Speak Of The Darkness, Live In The Light

WE MUST BEGIN TO TALK ABOUT THE DARKNESS IN OURSELVES, AS MUCH AS WE TALK ABOUT LIVING IN THE LIGHT.

Success does not cure the shadows. Money will not buy away the hopelessness. Moving to Bali to work from a laptop on the beach will not stop the thoughts of helplessness or self loathing or shame. I am broken hearted by this news. I truly was inspired by this man and his passion for his field. I call for more open, safe and authentic spaces where we can support one another to be as broken as we are awesome.

Oh, my heart. Thoughts with his family and friends.

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Do What You Love, And Do Not Stop.

In High School, my sewing teacher said I was crap at it and gave up on me pretty early in the piece. My music teacher couldn’t stand me and as a result, I failed music as a subject too.

Perhaps not a coincidence I had the same teacher for both subjects.

I tell you this to say I’ve been both a professional singer and songwriter (I still get a royalty payment from APRA every year so my songs are being played on radio somewhere) and professionally sewed, despite the learned assessment of a qualified educator I was rubbish at them both and not worth teaching.

How did it happen? Despite the discouragement, I did both music and sewing and did not stop, just as I have with writing and a few other things. Most talent is actually tenacity.

I just felt it was appropriate right now to say for the sake of someone perhaps who is doubting themselves because of someone else’s laziness to do their job and just fucking teach you, or someone’s fear, or jealously, or their plain dickheadry, and who couldn’t keep their mouth shut and made you think you couldn’t be good at that thing, screw them. Yes you can. What it takes to be good at a thing is to do the thing a lot. A lot. And not stop.

I used to sing and be good at it too. People still tell me they miss my singing and ask if I’m still doing it and whether I’ll go back to it. My answer is, not now. Thing is, people assume I was born with a strong, pleasant-to-listen-to singing voice. I was not. But I wanted one. So I did a lot of singing. And I sang so much, eventually I became a good singer. I was never great. But I loved doing it, and my singing pleased others, and I think that’s a great thing, and it’s enough. I am done with singing for now. I don’t feel the time spent becoming good was wasted. It was wonderful. I feel privileged to have given people pleasure with it.

It breaks my heart when I hear people say they love a thing and want to do it, but they don’t believe they are good at it. Of course you’re not. You haven’t done it enough yet. You need to do it, and do it a lot, to become good at it. And you must start doing it sometime. Why not now?

Why not now?

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Everything Is Broken

My husband Ben and I and our teenage son spent a year caretaking a 641-acre sheep station in regional Victoria. I’ve always imagined myself as reincarnated from some Australian colonial character, romanticizing about the era of long, layered skirts and cookstoves and reading in the evenings by the light of oil lamps and such. The reality is on the farm I painted about two miles of white post and rail fence, swept enough possum poo to fill a hipbath, and learned more about sheep than I’ll probably ever need to know.

Apart from possum poo, I also picked up a peculiar habit. I became addicted to wandering through the various abandoned houses and cottages, scouring the paddocks and sheep ruts with my eyes fixed on the dirt looking for – well – stuff. It started when I first spied a few pieces of broken pottery embedded in the field next to our cottage; fragments of blue and white china, or a chip of smashed plate. It was then I noticed thousands of pieces of broken bottles and other household vessels in the ground; bits of blue, green and brown, some the pinky-violet tint of amethyst. I hadn’t seen them before, but suddenly, they were everywhere.

Every little fragment spoke a story, each tiny treasure the seed left behind of the whole they once were. A piece of plate, perhaps part of a set stacked away in a cupboard, probably saved up for in pennies and pounds, the darn thing carted out to the farm across miles and miles out back of a horse. A shard of broken glass half an inch thick, the same minty color of the sea, perhaps the remains of a medicine vial or wine bottle or a pot for some tincture, ointment or perfume.

I imagined a story for every bit I collected. Elegant wine glasses for celebrations, elaborately decorated dinner plates for reunions and rustic bowls for end-of-day meals by fireside. Medicine bottles clutched during fervent prayers murmured down on knees. Liquor vessels for blessed relief and raucous laughter. Scent and cosmetic jars for luxury and indulgence. Milk bottles for sustenance and nourishment, preservation, nurture and health. Coffee and teacups for conversation – sit a while? Pass the sugar. Share a moment with me.

My family think it’s amusing. Whatcha want with all that busted stuff? You’re mad, you know.

I bring my treasures back in plastic bags and the cradle of my shirtfront, washing them carefully in the kitchen sink. I hold each one and give it a story, bless it, place it aside with all the others around the house in bowls where I can see them. Now, I muse, they all have a story. No longer worthless, they belong somewhere, to someone, again.

During our time on the farm I thought about the process a thing undergoes when it stops being of value to people because of its use and beauty. Perhaps it ends up miles from anywhere in pieces, discarded, forgotten and invisible. But those broken bits were not lost, forgotten– not really. Not to the earth that held them while they slept. Not to the sky above them, or the sun or the moon, who saw each fragment and smiled on them without judgment. Not to the stars, made from the exact same stuff, just like you and I are. Not to me. They were broken, but they were, just the same. And their value and their stories were there, for every seeker with enough inclination and imagination to seek out and find them.

