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!”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!!
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!
So here I am, just over a week into my new life, and as ever, my instinct is to write it all out… on the internet. Because a fourteen year habit is hard to break!
I have been bullet journalling and proper journalling, but nothing quite hits the spot like a blog post. Or a cheeseless pizza.
Time is precious
And never more so than being able to sleep and wake on my own schedule. I realised a long time ago that, alongside loving the various challenges of being an entrepreneur, a massive part of my drive to work for myself is that I just don’t get on well with the standard times that society deems acceptable. For waking, for eating, for living, working and sleeping, I do everything later than I’m supposed to, and it drives everyone around me absolutely nuts.
And oh, it is BY FAR the most satisfying part of this new journey so far. I wake up (not even that late, but past the point at which I’ve always had to be at a day job desk) and I’m NOT TIRED – I’m raring to go. I don’t have to drag myself through a shower solely to wake up enough to pass as a functioning human, but instead can have an invigorating shower with my own essential oil mixes, I can dye or deep condition my hair, and I don’t nearly break my ankle trying to get out in a hurry so I’m not late for work.
It. Is. Bliss.
Grief can make me have misdirected meltdowns
I feel like this is probably something I should already know, or certainly should have learned in the past seventeen months. But apparently I am a stubborn one (who knew?!).
On Tuesday Mum and I went to the crematorium to finalise our choice of final resting place for Dad’s ashes. When we first visited, a helicopter flew over, and it felt absolutely like the right place. But actually choosing the niche where his ashes, and later on Mum’s, will stay for always was rather more emotionally exhausting than I’d anticipated.
So of course just before we went, I had a total panic about all things business and life, and only after I got home did I realise that all of that was simply grief, redirected somewhere which was easier to get a handle on.
I still can’t get my head around Dad not being here, it seems impossible that he’s never seen my studio, and I can’t believe that I’m doing this Massive Life Thing without him. It’s the weirdest experience. I miss him.
We had a sneaky BBQ which I think he’d rather like… I’m also eyeing up a pizza oven to go on it, which he’d definitely have liked.
Mum is of course around, and wonderfully supportive even through her own grief – I’ve no idea what we would have done without each other.
is my happy place. Almost exactly a year ago I went to Open Studios with Rhi, and it felt like such a good place to be. Though I could never have dreamed that just a year later I’d be established there and able to spend as much time as I want in my studio!
I hopped briefly in and out during the first whirlwind week, but today was the first time I got to actually go and work there – shooting new Ink Drops selections ready for tomorrow’s strategy/wrapping/Ink Drops pasta session with Anna.
And it just felt so strongly like exactly where I was always meant to be, doing what I was always meant to be doing.
It’s a while since I’ve felt this contentment, and sense of rightness in what I’m doing – for much of the past few years, even while building my beloved businesses, I’ve battled anxiety, feelings of desperation & being trapped in a 9-5, and of course, latterly, grief.
So although grief is absolutely still part of me, I am also revelling in feeling like I’ve made the best possible decision. And I reckon Dad would approve of that.
Life with cats
Oh, my kitteny cats. They are never predictable, are they? Clover had a fright five or so weeks back and has been behaving very strangely ever since. The insane heat we’ve had didn’t help matters, as it was then hard to tell if she was refusing to go outside from fear, or just because it was too damn hot.
She had her final vet visit yesterday and was given a definite diagnosis of stress – so nothing medical underlying her behaviour, which is what I was fretting about. Poor little fluff had made it very obvious all was not well in her kitteny world, so I was worrying about what else might be happening under the surface.
Luna is as cheeky as ever, and I think all three of us are loving me being home more – I can pop in and out much more calmly than before, I love not having to rush out first thing in the morning every day, so I get mid-morning cuddles when I’m here, and apart from their breakfast being later, they certainly seem to be enjoying the extra attention!
