little acts of achievement

When I’m at work, my colleagues and I often talk about 5 Ways to Wellbeing. I’m far too lazy to list them here but here is a link if you want to read more. One of them has really leapt out at me this week, “Keep Learning”.

It’s one of those weeks when nothing seems to go right, and none of it feels as though it’s under my control. One of those weeks when the world conspires to thwart and bottleneck me every which way it can. Take the MSc application that I’m trying to write. Well, I’ve written it, got the referees and there’s even someone who might supervise me. But can I fill in the online application? I started it, and for the last week haven’t been able to log in to complete it. Shouldn’t be a problem , I thought, I’ll just click the link that says “forgotten username or password” and all will be well. Nah, it’s taken three online messages and two phone calls to get the details that I need to log in, and tonight, I’m just too bloody tired to wrestle with it again.

Lots of other life stuff, probably too dull and depressing to mention.

BUT…the silver lining is that I finished the shirt that I’ve been meaning to make for the last year, and I swear that’s been the thing that has kept me sane this week and stopped me drifting into despondency. The pattern has worked really well, and it looks dead cute (well I think so anyway). I was thinking about why it has made me so inordinately pleased, and I came back to the 5 Ways to Well-being. I had control over it. When it seemed as though I had no autonomy or influence in any other area, I could, at least, finish the shirt and gain a small sense of having achieved something. Which I guess ties into “Keep Learning”. Because as you learn and progress you get that sense of achievement that is all down to you, no matter what the rest of the world does.

Loving computer game music..

I feel as though I’m slowly getting my musical keen back. For a while I’ve been lacking in inspiration, probably as a result of having a sore throat and not singing very much lately. However, over the last week or so, I’ve been listening to covers of music from computer/console games, and I’m struck by some of the talent that is involved in creating it. I like games, but have never had the time to really stick at them, except when I’ve been playing on them with other people.

Many years ago, I played Final Fantasy IX. I remember loving the theme tune, in all its Rennaissance-oid recorder glory. I had a brief flirtation with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, until my relationship foundered and my ex got the xbox. Since then, I haven’t had a TV of my own, much less a console, and no time for gaming.

A couple of weeks back, someone suggested I listen to the Dancing and the Dreaming from How to Train your Dragon. That led me on to Erutan’s cover of it. I liked her voice, discovered that she’d recorded covers of game music, and bought her digital album. I loved her version of The Dragonborn Comes, and that led me on to Malukah’s cover of it.

I realise I’m a late-adopter, but I just love her voice (helps that she’s a fellow alto) and her feel for the song. I’ve been listening to other songs that she’s recorded, and it’s inspiring me to finally write some of my own, after all this time. I’m thinking that there has to be a way to shoehorn some game music into the crossover repertoire that I’m learning!

My first digital painting!

galbraith sketchI’ve done it!!! I’ve finally created a digital painting that I’m pleased with.

I’ve been wanting to have a go at digital painting for years but was too intimidated to try. Although my drawing can be quite reasonable, I’m not too confident with colour. I have also been intimidated by using a graphics tablet and stylus.

A few weeks ago, I plucked up the courage to read the book that I bought (years ago)on the subject, took some reference shots and gave it a go. It was an unmitigated disaster, I couldn’t control the stylus and my colours were all over the place. I gave it all up as a bad job. Then, last night, something persuaded me to have another try. I checked out a tutorial by a chap called Daarken, his technique was to first create an amorphous blob in the vague shape of what he wanted and refine from there. His work tends to have a sketchy feel, which I quite like and have always wanted to create. I have a tendency to get too fussy with my drawing and want to put in every detail, which then stifles the work.

I chose Terry’s Empire character, Galbraith, as a subject. I got a bunch of reference photos of him as well as googled references for his sword and armour.

I really liked the technique of the amorphous blob. It was a very low-pressure way to get going and feel as though I was getting somewhere  at an early stage. I found that I was able to find the lines that I wanted and build the shape in a very organic way. It was also a good way to get my basic shadows in and I found it much easier to stick to a limited colour palette (always a problem for me)

I stepped out of my comfort zone by only choosing to refine certain parts of the image, and leaving the rest quite sketchy. I felt that this added mystery and allows the viewer to fill in the blanks, as it were, from their own imagination. I feel that I have finally hit on the concept of “less is more”

I’m pleased that it looks a bit like Terry without being a slavish likeness. I was aiming to draw the character, rather than the player dressed as the character, and I think it works. I’d really like to do some more, getting a bit quicker each time and gain some more confidence with colour. The nice thing about digital painting is that you can experiment without worrying about ruining the whole thing as you can always undo a mistake. I’m also looking forward to getting more control over the stylus, but I guess that’s a practice thing.And a couple of life drawing classes wouldn’t go amiss either, my skills there are somewhat rusty.