Just like all those broken pieces, we too may become broken, shattered, cracked or worn, our stories rendered useless or imperfect in our eyes or those of another, but we are not ever lost, worthless or invisible. Our stories are not forgotten, nor our value stripped simply because we are no longer perfect. Each fragment of us holds not only beauty, but also the fullness of our lived experience and our essence – where we came from, where we have been, and what is to become of us. Know this. We are broken, but we are not unseen or lost. We are remembered, known and loved – at the very least by the earth, and the sky and the sun and the moon. We belong. We are all a beautiful, broken, if sometimes buried treasure. Even though it may seem so at times, despite the things that happen to us our intrinsic value is never removed. Our worth is in our very dust, in our grains, in our shards and in our stories. And it remains ready to be found, by us, and every friend, lover, seeker and storyteller willing to get their hands dirty.

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The Silver Thread

THREE years ago, I was so mentally and psychologically unwell, I had self-harming thoughts every day. I excluded myself from literally every social contact except the completely necessary. I suffered from paralysing anxiety and depression which had me convinced my life was not worth living. I existed in a waking nightmare. My doctor and I worked together on a mental health plan which included medication and therapy. I could not work. I could not leave my postcode, often, the shops was as far as I could go. So I worked with that.

Every couple of days, then eventually every day, I would go to the shops. But not just any shops. Op Shops. You see, I LOVE op shops. I’m a collector, a bower bird. My mum calls it hoarding. She’s probably right. But this collecting of second hand things is inexplicably joy-filled to me. While browsing through op shops, the thoughts and feelings of anxiety, self-loathing and depression disappeared. Desperate for relief, several days a week I tracked around local op shops. Then I found some in Sydney, so I drove the hour and a half to visit those too, perhaps spending all day driving and shopping, gathering and hunting. And slowly, the number of days spent at home with anxiety were replaced with days out feeling happy, excited, and rewarded with bags of inexpensive joy.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn to wondering what I could do with my treasures. I found a little community of buyers and sellers on Instagram, and I began a little money spinning hobby. I was having fun. I found the end of the silver thread. I saw some pendants on Pinterest I loved, and thought I could probably make something similar, so I looked up YouTube videos on jewellery making. I sold some. Then I wondered if I could upcycle some op shop clothes to go with my jewelry pieces. After a few months selling online, I booked a market stall.

Next minute, I have a shop. I have recovery. I have reconciliation to my peace, my joy, my mental health, my spiritual gifts and equilibrium. I am studying again. I haven’t experienced anxiety such as I was in some time now. Every day, I wake and look for the glimmer of the silver thread, leading me forward to the next thing. I have learned not to overthink, to live in the moment, to be grateful, to embrace change and all the souls who enter my life now because of what I do. I love my life.

I write all this my dear friends not to boast about my success, but to tell you with all my heart THERE IS HOPE. There is a silver thread. It may not look or feel like you expect, but there is a way forward. I did not want to break down. I did not want to even go on living. It was a dark, dark place. And it’s not the first time I’ve survived such a fall into darkness. Depression, cancer, and other physical and mental challenges have dragged me down holes I thought led to hell at best. But I am here. The silver thread is clear to me now, but I know there may come a time when my sight grows cloudy again. My task is to do my healing work while I can, to be thankful for the moment, and to appreciate all the souls on this path, here and now. One thing I know now beyond doubt – there is a conspiracy for our good going on all around us. This is the silver thread. If we look for the glimmer, and follow it, we will find ways and paths forward. Sometimes there is no “cure”, no escape. I am not cured of mental illness. But I am empowered in my path of healing. Each day I know what to do to be well. And I do that, because I know that’s all I can do.

Be well, dear friends. I pray you can find the silver thread today in amongst the melee and the mess and find yourself able to fashion it into something marvellous, to follow it through to a clear path, an open way. There is a conspiracy for your joy in the workings of all things. Close your eyes. Listen for the voice of support, encouragement, love. There it is. Now step forward, just one step. There is hope. There is hope.

Love, Sister Jo.
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***If you or someone you love feel you need help or support for thoughts of anxiety, depression or self-harm, please seek professional support from a qualified health professional.

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Don’t You Dare Say Sorry

I caught myself earlier today, about to apologise to someone who asked me if I would discount one of my pieces by almost half to match her offer.

I thought to myself, why do I need to say sorry?

There was also no need to be impolite, so I carefully worded a brief response.

If I were to accept her lower offer, I basically cut in half my compensation for the time and creativity I put into the piece. The price was set after careful consideration of the hours I spent making it, and the materials. Those materials didn’t drop out of the air – I spend hours every day sourcing fabrics and other pieces.

I feel our widespread attitude of cheap, fast fashion made by low paid workers, flooding the market with mass produced, low quality clothing is behind this. We don’t have any value for the time spent making the products we consume any more.

