Kind of mid year depth year check in

Yes, that’s up there with some of my least imaginative post titles ever! I guess it’s a sign of how busy I am with my other sites these days, that when I thought I’d pop over and check in, it took me half an hour of updates to get this one displaying properly…!

It’s the middle of July, and approaching a year since I left the day job and struck out on my own, and nearly seven months into my Depth Year, so I thought I’d have a really quick check in.

Except it’s gone midnight, and my finger joints hurt, so it might end up being quicker than planned and ironically not very in depth!

So let’s start off with that time I realised I’d never been that close to a squirrel in real life before:

Mainly I wanted to sneak in to say how much I enjoyed shooting Graduation for my old day job this year – it’s always been my favourite time of year on campus so getting to be in the thick of it every day was a joy, and reconnecting with old colleagues was fun too.

Though there were some very entertaining conversations – “you look really professional with all your gear there. What is it you do nowadays?” “Well, funny you should mention that… I’m a professional photographer!”

Bless them.

I’ve had some amazing clients this year too – SO excited to see them use their photos to grow their businesses & their dreams. More on that over on the brand blog!

I genuinely can’t believe this is my life, most days – though I never expected to have to do it without Dad here, this is for the most part the life I always dreamed of, and the work life I have plotted and schemed and worked towards for the last ten years.

I’m also the proud owner of a Sony a7iii and LOVING the shift to mirrorless – this both goes perfectly with and completely contravenes my depth year plans, as it lets me go further into my photography career, but obviously isn’t making the most of existing kit…! But in a weird way it is, as I sold all the stuff I wasn’t using and invested in a new body and a 135mm lens to complement my existing kit… and suddenly my work is shining even brighter. So I’m counting that as a major win. Shooting dual system is interesting too – I’ll probably start a little series about that over on carlawatkins.com as I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences.

Anxiety has been at an all time low for the last few months and I am crossing EVERYTHING that that stays the same. Confidence has been at an all time high for some time now and again, hoping that stays the same – there will always be ups and downs because creativity, but I’m feeling good for now.

There was Bothwell. Bothwell needs its own post as the first run in April was profoundly, permanently and unexpectedly life-altering for me.

There’s a grant application in the works and I’ve had two fantastic shoots with a wonderful friend, and several more in the works with people I love. Is there anything better than getting to work and play and create art with people you love?!

I’ve taken on a couple of mentoring clients which is exciting – for business systems, visibility, content & growth rather than specifically for photography, and I’m loving spending time on that side of the business.

Intriguingly, and very appropriately for a depth year review, I am LOVING creating new opportunities and avenues and products and things within a business, rather than constantly creating new businesses. This is another unexpected development, but one I’m very happy about.

Much to my surprise (and to no one else’s surprise at all), I am really enjoying networking and have joined a couple of groups – the ones that meet at 6am can fuck right off, but the friendly ones I’ve found which meet over lunch (very civilised) are lovely.

I’m experimenting with tattoos – temporary but longer term solutions, rather than real ones, because there still isn’t anything I want on my body for ever and always.

Morning pages have made a welcome return to my life, and the Artist’s Way continues to delight and astound me on a daily basis.

Luna and Clover just fill my days with love and purrs, and emergency snuggles when Luna runs in meowing, panicking that the cuddles have run out. I love these two little furry beings more than I ever expected I could – I genuinely don’t think I could love them more if I had given birth to them, and I am certainly keener on being their parent than I am on ever parenting a human.

Luna’s newest trick is to snooze in the doorway of my office, so that I can’t escape without giving her cuddles, biscuits or both! Clover is recovered from her ordeal last year, and is ruling the outdoors with a firm, fluffy paw – her current favourite snoozing spot is right in the middle of my flower bed.

Mumski and I are moving through our days as best we can – still grieving, still so sad under the surface that I try not to think about it because I can’t bear it. Dad makes his presence felt regularly, and this is a huge comfort to me, but I miss him so much I still don’t have the words for it. But I am very lucky to be their daughter, and I’m so grateful that Mum and I have each other. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

On that note, it’s now nearly 1am and I’m shooting in the morning, so bedtime for me. It’s nice to be back!

On eating alone

People often ask how I can bear to eat alone most days.

They say mealtimes are social, a time to catch up, go over the day, share stories.

