On motivation

Thank you to everyone who was so kind about my recent efforts and recommended a bit of a rest. I tried, I really did, but I got bored.

I think I am incapable of taking any kind of real break. I find that just a few hours off doing something extravagant like - ooh, reading for half an hour, pottering in my studio or even just getting out of the village once a week (if I'm lucky) is enough to recharge my batteries. We live a pretty basic, simple life and it makes you appreciate the little things more. My big indulgence last week was to sit and actually watch 'The Devil's Whore' without needle felting something or scribbling in my sketch book, my normal evening occupations. Having lived most of my life without a TV, I find it hard to just sit and gawp at 'the goggle box', so at the end of the day when I am trying to wind down, I tend to just listen to it and get some work done at the same time. But there are always one or two programmes I give my absolute and undivided attention to and then I enjoy them so much I feel as if I've had a tonic. At the moment, 'The Devil's Whore' gets a big fat ten out of ten from me. Marvellous stuff. (I'm still mourning the end of Valentine Warner's series 'What to eat Now'). So once my bits and bobs were sent up to Scotland for the Christmas Show, I set to organising some decent packaging for my various things, finding blank accessories to felt onto, sourcing findings and fripperies for baubles and banging out more ideas in my sketchbooks. Yes, I do need more than one. I use them all. Really.

I've read a few posts in Blogland about working from home: getting motivated, organising time and not pro
crastinating. It can be hard, but nowadays I can't imagine not getting up in the morning and 'going to work' - even if it is just next door from the bedroom. As far as I am concerned, there is no choice: I was born with nothing. I've had little security or comfort blankets, be it financial or family support - and that can have two reactions. Either you grow up without anything and that is the way things are; knowing nothing else, you expect little better. Or you work your socks off 24/7. The statistics for someone from my background are frightening. One or more of these things are proven to have a detrimental effect on a child's adult life and I grew up with all of the following; being brought up in poverty, growing up with neither parents working, having one or more parents who are depressed/invalid/alcoholic, being fostered, having a chaotic home life (I had moved five times by the time I was six years old. To date I have moved at least 16 times and that doesn't include temporary foster homes) losing one or more parents in childhood, growing up in care, and leaving home at a young age, in my case, sixteen. Not unsurprisingly, most young people who have to deal with issues like these find it hard to cope on their own. They tend to get abandoned by the 'care' system anyway when they are 18, and so the whole tragic cycle usually starts again. I am only thankful that my parents (especially my mother) for the short time I had them, were decent, intelligent and honest or I might have been truly lost.

Any one of those early life situations add to the chances of your becoming some kind of addict, getting into drugs, becoming involved with crime or ending up in prison, early pregnancy, depression, becoming benefit dependent, not going on to higher education, poor mental and physical health...in short, if you've been handed a bad dec
k of cards, you learn to play your very best with them, or you lose the game. At first, trying to live independently when I was still pretty much a child, I played the cards carelessly and was on a bad losing streak. Apart from the early pregnancy and ending up in jail, I fell victim to many of the pitfalls mentioned. Then I looked carefully at my hand of cards, and realised that if I didn't make a big effort I'd drop out of the game altogether. And no one would really notice. Life, unfortunately, is not fair and if I didn't help myself, no one else would. Once I started applying myself, things started to improve, though it was never easy; with little outside help, anything I did - such getting to University - took a proportionally larger effort than it did most people. I almost gave up in the first year. Thank God I didn't.

Since then I've played the game badly sometimes, but I disciplined myself to get at least some work done every day and gradually that became ingrained habit. I started to get commercial jobs with hard deadlines; no choice about not getting it done, you just pull all the stops out to finish it on time. Now I find that even without a
deadline, I am driven. It helps that I have no other income - there is no bigger incentive for getting up off your arse, than the knowledge that if you don't bring in even the smallest amount of money, there is no housekeeping. From waking up to bedtime, my day is spent pretty much on full throttle - as any full time artist knows, creating things takes up only one third of the process - you also have to factor in - upkeep of sites and shops, research, self promotion, networking, designing, posting out orders, sourcing materials, planning ahead, starting new projects, preparing for print, record keeping, photographing - the list goes on. It eats up the hours, but all that matters is ploughing on to try to make something of my life. The most crucial of these is to get our very own home, because I have never once lived in a house that belonged to me or my parents. So the next 'to-do' is to move back home to Devon. It's been thirty years since I vowed I would return one day, as my new foster parents drove me away over the border to a new life. And Andy needs chickens and pigs. A permanent vegetable patch. Maybe a dog. We both want to put down roots.

When I was twelve and clearing out what had been my home only two months previously, I found this poem amongst my dad's few belongings. He was a good writer and artist, but he never really did anything with his gifts. He drank instead. It is etched on my memory: when things are really bad inside me and I am feeling very low, (which, believe it or not, is still quite often) I repeat it to myself. It was one of the reasons I made him and my mother a silent promise that I would become an artist for them.