I’m looking forward to doing more 🙂

Bimbling and ranting about poverty, and a possible essay

I feel like writing an essay. A proper one. With citations. Not something I have felt like doing for several years. Maybe this is a sign that I’m growing up, that I finally want to write one. There is only one other time that I have been so interested in writing an essay and that was when I was doing my undergraduate degree.

We had to write one for the behavioural psychology module which seemed to be mostly about animals rather than people. I was at a loss for what to write about, when I remembered a documentary I’d seen about the matriarchal social structure of the spotted hyaena. Our recommended textbooks and the library had very little to offer in the way of spotted hyaenas, but, undeterred, I emailed the BBC, who gave me the name of the producer, who gave me the name of the husband and wife research team, based in Germany. They must have been a little mystified by the random British psychology student, but were extremely helpful, emailing me copies of their studies.

For the next few weeks, I lived and breathed the spotted hyaena (ADHD hyperfocus is a wonderful thing and enables me to do such things as learn to make medieval tents on a whim). I can’t remember what sort of grade I got for the essay but I had a fantastic time writing it, which is, in my opinion, at least as important as the grade itself. Bear in mind that I was the type of student who, in order to entertain myself, spent as much time illustrating my essay on perceptions in virtual reality with pictures of the X-men, done in coloured pencils, as I spent on the essay itself. How I ever got my degree at all is beyond me, given that I barely knew which day of the week it was, much less what I was supposed to be writing or when it had to be handed in by.

But I digress( I do this a lot)

My essay has been inspired by the complaint from some members of the white working class that they are the ones who are discriminated against, rather than people from ethnic minorities. (oooh, just found this interesting report, will read it for the essay Who Cares about the White Working Class?”Now the evidence shows that they are wrong, all things being equal, people from ethnic minorites tend to have a rather harder time of it, however, I have felt for some time that being on a low income should be viewed as belonging to a discrimated-against group. I sit on the equalities committee of my trade union, and that is the issue that is never discussed, that of socio-economic inequality.

It’s my personal view that the lack of participation in the field of classical music by BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) musicians is, in some ways, the visible effect of SES. (Socio-Economic Status) and the class divide, as if you are BME in this country, you are more likely to be poor. I’m willing to hazard a guess that you don’t get many working-class white musicians in classical music either. Same goes for the lack of black faces in the media, certainly behind the scenes. (see Lenny Henry for details) The creative industries are notorious for being a middle class preserve, if we want more diversity, we need to address this.

That is what my essay will be about. I hope that I get the time to write it. It’s not so much the time to write it though, it’s the time that it will take me to read, or reread the studies and articles that I will be referring to. Because, I am currently spending all my time trying to scrape a living. Mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends. I spend my whole life either juggling bits of work, or trying to drum up more bits of work, a process which is more exhausting and less rewarding than doing the actual work itself (my varied work is awesome)

I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy. It will go towards informing the essay, that I have first hand experience of what it is like to be trapped in a seemingly never ending cycle of low pay/no pay. At least I have some autonomy as someone who is self employed. I have many strings to my bow, when one goes through a fallow period, I have others. I would dearly love one job, that I don’t have to chase constantly, that pays me enough to live on (I don’t need that much to live on). This would free up my headspace to get serious about getting back into psychology, as well as the cash to do it. Yes cash.

You see, it’s not enough that I volunteer my time and skills, the IAPT that have offered me voluntary work do not offer to pay travel expenses. I will have to find these out of my already stretched budget. Of course, if I take on a full-time job that might pay more (not that these are offered to ex -community musicians, as, after all, all we do is float around woodlands being creative whilst wearing fairy wings), I cannot afford the time to do voluntary work, or attend events, or network. And I have an ever-growing wishlist of textbooks that I’d like to read, which for some reason, cost twice as much as any other book.

I’ll figure out a way to do it, I’m sure. I always do. But again, it highlights to me the barriers faced by those on a low income when we try and get ourselves out of said low income. Any attempt at self-improvement comes at a cost, which although, in the great scheme of things isn’t a great deal of money, it is when £15 can make the difference between you eating properly in a week, and not.

