Friday, 29 June 2012

The Flip-side

The flip-side of dedicating yourself to creative projects, gritting your teeth and getting them into some semblance that can be called 'finished' - is working out how to get them out there. This often takes just as much hard slog as getting the thing to exist in the first place. And it's more depressing.

Hand embroidery flip-side, the mess behind creating

 While you’re working on something you have plenty of moments of doubt, but there is a lot of hope in there as well – otherwise how would you keep going? While you are writing there is a feeling there that you are creating something – something whole and real and maybe even beautiful, that might stand up by itself. But then it comes to getting it out into the world all that hope can slowly get chipped away. Leaving you with nothing but the knowledge of all the time you spent working on this thing that nobody is interested in, when you could have been at the beach or eating pancakes or having sex or drinking beers or... well the list of other things you could do rather than go to the library is endless!

Anyway, that is one pathway your brain can go down when you get a rejection letter – but to be honest I am still in my salad days and I do try to stay optimistic. I take every project as a springboard to the next and learn as much as I can because you never know what is around the next corner.

While most of my writing projects are bubbling along in my head, and a few of them are out (hopefully ) being looked at in the world one one of them is getting close to actually existing.

It is very exciting to be able to say that I have a story between the covers of a book that will be published soon!

The actual book! With a cover and pages and everything.

 I am a part of the Edinburgh Cooperative of Creative Writers  and as well as having a story chosen to go into their current anthology I have become part of the team putting it together. It is all hands on deck at the moment as we polish, publicise and get towards publishing.  

It was with much excitement that I went along to our fortnightly meeting and saw the proof copy of our book, but I have to do more than pat it. My project today has been line editing the proof. This is a rather laborious task which requires not cartwheeling creative performances, or grim determination but a whole other subset of skills.

The big surprise – to myself and probably every teacher I have ever had - is that that particular part of my brain actually works. I have known that I have a creative brain for quite some time, and I've also known I have the capacity to bounce back from rejection (thanks boys!). But as every report I have ever had in my life has said that I am a decent student, engaged with my work, but that I must watch my spelling and punctuation, it is a surprise to find that I have any capacity at all for editing.

And I am not saying that I am good. I still struggle, but perhaps all the struggling has paid off a little. That and twenty five odd years of reading books that have been professionally edited must have taught me something, because line editing the proof copy I have found myself confidently able to pick up my own and other peoples mistakes.

And I actually enjoy the work. Ok yes there were moments when I found myself stomping around the room saying -
'Does nobody know that a question mark MUST be followed by a capital letter!'

All the while quietly aware that I must have caused similar tantrums in tutors, lecturers, teachers and glorious friends and family who have proof read for me over the years.
But I stand by my younger self – the story must come first. What is the point of having all your apostrophes, commas and em dashes perfectly tweaked if there is nothing on the page worth reading?

It is nice though to be getting around to what comes after, if only because it means the story exists.

Many stitches later and ta-da! 

P.S I will be loudly and excitedly spruiking the book itself when it has been born, so do stay tuned!

P.P.S Adding an extra postscript one week on. Received this email from the hard working Andy from the Co-op and just had to share it...

'Hi Sandy, 
That was exhaustive and excellent work, you're good at spotting grammar
errors and I'm glad I didn't have you marking my exam compositions. :)

This blog is posted in conjunction with Natural Suburbia's Creative Friday. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A growing pile of rainbows

I live in Edinburgh, so after I made a hot water bottle cover on my borrowed sewing machine, knitted a balaclava and a hat the next logical craft project was a nice cozy blanket.

cloud and rainbow hot water bottle cover

Having recently discovered the joys of circular needles – perfect for balaclava and hat – I have stuck with them for making my nanna squares.  

circular needles - knitting squares

In Norway in February it turned out that the only thing that was cheap-(ish) was the wool. 

So my blanket got started on Norwegian wool left over from the hat knitting projects and received a mighty boost by my boyfriend allowing me to unravel an old and rather holey Norwegian jumper. That is where the red – my dominant colour comes from and I had almost as much fun unravelling it as I am having knitting it back up again. It is perhaps an odd statement to make but I happen to find unravelling, de-tangling and mending relaxing.
It is a bitsy blanket, absorbing all wool that I come across – lots of bright colours and a few sombre tones as well. My latest addition is a pink wool alpaca blend that came from the Scottish isle of Aran, chunky and bright enough to bring cheer to even the grey day that was our Summer solstice.

Scottish and Norwegian wool to keep me warm
Each piece has a different mood: some have been made on evenings in with my boyfriend watching West Wing, or listening to the radio while he worked, some have been knitted while I sat home alone watching movies, one got finished while I listened to my Tolkein audio book on a rainy afternoon, others have been worked on out in the world at my craft group or writing group and there was even an evenings knitting in the passenger seat driving across the UK. So the blanket, when it is made will hold many memories already – and go on to have more as it takes it's place in my life.

