Wednesday, 6 July 2016

When I believe it...

Work in progress July 2016
© Maggie Sawkins All rights reserved

For reasons too many to describe, along the way and from a very young age, I picked up a belief that I was broken, abnormal and most likely, 'unstable'. Today whilst painting this, I had a moment, a lovely, fleeting 'hope is like the thing with feathers' type moment: a thought, 'maybe I could live a positive life'

What if it were also possible to be relationship material, a successful sole trader, to live without the decades-long-in-my-bones-belief, that I am strange or weird or wrong. What if I could spend the rest of my life however long it is, led by the fact it is my one and only life and really love it.

I revert daily to a sense that there is a debt or dues that need paying, before I am allowed to have 'my' life. I grew up with the sense that my time is not mine to spend how I choose (that might well of course be contributing to others) but there are things I 'should be doing'. Sometimes I slip into this agenda, feel 'off the hook' for a bit and ‘free’ until the next time.

I want to build on this possibility that I could be happy - Facebook tells me 'happy is the new rich' and spend my time wisely. Like the precious-never-to-be-repeated commodity that it is. Really? What if that were possible.  Of course it could be and it is a lot more that way than it used to be. With lots of obstacles and diversions along the way, of course. How well do we encourage our kids to do this? Or are they too, on a fast track of exam taking and deciding what they want to 'be'.

Jo Cox, inspiring in her life-affirming modelling of passion and belief, knew why she was here: we are in her debt. Her life has been witness, as John Sentanu said in the days following her murder. It is heartbreaking. And yet you Jo, have helped to give me some increased hope. Your life looked like it was well lived.

I am doing the work to sweep my side of the street: to clear the psychological blocks that are interfering with me having a wonderful life. I'm paying attention and doing more of the things that give me joy. Of course, I get sidetracked into trying to figure it out, following other peoples suggestions… and wondering yet again what I 'should be doing' next. I recently heard Deepak Chopra"Rather than, 'I’ll believe it when I see it', try, 'I'll see it when I believe it'..." And so I feel now, that the faith needs to come first. 

If I do what I believe in, and listen to my heart, I will write and paint and visualise the beautiful website I want. I will continue to do my thing. I will contribute my skills at encouraging others to live through fear and learn to speak in front of people, tell their story or develop the art of truly listening. I will keep encouraging people to be themselves, me included. I will take my time, appreciate each new day, smell the roses. This life is mine, and I'm beginning to believe it.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved 

The thing I really love about living on the city's edge… is hearing the birds in the morning. They've made a home here too. We have ivy growing profusely, some overgrown shrubs and a few trees. I love the fact that they live here and are around to greet me every day, sometimes also with our own Mr Fox. It is a very precious thing. 

Even when three fully-grown trees were chopped after causing problems for the building. Even after the shrubs next door which were home to lots of little tweeters, were razed to the ground bringing a tears to my eyes when I discovered it, the birds remain. We (my neighbour and I), can't fill the bird feeders up quickly enough. They are resilient, ever present and life-affirming. 

Just stepping onto the balcony and sitting for a few minutes, can change my state of mind. I watch them, I listen and I'm so grateful for them. They remind me of my mum, who fed and watered the garden birds with love. They inspire and uplift and help me be ready for another, never-to-be-repeated day. 

The sound of the city in the background is always there, traffic rumbling before rush hour, and a siren of course periodically, but a morning in Hackney with the birds waking up, is precious indeed. x

Friday, 2 October 2015


© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved 
Let me count the ways I’ve ‘tried harder’: it would be a very long list. 

These days, I am aim to let go and do life, without the permanent ‘never enough’ message whirling around. Don’t misunderstand me, its still there at every moment; I just need to listen to other, better voices, rather than register angry self-criticism at the beginning, middle or end of every step. 

I sometimes remember not to trust my first waking thought but instead sit on the balcony and listen to the birds. Some of the time these days, I get that I am a person doing her best. And despite my mind telling me to the contrary, I do a LOT.