It would seem that we live in a society that offers very little in the way of support to those that are trying to claw their way out of the misery that is a low-income existence, and then tells them that, if they are poor, it’s their own fault. Of course, there are those that point to the examples of people in impoverished circumstances who managed to get out and make successes of themselves, good luck to them, but I wonder how many more fall by the wayside into despair and destitution.  As my partner says, “there is no such thing as a self-made man”. He’s right. Somewhere along the line in a successful person’s life, there is/was at least one other person that helped them. Whether it was supportive parents, an inspirational teacher or a boss that took a chance on them. Some people never get that leg-up, just criticism and a society that tells them that they are worthless.

Why does society demand so much more resilience and superhuman effort from the people who have the least resources than it does from those who have so much more? There should still be a place in society for those that do not have such enormous levels of intelligence, talent, confidence, drive and resourcefulness, no matter what social class they are from.

I’m gonna stop bimbling now. I wrote the beginnings of an essay plan (well a pretty spider-diagram, which is how all my essays start life). Maybe one day, I’ll write the whole thing. And I’ll enjoy it. Almost as much as my essay on the spotted hyaena.

Dude, I learned something today…

There’s nothing like a bit of pressure to really focus the mind.

It’s safe to say that I have been a little down in the dumps of late. Feeling like a helpless leaf blown in the wind, at the mercy of the malevolent powers that be. That most unhelpful ADHD assessment was the icing on the cake.

I finally finished reading “Irrelevant Experience” The main character didn’t endear herself to me any more than she had done at the start (Spoiler alert). I have picked up some helpful information about getting into clinical psychology, so it was useful, but the main character, grr!

She went on to steal another girl’s boyfriend (who of course turned out to be a lying, cheating ratbag. The latter part of the book was filled with the other aspiring psychologists falling by the wayside and giving up their dreams due to the difficulties they faced while little-miss-perfect got a place on a clinical training course. That depressed me somewhat.

As my best friend pointed out recently, I have a habit of picking the hardest path, refusing to compromise and then complaining that it’s not fair. She’s right, of course, and I needed that insight.

However, in the words of Kyle from South Park, I learned something today.

For the last few months I have been planning to make a medieval bellwedge tent so that Terry and I can camp on the IC (In Character) field at LARP events. It’s a pain having to traipse from one field to the other every time you want to get something, especially if it rains. Besides, when you are trying to get into costume, having a tent that you cannot stand up in is a nightmare.

These tents cost the best part of a grand, which we just don’t have at the moment. I do sew, though, and managed to source all the materials that we needed to make one. We ordered tent poles, pegs, rope, and fabric and eyelets, which came from a supplier in the Netherlands. The tent poles, pegs and rope arrived without a hitch, but the fabric was delayed. A look at the confirmation email revealed that the delivery address was wrong. Not to worry, I contacted the company and gave them the correct address. They said that they could contact the delivery company and get it send to the right place.

I have to say that I think the problem lay with the delivery company rather than the supplier.  The package seems to have gone back and forth, there were no notes left to say that they had tried to deliver it. The business downstairs, that said that they would receive it if we were out, hadn’t seen it, and any attempts to contact the supplier were met with “we’ll keep you updated”. I asked to be put in contact with the delivery company to no avail.

We didn’t get our tent for the first event of the year. We borrowed one instead, and the experience made me more determined than ever to get our own as the experience of sleeping IC  was lovely. I thought to myself, at least I’ll be able to take my time over making it.

Weeks and weeks went by and still no fabric, I sent email after email. This week, I tried to resign myself to the fact that we wouldn’t be getting it in time for the next event in May either. I tried to accept it and think about what I could use the time for instead. There were some items of costume that I wanted and a couple of commissions to complete. We had managed to source some cut price canvas that could be used for an awning, and I was thinking about damage limitation in terms of traipsing back and forth between fields.

But something was wrong. I was feeling angry, resentful and helpless. I was also feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of making that I was planning to do. I couldn’t get any of it started. A frustrated facebook post had resulted in a raft of comments recommending a UK supplier of fabric, but I figured that it was all too late.

Then something snapped in me yesterday, I had had enough. I called the UK supplier, explained the situation, and asked how soon they could get the fabric to me. Friday was the answer. I found a source of eyelets. Again, they could deliver by Friday, or Monday at the latest.

I called a sailmaker pal of mine, who had agreed to let me use part of his workshop for making the tent. I could use the workshop in the early part of next week.

I called the Dutch supplier and said that unless they could get my goods to me by Friday, I would be ordering my fabric elsewhere. He said that he’d keep me updated. I said that I’d need to order my fabric in the next twenty minutes. He got on the phone to the delivery company and emailed me in ten, offering to send out a new order, but he didn’t know when I’d receive it.

