Wall of art

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #148

Last Thursday, at work, we had our annual talent show.  The acts were fantastic, often poking fun at the absurdities of our organisation and we laughed a lot. I love seeing colleagues showing up in a new light and being vulnerable. It’s heartwarming and a lovely way to get to know colleagues just a little bit more.

I contributed some photos to the wall of art and I really enjoyed this mini-exhibition alongside the pieces of my talented photographer, painter, illustrator and sculptor colleagues. For me, it was particularly interesting to see my pictures printed, as opposed to only on screen, to note how the details and colours work in the physical photograph.

I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to celebrate people’s artistic qualities and discover what they like to do in their free time. If it was up to me we would do many more creative activities in the workplace;)

Being tourists in our own city

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As I write today, a black and white postcard of a photo by Brassaï showing a misty scene of Montmartre in the 30s, sits on my desk, a souvenir from the exhibition we visited Sunday at the FOAM museum. I hope it will inspire me to practice getting more of those atmospheric black and white shots, a challenge to play more with light.

As for colourful inspiration, we also had the chance to dive deeper into amazing art by Van Gogh, Millet and many others, exploring that quiet part of the museum at our own pace, without jostling crowds of tourists to soak up the bright colour palettes.

I am grateful for a great weekend spent being tourists in our own city with my Mum and Walter, filling our well of inspiration and of course we enjoyed many good meals, a wonderful classical concert and fun chats together.

Prioritising down time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147

After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest.  Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet.  I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.

I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post.  However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe.  We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things.  In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.

In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all…  On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect.  On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.

Painting placards

After the climate strike in Amsterdam, which I attended with my hands in my pockets, a little voice inside me made it known that it wanted to hold up one of those creative hand-painted placards cobbled together from old cardboard and coloured paint at the next march.

I’m trying to listen more closely to my inner desires, and be in tune with what lights me up, so last Tuesday evening I tore apart an old moving carton, covered the kitchen table with old newspaper and got to work.  I first drew some drafts in felt-tip pen on the back of an old envelope, then lightly drew the outlines in pencil on the cardboard and finally got down to the fun part of painting with bright colours.

It was dark outside as I carefully painted the letters and images, I listened to podcasts and felt completely in flow, not feeling time pass until I looked up and it was time to go to bed. My creative practice mainly consists in photography and writing, which both involve technological tools, so picking up an analog paint brush and bright acrylic paints felt very grounding. I’m glad I satisfied my inner placard holder who was very happy to hold it up amongst thousands of other slogans during the march on Friday in Den Haag. I am so heartened by the tens of thousands of people who made time to march and make their voices heard.

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Photo by Paolo S.

 

 

Birthday present to myself

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #146

Last Saturday I attended a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert with the School of Life. The ticket was a birthday present to myself, bought back in the summer and I was so excited when the big day finally came along.  It’s the second time I attend one of her talks and WOW, that woman can speak! She shares her wisdom in a very accessible way (with an amazing sense of humour and without shying away from swear words) and most importantly gets her points across with incredible story-telling, the kind where you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, entirely focussed, waiting to hear what comes next, the type of story that sticks with you and makes you examine your life with a new lens.

She shared openly and humbly what she’s learnt in this incredible life path of writing, love, loss and dreams, and what it takes to try and be a relaxed woman in this world. The fact that she is so down-to-earth about it somehow makes my own struggle feel more acceptable.  Since the talk, I’ve been paying particular attention to my priorities and boundaries, and how it really takes lots of intentional decisions (big and small) to be as aligned as possible with what I truly want and spend my energy on that, saying ‘I don’t care’ about the rest. It takes constant readjustment and I am going to do my best in the next weeks and months to practise this mindfully.

Reading short stories

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I’ve been appreciating reading short stories lately.  Some I found in a pile of decade-old New Yorkers that I came across at the little free library, some in the anthology of short stories that is our syllabus for my next writing class, some online in literary magazines I’m thinking off submitting to or other links unearthed in some internet rabbit-hole…  I usually read novels or non-fiction books, but I’m having a great time picking up the huge doorstop of an anthology, and browsing for a familiar name or a story with an intriguing title and dive into a new world for a few pages.

