Perhaps a slight overdose on the Pickwick Papers this week, but whatever gets you through the day! A few of these days involved medical testing and so forth, always pleasing to discover that the wonky eyes are no more wonky than they were before (which is significantly wonky), sometimes its possible to imagine that they might last the distance to some extent, which would be pleasing indeed, and some new laser treatments in a couple of week should go some way to ensuring that happy, distant outcome. Indeed, as I sat on the train surrounded by individuals arrogant enough to ignore the signs outlining the legal obligation to wear a mask, focussing my mind on the extraordinary discoveries in medicine that have provided me now with an excellent young Ophthalmologist who has so much detailed knowledge, and a somewhat more rare ability to explain such things to me in a way that is both understandable and respectful of the fear the patient inevitably experiences. Saved a very Victor Meldrew like meltdown, or a duel to the death!
Coincidentally, I was so fortunate to discover a new documentary series on Apple TV+ called Home, the first episode is called Naturhus and is the story of Anders Solvarm and his family in Sweden. Anders has build a wooden house in the traditional Swedish way (no nails for example), but around this house he has constructed a giant greenhouse, which gives an extra couple of months of warm climate, much better growing conditions for a huge range of fruit and vegetable that otherwise would not grow there, and new methods of water and energy use, production and saving.
The story of the house is woven with Anders’ own journey of dreaming about, planning and building the house, solving problems along the way, and also dealing with the disability of one of his children and how that situation had required a major re-evaluation of his expectations and beliefs. An absolutely beautiful story, and seeing the process of change and solution finding in the house construction and within the family relationship is really inspiring. I really recommend finding this if possible, and I’m looking forward to seeing if the following episodes are equally powerful.
I was already thinking about new models of flexibility in coaching models and goal setting, it seems that these concepts are very closely related. I may demand satisfaction (achieving my goal or outcome), but the when and how of this, are almost certainly best discovered along the way, built upon, expanded, and adjusted accordingly. I feel that this is what creativity is about anyway, if you step back and look at what you are actually doing when sculpting clay or moving a pencil or brush around on a surface, its about having a general, intended endpoint and then starting somewhere and adjusting and exploring as outcomes either fit or don’t sit well.
So, what are some situations you’ve been in that have required readjusting your expectations, plans, strategies or even complete goals and wishes? Can you see how you might retrace those steps and apply a similar approach to a current situation?
Despite the insurmountable pile of horror all around, satisfaction is still to be had and I’m quite relieved to be able to still, literally, see it. This photo is of my lovely eucalyptus tree, its a particular winter hardy variety that is recognisably gum tree enough to make me think of Australia, especially when in bloom or dropping Gum-nuts, even though these trees grow far from where I ever lived. This one thrived so dramatically that we needed to cut the main trunk down before it crashed either into the house, or the garage, or the neighbours car. As you can possibly make out, nature decided to use the opportunity and the stump is now covered in new growth, giving us a very pretty eucalyptus bush. Gay kookaburras would be happy to sit amongst it.
So helpful to remove what is no longer useful or appropriate, and to then be open to what surprising new and excellent…. better even?….. things will fill the cleared out spaces. Inadvertently, the gum tree goal has been very nicely achieved!
Another weird old week, if I write out my ‘Have Done’ list, I can be reasonably pleased with what I have done so that minor reality check is valuable. New sculptures under way, the slow process of hand building larger works is both calming and frustrating, depending on the temperature in my little clay space and how focussed I can allow my mind to become. I like to listen to books while I do clay work, usually non-fiction or else ‘classic’ or famous novels. Ulysses, as mentioned last week, continues to engage me but it requires darkness and 100% attention to follow at all. I started a new historical commentary, more of that one later, suffice it to say that its one of those topics that is immensely important, but also so confronting and horrifying, that its not an energy I want in my ceramics work, nor in my mind at the moment. Even a cursory glance at the headlines is enough to squash and sparks of positivity at the moment, alas, and I’m not sure it will get much better anytime soon. Even HM da Q hasn’t been able to inspire this week, which is an enormous shame as both the UK media and to an even slightly greater extent, the local German media, is in a bit of a frenzy about ‘dee Kween’, gawd bless you, ma’am. 70 years since she ‘took power’, as the beloved President Obama said, is something to notice in any case, I just wish the official jubilee pudding was something slightly more manageable to recreate, I’m wondering if a Jaffa cake and a tub of custard might suffice? Sounds good, thanks your Majesty.
