My name is Asphyxia, though some of my friends call me Fixie, and this blog is a “shelf” where I put all things I’m passionate about. In the "check out" section, you can find a guide to this blog, to help you find things of interest to you.
I’m an artist and a writer. I sell paintings, jewellery, books, zines and more through my online Etsy shop, Fixie’s Shelf.
Ours has become an age of overuse, waste and devastation, and in protest of this, I’m trying to find ways to live more simply, to use and waste less, and to turn my slice of the planet into a rich and beautiful place to pass on to our children.
To do this, I’m growing my own food – you’ll find plenty of food production and preservation tips in this blog. I’m learning to make truly sustainable textiles, from leaves of plants and by harvesting the fur from my pet angora rabbit. I live with my partner and our son in a tiny mudbrick cottage I built myself, with solar electricity, water and heater. It has a composting toilet and is surrounded by chooks, fruit trees and food plants. I’ve joined the Riot for Austerity – a project in which participants try to reduce their use of resources down to ten percent of what the average person uses. In my personal life, I’ve achieved this, though I haven’t counted work.
My marionette show, The Grimstones, has toured internationally and won many awards. As a result I was commissioned by publishers Allen and Unwin to write a series of children’s books based on the show.
I homeschool my son, Jesse, and one of my aims is to equip him for a future in which oil is likely to become prohibitively expensive – meaning by the time he’s a man, he probably won’t be able to drive a car to work, and food will probably cost far too much to eat the way we do now.
In my spare time (ha!), I love making things. Art journals, metalsmithing, sewing, knitting, spinning, weaving (all kinds of textiles!), and baskets are my current passion. I also love researching topics of interest, and as I learn new things, I like to write up my notes so I can remember it in a concise form later.
In this blog you will find:
- my notes from many topics I’ve learnt about, especially food and nutrition
- things I’ve made.. all different kinds of art and products for our home
- bits about our homeschooling journey
- heaps of info about living more sustainably and simply
- bits and pieces about my work, as a performer and a writer (forgive me please, for shamelessly self-promoting my new book series – I’m so excited about it!)…
- recipes and food ideas
- and some pictures of my rabbit because she was really cute.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please do leave a comment to say hello!
If you’re looking for a beautiful, illustrated book for young readers, maybe The Grimstones Collection would do the trick? It has spurred many hours of holiday fun as kids have become inspired afterwards to build their own miniature worlds in boxes.
It’s a bind-up edition containing all four Grimstone stories in a single book. It’s the diary of Martha Grimstone, complete with gorgeous photos of her family and home (miniature puppets and furniture that I made myself from upcycled junk), drawings and collage, and is perfect for young readers aged 7 to 13. UK folk will be able to find it in any good bookstore.
When I wrote the book, I made sure not to ‘dumb it down’ for young readers, and lots of adults have told me how much they enjoy reading the books to their kids. It’s great as a vocabulary-expander and I’ve been told many times that my books have transformed children from non-readers into enthusastic readers.
The Grimstones won the Speech Pathologist’s book of the year 2013 and was also awarded Australian Book Design of the year 2013. With The Grimstones, I like to inspire kids to get making – and I’ve a huge album of photos of things kids have made after reading The Grimstones. Some have made dolls based on the characters, and fabulous dress ups, others have made miniature worlds out of cardboard, and written spellbooks and even short novels inspired by the book.
If you fancy a copy to give someone for Christmas, you can get one signed by me here.
This is a card for those of us who don’t really do Christmas but don’t want to give a total slap in the face to those around us that do, by ignoring it entirely. If, like me, you’re an un-Christmaser, maybe you’d like a pack of these? They sold out quickly last year so grab them while they are available if they take your fancy.
If you like my posts about Deafness, or enjoy my free Auslan course, you will love my book, Future Girl, which is the art journal of 16-year-old Piper as she explores her identity as a Deaf teenager in near future Melbourne. The book is packed full of my artwork – 384 pages of art! It’s ideal for anyone who is interested in the environment, food growing, Deafness, sign language, art journaling and art. The book has won numerous awards and is now set to become a TV series.
