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To be honest, I’ve always been both fascinated by and simultaneously repulsed by Tracey Emin’s art.  It’s always seemed to me so brutal and so ‘flesh ripped open, here, look at me, look how gross this can be’.  It makes me feel uncomfortable, but somehow, like driving past a car crash, I just can’t stop myself looking at it.

I have a Tracey Emin book which I’ve only managed to glance at (am I afraid of her?).  It was a gift from my sister, very thoughtful and shows me she knows my fascinations, but I can’t quite face up to it somehow.  Even now a quick flick through has shown me at least half a dozen chapter headings my inner schoolmarm feels queasy at contemplating. 

But today I found myself getting excited as I jumped into my car to drive to work after stopping to pick up The Guardian to read at lunch time.  “How to draw by Tracey Emin” the header said.  So at lunch time I lost myself in the 3 pages of her drawings and her writings about her drawings.  Now, Tracey’s not one for a subtle image, nothing coy or twee.  And, being easily embarrassed, it was surprising to me that I was so blown away by her drawings that the content of a couple of them didn’t cause me to hide under my desk while I looked at them. 

In fact, her love for drawing and the power of art to become what we feel and what we remember is infused through the whole feature, for me anyway.  I was especially -moved? is that a bit cliched? – by her drawing ‘Ripped Up’ from 1995 and the accompanying text about the memories of having abortions.  Tonight I found a related section in her book ‘Strangeland’ and it stopped me in my tracks with it’s pain and honesty.  I can’t quite bring myself to quote it here, but instead I’ll quote her text from The Guardian today:

In 1995, even though things were going much, much better for me, I was still plagued with the memory of my abortions from 1990.  Mainly, because the first abortion I had didn’t work.  I was very ill and had to have another emergency operation.  Along with the pain and the guilt, I felt that I had to find a way to deal with this.  I made a series of drawings called Abortion. How It Feels, followed by another series called A Week from Hell.  I have tried to do abortion drawings since then, but they have never had the same intensity.  I think in 1995 I was still feeling the trauma of what Ihad been through.  I had just about stopped the yearning for a baby, and was coming to terms with my own creativity instead.  I know abortion is different for every woman, but I suffered the most digusting amount of guilt – when, actually, all I had done was make the right decision.

Tracey Emin's Ripped Up, 1995

“Ripped Up” 1995 Tracey Emin

I find it so challenging to contemplate that depth of honesty and truth and personal pain in someone’s artwork.  I admire it, although as I look at a return to art-making myself I wonder if it’s something I wish to aspire to.  My illustration background was always about expressing other people’s ideas, other people’s thoughts.  Why do people enter the art disciplines they do?  Are illustrators there to represent the world on behalf of others or to carve their own unique path of expression? 

Anyway, I’m no Tracey Emin but there are lessons  I should learn from her I think.


So this last week saw me take what I feel is a pretty momentous step, and which I’m both delighted with and terrified about.

I qualified as a community education worker 8 years ago, and that role has both defined me and expressed what is important to me ever since.  It took me a long time to ‘find’ the profession too, I’d had my fair share of years in the wilderness wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my time here on earth, and I suppose it was no small coincidence that all the various little jobs, volunteering roles and areas of interests were what eventually channelled me into doing a postgrad professional qualification to enable me to practice as a community educator.  I have also been so blessed to have the chance to work for an amazing organisation for most of my post-qualification years.

So why, then, have I just quit my job?!

Since becoming a mum, in fact since becoming pregnant 5 years ago I’ve had a sort of split in my mind.  I wanted to continue to do the work I loved, that I could see also did so much good, but I wanted to not have the mad juggling act of parenthood combined with busy working life.  Financially we were in no position for me to stop working, and to be honest when our daughter was a baby I was glad to reclaim my self, to have a space where I was independent again (as much as any employee can be anyway).  As the years have gone by we have intermittently re-examined that position to see if our finances offered flexibility for other choices to be made, but until now that has been a pretty laughable proposition.

