Saturday, April 30, 2011

Goggles and happiness

On Thursday I got two good pieces of advice from a friend. After telling him my woes, he said "keep swimming in the sea, and bring goggles", and he suggested I spend a week on Inishbofin, Island of the White Cow, on my own. Now I often get advice and think it is great, but then don't act on it, but I kept thinking of these two things all day. Yesterday morning, after a run, I peeled off my sweaty clothes, put on my bikini and went straight to the beach, and I brought my goggles. I spent quite some time with my face underwater, taking in the beautiful turquoise world down there. For some reason, I had never considered wearing goggles while swimming in the sea. It added another dimension. I also started planning a trip to Inishbofin, although I'm not sure whether it'll be a whole week, nor when it will happen.
I spent the day at home yesterday, doing exciting things like cleaning out the fridge. I try not to let food go off, but I had all these jars of sticky things like chutneys, which I used to love, but now find too sweet (says the person who had two meals that consisted mainly of chocolate the other day... so much for eliminating sugar). They were way past their best-before date, so they had to go. I actually prefer to just cook with fresh ingredients and make everything from scratch.
I am still in decluttering mode, and I thought I didn't have much to declutter... Last week I got rid of all the cardboard boxes I had kept (what for - for when I move out?) and college stuff.
Less stuff + morning swims + finished projects = a good week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sun-drenched day

On Wednesdays I have a few hours after my lunchtime class before teaching again in the evening, and I like to leave the campus with one of my favourite people and do something nice. Today I had to pick up some pictures at the framers' and then we I had a late big huge lunch at 4pm (my companion ordered three beverages, all at the same time, Helena Bonham Carter-style) around the corner, somewhere the two of us hadn't been before. It was like being on holidays, even though today was the first day back at work after the 6-day weekend. I am serious about my do-things-differently resolution; it has made such a difference to my energy levels and contentedness.

It feels good to get things done. I am Miss Procrastination and thrive under pressure -while driving people around me mad and risking my sanity. The few times that I finished something way before the deadline have made me really want to change. No rushing, all calm and slow and so much better for my fraught nervous system. Now is such a time, but the next three thingies are already queuing up. I remind myself that this is what I always wanted, to work from home, being creative, and now I am doing that regularly. Now that I don't go to bed at 7pm anymore (it's true, D!), the evenings stretch out before me, full of possibilities. But right now I am giving myself a bit of a breather before jumping in again, just a few days. This evening I got home to my lovely quiet house, opened the windows, organised my wardrobe and drank wine. No chatter in my head for a change, no obsessing, no regretting, no paranoia, no to-do lists swirling around my brain - though admittedly, that could be due to the wine...

Monday, April 25, 2011

My new "shower"

My electric shower isn't working (no hot water), so I have been improvising showers in the bathtub (which doesn't have a shower). Perfect timing, because just two weeks ago I was given this beautiful enamel jug:

It has become my shower, and I love my new ritual. There is something infinitely satisfying about rinsing your hair with water from an enamel jug. I also think it saves water, as you are more consious of how often you fill the jug.

And it is very zen-like. I am trying to be more mindful with everything I do, down to simple tasks and routines. Instead of thinking about all kinds of things while I rinse my hair/do the dishes/ iron my clothes/... I focus on what I am doing.

Then there is the nostalgia of using enamel anything. I like to pretend I am not actually in the year 2011, but some time in the past (ok, I do use hot running water with my new system). I decant most of my dry-food purchases into kilner jars as soon as I come in the door from the grocery shop (can't stand plastic packaging - I wish the shops here introduced bulk-buying, where you bring your own container); I prefer using muslin cloths to face cloths (they are great for cleansing your face); and I try to wear mostly natural fibres. I don't have a kitchen machine, so I do everything by hand, including whisking egg whites, and until recently I cracked peppercorns with a pestle and mortar (now I have a grinder). I love the simplicity of it all, and I think time-saving devices are overrated. The few more minutes you spend by doing things the old-fashioned way won't mean your precious time is being wasted. Ultimately it makes you more absorbed in what you are doing, and that is grounding.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More sea love

When the weather is good, living here feels like being on holiday. It's what I always wanted, to live by the sea. This is only a two-minute walk from my house:

On Thursday I worked indoors for most of the day and spent too much time in front of the computer, so in the evening, as it was getting dark, I went down to the shore, where I was greeted by hundreds of seagulls (see last two pictures. BTW, all the landscape-format pictures here are smaller than the portrait ones because when I make them larger they overlap with the sidebar; I am trying to fix this. In the meantime, you can click on the images to see them in a larger size). The light was so beautiful. Now the long harsh winter (which neither the houses nor the cars here were prepared for) is forgotten. Ireland may not be paradise for a lot of people at the moment, but in terms of the landscape it is. Having the sea so close is so calming. Even when I happen to get caught up in rush hour traffic at the end of a hectic day, I don't mind, because I am driving on a coast road! When I am cooking or sitting on the couch, I can see the sea and its changing colours, the movements on the water's surface and the lights across the bay, and I feel blessed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The best start to the day