At one point in my 30s, one of those life-defining moments happened. My flatmate’s boyfriend ('FMB') took it upon himself to tell me, with a sort of surprised tone, ‘Maggie, I’ve never seen you work really hard for anything!'

Ouch, that went in. It was not the first of his 'witty' put-downs but it was the most potent. Then one afternoon last year, as I was knee-deep in preparation for a big day, I had a sudden realisation. The stark, clear truth landed in my gut: ‘Oh my goodness, FMB was wrong… shit, HE WAS WRONG!’ And then the more important truth hit: I was wrong to believe him.

I had taken this, as I recall it, unsolicited, negative opinion and let it shape me for decades. How long, bless me, has it taken to wake to the discovery that I have worked hard at EVERYTHING. Worked too hard in fact, often without knowing truly what I was working toward, or why. 

As a culture we are gradually getting to know that we are not machines who must produce ALL the time. Looking over my colleague's shoulder, I see Sweden is experimenting with a six-hour workday: waddyaknow, 'staff wellbeing is high'!

After a hitting another wall re my unhappy relationship with my then work at the end of 2010, I finally stopped doing work that was making me miserable and/or ill. I’ve found help from so many of you out there… fellow creatives, ex-students popping out of the woodwork affirming my role, friends of Bill who are there through thick and thin, fellow workaholics seeking different way to do things, to break out of the urgent, ‘more-is-still-never-enough’ way of thinking. 

learnt to take more time. That less IS more. To live on very little and get creative: there is lots of free stuff out there I found to enhance my life. Making do and mending - living in the day became a necessity and an education. As Carl HonorĂ© outlines in his writing, ‘we are marinated in the culture of speed’. I didn't need truly to get anywhere. I needed to stop trying so damn hard.

I met an amazing performer and we agreed to meet monthly: to share and get witnessed, all that we’ve ever done. A wonderful chance to get a handle on, (curate?) our unique and complex work histories. Then there are my fellow entrepreneurs and mentors on a creative startups programmehelping me to harness what I offer and create a business. 

Where would I be without encouragement from those who 'see' me, and hold faith in me. I wouldn't be without any of it, even the dark days. Who was it who said, 'rock bottom is the foundation on which I built my life?' Ah yes, JK Rowling. She started from the bottom and look what resulted.  

Then there are those who are searching for simplicity, as I am. The ability to have enough, not need more stuff, to edit down the years of clothes, photos or freelance work materials. I'm gaining inspiration from The Minimalists and fellow Londoners on a similar path. 

What if all we needed to do was focus on the moment and make the utter most of it. Grateful for what I have - no need to chase 'must do more, better, faster' beliefs but to enjoy this moment, knowing that I am enough, I have enough, I do enough. Bless me, I was wrong. x

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

'Poetry is taking place...'

Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for sharing today, this lovely quote from Philip Levine: 

Dont scorn your life just because it's not dramatic or it's impoverished or it looks dull or it's workaday. Dont scorn it.
It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.’ 

Doing life imperfectly is all there is. I started today not too sure if a 'day off' was a good idea, bless me. So many things I could be doing: attending to the many and various needs of business startup, clearing clutter in my ongoing minimalism project, painting the words I need the most, currently re-working ‘EXTREME SELF CARE'.
Let alone writing to the landlords re the botched repairs, updating my website, you get the drift. 
© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved 
My art work on Etsy

Yet today I’m following a suggestion to put one foot in front of the other and get out and about on this glorious nearly-spring day. Walking through the sunlit city has been a joy. Seeing Marlene Dumas’ amazing portraiture at the Tate Gallery, practising being 'off' on a Tuesday. I'm listening to the sublime harmonies of First Aid Kit and looking out at the sun and  the workmen dangling on the facade of the new Tate as I write. 