But there is a quiet ritual to my mealtimes, especially in the evenings, and even more so now I’m self employed.

A table set for one, with pasta and a drink, and a tea towel featuring pink teapots.

Photo by Elli O. via Unsplash

In my working days, mealtimes were a pause – a sort of peace between the hustle of the day job and commute, and the quiet, determined industry of my evenings spent working on my then fledgling businesses.

Now, they are a reminder to stop, to nourish and take care of myself. Mealtimes are a chance to catch up, and to go over the day – but with myself, not with a cacophony of other voices and experiences.

The act of cooking, and then sitting down to eat (yes, alone), is one I find deeply soothing. As a child we almost always ate at the table rather than on our laps, and I try to make sure that happens at least a few times a week.

Though indulging in my favourite films while eating on my lap is also one of the many pleasures of living alone. This evening’s was Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.

I like my solitary meals, and I love my own company. And, should I crave chatter and voices to accompany my food, I’m never lacking in friends to eat with.

The choice is the thing – one of the many parts of singlehood I find magical in spite of others’ misplaced pity.

Do you eat alone? Is it joyful or do you find it strange?

Thoughts on a Depth Year

At risk of being accused of bandwagon jumping, the lovely Annastasia recently sent me this article from Raptitude about a Depth Year.

As you’ll know if you’re a regular visitor, or a friend (or both!), I read a lot. Blogs, books, magazines, cereal packets – if I’m not creating, I’m always reading, and always digesting information, and yet this stood out.

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire swimming at Haraki Beach, Rhodes | carlalouise.com
Not necessarily this kind of depth, although I do find a sense of calm & peace at about 3m underwater.

Deeper, not wider

The general concept is to go deeper, not wider. So making more of what you already have, revisiting half-finished or abandoned projects, trying not to buy more and do more and acquire more.

Just for a year. Just to see how it feels. It might become habit, or a way of life, or it might not.

At least, that’s what I took from it. And it was like a siren song to me, at this weird crossroads between my old life and (another) new life. I’m living my freelance, self employed dreams, and I have more freedom than I’ve ever had, and it is everything I dreamed of.

But it’s still early days, and while the businesses are doing ok, they’re not yet seriously established. In my book, that comes around the 5-7 year mark of the same business, and though I’ve had businesses and side hustles for nearly nine years, of course my hallmark is changing things up, even while the themes stay the same.

And under everything, still, is the utter despair of grief, and not really knowing what life looks like without Dad in it. It’ll be two years in March and I still don’t really know how to get my head around the loss of him.

Frustration with the culture of MORE

I’ve also been getting increasingly frustrated with social media, and the comparisonitis and more more MORE culture. The concept that you can only be happy if you buy certain stuff, do certain stuff and look a certain way. I know it’s changing, slowly and in corners of both the internet and real life, but it is exhausting.

Avon, of all places, body shamed cellulite in a recent advert, and frankly it felt like the last straw. I also spent a couple of weeks at Mum’s, with the cats, over Christmas, and as she has a TV and I don’t, I luxuriated in the novelty of watching TV while curled up with antibiotics, throat lozenges and a very obliging Luna & Clover.

Oh my god. The ADVERTS. They are constant, and loud (I swear the volume goes up of its own accord during ad breaks, to follow you to the loo or kitchen or whatever). For someone who has lived without a TV for more than four years, rarely goes to the cinema, doesn’t read newspapers except in dire emergencies and gave up typical women’s magazines a long time ago, the adverts are overwhelming.

What depth looks like to me

Depth. As a multipod my life is wiiiiide – I cover a lot of ground, love a lot of things and keep a lot of plates spinning. It’s how I thrive best.

Recently I’ve been feeling very contented with my quartet of businesses, plus dance and this blog. The combination finally feels right to me, and for the first time in a long time, I’m not feeling the pull to create a whole new venture. Instead I’m creating within my existing ventures and it feels bloody brilliant.

But a quick ten minutes with my journal and a cuppa (oh, who am I kidding, a Pepsi Max) yielded this list of things I could explore further this year:

Photography for clients – exploring new ways I can use my branding & web knowledge to create stunning shots for business owners & bloggers, year round, and helping women feel amazing about themselves in both their personal & their professional lives.

