Monday, December 31, 2012

A new year approaches

2013 is nearly upon us. In some places it's already here.
Remember, above the clouds,
the sky is always blue. 

I love the feeling I get in January. The year stretches before me as a blank canvas, full of potential.  I have some goals, some plans and a few ideas in place, but I don't know exactly what the year will bring. When I look back on the year just passed I'm often amazed at the shear volume of experiences I've had. 

It wasn't always this way for me. For a few years at least, my life was actually quite monotonous. I still accomplished things but for a time I gave up on a lot of things - travel, writing, art, the pure joy of learning. For anyone who knows me well I know this is difficult to imagine but for those who knew me then they know exactly what I'm talking about.

I sometimes suspect that I throw myself into so many projects not just for the joy of it and because I'm allergic to procrastination, but to make up for the 'lost' years. It's motivated me to travel, to learn, and this past year, to really work on my writing.

But my desire to accomplish so much can also mean that I forget to take time to be in the moment. I want to accomplish so much and I appreciate that life is unpredictable so I don't want to put off anything I can do now. The result can be that I stretch myself a little too thin and towards the end of this year that's exactly what I'd been doing. I know too, as January and the end of the Christmas/New Year break approaches, that life will resume it's fast pace and I'll once again be at risk of having too much on my plate.

I've made some big decisions for 2013, most importantly the decision to publish a book, given that it's been a dream of mine since childhood. I'm also going to be taking an adventurous trip to Japan, developing my design portfolio (I'm looking for work!), and continuing to submit my young adult fiction manuscripts to agents.

The other big decision of 2013 is for my to do some more studying. I don't think there is any excuse for ignorance in this day and age. With sites like Google or Lynda.com, learning a new skill is at our fingertips and I've never shied away from just finding something out. But I'm going for some more official qualifications and will be studying Psychology and Philosophy on a part-time basis. Not to mention the British Sign Language course I've been in since September.

It does sound like a lot and I know that I am, once again, at risk of being spread too thin. But I'm aware of this and keeping positive and open to all these different opportunities and adventures.

When I look back at 2012 I catch myself feeling a sense of disbelief that some of the things I've done or experiences have only been in the last year. It's been quite a year. You can accomplish a lot in 365 days. 

I don't know exactly what the next 365 will bring but as you can see, I have a lot planned for it. Planning is good, but being able to let go, change your mind and take life as it comes is just as important. I could say I'm looking forward to it but I'd rather not because I rather just keep in mind that I'm here, right now, and if I'm going to live the life I love then I'd better enjoy it as it's happening. 

May your 2013 be full of opportunity, change, and adventure. May you love the life you live and take every opportunity that you can. May you have fun, be challenged, and learn new things. 

Happy New Year. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guest Post - Money, Education & Materialism – What Matters The Most?


Claire has done a guest post for me in the past. Her blog is one I've been following for some months now. I appreciate her insight and general take on life.

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There is an individual on my Facebook Friends list who was once an acquaintance in the same social circle as me, who is now little more than a Facebook Friend. Let me call him E. E. works in realm of investment banking and corporate finance. He lives in a satellite town and commutes several hours to work everyday. His job is well-paid and he likes to advertise the fact through Instagram photos of his designer tie collection (50 ties in varying shades of silvery-blue and purple); mobile shots of his expensive sporting gear and via Status updates from bubbly networking events.
Half of his status updates are about the perks of his job. The other half are dark and concerning: rages at public transportation delays, blunt sentiments about feeling worthless or stressed to tears, declarations of complete exhaustion. He's got his money, status and his material gains...but it clearly has come at a price.
*
This is an extreme example of the choice that most 20-somethings come up against: how important is money going to be to my life? For most of the friends in my social circle it was a free choice: they would have the qualifications, intelligence and savings to consider (a) staying in education beyond the undergraduate level to retrain or get a higher qualification (b) finding a temporary (i.e, low-paid) job to help them figure out what they really wanted to do (c) finding a permanent job with a steady income  and taking their life forward from there.
My own choice was in category (b) - I took the pharmaceutical internship in Switzerland - with the overall aim of switching to (a) - applying to a PhD program and specialising as an organic chemist. As you know, I've not made the full transition back into academia: I'm still in the "temporary employment" category, albeit in a higher education institute.
I thought the delay would be more of a big deal than it is: since I'm still keeping my science skills fresh there's no immediate rush to get into a PhD program. Family and friends have been sympathetic about the delay, too: getting into graduate courses is a competitive, difficult business right now.
My parents have helped out. I've kept my expenses low. It's been months since I bought new clothes - charity-shop wear - I have no concept of shopping for pleasure.
For the most part I do not regret the choices I made.
...But I still wonder a lot about all the things I could do if I just had spare money. If I wasn't just breaking even, but actually putting more money into my bank account than I was taking out. Would I be happier with my life? Would it make my life more interesting, busy or enjoyable?
*
My suspicion is that it wouldn't. After all, what are the things that get me out of bed in the morning? The thought of interacting with work colleagues and friends. That special moment between me and my first coffee of the day. Successes and understandings with my science projects. Mostly the non-material things. The things I don't have to spend money to obtain (apart from the coffee, but I can get by on drinking supermarket-brand instant powder better than I imagine).
As long as I am not so poor as to be damaging my health, and as long as I'm happy with the type of work I'm doing, I think income should be a secondary concern, no matter if society thinks otherwise.

