Category Archives: Asphyxia’s Life

Creating the lifestyle you really want

Before I became very sick (but when I was on the way down and didn’t know why), I was working on lifestyle design – choosing carefully what I wanted to have in my day to day life, and eliminating the things that didn’t meet my goals or bring me pleasure. I tried experimenting with various ideas over most of a year, and found out some surprising things about the way I wanted to live. I thought I’d share with you some of my process, to inspire you in case you’d like to do similar work on your own life.Before I became very sick (but when I was on the way down and didn’t know why), I was working on lifestyle design – choosing carefully what I wanted to have in my day to day life, and eliminating the things that didn’t meet my goals or bring me pleasure. I tried experimenting with various ideas over most of a year, and found out some surprising things about the way I wanted to live. I thought I’d share with you some of my process, to inspire you in case you’d like to do similar work on your own life.

GATHERING INSPIRATION

I’ve read some fantastic books and websites that have given me great fodder for designing the best lifestyle for me. Here’s a run down of my favourites.

The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

While I love being an artist, the thing I hate the most is the admin involved, which can take many, many hours per week. According to The Abundant Artist, if you want to sell your work, you need to spend 50% of your time making and 50% marketing. The latter half is not fun for me. Tim Ferriss showed me how to make the admin part of my life as efficient as possible. Key ideas he gave me include:

  • Do admin tasks in batches (eg, take photos of artworks, answer emails), and move the         batches further and further apart.
  • Never start the day with emails or you’ll end up vague and unfocussed. Put a time limit         on emails.
  • Do the most important thing first each day.
  • Every few months, do an 80%-20% analysis of your life. For example: Which 20% of         things bring you 80% of stress? Eliminate! Which 20% of clients bring you 80% of your       income? Focus on them.
  • Go on a data diet. For seven days, don’t read social media, newspapers, watch TV,                 listen to podcsts… By removing these items from your life, even temporarily, you can           open up headspace and time for things that are more important to you.

After reading this book, I cut down my admin time to five hours per week, and hired an assistant to do some of the routine jobs I really didn’t like. The very process of handing over to an assistant was incredibly illluminating. I wrote out specific steps to follow when a certain kind of email arrives. Do you know what? If I had done this to hand over email-management to myself, I would have saved myself heaps of time, instead of re-inventing the wheel every day and writing the same stuff over and over.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin spent a year reading research about what makes people happy, and trying out the ideas on herself. Some of the ideas, which she thought wouldn’t work or would be too hard, turned out to really improve the quality of her life. Other ideas she decided were not for her. One thing Rubin does is use charts to track her progress. Each month she followed a theme, such as working on her relationship, or improving her work life, and she would assign herself several relevant goals to try out for that month. Each day she’d tick if she achieved it.

One important criteria she discovered for her own happiness was to be herself. She noticed, for example, that she often engaged in activities she thought she should like rather than ones she actually likes. After reading her book, I set myself the goal to ‘Do what I want, not what I should,’ which often amounts to the same thing. I am actually surprised to see how often I don’t do the thing I really want to do because I’m aware of what people might think of me for that.

One month, Rubin read the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty who started NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). It inspired her to write a novel for fun, without worrying about making it good. This idea resonated with me so intensely that I immediately bought the book and embarked on exactly the same project. And it’s brought me a great deal of joy. When I was a teenager I wrote unself-consciously and prolifically, but when I was 18, I set the bar so high for myself that it became impossible and I stopped. Being a professional writer now requires me to be careful and thoughtful, and that often makes writing hard. My aim for my novel was to throw that out the window and just write what I wanted. It’s been glorious!

In considering lifestyle design, Rubin’s book is great because it examines in detail numerous areas in which you might want to make changes, and helps you feel that if an idea doesn’t work out, that’s okay.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I’ve blogged about my journey to declutter and reorganise my things according to the KonMarie method. It has indeed been life-changing. Interestingly, one of the first things that Rubin did when she started the Happiness Project is put her life in order, to reduce chaos. Just having my things uncluttered and organised, and all my outstanding tasks caught up, and memorabilia sorted, made my life vastly better, and made it much easier to find, use, and put away my things. But the true magic of the process is that by assessing with every single item that you own whether it brings you joy or not, and learning to discard it if it doesn’t, you train yourself to do that with every part of your life. This process was a key part of my own lifestyle design.

