Coffee, Art and Planet Earth

Through my very existence I am bad for the planet. I eat food (including beef and God knows that’s an environmental disaster in itself) and I produce waste. I wear clothes, I drive a car, I use electricity and sometimes, please forgive me, I drink coffee from disposable cups. 

I have an album of photographs on Facebook of the artwork that is often found on these very same disposable cups. Some of it is incredible, designed specifically for the shape of the cup, much of it is beautiful and it leaves me always, with a smile on my face. But lately I have been left wondering whether people judge my celebration of this art based on its canvas. So I need to set the record straight…

I have as much of an environmental conscience as the next person. I have created entire artworks out of rubbish. I am a chronic recycler, making sure I sort my household waste to maximise the amount that goes into recycling and minimise that which goes to landfill. I have been known to pick up rubbish while out on a walk, making sure that I recycle (or upcycle) what I can when I get home. Clothes too old or damaged to donate to charity are reused in a variety of art projects. I’ve recently begun experimenting with weaving a new rubbish receptacle (who knows, I might use it to collect my recycling) out of old plastic bags. I strike cuttings from plants and pass them on to my friends. As often as possible I try to buy fruit and vegetables from local farmers markets, but when I do get them from the supermarket, I buy as local as I can and I never use individual plastic bags. When given the option I never print receipts or bank statements. I grow my own herbs rather than buy them prepackaged and despite living in the Blue Mountains, where things can get very chilly indeed, I use a hot water bottle and extra blankets as opposed to the electric option. 


Perhaps the greatest gift I have given to the future of the environment is one that comes from circumstance: I have not had any children. I have not created any carbon producing, food eating, car driving, coffee drinking humans who will continue this pattern of consumption and waste production well into the future.

And so eco-warriors I thank you, I sincerely do, for your efforts in preserving our planet. But please don’t judge me for my appreciation of beautiful art and please don’t think that because I occasionally drink coffee from disposable cups that I am out there ravaging the environment in every other way possible. Please continue to share your concerns and attempts to educate people (I genuinely mean this) by modelling environmentally sound practices in your own day-to-day existence. The combined efforts of everyone can go a long way to making a difference. 

PS – I have just started putting plant cuttings into disposable coffee cups as inspired by the good folks at my favourite cafe. Let me know if you want any! 😊

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Connected Disconnected

Scrolling through my social feeds recently I came across this animation by Steve Cutts:

Are you lost in the world like me?

(The irony is not lost on me, by the way, that I watched this one my iPhone and you probably just did too).

My heart sank and I was filled with a weird kind of dread that I contribute, in a massive way, to this crazy world of being obsessed with our phones and our irrational ‘Fear of Missing Out’ – a very real phenomenon known as FOMO in the digital world.


The very nature of my work is conducive to this digital world. I measure my KPIs by engagement, yes the 👍🏻, 😂 and ❤️’s matter to me; they tell me that I am reaching people, that I am connecting with them. So all of a sudden, I am full of self-doubt, wondering whether this work that I do is valuable or detrimental, wondering whether I am helping people or harming them. What sort of culture do I belong to, do I build?

Many people harbour a great deal of suspicion about social media and there is no doubt that in the wrong hands, it can lead to significant harm. Cyber bullying, hate crimes, calls to action for evil: all acceptable reasons not to dig on social media.

But I believe in the power of social media for good.

  • I am determined that every relationship built or nurtured on social media is genuine, after all, what is the purpose of a shell of a relationship? Why would I spend the time I do if it wasn’t genuine?
  • I see social media as a great way to support and champion causes that mean something to me. Just today, my Big Freeze 3 beanie arrived in the post. I bought it after seeing it on the Fight MND Facebook page.
  • I use social media to share art and beauty and culture and creativity.
  • I search out readings that are of interest to my work or personal life. This includes educating myself as much as I can about new research into Multiple Sclerosis.
  • I find inspiration, for a new art project, for places to travel and things to cook, from my social media feeds.
  • I seek recommendations, advice and information from my professional learning and personal networks.
  • And social media makes keeping in touch with my family half a world away as easy as anything.


With all that I take from social media, I try also to feed back. I try to share interesting content, to support and encourage friends, to share information about businesses which I think are providing a great service or product, to share ideas and thoughts.

Believe in the power of social media for good. Make your connections genuine. Be purposeful in how you use social media. Use the THINK acronym: Is it True, Helpful, Interesting, Necessary and Kind? Respect others, in every way, from how they might react or feel about your posts, to acknowledging the ownership of their work.

We have an enormously powerful tool right there in the palm of our hands, let’s ensure we use it in the best way possible. For everyone.