I found writing about Deaf experience challenging, because Deafness was such an ordinary part of my existence that I rarely thought about it. I began jotting down my daily Deaf encounters – the little annoyances, confusing moments, benefits, the irritating things people say, and the complex feelings that arise when someone has tried to provide access but missed the mark.
I began to articulate aspects of Deafness I had never seen described before. For example, a Deaf dilemma: if I’m standing with a group of hearing people who are laughing, but I have no idea what they are laughing about, should I laugh along to be friendly (and if you do, are you somehow ‘lying’ about having understood?), or stand there with a stony face even though it could seem rude and unfriendly?
I realised everyday I was dealing with difficult decisions like this, but I have never stopped and thought about how I really wanted to respond! Through writing Future Girl, I became aware of so many aspects of my Deafness, and began making conscious choices about my behaviour!
Most of my discoveries about Deafness have gone into my book, Future Girl. My editor, who thought she had a good grasp of Deafness, was stunned by the layers to our experience that she had never considered.
Every now and then I read a book that changes my life: that causes me to fundamentally adjust my view of the world we live in, the people in it, and how I myself live and respond to it. I love those books, and when I realise I have picked up a new such book, I feel this huge jolt of excitement. I thought I’d share with you the reads that were life-changing for me, in case some of them are of interest to you. Every one of these books is an easy read, with a good conversational, engaging writing style, so you can relax into them as you would a novel.
How to live
Depletion and Abundance by Sharon Astyk
This book taught me about peak oil and resilience. It provides a stunning model for how we as communities can respond to the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil, in a way that makes our lives richer and more connected to one another as we do so. I have put many of the ideas from this book into practice as a core part of how I live and it’s made my life better on every level.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
This book taught me how to manage my home, and in the process, make better choices about my lifestyle. I spent six months putting into practice the ideas Kondo teaches about what possessions to keep, what to ditch, and how to store everything. My home remains in fabulous order and many years later, I still adhere to her ideas because they make my life uncluttered, simple and streamlined. In the process of doing this, I had to ask myself whether each item I owned brought me joy. Doing this consistently for six months caused me to start doing it for activities and scheduled items too. It caused a huge shift in what I chose to do with my time as well as my home and possessions, and that has been immensely valuable. I’ve posted about my journey following this process here.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
This is also a book about how to live, but it’s more focused on your work life, career and digital life. Ferriss suggests developing a product that will provide passive income – despite following his recommendations none of mine were successful, so I don’t recommend it on that front. But he has a massive focus on making your digital and work life more efficient, and these ideas have been really valuable to me. I’ve posted more about my changes following on from reading this book here.
If you enjoy this book, you might also like his other book, the 4-Hour body.
And as a side topic, if you want to know how to learn a language really fast, check out his website. I learned Norwegian at top speed and it turned out it was because I as inadvertantly following the same ideas as he recommends.
Your Mortgage and How to Pay it Off in 5 Years by Anita Bell
This is a finance guide which teaches great money management advice. I read it in my early twenties and it inspired a lot of my financial decisions going forward. It’s more extreme (and thus in my mind more valuable) than current popular finance books such as Barefoot Investor, and teaches a frugal approach to living until the basics in life such as shelter, food and bills are covered.
For finance advice I also recommend the blog of Mr Money Mustache [URL https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/ ], who worked out a formula for retiring in seven years if you can figure out how to live on 25% of your current income. He and his wife retired at age 30 on two normal salaries and live what they feel is a wonderful and fulfilling existance. I have embraced many of the same ideas in my own financial management.
This book gives a detailed and interesting run down of the science of trauma, how it affects us all, and what we can do to mitigate it. After reading the book I could recognise trauma-created behaviour in those around me and it helped me to be much more empathic rather than judgemental. I followed ideas in this to sort out my own past trauma and it worked. I then suggested the same ideas to others in whom I recognised trauma behaviour, and those who have followed it have ended up in a much better place. The thing that struck me the most was his description of someone whose life was a mess, just doesn’t have her shit together. Once she dealt with her trauma, she became really competent, a leader who was able to get stuff done. That matches my experience in watching the transformation of those around me in response to this book. It’s also just good general education about how our minds and emotions work. However, a warning that this is a slightly denser and more slower-going read than most of the others on this list.
