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31 May, 2009

Balancing Act

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Weaving — Tags: , , , — admin @ 10:56 am

Imeant to post this on 13th May, but somehow didn’t quite get round to it.  So here it is a little late, but still relevant!

Quite frequently, I find myself out of balance with myself.  How do we achieve balance between earning a living, looking after our health and wellbeing, and stimulating our minds?  I frequently look at my lifestyle and feel I should be doing more of one, less of another, and taking more responsibility for my own welfare.

In our household, my husband does most of the cooking and also the shopping.  However, he likes red meat a lot more than I do, and I prefer one or two vegetarian meals a week, which he doesn’t.  But I also like the convenience of not having to cook in the evening, and he also enjoys cooking, so it seems the ideal solution.  But is it?  I’ve recently been feeling the need for more fruit and veg than he normally buys, and started getting small mouth ulcers on my tongue or cheek, as well as more aches and pains than I would like in my joints. 

Today, I decided to go and do some fruit and veg shopping for me, so I now have blueberries, cherries, red and green grapes, broccoli, carrots, curly kale, green tea, etc, some of it English produce, but the vast majority of it from countries far away – Chile, Costa Rica, Spain, France, Italy – so now I’m concerned about the carbon footprint of what I’m buying!  Food that’s supposed to make me feel better now is contributing to a feeling of guilt and my responsibility of contributing to the world’s ecological concerns! 

I saw a young soldier on my journey to the supermarket, and that led to my reflecting on priorities in our daily lives and living slower.  I know I’ve mentioned it before but I am a member of the Slow Movement and try to make conscious choices about how I live my daily life so as not to allow myself to be rushed into chasing my tail like the oozalum bird….  This young man was dressed in his battle fatigues, really smartly turned out with gleaming boots, smart hair and upright bearing, and it sent my memory back to my Dad polishing our shoes every night as a part of the daily round.  He was adamant that he learned a lot from his national service and that everyone should undertake a 2 year service to their country, learning to care for themselves and be proud of who and what they are, making them self-sufficient and useful members of society. 

This reflection of taking care of ourselves, spending time polishing boots and buckles, caring for our appearance, then led to another question in my mind.  When does taking care of oneself turn into vanity?  My Mum would say that care taken with your appearance before going out was good, but that constant checking of oneself whilst out was vanity, and I guess that’s quite a good dividing line.  Taking care of yourself also means exercising, and I feel guilty when this subject comes up because I’m not a person who enjoys exercising for exercising’s sake.  I can’t stand the competitive (and smelly!) atmosphere in gyms, I hate committing to a week’s regular class and when I did go to a regular yoga class, I was always measuring myself against everyone else!    (I had to be the best!!)

As far as weaving and weaving related things go, I’m there!  That’s my pleasure as well as my job.  And yet it means many solitary hours (which I love) which quite often stretch into the evenings (if my husband is not at home).  So perhaps I just need to take time out when having a cup of tea (green, of course!)and work in some simple strengthening and stretching exercises. 

Perhaps what I’m trying to work out through this blog is how to strike a balance that seems right for me.  It doesn’t matter if it is completely different to everyone else’s – they, after all, are not me!  So moderation in eating and drinking, ensuring good quality food from farmers’ markets that are local and only supplementing my food with imported items where the season doesn’t allow them to be in season here, regularly walking Charlie and walking to the local shops, allowing myself the time to do it.  In other words, not trying to cram as much into a day as possible (the downside of trying to live each day as if it were your last!) but aiming for one or two goals whilst giving myself the time to live and observe life and nature around me.  And above all, not feeling guilty for what I can’t or haven’t achieved, but taking responsibility for my own health and wellbeing. 

Sounds good, doesn’t it?!  But isn’t it hard to get that balance between individual responsibility and global concerns on an even keel?  Everything is so interlinked that every decision we make has consequences.  I guess that the only thing we can do is try to make decisions that are right for us as individuals, keeping in mind that we all belong to the global family and that things we do to harm the environment and each other harm us all in the long run!  What a responsibility being a human in today’s world carries…. 

24 May, 2009

Advice from the Top of the World

I’m a tremendous admirer of people with big ambitions like explorers and adventurers.  They put themselves on the line, not expecting anyone else to do the dirty work for them, and they either succeed or fail.  There’s no hiding or fudging your mistakes when you are that sort of person.  It’s all out there. 