The Invisibility Cloak I’d Rather Not Wear

On any given day, without notice or consultation, my body can launch a mutiny against me. A complete rebellion, a stop-work, an uprising, a revolt. At the helm of this insubordination is a nasty little miscreant called MS, or Multiple Sclerosis if you want to get formal about it.

MS is a sly, cunning and cowardly creature, because while it delights in creating utter chaos in its host, it is very cautious about showing its face or any sign that it has even been there at all. Only when it gets to its strongest does MS finally become brave enough to allow itself to be seen.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that MS has not affected me to the extent where my symptoms are visible, it’s just that you can start to feel like a hypochondriac when you are feeling really crappy but no-one can see it. People KNOW I have MS, but I’m pretty they don’t UNDERSTAND how it affects me (not that I would expect them to, I never understood MS until it took over my body). How can anyone understand fatigue when they have never experienced it? How do you explain that it is different to being tired? How do you describe the effort it takes to drag yourself out of bed?

Who can know the pain of optic neuritis except for people who have experienced it? How do I explain the driving force on my eye when everything looks completely normal?

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And so it goes with most, if not all, of the symptoms that present themselves to me. A hand on fire, a stone in my shoe, that persistent prickly sensation that feels like I’ve come from the hairdresser and they haven’t brushed away the tiny pieces of hair they cut off.

The difficulty that arises from having an ‘invisible disease’ is a sense of isolation and going it alone, despite undying support from family, friends and colleagues. Unless something is really wrong, people generally think you are doing ok. The lack of visible signs of the presence of the disease means that it is something mostly endured alone. The frustrating part of all of this is that I don’t want visible symptoms; these will mean that my condition has deteriorated and that is what I am trying to prevent.

So how then do I reconcile the absence of visible symptoms with the sense of isolation? In the years since my diagnosis I have become braver at talking about my MS. In the first instance I was very secretive about it, I didn’t want anyone to know. Now I try to explain the condition and its impact on me. I blog about it and try to learn as much about it as I can. Information helps to demystify this curious beast and my own understanding helps me to make things clearer to others too. I campaign and promote and fundraise and I hold out for the news that they have discovered a cure. I believe in my heart of hearts that scientists will one day be able to regrow myelin and the scars that litter my brain, and create the chaos they are currently creating, will be no more. And when that day comes, MS will be as invisible to me as it is to you and that will make me one very happy person that ‘used to have’ a disease called Multiple Sclerosis.

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Platforms for Purpose

Recently I was at a BBQ when a friend said he had a ‘social media question’ for me. On holidays, he had taken a photo of his teenage daughter which had turned out really great. He had posted the photo on Facebook, a platform which he keeps private, visible only to his Facebook friends and had received a great response. He then decided to post it to his Instagram account (a public platform) and was disturbed to see how many strangers liked the photo and started following him. Some of the new followers were a little dicey to say the least so without hesitation my friend removed the photo, blocked the dodgy followers and changed his account settings to private. In that moment, my friend had learned a crucial lesson in the purpose of different social media platforms.

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It’s no surprise to anyone who has met me for more than 5 minutes that I dig on social media. I use it fervently, in my work and also in my personal life. I can often be found flipping from one platform to the next, scrolling through feeds looking for content that will grab my attention. Within the feeds I find information and inspiration. I find news that makes me glad and am kept up to date with happenings: locally, nationally and globally. I can learn and laugh and share in the joys of friends and family and complete strangers. I can collaborate and sometimes, I stumble across a little gem which will set me off on a whole new chain of thought or spark some sort of interest in something new.

But not all of this happens in one place. No one platform meets every need. And so I find my social media use becoming more and more targeted. Time spent on each platform is done so for a specific purpose. And that purpose might be silliness and jocularity and that’s completely OK. Provided you recognise the ‘why’, then the ‘who, what, where and when’ should all fall into place. Naturally, this applies for both the content that you are looking for and the content which you are posting.

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I am a regular user of seven different social media platforms, being Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and Snapchat. This may seem like a lot but when you consider that there are hundreds of social media platforms accessible worldwide, it’s not that many after all.

Facebook

I use Facebook for purely social purposes. It is where I keep up with my friends and family, see and share images, laugh at jokes, have conversations with people. One of my favourite things about Facebook is being able to share my ‘everyday’ news with family in Holland. I can remember my mum ‘booking’ a phone call to Holland and it would cost her a small fortune. Now I can chat with cousins before I get out of bed in the mornings (and when they are just going off to bed) – it’s very cool.

Twitter

My Twitter account is public (which I think is the best way for it to be) and I post a mix of content. I mostly use my Twitter account for professional use, but I also use it to support causes I am passionate about and to share content about art. Sometimes I will post content that shows an aspect of my personal life, just to share a little bit about myself. My boss follows me on Twitter (and his boss does too) so I am always conscious of the type of content I post!