Minimalism

According to Anushka Rees, the idea of minimalism is that you remove things that don’t add value to your life to make room for the important things. Less: clutter, time commitments, negative thought patterns and toxic relationships. More: time, space and energy for the things that really matter to you. Rather than letting everything pile up so that we respond reactively, or allowing others to dictate how we spend our time, we make conscious choices and live with intention.’

Anushka’s blog has lists of questions you can ask yourself to help you decide how you want to live. A key idea is to define which 3-6 things are most important to you right now. Ensure that these become your day to day focus. Like Rubin and Kondo, she recommends decluttering and organising your belongings, and like Ferriss she suggests we cut down on unnecessary email and social media. There are also reminders in there for things I had let lapse, such as mindfulness, meditation, and not complaining.

The suggestion she makes that I found most helpful was to identify your stress triggers. While I tried to practise gratitude and focus on the positive and not complain, I realised that it meant I wasn’t paying much attention to the negative things in my life. Thanks to the previous steps, I’d gotten rid of a lot of things that stressed me and which I didn’t enjoy doing. What was left that made my life unpleasant was arguing regularly with certain people in my life. I decided for a while to write down the details of every single argument, asking myself what happened, why we fought, and whether I could have handled it differently. I was truly gobsmacked by how helpful this was. I noticed clear patterns and found I could break the cycle simply by changing my response to them. This transformed my day to day experience of stress at that time. I’m not saying it’s always that easy, but it’s a good example of how sometimes doing the thing that shouldn’t make you happy (dwelling on the negative) can actually bring about positive change. As I learnt with Rubin’s book, it’s important to try out ideas and find out what’s a good fit for you.

Bullet Journaling

I’ve noticed a new trend – bullet journaling. You can learn about that here if you are not familiar with the concept. Bullet journaling is a simple method for managing task lists, organising your inspiration, tracking progress with goals, and planning day to day activities. If, like me, you are obsessed with lists, bullet journaling might appeal.

I have actually developed my own systems for managing my to do lists and organising inspiration, and I don’t think bullet journaling as an entire package is quite right for me. But where I think it really comes into its own is with tracking progress with your goals.

Research shows (I’ve read this over and over) that if you want to make a change, tracking it is highly effective. Even if you don’t set specific goals, just monitoring your own progress can yield improvements. Want to change a habit? Track it. Want to eat better? Write down what you eat. Every time I’ve tried this, the results have been impressive.

Tracking stuff that isn’t specifically related to goals is helpful too. For instance, I tried for a while to divide my day into portions. I would study Norwegian flashcards, then journal, then write my novel, then do a painting.. And so on. By the end of the day I would have furthered every one of my goals. I set up a chart to track this. The experiment didn’t work at all. I simply cannot work in bite-sized chunks like that. I found I was far better to work for a whole day or two on my novel, then let it rest for a while. Dive into painting for a while and then do something different. This kind of flow suits me much better, but I’ve had trouble accepting that. When I do my 5th hour of Norwegian study in one day, there’s this nagging voice saying ‘Hey, you should be painting now!’. By tracking what I was working on I started to see a pattern. I’d spend 2-3 days on a goal then be ready for a break and shift to the next one. By simply trusting my intuition and letting the flow occur, I would work on all my goals, but over the course of a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of days. Without tracking, I didn’t know this about myself. Now I can plan accordingly, and I’m doing better at getting rid of the nagging voice that says I should be doing something different.

I’ve taken inspiration from several bullet journals I’ve seen on Pinterest, to create my own tracking system which helps me stay on track with living the life I want to live.

CREATING A MANIFESTO

After trying out lots of ideas, tracking my progress for a while, and tweaking endlessly, I eventually created a manifesto for how I wanted to live my life. I knew at the time it was just for then, that I would change it as my circumstances and needs changed. My life now is totally different, but I’ll share it with you because it shows the kind of thing you can do with a manifesto.

The reason I made a manifesto was to reminds me of the things I wanted to include in my life. There were so many things I found helpful, but I noticed I quickly forgot about them. For instance, I read this amazing article in FLOW magazine about this woman whose life was transformed by giving something away each day. I could certainly become better at giving, I reckoned. While I wasn’t going to be super-strict and make sure I gave something every day, by having this as a part of my manifesto, I was reminded to give things to people regularly, in a more organic way. I was also reminded to meditate and do the Tibetan 5 Rites exercise programme, which is supposed to bring you more energy – both things I often forgot to do. It’s a kind of ten-commandments for life, only in my case there were more like 25.

