Category Archives: People

From Circus Support Worker to Thumb Sucking Dentist

If you were here in January, you may remember I blogged about Labour of Love, an artistic project based on the working lives of East Londoners and visitors to the Park. The title above is not a reflection of one person’s working life, but simply the two job titles that stuck with me  once I’d seen them.

170JobTitlesLabourofLove_HonestSpeaks

One hundred and seventy job titles (click to enlarge)

During her residency in the park, artist Caroline Jupp interviewed 170 people, who all shared their work history with her. These stories were then carefully transcribed by Caroline, who also created a ‘CV’ for each of those who took part. I shared mine in my last post, when I also mentioned one of the histories I’d spotted in Caroline’s shed that had caught my eye was that of someone who had been a Circus Support Worker in the 60s!

From PaperGirl to GolfPlayer via Circus Suuport_HonestSpeaks

Caroline says, “For me, these lists have a certain beauty, like a CV poem”. I agree. This is one of my favourites.

Well, last weekend I was at the celebration event, which marked the end of this project. During the event some of the stories were shared, including a lovely story from a young participant in the project whose job included ‘picking up the socks when Mummy drops them… I’m basically a hoover.’*

My Story_HonestSpeaks Labour of Love book_HonestSpeaks

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the event, everyone received a copy of their own ‘CV’ and transcribed work history, as well as the limited edition booklet in which Caroline shares her thoughts on the project and some snippets of the stories shared with her.

If you’d like to read more stories from the project, head over to the Labour Of Love blog where Caroline continue to add stories from the files.

 

*I am paraphrasing, so apologies! I just loved the hoover comment!

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A Labour of Love

Over Christmas, I spent a fair amount of time with my son at the Olympic Park in Stratford. One day, while my son was sleeping, I came across an unassuming little shed, sat just outside of the Orbit. It was cold and I was curious, so I popped in to see what it was all about. There, I was lucky to catch artist Caroline Jupp, who was in residence from 16 October 2014 to 17 January 2015, working on Labour of Love, a project celebrating the lives of East Londoners and visitors to the park. There were a few ‘CVs’ dotted around the shed, detailing people’s work  past, present and their hopes for the future. One in particular that caught my eye was someone who had a supporting role in the circus in the 60s!

Caroline asked if I would like to take part. At first I felt I didn’t have much of a story but as we got to chatting, I realised I did. When we talked about future aspirations, I realised that I have started to achieve some of my lifelong dreams recently and that in itself was something of a story. So, we sat down and talked about my work history, influences and plans for the future. Once I stopped paying attention to the fact I was being recorded, it was just like chatting to an old friend. Afterwards, Caroline thanked me, said she’d send across the finished piece of work and I promptly forgot about it.

So, when my ‘CV’ popped into my inbox it was a nice surprise! Want to see?

CV

Black text = Past
Red text = Present
Green text = Future

It’s not quite in the right order but I didn’t talk about them in order and sometimes I had more than one of these jobs at the same time!

Caroline has also captured more detail, which she has separated into four sections (a page each): Early Rhymes, Redundancy to Start Up, The Business and Writing and Values.

I was struck by how much we’d covered in a short space of time and, seeing my journey mapped out in this way, how it was further evidence that I’m on the right path with what I’m doing now.

Here are some snapshots of some of my journey:

Early Rhymes

I don’t remember not writing. There were periods when I would spend half the day just speaking in rhyme, which must have been really annoying for my mum! I do write non-rhyming poems now, but generally they do rhyme.

Certainly, I get lots of creativity from her [My Mum] and she fostered that. My sister is a singer/songwriter and my brother is creative too – he’s really funny but always rejects the idea he could be a comedian (it’s not just us who thinks that!). Mum had a fantastic imagination. As far as I know she believed in fairies all her life. She had a lot of pictures of fairies in her house. One night when I was little, I dreamt that fairies had taken me away and then brought me back home and when I woke up there were rose petals in my bed. I mean, my mum must have heard me talking in my sleep and put them there. But I believed for years that the fairies had taken me away for the night.

Redundancy to Start Up

…So then I was a writer and personal coach anyway, but it was more like a hobby. I said to myself, ‘I will be self-employed one day, just need to save some money and just need to do X, Y and Z.’

I needed that push I guess. When I’d decided I just contacted everyone I knew and said, ‘I’m going to do this, really this time!’ That was in August. My sister says it’s the happiest she’s ever seen me. I liked the job I had, but I love what I am doing now.

The Business

There was one line in this section that really struck me because even though I say it all the time, reading it back was a very powerful reminder that this really is heartwork:

Even if I won the lottery, I would still do all this.