So, can’t deny my status as an Elizabethan, not a Monarchist, nice to live in a society where you can pick and choose. As a kid who grew up starting every school morning singing God Save The Queen, its sort of reassuring to have something that basically stays the same in these crazy times.
I have been filling my free mental space with other people’s creative output again too, and can only recommend watching Russell Howard’s special Lubricant on Netflix, so funny and so many insightful observations (probably because I agree with them!), about society, the media, and the world. Love it, thanks Russell.
I’ve also been listening to some radio plays featuring the voice of the most excellent Mathew Baynton who has one of the most gentle and soothing voices in existence, even when being a pirate. I don’t think there could be a man so physically my anti-doppelganger, and I guess I find that intriguing too, even though we are both non-blondes. Anyway, anything with Mathew is a hit with me, and I recently finished his reading the audio book of Rob Temple’s Born To Be Mild. Some hilarious parts, some heart breaking these a well. But my main point is that the search for books performed by MB led me to discovering the work of Very British Problems, which is amusing to be sure, but its also very helpful I find to find ways to recognise that some of the parts of our own personalities or thinking patterns are pretty much normal and not a sign of delirium. Almost every single attitude or observation in this series is exactly what I’m like! I suspect its great for all of us to look around as much as possible and be open to looking beyond the slick marketing and the perfect projected appearances, and just feel normal and chuckle at the absurdity of everything and move on to something using our energy in better ways. “We CAN be amused”. Thanks Mathew, thanks problematic British people.
“The sea. The snot green sea, the scrotum-tightening sea”
Any scrotum adorned Aussie kid will recognise the mixture of excitement and agony of that first swim of the season, when the air is warm but the water still freezing and ‘tightening’ doesn’t even begin to describe the pain, happily though our sea was rarely snot green as depicted in this extraordinary description of Dublin by James Joyce, in the first chapter of Ulysses. The past couple of weeks have certainly been skin crawling and throat tightening if nothing else, everyday new fresh horrors to contend with, so many young lives destroyed since I last wrote anything, not only in war and not only far away, My disenchantment (bit of NLP there, what I mean is despair and disgust) with the world around me, is often overwhelming.
My survival strategy, at least in the immediate sense, has been to fill my mind with as much brilliant creativity as I could, for comfort and inspiration. So, finally, Ulysses has been begun. Gosh. So dense, not something to be read lightly, so much concentration required, so much to be amazed by in the sentence structures and word combinations, and that’s without any discernible story line at this very early stage! It’s hard to notice much else around though, being so focussed and bombarded with allusions and images. A good thing.
I’ve also rediscovered a very old stalwart of my sanity, the magnificent Mr Shaun W. Keaveny, UK broadcaster whose daily podcast of his BBC radio show was a staple for many years, then the format changed and I somehow lost track of it. Regardless, something nudged me to see what he was up to, and, “Yes please,” he has recently started a new podcast called Shaun Keaveny’s Creative Cul-de-Sac, where Shaun talks with various creative people, comedians, writers, and musicians for the most part so far, about how they create, how they sort ideas, how they work generally. If anyone has found my blog by any means, they are sure to be fascinated by this amazing concept. So worth listening to.