Want to see my manifesto?

TASK MANAGEMENT

Do the most important task of my day first. Follow my inner flow and work on the project I want to work on (within reason!) Do what I feel like, not what I should (also within reason!) If a job takes one minute or less, do it now. Do domestic and admin tasks in batches. Tidy my desk every day.

DIGITAL LIFE

Don’t do email or Facebook before 11.30am, except for once per week. When I do email, deal with everything immediately, then close my email program. Aim for three times a week and keep it quick. Have only three Facebook sessions per week, and enjoy them! Clock off from admin at 7pm. When I write, enjoy it! (Don’t push on when exhausted.)

EXERCISE

Do Tibetan 5 rites. Walk 8000 steps or more. Do some other exercise as well, a few times a week, such as skipping, swimming, or playing ball.

HEALTH

Rest when I’m tired. Enjoy movies and TV guilt-free. Try knitting to see if it is restful and restorative. Work on my health – research what’s wrong and try out new ideas. Go sugar-free some days. Meditate. Get enough sleep.

PEOPLE

Have fun with and connect with the people in my family.Be a good friend to my special people. Give a gift. Be careful what social commitments I make.

FEELINGS

Journal about my feelings. Identify stressors. Write what I’m grateful for. Don’t complain.

The manifesto was the foundation for how I wanted to live. I couldn’t achieve it every day. Some days I complained. Many days I didn’t give anything to anyone and I forgot to meditate and couldn’t be bothered to exercise. Sometimes things came up that required me to break all my digital rules. That’s okay. This was just a guideline for me to come back to that reminds me what I felt was important.

You’ll notice that making art and creativity are not part of my manifesto. Thas because they were so deeply ingrained in my life and work that my creative activities formed the core of what I did. If you want to be more creative, then ideas to help you do that should be included in your manifesto.

SET GOALS

While the manifesto reflects how you will live your daily life, your goals reflect what you are actively working on. Ask yourself, what are the 3-6 most important things you want to do in your life right now? These should form the core of how you spend your days.

Here’s a sample list of my goals at that time:

  • Work on my novel, Future Girl.
  • Prepare for my upcoming exhibition.
  • Make lots of small artworks for Christmas markets
  • Study Norwegian.
  • Exercise more.
  • Rest a lot.

Once you’ve established your key goals, you might want to break them down into specific tasks you can add to your to do list. For instance, while ‘rest a lot’ might seem like a strange goal, something was wrong with my health and I had to spend a lot of time resting. Since I was not used to that, it was a challenge for me to find activities that were restful and which I enjoyed so I didn’t become bored. Thus ‘resting’ was an active project requiring experimentation and creative thinking. I could brainstorm ideas for how to rest, try them out, and record how restorative they are.

I had a tendancy to be very obsessive with my goals, to work extremely hard on them for fear that I might not achieve them if I didn’t. I set deadlines for myself and expect myself to meet them. I was trying to change this, to reduce stress. Rather than saying that I’ll finish the next draft of my novel by a specific date, I simply made it one of my focus projects, and made sure I worked on it several times a week.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

As you can see, creating a life manifesto and setting goals for yourself can form an enormous platform for your life. To make it work, I suggest you don’t try to make too many changes all at once. My manifesto consisted of items I’d slowly added over time. In my experience, making three changes at once is doable. More than that can be overwhelming. Some people say it takes 30 days to change a habit. In my opinion, it’s more like three months. After three months of working dedicatedly on a new habit, it often settles in to become sufficiently routine that it doesn’t need my focus or attention any more. That said, if a new habit is going well, you could add in another one after thirty days.

That’s not to say you can’t revolutionalise your life more dramatically. In The Happiness Project, Rubin set herself 8 goals per month to work on. If you are going to do that, expect making the changes to become a major life focus, a goal in itself, rather than just a habit tweak. I also did this when I changed my admin life after reading The Four Hour Work Week. It took about three months of being my major focus and was a very intense experience.

To create your own manifesto, ask yourself questions about every aspect of your life. Consider whether what you are doing now is helpful, makes you feel good, and fits with your goals. Think about what stresses you and whether you can eliminate these items or change them in some way. What makes you happy? What small activities bring pleasure to your day?