I tend towards an attention-deficit habit, a butterfly mind, always juggling ‘too many’ projects. Gradually though, simplicity is coming. Thirty minutes at a time, I’m reducing the paper of years of work as an employed then freelance mediator, a trainer of mediation, public speaking in schools, art teacher, illustration student, freelance artist. 

And so much has got so much simpler. More spaces in my home, letting go of the ‘evidence’ that I worked hard. I believed someone, who with his love of the harsh put-down, once commented once that he’d ‘never seen me work hard for anything’. I took that comment and let it damage me. These days, I know he was wrong and I was wrong to believe him. I'm curating my life's work to date: letting go of the things I don't enjoy. Finding ways to love my life - not wait for it to be 'better'.

Loving the sky today… big expanse of dusty blue with the smoggy horizon, soft sun on city cranes and buildings new and old. A glorious day. This moment is all we have. How do we make choices each day to do the thing that suits us most, whilst bringing in the dollars and keeping home and self together. Do we have to suffer to live? We are making new choices each day - finding a way to live and thrive, whether we are creating the self-employed shape that work can be, or riding the merry-go-round of a 40 hour work week. Whatever we are doing, we are creating. It doesn't have to be perfect. And don't scorn it. Poetry is taking place.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Thank goodness...

© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy

In a lovely meeting of opportunity and effort, I’ve joined a new tribe. I applied for a third time to a course that I really wanted to do, and have been taken on. We will study, practise and stretch around the skills of entrepreneurship, along others in the creative tribe of 100 young businesses. And I feel at HOME. 

This is relevant because for so much of my life, I haven’t known where I truly am, as Ken Robinson puts it,‘in my element’. I’ve been cloudy in my awareness of what suits me or how and where can I best do my thing. No longer willing to plump for one of the many areas that I could work in, but yearning to occupy ground where I can really use myself, flourish and feel happy.

Some of us find our place in our teens on a degree course, by finding a job that works or moving from one that doesn’t. But some are quietly adrift in the world of work for years, not really finding a place that suits.  We show up (80% of success according to Woody Allen) and will be loyal, most hard-working of employees. Yet all the while, we don't know how to find our metier and natural contribution. As shape-shifters, we adapt as we go, doing our best - often doing really well - yet feeling dreadful and occasionally desperate, as we tread the rat race wheel.

I have very vivid memories of moments when I knew things were really, not good. It was not a living hell - more a slow death eating away at my life energy. Energy which had been squashed so often in order to comply, adapt and endure. 

What I needed then, when the ‘soul-destruction’ of the job I was in was dawning on me, was to stop. All I knew was how to keep going, try harder - too afraid to recognise just how much I was suffering. Eventually something stopped me. I'd submitted a paper on the risks of my current role to my new boss. Eventually when I found myself in tears for the umpteenth time, in my office, I called the employee assistance people and metaphorically held my hands up. I was done, I admitted defeat. 

I know this story (with different elements) is familiar to many. At that point, I was recently married in my 40s, sole earner with an ill husband no longer working. I'd picked up the shortfall and was existing on a cocktail of exhaustion, (steadily doing too much at home and at work), resentment (‘it shouldn't be this way 18 months after marriage…’) and bloody-mindedness: 'I have to keep going'. I started to white-knuckle it each day.

Thankfully, the endurance addiction did bottom out. I could no longer focus on a project, reading didn't make sense and all energy left me. I picked up The Joy of Burnout: read a paragraph at a time, and went to my first Workaholics Anonymous meeting. We are here to thrive not to survive, as Maya Angelou so neatly puts it. 

That was over ten years ago. Lots of interesting work has come along and I've had great opportunities. I’ve let go of bookings that repeated resulted in migraines. There were dealings with the DWP, that'll test anyone's sanity. There was a family health crisis which put us all under stress for months, with three near misses. There were gradual baby steps taken to turn the ship around, whist living on the barest minimum. It's a long story. I'm so grateful people encouraged and supported me. Picking up the paint brush helped and then I started to write... 

