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Another 2020 check in

This year is both the longest and the fastest in the history of the known universe!

I have approximately zero time and way too much to do, but wanted to hop in and just leave a note for my future self about how fucking weird it is to be living through a pandemic while single, self employed and childfree.

I mean, I think it’s weird for everyone living through this – but I can only record what it’s like for me, right?

While starting to make notes for my annual review I realised it’s going to be an odd one, and I’m writing this from the middle of a second national lockdown in England. Four more weeks of things closed, no indoor or garden meetups, only being allowed to see one person from one household outside at once.

The studio is closed again (and we’ve today had a totally tone deaf demand for extra money which I am deeply cross about), and my income has dropped again, and quite honestly I’m fed up to the back teeth with the whole thing.

I just want my normal life back. And I know, I know it’s not just me, I know I’m among the lucky ones but I am allowed to feel fed up, and today that is my overwhelming emotion.

It’s increasingly hard to get motivated and up and going, even though I love my work and I love that my businesses are my work life now. Loving them with my whole heart doesn’t seem to have any impact on the hideous lethargy which has been creeping, creeping this whole year and now means it takes what feels like superhuman effort just to get out of bed in the morning.

I’m still achieving insane amounts of stuff, including filming my first video series for a client, and absolutely smashing the launch of the TEMPRD website – and I’m so proud of myself and my various little businesses. But OH GOD THIS YEAR IS HARD WORK and not in a good way.

Somehow still struggling to find time to relax – totally missed my Slowcation, I managed two days off in two weeks and then was back in full pelt. And despite lockdown I seem to be running around like a headless chicken and still not getting everything done that everyone needs me to do. Deadlines have never been an issue for me but this year I’m finding them more difficult to meet.

I can also sense changes coming in my friendships and my family and myself – but right this moment, it feels like we’re all suspended in time. No one knows what will be allowed in December, or at Christmas, let alone next year, so no one can make any plans, everything feels super tentative, and it’s kind of like swimming through glycerine. Or treacle. But treacle would at least taste nice!

Good stuff – new office chair got rid of hip pain I’d had for five years, in 48 hours. Kayak dreams are slowly building. Although lockdown killed my amazing record breaking month, the fact I managed to do it has changed my money mindset, hopefully permanently. Filofaxes and fountain pens make me really, really happy. Kittens are cuddly and wonderful. I co-own a chocolate factory. Ink Drops subscribers are picking up. This week I read an entire book (Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars) in a 24 hour period for the first time since the start of the year.

It’s not all bad, it’s just tough times right now. And this blog turns 16 this month, and for such a long time it’s been my outlet, my diary, my therapist – it seems strange that I don’t update it often any more, but life just kind of gets in the way and I have so many other demands on my time.

So every now and again, I pop in and stream-of-consciousness my way to a small record of my life, which will be easier to find than notebooks. Although potentially more susceptible to future shit than notebooks, I suppose…!

Six months later… (or five, or seventy-two – time has no meaning any more)

I’ve not posted since April, because April was approximately 10273 million years long, and the months since then have just flown past.

Not necessarily in a good way. The coronavirus pandemic is still in full swing, and though it got a bit better over the summer and we were allowed out again, tentatively, it’s all now looking fairly shit and there’s a lot of talk about another lockdown soon.

I’m ok, I think. Fragile, but ok. Business dipped dramatically during the height of the first wave (FFS, the bloody pandemic even has its own language now), and my total takings in June were £43. That’s not a typo, and I’d say that was one of my lower points this year.

The emotional toll has been high, at one point I’d not seen any of my friends for three months, and Mum and I had been able to support each other but not see or hug anyone else, which was incredibly hard. I’d not realised quite how much I missed human interaction, seeing people in the same room rather than on Zoom, and the odd hug.

Every time I saw friends in August, after this three month hiatus, I cried. Which is kind of ridiculous and kind of completely understandable.

Turns out I’m a good hermit, but only when I can choose when to hermit and when to be social. Which I guess has been an interesting learning point. I’m still very happy with my life choices, I’m still pissed off with the pandemic and this country’s response to it. Though if I’m being kind, I’ll say that however inept the politicians, they haven’t dealt with one before either. But man, the communications coming from the people running the country are painfully bad.

Business has now picked up again, and I’m in theory about to have my best ever month – if the fuckwits in charge don’t ruin it all by announcing draconian measures which fuck over the smallest businesses while benefiting the big ones. We shall see. Regardless of the outcome, I am extremely proud of myself for rebuilding, and extremely exhausted, so am planning to have a week or two off at the end of this month and start of next.