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has to be one of the greatest explorers of our age, and his amazing feat of climbing to the top of Mt Everest this week (and at the age of 65!) alongside his Sherpa is one that many of us are in awe of.  (Sorry about the grammar, but how else to phrase it without getting clunky?!) 

It’s not just that he climbed Everest – I won’t say ‘conquer’ because I don’t believe you can ‘conquer’ a mountain – and got as close to the moon as any person physically on this earth possibly can, but that it is a personal achievement of a man who has crossed both the poles and suffered extreme conditions in his quest for adventure and exploration. 

What he did conquer was that little voice inside his head that kept surfacing every now and then to tell him to give up.  He said it was trying to give him excuses not to go on.  It’s a fine line to judge when that little voice is just being a pesky nuisance and undermining your determination, and when it is actually being the voice of reason and will save your life, and I guess Sir Ranulph has had more experience than most of making that judgement call.  After all, this was his third attempt at Everest. 

I watched an interview with him before he made the climb from Base Camp 2, and he said his plan was to keep plodding and plodding and not plan on reaching the summit, just keep his head down and keep plodding.  That struck a chord with me.  In the days when I used to be fit and cycle 10 miles to college and 10 miles back again, there was a very steep and fairly long hill climb about 10 minutes into the journey.  In order to make it to the top of this hill without getting off and walking, I would have to keep my head down and focus on the physical movement of my feet going round and round.  If I looked up to see how far I had to go, I lost heart.  If I kept my head down and didn’t even think about the end result, I just kept at it until the difficulty eased and I found I’d reached the top. 

It’s like that with weaving too.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my husband likes to measure everything to know how much more he’s got to do.  If I do that, I lose heart and think I’ll finish off another day.  If I just focus on the moment, and keep at it, I usually can finish the job. 

So, whether it’s a mundane task (like spring cleaning that I’ve got to do this week!!!!), or something I generally like doing like weaving, or something as hugely ambitious as climbing to the summit of Mt Everest, it’s reassuring to know that the same little trick can help get us all to our respective goals, be they large or small!

Kudos Sir Ranulph!!

10 May, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

With a title like that, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am going to talk about Kate Adie, BBC reporter extraordinaire, as that’s the title of her autobiography.  That may come once I’ve read the book, but in the meantime, last weekend, I visited the Stroud International Textile Festival, a festival that’s been going for a few years in the Cotswolds, and one that has increased in stature over the years. 

This year, of special interest to me was a lecture series involving some textile artists and weavers who I respect and wanted to meet.  The first of these is Michael Brennand-Wood, well known in the UK and Europe, but less so in the US I think.  I have met Michael on a number of occasions, but particularly wanted to see his latest work and hear him talk as he is coming to be our lead speaker at the Midlands Textile Forum Symposium in November.  The talk was interesting and thought-provoking, and I’ll look forward to hearing more from him later in the year. 

The other speaker who I wanted to hear over the course of that weekend is Philippa Brock, the Weave Leader at Central St Martins, London, who was showing slides and actual fabric from a wonderful project she’s been doing in collaboration with Sir Aaron Klug, Nobel Laureate.  I had heard about Philippa from a number of sources, but could never find any information on her other than her connection with Central St Martins and she’s working in an area of textiles that really interests me.  I love science, art and nature, and her involvement with a sci-art project on this sort of scale was something I just had to find out more about.  Her lecture was also informative, insightful and stimulating and I got the chance to chat with her before the lecture. 

Anyway, the title of this post doesn’t actually refer to the festival, but to a wonderful couple I stayed with.  I’m usually pretty well organised when it comes to going anywhere, but this time, I managed to get up late, meet up with other dog walkers and make myself reaaaaaally late in getting going, so I bundled everything I needed into a larger bag, and set off in a hurry.  I had one of those vague feelings that I’d forgotten something, but it was only when I pulled into the local supermarket car park to grab something to eat before Michael’s lecture, that I realised what it was!  I had forgotten to transfer my wallet, complete with all my cash and cards, from my usual bag to the one I was using.  Ironically, I had actually gone back to pick up a few business cards which are the usual thing I forget!!