'I have wasted the years and gathered no gold:
I have sometimes been hungry -
and often been cold.

They laugh at me, pity and scorn -
as I lie at my ease.

But I've heard the rain whisper to me as it falls,
And I've taught the old budgie to answer my calls.
And the things that I've missed

just don't matter at all -
Besides these.'
Bill Parker 1915 - 1979

I cannot even type it out without breaking down.

Which ramble brings me to why I work all day, nearly every day. Because I don't want to be yet another predictable statistic of failure. I don't want to die disappointed with myself, as my father did. That, my friends, is my motivation.


tut-tut said...

You are an amazing person, talented beyond belief. What a story! Keep going forward; I can see a house in your future. In fact, a perfect one.

You frankly are an inspiration to me to try to tap into my "creative" side, such as it is. I do work at home as a copy editor, and have done for 20 years, so I know how to sit down every day (frankly, it is every day, isn't it? no weekends for the self-employed).

Anonymous said...

You make the best and then some!

I hope you get your home in Devon.

Your dad's poem is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for this Gretel. You've done amazingly well and have such a depth to you that makes you (and your artwork) so unique. I share with you a disadvantaged background, I did do the early pregancy thing but thanks to determination I am the proudest mother you can imagine. I'm very excited for you that you've made the decision to live in Devon. I send my best wishes that it happens soon! love and hugs, Jess x

Gail said...

Thanks for sharing Gretel - I can't say much more (you've brought tears to my eyes) - but I will wish you all the best ... and hope to see you in Devon soon.
-Gail X

Frances said...

Ah, now you've got me crying with you, but also really wanting to celebrate with you.

What a strong person you are, along side of your vast creative store. I keep thinking of all the generous tutorials you post showing folks how they might learn a bit about painting and other skills.

I like the way that you use the word playing, mixing it with working. That is very inspiring, too.

Rest well, as you keep your marvelous self busy, busy.


Jennifer Thermes said...

Hi Gretel-- My husband works in social services and we often talk about why some kids are able to break out of a difficult family cycle and why others can't. Sometimes it's hard to know the reason. But I think the ones who succeed have an inner strength that came from somewhere. You have that! You are tremendously talented-- artistically and in the way you share your thoughts. Thank you for the inspiration! :-)

Mlle Miracle said...

... (silence). That's my first reaction. I exactly don't know how to put in words all the feelings that your post has caused. You are an amazing person!
Gracias / Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Well, now you've got me crying as well. My father in law was also a poet, writer, and lifelong alcoholic and he just lost his battle with his poor liver and the bottle.

Your Dad's poem perfectly sums up his life as well and I'll share it with Paul when he gets home.

You continue to be an inspiration to so many of us and your art is just the icing on the cake.

Fingers crossed you get your house in Devon soon!


Anonymous said...


I believe you must be my guardian angel. You reached out your hand to me when I needed it, and you've done the same again. As Jennifer mentions, I can only hope and pray that my daughter will find her inner strength, but in the meantime, I have gained so much strength from your post. Thank you, Cara

Acornmoon said...

Your writing is so moving, you are very brave to share your past with the whole world and his wife, I feel you will inspire others and encourage the ones less courageous than yourself. You have survived and triumphed by choosing creativity instead of destruction.

Your dad's poem is very poignant and beautiful, he did do something rather special with his life, he created you!

I wish you and your partner all the luck in the world, your work gives so much pleasure to so many people, you deserve more than anyone to get your home in Devon.

Sue said...

There is always so much to think about in your posts Gretel. I love that you are so honest about things. Thank you for letting all these thoughts loose.

Barbara said...

I wish you the very best as you keep on keeping on.

hen said...

we have more in common than I thought Gretel.

much love to you and prayers for your continued happiness,

Deb said...

reading through your post and the comments gretel made me cry as well. i hope you and andy find your house in devon. dx.

Melanie said...

Thank you Gretel
with the black dog barking at my heels at present, your post is very timely and truly inspirational. You are awesome.

Dana and Daisy said...

a very honest exposure of your yourself.

I should probably get up and do something worthwhile after reading that!

CashmereLibrarian said...

My motto is "I do the best I can do." But sometimes I get depressed anyways. Life is hard.
But I wanted you to know that I love your posts and find them totally inspiring! And I look forward to your continued posts about life in Devon!
Thanks for being you--

Caroline B said...

Thank you for baring your soul so completely. We are all products of the life we have lead, choices taken. You can be proud to have reached where you are today through your own efforts and determination. Good luck in achieving your dream - I'd love to own my own house too one day.

Your father's poem is beautiful.

Libby said...

I admire you immensly, you have come through a tough system and out the other side with only yourself to thank. Your Grit Determination and pride are amazing, I bow to your guts, sadly I think I would have folded!

lettuce said...

wow gretel, i'm so glad i popped over here this morning. I already admired you and your work, but now so much more, knowing what its taken to get you where you are.

that poem by your dad is so moving, what a precious and painful thing to have.