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Instagram

Again, my Insta account is public, and again, the content I share here is totally different to other platforms. For the most part, I post art images on Insta and I follow lots of arty accounts too. As a purely visual platform, users can expect to find high quality images of things that are of particular interest to them – art, travel destinations,the environment, fashion.

Pinterest

Pinterest! Hurrah! If I need inspiration, ideas or motivation, Pinterest is where I find it. This is like having access to every scrapbook in the world, where people have collected all sorts of interesting tidbits. Do be wary though, of falling into the Pinterest Vortex, where hours can be lost as you meander deeper and deeper down a never ending trail of inspiration.

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YouTube

Like many YouTube users, I don’t post to a personal YouTube account (I do for work), but I do watch plenty of content. And there is plenty to see: currently, 300 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube EVERY MINUTE. Think about that: while you’ve read this post 1500 hours (or thereabouts) have been uploaded. Sleep 8 hours a night? You will wake up to 144,000 new hours of footage. There’s not much you can’t find on YouTube.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is fast becoming one of my favourite platforms. When we talk about platforms for purpose, the LinkedIn example could not be clearer – this is purely professional. If you are looking for professional reading, jobs that are available in your field, links or introductions to professional contacts, LinkedIn is the place to be. My advice: fill out your profile as comprehensively as you can, don’t connect with someone you don’t know and most importantly, keep it professional. More and more regularly, prospective employers will be checking you out on LinkedIn.

Snapchat

Purely for laughs, Snapchat is a fun way for me to keep in touch with my nieces and nephews and a handful of friends who are just as crazy as I am!

So there you have it: a little something to consider when you are using any social media platforms. What is your purpose? Who is your audience? Answer these two questions and the rest follows.

The Next Big Thing (or Trying to Keep Up)

I remember the first time I used PowerPoint. It was 2001 (or maybe 2002) and I was teaching in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. The school I worked at had just acquired a COW (a Computer On Wheels) and our IT guru (a woman, how very forward thinking) was trying to encourage staff to use it in our classrooms. I was a willing guinea pig. I sat through a demo on PowerPoint and a lesson on how to pull together the classroom experience of a lifetime and I was on my way! I was studying the Titanic with my Year 8 History class at the time and could think of no better topic to unleash this creative technology on. The other option was ‘Jack, I’m flying’ and I didn’t have 5 lessons to give over to Kate and Leo, so PowerPoint it was. 


The students were aghast and amazed at this magic I was presenting to them (especially the GIF at the end of the Titanic hitting the iceberg and plummeting to its watery demise) but essentially this was just a new way to present the same old content (and it was all about content at the time).
It seems strange to me now, that the technology involved with PowerPoint took so long to catch on and so long to wear thin. People are STILL using it and heaven help you if you ever end up in a presentation which is ‘Death by PowerPoint’ – you can’t get those hours back. Ever. 
The sociologist in me finds the most remarkable change now to be less about the actual types of technology that are emerging and more about the speed with which they are emerging. Add to that the adaptability of our students to ‘pick up’ these new technologies as well as the rate at which they ‘grow tired’ and are replaced by the next big thing, and you have an emerging pattern of things to come. Scary and exciting all at once! 

A big part of my current work (I’m no longer a teacher – I haven’t been for 15 years) involves content creation and curation. With so much data being pumped into our lives EVERY. SINGLE. WAKING. MOMENT, the challenge for someone in a role (Comms and Marketing) like mine is to be able to create content that grabs people’s attention. Content that is fresh and new and exciting is critical to the success of any marketing plan and I am always on the look out for some current day ‘PowerPoint magic’; the tool that is going to make people look at my content and be amazed, in just the very same way my Year 8’s were in that whole other lifetime. 

Some of the tools I’m using at the moment (and no doubt, some of these are already tired and will be long gone before Christmas is here) include:

Canva is a free app (or website) that allows you to create your own graphics by using templates. Once you play around with Canva, you will be totally hooked – promise. 


Boomerang is just for fun. Take two seconds of footage and Boomerang puts it into a loop in forward and reverse. This can results in some really awesome effects. 


Ditty sings anything you text. There are character limits, but the app allows you to type lyrics and it will convert to a song (you can choose from loads of free tunes). So many possibilities with this one. I wish I’d had it when I was in Year 12 and was madly trying to memorise quotes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.


A colleague has recently shown me iMotion and I am hooked. This is super simple technology allows you to create Stop Motion animation. Free from the App Store, you’ll find yourself creating SMA of everything! I did the untimely end of an Easter egg at one stage! 