~


Monday, December 17, 2012

Design, design, design!

One of my first submissions for 99Designs

An idea for a consultation company that helps the growth of small businesses and/or charities

A commissioned logo for a an IT consultant

I'm officially a designer for hire! At the moment I'm working on expanding my portfolio as a lot of my design work has been done for a single charity, but I've got loads of experience with marketing and design as well as a digital design course from Chelsea College of Art and Design under my belt. 

As an artist my favourite pieces have been those I've done as a commission or as gifts for friends or family members. I love creating my own work but I always seem to enjoy it more when I'm making it for someone else. It's a combination of my imagination and style with their personality and the results are always well received. 

This ability to communicate another person's idea or personality is probably the most important to have as a designer. My previous experience involved working without a brief more often than not, so I often had to really engage the people I was working with to ensure that I was creating something that was in line with their vision. 

I really enjoy doing layout work with InDesign and have spent the last few months dabbling in logo design, as Illustrator is pretty much my favourite program ever. 

In January I'm going to be making a special offer on my design work. I'll be announcing it in my first newsletter of 2013. 

In the mean time, if you'd like to find out more or commission something (I really like doing Social Media backgrounds/images) you can get in touch through the contact form on my website. 



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Too Much Air-time

It's important to get stuff off your chest. Bottling things up doesn't help and if anything it will only compound an issue until it ends up blowing up into something much bigger - that old 'Mountains out of Molehills' adage.

But letting off steam is different from constant complaining. Letting off steam is releasing something and then letting it go. A kettle doesn't suck the steam back in when it's done boiling.

Constant complaining involves revisiting the same thing repeatedly. For example, if you find the behaviour of someone you know particularly irksome so you repeatedly air your frustrations with them to anyone who will listen.

They certainly may be doing different things that you find annoying, frustrating and bothersome, but your general complaining is bound to be the same old thing regardless of their behaviour.

Sometimes I can let it go really easily. I am able to reflect on the behaviour of others and I know that I can't change them, I can only change myself.

That might mean letting go of a friend or no longer following someone on Facebook. It might mean learning to just shrug something off because really, it's probably no big deal.

But occasionally I come across someone who really gets under my skin. I find them so frustrating that I'm baffled and I find myself repeating my frustration to anyone who will listen.

Fortunately, I am surrounded by some very wonderful friends and family who are really good at pointing this out to me. Mostly it involves a lot of eye rolling and looking bored because, even if it's a new 'shocking' thing the person has done to annoy me, I'm still being annoyed - again.

I think learning how to be responsible for our own moods regardless of the behaviour or actions of others is probably one of the most difficult lessons in life. It's not easy to accept and remember that we are each responsible for ourselves and how we feel, think and act is entirely our choice.

A lot of it involves changing the way I think about something. I don't like the idea that someone I don't really like or respect is getting so much of my time and energy. When I catch myself mid-whine I pause and just think, "You are giving them way too much air-time."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Feels like the whole world should have changed - Kait's Mixtape

"I've still got sand in my shoes."
- Dido

Dido really got it right - I've never returned from a holiday without feeling like everything should be different. It's a bit like the feeling I get on January first when the new year stretches ahead of me like a blank canvas full of potential.

Generally, when I return from holiday, I do have this burst of energy for new projects. I think the effect of doing nothing, and in the case of the last seven days, unplugging entirely, gives me a chance to clear my mind and refocus. This is the first time I've touched my computer since November 28th and I have to say, the break from the screen was incredibly refreshing.

I was reluctant to turn it on, and not because I know I've got a few hundred emails and notifications, but because I know I'll soon be back into the pattern of being online more often than I'm actually outside enjoying the world.

It is winter and once the Christmas rush dies down the shortened days, lack of sunlight and general chill of it all tends to send me a bit off kilter unless I have something to get stuck into. So I'm glad of this holiday and the particular focus it has given me.

I am, of course, working on the final editing and layout of my book so it will be ready for publication in March, but that involves an awful lot of time on the computer. Which is why I've been looking for a new art project.

When I finished my tarot cards many people asked if I was going to continue on with the minor cards to complete the deck or if I had something new up my sleeve. At the time my energy was shifted entirely into my writing and art, be it sculpture, painting or design, took a back burner.

My art is something which has always allowed me to relax and I enjoy it because it's a way for me to share my experience of the world. Music, and in particular the lyrics which accompany music, have always been a huge part of my life. As I thought about Dido's perfect lines which capture exactly how I feel about a holiday (I do indeed still have sand in my shoes) I have been thinking about the wisdom I find in the lyrics that I love the best.