If you would like to see Caroline’s response to the project (during which she gathered more than 100 CVs!), you’ll need to wait until 1 March when she will be releasing a limited edition Labour of Love booklet. All the CVs are anonymous, which I feel makes it all the more fascinating! I’ve no idea whether mine will be included but if you want to look for it,  it’s number 125. I share so much here you probably know half of the journey anyway! If you’d like to read more (of the more interesting journeys), Caroline is still sharing snippets of some of stories she has transcribed over on her blog.

Edited 23 Jan 2015 to correct the details of the booklet, which will not contain all of the CVs gathered as previously stated!

 

Writers write, right..?

Source: freedigitalphotos.net

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net

Last month I posted a question over on Facebook, asking fellow writers when/whether they felt comfortable calling themselves writers. The responses were revealing…

My self-confident side says I can call myself a writer as I fulfill the only necessary criteria which is… that I write. However, as I am not paid to write, my insecure side says I shouldn’t REALLY call myself a writer because real writers get paid
Maddy, Writing Bubble

“It wasn’t until I had a book published and gave up the day job to write everyday that I felt like a writer.
Amy Beeson, Wordsby Commuications

I call myself a writer, but only very quietly when people are not really listening.
Judith Kingston, judithkingston.wordpress.com

The reason I asked this is because although on some level I’ve always known I was a writer, I never referred to myself as such until I was getting paid to do so. Bizarrely, I did refer to myself as a poet once I’d had some poems published and was regularly performing at spoken word events… But not a writer. Now that just doesn’t make any sense.

One of the reasons I held back from calling myself a writer for so long was because I kept hearing that “writers write every day.” I have boxes full of notebooks that go back years but I have never written every day. In fact, I’ve often gone long periods when I’ve written very little at all.

I have never written every day

Those who claim the need to write every day explain that the more you write, the more you write and that we need to practise our art. I agree on both counts. However, I don’t believe that taking a break is a bad thing. Everyone is different and for me personally, writing every day becomes a chore. I need those times in between to recharge my creative batteries by doing something else… And often find that this ‘downtime’ fuels my creativity and allows seeds of thought to develop so that I return refreshed and bursting with creative energy and ideas.

Writing is not just (sometimes not even) what I do. It’s who I am

I know I’ve always been a writer. There were times I didn’t allow myself to believe it because I spent too much time listening to other people’s ideas of what that should look like. But I know myself better now and I know that this is who I am. It’s as much a part of me as my brown skin, my curly hair and the birthmark in my eye. I can’t change it and wouldn’t want to. No matter what life throws at me, whether I get paid for it or not and even if I never write another word (highly unlikely!) , I am – and always will be – a writer.

Are you a writer? Is is as much a part of your identity as it is mine? Or is it just something you do…? Please do comment in the box below, or even join the conversation on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you!

Why are we losing our love for languages?

I recently read this article in the Guardian, about language learning in the UK and how 80 per cent of those who studied popular languages (French and German) at school are now unable to understand more than the most basic phrases. The knock on effect of this is that less and less teenagers are opting to study languages at A-Level and beyond.

This article really struck a chord for me. As a child, I was good at languages. I started learning French aged eight (which was almost unheard of in the UK at the time) and went on to achieve French, German, Italian and Russian GCSEs, followed by A-Levels in French and Russian and a BA in French. Not bad, right?

Well, now I can just about say hello, count to ten and ask for directions in German and Italian. I can read the Cyrillic alphabet but often don’t understand the words I’m reading (despite having written an extensive essay on women’s rights – in Russian – for my A-Level exam) and my French is now at conversational level… Why is this? For ten years of my life I studied languages. At school, I was good at learning new languages quickly and proud of my achievements. Certainly there were others who were more skilled than me, learned faster and had flawless grammar but I could be understood, which I think is the main thing.

For me personally, there were two issues at play… A lack of confidence and not enough time spent practising. During my school years of course, oral tests were frequent and although I was often terrified of making a mistake, not practising was not an option. Fast forward to university years where I didn’t make the effort to practice speaking German, Italian or Russian (despite many opportunities) and many of the modules I chose for my French degree were delivered in English. So while  did have conversation classes, the essays I wrote analysing French literature were in English. I took a fascinating linguistics module… that was delivered and tested again, in English and when I moved to France for a year what did I choose to do? I taught English! I did speak French with my peers but also spent a lot of time with my English speaking friends. So, who is to blame for my lack of language skills? Well, me! Had I spent more time in conversation classes, sought out study groups, only taken modules delivered in French and spent more time speaking French while in France, I would be much more proficient than  I am now.

The thing is, I am probably not as bad as I think I am. I’m told by French friends, when I work up the courage to chat in their mother tongue, that I sound Parisian when I speak French and although my grammar isn’t always correct, I am understandable. If I’ve had a drink or two I am fairly fluent. Of course all this means is that I lack confidence. The more I speak, the more I’ll learn, right?  It’s just a fear of getting it wrong that holds me back but what’s the worst that can happen?

