The Infographers

Today, I made a Linked In proclamation.

Co-founder
The Infographers
April 2012 – December 2016

Ended.

Just like that.

Key strokes. Enter.

Ended.

This was a tiny business. A micro-studio of one-sometimes-two. Our closing will affect few people – our collaborative partners, our clients. I could quietly wind things down. Let that be it.

Let a Linked In headstone memorialise.

Four years.

Nine months.

Or.

I could do this.

––

In 2012, the man I love created a side-project for himself.

Late one night, in a Julie and Julia-induced delirium, he vowed to craft 52 Infographics. An information graphic a week for an entire year.

He would, he declared:

(waving-arms gleeful-eyes)

  1. research topics
  2. collect data
  3. sketch concepts
  4. execute graphics, and
  5. blog process.

Every week.

For an entire year.

Um. The hour-devouring job? The full-time wife? Babe-don’t-you-think-that-maybe…

Nah! It’ll be AWESOME, eh!

I turned my back – assessing options – and it was birthed.

Blog launched.

Intent broadcast.

He'd begun.

––

A Brief Introduction to Gareth James Parry.

Tall.
Dark.
Remarkably hairy.

Big horn-rimmed glasses. Bowties. Loud shirts. Satchel, suede boots.

Disguise: Standard Bearded Hipster.

He is Charming. Horrifying so. And possesses Phil Dunphy-worthy – Tigger-worthy – levels of enthusiasm. For Moleskine notebooks and people and birds and human-centred design and wizards and radical social reform.

For cheese.

He is breath-catchingly creatively gifted. Irritatingly free of artistic self-doubt. Stuffed to the very eyeballs with why-not-edness. He came pre-programmed for insane projects.

He leaves a wake behind him.

––

Gareth James Parry set out to make fifty two infographics in fifty two weeks largely because he is Gareth.

But he also set out to make fifty two infographics in fifty two weeks because of me.

Sometimes.

Sometimes.

A creative distraction

is a very sensible

strategy.

––

In 2012 I was sick.

I had been sick for a long time. Stuck year after year in a Groundhog Day of illness. My life narrowed to four brick walls and an orange tile roof. 

Sick.

Stuck.

He’d seen all of it. The initial terror, the frantic diagnostics. The parade of failed treatments. The down and up and over and under – the endless, brutal, rollercoastering. 

He’d witnessed my pain, and held his own quietly.
 
Eleven years.

On and on and on.

So, in the hours while I slept, he began to craft for himself fifty two distractions.

––

Week one: Great Cities of the World!
Week two: Diacritics!
Week three: What Makes a Cricket Ball Swing!

Look! New followers! Comments!

(Waving-arms, gleeful-eyes.)

Week four.
Five.
Ten.

I watched as he researched, sketched, built, and blogged. As he replied to actual real live fans, and lost sleep, and swore at Illustrator. As he hit creative walls, and failed concepts, and then became suddenly – and inexplicably – entirely enthusiastic all over again.

I offered – a graphic designer in percale prison – what I could. Swatch book consultations. Line length amendments. Proportion adjustments and composition tweaks.

I delivered – with merriment, with turned-up nose – my weekly scolding: Oh-dear-GOD-where-did-you-find-that-typeface.

Then – after surprise smash hits Universal Facial Expressions and Things with Pig In Them – we sat together. Reading emails.

Hi!
We love…
You are…
Would it be…

Just like that.

A business.

––

I stood, pyjama-clad, at his shoulder as he searched for a domain name.

The Infographer.

Wait.
 
Do you think, perhaps…

Could I help?

On the good days – you know?

The Infographers.

––

Chronic illness necessitates wise use of Good Days – to buy groceries, to work a few hours, to see a friend. To walk around the block.

Good Days become about snatching up tiny moments of Other People’s Lives. For sucking things in, for soaking in them. For imprinting them.

To have them there, ready, to pull on during the Nothing Days.

The bellyful of painkiller days.

The saw and spoke to no-one days.

The days of trying-not-to-move. Trying-not-to-hurl.

Nothing Days.

There were so very many Nothing Days.

But then – eight months after The Infographers launched – Good Days arrived in bulk.

––

This isn’t the story of the delivery mechanism for bulk Good Days – she and it and that will find their way into another family of words.

But here, these ones belong.

In November 2012 – eleven years on – I was yanked from my duvet bandage. Given back my legs arms mind.

Life.

I was given them back. All of them. Bulk delivery. Over just three months.

I was thirty two. Thirty two and well.

Thirty two and venturing back out into the world on wobbly legs.

Thirty two.

Thirty two and Carlton-dancing, hill-climbing, high-fiving, laugh-crying.

Thirty two and repeating repeating repeating:

Um.

How does all this work, again?

––

The Infographers.

Waiting for me to stumble over – high-fiving, laugh-crying – was Gareth. Our little business.

I fell into them, gratefully.

And together we rolled around – gleefully – in Life 2.0.

We visualised polluted waterways, made wall-sized sticker charts, and helped a Nelson-based greengrocer sell potatoes. We were published by Oxford University Press.

We worked with politicians, a Texan coffee shop, and a Taiwanese Sausage museum. We made live sketchnotes at TEDxWellington, crafted piechart-print cardboard couture, and executed ill-advised ideas spectacularly.