 This morning I woke to blue skies and decided to head down to the beach (after being upside down for a while). It was the perfect swim. I haven't been checking the tide forecast lately, so I just took a chance... and it was exactly right. I like going early in the morning when not many people are around and everything feels fresh. My car thermometer said it was 12 degrees outside, but it didn't feel cold at all. There is always a moment when I hesitate before going into the water, but the trick is to stop thinking and just run in (with lots of splashing).

after the swim

You do get very cold afterwards, though. Not the first five minutes, but once I have changed into dry clothes, I start shivering. I should probably go for a fast walk then (instead I went to to buy the paper and talked incoherently to the people in the shop -being cold does that to me). 
Swimming in the sea is the best boost I can think of. While I'm in the water, I forget about everything; it makes me feel strong, cleansed and energetic. It's almost impossible to have a bad day after that. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Loose plans

I have almost an entire week off, and that thought fills me with anxiety. I am aware that half of day 1 is already over, and I am not in holiday-mode at all (can't expect instant results, I guess). Part of me wants to go away, the other part wants to just take it easy and work on a few things that I have been putting off. Because, to be honest, I am fast approaching a very long summer holiday, so a bit of work won't kill me. Procrastinating will only make me more anxious. I probably need to look at why so many things fill me with anxiety, even the prospect of a few days off...

I don't want to plan too much. So my prescription to myself is to just let it happen, see what comes up, be spontaneous (some sort of day trip perhaps), and chill the f... out. Since I have a few deadlines looming, there will have to be some work, but I will limit that to the mornings, unless I really feel like working at other times, too.

I will also
-check my e-mail only once a day max.
-see friends
-get back on track running-wise
-go to the beach
-eat nice foods (without sugar): My current obsessions are almond butter -tastes like those roasted almonds you get at fun fairs and Christmas markets - and millet.
-watch a movie I rented (on iTunes, a first) - An Education. I have read so much about it, and I like Lynn Barber's writing. The screenplay is by Nick Hornby.
-read this (have started already):

Whenever a new book of hers comes out, life is good. Thankfully she is quite prolific. The reviews were in the English papers weeks ago, and I was checking the bookstores here every few days, and yesterday it had finally arrived. I was happy to buy the hardback edition -her novels will stay on my bookshelves. I have been on a decluttering mission and am getting rid of some books, too. Once upon a time, I imagined my future dwellings with a large library, and I still like the idea. But now I wonder whether certain books we are unlikely to reread (most novels) aren't cluttering our lives. And it makes sense to give them away for other people to enjoy instead of making them a dead object at home. At the moment, my criteria are:
-keep all non-fiction
-keep all children's books
-keep favourite novels (for instance, everything by Siri Hustvedt)
-keep visually beautiful books. Yes.
-keep the classics
-keep some novels I won't reread in the spare room for guests

I might also do some housekeeping here on the blog and with other online stuff -so expect to see some changes soon!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Leaving things behind

I have left this page (of this book) open on my kitchen counter for the last few weeks, because I feel it's the most important piece of advice for me at the moment (and so does my counsellor):

The problem is getting to the point where I can see (emotionally, not just rationally) that certain things that I can't let go of do not matter.They seem to matter an awful lot to me considering the space they take up in my head.

I had an enforced break -though I was working from home- at the weekend, after crashing last week. I should have listened to my body. I didn't feel right and still went for a run. Which was a mistake. For the next few days I did a lot of this:

Though not exclusively on a rock.

I am succeeding in letting go on some levels. A few days ago I finally tackled a folder full of evidence of a particularly disastrous relationship I have had the pleasure to experience -letters, printed-out e-mails (I know... and with frantically scribbled notes all over them), etc. I only read a few bits (enough to convince myself that I really needed to get rid of it all) before binning them. It felt so good. I no longer think that all my correspondence and diaries are worth saving in the unlikely case that one day somebody will decide to publish Marina's Letters and Journals. In fact, should I ever become famous (yeah, right) I would do everything in my power to avoid that. I even shudder to think that future generations of our family might want to piece together the past with the help of Marina's stuff. My aunt is doing that at the moment with war-time correspondence from our grandparents and their circle of relatives and friends. Most of the written evidence of the first quarter-century of my life portrays me as a neurotic, opinionated, paranoid, anxiety-ridden maniac. So it was a relief to get rid of all that. I try not to obsess about the tiny problem that the letters and e-mails that I wrote might still languish in the homes and inboxes of the recipients and I have no control over that part...

Anyway, I feel much lighter now.

