Youth is not a time of life - it is a state of mind; It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old only by deserting their ideals.
Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair - these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every beings' heart, the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at stars and the starlike things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy and the game of life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
So long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from man and from the Infinite, so long you are young. When the wires are all down and all the central place of your heart is covered with snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then you are grown old indeed and may God have mercy on your soul.
So here we are, having fulfilled our summertime prerequisites. We swam, we ate, we drank. Those with families held their breath searching for a moment of peace. Those single, attempted yet another bar and yet another drink searching amongst the crowds for a memory to be made. Those in love sunk deep into each other. The workaholics forced themselves to rest and just like their adrenaline-fueled routines they ticked yet another thing off the list: must holiday. Tick.
Belonging to the workaholic crowd, I too allowed myself this summer to force a holiday. Three full weeks. It wasn't the best I ever had, but it served its' purpose. I rested. Mentally and physically. And now here I am, a week into reality and it feels like not a day has passed. The crowds are slowly coming back and Athens is filling with its usual angry and frustrated citizens. This year, having created this extra reservoir of energy for myself, I dived deep into organisation mode motivated by post-holiday ambition. Files and folders filled with new pieces of paper, emails and desktops cleared, long deliberations over the alphabetical or numerological ordering of my life. Very important, important, not important. Delete. To post, not to post, to call not to call, most important project, best client, worst client, must definitely call client. Money in, money out, money paid, money owed. All in a desperate attempt to create some sort of control. A wishful thinking list of dealing better with my life this time.
Thing is, life cannot be put into a folder. Nor can day to day emotions be put into alphabetical order. We do try though, and sure it does help, maybe even on an existential level. An archive to remind us that we lived. That we paid our bills on time and that we did the right thing. This year I have decided to add a new folder to my colour co-ordinated filing system. This folder will have a sticker on it that writes: JOY. In capital letters. Just like all the other folders. In it though, there will be no papers and nothing to tick off, no best nor worst, no bills and no receipts. In it there will only be the hope that this year I might have some.
Why? Why continue when the struggle is constant. When this uphill climb to the unknown is steep and god knows where it will lead. You fall and then you pick up. You fall again and you pick up again. Torn. Pick up the pieces that make-up all the courage you have. To be creative. To think some more. To have better ideas. Bigger ideas. Grand ideas. So I ask again. Why?
Is it for the fame? Recognition? Respect? Is it for the money? Status. Big cars and big houses? Is that the goal? Even then, there is a system. That system. The one you try to work around, with all its' rules and regulations. Politically correct. Communication, they call it. And you try not enter the system. Tiptoe around it because you know that if you win, you might sell out. That was what tore you apart. Back then. And now? Not now. Because now you know. It was not for the fame or the big cars. It was about the message. The same one that shines as clear as a summers' day. The one that feeds your appetite and quenches your thirst. The one that says that we all belong. Somewhere, to someone. You belong. That in this crazy ass adventure you call life, you tried your hardest to live, right on the edge. Having given it your damn well all.
That is how it used to feel. That is how it feels now. And so the hunger stays strong, because you must to take care of the people you love. Through the system. Ok. If fame must pour over you like hot glue and wads of money suck all the air in the room. If you can still be respected. So be it. When you get the power you have so hungered for, and deserve, remember to be true to your word. Remember to take care of the people you love. Remember that there are not enough awards in the world that can replace them.
From a young age, I have had a fascination with words. Initially, I liked what they sounded like. Over time I found that I liked what they looked like. Eventually, what I liked most about them, was how they made me feel. Words, not sentences. Sentences I don't really like. I find them to be cunning. Over meaning. Indulgent. As a teenager, my favourite word had been 'Serendipity'. That was before the movie by the way. Defined in the dictionary as: 'The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way'. How hopeful of me.
As the years have moved on and I have had the chance to experience some more of the words our human culture has manifested I have come to find that some of them were not what I had thought they would crack up to be. Like the word 'Love' for example. So overpromising and underdelivering. A word dipped in gooey hyperbole. Hollywood sham bottox bloated Valentine's day red rose, no I love you more, empty hot air balloon. A word that somehow takes precedent over other, larger words. Words like Respect, like Kindness, like Truth. Or that other word. That almighty, ever fearing, ever encompassing word. Responsible for the death of millions, trillions, gazillions: 'God'. Such a small word with such a troubled meaning. A word that when spoken, for some might conjure images of clouds and bearded old men but that in reality, over the centuries has evoked only rage and territorialism. A competition of whose is bigger. Your 'God' or my 'God'. Oh, my God. And a new word. Or rather a new meaning of it. 'Crisis'. A word that I have heard over and over and over the last 10 years. A word that has broken the backs of almost all the people I know. Myself included. A justification for bad policies and bad behaviour. 'But it's because there is a Crisis'. 'Ever since the Crisis'. 'They say it's the end of the Crisis'. What Crisis? Economic? Ethical? Spiritual? All of the above? Does anyone know?