Reading vs TV vs Netflix
I’ve realised (though it is more of an affirmation of something I’ve known a long time), I’m really not a film or TV person.
Giving up TV, when working full time, to have more time to work on my businesses, was easy. I haven’t had a TV licence now for I think four years, and I don’t miss it at all. I rarely even watch DVDs, and my TV set is gathering dust in my spare room.
I do go through small phases on Netflix, mainly of kids’ programmes – I worked my way through Ever After High, My Little Pony, H2O Just Add Water and Mako Mermaids, and am now most of the way through Spirit: Riding Free (which was maybe a less wise choice as while I love it, it’s about a girl and her Dad on the Wild West frontier and it makes me cry more often than an animated kids’ series probably should…).
But I literally can’t exist without the written word – it’s part of my DNA, and without it I am sad and not quite whole. Much like I am when I don’t pick my camera up for too long, but without the attendant creative angst!
Friends are magical
And Mum, of course! I worried a little that I would lose some of my social circle, and by extension some of my social skills, by changing to a life where I am primarily on my own. I live alone, I work in my studio alone and as I’ve already established, my body clock isn’t very normal!
So far, I’ve been proved completely wrong. Which is good! I know I have worked exceptionally hard to make and maintain my friendships, but I am also exceptionally lucky to have the people I do in my life.
this little guy was by the studios today. he’s not representative of my friends, but he’s cute and I figured it was easier than trying to tag the many people who have been instrumental and wonderful lately <3
The studio was also definitely the right decision – with 30-odd artists also based there, there’s always someone to chat to as you refill the kettle, and it’s wonderful to get an insight into other people’s creative processes.
And I managed to sneak to see Julia and Odette before they move to Ireland – I have no idea when I will get over there, but I am SO excited for their new life too! In a nice ironic twist, I chose one of the hottest days of the year to go – we had a lovely actual day, but the train home was in rush hour (because Clovie needs her routine!), lacked air conditioning, was packed with people due to cancellations and was held for 40 minutes outside Colchester station. Which gave me a nice reminder (not that I needed one) of why I’d very much prefer never to work in London again for more than a day or two at a time!
Talking of temperatures…
The heatwave has been insane. I have been more floppy and lethargic than normal, the cats keep asking me to turn the heating down and I’ve been devising ever more creative ways to wear minimal clothing without getting arrested.
When we had the first downpour I ran out in it, I’ve never been so pleased to see rain in my life. To the right is my happy, soaked-to-the-skin self after around 90 seconds outdoors.
Today has been intermittently thundery with massive downpours and sun in between – only at half nine am I now starting to feel a little cold at the end of my fingers… but even that’s a novelty after the weeks we’ve had!
(to put that into perspective, it’s currently 18 degrees in my living room, as I type this at my bureau (because vintage + tech FTW!). For the last… six or seven weeks, it’s not dropped below 25 degrees downstairs at any point. Upstairs has been 29-32 constantly, even with windows open.)
And on that note, I shall go and find some photos to break up my ramblings, and then find some food and head for bed 🙂
P.S. Looking for the businesses I keep mentioning?
Photography with soul for your gorgeous creative business (plus a blog & podcast for multipods, side hustlers and solopreneurs everywhere) – carlawatkins.com
Delightful stationery, dropped through your letterbox – who doesn’t love new stationery? – inkdrops.co.uk
Five and a half years ago, I wrote about leaving London for a new kind of life. More time, more space, no commuting… apologies if the link won’t work, my redirects are misbehaving and it’s much too sunny a day to sit and fix code!
And now here I am on the precipice of another new life – the one I have sought since I was old enough to know what adult life looked like, the one I have worked towards every day of the last eight or nine years.
I handed my notice in last week and from 1st August this year, I will be fully self employed.
I should probably be terrified. Instead I know with a deep certainty that this was the right time for this decision, that it is a million percent the right decision, and I am a strange mix of utterly calm and completely overexcited.