But this last 6 months or so have brought together a number of jigsaw pieces.  I’ve rediscovered a passion for art practice, and have had some creative juices stirred which could do with an outlet.  Our daughter is about to begin school and that presented new organisational challenges which we were struggling to reconcile (whilst being aware that everyone else manages these things somehow!).  As my mum is facing a longish period of ill-health and I’m feeling the distance between us, it would be great to have a bit more time and flexibility to head up to my parents to help out now and again.  And finally, once our daughter heads off to school we’ll free up enough money (from nursery fees no longer being paid) to make a career break for me a realistic idea.

We worked all this out about 3 weeks ago, spent a couple of weeks mulling it over, praying it through, and finally, last Monday I handed in my notice.  I’m not leaving immediately, I’ll be there for the rest of the summer but already my mind is shifting to new projects for the autumn, my eye is being cast calculatedly around the house as I assess areas to tackle when I have time.  I’m reimagining my mornings, getting up very slightly later, walking our daughter to school rain or shine (I’m getting rid of my car too, won’t need it) and getting to know other parents in the area as we gather at the school gates.  I’ve been busy looking at art and craft workshops I’d like to do, pondering possibilities and just listening to what excites my soul as I consider opportunities.

I also had a small crisis moment, induced at last week’s small group in our home.  So tell me, what do I say now when I get asked what I do?  I hate ‘housewife’, it sounds empty and demeaning.  (is that just me?  would I feel different if I hadn’t been a working parent?)  Apparently I’m going to be on a ‘career break’, but since I never regarded myself as having a career that doesn’t seem right either!  And although I have an art degree and I’m planning on (in a gentle and not particularly purposeful way) taking time to do more art, I baulk at calling myself an artist – artists are people other than me, I feel.

Can I still be a community educator even if I don’t have anyone to ‘educate’?!

I wonder how long it’ll take me to reconcile this?  I’m sure I’m not the first person, the first woman to feel like this, and I certainly won’t be the last so any insight and guidance will be much appreciated.


How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

I came across this today in my sick-bed internet wanderings (This is my third mini-post today, can you tell I’m getting bored of being unwell?!).  I had heard of Galgael before, and although I’m still exploring what they are about, I’m really drawn to the work they do, the life they lead in Govan.  This little Youtube clip gives a flavour.

There’s a real model of community, of shared life and the sharing of hope, the restoration of dignity and the practical sharing of skills.  We need visionary people, like Colin MacLeod,the man who started up Galgael, so much in our world, and we also need generous-hearted people like those who joined with him to share and to realise the vision.

I have just been having a browse through Keri Smith’s blog “Wish Jar”, and found a link to this artist, Bas Jan Ader.  Go to ‘Selected Works’ and watch ‘Fall II’ (I tried to put a direct link in to it but it wouldn’t work; but I’m sure you’ll enjoy a little look around his website anyway).

Fall II

Fall II

After a brief hiatus my husband has resumed cycling to work, this time on his new, fit for zooming at high speed, bike.  Watching the film clip made me thankful we don’t live in Amsterdam, one less thing for me to worry about as he sets out in the morning…
I’ve not come across Bas Jan Ader’s work before, although reading about him now it seems like I really should have.  Apparently he’s explored the concept of gravity a lot in his work.  I found myself wondering if this particular piece was fun to do, or if the person (is it Bas Jan Ader?) landed in the canal and came up with a mouth full of dank water and bits of litter hanging of them.  And it’s thoughts like that that make me realise why I’m not ever going to be a ‘real’ artist with work on display at the Tate Modern (well that, and lack of talent…)

There definitely is an art to joy, since it is not always a natural state for us. (BTW I’m over myself and my doom and gloom last week,  apologies for the self-pitying – pretty certain it was illness related)

So it’s exciting and challenging to be part of The Art of Joy this spring.  A group of us, friends and fellow small-groupers from MBC, dreamed what felt like a big dream and we now find ourselves galloping towards lots of great activities which suddenly need organising and thinking through.  I am newly appreciative of the diversity of our small group, the skills and talents that there are which are all required to make such an undertaking happen.  There don’t seem to be quite enough minutes to deal with everything, but collectively it feels like we’re making progress. 