As I write this blog entry, I find myself unfocused and unable to really pinpoint what it is I am trying to say. Maybe what I am trying to say is that we should be careful of our words. That in this new world that we live in we can no longer be led by our instinctive predispositioned understanding of them. We must be able to review them anew. To define them again. To loosen their hold over us, because it seems these days that sticks and stones will break your bones and words might also break you.
In my last post, I discussed the impact routine has had on my life. It does. In a big way. There are times though when my old chaotically obsessed self, needs a release. Those times are usually when there is a project I have fallen in love with. Then, I give myself permission to go all the way. Mostly because I still believe that there are some projects that need a different type of process. That need to be fueled by obsession. That are worth the strain on my body and mind.
It is a conscious decision. One I am completely aware of and before I get into it, I prep. I organise every aspect of my life that I possibly can. I clean my house from top to bottom, I fill my fridge with as many healthy, easy to access snacks I can think of and also some junk for when it gets really bad. I make all the undesired phone calls I have to, I see my loved ones and warn them that I will be M.I.A for a while. I lock my front door and I dive. Into a bottomless pit. My favourite place in the world.
There is much to be said about obsession and creativity. For this chain of thought that has no beginning and no end. This un-routined time closely resembles, for me at least, a kind of paganistic ritual. My work there is to conjure up a force that will guide me to somewhere unknown. My only real job is to show up, through idea after idea after idea, until exhaustion becomes a type of spiritual guide leading me into that 'aha moment'. During those times I keep my notebook by my bedside, including sleep as part of the process. Jotting ideas down throughout my unsettled sleep. Waking, eating, working, sleeping, waking, eating, working, sleeping, until there is an epiphany. One that I can't help but feel I had nothing to do with. An idea that was born through me but not by me. Those kinds of ideas can only happen with this kind of process and when they do, most of the time, I don't understand them. My gut tells me it's a great idea, but it takes many months after its' birth to really understand what it is that I have done.
Routine is good, but so is obsession. So long as there is an awareness of it and a promise of a beginning and an end. Once my epiphany has arrived, I claw my way out of my bottomless pit and I sleep. Until I feel rested. Rested enough to clean up the wreckage that is my life, to look in the mirror again an remember I exist, to unlock my front door, and to go and see the people I love.
Monotony is the killer of creativity. Yes, it is. Routine is a different story though. For many years I seemed to have confused those two things. I have always been the kind of person that liked to do many things. A lot. I used to like to drink, a lot. I used to like to party, a lot. I used to like to eat, a lot. My most favourite thing by far that I have always loved to do, a lot of, is work. I am what is commonly known as an addictive personality, and work is my vice.
A few years ago, my un-monotonous life took a toll on both my body and my mind and I was forced to stop. Everything. In retrospect, what might have seemed on the surface as depression, was my unconscious mind organising things into categories. Placing those useful thoughts into little boxes and those unuseful ones into the trash. Throughout my addictive life I had always thought that if I were to give up my obsessions, my creativity might die.
Having been forced by circumstance to change. To build a new system of living. One based on that ever so dreadful word: Routine, none of my worst fears came true. In fact, something very unexpected began to happen. I began to have ideas that were more solid, that derived from a place within myself I had never experienced before. A place of calm. Routine works for me as a reminder not to work more, but to work less. It forces me to stop, even if every fibre of my body is telling me not to. It reminds me to wake up at the same time every morning, to drink my coffee, in the same way, to take care of myself. To look in the mirror and remember I exist. To bathe and to dress. To begin and to end. To call or to see the people I love. To give space between thoughts. To allow my subconscious mind to do the work without me. Something I cannot emphasise enough. That is the place where most of the work is done. Not grinding at my computer for hours on end. Doing that, not only is a waste of time but distracts the subconscious mind from doing the work it is so designed to do: Reviewing, Assessing, Categorising.
I have realised these past few years that there is actually no point in pushing myself right to edge every single time. And yes, sure, there is a struggle. I love to work. I will always love to work. It is the basis of all of the decisions I have made throughout my life and the reason why I am keeping my routine. It makes my work better. So for all of you that believe that routine is the killer of creativity, I say, give it a try. You might be surprised.