LiveCollage, just like any other number of photo collage apps, allows you to group photos together and save them as one image.


Camera+ is a paid app (from memory less than $2 and I’m pretty sure there is a lite version) worth every cent. It gives you loads of options with filters, a photo lab, frames and adding text to images. Easy!


Piktochart is a fantastic website that allows you to build infographics. You do need to pay a subscription, but if you are in the business of content creation, it’s worth it. 

I will be interested to come back to this blog post in 12 months and see which of these I’m still using. I’m guessing I might even cringe at using some of these because they’ll be so outdated by then. In the meantime, jump on a check a few of these out if you haven’t already done so – grab a hold while they are still on the cool scale. And if you know of any other awesome apps or websites useful for content creation, I’d welcome your suggestions. 

Blogging is hard, my friends. So many ideas (but mostly uninteresting or inappropriate). 

Inspired by the amazing staff I work with, I have decided to pick up blogging again and, with an excitement about writing burning away at me, I started churning through some ideas for a topic. And the churning continued, and continued, until eventually I found myself literally scratching my head, unable to come up with anything that seemed even close to suitable for this forum. 

Could I write about my recent obsession with Vikings (the TV show that is, not the history of Scandinavia) and how much I’m digging on Ragnar Lothbrook? Probably not that interesting for most. 
Should I launch a discussion about Social Butterfly v. Lounge Lizard and how I find myself morphing from one into the other as I get older (you can figure out which way I’m moving).


Should I make a list of movies I want to see? Books I want to read? Places I want to travel to? Food I’d like to try to cook? Bucket list ideas?  I’m a compulsive list maker, but not sure if any of these would lead to a great blog. 

What about my long held beliefs that I will actually meet the man of my dreams one day, that I will lose thirty kilos, that I will win lotto. I’m not sure which of these is most likely! And I’ve never been great at writing fantasy… 😂

The point of all this ramble? Blogging can be hard. Creativity can be debilitating. Sharing thoughts with total strangers can be intimidating. But the reflection process is a good one and the sharing of ideas can be totally liberating. So that said: I WILL get back to blogging, I just need to find a topic. In a couple of weeks I will have completed my first term at a brand new, next generation school in north west Sydney as the Communications and Marketing Co-ordinator and I have plenty to reflect on there. I will also be getting ready to head south to beautiful Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River for an annual art retreat, which always inspires reflection and creation. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll have something with a bit more depth to it to bring you then. But in the meantime,  I’m just going to leave you with this Snapchat video of me as a rabbit. Dancing. Because I can. ​

For we are young and free and loyal to the fatherland

I am in the enormously privileged position of being a dual citizen. I hold passports for both Australia and Holland. Only fate has bestowed this privilege on me, because my Dad was never naturalised; he passed away before submitting the paperwork. See, had he been naturalised before he died he would have had to forego his Dutch citizenship. Yep. That’s right. In order to become an Australian citizen back in the day, a person had to surrender the passport of their home country. My mum, and her parents and siblings did this.   
Now you need to stop and consider the depth of this for just a moment. Such was their desire to start a new life here in Australia, to build a better future for their children, grandchildren and all the generations to follow, that they were prepared to stand up and say ‘I am no longer a citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I am now Australian’. 

 

My Dad with his siblings seeing him off to Australia. They didn’t know then that they would never see him again.

 
Would you do it? To build a better life for your future family? They must have had amazing faith in Australia and the opportunities it offered to them. And it seems to me they were on the money!

  
Now as time marched on, laws changed, and people are now allowed to hold passports to more than one nation. I could only apply for Dutch citizenship because my father was Dutch when he died. The irony is, that little maroon booklet makes me, on paper, more Dutch than my mum – those of you who know her will know how laughable this is! I am entitled to all the privileges of being a Dutch citizen. My mum, on the other hand, when she visits Holland, and speaks the language and visits the home where she was born, is considered a tourist and would be well advised not to overstay her visa. Crazy, huh? 

  

Huize Pax in Maasland, where my mum and her siblings were all born and raised.
 
And this enormous sacrifice (and it really is that) was made for me and my sisters, for their children and grandchildren. For a better life, a safer future, more opportunities.

I cannot express the gratitude I feel, most especially for my grandparents, Piet and Lena, for their courageous and selfless decision. 

 

My maternal grandparents, Lena and Piet van Wel.
 
I am so proud to call myself Australian and I can only do so because of circumstance. I am also proud to call myself Dutch, because it is the strongest link I have to my heritage and family still in Holland. 

  
This Australia Day I am celebrating all immigrants to this most amazing country, and recognising their sacrifice and the enormous courage it takes to relocate your life, not for yourself, but for your future family.