The secret to surviving failure?

I receive an invitation to attend a watercolour workshop. Most people tell me that watercolour is hard to do. My first class, in 2019, was a joy as I managed to draw and paint something I could recognise and liked. Without hesitation, I sign up to do a two day course with a wonderful teacher who once helped me to paint something I liked.

The day starts at 10am in a village hall in Hampshire. Everyone seems to know each other and most of them have been painting for over twenty years, one of them for over 80 years! The day starts with a bluebell wood. The teacher shows us tools and techniques and then gives us time to try things out in stages. At the end of the first session I have something a child could have painted. After lunch, I try my hand at painting bumble bees. Well, the less said about them the better.

Day two I arrive early, homework done and full of hope that I can retrieve the bluebell wood. It starts well, I add more colour and texture to the green foliage and add a few more bluebells. Then we start the next project, a Kingfisher perched on a branch of a tree. By 2pm I start to wonder why I am here. I have never been able to draw and I am not artistic. When I review each of my paintings I see complete disaster.

The women who cruise the tables to check out the competition stop to offer commentary. ‘Oh, Its……. (very long pause)…. Lovely’ and they wander off. Eventually I start to say, ‘It’s only my fifth day having any form of tuition. I never could draw or paint. I am very new to it. I am still learning.’ I can hear my defensiveness and wonder if they believe me.

As I drive home, drained of the optimism of the morning I wonder why I am putting myself through this.

I am a failure. There I’ve said it. I am a failure when it comes to painting. I can’t manage to draw anything that looks like a real living animal, insect, plant or bird. I am incapable. Yet, I want it more than anything. I want to be able to draw and paint something I can be proud of.

So what’s the secret to surviving failure? Is it persistence, resilience, a bottle of wine to soothe the pain of disappointment? No, it’s much simpler. It is being lucky enough to have friends I can discuss things with. Friends who won’t judge me harshly but who will see and understand that I have given it my best shot and that I am learning. Friends who will provide feedback about what they like and where they see opportunities for improvement. Friends who will love me even if I paint worse than their smallest child, grandchild, cat or dog!

I don’t believe it!

It is just over seven months since my last post. Where has the time gone? Just over two years since the first lockdown when life, as I knew it, changed dramatically. I hope that I spent the Lockdowns well by learning new skills, meeting new people albeit online, and NOT putting on any extra weight.

I realise that certain things did not go so well for me. Things like my core strength training went out the window. I used a bike for exercise, but I didn’t get down on the floor to do some of the essential exercises I could have been doing. I see it as a missed opportunity, but I know it is important not to dwell on it too much or I will get angry with myself..

Zoom became an intrinsic part of my life and every time I attended a meeting I brushed my hair, applied lipstick and sprayed perfume, yes really. My husband regularly pointed out that no one cares and no one can smell it. He misses the point completely, its about how I feel when I sit down to engage with others. I noticed that people often gave updates on how our hair regimes were surviving lockdown. I taught myself how to dye and cut my own hair and, with a little bit of help from my husband, I even managed to do the back of the head. You can judge how successful or otherwise I’ve been in the photos below.

Popper’s penguins!

This is my first post since April when I reviewed what I had been doing in Lockdown. The summer has been busy and I have been laying down memories which I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. That means I haven’t been writing my blog, but I have been thinking about it. Today I heard some sad news about a man who lives in the Falkland Islands. He had a terrible accident and is now having medical treatment overseas, I hope he will soon return to the islands in a fit an healthy state to enjoy his family and his beautiful homeland.

It is four years since John and I travelled to the Falkland Islands. I cannot believe how quickly that time has passed. In March 2017 I went to visit a Kind Penguin colony and it was breathtaking. I have tried to capture some of that day below. I loved the film Mr Popper’s Penguins but nothing beats seeing penguins in their natural habitat.

A Day trip to Volunteer Point

I hold my breath as we drive vertically upwards to reach the top of a ridge, and when the bonnet turns downwards my breathe is taken away by the landscape and the sky. Cerulean blue with occasional light grey wispy clouds meets a rocky vista. The rocks make me wonder about the surface of the moon. Rock falls and barren lands; agriculture’s not possible here but imaginations are fed instead! 

My nostrils twitch as a pungent smell knocks me back. The squawking and the pipping of the Kings and their chicks from the crèche is like a thousand creaky doors opening at once with the occasional doorbell.  This is the sound of the King Penguins at Volunteer Point. 