Other ways of detoxing:
-I dusted the insides and outsides of my lampshades (yes, one of those essential things) - it really makes a difference
-I got rid of all the bedclothes that are not white (I equate peace and calm and good sleep with white in my bed these days - the dark bedclothes are in fact from the time I had a dog)
-I am trying to eliminate sugar from my diet again. I do feel better without it.

P.S.: Zen Habits offers great inspiration for simplifying your life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Food for thought

I rarely buy magazines these days (because the magazines that come with the weekend papers generally satisfy my need for them), but last month I must have bought about four, which I think is an indication of how unsettled I was feeling. When I am low, when my concentration is poor and I get to the bottom of the page of a book without having absorbed any of the words, I go to magazines for comfort. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about it, but I do. Mostly because I don't like the overload of advertising and how damaging magazines are to body image, and how 3/4 of the content is encouraging mindless consumerism.
When I was in the "big city", after a day-long panic attack (brought on by the big city) that manifested in strong chest pains, I bought the American Elle

It weighed a ton. When I got home, I tore out all the advertising pages, which reduced it to about half its weight (I didn't tear out any pages that had advertising on only one side, so a lot of the remainder is still ads):

Culling the ads made it so much easier to go through it (annoyingly, articles are often interrupted by pages and pages of ads and you have to look for the rest of the piece).  
Rant over. All this to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This issue contained several well-written, thought-provoking articles, among them the following (click on the links to read them online):

"The Rebirth" by Louisa Kamps is about dressing the way you want, regardless of the local standards of fashion, and not feeling bad about it. When she moved from New York to a low-key university town, the author suddenly felt awkward and overexposed when she dressed fancicully, thinking she would "fit in better in clothes that implied through their lack of adornment that I am a modest, hardworking person of substance -undistracted by spangley things that don't matter a whit". But that phase didn't last long and she soon felt herself drawn again to the place where "I [...] dress to make myself feel fine and brighten for others an often-bleak world stage [...] [W]earing clothes that speak a message of humor, strength, respect, or glamour is the act of love -of self and others- I never want to abandon again".
I love dressing in clothes that make me feel good, and an outfit can influence my mood for the day. It makes me happy when I see people who have made an effort; it adds beauty to the world amid the grey sea of tracksuit bottoms, sweaters and jeans. I sometimes have a problem with the vanity and consumerism aspects of it all, but I think it is about balance. I don't buy tons of clothes every season, I buy second-hand a lot, and I try and buy quality that will last.

Another great article was "Anger Management" by Rachael Combe, which seemed to explain the panic attack I had just experienced. I am very sensitive to other people's energy (in a test for The Hypersensitive Person, I ticked all the boxes... It can make life difficult). The author was prone to anxiety and getting into a rage and was told she needed to learn to block people's energy. One thing that helped her was to move to the seaside (from New York). I have never lived in a huge city, but moving from the centre of town to where I am now has definitely helped with my anxiety levels. Combe's research led her to Srinivasan S. Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who writes that continual activation of the amygdala -an ancient part of our brain that registers fear and is reactive, picking up the panic of others- can lead to stress, anxiety and fatigue. Combe was shocked by the noise and crowding in New York when she first moved there, but thought she had adapted. However, her amygdala might have continued reacting to her environment. She visited an energy healer, and, though sceptical at first, she concludes that the healer's approach and that of Pillay weren't that different. Apparently we have mirror neurons in our brain that are the basis of empathy, reflecting other people's emotions. Whether the healer was working with her spirit guides or it was a case of the mirror neutrons responding to the healer's warm presence, it worked. Combe needed to learn to distinguish between "what's ours and what's not ours" when we absorb all the energy around us.

Finally, there was a piece about Joyce Carol Oates and her new memoir, A Widow's Story. I'd already read a few reviews of it and it is on my to-read list. A few years ago I attended a reading she gave here; her voice is mesmerising. This article goes into the implications of Oates's assertion that art isn't that important compared to life. She writes about the day-to-day life with her husband: "The happiness of  a domestic life, without which the small - even colossal - triumphs of a 'career' are shallow, mocking". While a lot of male writers see art as superior to life and compensatory for the disappointments of life, she regards this as futile: "...most women would say human relations are more important than one's work". I often think about the relationship between life and art, so I'm curious to read more about what she has to say.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Upside Down

 Corner in my meditation/yoga/guest/shoe room

One reason I have been feeling better is that I start my days upside down, something I used to do every now and again and now follow religiously. Every morning I spend a minute in the head stand position (a minute is quite long when you're upside down...). As a result my back and shoulders feel stronger and I am more balanced. The head stand is said to revitalise the whole body, improve concentration and coordination and help to open yourself to the spiritual side of life.
It is also good for your skin, as it sends the blood into your head and reverses the effects of gravity.  And it certainly gives you a different perspective, just like sleeping with your head at the other end of the bed. . I do the shoulder stand shortly after the head stand -this is important, particularly if you suffer from anxiety, as the head stand stimulates the nervous system, while the shoulder stand soothes it.
This is all part of trying to do some yoga every day. My younger sister and her husband wisely gave me a book called Yoga for Wimps. Between that and my Jivamukti Yoga book, I am developing a sort of routine.