My mum is visiting in August – and is bringing me some treasures from down under. She asked if I wanted any of the previous homemade blankets packed and flown over, and I said no, I am making a new one. She is a knitter and a writer too, and understands the practical magic we weave when we sit down with needles and yarn. And how even when things go a little awry it does not matter too much because you can always unravel and start over. 

She knows about the soothing effects of knitting something which has...
'… no practical use
that I've discovered,
except to occasionally
cover my legs on a wintry night
when the wood fire is low.
The colours are soft pinks and blues
the texture, angora,
grown, spun and dyed by a friend
whose son has ms – her sanity.'

Exerpt from Sitting Knitting, Dr Helen Sheil – 60 Ahead – A timely collection.

I am itching to sew the squares (ok they are rectangles...but anyway) together, but I also want to wait in case I get new colours so I can make sure the colours get an even distribution.
So for now I have a growing pile of rainbows. With luck it will be finished in time to put it on my mum's bed when she gets here. 

growing pile of rainbows

This blog is posted in conjunction with Natural Suburbia's Creative Friday. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Lunch at the Museum

I had lunch at the museum today. It is the best option on a rainy day in Edinburgh if I have a packed lunch. I was on my way to the library in a round-about manner, and as hunger pangs struck I thought having my lunch before getting down to work would be the smart move.

Museums are great spaces for learning and seeing into the heart of things; whether it is the solar system or the inner workings of a clock you can usually find an exhibit to tell you all about it. As well as the science I go for the curiosities and the people watching. I sometimes have the time look about at an exhibit or two, but often I just eat my lunch and watch the folks go by. Either way it is usually educational.

The Grand Gallery, National Museum of Scotland.

Today, as I sat on a bench and ate a father walked past with two young boys in tow, the boy must have pointed to an exhibit over to my left, wanting to explore there, but his father said no.When questioned as to why the man replied:

'Because boy's aren’t interested in jewellery.'

While I was dealing with the narrowness of that particular gender stereotype a small girl posed for her mother by an ornate fountain, rather than simply standing beside the enamelled drinking fountain, the mother insisted that her daughter pose with one leg bent backwards, in the manner of a Hollywood starlet receiving a kiss.

Drinking fountain and pavilion, built Glasgow circa 1800.

The learning and teaching going on seemed to be about how to be a good little boy and how to be a good little girl. Apparently boys don't like jewellery and girls need to make themselves as alluring as possible in order to get boys to give them jewellery.

'Argh! Bahh! Yuk!' I say.

I finished my lunch feeling a little unsure about the state of the world and wandered over to the exhibition in question. Jewellery is something people chose to carry with them close to their bodies. To display publicly as a part of saying 'this is me,' and in my experience jewellery collections can be mind expanding, fascinating, intricate, capable of interrogating stereotypes, full of stories and wonder.

A sense of place - New Jewellery from a Northern Land

And I was not disappointed.

First up I learnt a new word – topophilla - a term used to describe a strong sense of place or identity among certain people.

A sense of place – New Jewellery from a Northern Land, is an exhibition curated as part of a doctoral research project. Beth Legg asked sixteen artists from Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark to create jewellery in response to an environment significant to them.

Each artist was asked to put together a topophilla box displaying the inspiration for their work. These 3D scrapbooks are little windows into the concentrated essence of these artist's love for a place. 

Looking in one you might see a photograph of a man staring out at you from his sparse kitchen, others contain a miscellany of objects: bone, paper, clay, metal, plants, glass, red wax, driftwood, scraps of poetry, rope, shells...

Topophilla boxes

Many of the boxes could easily be rock-pools transported into the gallery, you can see quickly that for many of these northern artists the ocean has a strong influence, but the environments referenced are not exclusively  nautical. 

Nevertheless they are all things any good little boy or girl could be fascinated by. 

Above each box there is the work of two jewellers. One is the artist who made the toppphilla box, and the other is the response of an artist in the group who received the box at random and anonymously.

collection triptych- three brooches, Beth Legg, 2011- Skirza Scotland, made
after receiving the box by Per Suntum, Allinge Denmark. 

Rut-Malin Barkland, 2011, Stockholm, Sweden. Made after
receiving the box by Helge Mogensen, Kaldbaksvik, Iceland.
Hope from Tragedy- seventy seven pins, Ingjerd Hanevold, 2011, Asker Norway.
Made after receiving the box by Tarja Taupanen, Lappeanranta, Finland.

Taupanen's topophilla box contains, not seaside floatsum, but an aged collection of cardboard that once backed an assortment of picture frames, pinned through with silver fasteners. The already evocative nature of this box full of absent images becomes even more haunting through Hanevold's response. The box arrived on 22 July, 2011 - the day of the massacre in Norway, and through the making of a silver and pearl pin for each victim Hanevold memorialises each lost face. Event as well as place is responded to here.