I recently decided to pull out my pencil crayons and give them a bit of a go just for the pure enjoyment of it. I happened to be listening to a song which I feel expresses the importance of remembering that we are each capable of so very much and how important it is to be your own best friend. I like what I came up with and have decided I'd very much like to do a series of different pieces that select snatches of lyrics combined with my own style of creativity and expression.

I'm not giving myself a deadline for it as the deadline of the book is enough and starting in January I'm going to be doing some part-time study simply because I can. This will be my art for the sake of art - my way of unplugging when I'm not on holiday - and hopefully something which you will enjoy too.
"Make a Noise" A4 Bristol board, pencil crayon, pencil and ink

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Post - Why I Want to be a QI Elf

Hannah J got in touch with me through Twitter when I did a shout out asking for guest bloggers for November and December. As a fellow nerd I have to say, this contribution rings so true! 

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Growing up I'd regularly watch University Challenge with my Mum and Dad. I never stood much chance of getting the questions right but the picture rounds and music rounds (when it wasn't obscure classical music) I could sometimes get right. I have a memory of watching it with my Dad one evening while my Mum was out. It was actually recording to video while we watched it. When my Mum got in about half an hour later we re-watched the episode. I think the idea that we had was that I'd seem really clever although I'd just be recalling the answers from memory rather than because I actually knew the information.

As I got older I got better at being able to answer questions but I still sucked at exams. Plain and simple. If it was a simple question (for example what year did World War II start in?) then I was fine. If it was more complicated (for example give 5 events that contributed to the start of World War II) then some reason I'd go to pieces and then 20 mark essay questions would just knock me for six. I swear in my History exam the war started after it had finished because I got in such a knot. I find that I can't recall the information in the right order or if I can then by the time it reaches the page it only makes sense in my head and not to the person reading it back (how anyone keeps up with me I have no idea!)

But knowledge excites me, I love to learn about new places and opportunities, I love to read books and now websites and blogs. I have been known to intently read the ingredients list on cereal packets and then look up what the ingredients are, just to see what certain things to do my body. Yes I'm a nerd, yes I'm a geek but I don't mind. The idea of putting all the random pieces of knowledge I have to use by being a QI Elf kind of excites me too. Also the possibility of working with like minded people.

~

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Post - Halifax


I'm taking a break! This time of year is already pretty full on for me but with so much extra happening I decided I'd get some guest posters for my blog to 'ease the strain'. I'm still looking for guest posts so if you have an idea pop me and email or tweet to me.

I first read Ben's blog after he'd commented on one of my posts. While very introspective I find his prose easy to identify with. He is a great example of someone who reflects on what they want out of life and how to go about making that happen.

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I had taken a few trips to Halifax before.  It was “the city” when I was living in Pictou, Nova Scotia when I was a kid.  It was a destination for special outings in high school, including a performance by my high school’s folk music and dance ensemble on the local morning show.  It was an opportunity for rendezvous with friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  A few extended stays in the city over the last year and a half made up my mind, though: I wanted to live there.


When I was laid off from a call centre job in Miramichi, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try to get work in a bigger city.  I know from experience that I am not a small town person, and I was getting restless: part of the reason was because Miramichi was always intended as a temporary stop, and I felt I was falling into a rut that I wouldn’t climb out of.  I took a few trips to the city to look for work; unfortunately, nothing really happened on that front.  As my unemployment dwindled, I started to worry that I would be forced to stay an extra year on top of my two years there.   

I had been too careful.  I’ve never been one to take risks, preferring to get out of life as unscathed as possible, but I knew from experience this was getting me nowhere.  The last time I had been as committed to the safe route, I had ended up staying in a job years after it was clear that the money I made was no compensation for the toll it took on my mental health.
I had to make a big move.

I ended up finding an apartment in the city for October 1st.  After moving down here, I found I was getting more results on the job hunt than I had been even after changing my cell to a Halifax number and borrowing a friend’s local address.  While taking a week-long job search workshop, a temp agency I had gone to the week before let me know that they found a placement for me that started the next Monday.

It’s not a glamour position, but my job ended up being the break from call centre work I had been hoping for, and I find I take to data entry and clerical work a bit better.  My daily commute to work goes past the storefronts of the Hydrostone, while my bus ride home lets me see the sun go down over the hill where my apartment building sits. 

I’ve been trying to take advantage of what the city has to offer.  I have to be mindful about money, and know I still retreat to my comfort zone too much for my own liking, but the last month and a half has seen me get out of the apartment a fair bit.  I’ve attended an art exhibit opening and watched a friend participate in a cyclocross tournament.  I’ve gone to a retro dance party.  I even took pictures for a local AIDS fundraiser. 

There was a big risk that moving here wasn’t going to pay off fast enough to keep me in food and shelter.  So far, taking that chance more than paid off.

~