I value my time. I value my talent. I value the creativity I’ve spent years honing, and give hours of in my studio. I won’t apologise for asking an appropriate compensation for that. And if you’re a maker, neither should you.

Save your sorry for when you make a mistake or commit a wrong against someone. Don’t you dare give it when someone questions what your gifts, talents and time are worth. Asking to be compensated for being brilliantly yourself is not grounds for an apology.

Love,
Jo xx

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Steal Like An Artist, Give Like A Goddess

From time to time when I am holding a market stall, I will overhear two folks chatting and one will say to the other something like “Oh, you know, I could make one like that for you. Don’t waste your money.” I smile. I offer to help them do it, if they’d like.

I have people tell me my garments are made from tablecloths and old jeans, as if I didn’t realise it. I laugh and smile.

I know full well there are people out there who see what I’m doing, who are biding their time, waiting to see if there is money in it, people who can sew way better than I can, who will wait until I’ve made my mistakes and paved a way in the market before they step up and take their own risks and start up doing something very similar. People who will look at my photos and try work out how something is done, who will struggle to come up with different aspects of their enterprise, so will subtly borrow from aspects of mine.

I know this, because I have done it. I do it now.

And here’s a secret. All smart businesspeople and artisans will do it.

When you begin to break your ground as a woman in business or in your chosen field, those who would like to do the same, are perhaps planning to, or who are on a parallel path will be watching. And it’s hard when you’ve done a massive amount of work and it seems like someone else is trying to ride your coattails, copy your model or short cut to success using ideas or concepts you created. I know.

I’ve had people – not strangers, friends – consult with me covertly as if they were a potential client, then the very next week turn around and set up a business providing the exact same service to the exact same market. It’s confusing, hurtful, angering even.

Then, I have also had people, close friends, people I have helped and supported and given willingly of my knowledge and creativity, accuse me of stealing their ideas and clients and opportunities, when this was in no way way my intent. That is no less and hurtful.

But you know what? All that looking around us in suspicion and worry is a waste of energy and time.

And the fact is I spend a lot of my time looking at Pinterest and Instagram, getting inspiration and ideas for what I do, gleaning info on what’s hot and what’s not. Sourcing ways of putting things together and looking at photos of others creations.

And I put my stuff out there too, hoping to inspire others.

Of course, I don’t expect others to give me their business information, Dress patterns, client databases. I don’t ask, and I would not respond to those who want this stuff from me. But I would help another woman who was afraid to take the last few steps into her success when her journey is so clear and her capacity so strong it’s thumping her in the face.

I no longer care if people think they can do what I do. I’m sure they can. I look at what others create and I am arrogant enough to believe I can do what they do.

In fact, the only difference between me and the folks who say they could easily do what I do, is that went and I did it and they did not.

There is no copying, there is no stealing when it comes to what I do. Others do not have the relationships and the fun with my clients that I share with them. My creations give my clients joy and laughter and confidence. Others can copy my clothes, undercut my prices, market to my customers, but they cannot be there in that moment when my client and I share a connection through my pieces.

There are more ideas than there are grains of sand on the beach. The important thing is the experience which transpires between the creator, and the one who is moved by the creation. I want my pieces to help my clients realise their inner suspicion they are creative, they are not invisible, they are right to be confident, and they can have fun. My desire of that my creations give women permission to bring out the best parts of themselves. I want to join with them in agreeing they are beautiful, and need not be afraid to draw attention to themselves. I long to help women feel they can dress themselves the way they feel; with colour, creativity and fun.

Please, please copy me, but only if this is your mission too, because in the end, for me, it’s not just about fashion. It’s about spirit, heart and soul.

So if someone messages you asking for your commercial recipe, your special formula, your unique pattern, thank them for taking the time to notice what you’re doing. Remember, they believe you have something they don’t, and this is the only way they know how to get what they think is missing from their business. But you and I know different. They have everything available to them to make their enterprise a success, because it won’t be a special ingredient or the way a dress is cut that does it. It will be the way they make their client feel. It will be the experience people have when transacting with them. It will be because of the beliefs they affirm for them, and the creativity they inspire in them. Remind your new friend they need to believe they have everything they need to do this for their clients, and if they don’t, they’re looking in the wrong place. Then blow them a virtual kiss, wish them well, and go back to trawling Pinterest for your own inspiration. Joking. Not joking.

In the end, selling and buying, trade, is about people. And people are full of insecurities, fears and foibles. In business, we will get hurt and we will offend others, just as we will in our personal lives. And when I say commerce is about people, I do not mean we cannot be what we’ve come to know as “professional” – run our enterprise profitably and with integrity. However, let’s not lose sight of the end game. When we are all sitting together in the nursing home, or on the beach in Bali, or whatever, it’s not going to matter whether we both published books about rare beetles in Africa, or both made face creams sold wrapped in bamboo leaves picked by barefoot eunuchs in a secret rainforest. Let’s all just have fun. Let’s all just make a living doing what we love. And let’s all remember, there are plenty of ideas and customers and money to go around. Stay in your lane. Smile for your competitors. Keep your cool. And for goodness sake, remember we are all in this together.

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