So, to hopefully give my son more confidence when it comes to language learning and to remind myself how much fun language learning can be, I’ve started taking him to a French class at a local café. It’s a combination of storytelling, playing games and singing and importantly, he has no idea that he’s learning. For him, memorising vocabulary isn’t hard work, simply because he doesn’t know he’s doing it. I wonder whether this playful approach could work as well with teenagers, who seem to be finding that learning a language is not what they signed up for. They want to speak and be understood, not spend hours writing essays in exam conditions. More of an emphasis on the oral examination could be hugely beneficial when it comes to making language learning more attractive to young people again.

When it comes to the children learning languages now, I do wonder what age those tested were when they started learning, how they were taught and tested and whether their language skills, outside of an assessment situation, might actually be a bit better than they appear… If only they weren’t so afraid of getting it wrong.

Do you speak a language other than your mother tongue? Did you learn at school, or by travelling or some other way? Or did you learn a language at school that you now struggle to even understand?

How do you think we could improve on the way we teach modern languages today? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

Getting out from under the crap cloud

Earlier this month, I received an invitation from fellow coach and writer Christine Livingston. A while ago now, Christine helped me start to recognise when I really need to ‘show up’ to get results and when I really just need to (in her words) ‘give less of a shit.’ This might sound a little unorthodox but it’s what I needed to hear at the time. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made for me to stop when I’m getting caught up in unhelpful thought patterns and think ‘but do I really give a shit?’

Not your average networking breakfast

Anyway, I digress. My initial reaction when I saw Christine’s email was ‘urgh, networking.’ I got curious about my reaction and realised that it was the image that this word conjures up for me. A bunch of people thrown together with the often tenuous link of being in the same (or similar) profession, many of them bringing only their personas and not really being present (myself included – what if they don’t like the real me?) and plenty of awkward small talk.

But Christine is not your average host.

Even though we’d never met in person until last week, we met on social media some time ago and had spoken, so I knew that the image I had conjured up for myself was not the sort of event she would run. On reading the email properly, I could see that. The breakfast was to be a small gathering of what Christine called ‘VIPs’ (including me, really?) having a discussion around a particular topic:

Are business success and wellbeing mutually exclusive?

Having recently launched my freelance business and still working out the balance between getting it off the ground and still taking enough time to take care of myself, this was definitely a subject I am interested in exploring. I was still very nervous that morning, thinking about how I hadn’t had time to really prepare (what? A deck of flashcards with my thoughts? How authentic would that be?). As I stepped off the tube, I took a moment. What did I really need to do, to get the most out of this? Then it came to me. A reassuring voice (the one in that bubble I told you about last week), saying ‘Just Show Up.’

Be Present

That’s it. Show up. Be present. Listen, really listen and speak up if you have something to say. So I did. I was still nervous, but less so as I focused on what was in front of me and let go of any notions of what others might or might not think of the fact that I was late, barely spoke, and was hesitant when I finally did share something. And of course, I got so much more out of the morning than I otherwise would have.

I took away so many things from the session but I’m just going to share two today. One, I have already shared, sort of…

Be yourself

This is what I mean by Show Up and Be Present. After the session I was heartened to read that Christine also has an internal struggle with allowing herself to be vulnerable in this way but that that there is a hidden power in allowing yourself to be fallible, to be human. She says, ‘Drop the need to anything other than who you are. In fact, see how it doesn’t serve you to try molding yourself to someone else’s version of what good looks like’ and concedes that this is not easy!

Mindfulness vs Mind Fullness

mindfulness-graphic

I couldn’t find the original source of this image. If it’s yours, please get in touch so I can credit you!

There was an interesting discussion on what it means to be mindful and suggestions ranged from just sitting with one’s thoughts (as in sitting/silent meditation), being present in the body during exercise (which raised the question of whether a high intensity workout could increase cortisol levels – and therefore stress – as opposed to say, yoga or pilates) to a complete focus on the simple act of sitting and eating a chocolate coin. The actual word itself became a talking point too, as someone got up and wrote Mindfulness vs Mind Fullness on the flipchart and explained explained that he had recently attended a conference where mindfulness was a topic and halfway through, it became clear that half of those present thought they were discussing the latter word. A different conversation entirely!

Getting out from under the cloud

I know I only said I was going to share two things but as this relates back to mindfulness it counts as part of the second (stay with me!). We talked about the ‘cloud’ of negative self-talk we all have. Not sure what I’m talking about? Well, here’s a glimpse of what mine was like that day in the moments I let my mind wander (staying present takes work!):

The CRAP cloud

CRAPcloud

Click to enlarge

And here’s what it was like when I Just. Showed. Up.

A crappy picture, yes. But there’s no crap in this cloud.

A crappy picture, yes. But there’s no crap in this cloud.