The Weathermakers by Tim Flannery
This is the book that taught me about climate change and why I should care. It was written back in the 90s so is a bit old now, but that’s when I read it. It remains the best, most comprehensive and inspiring book I have read and I am certain the core content is still relevant today, even if an update is needed about where we are currently at environmentally. It finishes with a list of recommendations for what to actually do, which is helpful too.
Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford
This is a fabulous primer on feminism. It breaks down very clearly what feminism is and why it’s relevant today. Many aspects of misogyny and the oppression of women can feel so normalised that we don’t even see them. Ford points them all out. As one friend said after I recommended this book to her, ‘I was blind but now I can see.’
Real Gorgeous by Kaz Cooke
This book was written back in the 90s and I’m not sure how relevant it is for today. But it had a profound effect on my life in that it got me to see through the spin of the beauty industry and have confidence that I didn’t need to subscribe to it. I have felt a lot of freedom with this inherent philosophy, and I really notice it when compared to women around me who purchase beauty products. This book has saved me a lot of money over many decades!
Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf
This book opened my eyes to what happens when we have a baby, how previously egalitarian relationships can end up accidentally falling back into stereotyped roles along gender lines, and with the same old power struggles we swore we’d never fall prey to. I read it when I was pregnant and it got me to rethink everything about my relationship and career going forward, to avoid the classic pitfalls. As a result, I had great strategies to negotiate the stuff that all couples with children need to figure out such as money, domestics and childcare, to make sure that invisible labour gets counted and it’s actually fair. I highly recommend it for anyone in a relationship who plans to have kids or already has young children.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer
This book showed me that the birth industry as we know it in Australia (and America) does not actually follow what is known to be best practice surrounding pregnancy and birth. It provides a good guide to help sidestep some of the routine practices that can lead to a highly medicalised birth, and provides statistics as to why we would want to – outcomes for both mother and baby are better when we avoid the cascade of medical intervention.
Understanding and responding to abuse
See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill
Jess Hill delves deep into domestic violence and looks at why people enact violence on their partners (both physical and emotional), and what can be done to solve the problem on a society scale. I don’t agree with what she writes about parental alienation but the rest of the book cross references very well with other material I’ve digested on the topic, and provides many new research-based insights which I have not found elsewhere. It engenders a deeper understanding of why women stay, and would be a great book for policy-makers as well as personal understanding, as it offers solutions as well as descriptions of the problem.
The Gaslight Effect by Dr Robin Stern
While we know a lot, collectively, about physical abuse and how wrong it is, few people can identify emotional abuse and even fewer know how to respond to it. Gaslighting is a specific type of emotional abuse which is both insidious and hard to spot, as well as very confusing to deal with in relationships. I have read a lot of books on this topic and this is the only one I would recommend as it is so clear, teaches you how to spot emotional abuse, and gives numerous strategies in terms of how to respond. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it in Australia but I asked a friend in America to post it to me, and it was well worth the hassle. I believe everyone in our society needs to be educated about emotional abuse, as it is surprisingly ubiquitous, just as we learn that hitting is wrong. There is a gap in our cultural education and this book fills it.
What to Do When He Won’t Change by Jack Ito
This book is also about abuse, but on a very personal level. If you realise that you are in an abusive relationship and aren’t in a position to leave, this book offers strategies to create boundaries that could put a stop to it from the inside. It’s kind of old fashioned, very heterosexual and cis in its assumptions about relationships, but if you can see past that, the strategies recommended are sound. This book teaches you how to enact healthy boundaries, and when to do so. I wish I’d read it sooner!
Understanding experiences of marginalised people
As a person who belongs to three marginalised groups – Deaf, lesbian and disabled – I have first hand experience of what it is like to be marginalised and discriminated against for reasons outside my control, and the effect on my life is immense. I am aware that in areas where I have privilege, such as being white, thin, cisgender, and conventionally feminine in my presentation, there are people experiencing other forms of discrimination that are largely invisible to me. I believe that we all have a responsibility to learn about the experiences of marginalised groups that we are not part of, because that can help us see how we are part of the problem, and what we need to do to contribute to solutions.
