creating what’s in my head through my lens is as strong as ever – it’s an elusive thrill but one I never tire of chasing. It’s kept me sane through ups and downs more times than I can remember. And my camera is probably the one inanimate object I’d save from a fire if I could only pick one thing.

 

I’ll be forever grateful to Himesh for starting me on that journey and giving me the confidence to try a new art form without worrying about the results.

What’s your starting-photography story? Did you grow up camera in hand, or discover it a little (or a lot) later in life?

How self portraits healed my grief

2007 and 2008 show up in my archives as self portrait upon self portrait upon self portrait.

In a time before the word “selfie” existed, and when Facebook was only a year or two old, it was less about exhibitionism and more about discovering myself and improving my skills as a photographer at the same time.

Following the break up of a seven year relationship with my childhood sweetheart at the end of 2007, I had no idea how to deal with it and quickly retreated into my own little world with my camera to try and make sense of my grief. While driving my friends and family to distraction with my circular thoughts and endless tears, I took photo after photo after photo, both posed and candid.

I started a 365 project which can be seen here, though not all the images are publicly visible – they’re mainly snapshots but having a zero-faff daily project helped so much:


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

They can also be seen here on my Flickr account if the slideshow is playing silly buggers (internet explorer, I’m looking at you…)

The daily ritual of remembering to take and upload my photo, of finding new ways to see myself, to pose, places to be – they helped me see myself as a whole person, not the half of a couple I had always been. I learned how to be me, how to be by myself and how to be happy alone… crucial lessons for rebuilding my current happier, brighter, colourful life.

In essence I suppose photographed my way around my broken heart, fixing the break with pixels and colour and light. The thing I’d adopted as one of my many interests and developed as a skill ultimately helped me find myself again, deal with the pain, shed my old self and move on with my life.

Looking back at those photos I took, I can see (because hindsight is magic, but also because I have changed so, so much in that time) the girl I was and the woman I am. I can see the pain I was in and my desperate hope that it would somehow turn out to be a bad dream, but I can also see my true personality peeking out, though at the time I didn’t notice it. And it’s like getting to know a little sister after a long absence… it’s bittersweet to see her ups and downs and I wish I could tell her it would all be ok. More than ok – it’ll be rather wonderful a few years down the line!

And as the catalyst for a curious life – well, seven years later I’m still photographing my way through this world, and learning daily from it.

I’m thinking of doing another series soon – drop me a note if you’d like to join me!