Tracking how you spend your time, hour by hour, for a whole week, can be very illuminating. It can show you what you’re actually doing with your time so you can consider whether this reflects the things that are important to you.

Here are some web pages which can help you consider the big questions as you develop your manifesto:

  • Social media worksheet 
  • Goals
  • Happiness project
  • The 4-hour Work Week by Tim FerrissWhen you’ve got a list of ideas to try, think about how they might fit into your life. Select a few at a time to incorporate into every day, and as you do so, reflect on whether these changes make your life better or worse. Is it a good fit for you? If it’s not working, why not? Maybe you need to tweak it, or fit it into a different part of your day.

TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS

Let’s face it, I was not going to read my manifesto every day. In fact, I only got around to reading it very occasionally. Which meant it was easy to forget what was in there that I wanted to achieve. But there’s a simple way to stay on track, and that’s through tracking. For every single goal or change you make to your life, find a way to track it.

The items I tracked had three categories:

  • Some are satisfied with a simple tick or cross. For example, did I meditate today?
  • Some were answered with a word or number. For example, I took 7965 steps, or I’m           working on my novel.
  • Some needed a lengthier examination. For example, what stressed me today and how           did I  handle it? You can create a simple chart for the first two categories, making sure             to allow larger squares for the ones that need a word or number.

A simple chart:

By creating a chart you can quickly fill in each night, you set up the perfect system to remind yourself on a daily basis of what you want to achieve.

For the final category, I keep a list of prompts with my chart, and write the answers in my journal. I like this organic approach because I don’t need to answer all the prompts every day, and it allows for me to write as long (or as short) as I want on each topic.

Prompts:

• What are you working on?

• What stressed you today? How did you handle it and how could you have handled it differently?

• What are you grateful for?

WRAPPING UP

I hope you’ll find something in here that inspires you to make your own life more how you want it. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Just take the bits that appeal and give them a go. I’d love to hear your experiences with lifestyle design in the comments. What works for you? What doesn’t? What are you inspired to try?

Should you really be giving me that little extra, just because I’m Deaf?

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When I was travelling in France, my friend Jenine and I went into a bakery. When Jenine ordered, the guy serving us threw in a couple of extra pastries for free. Jenine blinked in astonishment. ‘It must be because you’re with me. I NEVER get freebies.’

I think she was right. Y’see, I get freebies all the time. Let me tell you about this lovely lady who works at my favourite op shop. The first time I visited, she took a shine to me. Even though she doesn’t normally work the checkout, once I’d selected my purchases, she rang them up for me specially. I almost died when I saw the total price. It was something like a quarter of what I expected to pay. ‘You ask for me, next time you come in,’ she told me. I do, and every single time I walk outta there loaded up with goodies that I’ve barely paid a cent for.

While this is a somewhat extreme example, I’m prone to getting special trestment everwhere I go. Airports, I am led straight through – I don’t wait in many queues. Discounts are mine for the smile. If I want to use a toilet in a shop and it’s against their policy, they’ll let me use theirs anyway.  Some of my friends know how to work the system. When it’s time to pay, they sends me up the front.

Why do I collect these privileges, when people like Jenine, who is so much kinder, more generous, thoughtful and deserving than I, never get them?

I can only assume it’s because I’m Deaf. People see me signing and feel compelled to go that extra mile for me. A sweet smile just seals the deal. A friend of mine with a Deaf daughter mentioned that her daughter gets free stuff all the time too. So do my other Deaf friends.

My attitude is this: scoop it up. Afterall, I have to put up with the suckier parts of being Deaf. Why not enjoy some benefits too?

But there’s something uneasy for me about all this. Deep down, I suspect that if the people dishing up the freebies to me really knew me, they wouldn’t give me a thing. I’m not as sweet and innocent as I look. I live in fear that they might discover the real me.

I’m also suspicious of what motivates all this giving. The only thing I can really come up with is that they feel sorry for me and want to give something to someone worse off than they are. It’s a laudable idea. We should all do it. But am I really worse off? I mean, there are some serious downsides to being Deaf, but there are some pretty good perks. The ones I’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg. If I could choose, I’d still choose to be Deaf. Really. I don’t know much about my Op Shop Lady, but I’m willing to guess I have (had! until fairly recently) a nicer life than she does. I mean, her life might be great, but she often looks kind of tired and worn down, whereas I normally felt inspired and was lucky enough to have a career that I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning for.