At work I have been described as “gleeful” as I’ve been imparting the news – of course there’s a sadness at leaving people behind, it’s always the people that make the job. Though hopefully I won’t lose too many of them with the change. And I am very good at what I do, and am proud of what I have achieved during my years at Essex.
But this… this freedom to pursue my own dreams, to live my own rhythm, to be answerable to nobody but myself… to fit my work around my enchantment & joy, so I am living my fullest & best life… it’s what I’ve craved since I knew how adulthood worked.
I have never understood the 9-5 life, and the way that the human race has created a rat race for themselves, wanting ever more money & power for no discernible reason. I’ve seen so many people sell their souls to their employers, and altogether too many people stretch to buy the home of their dreams, and then spend hardly any time in it, because they are stuck at work earning the money to pay for the home… which they never see. It is a conundrum I have tried and failed to get my head around.
And ultimately, this is what I have always wanted. A chance to give my all to my businesses and my life, instead of using the best of myself on a job and then only having the dregs of my energy for the things that are most important to me.
My time in “proper” jobs has taught me huge amounts about myself, who I am, how I work, what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what I will & won’t tolerate, and a million more small ways to know myself. In the last five years I’ve also discovered my love for the solo life, how to tackle my anxiety, what my natural waking & sleeping rhythm is (it’s nothing like what the general world expects which would explain a lot!), how to control most of my allergies, and I am learning how to live without Dad, though this is by far the hardest lesson.
I know it will involve some sacrifice, and I know it will involve harder work than it looks on the surface.
But as I stand on this precipice, I cannot wait for the end of July. and the leap into something I have loved from afar for so long. My quartet of businesses & my blog bring me joy on a deep level – I am already settling into giving them more of a boost, as they will no longer be side hustles, but the main part of my livelihood.
I am most looking forward to the freedom to design my days as I please, to wake & sleep as my body tells me, and not feeling so goddamn exhausted all the time. To be able to lose myself in creation and not have to put it aside before I am ready, because of a relentless five-day-a-week schedule created by someone else. And to changing other people’s lives & businesses, in small but significant ways, through my photography and my mermaid tails, and the connection of handwritten letters.
And on that note, I am off to sit in the garden with my beloved kitteny cats and enjoy the May sunshine!
I’ve been in a real funk for what feels like ages now, and while I know some of this is because tomorrow marks six months since we lost Dad, which is normal and natural, some of it is more inexplicable and just annoying.
I’ve struggled to create, to sleep, and especially to do the everyday things that have to be done – laundry, cooking, day job tasks, ongoing business tasks, blogging…
It’s always a warning sign for me when I can’t find my blogging mojo – for most of my adult life I’ve had a blog, so any time when I don’t want to post for an extended period usually means I should take a long hard look at what’s happening, and maybe talk it out somewhere. (Ironically, not necessarily online…)
Last week, I felt like this and just didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but managed to force myself out of the house, into the car, and across town to burlesque.
If you’re a long term reader, you’ll know that I’ve always danced, and that burlesque has been a passion for nearly six years now. My lovely friend Lizzie now co-owns Love You Burlesque, and alongside shooting them for a year (over at my business & branding photography biz), I dance with them too.
Lizzie and Gennie often talk about how their classes give ladies an hour to themselves every week, and I never really understood how important this was… I live on my own, so I spend a lot of time happily by myself! But that evening, I managed to leave behind all my sadness, anxiety, stress and general meh-ness for a whole hour, and lose myself in frills and feathers and sass.
This week has been hard, because it’s approaching a significant anniversary that I don’t want to think about. But tomorrow is going to roll around all the same, and walking aimlessly from room to room, wondering what I came in for, is not going to help.
I skipped burlesque yesterday as I just wasn’t feeling myself, and today although I had a lovely lunch with friends and a surprisingly good day at the day job, I got home and felt… meh.