This show allows you to glimpse into the artists imaginative process, outcomes loop back to the inspiration, but they also project what the artist carries with them – the events and places that touch them. As the viewer, on my lunch-break - I must say the jewellery was interesting to me. 

The exhibition can be seen free of charge in the Grand Gallery of the  National Museum of Scotland until 16 September, 2012 . 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Flamingo Bookends

By bookends I do not mean to say that I have added to my collection of flamingo miscellany with a pair of flamingo bookends (though that would be something), I mean that today my day started and ended with flamingos.

new flamingo miscellany 

To start my day the flamingos manifested themselves in a piece of writing I am working on. A travel piece for a writing competition, which I have decided.... surprise surprise to base on one of my flamingo expeditions. So I have been going back over some photos and notes and memories, and generally putting myself in the happy flamingo zone.

Cappadocia, Turkey, 2011

It is the Diamond Jubilee long weekend in Britain and it could not be complete without afternoon tea, so after lunch I went out to meet a friend and we went on a little expedition to a tea shop in Gullane, passing by many little towns strung with bunting.

Bunting explosion
Bunting close up
more bunting...

After a very hearty dose of lemon sponge and a good gossip we got back on the road. On the way home we stopped to walk off some of the cake at the Longniddry Bents, and while we took in the sea air we learnt that the strange concrete blocks littering the coast were old tank blockades put up to stop German tanks rolling into Scotland via the Forth.

The grassy rocks of Longniddry Bents
anti-tank devices on Longniddry Bents

Educational and tasty - a perfect afternoon.

Home again home again and what do I discover... that a crafty blog I am quite partial too has been transformed into a flamingo blog and is full to the brim of brilliant flamingo pictures taken 2.5km from the bloggers house! So, many thanks to natural suburbia for allowing my day in Scotland to be bookended by flamingos!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Zebra Crossing

I have just had a little anniversary. This week it has been one year since I left Australia. In late May 2011 I had a lovely lunch and final round of hugs with family, friends and my very dear Grandma Ruthie who just recently passed away. After lunch I did a final check of passport, documents, camera, camera battery ect, then I had an early fish and chip tea and the lovely Helen took me out to the airport. And at the scene of so many hellos and goodbyes (mine and many others) I said a bit of a choked goodbye to Helen -for I did not know how long. Then after the requisite amount of time waiting around in the airport I flew out to Tanzania- the first leg of my world adventure.

A year is a funny thing. Sometimes we look back and go 'my- hasn't time flown.' But when you are in so many different places each little bracket of time elongates, the hours and days are so packed with new sights and sounds that they almost burst the seams of your memories. A single day can have more stories than you ever get around to telling - that does not make me - or any other traveller more interesting to sit next to at a dinner party - I am more often than not without two sentences to string together, but  it does make it impossible to say- 'This year just went by in the blink of an eye'. With all those memories different bits of my travels percolate in my brain at different times and for some reason or another just now it is Zebras that have popped into my head.

So this one year anniversary blog is not about all the goodbyes I have said in the last twelve months, or about how some faces are no longer there to say hello to in the future - it is about Zebras.

On the last day of my safari in Tanzania, as has already been gleefully reported I had my first flamingo sightings in the Nogorongoro Crater. You might think all other animal sightings would pale into insignificance after that, but actually just after the flamingo rapture there were still more mesmerising wildlife encounters to be had - we took part in a Zebra parade.

Nogorongoro Crater, Tanzania 2011

We somehow found ourselves right in the middle of a line of Zebras that went on and on. The zebra's dealt with the intrusion of our vehicle with very little fuss. After a little confusion they simply re-routed around the blockage, and then as soon as they could they returned to their original well worn path. They wanted to get from A to B and we were in the middle of their path - so they would go around us.

Zebra Parade
On safari we had seen quite a few Zebras- but this was our first on-mass sighting. The orderly, seemingly endless line was a delight to watch. Often when you are on safari you are waiting for something to happen - a glimpse of a lion cub, a Cheetah attack, a rhino to materialise out of the bushes, and this makes for a weird combination of boredom and excitement. Watching the Zebras was not like that, we were just happy to watch, I think we would have been horrified if something actually happened to interrupt the parade.

re-routed Zebras

Part of the reason Zebras are so fascinating is that combination of the familiar and the strange. We all know what a horse looks like and they are beautiful in their own right - but these are weird horses - they are stripey! And you cannot help ogling them and snapping an unnecessary amount of photographs.
Especially when they walk in a long straggling line, one after another, after another on and on as far as you can see in both directions.

baby Zebra - on parade

Presumably this parade happens every day, as the herd makes its way across the crater, but that makes it no less of a precious memory. So I thought I would share it. Happy Anniversary me!

just another safari memory 2011