Photography for joy – fantasy/fine art work, landscapes & exploring, my existing personal projects, documenting the people close to me.

Posing at a Brooke Shaden workshop in 2015. I still haven’t finalised the images which came from this!

Studio lighting & flatlays (I’m in the process of launching a stock library and would love to develop this further – pop over to studio19stock.com for details). Having Studio 19 is a dream come true, but I haven’t really experimented with different lighting setups much – just used what I’m comfortable with to get amazing shots for my lovely clients. Experimentation is definitely on the cards!

Time with friends & family – whatsapp is a wonderful invention, but I found myself feeling very disconnected during December (not unusual over the madness of the festive period, plus I had whooping cough so felt generally wretched), so I want to spend more time in person or at least on Skype, with my full attention on my loved ones and vice versa.

Tarot, oracle & witchery – I’ve done some readings for myself and for friends recently which have been spot on, and having used the cards for a long time to prompt my inner thoughts & journalling, I’m getting to know them much better. I want to explore this side of my spirituality and I have about a million books connected to the subject!

Marking the seasons – sort of connected to the witchery really, I always say this is something I’d like to do, and then the seasons race past and I find it’s winter solstice again and I’ve failed to notice or mark the passing of the year.

Cooking from recipe books (and possibly freezer diving!) – I have a whole bookcase full of recipe books and a massive folder of ones I’ve found, not to mention my Pinterest board – so this year I would love to explore these in more depth and see if I can find some new favourites.

Sorting and printing photos – both physical and digital.

Journalling, my five year diary and my gratitude diary – they’re frequent habits but not daily yet. and my five year diary which started on my 25th birthday and finished the day before I turned 30 is a treasured possession, so having another one would be lovely.

Letter writing – I’m doing lots of this with Ink Drops (we have declared 2019 the Year of the Real Letter) and I’ve also found a new penpal through a Facebook group I’m part of.

wooden type at St Botolphs | carlalouise.com
Letterpress goodness in Colchester. I’m not ruling out letterpressing my own stationery!

Jewellery making – this is something I revisit every January to make my Wear Your Word bracelet, and I’d love to hone my skills & learn some new ones instead of taking up a whole new hobby.

Scrapbooking/vision boarding – apart from my yearly vision board, I cannot tell you how many half-started, unfinished scrapbooks are kicking around my office!

Roller skating – joyful movement is hugely important to me, and dusting off my skates has never yet failed to bring me happiness.

Cross stitch – I’m still battling with a very small cross stitch I bought eight years ago whe I left the library. It would feel SO GOOD to finish it, frame it and hang it up!

Ebaying, decluttering & the Queen Sweep.

Diving into my course library – I have bought (and done) so many courses over the years, I’d love to revisit some instead of buying new ones.

Unread books & rereading books – and this afternoon I paid off my library fine so I can use the library instead of buying books.

Finish decorating my house – this is of course time & money dependent, but I can certainly do bits and pieces, like putting up the art which has been propped against the fireplace for almost three years.

Burlesque & line dance – going deeper means learning and remembering and possibly performing.

Blogging – here I am!

BBQs – Dad would approve so much!

Self portraits, costumes & prop making – all of which make my heart sing, but I never seem to have time for. I will, however, be going to Bothwell School of Witchcraft as crew this year, so am hopeful this will bring together those long-suppressed bits of creativity.

For ten minutes, I thought that was quite an impressive list, and I have definitely missed some stuff. Aside from all the things I do (and it’s always been a long list), I’ve always been fond of the make do & mend concept, and will be actively looking to repair rather than replace things which break or go wrong.

Plus of course trying to buy less – I’m still allowing myself to buy what I need, but will try to keep tabs on my impulse purchases, and anything which uses too much single-use plastic. (Mermaid at heart, see!)

So I hereby declare 2019 my Depth Year.

Fancy joining me? Already done one? Leave me a comment or drop me an email, I’d love to hear your experiences & tips!

At peace

Today we laid Dad’s ashes to rest.

As ever, I find it hard to write about grief, my own and also Mum’s. This year has in many ways been harder than the first, as the reality of life without Dad starts to sink in, and the buffer of essential admin starts to shrink.

We both seem ok on the surface, yet we are so far from ok underneath. Tears are never far away, and though we go through the motions of life, neither of us are fully living, and neither of us can really conceive of a life without Dad.