There’s going to be a lot happening, an art exhibition going up this weekend with an official opening before the end of March, a therapeutic art workshop, knitter natter for anyone who likes or wants to try out knitting or crochet, a fantastic closing event featuring two great bands and a stand up comedian… and that’s only what we’ve got planned so far!  We’re aiming to bring a bit of joy and light using the arts and the fantastic creative gifts of people in Edinburgh and beyond.  Most of all I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting alongside people in a creative way and exploring how the arts have the power to make connections which are often unexpected, and almost always intriguing.

Check out The Art of Joy’s website to get an overview of what’s happening and find out how you can get involved. 

I’m wondering if we could do some guerilla joy-bringing too.  How would the people of Edinburgh receive it?  How do I receive it?  Do we welcome unexpected joy with open arms?  With suspicion? With pessimism?  Do we welcome joy with gratitude and expectation of further unanticipated wonder to come?  A masterclass in joy-giving and joy-receiving might be no bad thing in our world.

Last week, at a children’s art group I work with, we gave everyone (staff included) sketchbooks which we are all tasked with using throughout the week to mess about in, draw, stick, collect, journal… do whatever we feel like doing.

peace sister

How ironic that, as the only person in the group with an art degree, I’ve been embarrassingly slack about actually making use of my sketchbook.  I’d forgotten that you need to sort of ‘make friends’ with a new sketchbook, to become accustomed to it’s presence in your life and adapt your way of living to accomodate it’s needs and demands.  Funnily enough, I’ve done not one bit of drawing in the book either.  It’s just got some scraps and (above) some nice paper with a self portrait I attempted to do using masking tape bits (and without looking in a mirror, so it’s how I see myself circa 1995, the last time I placed myself under such scrutiny).

I’ve got an hour before the club begins.  Better get on and do the rest of my ‘homework’.

I will try harder this coming week to make better use of my wee book.

This is pretty interesting.  Kerri Smith has written/illustrated some amazing books about creativity which have been inspiring me a lot lately.  This article on her blog is honest, but also encouraging – and it is encouraging in itself that her honesty can produce encouragement!  That said, I suspect she perhaps doesn’t realise that she’s in a comparitively privileged position.  For many of us creativity is something we have to find a way to achieve, despite our lives.  Kerri Smith makes her living as an artist so in that sense she’s got it there in her job description!  Anyway, it makes an interesting read.  I’d love to know what you think.

This is not an original thought (I’ve just googled it to check!), but to what extent is blogging just a vanity press for the digital age? 

I’ve been considering my motives for deciding to begin this blog, mainly because what I’ve been doing here is not at all what I originally intended – I had absolutely no plans to share my thoughts with you, just to show you some pictures.  But since I couldn’t initially figure out how to do that I wrote something instead, and find it’s a hard habit to break.  Several (most?) of my small group of fellow believers from church also have blogs (see my blogroll for them) and, when you get down to fundamentals, I wanted my own platform too.

So why do I feel justified in inflicting this on the world at large, should they choose to access my blog?  Are my thoughts, views, stories that compelling?  (Don’t worry, I’m actually under no illusions with that one!)  And if not, then – again – why? 

I suppose I’ve found an unexpected creativity and expression in just documenting bits of my life.  I’ve got a kick out of seeing how many people drop by to check my blog out.  And whilst I might claim to not think there’s anything much worth reading here, obviously – OBVIOUSLY – there’s a bit of false humility there, otherwise why not just write in my notebook under my bed like I did when I was a teenager?  I like the idea that I can put bits of myself out there, and others can look them over, consider if there’s common ground, controversy, points of interest and perhaps smile to themselves about what they’ve just read. 

So I’m making a deal.  While I’m not going to give you every personal detail of my life, I will try to be honest, reflective and sometimes cringingly frank with what I do share.  Let’s squish the vanity out of this right now! 

Do other bloggers ever wonder this kind of stuff?  How does it make you feel to blog, to get feedback and comments? 

July 2018
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