As a Deaf person attempting to function in a hearing world, I can clearly see that Deaf people are drowning in efforts to self-advocate and make things more accessible for ourselves, and that a shift needs to be made by hearing people to be more inclusive. That shift will only be possible when they understand what we are dealing with.
To that end, I wrote Future Girl / The Words in My Hands which demonstrates experience of d/Deafness and helps people to develop empathy for us, and going by emails from readers and reviews, it does achieve my aim.
The other books in this section (there’s only two, unfortunately) provide an insight into other marginalised experiences. We desperately need more such books to help us all understand the experiences of marginalised people. But also, I have been slow in coming to the table in this area. I am aware that I have been so busy self-advocating that I haven’t had a lot of headspace for the barriers experienced by others, but I am making an effort to change that now.
The Master Plan by Chris Wilson
I can’t say that I have an excellent handle on racism yet, but this book helped me to ‘get it’ in a way that many others I have read did not. It’s simply Chris Wilson’s memoir, which illustrates the poverty, drug addition and gun violence of his community and how mass incarceration of black people and racism have fed this cycle and made it so very difficult to break. After reading this book I understood why the Black Lives Matter movement resulted in riots all over the USA, and could better see some of the systemic violence enacted on people of colour.
I would like to read equivalent books to help me understand better what First Nations people here in Australia are dealing with, so if anyone can recommend one, please do.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
Anti-fat bias (the bias we all hold against fatness) is deeply indoctrinated in us, culturally, and can feel so normal that it is difficult for us to see. Collectively, we blame fat people for being fat and deny basic human rights such as health care, respect, freedom from abuse and inclusion in many aspects of society until they lose weight. We say that fat people ’should’ lose weight for their health even though studies show that weight loss programs don’t work, and we use that as an excuse for abuse of their basic human rights. At the same time, we forgive thin people for not doing as they ’should’ when it comes to their health, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or not getting enough sleep. This book taught me about my own anti-fat bias (as distinct from the body positivity movement) as well as to see it more clearly in our community. A must read for anyone who is, has ever seen or met a fat person (ie, all of us!).
Health and nutrition
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig
There are many healthy ways to eat and the way that is healthy for my body is not necessarily healthy for yours. This book recommends a particular traditional way of eating that changed my life. It might not work for you, but for me it resulted in a complete transformation of my health and a new perspective on what is considered ’nutritious.’ I was run down, experiencing numerous forms of health collapse, when a friend put this book into my hands. I was dubious at first because the ideas in it seem so far from what I had been taught was healthy. But I decided to try one. To my surprise, I saw concrete changes within a month. I went back to the book and implented another of its recommendations, and then later, another and another, and I saw steady health gains the entire time. The premise of this book is about eating the way traditional cultures have eaten before civilisation. Weston Price travelled around the world visiting cultures that had not yet been modified by civilised diets, and found that their citizens experienced vastly superior health, and that they had some features in common, which he brought back to England. The people who tried out these ideas found their health improved significantly. This book is a nutrition guide and recipe book based on that research. I’ve posted more about this here.
The Plant Paradox by Steven Gundry
This is another book about healthy eating that comes from a completely different perspective. Gundry is a cardiac surgeon who saw peoples’ arteries transform based on what they ate, and he researches extensively to understand why foods have the effect that they do. He recommends a lectin-free diet which can help many people heal from a range of seemingly permanent health conditions. The premise is that while traditionally our guts provided protection against lectins in food, viruses and some items we ingest such as pesticides can erode that protection, allowing lectins to wreak havoc and interfere with numerous body systems. I and several people I know who have experimented with eating lectin-free have found it transformative and healing. It only takes about a week on a lectin free diet to see if you will experience a benefit from it or not. If you do, then you can continue the diet until you reach certain markers of health, and once these are attained, then start re-introducing foods, until you find the sweet spot for your health. Gundry’s books are a very interesting primer on health and the body too, and taught me how to fix some really fundamental health issues I was dealing with such as experiencing constant blood sugar crashes. I’ve posted more about this here.