I’ve christened it a Slowcation instead of a Staycation, because although I am indeed staying at home, and while I do plan to do some house stuff while I’m officially not working, I also plan to approach everything slowly and have a proper chill out time.

The kittens are amazing and are keeping me entertained – they do do some stupid stuff but they also give the best cuddles.

Today has reminded me how fragile my (and probably everyone else’s) mental health is, though – I’m ok on the surface, getting on with stuff and prepping happily for tomorrow’s headshot day – and then out of nowhere this evening a MASSIVE spider fell from the ceiling onto my desk, and vanished while I was trying to find the Raid to get rid of it. Argh!

So I am typing this from my bed, because I can’t go back in there until I’ve seen it dead, and the bloody thing could be ANYWHERE. And I am tired, and overdone, and don’t want to deal with it tonight. Thank god I also have an indoor laptop, ancient and creaky though it might be!

And I suspect I’m not alone in small incidents tipping me over the edge into tears and anxiety, actually – this whole year has been a lot. Too much, in many ways. The small things I’d previously have dealt with without fuss are reminding me what a knife edge we’re all walking in terms of staying sane at the moment.

There have been some amazing highs (Mum’s birthday, sea kayaking, meeting the puppy, meeting friends in a ruined church, golden hour walks, hot tub catch ups, de-alcoholised wine, a beach hut day, connection with old friends and new friends, rainbow hair and some other good stuff) to balance all this out. But ergh, on the whole I am totally over 2020.

I did hit peak Carla while testing lights the other day at Studio 19 – I’m not sure there’s any more I can do to be magically, weirdly and authentically me. And this was an accident!!

Trying to think of any vital stats which will be relevant when I look back on this in 10 years’ time, or even for the end of year review I usually write (wow, this year’s going to be weird isn’t it?!), but apart from 254 Zooms and counting since lockdown, I can’t!

It’s not all doom and gloom and I know I’m very much one of the lucky ones – not least because I am self employed and so mistress of my own destiny, which feels infinitely less scary than quite a lot of my previous jobs where I’m pretty sure I’d have been out on my ear once furlough was over.

Things I have treated myself to with money saved on petrol (I know, but I needed something to look forward to and lift my spirits in the depths of it!): sparkly leather DMs, my two favourite HolyClothing dresses in my favourite blue, a brass fountain pen with an extra broad nib and a Victorian writing desk. Plus on a more practical level, rainbow filing trays for my desk and a bunch of drawers & cupboard doors for my office Kallax system. I will be more organised if it kills me! And getting my shed painted, which was less of a treat and more of a necessity, but painted in turquoise and pink it now looks more like a beach hut and makes me smile every time I see it out of the window.

Other good things include making firm plans for a boat (a kayak, not a full on boat) for next spring – I have a bunch of people I love who are into watersports and will actually come out with me, and I can stash it over winter in the studio or in Mum’s garage, so that’s ok. And being able to put a boat on Serafina’s roof rack and go out on the water whenever I fancy again makes up ever so slightly for the loss of Poppy. Though you know I absolutely would have put a roof rack on Poppy if I could have done…

Projects for my Slowcation – I’m trying not to jampack every day, but I would like to do a tip run, so my poor shed can breathe – it’s currently full of all the stuff I cleared out during the first lockdown!

Art to go up on my walls – I’d like to get some of my own work printed, I definitely owe some clients some prints, and need some more for outside Studio 19 – plus I want to get my rogues’ gallery on my stairs sorted. I’ve got a bunch of smallish frames which all tone together, so need to choose my photos and add them to my print order.

The kayak of dreams is also part of my Slowcation plans – looking at what I want to buy, choosing stuff like buoyancy aids and getting my roof rack sorted out are all things I can do before I get the actual boat. Not to mention working on my upper body strength because currently I don’t know if I can lift 19kg onto the top of my car unaided! (can you get stairlifts for boats?!)

I also plan to sleep, and rest, and read – I am having the actual time of my life in many ways, immersed in my beloved businesses 24/7, but juggling them all, sorting out two new websites on top of the client work and marketing, is exhausting and I need a break. I was often baffled at why my fully self employed friends never seemed to take holiday – now I know!!

And of course among all this it’s been AMAZING to get back to shooting – I have the best clients in the world!

This is a massive stream of consciousness so well done if you’ve got this far – I don’t think many people read this blog now and I mainly keep it for my own records – it’s easier to read through than my 3 handwritten pages daily!