The one thing that drove me to near insanity during my years in advertising was working with client service. Salespeople. People, that would take my good ideas and sell them to other people that could buy them, Returning them buried under a heap of palaeolithic strategies and sales gimmicks. Having found the final last straw in my heap of reasons to leave that corporate world, I set on with much bravery into what I had imagined would be my freelance sunset. A place where my ideas would be accepted, just as they were. No feedback, no large logos, no sales gimmicks, no alterations. Yeah, ok. Turns out, those salespeople had their work cut out for them, and unlike me, whose creative job is fueled by ego, they had a certain characteristic that I do not. Diplomacy.
Having been through endless ups and downs, battles and break-ups, anguish and heartbreak, I seem to have found something resembling balance in my freelance relationships. The key, I have found, is not to mimic the attitude of the salesperson which results in quite a schizophrenic headspace, but to imagine that the client is a collaborator. Not a client, nor a boss, but someone that has as much creative input as I do. Yes, difficult for the creative genius to fathom, but they do, and I want to share with you a few tips that have worked for me so far.
This lesson was the hardest to learn but also the most helpful one. You have as much right to choose your client as they do you. Because we are oversensitive creative beings much care must be taken during this initial stage and both parties must work towards building trust towards each other. These people will eventually become part of your daily life and so you probably want to like them also.
Take time to teach them what you know. Give them a reasoning behind every decision you have made, from the font you have used to the colours to the size of their logo, tell them why. They have a right to know and you have a duty to do it. And your reasoning cannot, not ever be, 'because it's pretty'. Our job is to sell their things and we'd best know how to do it.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. These are not our friends, they are people we work with, and I'm sure they are great people, but they are not allowed to call us on Saturday night for just a quickie brainstorm. The age-old saying, 'time is money' is the exact way to deal with these kinds of boundary issues and they are healthy for everyone involved.
Have your own baby
The moment it all changed for me as far as my client relationships are concerned, was when I began doing my own projects. This is basic for many reasons, most of them being that your creative genius self, needs a way to have an unrestricted outlet. A place where no one will tell you to do it bigger or colour it green.
Sometimes, once in a blue moon, comes a client or a project that takes you and your work to a whole different level. A true collaboration, a partnership that works purely through chemistry, where you not only teach but learn. Where the result is a celebration rather than a finished document. Yes, those make it all worth the while.
I remember the first time I sat in front of my brand new iMac G3. I had never come into such close proximity to technology and I felt both exhilarated and terrified. Following the instructions of my then London flatmate, I attempted to do as he said. With this round looking mouse thing, double click, he said, on a folder, he called, that was on my desktop, he declared. I tried that. With the intention of moving that arrow 'thingie' as he had done, to reach that folder 'thingie' that he had shown. Unlike his gliding arrow, mine seemed frozen in a virtual blue ocean. Convinced I had broken my Mac I screeched for his rescue, only to be mortified by the ironic tone in his voice telling me I was holding the mouse the wrong way round. Duh.
Since then I have become quite the master of the various Mac family members I have lived with over the years and just like everyone else, I have become completely co-dependent on technology. It is an incredible tool that provides me with my livelihood. I respect it and I use it. But I don't like it. Yes, it is faster than doing it by hand. Yes, it is better than doing it by hand, but at the end of a long day, my neck is tense and my teeth are grinding because technology promotes speed and efficiency and as a human I struggle to reach its expectation of me.
I try as much as I can these days to balance using my computer and using my hands. The differences are not so much in the result but in the way that they make me feel. The one tool I like to use most is a pen. When I use it I am forced to surrender to a pace that is slow and follow a rhythm that is consistent. If I fail to do so, the result is a mistake and unlike using my computer it is an irreversible one. This fear of a mistake usually leads me to two options. One, of acceptance, by finding beauty in it, and two, of forgiveness, because mistakes will be made, not
only with my pen but with life in general.
There seems to be much concern these days about technology mimicking mans' behaviour and what it might mean for the human species. Using both mediums, my concern is less about technology mimicking us, but about us mimicking it. We are human and we must be allowed to make mistakes. Ones that are irreversible. Ones that cannot be undone or deleted like technology so easily allows us to. We must be able to remember that our actions have consequences and that we are flawed and what makes us fundamentally human, is our ability to forgive.
For two months out of every year, I leave my controlled black and white symmetrical life and I enter into a world of colour and chaos. I work in a studio in the heart of Athens that makes costumes for dancers. All sorts, but mostly specialising in creating tutus for ballerinas. For those of you who don't know what a tutu is, it is that perky dress Natalie Portma n wears in Black Swan.