Turning and walking towards the Southern Ocean, it is only a short walk down the sand dune to the beach abutting icy royal blue waters. I find a hardened lump of sand and plonk myself down to relax. Totally ignored by wildlife, I watch as King Penguins wait in a mostly orderly line. One by one, they waddle across the sand leaving a trail others follow. A further waddle and they disappear into the water with a ‘whoosh’, then they’re off swimming, jumping, nudging each other. The swimming practice for penguins ends with a leap out of the water onto the sand. A few of them land on their flippers, others land on their tummy, they all land at the back of the line which they re-join the wait for another go.  I guess it takes practice to prepare for a life of fishing and living in one of the most remote locations in the world.

What did you do in the Lockdown?

2021 started slowly, I did a bit of Marie Kondo tidying of my sewing room and found joy in sorting fabrics. I wrapped small pieces of ribbon around bits of cardboard and filed everything in Rainbow order. I took time, I was working slowly and now I know that working slowly, and with purpose is good for longevity. It seems working slowly and in a focused way is good for creativity, for problem solving and for innovation. It has taken me over 40 years to learn to do things slowly. In my youth, pace was essential to success. Speed was everything, it differentiated the star performers from the averagely good. We were all told that speed, multi tasking, ticking things off lists and doing stuff mattered. Then came the pandemic and all of that changed. For example my travel list, which is still exhaustive, sits unmoved from 2019. The plays, ballets, operas remain unseen or heard.

Really, only the first two weeks of January were very slow, thereafter I embarked on the first term for several workshops. I did Contemporary Quilting, Abstract Art, Advanced Fiction, Journalism, Advanced Coaching, Creative Writing and all of these weaved alongside my work as a consultant and coach. I attended meetings, readings, and professional webinars. I worked weekends, I worked during the week from early morning late into the evening and I enjoyed most of it. When that term ended I realised I was physically exhausted and that my mind was weary. I had been doing lots of writing, sewing, painting and working whenever possible, however, a life on zoom is sedentary and sometimes soulless.

Having taken the Easter break to review things, I have decided to streamline my commitments to allow time for leisurely creativity and innovation to emerge; to allow more time for being active; to allow more time for people I want to see. I am choosing not to squander my energy, and to cherish it and to save it for the things that help to make me healthier and happier.

Sounds extreme? My lessons from the first term of 2021 (AKA Lockdown 3): I must do work that inspires me, and, that leisure activities should be just that!

How was your Lockdown?

Some of my projects from the third lockdown.

IWD, what does it mean for you?

Surely we don’t need a day to celebrate womanhood! International Women’s Day started in 1908 when 15000 women marched through New York City with several demands which you can read about here. The history is important as are the events that take place over the next week or so to mark IWD. Check out events on this IWD website. Anyone who is still in doubt about whether we need an IWD may want to check out the quote below, from their website

Do we still need an International Women’s Day?

Yes! There’s no place for complacency. According to the World Economic Forum, sadly none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for almost a century. 

There’s urgent work to do – and we can all play a part.

This year the IWD theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. I choose to challenge myself, to ask myself am I doing enough to help women move forward in their chosen careers. I choose to challenge myself to coach and support more women on their career journey. I also choose to challenge lazy journalism. Journalism that features women doing great stuff but then talks about their love life or their size rather than focusing on what those women achieve, do or how they contribute to making the world a better place!

Choosing to challenge is difficult, painful and can be costly. Whether you approve of the interview or not, Megan is Choosing to Challenge and it is clearly painful. Choosing to Challenge can result in you losing family, losing a job, a friend, a partner or your income!

I intend to celebrate IWD and I hope you will too. Today, I will be working with two unique groups of people. Zoom enables my life and work to continue through lockdown, and now my world is expanded to include people from hard to reach places across the globe. I will be thinking about the women, and men, who inspire, support and engage me. If you read this blog, then the chances are that you are one of the people who enriches my life.

What do you #Choosetochallenge?

Images from IWD website – two people choosing to challenge!

What do Rita Ora and Kay Burley have in common?

They are on the naughty list!

Hang on a moment, there is no naughty list!

Did you break any rules during the pandemic? How do you feel about it?