For my light-relief, I have fallen under the spell of opulent soap opera Bridgeton, love it or hate it, its very, very beautiful and some of the performances are really breathtaking. Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury is one of the most extraordinary actors I’ve ever seen, and then when she’s playing opposite Golda Rosheuvel as The Queen, spellbinding. I just watch them and wonder how to people know how to do that, to express so much, to have the insight into the situation their lines are part of so as to express it so amazingly AND to know how to express things. Should be a obligatory masterclass in acting. Add into the mix the always brilliant Nicola Coughlan, and you’ve got a full (country manor) house of inspiration, without a bodice being ripped or a bountiful bosom heaving. We shall soon be sliding smoothly into the new series of Derry Girls and be joined by Siobhán McSweeney as the glorious Sr Michael…. Surely the worlds that I choose to witness are much better for my well being the the actual world?
So, that was my self-prescribed creativity therapy week, I do hope all those names make it though the spellcheck’s aggressive insistence on false compliance and then my quite unstable vision. Apologies if not. And now, into another week. I have a major graphic art contract on at the moment, so that will be taking a lot of thought and time, a largish ceramic bust to complete, it started out as an abstract vessel for another ongoing project, but it chose for itself what it was to be and who am I to argue. And on it goes!
“My face is my fortune, that’s why I’m totally broke.” So wrote Cole Porter for the musical Panama Hattie in 1940, (I know, my cultural references are just mind-bogglingly up to date!), which I always found charming in a ‘self-effacing’ way , and certainly back in our here and now, is probably even more so the case. Image is everything, fortunes are made from faces on a daily basis.
The online world is the one in which I have to operate in really, based here in a very small town with limited networks to join with, and a cultural and language framework I don’t entirely gel with. My friends say that I’m more German than a German, but that’s because I’m on time and like some degree of structure. Not sure that the rest of the Germans are so German any longer, but that’s another theme! Regardless, the internet offers huge possibilities for business development, making contacts, seeing beyond the village. But, being more than an observer and consumer is hugely conditional on being able to project an image that has currency as appealing and aspirational it seems. I’m not 'beautiful', never was and don’t aim to be so. Not too clever at projecting sparkling versions of my reality, in fact I may have self-effaced my face right off! An Influencer I'll never be, at least not to more than one person at a time!
I’m probably not offering anything that’s novel or unique, on paper anyway, those particular qualities eventuate only within the interaction with people I’m coaching. The uniqueness comes from the personal and immediate interaction, that will always be a one-off moment of energy. It is not something you can easily express in generalisable terms. So, talking about the idea coaching, just as with the idea of creativity, is all a bit hit and miss. These are both processes, to experience.
My main true objective is to do excellent, useful coaching which facilitates the people I work with to enhance their creative experiences and vision, and to feel successful within their own values and definitions of success. For me, this has little to do with money. I have refined my own vision down to choosing only to work with those whose creativity - words, images, thought, sounds, objects - touch or inspire me in some way, and whose personal qualities such as kindness, positivity, openness or courage are identifiable. To have the opportunity to collaborate with such people in their work is worth more than gold and any skills that I may have that magnify the skills that they have - that’s what I want to offer. This means that I am likely to offer people extended periods of free coaching to test the waters, or to adjust the price according to their means. Art only pays in a very few, fate-fuelled cases, and coaching, like other forms of creativity, is so much more than a fixed monetary price. Why forsake so many invigorating and useful coaching conversations just because that creative person can’t afford my arbitrary monetary amount?
I’ve been in professional roles before that paid ridiculous amounts of money, but at the cost of your health, joy and soul, to be only slightly hyperbolic. If wealth and fame are your goals, that’s brilliant. There are an abundance of coaches, mentors, advisors and experts to work with you towards those ends but we are unlikely to find a shared enthusiasm for what you are doing and that has been the underpinning for my best coaching relationships. I want to be passionate about your vision with you, but that will only happen when our values have enough of a cross over. Most artistic people don’t earn huge amounts from their work all the time, but the process of learning and being fulfilled can require little cash too. For me, the opportunity to do good work, to be in the presence of other creative individuals, is something so special. If there are those who value a service or interaction primarily on its money price, perhaps we won’t find common ground too quickly, if there are those who prefer style to substance or who can’t differentiate between the two, again, we may never have a productive relationship.
Music is such an amazing form of creativity and communication, and I’ve really enjoyed working with several musicians over the years. So far in my life, there have been four voices I can think of that can make me literally weep from the sheer beauty of the sound. One I only discovered in the past year, so maybe more will come along. In the last week, I listened to a long radio interview with my latest vocal infatuation, the baritone Andrè Schuen who has some inexplicably magical quality in his voice that touches me so profoundly. He might be singing about going to the shops for all I know, but who cares? (And he seems to be an absolutely charming and delightful man whose face literally could be his fortune if he wanted to go in that direction. Not jealous…..) I also read an interview with the Italian band Måneskin, winners Eurovision in 2021. These bizarrely diverse musicians , opera and glam rock, were all saying basically just do your thing without thinking of external fame and money, be authentic, develop your craft, train your skills, do what makes sense for you and if other rewards come, then they come but don't allow then to be the goal. It is always reassuring in a way to hear how much work and creative focus and discipline go into those who achieve ‘overnight sensation’ status. Surely for most others of us, the joy in that process of developing and learning and expanding our talents and skills, brings its own rewards however intangible. As my very odd portrait of the day hopefully illustrates, there is a lot of nuance and story lost when you try to remove the unconventional or unpopular aspects of a face, and similarly with a personality or a style, a process or a career. Unless you are a dedicated master of perpetual holographic editing or some other method of deception in life, surely just being yourself, on your own path, doing what pleases and make sense to you while learning and progressing, has to be the best way forward?
So what ways of working do make sense to you as you develop? Have you thought about your values and dreams? In what ways do you want to fill in the outlines of your aspirations and move forward? What are you working on right now and what is going well with that? I am absolutely convinced that we, as artists, have so many resources such as openness, imagination, organisation, freedom of thought, new ways of seeing, and on it goes that we naturally tap into every day, and that other people have to go out and pay for! I would love to explore with others how these wonderful abilities and this knowledge can be applied to our creative work and from our creative work onto other areas of life. I find this fascinating.
There is my coaching manifesto I suppose! The shared experience, the shared values, the forward motion and the making use of my skills as you make the most of yours. Change and forward motion. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I always dreamed of being the backup singer for one of my favourite singers, not being the star, but being one part of the the bigger whole and having the opportunity to listen to the diva every night. Not too keen on divas these days, but hoping some excellent artists out there are excited about the prospect of having a new backup singer. Doo wah, doo wup.
On the 5th day, he drew a drawing. Sometimes its refreshing to go back to what was once familiar and comfortable, even if it now feels a little bit strange and awkward. With the increase of digital methods of making art, the beloved tablet and pen at the top of the list along with the ‘old’ digital camera that allows for endless experimentation without consideration of cost (has its drawbacks creatively, but generally positive in my own experience), it is so easy to not get your hands dirty in a very literal way. Those years of living in clouds of chalk dust and charcoal stains all over the place are long gone, except when sentimentality strikes.
And now it has! I decided to try a portrait with pen on paper, just referring to a mirror and doing so more than looking at the paper. Not quite the old training exercise of drawing without looking at the paper at all, but in that direction. Its a simple drawing, fit for purpose but probably has no enormous value style wise or artistically. If anyone is enchanted though, please feel free to make a bid - free postage within the EU!
Along with years of collected art supplies for almost any whim, I also have quite a few books from different periods of life, some of which I have not read. When I was doing my coaching degree, this was a very strong point of division in the class, the wickedness or sense of buying books without reading them! Personally, I think that books have a life of their own (not in the Jasper Fford sense - worth checking out the brilliant Tuesday Next series), but a time at which they will fit to our needs and offer their best. That may be some 25 years after you bought it, but they generally just stay on the shelf (or get shipped off to the other side of the world to yet another shelf).
So, I’ve been drawn back to Sun Tzu’s The Art Of Strategy, a translation of the classic The Art Of War. Some intuition leads me to it, and I think there might be some very helpful information in there for coaching, for art, for moving onwards.