I’ve had quite a long break from blogging. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it; actually, every time I do something that relates to my artistic practice I think about how I could and should blog about it, but I’ve been in a state of too busy mixed with a bit of confusion and dissatisfaction, which has then progressed to a period of trying to solve these problems.
The solving of these problems came with a series of revelations. The first was about the value of meditation or at least proper relaxation, which allows for brain space. My friend Alison (whose advice I always trust because she reads a lot and has been right about things in the past) told me some things about how this is very important for good health and in the same week my artist friend Sarah Jane Richardson spoke to me about how yoga changed her life. Two very good friends telling me this in the same week struck a chord and I booked myself onto Pilates classes. There is some logic to the Pilates choice by the way – I did it before in the past and really enjoyed it and concentrating on your breathing is a big part of it. I have pretty bad posture and when I’ve finished a Pilates session I feel like I’ve come out of an hour long massage. So now I do Pilates and I can’t imagine not doing it.
The second revelation was about busyness. I listened to a short series of radio 4 documentary programmes called ‘Oliver Burkman is Busy’ and now I’ve been telling everyone I know to listen to it because it really has changed my life (I’m not exaggerating!) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w1dpx/episodes/player .
There is an episode that talks about workaholism. I had previously made two assumptions. The first is that you can only be a workaholic if you ‘work’ too much. But what is ‘work’ anyway? I guess I thought it was effort made towards your career or earning money, but in the context of the programme, it is not. It’s about ‘doing’ stuff. The second assumption I made was that, as long as you were doing things that you enjoy, ‘doing stuff’ can only be good. The programme about workaholism included interviews with a couple of people who suffered from it and have got help, in the same way you might do for other addictions. When I listened to one of the people speaking about her problem, I was filled with dread because she sounded just like me. I could completely relate to all the things she was saying, about her behaviour and about the way she felt.
Another programme in the series is about the use of technology. About our susceptibility to distractions and to activities that do not require us to think deeply. We tend to measure ourselves and each other by tangible achievements, so for instance, if you answer all your emails you feel like you’ve got something done. But if I was to tell you that I spent all day doing nothing other than thinking about something and I haven’t yet come to a conclusion on that topic anyway, it’s likely that both you and I would feel like I have wasted the day. Except it’s this kind of deep thinking that produces great theories and great art. I realised that I don’t spend enough time reflecting. I go from one doing project to another. And I was losing my ability to really absorb myself in something. There’s lots more that I can tell you about what’s been going wrong, but I’d prefer to tell you what I’ve been doing about it.
So, other than starting Pilates, I have been trying to use technology less and only doing one thing at one time. I am trying to check my emails less and leave the replies to a time when I tackle them all at once and then leave them alone again. In general I am trying to recognise when messages, emails and twitter are distracting me and not feel the need to answer immediately or have to know what’s going on. This is very hard actually as these things are designed to distract us. It’s basically about not doing more than one thing at once. So if I am painting I shouldn’t be keeping an eye on my emails at the same time, if I am watching TV I shouldn’t be using my mobile phone at the same time.
The bedroom has become a no mobile phone zone (I had to buy 2 alarm clocks as we both used to use our phones for that). The no mobile phone in the bedroom thing is partly about getting good sleep and we also got black out curtains. I am also sceptical about how mobiles can effect your health especially sleeping with them next to your head. I wanted to just turn my phone off at night, but I charge it at night and when I put it on charge, it turns itself on! Phone manufacturers really don’t want you to turn off your phone.
More recently I am exercising more in general, which also includes trying to spend more time with nature. Andy and I often go walking usually somewhere hilly like the lakes or north Wales and I have realised that if my mental health is suffering, getting out of the city and walking really makes a difference. Sometimes I think it’s the only sure way to improve the way I’m feeling.
One of the main things that I’ve done to change my busyness is that I’ve stepped down as a Director of my studio group. It’s taken a bit of time to hand over but now it is done and it has freed up a considerable amount of time and brain space. When it comes to the ‘reflecting’ that I mentioned previously, I’ve been taking stock of what I have achieved and thinking about what I would like to do next. I realised that a lot of what I do is in response to someone else’s request or part of a pattern that I am already in, instead I want to make a conscious decision about what I want and then take actions towards that goal. If something comes up that doesn’t fit into the long term plan, then I need to say no. And the main thing that I am working on now is changing the way I measure my own achievements. It’s difficult.
Oh and one last thing. I am going to Malaysia with Andy for 4 weeks on Tuesday. The plan is to do some more reflecting, some reading some trekking and some drawing. I’ll post the drawings on here and on Twitter.
I’ll leave you with my main achievement from the last few months – A painting that I made in October which I am fairly happy with.