You can imagine – for a second, total blind panic.  Then I breathed again, and the heat flooded through me as I berated myself for being such a total brainless idiot!  Then some deep breathing while I tried to calm my thoughts so I could actually do some useful thinking.  Well, since I was there already, it would be daft to go all the way back without hearing at least one of the lectures I’d travelled 120 miles to attend, so I went to the lecture.  Sitting calming myself before it started, I thought – ‘Oh well, hopefully something will sort itself out’, so I focused on the talk, deciding to deal with the problem later.

After the talk, I went for a walk through the park.  I rang my husband and explained the situation to him, and bless him, he was prepared to meet me half-way with my wallet, but I knew he had a concert to play in and that would cut into his free-time and possibly make him late if the traffic was bad.  I had the phone number of the B&B people I was due to stay with, but they were out, so I left a message.  A short while later I had a reply.  No problems, I could stay there as planned, they would lend me some money for an evening meal (thankfully I had a bag of mixed fruit & nuts in the car, and a bottle of water) and whatever I needed for the following day and I could send them a cheque when I returned home.  And these are people I had never even met!

When I met up with Terry and Nan Dyer, my hosts at Silver Street Farmhouse, in Coaley, Worcestershire, I couldn’t have hoped for a more lovely couple.  The wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread wafted out of the kitchen, and then Nan brought me a couple of thick slices of the warm bread for me to keep me going until my evening meal!  The room was a lovely attic room in their farmhouse from the 1600s, there was tea and coffee, and I was able to relax and count my blessings.  The meal at a local pub was good with a lovely walk through country paths, across fields and bluebell woods and I watched the sun go down over the horizon on the way back.  After a great night’s sleep, breakfast was guaranteed to last me the whole day until I got home! 

So if ever you find yourself in the beautiful area of Stroud, do make a point of visiting Terry and Nan Dyer for a night’s B&B and say that I recommended them.  One good turn deserves another!  They were wonderfully kind and generous to a stranger!

3 May, 2009

It’s Time – Again!

As you know by now, if you’re a regular reader of my posts, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about time and how it passes at different rates depending on i) what you’re doing  ii) what stage of life you are at  iii) whether you are interested in what you are doing or thinking  iv) whether you like the people you are with, or location you are in.   I love this elasticity of time, this construct that seems so rigid in the man-made sense, yet is so pliable that we can, individually, alter our perception of its passing.  

Yesterday I had a break-through in my thinking about my work.  As part of my morning wake-up, I read a magazine or a book whilst sipping that wonderful first cup of morning tea!  I find it wakes me up gently and gets my brain unfurled and ready for harder activities later on.  Anyway, I was reading the Surface Design Journal, which is all about the Australian textile world this issue, and I suddenly had one of those epiphany moments, which led to my running to my notebook and quickly jotting down the thoughts that were whirling around in my head.  It wasn’t so much that there were any new ideas in the mix – just that for one second, one element in one image provided the connecting link between two strands of ideas that had been jostling for position in my mind!  Suddenly, that moment stretched out whilst I scribbled down my scurrying thoughts, and when I looked up again, nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.  

Those moments are amazing.  

Later on during the day, I returned to the magazine with another cup of tea and read a few more articles.  Other things popped up to re-enforce the epiphany and led to a further train of thought about how to develop my ideas in the future – after I’ve worked through the work I’m developing now.  That led to further thinking on whether I should contemplate going to do an MA or MFA, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time, and before I knew where I was, I’d done some research online and found exactly the right course for me, I’d spoken to my husband and suddenly the next two years looks completely different to what I was contemplating previously. 

The economic climate does have something to do with it, because I was hoping to go to the US to do an MFA, and had already decided where I wanted to go because the tutors are brilliant, but now that doesn’t appear to be so feasible, and so I have had to turn my attention to the UK.  Of course I’m too late for this year’s applications, so I have time to reflect and refine my ideas before applying to the college I’d like to attend.  There’s no guarantee that I’ll be accepted, of course, so everything may well change all over again.  But isn’t that part of the fun of life? 

That got me thinking about the 80/20 rule – that we do 80% of our work in 20% of our time.  So the remaining 80% of our time can be spent in slowing down our lives and getting living value from each wonderful moment.  Now that seems a good ratio to me!