It leads me to think it must be connected to the attitude our society has in general towards Deafness, that it’s a tragedy that must be fixed and helped at all cost. That Deaf people lead impoverished lives and are to be pitied and helped. And you know, this belief system just doesn’t resonate with me. Yes, I want society to change to be more Deaf-accessible, but I dont want people to think my life is awful just because I’m Deaf. Because it’s not.

For much of my life, things have been awesome – I’ve had great jobs, enough money and physical ability to afford to wait in queues and pay a fair price for my shopping and walk a bit further to go to the toilet. It was me who should have been doing the giving.

If you’d like to do your bit to raise awareness about deafness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

Want to share my studio with me?

Since I am still sick with arsenic and lead poisoning, I’m not using my studio as much as I’d like. Would you like to share it with me? I’m looking for someone who can make good use of the workspaces while I’m not there – at least 4 days a week ongoing, and more if you are an afternoon/evening person. If you’re interested, see my ad over on Creative Spaces. And if you know anyone who you think this might suit, will you give them a nudge?

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Girls dressed as Martha Grimstone

One of the things I really love about being an author is seeing how kids are inspired by my books about the Grimstones. This week two mums sent me pics of their girls dressed as Martha for book week. I am so impressed with their attention to details and lifelike renditions of Martha Grimstone. Milla and Ava, you both rock!

Milla as Martha Grimstone

Ava as Martha Grimstone

An interesting couch surfing experience

This year, before I left for my trip, I didn’t lock in all my plans. I made sure I had some places to stay at the start, and then I had a chunk of open time, knowing that I would by flying home from Oslo on a certain date. I thought that this would give me the freedom to follow opportunities that came up, to take suggestions offered by others, and also to do a bit more of what I felt like at the time.

Mostly, this was great. Depending on what I needed (solitude? nature? the city? stimulation?), I organised plans for myself a few days in advance. I was terrified, though, that somewhere along the way this would fall down and I’d end up with nowhere to sleep. But I decided to challenge my terror, and I’m glad I did, because the freedom and flexibility were fabulous.

But, at one point, exactly the thing I’d feared arose. A lovely woman I’d met through couch surfing, who had generously offered me the use of her spare room, texted me at the very last minute to say that she’d had an emergency, was stuck out of town, and wouldn’t be home to host me! What to do? I went back to couch surfing, and there were a bunch of others who had also offered to host me but I had politely turned them down. So I contacted them again, and one, Arne, kindly offered to have me, even though it was really short notice. I wasn’t really planning to stay with men. As a woman travelling alone, I’d figured it would be safer to stick with women hosts. But I wasn’t in a position to be choosy now. Arne seemed like a nice guy, and my experience with Norwegian men in the past has been positive, as they have always been respectful of women and non-sleazy.

Just before we were due to meet, I texted Arne to check his address, suggesting I could walk there, as it was a fairly small town. His reply, ‘No, it’s too far for ladies.’

Hmm.. This was not a good sign. As far as I knew, Norwegians were into walking and ladies would be expected to walk as far as men! I started to feel a bit nervous. When we met at the place he suggested, for him to escort me back to his place on the ‘free bus’, he quickly commandeered both my backpack and my suitcase, leaving me nothing to carry. I thought it was likely he’d offer to take one, but taking both seemed excessive and I felt uncomfortable about that. Especially my backpack, which contained my money and passport, which I really wanted to have on my person. I tried to get it back, but he wasn’t yielding. He wrote in my talking book, (in Norwegian, not English) ‘In Arabic culture the woman should do nothing.’ Oh. So I was not dealing with a Norwegian guy, but a man who identified with an connected with Arabic values. This was not welcome news at all, because while there are many fabulous Arabic men out there, I do find it hard to cope with some of the attitudes towards women, such as, for example, taking my bags from me so I didn’t have control of them any more. I hoped I could trust this guy.

