the blog

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I'm grateful for ...

Sometimes, being a creative person can be intense. Sometimes things can overwhelm you, disappoint you, leave you feeling a little lost. I wrote The Fantastical Flying Creator to help others focus and reconnect with their creativity, but that doesn't mean I'm immune to feeling lost or uninspired.

Feeling this way is {thankfully!} temporary, and I do believe it's part of the natural rhythm of life. For me, it often precedes change, and change, as we know, can be a very fine thing.

During these times, it's important to remember This Too Shall Pass. It's not a time for forcing ourselves to perform or achieve. It's not a time to beat ourselves up for the various reasons we could find to engage in some serious pummeling, no no.

Now is the time to stop. To look. To give thanks. To appreciate. To ponder. To allow ourselves to Be. I think if we can do this, our inspiration will find its way back to us with gusto. And we will be flying once again.

So, as I wander my house, waiting to feel a little less lost, here are the things I am truly grateful for, and find beauty in.

Go gently, won't you?

who doesn't love a light box?

making an entrance

its made from bamboo; it's almost too pretty for the eyes

where I sleep

my meditation

from my love

where I sit

why, hello!

dots + chevron - what's not to love?

my dear, smile-inducing friend

where I also sit

my indulgence {I hope my naturopath isn't reading this}

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Why Don't People Say 'Thank You' Anymore?


So I just got another one of Those emails today. ANOTHER one.

Is it just me? Really? Am I the only one on the slow boil over the appalling absence of manners that is seemingly escalating by the nanosecond on this planet?

It used to be bad. Now it's worse. And I can hardly even believe it. How on earth anyone with an ingrate attitude is functioning well in this world, I do not know.

Like many creatives, I'm contacted almost daily by someone who wants something. Every single request goes answered by me. I'm polite, warm, open, and try to oblige where and when I can. Oftentimes, I go out of my way to help and if I can't oblige, I'll try to come up with other options.

Out of all the requests I receive, I would say that 70 - 80% of the ones I can't oblige with, go unanswered. So, basically, I'm asked something, then because I can't do what that person wants, I'm dumped. The Asker hasn't got what they wanted, the dummy has been spat, they are off to their next conquest--more often than not the person I recommend.

Of course, the person I recommend is always in touch to thank me, so I inevitably find out that the Asker has taken full advantage of my kind, selfless help. Yet they can't possibly extend themselves to respond with a thank you or a 'thanks, anyway'. Nope. They just go on their merry way, greedily squirreling away my offering, without passing a single thought to any kind of response, let alone gratitude.

This also, incredulously, happens with people I've donated my time or expertise or books to. I go out of my way and get not a single word of thanks--and oftentimes not even the courtesy of letting me know something has arrived.

It is HUGELY insulting. It's utterly self-serving. It's truly abominable behaviour. And I'm sick to death of it.

I'm really at the point now where I'm tempted to return emails with something like 'I'm happy to respond to this request but if you plan on dumping me if you don't get what you want, let me know now, so I won't waste my time and energy on yet another self-serving ingrate'.

Like receives like. The people out there putting themselves above all others will attract similar treatment in the end. I know I certainly won't be responding ever again to the people who've treated me so appallingly. People talk. People share. How or why anyone would want to incite disdain or a bad reputation by being so utterly selfish and overtly rude is beyond me.

Here's two tips: 1. you get more flies with honey, and 2. it really is easy: come on, you can do it - say it with me now. THANK. YOU.

I don't care if you're busy or there was a tornado or flood. You'd better be dead or in a coma if you feel you can't even respond to someone who goes out of their way for you.

So, to the ingrates and the self-servers--wishing the best. You're sure gonna need it. I, for one, wouldn't want that kind of Karma sitting bleakly on my head.

Am I alone here? Does this kind of thing happen to you? Does it piss you off? How do you deal with it?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Ask Tania: How do I Prevent Myself From Being Used?

Dear Tania,

I am a fairly established author/illustrator and have a lot going on in my life; sometimes to the point of overwhelming. I love what I do but my issue is that I'm so often asked to do things for free, whether it be school visits or other events, illustration work, book donations, artwork for charity, etc. I do believe in helping out and sharing, but not to the point of being used, especially when people get snarky when I say no. I'm kind of sick of it, actually.