How often do you really show up, especially when it comes to work? What’s in your crap cloud (‘cause that’s what it is – just crap. It’s not real) that’s stopping you from showing up? Do share in the comments below, let’s crack these crap clouds together!

What’s in your bubble?

Hello again.

Today, I’m thinking about bubbles. I think about bubbles quite a lot. You may have noticed… No? Take a look at my header image… Now, pop over to my website… See it now? It’s something of an obsession.

Wedding bubblesLike most kids, I loved making and watching bubbles as a child. I never grew out of this and it’s still my favourite activity to do with my three-year-old son. I even had bubbles (instead of confetti. Now there’s something I like less) at my wedding.

I love the way the word rolls around in my mouth and the way it sounds… To me, it’s an onomatopia. Listen: “Bubble.” See? Hear how light and spherical that sounds? So deep and watery yet light and hopeful? No? Just me? Ok then, I’ll stop.

Giant Bubble

Image Source: The Enchanted Tree

This isn’t just a simple love letter to bubbles. I wanted to share my personal bubble with you.

What??

Ok, I know that sounds weird, so let me show you. Come this way… That’s right… and step inside my bubble for a minute… It’s ok, it won’t pop.

My Bubble

Quiet isn’t it? It’s ok, I don’t live in here all the time. It’s just where I come when I need to rest, or get things done. Let me show you around. It won’t take long, it’s not too big…

See how the bubble has a green tinge to it? That’s my calm… It reconnects me with nature and helps me to focus. It gets greener when I’m writing and has a sort of citrus smell about it. Although it makes me feel more awake, at the same time it sort of helps time to slow down…

Then, when I need a confidence boost it changes again… A sort of deep red colour that seeps in at the bottom and works its way up one side… Yes, behind me like that, sort of pushing me gently forwards. It smells musky doesn’t it? Makes me feel powerful. Now, listen. Can you hear that voice? A gentle, woman’s voice saying ‘It’s ok. You can do this. I love you.’? Yeah. Reassuring, isn’t it? She’s always there when I need her.

Then, when I need to completely relax – to sleep, for example, it goes quiet again and these giant beanbags appear… See those red, pink and purple cushions over there? Almost womb-like, that corner, isn’t it? Smells a bit like vanilla ice cream… Just lie down there for a second… What’s that like? Comfortable, right? are you feeling sleepy yet…?

Hey, wake up! Ok, time to get out now…

What was that like for you? Did you feel focused, alert and then relaxed? Or something else? Those images, sounds and smells work for me. When I’m feeling anxious or tense, overwhelmed (happens often to me, you..?) or simply need a confidence boost, I step into this bubble for a little while to get back to myself. It wasn’t always this way. I used to shut myself into a cardboard box that was cramped and dark and would tell me I’m stupid and worthless. I still climb into it on occasion and have to remind myself to get out and try the bubble instead.

What about you? Do you have a bubble you can go to when need it? Or something else? Where do you go? What does it look like? How does it feel? What does it sound like? And is it helpful? If not, what could you change to make it better? Do share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Not another student on a volunteer vacation

Last month, my sister-in-law posted on Facebook that my niece, Emma, would be spending three months in Zimbabwe. She was, and still is, proud and scared in equal measure. I was curious.

A bit of background about Emma… She is 20 years old, and has recently started a degree in International Development. This was not her original plan. I’ll let Emma explain:

‘For a long time, I’ve been curious about the world beyond my comfortable bubble in North East London. When I began university, I realised that there were paths I could take to one day hopefully make a positive impact on the global issues that indirectly affect me. I made the difficult decision to change my university course from English Literature to International Development (with social anthropology and politics) and despite the numerous times of doubt and worry, I can now say that it has been the best decision I have ever made in my short twenty years!’

So, when I learned that she was planning to volunteer in Zimbabwe, I wanted to find out more, especially as I had recently had a conversation with a friend about whether ‘voluntourisim’ was a good thing. There are numerous articles about how some of these placements can cause more harm than good in the long term and I wondered where Emma was going, who with and what she planned to do. So I asked her. And I was impressed.

After researching various opportunities, she had decided to volunteer with youth-led charity Restless Development, who work with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Importantly, this charity only works with communities have specifically requested help. The projects Emma will be working on in Zimbabwe focus on livelihoods and employment, sexual and reproductive health and civic participation. She will be working alongside a local volunteer when she arrives… Which is next month!

Emma explains a little more about her decision to work with Restless Development and what they do, in her brand new blog, Emma’s Restless Journey.

In order to get going on her journey, Emma needs to raise £800 for Restless Development. She’s almost halfway there and just needs a little help… The money she raises does not go towards her placement but directly to Restless to support their ongoing projects so if you’re inspired to donate, head over to Emma’s Just Giving page to help her on her way!