When I wanted to go to the shop, he said, no, he would go. No way was I remaining prisoner in his tiny apartment. So I argued back, insisting emphatically that I needed to take a walk, see a bit of the place, and choose some food to buy. Okay, eventually he decided he would allow that, but he was coming with me. I was getting antsy by now. Maybe I should have just left. But I still didn’t know where to go, and I was a lot further away from the city centre now and not entirely sure how to get the bus back. It had turned out not to be free ‘Just free for you,’ he said, as he let me use his transport card. I was a bit worried that with him giving me all this stuff, beyond a bed to sleep in, he might expect something in return, something sexual.

I nearly flipped out when he showed me the bedroom. Yes, THE bedroom. Two single beds, very close together. ‘This one’s mine,’ he told me, ‘and you can sleep here.’ I needn’t have panicked. When the time came, he took his bedding out to the couch and slept there. I would have been happy to take the couch, but I was so relieved I didn’t say anything. Happily I found a lock on his bedroom door, which I made use of overnight.

Nothing sexual turned out to be required, thankfully, but the next day he started flirting with me, telling me how beautiful I am, and how I didn’t need to leave, I could stay longer and let him give me a better tour of the place… At one point, he wrote, ‘Everyone thinks we are terrorists.’

I answered in Norwegian, ‘That hadn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been too busy worrying you might be a rapist.’ I thought that if I admitted my fears, he might back off a bit and even give me some reassuring signs that this was not his intention. But unfortunately his reply was ‘Well….’ and then he changed the subject. Actually, since Norwegian was not his first language either, I thought later that he hadn’t understood the word for ‘rapist’, but wasn’t the kind of guy who would just ask what I meant. His handling of the conversation reminded me of what I do when I haven’t understood people and don’t feel comfortable to let them know. Anyway, this exchange hardly helped me feel better!

I was a bit alarmed by the way he insisted on being with me, all day, and wouldn’t let me go out by myself. So when a friend of his dropped around, I hastily packed my bag, waved a cheery goodbye, and headed out. It was a good day, full of raspberries and clambering over Norwegian rocks and writing my novel and journal in nature. So it wasn’t all bad. But I couldn’t get rid of the sense that I’d had a lucky escape.

Eventually, after much deliberation because I’d sworn I’d never do this again, I told Arne that he had to stop flirting with me because I was married and my husband wouldn’t like it. I HATE excuses of this kind. They suggest that a man should behave a particular way towards a woman, because she is already owned by another man, rather than because his behaviour makes the woman herself feel uncomfortable. But I thought it would be best not to challenge the status quo and to speak a language he would understand. It worked. He backed off after that.

To be fair, he was a very solicitous host, making me food, sending me off with a packed lunch on the last day, sleeping on the couch so I could have the bedroom alone, escorting me on the bus and so on. It was just my fear that was in the way. If I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe it would have been fine. But the flirting and the fact that I had to fight to be able to go out alone were not good, and the little ways I lacked control, like over my own bag, made me feel very uncomfortable. Still, it ended well and nothing bad happened to me. I think, though, that if I’m in that situation again where there’s only men available on couch surfing, I’ll go to a hostel or budget hotel or shell out for AirBnB instead.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Lovely article in the Zart newsletter

I am honoured to have been featured in the most recent Zart newsletter. The article talks about my time working with the year eleven and twelve art students at Marymede Catholic School. You can check out the original article here or read it below.

 

Asphyxia

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As students come into Year 11 and 12, they can struggle with the reality of the year ahead. They may think, ‘Will I succeed, or will all my creativity be suppressed under the pressures?’ After meeting the artist Asphyxia at Marymede Catholic College, my students were inspired.

Asphyxia is profoundly deaf and communicates using Auslan and through her interpreter. The students felt she was able to understand where they were, emotionally, creatively and spiritually, so she soon became the hero of the classroom. Looking back, Asphyxia spoke about the importance of learning touch-typing, sign language, creative and professional writing, small business management and marketing and the practical skills of sewing, knitting, painting, drawing, sculpting and building – yes, Asphyxia built her own house.

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Asphyxia came from a family of mathematicians and engineers. When she was at school she wanted to be a ballet dancer, but, being deaf, she didn’t have the opportunity to pursue that professionally. Asphyxia began her creative career as a puppet-maker, performer and children’s storybook writer – her books on The Grimstones may be in your library. Asphyxia’s workshops were simple but spellbinding as she took the students through the materials and processes she uses to develop her characters. Her work inspired all my students but had a particular impact on one who is hearing impaired. This student was transfixed, taking in every tip on how to take more confident steps in her use of art materials and processes.

