Monday, 29 August 2016

SMALL STEPS



One of the reasons I started the blog Daily Imprint almost 10 years ago was that I wanted to live a different life. I had been on a safe path up until then. I did well at school, graduated from university, completed a Masters degree, travelled a chunk of the world, got married and had a steady job. But it wasn't entirely the life I wanted to live. 

Instead, I wanted to be a writer. Not on a medical newspaper, as I was. And not as a copy editor, which was how I spent most of my days, hunting out adjectives with a red pen. But I had romantic ideas - of living as a writer in a foreign environment, ideally Paris or New York, Italy or France. I looked to the Modernist American writers in Paris at the turn of last century and of the Beat Generation in New York City fifty years later as my ideals. And Graham Greene and Gore Vidal living on the Amalfi Coast, and even the painter Picasso in the South of France. And while the image of these groups have become cliches, today I realised again that the most obvious truths on how to live these dream lives are often the easiest ones to forget. Perhaps because they are the hardest ones to live out.

In 2012 Leonie Barton had the opportunity to drive herself around the deserts of Namibia in Western Africa. "I had one of those cliche moments," she told me for today's interview on Daily Imprint. "I came back pretty determined to commit to a creative life because I could and because I lived in a country where the only thing holding myself back was me."

There were two ideas that struck me with this comment. The first was that we have to take responsibility for our lives - we can't lay the blame on others. Except in some dire situations, we are the ones who make the daily decisions that constitute our paths. I have known this before, but it's always a good reminder. But something that I hadn't considered in this context was our position of privilege.

There are many people in many parts of the world who live an impoverished life. They would do anything for the opportunities many of us are afforded every day. Not just the basic human needs - of water, food, clothing and shelter. And not even to speak of their rights - freedom, liberty and equality. But even if they were able to rise above all of that, Leonie's words make me think that to not live to our full potential was an insult to them. When we have everything that they don't, then is it not abhorrent to squander our opportunities? Whatever they may be - eating healthy foods, spending quality time with our children, caring for the planet, making a home. And then, perhaps the hardest one of all to do, commit to the life we really want to live - in another country, travelling the world, in a beautiful home, in creative pursuits, in the countryside, in a different job, in a different body...

Leonie's strategy was to take on a daily art practice. It was a simple idea - to create something every day from what she found, take a photo of it, and leave it for others to enjoy. After more than 18 months she has created a body of work, been interviewed by ABC Radio National, given a TED talk on "The Art of Saying Yes" and is now looking to exhibit her work and participate in artist residencies.

That decision on her part, and those small daily steps led to a creative life. And while many of us have wish lists that are big and long, it is worthwhile remembering that it is the small steps that make them happen.

portrait photography chris warnes



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