Your answer may well depend on the ethical or philosophical framework you use to make decisions. I suspect that most of us are now truly fed up with the lockdown. Maybe not, my sister suggests your preference for introversion or extraversion will indicate your preference for lockdown. Her hypothesis is that, introverts are loving it whilst extraverts, like me, are having a hard time. It is true that I have dark days when I can’t see people and yes, Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and all help a little but they don’t replace the joy of hugging friends and family.

As I am writing this, BBC news is playing in the background and a man is speaking. ‘What’s the point of living if we can’t meet people. There is no point in living!’ Well it seems that both Kay Burley and Rita Ora agreed with him.

Kay and Rita both celebrated birthdays by hosting parties that broke the Covid rules. Both have apologised and Kay Burley was suspended from work for six months. Both are probably financially comfortable enough to be able to withstand any fines or penalties from their actions. There is a view that ‘celebrities’ are called out more often for rule breaking. They are certainly more visible when they fail to comply. Both of them are role models and one of them is employed to communicate the news and that probably includes some sort of implicit understanding that her role is to help reinforce our awareness of the rules.

So, why do it? Why take the risk? Why break the rules?

Over the past few years, I have realised that I am a compliant person. I didn’t start my adult life in this way. I always thought of myself as a rebel and a rule breaker. I never meant to be compliant, I just somehow morphed into being a rule follower. Is it because I am getting older, or that I can’t be bothered to expend the energy required to be rebellious? Or is it because I really care about reducing the numbers of people needing NHS help?

Some of my friends are doctors, medical workers, front line workers including teachers, tram drivers and police and they are fed up with the mixed messages they are receiving from Government. They are told to keep working, work collaboratively, put themselves at risk, do whatever it takes to keep the country running. But, and this is a big but, don’t hug your grandchildren, extended family or friends. Don’t even consider having a meal or a drink with people from another home. Don’t meet your work colleagues, who you see everyday, in a restaurant or a home to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion.

So how do we decide whether to follow or break the rules?

It seems that it all comes down to the ethical paradigm we use to take decisions. We may be in one to two camps or we may cross between the two depending on the situation. These camps are teleological (more utilitarian) or deontological (more Kantian)? Great words and I felt I had to use them.

Do you make decisions based on character and relationships, are you more concerned with being a good person with good intentions and is the goal the most important thing for you? If you answered yes, then you operate using a teleological ethical paradigm for decision making. For example, if you spend your day in a school and put yourself at risk and a friend invites you to her house for a socially distanced drink, you might decide to go even though it breaks the rules because she is lonely. You and your partner may decide that helping her feel less isolated is more important than following a rule. You conclude that the goal of making her feel connected is more important than a blanket law that doesn’t deviate. You may further conclude that you are being a ‘good person’ by helping your friend.

If, on the other hand you decide that you must follow the rules, which clearly do not allow mixing of households, so decline the invitation, then you may be operating from a deontological perspective. Deontology derives from the Greek for Duty. It is a duty based approach concerned with taking the ‘right action.’ It is sort of Kantian. If you are a rule abider then you may adopt a more Kantian approach. An article in The Irish Times asks, ‘Are we all Kantian’s now?’

What intrigues me, is that the Government initially applied a rules based Kantian approach to the lockdown. Then, we had the Dominic Cummings affair which turned everything on its head. He and various MPs broke the clearly defined rules and faced no consequences. Dominic Cummings definitely applied a teleological and not a deontological approach to his own situation. He talked at length in a televised interview and explained why he was a ‘good person’ for protecting his son, his wife and himself without putting other people in London at risk.

I believe the actions of Dominic Cummings directly affected the subsequent behaviour of people across the UK who started adopting an approach along the lines of: if it’s okay for him, then it’s okay for me to break the rules. Over the last few months of 2020, the Government’s language changed and responsibility was shifted more to the individual. You could say, the Government shifted from a Kantian approach of ‘follow the rules’, to a more utilitarian approach of ‘take your own decisions.’ That approach didn’t appear to be working, so in January 2021 we were placed, once again in lockdown. The messaging reverted to the one used in the first lockdown (more Kantian!). ‘Stay home – Protect the NHS – Save lives.’