So I got out my bike, shooing away the spiders that were lurking. Dusted her down, pumped up her tyres and went for a short ride to quite literally blow the cobwebs (on her) away. It’s the first time I’ve ridden this year and it was a great reminder of connection.
Riding a bike (or a horse) means you’re out in the open air, you can feel the wind rush past your face as you move, and you are closer to the road than you ever are in a car.
You can see the leaves and the birds, the conkers (when the hell did it get to be conker season already?!) and the marks on other people’s cars. You are going quicker than you would on foot, but slow enough to notice pretty shutters, colourful front doors and various things for sale from the front of people’s houses (I love village life).
I only went to the shop and back, and yet I have come home feeling freer, calmer, and much less angsty about everything. Luna and Clover got to be outside till just now, instead of me panicking and hauling them in early (they get very silly around dusk, I think it’s a cat thing), and I have written this post, blitzed my bullet journal and answered some customer enquiries instead of just wandering around aimlessly.
It appears that next time I feel rough, things beginning with “b” are helpful… bikes… burlesque… bullet journals…
What do you do when you have an attack of the meh?!
To finally letting go and outsourcing – editing, cleaning, and an amazing VA (or two) who will lighten my admin load.
To a proper break from my businesses.
Yes, that’s my unexpected announcement – after seven years, I am having some time off!
Some background, for new friends & readers
I started blogging in November of 2004, as an extension of my diary, a way for my far away friends and family to follow my adventures at university, and to process and document my new life in Loughborough as an undergrad student.
Blogging was still in its infancy, and much of what I wrote then is now for my eyes only – I think even my imported posts from a couple of blogs ago only go back to 2011 now.
Following uni, I knew I wanted to run my own business eventually, and after a tentative look at buying an established business, I decided I’d much prefer to create my own from scratch, alongside the smorgasbord of random day jobs.
I launched my first one in 2008, selling handmade jewellery at local craft fairs and farmers markets. It didn’t even have a name until its third outing in, when the Christmas fair I’d applied to wanted to know what name to put on the stand. I happened to be looking at the rubber duck mascot in my car when they phoned to ask me, and I said Ducking Fabulous as a joke.
When I got round to checking in January 2009 and realised that the domain and all the social handles were available (of course they were – it was seven years ago!), I registered them and never looked back.
Since then, I have done something for my businesses every single day.
Every. Single. Day.
For 2,739 days and counting. (No, I haven’t counted each day, I did a rough calculation. But it’s still a staggering number of days without a break!)
I still believe this is the way to grow slowly and achieve more than you think possible, but after 7 years, it’s time for a breather.
I opened and closed various businesses and passion projects in between (Letters from my Twenties, The Website Beautician, Girl Meets Van, Lotta Fiero, Project Pin Up, the London Pin Up School, and others I can’t remember off the top of my head). Bank holidays, plane flights and proper holidays, weekends and any other time off the day job were all opportunities to do more for my beloved businessses.
Following the exciting-but-vulnerable launch of the Unfurling Your Wings alter ego course and sessions last year, eventually I was brave enough to do something with the carlawatkins.com site I’d owned for years but never used, which has become the hub for my business advice and photography. I also finally made the leap into mermaiding after several years of fruitless daydreaming.
I had a whole list of goals at the start of 2016, with two standout things on that list.
The first was to get Run Away Days up and running, which I have done by starting with the mermaid parties and experiences, and will eventually expand into other retreats and workshops, letting you quite literally run away for a day (or more) and spend some time on yourself and/or your beloved business.
The second was to get my photography confidence back, and through a lot of introspection, some amazing friends and support (more on them in another post) and a flurry of shoots in the last six months, I’ve done that too, both at Unfurling Your Wings and with the Business Soloists sessions at Carla Watkins Photography, alongside some personal work. There’s always more to learn, but I was happy with almost every single image from the most recent shoot I did (which is of course thanks to my fabulous client too!) and that’s never happened before.
So why the break? And wtf is with the ring?