Sorry pal, but no cigar. He could have done that weeks ago when I made it clear that I needed to make my tent this month. I appreciate that the problem wasn’t his fault, but to keep me waiting for 6 weeks when he knew my deadlines was too much. I asked for a refund, and called the UK supplier.

So. I have a medieval tent to make in three days next week. Plus commissions, plus the stuff that I need for the event. I should be feeling overwhelmed and scared. But I don’t. I feel great. More focused than I have in months. I feel as though I have taken control. I feel as though I’m in my element. The pile of work that I have to do, now that I take a proper look at it, is actually doable if I get my head down. I find myself excited, unable to sleep, hence me drafting this post at 6.30 am.

I am starting to learn that managing ADHD is all about being true to yourself. This, of course goes for people without ADHD too, but for us, it’s even more important. I truly admire people who can accept things and move on, who let go, and take things in their stride. But that’s not me. If there is something that I want, I am of the mentality that I will get it, or die trying. Perhaps that way lies frustration and madness. I certainly wouldn’t advocate that approach to anyone else. But it’s what I have to do in order to feel like myself.

There is a neurobiological explanation for all this. The mundane, the boring, the path of sensibility, simplicity and acceptance simply isn’t stimulating enough to kick my prefrontal cortex/executive functioning into action, leaving me sluggish and fed up.  I need the pressure in order to stay focused. As I say, not the healthiest plan long-term, but as long as I understand what is going on, I can work with it. Maybe by balancing intense activity with adequate rest, rather than feeling as though I have to be on fire all the time.

There will always be obstacles. I will try to find a way under, round or over them. But sometimes, I have to go through them.  It wasn’t the circumstances that were getting me down, it was me and my lack of faith in myself. Letting myself be messed about, feeling like a victim.

This tent will get made if I have to stay up til midnight each night hand sewing after the workshop has shut. And every time I stay in that tent, it will remind me never to take anything lying down. For my own sanity, if nothing else.






The Psychologist on Austerity, medieval tents, and Irrelevant Experience

I’m going to start blogging again. I’m doing interesting things, reading interesting stuff and would like to get some of my interesting thoughts down before I forget them. I could write a diary, but this is the age of social networking, and, who knows, maybe other people might find my ramblings vaguely amusing.

I’m recovering from a weekend spent at an Empire event, ie, camping for a long weekend in a medieval tent in an immersive film-set style environment, pretending to be someone else while everyone around me does the same. I’ll write more about that some other time, but believe me, it’s fun.

Due to the hellish back pain from four nights of sleeping on the ground and then a 10 hour life modelling stint the day after I got back, I woke up at 7am and made a cuppa without looking at the clock. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, I read bits of the latest copy of the Psychologist magazine. To my surprise, I actually like reading the Psychologist. I didn’t when I was a recent graduate, flicking through my housemate’s copy because I didn’t have the money  to join the BPS, and anyway, was planning on becoming a pro musician (which I eventually did)

The Psychologist seems to be refreshingly socially aware. There seems to be lots of articles and letters on how the psychological profession can influence society and how it could be doing a better job of it. This month, there is a austerity special feature, where the Midlands Psychology Group rip into our present governement’s policies, and explain, with citations, how they are declaring war on the most vulnerable in society. The feature goes on to highlight how, in some ways, well-meaning psychologists have been complicit in this, by going along with the idea that an individual is entirely responsible for their own circumstances, regardless of the society in which they find themselves, and expecting to reverse the effect of 30 years of government policy with a few CBT sessions to help them find jobs that do not exist.

This morning I have also started reading “Irrelevant Experience: The Secret Diary of an Assistant Psychologist” given to me as a birthday present. It describes the trials and tribulations of an aspiring clinical psychologist (like me). Getting into clinical psychology is so difficult, apparently, that people have written both fictional and non fictional books about it.  I am about a sixth of the way through it so far. It seems to have some useful information in, like when application forms for the ClinPsy Doctorate forms are out.

I do not like the narrator very much though. She seems like a very conventional and boring individual that despises anyone who isn’t just like her. I much prefer her housemate, who seems based on the stereotypical art student, who has a nice line in getting rid of cold-callers and points out that psychologists are supposed to accepting and tolerant. Needless to say, the protagonist despises her housemate as well.