It’s fascinating to see that some stories don’t resonate with me at all, while others I am drawn into after just a few words and held breathless to the end. Also, it’s reassuring because it reminds me how subjective taste is, and how much is personal, projected onto the story by the reader. It’s a nice format in these days where attention spans are ever-shortening, and it’s encouraging to see how short pieces can pack a punch and feel how they stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them.

Climate strike

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #145

I’m back home, cheeks heated by the sun and heart warmed by all the lovely people who walked away from their schools, their jobs and their usual Friday activities to participate in the Global Climate Strike.

As an introvert, my natural tendency would be to stay at home, reading We are the weather (still on my to-read list!) and fretting about how to reduce the packaging around products I buy, rather than to join a large group of people.  I don’t want to push myself too hard, but I know deep down that now it’s about being there, showing up even when it’s outside my comfort zone, that it takes every single one of us to make a movement that cannot be ignored.  I am glad I went and so grateful there were so many people on Dam square today and to march alongside Paolo, as well as my friends and colleagues. I am stoked to see that all over the world people are getting together to shout a loud and resounding “ENOUGH!!”, the photos and videos from all over the planet are so inspiring!

(And now, after all this excitement, I will enjoy some down time to recharge my batteries before the next march;)

Books about grief

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Grief is not only the deep sorrow we feel when a loved one dies, it’s our reaction to all our losses, big and small on an every day basis.  A rejected submission, leaving a city you lived in, things not turning out the way you expected them to, heartbreak, sadness in the face of the climate crisis, losing your favorite tupperware (don’t laugh! that tupperware and I went way back and had travelled the world together!).

In a culture where life goes ever faster, grief is also not a linear process that peaks and then winds down and disappears forever.  We’d like it to be over and done with, but it often comes back at unexpected moments, when hearing a song, traveling somewhere, finding yourself wanting to turn to that person who is no longer there for advice…

Over the years I’ve read some great books about grief that helped me feel less alone, in very dark times after losing close family members I loved, and also in more banal moments when feeling sadness about the way things were going, and the struggle with burnout.  The books mentionned below are like a light shining on a path that many before me have wandered and helped give me tools to make my way by reducing the struggle and allowing the emotions.

Broken Open – Elisabeth Lesser

Subtitled ‘How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow’, I turn to this book often as it is truly comforting, a sort of map through the dark forest of tough times to the other side.  I love learning from other people’s stories and this book is full of all sorts of anecdotes and wisdom. I highly recommend it, whatever is going on in your life.

On Grief and Grieving – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

This book is written by two doctors who worked alongside of people who were dying.  With many short examples it runs through the different stages of grief around death and giving examples of things that may be felt and the way others

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

I read this book many years ago, and I will never forget it’s amazingly beautiful title.  It’s  based on Joan Didion’s own experience. I don’t remember the details but rather the atmosphere, the brutal honesty of life after loss, of the absurdity and necessity of going on, the magical daily moments that make up life.

Glad No Matter What – SARK

SARK’s books are not necessarily for everyone, but I really enjoy her colourful handwritten style. I am inspired by how she challenges the reader to reframe things and I love the serendipitous stories she shares about people she encounters. At the same time, she is real about how she feels and the need to allow ourselves to pass through layers of grief. She also shares many resources at the end of each chapter, so there is much more to dive into.

*****

And if you are more into podcasts, in this amazing interview Elizabeth Gilbert talks about grief after her partner passed away. The whole recording is fascinating, but skip to 44mn for her beautiful description of grief.

A short stroll after lunch

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #144

I wrote about lunch time walks way back in JOYFUL GRATITUDE #10, and now as the weather begins to shift with autumn just around the corner, I want to highlight my gratitude for going on short walks after having lunch on work days once again.  I want to keep up this good habit and continue going out for a breather through the next seasons, even as the temperature drops and when it is windy or raining.

