This year something happened that I had been expecting. This year something happened I that I had prepared for. This year something happened that I had accepted. This year my mother died. I'd like to say that there was some relief. I'd like to say that there was closure. I'd like to say that there was peace. Really, what I'd like to say, is that I want her back. All in one piece. With her ironic tone and full whit. I want to be annoyed by her pestering and angry at her jokes. I want to tell her that I'm all grown up now and I can do as I please. But please, I'd really just like her back. Time will heal they said and so I'm waiting, but it all feels upside down and inside out. It's like I lost my compass and the sun hasn't come out. She always pissed me off. She was opinionated and egocentric, a real pain in the ass. I bet if I called her now she'd say 'stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it' and I'd get pissy and then get back on track. At this point, there's nothing to be said of grief. No big lesson, no wise words. All I want to say is that I miss her and that I'll always be her little girl.
There I go making bold statements again. This time on a subject I have been trying to avoid but that has been gnawing at me for a while now. As a citizen of this place we call earth, you have to live under a rock not to have been exposed to this new wave of feminism that has engulfed our modern society. As a woman that was once a young girl and as a female adult with a somewhat longstanding career in a number of industries I felt I should speak up.
Let me begin by saying that no, men are not allowed under any circumstance to rape, touch or masturbate in front of a woman without her consent, whether she is wearing a burka, a tight dress or is buck naked screaming the words "I want to be a porn star". No means no. Simple. Let me also say that our mothers and the mothers before them worked their damn asses off to create many of the privileges we as modern women sometimes take for granted and for that I am grateful. And so here comes the 'but' to my bold statement. I used to be a feminist. Not the type with burnt bras and banners but the type that was raised by strong women. The type that always kept to the girl code and that believed that her opinion was as valid of that of any man. And sure, of course I have had my experiences with pushy men and male-driven meetings where my voice was drowned under the buzz of testosterone and sure I know all too well that if instead of looking like me, tiny busty and very feminine, I was a large man in a suit, my career would look quite different to what it looks like now, but here's the thing. I like me, and just like the men that use their very nature to negotiate, I too use my femininity to get things done. You see, what worries me about causes like the #metoo movement is that although I believe that many women were violated and that to begin with the intentions were pure, eventually those intentions have been misused by women looking to jump on the bandwagon they call empowerment and that this new female comradery is loosely based on the common premise that all men are dicks. So if that is the new definition of feminism, I'll pass.
We as women have to take responsibility also for our actions inside of this discussion. We cannot just point fingers at a whole sex. Maybe, just maybe, it was within our tribe that we heard the voices of our fellow women saying: "Keep quiet about it, you can't make it on your own without him". And then maybe just maybe we can get to be women and they can get to be men, whatever that might mean. We are not all the same and that is also ok. And no, nobody can touch your body unless you consent. Whether they are male, female, black, white, short, tall, thin, fat, gay, lesbian, transgender, blonde, brunette, European, American, African or Martian. No means no. Simple.
Yes, that ever so taboo subject that us, especially creatives, cringe at the very idea of. Money? What? To be paid for services rendered. Me? A service? How dare you.
Having been raised in a family that taught me that money is hard to earn, that the pain of ones broken back is the measure of money deserved, I had always struggled to get a grip on the subject. That is until I began to understand less about numbers and more about what they represent. A form of thinking that made it crystal clear to my fluffy clouded rainbow covered mind. Money is a measure not of the services I render, but of the belief I have in my self-worth. Of the belief in myself and also the respect I have for the work I do. Us creatives, I think, struggle with pricing our work, not only because it is something non-tangible and elusive but because a lot of the time we have so much fun doing it. We feel guilt when the project is really good and grateful just to be given the opportunity.
And sure, it's easy to blame the client. They wanted it cheaper, they wanted it faster, they wanted more. Of course, they did. Don't pretend to be surprised. The question is not what they want, the question is what will you do about it? But we don't have the budget. Find it. But there are so many other designers out there doing it cheaper. Hire them. But it'll be good for your portfolio. I'm full up. But please just do it and I'll pay you later. Fifty percent deposit and we can begin. And sure, you're like, she's balsy and ungrateful. No I'm not. My motivation has never nor will ever be the money. It has always been the work. Keep in mind that the client doesn't really understand what they are paying for and that the only language you have in common is the numbers. They need to find the budget because when they do (and believe you me, if they are serious they'll find it), they will have actively participated in the project itself and will have taken the same amount of risk as you have. This breeds a common ground and a common goal. It also breeds respect from both parties and a desire for success because both of you have worked equally as hard to achieve it.
The end goal is to create good and long-lasting work and the only way to achieve that is to protect it even if that means losing the project or the client, or quite bluntly, as my mother would say, one plus one equals two, not three.
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.