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Asphyxia visited Marymede Catholic College in South Morang three times. Her first visit focused on how students might choose a topic about which to make art. She talked about the importance of inspiration from other artists and how she had learnt from their work. Then, Asphyxia showed the work in her portfolios and discussed how she creates an aesthetic mood through her choice of materials and techniques. She uses markers, homemade stamps, stencils with water-based spray paints, water-soluble crayons mixed with gesso and charcoal to achieve an aesthetic that is both rough and emotionally charged but at the same time, very beautiful and soft. Asphyxia believes that art in life adds value, making life richer and more worthwhile.

Zart art_05

On her second and third visits, Asphyxia ran hands-on workshops. Firstly, in stencil making and later in developing the character and characteristics of a female face. For Asphyxia, her characters act as alter egos through which she lives out her emotional responses to life’s situations. As the students developed their ideas, she made individual suggestions to each on materials and processes. Her stories and work captivated the entire art group so much that one student said, “Our best days became the days we spent in the art room improving our techniques and recognising the artist that we were all becoming.”

Adrian Montana
VCE Art & Visual Communication Design Teacher
Marymede Catholic College, South Morang

Writing a novel for FUN

Winter-1

Meet Winter, a character in a novel I’ve been writing while I travelled.

When I was a teenager, I used to write prolifically and unselfconsciously, churning out story after story. People noticed my passion and encouraged it. I studied short story writing as a correspondance course (this was pre-internet!) and my teachers let me hand in work, such as research on the topic of schizophrenia, in the form of a novel. With the attention and help my writing was getting, I started to set the bar higher and higher for myself. And eventually I set it so high, demanded I write so well, even in my very first draft, that it became daunting instead of fun. I stopped writing.

When Allen and Unwin came to see The Grimstones, they contacted me and asked if I’d like to write a book. I got back into my writing, and I’m really glad to have embraced it again. However, I usually write professionally, for an audience, whether its on my blog, for magazines such as Grass Roots and Down to Birth, or books that will be published. The bar is still high. I just don’t let my dauntedness stop me.

But I’ve never quite regained the joyous fun I felt in writing when I was a teenager. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I was inspired by her project to write a novel, NANOWRIMO style, just for fun. Like Rubin, I immediately downloaded the founder, Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! and became inspired.

While Baty suggests diving in without a plot, I used the Snowflake Method Of Novel Writing to help me develop my ideas. I’ve used this before and it was recommended to me by my publisher, which tells me it results in a structure for a novel that is the kind of thing they like to sell.

I had this idea that I’d write a novel for fun while travelling. It didn’t have to be any good. Just enjoyable to write. I wanted to write like I did as a teenager – fun and open and as a way of living another life. To make it even more enjoyable, I decided to tie it in with my trip by designing scenes in the places I would be visiting, in the same order as I would travel. That way I could collect up details while I was in each location, write those scenes in my novel, and then move on to the next place.

Did it work? Yes! My novel has been a wonderful companion for me as I’ve travelled, and gave me a superb focus for picking up cultural details in the places I visited. There’s a lot of waiting, when travelling, a lot of queues and airports and trains and busses. My novel gave me something riveting to think about while in transit. I couldn’t write every day. Some days I was too busy, and some days I was too jetlagged and out of it. But I did more or less keep up with the scenes I wanted to write in each location.

It’s not finished yet. When I arrived home it was maybe two thirds of the way there. The last scenes are set in Australia so that works out well! But life is much busier here. Still, it’s been a wonderful thing, to practise writing without worrying about anyone else, without trying to make it good or choose my words carefully. Maybe one day I’ll go back and edit it and bring it up a level, then think about whether it’s publishable or not. But for now, the main thing is to finish it and enjoy the journey as I do so.

Chris Baty’s book has chapters you can read as you write. I’ve found them very encouraging. Just when I’m thinking, oh I can’t be bothered to do this, I read a little chapter that says, ‘Don’t worry about trying to meet your word limit. Just get into your novel, have a little poke around, write 500 words or so, and leave the rest for another day.’ A little poke around even when ridiculously tired.. that’s been very good.

Are you tempted to write a novel (or story, or memoir or whatever) just for fun? Any thoughts and experiences? I’d love to hear your take on this.