I do have a 365 project on the go, which I’m still a bit behind on the Instagram, but which I am updating daily on my phone and eventually one will catch up with the other 🙂 It’s not turned out as the showcase of my photography skills I was expecting, but it’s become a great snapshot of a very strange and historic year.

On the whole, I’ve decided I don’t like living through history!

Ok, that’ll probably do for now – I’m off to eat the remains of my TEMPRD samples and make some lists / waste hours on Pinterest!

Life in the time of Coronavirus

It’s day 10 of lockdown in the UK (and as much as I hate Big Brother, I can’t help hearing that voice every time I use that phrase!), and I’m in a much better mood than I was when I last posted.

Because kittens, among other things. And our wonderful NHS staff, without whom we would all be up a very large creek with no paddle at all. Clover isn’t yawning at the NHS, she’s yawning because she has no idea there’s a world crisis, and it really made me smile today.

The world is still upside down, the situation is still terrifying, but I have found a few ways to deal with my own anxiety and overwhelm and fear.

Fear does very strange things to people.

Living in dystopia

It still feels like I’ve woken up in the middle of a dystopian novel with a truly appalling plot, and for someone who’s not had a TV for six years, the whole living-through-history thing is something of a shock to the system.

In normal life, I regularly tell people how amazing it is that we’re living through history – the technology revolution! And that children in the future will learn about us and our tech and machines and ways of working and living. Because you can’t take the geek out of the girl.

But fuck me, a pandemic is not the sort of history I want to be living through! Yet here I am, and here we all are, and the thing which has struck me the most about all the many, many conversations I’ve had over the past two or three weeks is that this is affecting everyone. In different ways, and to different levels, but not one single person is going to come out of this unscathed.

Finding a way through

My remedies so far are quite simple – plenty of sleep, vitamin D, time with my kitties and time with my camera. Finding purpose and focus in pivoting my business to run online, and in helping my community of small business owners who have been devastated by this pandemic, and my employed friends who are suddenly having to work from home for the first time.

Not to mention battling ridiculous downtime and server moves on the website front. Tech and patience have been severely tested by this situation, and I imagine I’m not the only one. But it’s been a great distraction!

Flatlay of the working from home toolkit (tea, phone & magazine)

Baths and books have also featured heavily in my self-care regime, as has an epic stash of chocolate – never before have I been so grateful for my tendency to buy chocolate in bulk.

Video calls – menace or delight?!

Video conferencing, via Zoom or Hangouts or House Party or even WhatsApp, have been both a saviour and a menace. I spent the whole of the first week of the disaster, before lockdown but during the first few days of the entire country trying to work from home for the first time, glued to my phone or my webcam.

True to form, in meetings I wear my unicorn horn headphones and try to get everyone else to do daft things as well! But talking to people for nine hours a day got very tiring very quickly, and drained my ability to do anything else useful.

In the last 24 hours I have forcibly removed myself from those conversations for a while, and I feel better for it. I still want to talk to people, but not 47 people in a day, my introvert heart literally cannot cope. Though I did make some free virtual backgrounds so you can work from bed and pretend you’re not…

I am avoiding social media entirely except for the essentials – the groups which keep me sane and informed and soothed. My phone is permanently turned to Do Not Disturb, so that the most important people can get through immediately but so I can also focus without incessant pinging.

Heading out for a walk at least every couple of days, I’ve been a bit spooked by the emptiness of the streets, the closed parade of shops which are usually bustling with life, the socially distanced queues outside the pharmacy, and the safety zones marked out in tape in the local One Stop.

My other single friends across the world report loneliness in isolation, people forgetting to check on them. I must have very excellent friends or be very lucky, as I’ve been inundated with people checking I’m ok during the lockdown, enquiring after my business, seeing if Mum is ok as well as me. Not everyone, by a long shot – and there have been some who have surprised me with their lack of contact, as ever – but more than enough to reassure me that in a crisis, I wouldn’t be alone.

Zoom call with six people

I do miss Mum, and I wish I could see her for more than occasional essential grocery/medicine drops during this. This picture was taken just a few days before this all got so serious, marking Dad’s third anniversary with a day hunting pebbles & treasure at Walton-on-theNaze. But we speak every day, and for the time being we are both happiest and safest in our own homes. And I miss my friends too, but they are also epic and good with tech and we’ve already established some really lovely regular video chats!