To the outside world, it probably seems that the grieving period should be over by now.

I’m learning daily that grief doesn’t lessen, when you loved someone so very much and were loved in return. The pain of losing Dad is as raw today, and every day, as it was the day he went to the big bar in the sky.

A wise person said to me recently that of course, less than two years after his sudden passing is still very early days, when you consider the length of our time with him. He and Mum were married 44 years, and I have been alive for nearly 33. She is right – the time he’s been gone is a drop in the ocean compared to the time he was here with us, and I don’t think our hearts truly understand yet that he is gone from this world.

Most people are understanding, and while we try to keep the depths of our grief from showing even to family and friends, their support means the world.

Yet not everyone is kind, even when reminded we are grieving. Of course everyone has their crosses to bear, their own tragedies and losses and difficulties- it’s part of being human.

But this last couple of years have definitely shown me people’s true colours. I guess Dad was right, in a roundabout way, when he told me death really does bring out the best and worst in people.

Today was quiet and private – just Mum and I and the gentleman from the crematorium office. It was hard to do but felt peaceful, too – and I love that he has a permanent memorial there.

He is remembered and missed elsewhere too – my lovely auntie Kate sent us a photo of the wreath of yellow roses she’s put on his other memorial for Christmas, on his Mum’s grave in Cornwall, and we shall go to his pub and have a drink for him there too – because it’s always five o clock somewhere!

He is always with us – around us in spirit, alive in our hearts and minds and memories.

I am blessed to be his daughter and Mum’s. But goodness, I miss him.

No place like home…

I’m home safely from a gorgeous two day branding shoot with Louise Rose Couture, who is also one of my very best friends in the world.

I LOVED the magic we created together and I adored having an excuse to spend time together before Christmas – we are both so busy we didn’t know if we’d manage it otherwise!

And I slept like an actual log at her house.

But after a long drive home, I opened my front door and Luna and Clover were waiting for me, tails quivering with happiness that I came home (I was literally gone for 28 hours and Mum visited, cuddled and fed them twice in that time, so it’s nice to know I’m loved!).

Aside from the specific happiness at both of them being back to normal after Clover’s stressful summer of hiding, I was filled with happiness to be home. There’s just no place like home, is there?

It’s vibrant and cluttered, gorgeous and messy, full of all the things I love and built with love by me and Mum and Dad.

It’s my sanctuary and I love it.

Not doing so well on the daily posts but this is probably the most I’ve posted in a month since about 2012.

On a separate note, Facebook informed me yesterday that in 2009, I did my very first craft fair.

Nine years of hoping and wishing, dreaming and scheming, planning and doing… and here I am, living the results of my dreams.

Apparently this time several years ago I also wrote to my 13 year old self. She definitely wouldn’t believe me if I told her, but I think she’d be proud. I know that Mum is and I’m sure that Dad is.

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

(Can you hashtag #streamofconsciousness?!)

Flashes between worlds

I found my prom albums recently, and some photos of me competing at Worlds, and I sat, quite unaware of time passing, in an almost trancelike state for a while.

The girl I was then was so close I could hear her and almost reach out and touch her – and I couldn’t help but wonder what my fifteen year old self would make of my life now.

I don’t think she’d believe any of it.

But the flashes forward I had in my early 20s weren’t far off my life right now, though I never anticipated losing Dad so early in my life. But my home, my chosen creative path, my silly, loving little fluffsters, my friends both local and far flung… they were all part of those occasional flashes in one form or another.

And this evening, when Luna clambered off my camera bag and got into my lap and stayed there, kneading and purring and looking at me with big adoring eyes before going to sleep, I found myself quite unexpectedly between worlds again.

I was at once myself, here and now and 32 years old, and at the same time I was older – in my late 70s, sitting on my sofa with another cat on my lap, my silver hair twisted into a plait and still reaching my waist. I was so happy and yet so wistful – life to that point had been full of joy and friendship, happiness and contentment and purpose, yet had passed in no more than a breath. I could feel very strongly that I’d done what I wanted to with this one precious life, but I wasn’t yet ready to leave it.

It was so clear it was unnerving. Perhaps cats really are magical?