Just wondering your thoughts on this. Thanks, Tania.


Dear 'Sue',

Firstly, you are not alone! This happens A LOT to many creatives--and in fact, the creative industries are particularly prone to this issue because so many think what we do is not a serious job. I mean, would you ask a chiropractor or surgeon or financial planner to give you their time for free? No. Why creatives seem to be exempt from this same respect is beyond me.

Secondly, I feel there are two prongs to this situation ...

No. 1

Not everyone might agree with me but when you're first starting out in the creative fields, I do believe it can be beneficial to carefully handpick opportunities that are low paid or free, but high on exposure or other benefits. I have been running Kids' Book Review and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge for 'free' for years, and the benefits of doing both have exponentially outweighed the 'cost'. EXPONENTIALLY. So, if you wanted to put it in monetary value, it would be worth more than I ever could have been paid.

Overall, I think it's about seeing the Bigger Picture. Being aware of where your career is going and where you want to go. Sometimes forgoing something small can provide priceless opportunity. A good example of this occurred on the 52-Week Illustration Challenge recently, when a large and respected graphic design company offered members the chance to design an image for international distribution on their wares. It was a paid opportunity, but meant release of copyright of the image.

Several Challenge members complained that the payment amount was too low (in fact it was quite good) to release copyright on an image. Why they felt they needed to keep copyright on one small image was beyond me (they could certainly no longer use it elsewhere). More than that, the fact that these people couldn't see the phenomenal benefit of winning such an experience--both in terms of exposure and ongoing work with this company--really worried me.

It was a classic example of playing with 'I must be paid an absolute fortune every single time or I'm just being ripped off!' semantics over the overriding Bigger Picture opportunities.

Having said all this, lower paid opps or 'freebies' should not only be carefully selected, they should naturally wane over time, as you develop your career, and you should be, for the most part, insisting on well-paid gigs and opportunities that align with your direction and experience. The more experienced and known you are, the more you will charge. Naturally.

If you are relatively established (and I know you are!), you should be at a place where you can start to cherry pick your opportunities. Remember, there is nothing wrong with saying no. And if people don't like that, too bad!!

As an example (and everyone is different, so you need to work out what's right for you), with my own career, I'm now at a place where I weigh up the opportunity against time, effort, desire and cost/revenue. If I am completely impassioned by the opportunity and really want to do it (for whatever reason, least of all feeling its benefits outweigh the revenue), I will say yes even to a smaller 'return'. If I am not impassioned by the opportunity and would only do it if I'm paid enough or it offered enough return for expenditure, then I set the price I'd like and if they're willing to pay it, I'll do it. If they're not willing to pay it, I don't do it*. Simple.

* Of course, there are also times where I just can't (literally) do something, so if I do say no, it may also be because I'm booked elsewhere or can't spare the time.

This isn't about greed. It's about protecting yourself and ensuring you are paid your worth/receive benefits to your worth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I also strongly believe everyone (not just creatives) should handpick charity events and organisations that resonate with them, and offer their time and/or product gratis, when and if they can. Not only is this important in a philanthropic sense, it's extremely good Karma. What you give, you will receive in turn. It can also bring you fabulous exposure and further opportunity, beyond the feel-good nature of it all.

No. 2

I think this issue is also about the people you deal with. When you deal with leeches or self-servers or ingrates, it's easy to become disillusioned and to feel used. I have three different avenues that people use to contact me ask for things. It means a lot of requests and I'm still, after all this time, shocked at the way some people go about asking for things.

The worst of these are the ones who presume you'll just do it. This, surprisingly, happens a lot. Someone contact me recently regarding their FULL fiction manuscript (which they attached to the email), telling me they'd like me to read it and get back to them with my thoughts, please. I told them I don't offer that service, but what I really wanted to do was ask them who or what possessed them to ask this of me?? Astonishingly, they did come back again and ask me to do other things for them.