Isolation & life choices

A few people have mentioned that perhaps now is the time I will change my mind about long term single-at-heart-ness, and decide I do want a partner after all, because wouldn’t it be so lovely to have someone to look after me and share the stay at home weirdness with?

And honestly, no. I would probably emerge from isolation into prison, to be honest – I don’t enjoy sharing my space, and while I loved my partners very much during our relationships, I can’t imagine having to stay indoors with them and be with them 24/7 for weeks on end (there, dear readers, is probably a good indication of why they were mostly long distance relationships and are now ex-boyfriends!).

It’s actually been really affirming to discover that my life choices of being single, childfree and self employed are so exactly the right choices for me that I am able to flourish even now. I’ve never been so thankful to not have children, either – anyone who is doing this and also homeschooling has my utmost admiration.

Of course, we are living through the middle of a crisis, and if I get the virus, I probably will be dealing with it entirely alone, because I don’t want to infect Mum or Gran or risk their lives. So for Mum’s sake, for Gran’s and for my own, I am staying as isolated as possible – food shopping, pharmacy trips and the post office, only when absolutely unavoidable and necessary, and getting medicines and medical supplies to Gran when she needs them.

And I am so lucky that my skills & knowledge allow me to do that – that although losing all my upcoming photography clients in three days was fairly horrific, I am more than capable of switching to online – mentoring, teaching & otherwise working remotely. God knows I’ve talked about it enough over the years!

Staying at home

And so I am sitting tight like Luna (though not on a shed roof, you’ll be pleased to know), and holding on for dear life, and hoping that me and my loved ones will weather the storm together but apart.

Taking the pressure off myself has definitely helped my mood – there is so much I want to do, both in business and in life, during this rare break from the world. But there is no rush. Sadly, I don’t think the end of three weeks of lockdown will be anything like the end of this crisis. And so many people have been financially affected that there will be plenty of time to dream up new things to create online, while my main client base, like so many others, has been decimated.

But I am determined to rise from the ashes a success story – I just also need the occasional lazy morning to breathe.

How are you coping with lockdown? Wherever you are and whatever your situation, I am sending you sparkles. We need to take joy wherever we can find it!

Where you can find me or more info

If you’re moving your business online, using this time to work on your branding, content, systems or any other tweaks to your business, or of course you need brand photography (products, or planning a shoot featuring you, I can do both!), then I’d absolutely love to chat and you can find out more at carlawatkins.com

Ink Drops is still open though posting at much less frequent intervals, and we would love to help you stay in touch with your loved ones through the post. My postie approves, too! Find lovely cards and delightful gifts at inkdrops.co.uk

If you’re working from home and thinking WTAF, then I wrote the WFH Toolkit for you.

You can follow my new 365 project (what a year I chose – I’m 44 days in) at @colourfulmagicalweirdo

And if you’re in need of some support, wisdom & a safe space to let it all out, come & join the Improper Job Collective.

I’m most active over in the Collective, on Instagram & in my photography newsletter, although I may resurrect this one in the coming weeks to share some useful and lovely things I’ve found.

WTF, 2020?

I’ve been trying to write a post over here for some time. I still don’t have the words.

This is how I live now – on Zoom. Which has been a lifesaver, to be honest, even if I have spoken to more people in a week than I usually do in a month and a half.

We are in our first week of lockdown, and the world has gone completely mad. I’m having problems getting hold of essential medication for Gran, I can’t get shopping delivered to Mum, and I can’t go shopping because I’m trying to keep them both safe.

Yes, that’s more than a QUARTER OF A MILLION people trying to get onto the Boots website at half past ten on a Saturday night.

Ocado wasn’t much better earlier in the week – today I am just getting a “we have no more delivery slots” notice.

And it is breaking my heart, because some people will be slipping through the cracks. Never mind that every small business I know has crumbled to 0 income overnight, that every major non essential shop is closed, that the majority of the office working population is finally and suddenly working from home, that schools are closed indefinitely.

I’m lost for words – we are living through history, a serious and terrifying part of history, and I don’t like it at all.

I’ll try and post something slightly more coherent in the next week or so.

Sidebar list update, 2019

Each year I have a little list of things I’d like to do that year in my blog sidebar.

Although 2017-19 haven’t been the most prolific for my personal blog, this was this year’s list and…

~ Draigcon and/or Wizardry School – done, Bothwell School of Witchcraft in April and August

~ Steampunk events – done, at the Museum of Power

~ experiment with film cameras – not this year

~ walk more – yep

~ explore Colchester – yes, although not as I expected – mostly through networking and 121s and finding new places in town!