P.S.: This article lists even more benefits of the head stand.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In my space

Maybe it's due to the change in weather (20 degrees yesterday!) or my newfound energy, but whatever the reason, my mind is overflowing with ideas and plans and enthusiasm. I am looking forward to every day in a way I never have before. Spending this weekend at home, painting, and while I don't have the discipline to do more than a few hours, it is going surprisingly well. I love being in the FLOW.
Ukrainian artist Alina Maksimenko's statement resonates with me these days (the link takes you to the website of a beautiful gallery in Connemara):
"I love this life, this reality around me, which reassures me and has rescued me from my fear of death. My paintings are the synthesis of my childhood wishes and my adult dreams, they are my happy refuge".
I am also reorganising my space (tiny studio). I got a drawer unit with thin-ish drawers that are perfect for storing drawings, etc. I am surrounded by beautiful things and inspirational quotes. The most encouraging one is this:
"To practise any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make the soul grow. So do it." -Kurt Vonnegut

 Lately I've been listening to music while painting -Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree, Fleet Foxes, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Bat for Lashes.

 Hegel and John Cage quotes from Keri Smith's blog, cat drawing by my older sister

 meditative painting a friend gave me, in one of my favourite colours

paperweight and charcoal
Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils

Friday, April 8, 2011

Inside Out

Today was supposed to be dedicated to working on the looming-deadline commission. I got up early, went for my commute-simulating run, put a blend of essential oils of ylang-ylang, lavender and cinnamon in the oil burner (supposed to "stimulate mental acuity and increase inspiration" -smells great, too) and then... I did my laundry. I cleaned hidden corners of my house. I cut out articles from magazines and filed them. I made an elaborate lunch. After a few hours I was finally ready and willing to do the preparatory work and stretched and primed canvases in the sun. Then I got distracted again, by an idea:

This is an Ian Mosh (me neither) jacket I got in the sale two years ago, meaning I did not pay the full 280 euros for it. I would be slightly annoyed if I had, because the outside has gone all bobbly. I bought it primarily for the gorgeous lining (I'm a sucker for nice lining).

 On closer inspection the lining is a bit bobbly, too...

So today I decided to make the few alterations that would make it possible to reverse it. Since the seams are all neat, all I had to do was take out the care instructions label and add buttons on the inside. Then I didn't fancy having to sew on buttons. So I just belted it and realised I was able to use the top button by opening the lapel a bit more.

The time I saved by not sewing on buttons was then used to actually do some work. I surprise myself with my newfound discipline.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Indian Beauty

This book has kept its prominent place on my coffee table, because the colours are gorgeous and uplifting; it has become part of the decoration. And the inside lives up to the cover, with lots of great natural recipes for cosmetics and advice on different life stages. Some of the ingredients may be difficult to find, but a lot of the basics -coconut oil, rosewater, almonds, oatmeal- are readily available. I much prefer making my own cosmetics to putting something with a 100+ ingredient list full of nasties on my skin. The preparation is part of the enjoyment. I love the coconut oil hair masks, though I rarely leave the oil in overnight -too messy. I often use coconut oil with a few drops of eucalyptus, which boosts blood circulation.

The book takes an holistic approach to health and wellbeing (which I strongly believe in), emphasising the mind-body connection:

"The skin is a mirror for what we are feeling... According to the Yog-Sutra of Patanjali, probably written around AD 200, steadfastness of mind and detachment from pain help us rise above the daily grind of the world: 'By meditation upon light and upon radiance, knowledge of the spirit can be reached and therefore peace can be achieved.' Here 'light and radiance' refer to good thoughts and the positive energy that is found in everyone and everywhere. All Hindu scriptures speak of keeping the mind steady so that emotions cannot toss you about like a ship in troubled waters. It pays to follow this advice, not least for the sake of your looks. Anger and tension not only upset your equilibrium but also activate your sebaceous glands to produce excess oil, which in turn leads to rashes, spots and blotches." (Bharadwaj, Monisha: India's Beauty Secrets. Kyle Cathie Limited, London 2008, p.32)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The week

An inspiring talk on a beautiful craft:
Trees in Dublin:
(...and the perfect pink front door)

Not getting cold feet while getting dressed:

Seeing finished paintings in their new homes:

This week also featured the best Indian food I have ever eaten, lots of sunshine, less running than I had planned, and freaking out when I realised what my workload for the next few weeks will be like (but that is a good complaint).