I’m thankful for these pockets of freedom, even if they are to be found along a rather busy road in a neighbourhood where roadworks are rife.  Those ten or fifteen minutes, help to get my limbs moving and clear my mind, making it easier to concentrate in the afternoon. I also realise after a day where I stay in the office non-stop, that those strolls help me to feel less like I am nine-to-five captive in a glass cage. Also the fun conversations with my colleagues make it a nice chance to connect and get to know each other better.

Activist embroideries

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #1

I’m very excited to share the first interview in this new series, where my sister Helena explains the background behind her amazing activist embroideries. I really enjoyed the afternoon we spent during her visit to Amsterdam making the photoshoot by the warehouses, and she was a great model as I was trying my hand at a subject other than close-ups of flowers and plants:)  Enjoy the read and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I first started after watching a vulva embroidery tutorial video on the online magazine madmoizelle. The author of the video embroidered a vulva on a T-shirt to make women’s genitalia more visible in the public space, fighting the taboo around female sexuality. I’ve been a feminist for a few years now, and really liked the combination of art and the activist component. It inspired me to stitch a clitoris on a T-shirt I would wear to give more visibility to this other body part that is also too often forgotten.

I bought a simple white T-shirt, a wooden loop and some thread and needles in a specialised store and started my first embroidery. It turned out to be a cheap and fun hobby to take up!

 

How did you learn this skill?

I turned to the internet, as I didn’t know anybody around me who could teach me (although our mom said that maybe I hold embroidery in my genes because our great grandmother was a skilled embroiderer!). I mostly learned with YouTube videos. Articles can be helpful but videos are usually better because showing a complex stitching movement is easier than describing it. There are many videos out there, made by women across the world (unfortunately this is still a very gendered hobby…). Some of them I don’t even share any language with, but the visual is usually enough!

For the rest, it’s through trial and error that I learned (and I’m still learning) what kind of clothes can be best embroidered, how to draw the designs onto the cloth, how to do new stitches (I try to learn a new one in every project)…

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of my ideas are linked to feminist topics, and I get them from media I consume: the news, youtube videos, songs… Music can be good at making ideas stick. That’s how the t-shirt with the middle finger and the Spanish one came to be. “Cerrada de amor, cerrada de pussy” (closed from love, closed from the pussy) are lyrics of a song by Ladilla Russa. It’s about men who are too insistent with their sexual or romantic goals, while sometimes as a woman, you just want to enjoy other things in life, like dancing in clubs or tap dancing, without having to deal with those who don’t take no for an answer.

 

What effects have your pieces had?

My embroideries are often a conversation starter, which was what I was hoping for! For example, people often don’t recognise that the clitoris is a clitoris, because they think of that organ as just the external part. That gives me a chance to drop some fun facts about it, in a light but hopefully instructive way!

Among skeptics against feminism, though, my embroideries have led to tense discussions! It’s not always enjoyable, but I also don’t want to just preach to the choir. Presenting a radically different opinion than theirs is a good way to reopen conversations, maybe plants some seeds of thought and brush up my debating skills along the way!

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

Embroidery has helped me work on my biggest flaw: perfectionism (this is not only a job interview flaw-that-isn’t-a-flaw, it really exists!). The risk of failing has been paralysing in many areas of my life. With embroidery, I do take time to start each project out of fear, but once I start, I face all the imperfections that come with such a precise manual task: the thread is secretly building knots on the back, letters are not the same size, the chalk drawing is disappearing too fast…There are so many factors that I cannot fully control, that I am forced to accept the imperfection. And even though I’m usually dissatisfied with my work during and shortly after each piece, I tend to warm up to it after a while!

Practicing letting go of imperfections through stitching has helped me in other areas of life, to tell myself it’s ok that I made my stew to salty that one time, or that I’m not the biggest loser of all times just because I said something dumb in a conversation!

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

I have too many ideas, and too little time! My next embroidery will be a reference to the great youtube channel Contrapoints (you should check it out), and the following one will have an activist message about napping! Stay tuned 😉

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*****

A huge thank you to Helena for being my guinea pig (or should I say my gerbille!) to test out the questions and format, and for her inspiring and well-written answers. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better start!

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