I’ve achieved what I set out to do this year at warp speed – and I have come very close to burn out in the process.
2016 has already yielded greater success, emotionally if not yet financially, than I could have imagined on 1st January, and I am feeling a very strong pull to stop, and take a step back, and breathe.
I didn’t realise quite how devoted to my businesses I’d become until four people in ten days asked for my advice on starting up a new business, “because it’s what you do, isn’t it?” and I didn’t know how wrung out and exhausted I was until I found myself sobbing in my work car park over a broken car key.
(Welcome to the rollercoaster of self employment – it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever embarked upon, and yet I wouldn’t change it for the world.)
There’s work to do on my systems and processes, there are decisions about outsourcing, all kinds of admin and accounting and general tidying up of loose ends to do so that when I step back in, it will be smooth.
While I’m away, my lovely VAs will pick up emails and deal with bookings, so really nothing on the surface will change. I’m also quite certain that it will be impossible for me to stay away completely, because I LOVE working in and on my businesses – I created them because I couldn’t not.
I’ve done some serious thinking about my other commitments (my family, my day job, my mortgage) and the things I love the most (my family, my friends, my kitties and my home) and how all of that balances with working more or less 7 days a week for 7 years.
I love my businesses, I’m in love with them most of the time, but I created them to give me freedom, and I need a break. And I believe they will flourish more for that break, and the time I can spend working on them, instead of in them.
I want to shoot for myself, blog for the joy of blogging, finish my house & garden and get my studio conversion done, have friends over for dinner, do some of the amazing training I’ve bought and not started, play around with creating art, get art & photos up on my walls, fix my sleep patterns, dive into my to-read list, sit around with my kitties and do nothing in particular…
During the time I’m technically away, I’ll still be around sporadically on social, very possibly a lot more on my blogs, and either I or my lovely VAs will pick up emails across all businesses and arrange bookings and print delivery and such things. It’ll also be business as usual at Ink Drops, because Anna and I have a great monthly routine in place, and a girl can’t ever divorce herself from her love of stationery…!
But in my own businesses, aside from fulfilling existing bookings and making sure my clients have the best time ever, I will be stepping back and focusing on working out how to make this all work in the long term.
And the ring?
The ring is my symbol of saying Yes to myself. It was made by the very talented Chris Worle, and is the second of his pieces I’ve bought this year. The first was a London Blue topaz solitaire, the colour of the ocean, and of my mermaid tail, to commemorate the first Run Away Days mermaid event and remind me I can totally do this.
The diamond marks the return of my confidence as a photographer, and the start of what I hope will be a lustrous chapter of my life. It usually lives on my middle finger – but it’s staying on my wedding finger for now, to remind me of the promise I made to myself.
Which is needed, as in the week between officially starting my break and writing this post, I have advised two more people on starting businesses and dreamed up another couple of projects of my own! All of which is a much-needed indication that my creativity flourishes when it’s given a bit of space and time to do its own thing.
And of course I couldn’t resist messing with you all, as I know an engagement announcement from me is the very last thing in the world any of you would expect to see without knowing anything about it first. #sorrynotsorry!
Here’s to whatever happens over the next month or two – though in true Carla style, I’ve imagined so much through this post that I already can’t wait to plunge back into the whitewater rapids of self employed insanity with loads of new ideas and excitement and plans!
It has been a crazy busy first third of the year… the most packed I can remember, and I don’t say that lightly.
Also, how the hell is it May?!
It feels a lot like everything’s changing – only of course it isn’t, it’s just that weird temporary feeling I always get when everything’s up in the air and I’m a bit anxious about it all.