~ beach time – yes

~ kitty portraits – yes and Philly is painting them too

~ western riding – nope

~ spa days – don’t think I’ve been on an actual spa day this year, but did spend a day at Lifehouse for my first headshot day

~ kayaking – nope

~ learn to make bath bombs – nope

~ recreate Lush’s Angel’s Delight soap fragrance – haha I had forgotten I wanted to do this, hasn’t happened yet

~ slow reading club – nope but this year have mastered my balance of writing & reading, I think, and am reading without guilt

~ craft gatherings – not really, but made some friends through making which is just as lovely, and had a couple of gatherings at mine which made my heart happy (including 2020 planning!)

~ work in sterling silver – YES! Completed the BENCH Space beginners course and am booked onto the improvers in January – made two rings, the leaping hare necklace of my dreams and some earrings, and cannot wait to learn more.

~ build a catio – nope, but still on the list

~ handwritten letters – yes, and would like to write more this coming year

~ photobook of the house project – no, but very much still on my list along with photobooks for Poppy, Dad, and the kittens

~ print my own photos – for open studios and marketing yes, for my wall no

~ explore – I am unsure exactly what I meant by this but I have been all over the country for work and pleasure this year, so counting it as a yes!

At some stage I will be writing up my 2019 review and my decade review – the days speed past so fast that I can’t actually keep up!

Autumn musings

There’s a day every year, usually close to the turning of the clocks, where I am suddenly, viscerally aware that the season has changed, and it is autumn.

Today was that day. After resolutely wearing summer clothes despite the rain, and fighting my thermostat because I really don’t want it to be the time of year where I put the heating on regularly yet, I stepped outside to pop to Tesco this evening, turned around after locking the door – and it was cold, it was dark, it was blowing a gale and it was most definitely autumn.

I don’t notice the other seasons in the same way, but today there have been lots of little signs that winter is coming and now is the time to prepare. I am tired and lethargic, and found it hard to get out of bed (though admittedly, that might be more down to the 3.30am bedtime after podcast recording last night!). I am craving comfort food and made a massive pot of pasta carbonara to combat the chilly outdoors. My winter duvet is back on my bed, and my summer duvet has been moved permanently to the sofa, to enable my morning pages to be written without shivering. Suddenly, I want tea all the time – I am usually a strict five-can-a-day Pepsi Max girl.

If September is full of that back to school feeling, then for me October and November are the months where I go into full cosy mode. This week I’ve had to reschedule a shoot due to rain, I’ve had several meetings cancel (and have been relieved rather than annoyed because honestly, who wants to go out when you can drink hot chocolate and work on the sofa?!) and I have been sleeping really weirdly.

I love autumn’s colours, the obvious change, the starting to hunker down for winter. I feel like it’s snuck up on me this year and I’m not terribly well prepared – I am still wearing flipflops 90% of the time, for starters – but on the whole, I’m so grateful to live somewhere where the seasons are obvious.

And more grateful, these days, for the freedom to notice the seasons changing. Because once upon a time, I didn’t see my home in daylight from October to March, because I was either commuting to London or working in a high rise office. Nature didn’t feature in my life and I was sadder for it.

I am thankful for so many things, big & small.

Oh, and this article made far more sense than it should have done, in a weird, time-melty, how is it October and more to the point how is it nearly the end of 2019 already kind of a way.

I'm Carla, a quirky thirtysomething with a penchant for unicorns and glitter. I believe in magic and make-believe, and the gorgeous rebellion of making your life absolutely your own. And I'm a proud multipod!

I am a photographer and catalyst for small business owners, and a real life mermaid. I photograph people as they truly are, help women see and step into their brightest and best selves, add a sprinkling of magic to the mundane, and am a happy ambassador for stationery and slow living.

Proud to be both girly and geeky, when I’m not writing, photographing or daydreaming, you can find me dancing burlesque, riding my bicycle Bluebell, growing herbs and collecting typewriters.

2020 Things

Things I want to do in 2020. Partly from my Daydreams To Do list and also from my general goals for the year.

~ Steampunk events ~ experiment with film cameras ~ walk more ~ explore Colchester ~ beach time ~ kitty portraits ~ western riding ~ spa days ~ silversmithing ~ learn to make bath bombs ~ recreate Lush's Angel's Delight soap fragrance ~ work in sterling silver ~ build a catio ~ handwritten letters ~ photobook of the house project, the cats, Poppy & Dad ~ print my own photos

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