But these flashes into my past and my future, while unsettling, serve me well – they help me to keep choosing to live my life the best way I can, in a way that’s true to me.

I don’t know when they’ll come, or what triggers them, but I know now to pay attention to them – and adjust my choices accordingly.

(Mood) Lighting

I spotted this on Instagram just now (I love Tom Cox, his cats and his writing – go and investigate if you’re not already familiar with him).

It got me thinking about light.

For all that I’m a photographer and so, professionally, wield light, I’m not yet happy with the lighting in my home, particularly downstairs.

It’s better than it was, but as an open plan room with west facing windows, it’s always surprisingly dark!

Eventually I’ll work with this and make the wall opposite the windows blue – but for now, some kind of warm, cosy lighting, bright enough to read by, would make me happy.

Who ARE all those people?

I’ve been reading some threads from unhappy graduates on the Student Room forum this evening, and feeling all the feels. They are miserable in full time work and struggling to believe that this is what life looks like from 21 to retirement age.

It will be no surprise that I identify very strongly with this feeling, and have never been able to understand modern society’s obsession with full time work at particular hours, with absolutely zero regard for the preferences and differeng high/low energy times of different people.

I reached those threads via some idle Googling to find out who all these people are in town in the middle of a weekday morning…

Who are all those people?! | carlalouise.com

It has long irked me that while I was told that full time work was absolutely the only career option open to me, any time I left work during the day – for dentists or doctors, an early lunch for a trip to town or a late one to do some banking, town was always heaving with people.

Granted, the skillset I had developed was mainly suited to 9-5 (pffft 8.30-6) office work, and of course not everyone works those hours. But I was led to believe that a vast majority did, and so that is what I did for the first 12 years of my career.

And I remember walking through residential (rather than tourist) London and wondering what all these people were doing, and how they had the freedom & means to wander at leisure while I was trapped in a building whose windows didn’t even open for real air.

Later, at the library and at the university, town was always full. It was hard to get a parking space if you popped out at lunch time to buy a birthday gift, yet I was still being told that most people worked Monday to Friday, full time.

I remember being so immensely frustrated at my lack of freedom that I cried each time I did leave work for something and got stuck in traffic coming back.

Who the hell were all these people and why the hell was I still stuck in a job?!

Now, 17 years after my first job and nearly 13 since I entered full time work, I am one of those people.

I work for myself, I don’t currently have any income streams which require regular attendance of someplace else, and I make my own decisions about what my days look like – Monday to Sunday.

And you know what? I am still baffled as to who all those other people are. Of course some are parents of young children, some are retired, some will be having a day off, or will be shift workers.

And the working world has changed so much since I started university, when the internet was in its infancy.

But looking around me at the sheer variety and number of people who are not, in fact, locked in an office or a shop on an average weekday morning, I can’t help thinking that an entire generation were sold a pup on the career choice front.

I have always been one of the lucky ones – born to supportive parents who didn’t bat an eyelid when I changed full time jobs 17 times in the space of 9 years, desperately trying to find one that would fit. Now, working for myself, it feels like I have found the right fit at last – freedom, not financial wealth/empire building, is my highest priority.

I still don’t understand why we have created this culture of rigid work hours when we are more technologically advanced than any other time in human history, and when we should be reducing, not increasing, the hours we are expected to work so we can earn money to live.

But I am saddened to feel recognition of a societal truth in the unhappy postings of new full-timers, fresh out of uni and absolutely stunned that this is the way they are expected to live their life for ever after.

Wealth does not bring happiness. But even if wealth is what you seek, the 9-5 is unlikely to create it – so I can see why some of these graduates have already given up hope.

My own experience is that you can cram in some fulfilling life around a job you hate and a lengthy, shitty commute.

But my experience is also that those shining drops of light in an otherwise stressed & miserable existence will eventually wink out unless you can change your life to better accommodate the things which light you up.

And if you work full time for someone else, or at all for yourself, then doing the things you love will involve not doing other things if you want to stay sane and relatively physically healthy.

I have often wondered if there is some kind of cosmic scale which says we can balance certain things but not everything.

My own priorities are spending time with people I love, my kitties, working on my businesses and pursuing my various and ever changing hobbies (currently doll photography, metal stamping and roller skating).