(my life is nothing like as organised as the type in this picture…)
Things contributing to overwhelm (which are also fabulous)
Thing #1 – mermaid school is a thing. Not only is it a thing, it’s my thing! The first edition of Run Away Days’ mermaid spa runs on Wednesday, and I have for once had a completely one track mind about it. It’s actually really nice to have prolonged laser focus on just one project, but I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m annoying myself with my perfectionism. So at 9pm when the event is the day after tomorrow, I am calling time on my inner perfectionist and proclaiming that done is better than perfect. It’s already going to be amazing so I need to stop beating myself around the head with my perceived failings.
Also, I have two more bookings, a tail sale and another enquiry – and I haven’t actually advertised it yet! So am muchly excited for the future of my beautiful little mermaid school.
Thing #2 – My fledgling photography business has also taken off quietly in the background, as often happens to me when I’m trying to focus on one thing. This time, photography sessions have snuck in and taken on a life of their own – simply because I’ve finally got over myself, accepted it’s something I do (and do well), and actually told people I’m a photographer. It is amazing what that piece of information does… after all, most people don’t have a crystal ball kicking around, do they?!
There is a whole weekend of mini-sessions lined up in May with the Burlesque Jems, and a very exciting styled shoot collaboration with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, as well as some wonderful local artists, authors and artisans who want personalityful images of them at work and at play.
With two distinct strands – solopreneurs in the Business Soloist sessions, and women celebrating their true selves in Unfurling Your Wings sessions, I’m having a glorious time finally doing what I’ve wanted to offer, but have been scared to, for the best part of a decade.
Thing #3 – I am about to start smashing up my garden and re-landscaping. I say “I” – I really mean my brilliant builder Mark and his team, and my lovely parents who are once again project managing. I can’t wait to have a proper garden to enjoy the summer in, but with a digger and a skip the size of my drive arriving tomorrow, I’m mainly just freaking out about the cats. Though I suppose logically, if they can jump *into* the skip, they should also be able to jump *out* of the skip. No?!
At any rate, I’m tasking Mum with keeping them indoors until the builders have gone home each evening. Cross bored kitties are definitely better than squidged-by-digger kitties… they’re much too curious for their own good!
Thing #4 – I think it probably says quite a lot about my current state of overwhelm that I can’t even remember what thing 4 is.
Thing #5 – It’s trade show season for Ink Drops and we are having a completely wonderful time mooching round the Stationery Show and Progressive Greetings Live, drooling over new stationery, getting to know new suppliers and saying hi to our lovely existing ones.
On the plus side…
Delightful stuff that isn’t overwhelming
I got to meet up with Mermaid Azela last weekend, and we spent two hours swimming and taking photos and videos of each other underwater. It was a totally gorgeous way to spend a Sunday afternoon and we’re definitely going to do it again soon!
Cats make excellent Kindle stands… or at least, my Luna-kitty does. Clover stalked off in disgust when I tried it.
But then, all the comfy places in the world to sit and she chooses an old recycling box…
I’ve also been doing lots of reflecting, learning and reading… more on that in another post.
For now – I believe it’s time for bed, so I have a fighting chance of being awake when the diggers and the skip and the ballast and the paving stones arrive in the morning…!
In my youth, I was often the subject of whispers and giggling. In one memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons occasion when I was fourteen, I was also the subject of a secret bet – how long would the boy I was dating put up with me before he dumped me? (Answer, delightfully, seven years – take that, haters – and it was a heartbreaking but also fairly amicable split).
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of people laughing as you walk past, speculating on your dateability or worth based on your looks, making comments about the way you look as though your body is public property, it leaves an intangible, but indelible mark on you.
I still look up nervously when I hear a group of people burst into laughter – there’s a tiny part of me that still believes they’re laughing at, or about me.
Though this reaction drives me up the wall, I have also developed a really good way of dealing with it. I once described myself as the person people invite to a party so that they have an anecdote to tell afterwards.
I have, over the past few years, become the girl that people talk about.
They talk about the things I do, the wild and intense yet passing passions I have for an infinite variety of things, the pace of my life and the sheer number of delightful things I fit into it.