Interesting to note that when I suggested they buy my Fantastical Flying Creator, which is jam-packed with all the insider info they were requesting, I never heard from them again.

The second worst (in fact, they're probably really the first worst!) are those who ask then either ignore you or respond rudely when you say no.

If they ignore your refusal, it shows nothing but an intense level of self-absorption and immaturity. It's called 'spitting the dummy' before heading to the next person on their list. Receiving this kind of treatment is an abominable thing. It really is horrid and makes you feel used and crappy (perhaps even angry). But remember this reflects on them and who they are, not on you. Don't be tempted to give them a serve (tempting!). Just move on and let it go. And remember their name.

If someone is rude about your refusal, it can also be tempting to respond. Just don't. You don't need to 'explain' why you said no. Again, it shows intense immaturity and it really boggles me that people would put their reputation and credibility on the line by doing something so stupid. Just move on and let it go. And remember their name.

Another kind of worst are those who fail to thank. If you say no, your asker should thank. If you say yes, your asker should thank. And if you end up providing a service or donating some books or giving your time out of the kindness of your heart and they don't thank you ... do this: don't feel crushed or disillusioned or pissed off that you spent so much of your time and energy on something they couldn't even bring themselves to thank you for. Just remember their name. And do NOT, under any circumstance, give them your time, energy or donation ever again.

Again, their behaviour is a reflection of who THEY are. Remember that old adage: if people show you who they are, believe them. Stick a warning flag in them and back way. And trust me when I say you won't be the only one out there in the community who will peel away from them or refuse to help out in the future.

The self-serving, the leeches and the ingrates are the ones who wear us down and harden us. They're the ones who cause distrust and burnout. And they do not deserve your energy or expertise. This has nothing to do with being prickly--it has everything to do with protecting ourselves and reserving our energy and expertise for those who deserve it most.

Don't worry about offending people by saying no and don't worry about the repercussions of cutting the negative people from your world. We are not an infinite source of giving. Giving is good but when people suck us dry, there's nothing left to give--and the only loser is you. So hold onto your precious time, energy and talent, and allot it carefully. Don't let people harden you or deplete you. Tread carefully, select wisely, and your journey will be so much smoother and happier.

When we're happy, we become inspired and creative, and we produce more fabulous books. And isn't that what it's all about?

Good luck!


See all the questions so far ...

Monday, 16 February 2015

Kids' Parties: Boys' Ball Party

It's not that I'm tired of kids' parties. I'm just tired in general! I actually really, really love them--they seem to be so much more fun that adult parties, but after 15 years throwing them for my daughter and son, I'm tired of the fuss.

I've been doing Simpler and Easier for a few years now {here is my list of parties, all increasingly easy as the kids get older!} and yesterday's party for Riley's 12th birthday was one of my faves yet. The only prep needed was goodie bags--choc malt balls in a cello bag with mint leaves on top {mimicking dirt and grass} and a squeezy sports ball. I printed 'thank you' labels, folded them over and stapled them to the top of each bag.

I made miniature bunting by printing letters onto card, cutting them out and stringing them between two pieces of dowel anchored in bottles of sand.

I also printed astro turf {for goodie bag labels and invitations} and pictures of soccer balls, AFL and NFL balls. I cut these out and stuck on them on picks for the food. They looked SO effective and are just so easy. It's not often that 11- and 12-year-old boys will come up and compliment you on decorations, but several boys did! So yes, even kids can appreciate lovely things.

Venue: Don't gasp, but ... I had it outside my home! I know! Mildy anal retentive, I can no longer be fagged cleaning the house for visitors, so I chose Bowen Park on Lake Burley Griffin, carted a fold up table and a few cloths, and let the beautiful shores of our capital's lake play host.

It was a good move.

A gorgeous, warm day with a light breeze, sunshine and clouds, the boys descended and set up stumps. They played cricket, then they tumbled onto an enormous piece of red cowboy gingham and nibbled chips, crackers and hotdogs, and opened presents.

Then they played cricket {and successfully fished three balls out of the lake}. How easy is this party!? I sat and played with my phone like a teenager.