This means that housework, life admin and extensive cooking slip down the list, or off it altogether, in order for me to stay sane and actually get some sleep each night. Similarly if my lovely Mum didn’t keep my garden under control, it’d be a wilderness garden!

I also stay single and childfree very much by choice, as this is the way I live my best life, and the way I’ve found which lets me fit in those things which are truly important to me (and which always disappear when I’m in a romantic relationship – but that’s another post entirely).

But no part of the way I live now was presented as an option when I was choosing my life and career path.

And even for my non-self-employed friends with partners, and in some cases children, I know they struggle to fit in everything life demands around full time work.

I work harder for myself than I ever have in a job, 9-5 or otherwise, but because most of my self employment is made up of the things I happily did as hobbies when I was working full time for someone else, it doesn’t feel onerous.

I know self employment is neither desirable nor possible for everyone who doesn’t fit into the old 9-5 mould. But I hope that the working world catches up to the fact that such rigid office hours are already outdated, and realises that more flexible working hours really are the way forward.

Who wouldn’t want their workforce to be happier, less frustrated, less stressed and more productive?

On that note, as it is late and this was originally going to be just a couple of lines and a link… Off to bed I go!!

Fourteen!

Today my blog turned 14 – fourteen whole years since I first tentatively wrote some words and sent them into cyberspace.

Words and pictures are how I process the world – I am a photographer and I am a writer, but creating and using them together is how I navigate life.

Multipod life is a glorious thing but does mean almost nothing lasts forever – and I am proud and pleased and happy (and weirdly not at all surprised) that I have kept one thing up for so long. My whole adult life 🙂

Today involved working and friends and hot chocolate and kittens – and my first booking for 2019!

Here’s a kitten the size of my camera…

Stock take day!

Day three on the trot. I really should have started on 1 November, shouldn’t I?!

Today has proudly been a no-spend day, and also a whole day in my unicorn onesie – I put it on as soon as I was showered and haven’t yet taken it off. The two things may or may not be related.

As I type I am full of chicken stir fry and ibuprofen for my sore back, as today was my scheduled stock count day for Ink Drops – mine & Annastasia’s beloved little stationery subscription company.

I adore curating, photographing and posting boxes of stationery to other paper addicts, and generally our boxes of stock are a lovely addition to my office – who doesn’t love working surrounded by stationery?

But stock count days, while fun, are harder work – as I now work between home and Studio 19, finding every piece of stock is always entertaining, and then rounding them all up into logical boxes & shelves is even more pesty. And then I have to count the buggers!

Having said that, every year I stumble across something I’ve forgotten we had, or that Anna ordered and I have only seen briefly, so I am now full of ideas for more boxes – keep an eye on the shop!

I am nearly there – three more boxes and our packaging to go, but Luna was a super-helpful kitty:

Both kitties are dealing surprisingly well with the fireworks, even though we can usually see & hear the university ones from here – I wonder if tomorrow night will be louder?

Right, off to finish my stock take spreadsheet for the night. There are definitely some less glam sides to self employed life but oh, how I love it <3

Calligraphing

That’s definitely a word!

Today Mum and I went to Mistley to learn calligraphy – my birthday present to Mum that we only got round to booking last month!

No photo because wordpress is sulking, but here’s my Insta pics:

It was great fun but also much more mentally taxing than either of us expected – and very much like dancing, in that you have to focus so you don’t balls it up!

And when you are focused like that, everything else floats away.

We also had incredible pizza in Lucca’s of Manningtree afterwards.

AND I remembered to blog!

All in all, a fabulous day!

An attempt to recapture my blogging mojo

Hey! I’m still here 🙂

The last few months have been mad – wonderful, and I love the freedom & flexibility of my new self employed life, but also weird, and sad – I am still battling grief & the reality of Dad being gone, and there has been some other background weird shit too.

And as a result I haven’t been blogging much at all!

Having talked to some friends recently who are doing various blogging things – Annastasia blogging daily, Virginia doing NaNoWriMo but in blog posts – I thought maybe over here I can reclaim some of my writing for pleasure 🙂

I love blogging for my businesses, but it’s much less stream-of-consciousness-friendly than here – this has always been the equivalent of my living room on the internet. Messy, but welcoming!

So here is today’s thought/link/thing – Tim Minchin’s Canvas Bags: