Sunday, 26 May 2019

Loss and grief

'Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened'...
- Anatole France -

I wrote those words when I lost my beautiful cat Jed in July 2011 and write them again now with the passing of my beautiful cat Max. I am in the depths of grief and will be out of the loop for a while as I sit with this loss and allow the passing of time to ease the physical ache I feel from his absence.

I sleep, I wake, how wide the bed with none beside [Kaga no Chiyo].

As I wrote for Jed back then I can almost use the same words for Max - it wasn't meant to go like this... we were supposed to have at least another 4 to 6 years together. I miss you more than I can bear and my heart is full of love for you but there is a huge hole in my life.

You were such a bundle of joy... and fitted your full name of Max. E. Mumjoy to the letter. You didn't just turn around you danced around, raising your front legs in the air in the most joyful animated way. Such a happy boy. The most beautiful soul I ever had the privilege of knowing. Like Jed you were my greatest teacher ever and made me want to be the best version of myself. In the 14 years of having you in my life I gave you my heart as well as the love, security and dignity you deserved... not to mention the cuddles - oh how you loved your cuddles. My constant companion, always there for me, loving me unconditionally and never judging. You made me laugh on a daily basis with all your silly antics, and filled my heart with joy from our conversations. I miss all the ways you had of communicating with me, you were such a talker. You always had a way of letting me know exactly what you wanted or needed and the way you rattled the bell on your collar to let me know where you were... such a clever boy.

I miss seeing you on our bed, in the loft, in the garden - all your favourite places, and will feel the pain when I drive in the driveway after work and you are not there to greet me.

I will never forget you, I will never stop loving you and I will never stop missing you. You are buried in such a divine spot, in the sun surrounded by nature with the birds there to keep you company and where I can see you every day.

Rest in peace my beautiful angel, and I know Jed is with you, looking out for you as he always did.

I am no stranger to loss and grief - loss is loss and grief is grief whether it is the loss of a loved one, a beloved pet, a home, a cherished job, a friendship, a lifestyle... I know it is a process and only time will ease the pain but at the moment the pain is crushing me. I also know not everyone is going to understand this grief, only other animal lovers will. Jed and Max were here for me through some of the most difficult and challenging years of my life. I guess I just thought they would both be with me for a very long time to come. 

Jed was euthanised on Friday 1 July 2011. After becoming very sick very suddenly and was diagnosed with Stage IV feline lymphoma, possibly Stage V if they would have tested his bone marrow. He had no chance at survival. Max was ethanised yesterday, Saturday 25 May, 2019 after being diagnosed with early stage kidney failure around 18 months ago. He had no chance at survival. I couldn't let him suffer even though making the decision was the hardest one I've had to make.

I'm out out of the loop as far as any creative activities are concerned, and am simply going to acknowledge my grief and give myself the time I need to process this huge loss.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A move to regional Australia

[Continuing on from my previous posts]

So why a move to Cooma? Quite a few reasons actually.

I always felt and told everyone that the Byron Shire was my heart home. I honestly thought I would end up living there one day, having had a close association with it over a number of years... decades even, on and off. So when mum decided to leave the Shire and move up to the Northern Rivers region I actually did consider it and did a bit of research. But in the end there were a number of reasons I opted to stay in Canberra, and eventually chose to purchase a property in Cooma.

The landscape and the light. These two components have seeped into my blood and I find it a visually beautiful place.

While I would have easily stayed in Canberra because it offered me a lifestyle that I was very content with, I was looking for a large parcel of land and so the affordability of Cooma factored into it is well. Also, in the ACT properties are leasehold and not freehold and although this was the case with the house at Swansea Heads, and was not an issue, there is something more appealing about freehold land to me. Added to that the through traffic to the Snowy Mountains and with my Pinch River hat on, I knew the exposure would be good... and given the Pinch river is actually in this region it was a good fit.

In looking intentionally for a place to call home Cooma feels like the Australia I grew up in, in that it offers a simple life - where simple does not mean basic and deprived but slow and enjoyable, because regional Australia is as contemporary as most of our urban places. This can be attributed to technology but I think also people - in both tourism and tree / sea changers. [I do have to add that there are some aspects of regional Australia that I find very, very difficult to reconcile, particularly in regards to animal welfare and environmental issues. Thankfully, there are many wonderful people here and good things going on so as to make that aspect tolerable (though never acceptable), and I will just continue to support worthy causes that will one day put an end to the bad stuff.]

The human scale was also important. A smaller centre means I can connect more with my community and actively engage with what goes on here. Cooma is a thriving and bustling regional centre. It has some fabulous cafes and eateries, a strong creative community, lovely parks and lots of great things going on in terms of community and enterprise... (let's not forget the hugely successful Birdsnest). It is positioned within an easy drive to Canberra, the Snowy Mountains and the south coast with lots of charming villages close by. Throw in clean mountain air, wide streets, heritage and abundant flora and fauna and well what more could you ask for.

It is here that I want to take living simply further. Over time I want to become as self-sufficient as I can on my town block - not as large as I would have wanted but sufficient for me. This is where I will create my next garden and also where I plan to delve deeper into living creatively... with Pinch River as the main focus.

Writing these posts has been really beneficial and enjoyable. They have led you on the journey I have been on and caught you up to where I am now... but for me it has helped me connect again with Pinch River after it was packed up again for the move here. While my studio is set up it is not the studio I had dreamed of (as I said I had to make compromises on this property). I am working towards another studio space, which I hope to have operational by this time next year, so in the meantime I am grateful I have a space, or spaces I can use... and use them I will.

Hopefully the next post will be about new products...

Monday, 29 April 2019

My shift towards living creatively - part 2

[Continuing on from the previous posts]

During my time in Como I decided to undertake further studies. I did a screen printing course at Sydney Institute of TAFE because even though I had done screen printing at uni I wanted to become more proficient and also learn how to print yardage. I also started doing a ceramics course at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre at Gymea... and then in 2013 I started another course in Community Arts and Cultural Development.

I digress here to reference the Slow Your Home podcast again because of the cross-over in my journey with what Brooke and her guests speak about. In this instance it's that over time this mindfulness and awareness you gain by slowing down and simplfifying your life, when applied to your own life eventually starts spilling out into your relationships with people, your community and the world around you. It makes us better citizens, makes us want to be connected to community and makes us want to effect positive change.

I started doing this in one way when I was still living in Swansea Heads. Armchair activist as I may be I know my one voice when added to many can make significant impact, and I have witnessed this time and time again since I started actively participating in animal welfare and environmental campaigns around 2010. [This is an important part of my daily life. I am compelled to do what I can, what I have the capacity to do, to try and make the world a better place - to fight the good fight and keep those with less integrity accountable.]

Around this time I also found a Community Arts and Cultural Development network online, I think they were in SA. They ran distance education courses and I really wanted to get into it but it wasn't the right time and so I let it go. When I moved to Como I looked them up again only to see they had been de-funded, but fortunately they handed the course over to TAFE and so in 2014 I did the inaugural course through Sydney Institute of TAFE, though it was mostly delivered online.

One component of this course was undertaking a six month Internship. I gave this significant thought because I really wanted it to count. Whereas I had really wanted to go into gallery work after I finished uni I now realised it wasn't fine art I was interested in but craftsmanship. In researching craft organisations I found that Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre was the best fit, especially given the opportunity to assist with the inaugural Design Canberra Festival. I lined up the internship and instead of commuting I decided to rent a place in the ACT for a year while undertaking the internship to see what evolved. Five years later I was still living there.

When I first arrived in Canberra I was incredibly active with Pinch River again. It was great, I was doing markets galore and even had a pop-up shop for a week... and then again it stalled. This desire had been growing in me to want to work creatively with the community. It seemed so incredibly natural I just couldn't ignore it. I think being of European stock I had been raised with that whole community spirit, particularly coming from a large extended family. Although I hadn't labelled it, Placemaking came naturally to me. It took a while but I eventually got the creative job I had been looking for. Many creative people work in creative roles, this enables us to live more aligned with what we are about and was something I wanted since leaving uni. This journey in itself has been incredibly satisfying and rewarding and has led me to discover Asset Based Community Development and all these incredible initiatves going on all around the world that just continue to energise and inspire me. I could write a whole post just to tell you all about the great things that are going on.

However, working more hours for someone else ate into time I had to work on my own creative projects... but it was more other niggly things that got in the way. Nothing significant but distractors and consumers of my time nonetheless. Looking for a property to buy was certainly one of those things. It took way longer than anticipated because what I was looking for didn't exist. I eventually had to compromise but it's all good... and so, this led to my next move... to Cooma NSW. It's still pretty new as I've only been here a little over three months. I had lived in Jindabyne many, many years ago, so am not totally unfamiliar with the area.

During the five years in Canberra I absolutely fell in love with the region. The colours, the light. The country living with city benefits. Canberra is the best kept secret ever... it is brimming with arts and culture and great places to eat... all while offering an easy escape into natural environments. The Monaro region is spectacularly beautiful too and offers much in the way of artistic inspiration.

So why Cooma? Stay tuned for the next installment.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

My shift towards living creatively - part 1

[Continuing on from my previous posts]

As I said earlier there is usually a trigger for people to simplify their life and slow it down. It was during the Swansea years I faced certain things about my life head on and slowly emerged from the emotional carnage with a clearer sense of who I was and what I wanted out of life. I made a promise to myself that I would live creatively... and while this decision didn't support the financial security I had been chasing up to this point it was exactly what my soul needed.

In addition to the Graphic Pre-Press course I did at Hunter Institute of TAFE I also undertook a Certificate IV in Small Business Management though the local BEC. Although this equipped me with the tools to produce a business plan the journey was, and sometimes still is, a lot of trial and error. I put this down to having to wear all the hats, going on a steep learning curve to teach myself about the many facets of the business side of the creative venture... when all I wanted to do was create. I even looked into getting someone to manage the business side of things but it was not financially viable for a start-up and I also had concerns about finding the perfect person that would work well with me and not take over.

So I chipped away and researched ABN's and GST; I registered my business name* and set up Facebook; I researched where to source base cloth; I reasearched screen printers that could print my fabrics... and how to create repeat designs; I researched business insurance, shipping, website platforms, how to get my products to market, marketing and communications... it was a very long list and a very intense process, and in all honesty for the most part I did not enjoy it. I felt like I was stuck in the research phase because add to all of that I was also approaching this in a very environmentally friendly way, and back in 2010 this was very, very challenging. It's incredible, and heartening, to see the shift over the past 9 years! Oh, and I also started blogging over at the original Pinch River blog, this was actually one aspect I was enjoying, along with the creative side of things of course.

* A note on the business name... this was a very drawn out process. What to call my business? When I decided on a name I found it was already taken and so this cycle went for pages and pages in my notebook... and in the end I chose something that didn't end up working. I chose the word 'stilelemente'. This was a German word for 'elements of style'. This didn't work for two reasons: 1) no one could pronounce it and I found myself always spelling it out, and 2) using a German word didn't reflect the Australian-ness of my designs. So in 2013 I changed the name of the business to the current name and love it. You can read about the name here.

I put myself out there as much as I could and it slowly started to pay off. I was getting brick and mortar shops stocking my products, a little bit of media coverage and slowly, slowly establishing the brand... and then it stalled. I got all confused about what I actually wanted the business to be and I also packed up my life and moved, which is disruptive in and of itself. In 2012 I moved back to the Shire - a place I thought I would never choose to spend time in again. I moved in with my mum who was living in Como so that I could have some time to think about my next steps in life. At first Como felt alien to me, it wasn't the family home I grew up in but over the two years I was there I grew to love it as much as I had loved Swansea Heads and the greater Newcastle area. I thought I could never love a place again as much as I loved Swansea Heads but I have proven myself wrong three times since then (more on that later).

I did chip away at Pinch River during this time, creating the catalogues that, even though are quite a few years old now, I am still really happy with and part of the business side of things I thoroughly enjoy... but it was a period of stop start stop start stop... and then I undertook another course... and then I moved again.

[You can see a visual record of my journey geographically over on Flickr. My camera goes with me everywhere and because I am someone who is always exploring the great outdoors I take photos as keepsakes and a visual diary.]

Stay tuned for the next installment...

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

My journey towards 'slow' - part 2

The next installment of my journey towards a slower pace of life... the next trigger that led me to simplify my life and slow down further: the relationship bust-up. Stupidly enough I wasted a good while thinking the end of that relationship was a bad thing and then slowly I began to see it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I ended up moving up the coast to Swansea Heads (East Lake Macquarie) and it was here that I really let go of the busy-ness that kept me from dealing with one key issue that lay buried in the past. The layers just got stripped away and life unraveled in every conceivable way... I experienced some incredibly challenging years here only to come out of it with true conviction, and a deeper sense of slow and simple.

It was here that I also discovered my two first online communities that played a key role in providing a much-needed connection to the broader community and making me realise there are good people in the world, and many more selfless than me... fighting the good fight. It was during my Graphic Pre-Press course at Hunter Institute of TAFE* (yes, I got to go back and be a student... and a few more times since then too)... that I discovered Etsy and I also discovered that social media, particularly Facebook, was a platform for effecting positive change through petitions and awareness in general.

*A side note about this course... as I had more space to think and gain greater perspective I realised that while my uni degree was targeted towards being a practitioner (in which there was a long road to financial security) I also realised I had the power to take that further. [These revelations may seem obvious to some but for some reason they were hidden from me until this point.] What I realised I could do was hone in on certain aspects of my degree and make them more financially viable. There were two paths I saw that I could take, both required further study. One path was to do my Dip Ed and teach and the other was to polish my skill with Adobe Creative Suite... I chose the latter.

Stay tuned for the next installment...