Then we had cake ... cupcakes--what could be easier!? And--horror of horrors--I BOUGHT THEM! and just iced them myself and stuck AFL ball picks into each one. So low fuss. So happy making. I didn't even bother using candles. Anyone who's had an outdoor party knows the perils of naked flame in wind--so we lit sparklers instead and sang happy birthday.

Then we smashed a pinata, which is always just the best fun in the world. I don't know if you've ever seen a lolly scrum, but it's a sight to behold. I laughed till my belly ached.

Then it was goodie bags and time to go home. The kids trotted off happily after two hours in the sunshine, and lots of laughter and sporty shenanigans.

And not a single benchtop to wipe.

I vote this the Best Party Ever.

would you like some turf with your candy?

Happy birthday, my beautiful boy. I love you.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Letting Go {in order to follow your heart}

We're all on a quest to do what we love. To follow our passion. To climb that rather tall, pointy mountain to the nether regions of our Purpose. 

Sometimes we start the Journey early. Sometimes we come to it rather late. Mine began at age 8 and it took a little over thirty years to finally put my hiking boots on. The reasons are many and varied but there's no Reversal of Time option available, so best let that one go and move forward.  

But that's not all I'm letting go of.

The last six years for me have been all about exploration. Dipping my toes in the vast ocean of books and publishing in a full-time capacity. Yes, I've been writing and editing for over twenty-five years on and off, but six years ago, I dove into the ocean with no flotation device and--whether I was making up for thirty lost years, or whether it was just simply My Time--I didn't founder. I swam like an Olympian. 

I put my heart and soul and time and energy and just about almost everything into my stroke. I learned a lot. I did a lot. I volunteered a lot. I gave a lot. I conceived and produced. And I achieved a lot. 

Then, a little over a year ago, I suddenly got tired. That's okay. It's normal to get tired from working relentlessly. But what got me, in the end, wasn't the fatigue. It was the fact that I felt sad. Really, really sad. 

It's taken me at least a year to discover why.

I was so darn busy, doing so much, putting myself out there, offering myself to others, championing others, fostering THEIR dreams, that I lost sight of my own. Even though I adore helping others and making them happy {and always will}, it was confronting to realise my own Happy was gone.

Some of you may know I started the 52-Week Illustration Challenge around this time {Jan 2014}. This was the very beginning of my reconnection with Happy. I've long wanted to illustrate my own work, and, after a 25+ hiatus with the art I so adored as a child, teen and young adult, completing this Challenge and reconnecting with my art {and illustration potential for my own books} has been truly life-changing. Suffice to say I'm now at the stage where illustrating my own books is becoming a reality.

This has me poised. Poised, with hiking boots on, ready to climb Purpose Mountain. I've been buggerising around at the midway point of this mountain for so long now, I've lost sight of the top, but now--I can see the mist clearing, and the summit is coming into view.

Breathtaking. Unless, of course, your hiking boots are stuck in the mud.

Don't get me wrong. Mud is good. It's great, even. It's earthing. It's real. It's even great for the skin. It's mucking in and getting things done and doing all the practical 'shoulds' that all of us must do to keep a respectable life/career ticking along. We do need some kind of mud.

But when we are spending too much time wallowing in it, mud can become suffocating and distracting. It can incite procrastination and resentment and excuses. It can be frustrating. Weighty. Energy-sapping. It can also hold you down.

That's when we know we need to let things go. Even the things we truly love.

In January this year, I made the agonising decision to let go of the 52-Week Illustration Challenge for 2015, leaving it in the talented, capable hands of Nicky Johnston and my phenomenal admin team. Around a year ago, I also began a gradual withdrawal from Kids' Book Review, again leaving it in the amazing hands of Susan Whelan and my team. I still hover around the site and occasionally contribute, but I've put nearly six solid years into it and knew that it was time to venture into other areas--firstly the Challenge, and now--illustrating my own books.

But how do we know when to let something go?

I think we already know when something is coming up to its use-by date--whether it be a role, a situation, a habit, a commitment or even a person. We feel it coming ... and then the excuses and justification and inner-wrangling over head/heart begins.