Two hours have now been killed, and I have just realised that I have left my car in the car park by the castle, from when T and I, unwilling to return to 2014, had a picnic in the castle grounds, complete with ic (in character) drinking vessels, and there is half an hour left on the ticket. The car park only charges until 5 pm which means that if your allotted time runs over, you get to use the time the next day. I shouldn’t really divulge that, if anyone from Monmouthshire council reads this, I’m sure that they will put a stop to it sharpish. I need to finish the second cuppa, get some clothes on and move the LARP-mobile.

I love Autumn

I love this time of year. Although it is still sunny for the most part, as soon as August turned into September, something in the air changed. Maybe it was the light, or maybe the wind dropped just a couple of degrees, but there was a definite shift. I wore a jumper yesterday for the first time in ages. And a scarf. And walked around Chepstow with a big smile on my face.

I have been trying to work out what it is about early autumn that I love so much. Maybe it’s the clothing? Summer always seems to me to be very high maintenance, having to shave my legs every other day and wondering if I really suit that little skirt any more. And when it’s hot, it gets to a stage when you can’t take any more off and have to sit about feeling hot and sticky. When autumn hits, I can then get out the layers! I love hats and scarves. I love big snuggly jumpers and the feel of a cold wind on my face when the rest of me is toasty. I love long skirts and warm trousers. Dramatic makeup. The list goes on an on. Somehow, trying to do that in summer feels like overkill, even when it’s not very warm outside.

Maybe it’s the activity? Autumn for me is associated with returning to school after the holidays. While I liked being on holiday, I missed the stimulation of learning and being around lots of other people all the time. Returning to school meant new projects to take on and seeing my friends every day. As an adult, the start of autumn means that other people are also turning their minds towards the months ahead, and that is when they contact me with a view to employing me. Summer is frustrating for the self-employed. Contacts are often away on holiday at different times and it is difficult to move anything forward. Once September arrives, however, replies to emails arrive and plans start to take shape.

I often find that autumn is a far more creative time of the year for me than any other. Summer makes me hot and listless, winter has me sitting indoors bemoaning the loss of natural light. Spring is ok, but is gearing up towards the inertia of summer too much for my liking. In autumn, the leaves change and everything is somehow more colourful, the light is clearer and so is my head. Autumn to me means celebration, halloween, bonfire night, preparation for Christmas and all the creative pursuits that can go along with that, especially when I was at school.

Or maybe, just maybe, I like blackberry crumble? Blackberries are one of those things that I would never even consider buying in a shop. You’d have to spend a fortune to get enough to make anything half-decent, and they always taste so bland. I love the annual adventure of seeking out great blackberry spots and getting there before anyone else picks them all, then storing my gains in the freezer for when I next fancy comfort-dessert. Speaking of which, I have a crumble in the fridge…must be time for breakfast!

Anyone remember painting pencils?

raglan w_col2Ok, I’m showing my age now, but when I was a kid, the ultimate TV art guru was Tony Hart. Unlike the frenetic, brash “Art Attack” which came later, Tony Hart was a gentle old soul, who with a flick of a paintbrush or felt tip pen, could turn a black sheet of paper into a masterpiece. Tony Hart was my hero. I had a set of Tony Hart “painting pencils”. They looked and worked like ordinary coloured pencils, but when you applied water, would turn into watercolour paint. Last year, I found some very similar pencils in a art shop, but sadly without Tony’s smiling face on the box.

I’ve become a big fan of the work of Arthur Rackham for some time, but only recently have raglan castle 2started to take a good look at why I like his illustrations so much. Unlike many other artists that work in watercolour, his work has a really dark edge to it. I’ve tried to get that sort of impression with my later pen and ink sketches, but felt as though they were still somewhat tentative.

I realised that he used much more ink than I do, and the contrast it provides allows the colour itself to be more delicate without looking bland. I had a free morning and some pen and ink sketches that I had been to cowardly to work on, so I dug them out.

The first thing I did was to toughen up the drawing tree in Tinternwith more ink, put down with a brush. And then I got busy with the painting pencils, having a good old scribble. I felt as though I was 6 years old again and making a mess of my colouring books.

Unlike conventional watercolour, the colours seemed to get brighter when I added water. not a bad thing, I like strong colours in a painting. The water-solouble ink that I used for the drawing also dissolved slightly, and I was able to soften edges and use it to take some of the harshness out of the colour. The best thing that I found about using the pencils was that I could leave some areas dry, retaining the effect of the textured paper.

St Mary's Church, TinternI’m quite pleased with how they turned out. one of these days, I’ll try combining them with traditional watercolour and see what happens.