You might enjoy looking up some more books I’ve reviewed that made a profound impact on me:
If you like my book, Future Girl / The Words in My Hands, and are interested to do some art journaling along those lines, you might like to try my art therapy course, Pour Your HeART Out. In this video I talk about what you’ll get from the course and show snippets of the course content.
Have you seen the BBC’s show, Fake or Fortune? I have found myself rather gripped. It’s got all the hooks of a good murder mystery, without the blood and gore. On the show, the presenters, Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould, set out to determine whether paintings owned by their viewers are ‘real’ or ‘fake’. If a painting is determined to have really been painted by a famous artist, then its value can be anywhere from £5,000 to £500,000. But if it’s a ‘fake’, it’s worth pretty much nothing. The methods they use to make a determination are fascinating. I love the scientific scans of paintings where they check out pigments, x-rays and what’s underneath the final layer of paint. But going in close to determine the precise make up of a painting is not enough. An essential ingredient is provenance – being able to trace the journey of the painting from the painter to its current owner. Without provenence, even the best science is generally not considered conclusive enough for the experts in the art world to be certain a painting was really done by the artist in question.
But something about the underpinnings of this show bothers me deeply. It’s this: why does it matter? How can the value of a painting skyrocket depending on whose hand did it, rather than on the merit of the painting itself? In this post, I look closely at this question, and try to understand the mechanics of merit versus provenance. I think the art world might have got it wrong.
My first understanding of valuable art went something like this: an artist, generally a man (I’ve watched two seasons of Fake or Fortune, and every single famous artist they’ve considered the works of has been a man), paints something which, for its time, is quite groundbreaking and remarkable. This man follows up with more work in the same vein. Because of the incredible quality of his work, he becomes famous, and his distinctive style of work becomes known and identified as his. Typically other artists might follow in his footsteps, and the new style becomes a movement. For example, Claude Monet was said to have started painting in an Impressionist style, and he was joined by other artists who painted similarly, eventually resulting in the Impressionist movement. Many years later, the works by Monet are considered highly valuable, because they were by him, and he was a very important person in art HIStory.
My current understanding of valuable art goes more like this: a person, generally a man, is given the opportunity to develop his painting skills (often while the women around him feed him, clothe him, do the housework and raise his children) and go to a prestigious art school where his talent is nurtured (while female students, if there are any at the same school, are sidelined). The man, thanks to his opportunities and connections developed at the art school, is seen by someone important when he creates some really good, really interesting art. He is given an exhibition at a high profile gallery, which promotes his work as just brilliant, and guides people to see it as thus. He becomes known as a household name and perhaps famous for starting a movement, if he did something in a new style that others then copied. The great man, as he is now known, is much revered and his work considered very valuable.
But surely, you might ask, he couldn’t have become so famous if his art didn’t have merit? Well, yes. But if we pretend that merit was the reason for his fame and becoming a household name, then surely we have to also consider all the other artworks of equivalent merit, by people who never had the opportunities and connections to become famous.
Let’s say Mr Very Important Artist does a painting in a new style, which we’ll call Kapowism. No-one has ever done a Kapowist painting before and everyone who sees it is shocked, moved, amazed and delighted. Mr Very Important Artist does a whole lot more Kapowist paintings, with multiple subjects. He dies, his work is catalogued, and sells at Christie’s for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Then someone shows up with a Kapowist painting which looks exactly like his stuff, but it isn’t in the catalog – it’s an image no-one in the art world has seen before. Is this painting an original, done by his great hand and hidden from the art world for a century, or is it merely a worthless fake?
I say to you, it doesn’t matter.