I've wrestled with my commitment to Kids' Book Review for well over three years now. The site is too fabulous to walk away from, I value my colleagues too much, and I adore what the site does for both emerging and established book talent. I'm passionate about it, about literacy and about supporting books--why and HOW could I walk away?

So the wrestling has gone on for a long time, and it was Susan Whelan the Wise who suggested a gradual retreat. She's made an intensely difficult situation so much easier for me because she KNOWS the conundrum I've found myself in.

We can much more easily let go of things that mean nothing to us or that discredit or harm us {and if you are in this situation, stop it immediately!} but what of the things that mean the world to us?

Well, if that fabulous thing stands in the way of other things that mean just as much, if not more to us, we must also consider letting go. Seriously consider.

Here's a thought: What if maybe, just maybe, it's someone else's turn now? Someone else can do and feel and benefit from all the fabulous things that Kids' Book Review or {insert your situation or commitment here} brings?

Here's another thought: What will you be missing out on? Seriously? Will you be missing out on that much, in the end? Or, by letting go, will you be standing to gain more than you ever dreamed?

We need to let go so we can let other things in. If the house is full, you'll get nothing else in through that door. Letting go is NOT about loss. It's about letting fresher, newer, brighter things in. More opportunity. Higher levels. New concepts. A few more steps up that mountain.

Letting go is about Gain.

Having the courage to do this means we can welcome the most amazing things--sometimes bigger than we ever imagined.

Here are some other things I'll be letting go of in the coming months, so I can fully commit to my new direction:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • second-guessing myself
  • questioning my ability
  • procrastination
  • long-windedness
  • emailing every day {I plan to wean myself down to checking email three times a week--I hear you gasp, but I WILL do it}
  • social networking with any regularity
  • saying yes to event requests
  • worrying
  • frittering time away
  • overcommitting
  • engaging in any kind of debate
  • giving my time to energy-sappers and time-wasters
  • feeding my fears--I'm going to get my shun on
  • saying yes to anything I don't want to do, or just don't have time to do, even if I'd love to do it!

What do you have to let go of? If you know exactly that it is but are unsure how to do it, it's time to have faith in yourself. If the thought of letting something go punches you in the solar plexus with a wallop of joy, you know what you need to do.

If the thought of releasing a certain thing or person or situation makes you want to yodel {quick! BEFORE the rational mind kicks in with ifs and buts}, you know what you need to do.

If you really love doing something but know that you'll never do that other thing you love more without letting the first one go, you know what you need to do.

HAVE FAITH. Miracles unfold when we have the courage to follow our path. When we trust the Universe to throw out that safety net. When we truly believe life has more in store for us than we could ever imagine. If we cling resolutely to the warmth of our grounding mud, we will never be free to go higher. It's in the act of releasing ourselves that opportunity arrives. It's like turning an ignition key.

So go for it. Let go.

Let me know what happens.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Make Your Own Wallpaper

Who doesn't love wallpaper? It's sooo back in Vogue and I'm wishing I could unfurl 182 rolls of Orla Kiely and Florence Broadhurst and smear them over every available surface in my house, yes I am.

Seeing as though we'd need to remortgage the house to do this, I've come up with my own way to wallpaper my walls. You may have already seen my use of faux polaroids (real ones too exy!) on the walls in my studio (a peek, above). You can read more about them here. And they only cost about 12 cents each!

Since starting the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, I've been treated to so many beautiful original artworks, and, as I did with my collection of little papery bits (I made them into a mobile), I thought it ridiculous to keep them locked up in a folder or trussed up in a drawer. I want to SEE and enjoy them!

So, I began wallpapering my studio cabinets with this imagery.

Some of the artwork is mine, some from my friends, some are stickers, some are photos. Some are postcards, some are magazine clippings. There's even sections of bunting and post-it notes and quotes.

It really doesn't matter what you wallpaper your space with. Whether it's polaroids (below) or your children's drawings, having these things all around you is so utterly inspiring. And--of course--unique. No one else in the world will have wallpaper like you.

You could use sheets of patterned scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, notepad pages, letters or pretty envelopes. You could use calendar pages, bookmarks, greeting cards or book pages.

What will you wallpaper your walls with?

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