They talk about my persistence, my determination, my absolute focus on the things that matter to me, and my ability to ignore or deprioritise what I don’t consider to be important.
They talk about my fire, my zing, my unstoppable energy and my infectious enthusiasm.
They talk about the way I’m truly at home in my body and myself and my skin, and I love it for, not in spite of, all its supposed flaws I’m told I should hate and change. About the way I wear whatever the hell I want, regardless of fashion or body type or guidelines. Just what makes me feel good wearing it.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and met up beforehand with old and new friends from the Free Range Humans movement (i.e. people like me who want to get the hell out of 9-5 work and create a life that works for them).
Unusually for me, although I know I want/need/have to write about it, to get such an incredible experience down on paper and screen before the details escape me, I also don’t know what to write. I don’t know how to encapsulate everything that the evening was to me.
Firstly, I’d forgotten the excitement, constant inspiration and sense of total belonging that I have with these guys. We are the most random group of people ever, from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages and at all sorts of stages in our journeys. Every single one of them feels like an old and true friend, even though some of them I only met in person for the first time last night (Vaska, Lisa, Issy, Marianne, Jenny, Becs – I’m looking at you!!).
We used to have regularish meetups and then somehow life got in the way and they tailed off – but I am determined to resurrect that regularity, I hadn’t realised how much I missed the boost they give me and the indescribable feeling of my worldview and plans fitting in so perfectly with theirs.
I’m also really hopeful that I’ll click with the Shining Lights girls in the same way, when I eventually get to meet them in person <3
And then after taking over Wagamama’s for a few hours, we wandered up to the Emmanuel Centre and settled to watch and hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about Big Magic.
The two hours shot past in a blur, I had chills and tears and giggles sometimes all at once. It’s uncanny how much of what she talks about stirs recognition deep within – though she admits there’s no scientific evidence to back it up, every one of us in that room and hundreds of thousands more who have read the book identify on a deep level with what’s in it.
I won’t spoil the book, but I will leave you with my favourite scribbled notes from the four pages I took in my newly-beloved bullet journal:
Having one foot in the real world, and one with the faeries – this is something you sort of must do, to live a full creative life. (Validation, right there!)
On criticism: Does the critic have your best interests at heart? Do they know what you were trying to do? Can they offer criticism in a kind way? If not, fuck them – you don’t have to listen.
“Honesty without kindness is not a virtue.”
“I am willing to take the risk of being insulted, in order to be heard.” – this one really resonated – I am so lucky to be alive in a time where I’m allowed to say and do what I want, that I need to ditch my fear of criticism.
It is far, far better to be alone than with someone who’s not supporting or lifting you, or making your life better, easier or happier. If none of that is happening, what is the point? This was so good to hear, it’s my general philosophy on relationships but always good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!
There is a shit sandwich with everything. You have to work out what you love so much, and get so much out of, that you’re willing to eat the shit sandwiches. (I have a love-hate relationship with this analogy, something about it makes me uncomfortable – probably the fact that I don’t want to face the fact that everything I love has a flipside!)
Being creative is like having a border collie – if you don’t keep it occupied it’ll find something destructive to do.
You’re not obliged to use your creativity to save mankind, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what lights you up.
Don’t be an art martyr, and try or feel you have to do everything by yourself.
The quote that stood out the most, for me?
The ultimate act of creativity is to turn your own life into a work of art.
I am printing this to stick on my desk, my wall, by my bed, in my bathroom. That is what I want from this life, whatever form it takes – mermaiding, photographing, writing, dancing, having blue hair and a unicorn horn… all of the things that make me me.
And Elizabeth’s parting thought was this:
What are you willing to give up or say no to, in order to have the life you say you want?
Big Magic indeed.
With love and unicorns,
PS Have you read Big Magic, or seen Elizabeth Gilbert speak? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PPS I know the picture isn’t great, but I was too busy listening to take a proper one!
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!
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.
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
~ 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