Perhaps we could argue that we love work by Mr Very Important Artist because he invented Kapowism. But really, there is only one painting that marked the start of Kapowism: the very first painting he ever did that was Kapowist, where he stumbled upon a new way of painting and it just worked. Mr Very Important Artist looked at it and said, ‘Hey! I love this! I’m gonna do more along these lines!’ And off he went, painting Kapowist painting after Kapowist painting. A friend of his, Mr Somewhat Important Artist, also loved what he had done and had a crack at a Kapowist painting himself, doing his own take on the Kapowist idea. He liked it too, and did a whole lot more. Others joined them, and lo and behold, we have the Kapowist movement.
Surely the subsequent works by Mr Very Important Artist are no more significant to the creation of the movement than are works by other artists who also contributed to the movement? The idea had been executed in the first Kapowist painting and every subsequent Kapowist painting simply built on that idea. This unknown painting is a contribution to the Kapowist movement, whether by Mr Very Important Artist or someone else.
If it’s lovely, why don’t we value it? Why not celebrate the artist who did it? If it’s not lovely, why not say, ‘Well, Mr Very Important Artist painted many great pieces, but this was not one of them’?
If you pay a lot of money for a piece by Mr Very Important Artist, regardless of whether it is lovely or not, then you are paying for his fame, not for the artwork itself. Do we really want to value art based on the fame of the painter, rather than on the merits of the piece itself? That seems skewed to me.
You might say that to own an original by Mr Very Important Artist is incredible because you can sit in front of that painting and think, ‘Wow, this was his actual brushstroke!’ This might give you immense pleasure, picturing the direct linage from him to your lounge room. This pleasure could be worth paying thousands for. But say I sold you a fake, which was actually done by Mr Very Important Artist’s talented but uncelebrated underling (so talented that you couldn’t tell that it wasn’t by Mr Very Important Artist himself), and you didn’t know it was a fake. You could have those pleasurable thoughts your whole life, and then go to your grave happy and satisfied and none the wiser. Your pleasure would only be shattered if someone told you it was a fake.
I put it to you that judging a work as valuable if and only if it was done by a certain famous artist, even when you can’t tell by looking at the artwork if it was done by him or not, is a construct. It is a construct created by The Art World, which really started out as a bunch of wealthy white men who had the means to present the work of the artists they liked the most (who also happened to be men – what a surprise!). These wealthy white men guided us to see what is ‘good’ and what is not. They guided us to value the men they liked and to diss the men and women they didn’t. They guided us to value the people and their fame more than the works they created. If the work was truly judged on merit alone, then we would have to attribute value to many artworks that were done by women, for example, and artists who aren’t white, and artists who are Deaf or disabled. Afterall, we have always painted alongside privileged white men, though we might not have had money for paint, nor much time given that we were tied down with domestic obligations, slavery, or locked in institutions.
I want to offer up a different idea, which we can all embrace when it comes to assessing the merit of an artwork. Let’s take back the power from the wealthy white men who started The Art World, and stop subscribing to constructs such as that an artwork only has merit if it was done by a famous artist who we have been told is great. Let’s learn how to assess a painting ourselves to decide if it has merit. Remember that taste and reaction to an artwork is a deeply personal thing – a painting that for some is fabulous, for others will be boring and unremarkable.
So how do you do this?
I suggest you ask yourself the following questions: 1. Does this artwork appeal to me? Do I want to look at it? 2. Does this artwork make me feel something? 3. Does this artwork make me think, see the world from a different perspective?
If you answer yes to any of the above questions, the artwork has impacted you. Only you get to decide the value of that impact, the power of it.
It’s easy for us to ‘other’ people with a disability, to assume this won’t happen to us. But in truth, just as life throws us pandemics and other unexpected obstacles to life as we know it, a wheelchair may only be an illness or accident away. And when it happens, we don’t suddenly become different people. We don’t suddenly stop caring about being cool, or lose our desire to do street art. And yet public perception of people in wheelchairs is often that we will be passive observers to society, and this plays out in books, movies, and the way people relate to us. Mobility equipment is often hideously ugly, created with no thought to aesthetic or style, and no practical storage to allow us to bring our stuff with us. Something’s got to change.
This painting is a part of my exhibition, Love, Lies and Indoctrination, which can be viewed online here.
If you’d like to buy this piece, it’s available here.