(i'm enjoying the devils whore too)

Kim said...

What a wonderful and moving post. Thank you for sharing that with us all. You are such a hooooge inspiration, to me and I've no doubt many others. I had a lump in my throat reading that lovely poem.

I'll see you in Devon one day, I know many people migrating there :) (maybe even me one day)

Kim x

Unknown said...

X with love X You have touched my heart - Blessings to you, you are doing so well - Chin up!
x Vicky x

Anonymous said...

Against all those odds, you've become such a versatile and creative artist. It's all by your own efforts. You should be dead proud. I hope with all my heart that it all falls right and you get your Devon home and Andy his chickens very soon.

Unknown said...

Gretel you are so inspiring. I know Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but it is so fitting that you posted this when you did, you have summed up the whole spirit of the day right here.

Elizabeth said...

What a fascinating and deeply moving post.
Your father's poem is wonderful.
It is so sad the awful toll drinking takes - often on the most talented and otherwise wonderful people.
I admire your work ethic.
It must have taken a lot of courage and guts to overcome your childhood.
You have written elsewhere about your mother.
I bet your parents would be astoundingly proud of you.
My husband works at home and is good about painting every day.

Yes, yes, do go to Devon.
Do get a dog.
You deserve all these good things.

flower girl said...

You have alovely blog, and I love your banner so much =)

Kay said...

I agree with everyone else here, your post is extremely brave, and refreshingly honest and open. I identify with your need to keep on working at your art, though my own reasons for doing so are different to yours. Your achievements would have made your father proud, I'm sure.
With best wishes.

Paula Pertile said...

What an inspiring piece to read. I've been visiting your blog for a while, and love your work, and am conking myself on the head for not leaving you nice comments before now.
You've given me a good deal to chew on this Thanksgiving (no pun intended). Thank you for sharing all this with us.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

I was just having a conversation over dinner with Hubby about all the various aspects of a full-time artists' life that don't include creating. And then I come here, and you've delineated them all perfectly. I find I can't relax either when I'm in my home element. There's always something that I want to be busy doing. I can only relax if we go away somewhere... without the computer.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

You said it best..Thank God you didn't give up. You bring a lot of joy to the world through your charming work.

It is a gift to have that poignant poem of your father's. Both for motivation and as an insight into his soul.

I shall pray for your house with the pigs and the chickens.

Liza said...

My dad recently died, and I cried buckets over your dad's poem. I can't begin to imagine how you feel every time you read it. Thanks for sharing it. He would be so pleased to see you happy and settled, and working so creatively. I also love Devon...we are all rooting for you to reach your goal. xx

Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed and humbled by the honesty of your posts.

Rima Staines said...

Wonderful as always Gretel.. and poignant. You write so well and hit many nails on many heads. It is constantly a struggle isn't it.. but your success, ability and determination is very inspiring indeed to me.
I look forward to pulling up outside a Devon homestead with a red flannel elephant on the garden gate :)
Love to you both xx

Anonymous said...

good toy

Soozcat said...

And it is a good motivation indeed.

Sometimes we live not just for ourselves, but for those we love who no longer have the opportunity to pick berries or walk in the rain or hear the crickets or watch the stars fall.

Your dad's poem is lovely.

Karen said...

I'm sure your parents are looking down on you and feeling so very proud of everything you are and have achieved.

All the best for Devon!

Sarah Laurence said...

This is such a moving and beautifully written post: the hardships you endured and the success you made for yourself. In addition to being a talented artist, you are also a writer. A memoir is growing from this blog. Have you ever thought of writing one? Your story would be so inspiring.

Your father's poem was lovely but sad, knowing his story especially.

I agree about the business side of art. I spend half my time on that and should spend more. What I like about writing is the marketing of the manuscript is my agent’s job although published authors do have demands of publicity.

I’m pleased to hear you are making Devon more than a dream.

Cathy {tinniegirl} said...

Thanks for a post full of inspiration and motivation.


This is an incredibly inspiring and moving post, Gretel. You are an amazing person.

My husband works with people who have come out of the care system, and it really is shocking how little support they receive and how unforgiving society is.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

Gretel, I admire you so much. Dependingg on the parents we have, we either follow their example or not. You are so brave to show your inner self to us.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful and thought-provoking post you have here? I very much enjoyed reading it. You sound like a very strong and motivated individual - go you for not giving up and for always pressing forward!

I recently found this web site, which seems to have some good tips on relaxing, etc., if you're interested: http://www.mysimplerlife.com/blog/

Keep up the good work!

Bee said...

This is so moving, Gretel.

Your achievements must be so precious to you. "Self-Made" applies to your life AND your art.

Unknown said...

Your such an inspiration x

Gwen Buchanan said...

Oh,my dear, I feel this..... artists have to feel everything, don't they .. that is why they are the way they are.... it is not the easist life by any means.... but it is freedom...