In preparing for this blog I spent quite a bit of time reading about the ethics of lockdown and there are some interesting articles about different aspects. One article in the New Statesman suggests that the Government decided to loosen the rules for Christmas because people would probably break them anyway. Another article in the Spectator asks, ‘Is it ethical to lock us down again?’ It comments that lockdown inflicts agony, particularly on the young.

The United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights suggest that the two messages of the modern public mental-health approach are:
1. There is no health without mental health; and
2. Good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental impairment.

There is a lot of information on the internet about the impact of lockdown on our mental health. I know it has affected me. There are also various resources available from the NHS, Mind and others. I have also offered free coaching to anyone who needs someone to talk to. So, do message me.

Lets go back to Kay Burley and Rita Ora, they both applied a Teleological approach – in the style of Dominic Cummings – to their decision making. At least they both apologised profusely and Kay Burley has accepted the consequences of her action.

Since the beginning of March 2020, when we started to withdraw into a smaller world, I made my opinions clear to all friends and family. We have decided to follow the rules. When friends tell us about the various deviation from the rules they apply and their rationale, we assume they have identified and mitigated the unintended consequences of their actions.

As the vaccine takes hold and our lockdown eases, we will all choose how we wish to behave in this new phase of the pandemic. It won’t be easy, particularly if we receive mixed or unclear messages from leaders.

So, if you struggle with decisions, ask yourself, are you doing something because its in your nature and you believe a breach is okay if it makes you or a friend happy? Or, are you trying to follow the rules? Understand that every decision you make will be grounded in a deeply held philosophical perspective, which may be different to the one held by others.

How to survive the pandemic

Spoken in the tone of Lady Whistledown

My advice – and I am known for giving prodigious, wondrous, inspiring and often life-changing advice – is to find a magnificent series of books, a series of at least 20 different titles. 

Use your most beautiful duvet cover and dress your bed with a glorious quilt featuring vibrant hues of colour. 

Put on your favourite pair of pyjamas, wrap yourself in cashmere and get into bed. You must only get out for food or exercise! 

All Zoom, Teams, Facetime and WhatsApp calls can be done from your berth. 

Friends and family, video on, others, video off! 

Looking for something fun and not at all challenging.

What do your xmas decs get up to?

Two Christmas decorations having a conversation!

‘Bloody hell, Tortola, I’m totally knackered. Can’t wait to get back in the box.’

‘What’s that you’re sayin’ Gorda?’

‘Oh, I can’t be bothered, been up and down like the vicar’s knickers.’

‘The Vickers knickers? I think you mean the Whore’s Drawers.’

‘Wash yer mouth out, Tortola!’

‘Oh, okay, the vicar’s knickers it is.’

‘Something like that, 20 years up and down, in the box, out of the box, in the attic, out of the attic.’

‘But that’s our job, Gorda, we get out so we can be put up. We remind her of the islands. Of her honeymoon.’

‘Yeah, for the first five years we were always top of the tree, front left. Then top of the tree front right. Then when his mum started to visit we were moved.’

‘Aah, yes to bottom of the tree out of line of sight of the new mother-in-law. Gorda, what was her name?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care, Tortola. She took one look at us, tutted and said something about hideous tourist crap. I may have been sold in a tourist shop in the BVI’s but I was proud to represent my island. Proud to be a Virgin Gorderer!’ 

‘Is that even a word, Gorda?’

‘Well I’ll be damned, course it is. Us Gorderers are very proud people. Do you know where she found you?’

‘No, not sure that I can remember that far back.’

‘She found you at the airport, Tortola, said she wanted two of us, two boats. One for her and one for him and we’ve been together all this time.’ 

‘I love that we’re together in the box all year, and then, when its time for us to shine, we’re on the tree together again.’

‘And now? Where are we, Tortola?’

‘Back of the tree, Gorda.’

‘Ooh the shame of it. I’m tired, Tortola. I wish she would give me away, give me to a family with children. They’d love me.’

‘Gorda?’

‘Yes, Tortola?’

‘Do you think they’d love me too?’ 

‘Sure of it.’ 

This piece was written in a new writing group which I joined for a day on 20th December 2020. The story follows two decorations that appeared in a piece I wrote last year, but I had more fun with it this year and challenged myself by keeping it purely dialogue. 

I do have two small boats which I bought in the British Virgin Islands and every year my husband looks forward to seeing them go on the tree. The rest of the story is pure fiction, they are always central front of the tree as a reminder of our honeymoon!