My job there is to make the hats that go with the tutus and also any costumes that accompany the graceful ballerinas. The teapot in Alice in Wonderland and the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. Quirky as it may sound, my job there entails carrying large rolls of fabric, cutting meters of foam into shapes, working fourteen hour days, Mondays to Sundays with the persistent murmur of revving sewing machines and my least favourite tool of choice, a burning hot glue gun. There, our two-month mission is to create more than two thousand costumes for divas of all ages preparing for their final year shows that take place within the same time frame. Anyone that has ever worked in dance or theatre knows very well the kind of pressure during those unearthly deadlines that become, not only the divas that enter the stage but all the crew behind them whose job is to make them seem as flawless as possible.
At the end of every season with burnt fingers and swollen feet, I wholeheartedly vow NEVER to go back. And every year I do. Why? Do I have a burning desire to adorn our future ballerinas with the most glittery hats their heart's desire? Well... No. Do I have a hidden agenda to punish my controlling self into submission? Well... possibly, but still... No.
The reason I go back, time and time again, is because in this studio are just over a handful of people whom I admire more than anyone in the world. Who so gracefully create an environment of togetherness like I have never experienced before. A place where there is no boss or employee. Only workers. Where there is no separation between mine or yours. Only the work. Side by side, labouring with women who are the salt of the earth. Hardcore, larger than life creatures, mothers, daughters and wives whom with such grace, power through the burning pain in their backs from sitting at the machines and aching pain in their legs from the hours of standing. Never. Not even once complaining about it. People whom I have shared the kind of laughter that only derives from deep within my gut and have cried in a way I have only ever allowed myself to do alone. They taught me what it means to have a work ethic and what it feels like to be part of a cog in a chain that is larger than myself. These people are my mothers and my sisters, my friends and my comrades.
These ladies are my earth. The place where I nuzzle into when my analytical mind needs rest. The home where my egocentric self, dissipates, and I can comprehend what it really means to feel at one with the other. There, I relinquish control and within the chaos that I detest, I allow myself to trust in togetherness.
These days more than ever, there seems to be a social stigma attached to the idea of being alone. And I don't mean alone, as in single, I mean just the simple act of being alone in a room for no apparent reason. Being in a room without an iPhone, without an iPad and without an iMac. A room without a matt for meditation nor a book for distraction. I am talking about a room with a chair and one's own thoughts for company. That room. A private space for silent contemplation and reflection.
The paradox of the life we lead these days is that although we are never alone, always 'connected', constantly buying into this manipulated new age philosophy that we are one, somehow through a wireless connection, the epidemic of loneliness is more predominant than ever. We have isolated ourselves through the process of creating virtual 'profiles' of who we want to be, living in constant fear that we might be exposed for who we really are. Continually disappointed by the mundane reality of our un-photoshopped existence.
Creativity though flourishes on the on the fertile landscape of an empty mind. So how can we find a way to be brave enough to sit in that room, alone, with nothing except our own reflection? And even then, how can we make it through the initial state of utter panic to a place of surrender? This ever so simple task, takes a level of bravery that our popularity driven mindset cannot fathom, but the rewards of such a simple act are endless. It matters not what you think of during that time, but rather the act itself serves as a catalyst for a type of creative mindset.
So I challenge you to try it, following these ten not so simple steps:
1. Allocate a space, put a comfy chair and lock the door.
2. Designate thirty minutes to sit there without your iPhone, iPad, iMac.
3. Don't get up, even if you remember you needed to reply to a message.
4. Let your mind express its complete and total discomfort and shame.
5. Continue to sit there, even if you feel utterly absurd.
6. Think of anything you want, and I mean anything.
7. If panic enters, tell yourself that you are in a safe space.
8. Repeat the same thing the next day, even if you don't want to.
9. Remind yourself that in this time you can think of anything you want.
10. Do this every day at the same time for two weeks.
I imagine that these steps might seem like some new age, California style hullabaloo, and believe you me when I say I am the very epitome of nervous-overthinking-overworking-can't-sit-still-for-a-moment-have-a-million-things-happening-at-one-time-multitasking-monster. But time alone has become my friend and my confidant. It is there where I go to get away from the chaos outside and to a place that belongs just to me. Trust me when I say that as the days go by, you will begin to feel the shame subside, and there will come a moment of non-judgement and surrender that will lead you to a path back to yourself. A place within you that is not only truly 'connected' to the world around you but to a creative process that is intrinsically yours.