This is where you find me.

Through it all I've had lovely awakenings. I've finally been learning the lessons that it's never too late to learn. Life is about enjoying, living each moment. I'm now expert at having fun for free. I learnt to love the birds outside my window, relish my local park and feel each change in the seasons. As a dear friend said the other day, ‘it may not have been easy, but it will definitely be worth it'. I've found new tribes... I'm amongst people who get me. I feel at home most of the time actually. It's all worth it, nothing is wasted. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Conversation with God (whoever you think it may be)

You may have read, what I imagine must be a great book by Neale Donald Walsch, with a title something like this. Not having read it myself, this is however what came to me this morning when I woke up feeling low. 

At one of the many times when I was needing solace after the end of my marriage; one goes on needing it over the years, as many out there will know; I went to stay with a group of nuns in Bedfordshire. Not being of a religious bent, I went for the spirit of the place, the quiet, the garden, the simple services with plainsong and the kindness. 

One of the sisters offered to be around should I want to talk or have some spiritual guidance. And that was so wonderful. To be offered the presence of a person just to be there for me. Not for payment, not for obligation, not even because they already know and love me, but just to be there and hear whatever I’d need to share and offer some thoughts. It brings tears to my eyes just telling you about it. Being heard is a true gift.
© Maggie Sawkins 2014 All rights reserved
My art work on Etsy

Thankfully this one morning it came back to me. The exercise Sister Esther I think, had suggested. To write my problems down and then answer them with my non-dominant hand as though God is speaking through it. Perhaps the closest we can get to hearing the voice of something other… in my book at least. 

'So what I need to do today...', I thought, 'is write to God and see what he says'. Here is how it went:

Me: God, I woke up dejected, I’m thinking about A and how she has made a success of HER artistic talent - could I have done that…? And she’s created a beautiful home, has a lovely man gorgeous kid…  could I have done differently if I’d done what she did…? Then God, there is all this mental clutter that comes in: ‘its all too late’, ‘I’m never going to work out how to get my art off the ground’, and ‘is that the thing I need to do anyway?’ And ‘how come I can’t kept the flat tidier?’ and ‘what about all the plans I keep forgetting that I made on paper for my business?’ and ‘I’ve forgotten about doing everything'  and then ‘I had yet another migraine at the weekend, post-training what a mess I am ’, and ‘should I go to this event on crowd-funding or am I kidding myself… ?’ God, why am I so self-critical? 'I should stop being so self critical', 'I should have stopped that by now, having worked on all my unhelpful character traits in such detail…' then 'was it all a waste of time, why hasn’t it worked?' And finally ‘Oh, maybe I need to talk to God…’ 

God: For goodness sake, shut the F up and get on with something you enjoy… you have a lovely flexible life and there is no big boss making it hell - except YOU! 

Me: Gosh, I didn’t expect you to be quite so blunt. I thought you were all loving and kind… no need to be RUDE! I feel a bit sorry for myself now… Even God is being nasty to me. 

God: Oh well, take what you like and leave the rest. I’m off to sort out Syria, Gaza, Nigerian emailers pretending to be the UN. That and mulling on how to get democracy to work everywhere… and finding a way to help those deluded militant boys who think killing will create a wonderful world… If only they could regain the ability they were born with to see this truth: that peace is the answer. That and anything we can do to help everyone accept themselves and find a way to accept others. And you can help with that… 

Me: Yes, I can help others and I need the help too. I teach what I most need to learn, no doubt about it. Try softer. Take risks. Be who you are. Start with the end in mind I do know that I have something to offer. No use fighting when life can be wonderful. I can appreciate all I have in this moment. Thanks for the help God. Take it easy. Speak again soon, have a good day. 

God: You too all you need is love. Go well. 

Me: How did the Beatles know that so young? Well here I go… Good Morning God x