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

My journey towards 'slow' - part 1

In listening to the Slow Your Home podcast, host and creator Brooke McAlary tells us of her journey towards a simpler way of life after she was diagnosed with post-natal depression. In the episodes I have listened to it is evident that for many people (though not everyone) the shift towards slowing down has a trigger. This is true for me... and I think there have been several triggers. The first trigger was around 2000 and was caused by complete and utter burn-out, so I've been slowly, slowly simplifying my life ever since. The doctor actually told me I was suffering from burn-out.

At the time I was completing an under-graduate degree at university and was juggling that around shift-work for Ansett Airlines. I was extending and renovating the family home with my mother (we created a dual occupancy so that I could have my own pad) and on top of that I was in a relationship where we weren't yet living together so there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between both places. Throw in an exercise regime, social activities and all the other things life throws at you and this resulted in complete burn out. Years earlier I had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue syndrome, so it seems my body had been telling me for some time to just slow down.

As a coping mechanism along the way I did have the insight to reduce my work hours to part-time and pulled back on my study load, stretching my degree from 3 years to 4. In there somewhere my partner moved in with me and life progressed to us looking for our own place, which we moved into in late 2001... not long after 9/11 in the US. Prior to moving I had also made the decision to leave Ansett (3 months before the airline collapsed) and found work locally in the Shire. When we moved I was still working on final assignments for uni and once that was over I decided to find work locally so I didn't have to commute over 'the bridge' (from North Balgowlah to Cronulla).

This process produced a lot of tears because I just couldn't bring myself to do mindless work and my then considerate partner (turned out not to be this way down the track) told me to take my time... and so I did. I eventually landed a part-time role that paid pretty well and was there for a couple of years.

However, at the beginning, having just left uni I was full of enthusiasm to embark on a creative path but try as I might to find work in a creative field... it never quite worked out that way. Having completed an Applied Arts degree it really only equipped us to be practitioners and we all know the starving artist cliche. Having to meet financial obligations I had no choice but to work. I remember discussions during this time with friends and identifying that being creative and seeking financial security were mutually exclusive things, and a constant torment to try and strike a balance between really desparately wanting to be an artist / maker yet wanting the security of home ownership.

One thing that was very evident to me towards the end of this period in my life was a complete shift in priorities. At the beginning my job with Ansett was everything to me and uni was just something I was doing but at the end of the 4 years this completely flipped. Ansett was just a means - it paid my uni fees upfront which allowed me to be debt-free at the end of it. It paid the mortgage on the extensions and renovations to the family home and allowed me to secure a loan with my partner to purchase our first home together... but the Ansett magic was gone for me and I was the now the student (in so many more ways than just being at uni). If I could have continued with studies then I would have.

So I thought I would do the part-time work thing and carve out some creative time in the afternoons but the reality was I would get home from work at around 2pm, have lunch and go for my walk down to Middle Harbour then come home and have the inevitable household chores laid out in front of me... and because I had made an unconscious declaration to no longer multi-task I just naturally gravitated towards single-tasking. So life was slow, relatively simple and really quite enjoyable, and I got into a very nice rhythm, albeit without ever really getting to create in the way I wanted - I did dabble but nothing took hold. Don't get me wrong I was being creative in stamping our mark on our home and creating a garden. It was here that I became a passionate gardener - but it turned out this was the first garden I had to walk away from after pouring so much love and energy into it.

Read the next installment in the next post...

Monday, 15 April 2019


Following on from my last post - now that I've introduced the concept of slow I will be sharing my journey in a series of posts. In doing that I felt I needed to introduce it in a way that may come across as apologetic...  as the previous post was a big block of text and in this fast past world I keep getting told that we have about 15 seconds to capture someone's attention before they get bored and move on to the next thing.

So I have decided not to impose those types of restrictions on myself because I am a storyteller and use words to convey my story and my thoughts. I figured that anyone that doesn't have time doesn't have time and I can't do anything to change that.

Before I start telling my story I have to add that listening to the Slow Your Home podcast, specifically its creator, Brooke McAlary, has inspired me to share my personal experience because she is so refreshingly honest about the tough stuff.

I know there is a general discussion about how social media doesn't portray life in reality but instead shows picture-perfect lives that we compare ourselves to but for me the reason I have never gone into too much personal stuff online is that it has always been my happy place. That place / space that I crave to be in because it is good for my soul. I have a platform for the reality off-line with friends and family, so I've never felt the need to get online and share more personal aspects of my life. I wanted to keep it as the place I go to that makes me feel good, where I can share the good stuff.

I feel comfortable sharing my own journey now because it is the back story to my Pinch River journey and also because, as Brooke does, by speaking about it we hope to bring about more awareness... as the world would be a much better place if we were all mindful and aware. Also, for creative people there are 'rewards for looking'... for getting to that level of awareness, this was a favourite saying of one of my uni lecturers and I wholeheartedly agree. Prior to being introduced to the podcast I had posted about this on the Pinch River Facebook page