We exhibited. We collaborated. We basked.

We also face-planted.

I sobbed in the car. There were clients that didn’t pay. Marital shouting matches. And some wholly excruciating lessons in the value of contingency.

But early, we met The Extraordinary Women. They snatched us up and held us tightly in their community of creative ones.

Without them we would not be here, and I would not be writing this. Again and again they strong-armed me out of doubt.

Yup. Ya can.

*Shove*

–– 

The Infographers.

I cannot imagine a better vehicle for re-learning to live.

––

We are now four years into Life 2.0.

And our little business has done its job.

We release it.

New work is pulling us.

To everyone who came with us, thank you. All of you. The clients, the collaborators. The counsellors, the commiserators, the cheerleaders.

Those who made platforms. Those who opened doors. Those who knew and stood in fierce support. Those who have offered friendships vast and vulnerable.

Every one of you made a ripple.

Thank you.

Here’s to those four years – to the joy and the mess of them.

Here’s to beginnings, and endings, and beginning-agains.

Here’s to whatever is next.

Much love,

The Infographers.

Terminals, white knuckles, word deficits

This year I am taking part in the Leadership New Zealand programme, and recently I was asked to capture the mid-point of The Whole Thing. On a page. In actual sense-making syllables. Even though it’s all so very…

*low whistle*

Well, my best effort at Using My Words can now be found below, or up the Leadership New Zealand site.

–––

Our backs are to the terminal’s glass. Our bags, our coats, our scarves, our folders tangled on the floor by our feet.

Softening light. Lowering sun.

My boarding call is in five minutes, but we are snatching one last conversation from the weekend. We look at each other. Trying to make sense of the last three days.

Did you… I feel so… Do you think…

I had been warned. Sparkly-eyed, you’ll-see, gleefully warned by those who had been here before me. Leadership New Zealand? Oh! Ha! Hold on tight!

I have. Tight tight tight. Tight through the imposter-syndrome phase. Tight through the oh-holy-shit-what-have-I-done phase. Phases. Tight through the sessions well over my head. Tight through the painful insights, and the joy, and the requests to expand. Again.

Tight through the realisation (first retreat, first day, three hours in) that I am going to cry a LOT in front of these people.

Tight.

White-knuckled and curious. Testing my grip strength. Holding on through the ground-shifting intensity of it all.

Half way, now.

Christchurch. Hanmer.

I was welcomed by the stones of Ngā Whāriki Manaaki. I walked, heavily, to ruined cathedrals. Lightly, to spiral-slided playgrounds. I advocated for a dying lake to an extraterrestrial judge. And snort-laughed at crepe-paper theatrics.

I sucked in perfect Hanmer air, and Instagrammed perfect Hanmer landscapes. I watched a man unearth a latent gift for poetry.

I sat, bark pressing through my coat. Pines. Wet grass. Back-lit seed heads. Bight red berries on bare grey stalks. A creek singing over stones. I was greeted by a small black Lab with a flailing tail. He pushed his nose into my calf. Hello.

I talked to trees.

I breathed in for four. Held for seven. Out for eight.

I saw yet another way I have been blinkered. Ow. I cried. I ate peanut-butter bliss balls and went to bed early.

I was honoured eight times. One. Di. Two. Darren. Three. Mary. Four. Sarah. Five. Rob. Six. Ketan. Seven. Hillary. Eight. Kathy. They are what courage looks like.

I cried eight more times. I moved on from my standard Leadership New Zealand Glossy Eyes to Actual Crumpled-Face Sobbing.

Oh well.

Holding tight.

My back is to the terminal’s glass. I’m fat-throated. Fighting a cold. These have been three full – three wonderfully full – days. I’m an introvert well into Word Deficit.

But one last conversation, please. Did you… I feel so… Do you think…

Half way, now.

Remarkable women

Fierce, kind, awake women. You are everywhere.
 
I tip my days up, shake them by the ankles, and masses of you – legions of you – fall out in a beautiful heap.

There. There is the one that txts me odes to avocados. And innuendo that makes me laughcry in public.

And her? She parents with astonishing patience. Humour. And only a little wine.

I am in awe of her.

Those two? Well. Those two rewrote, through sheer force of love, the narrative arc for one small human.

His memoir will be an entirely different book, now.

She has the most extraordinary soul.

She climbs down and meets me in the dark places. 

She does things – terrible wonderful things – with sugar. Things that will yank you, with closed eyes, right into the moment.

Those four? They trust me with their failures. They have made me well in a way I didn’t know I could be.

That one trails pixie dust in her wake. She has a divining rod for determining I need to laugh.

She knows that climbing hills is a prayer of thanks. And comes with me – reverently, ritualistically – to offer a Life 2.0 tithe at the tills of Lululemon.

Those three. God. Those three. They offer nourishment. They fatten me up on dorky dancing, 80’s movies, beach walks, stick-on moustaches, and cheese – then gently turn me around, send me back out into the world. Full. 

And them?

Oh, you know. They’re just changing the world. Using their voices. Standing their ground. Showing up and refusing to move. 

That lot cheer shaky steps forward – wheeling out the brass band, the pom-poms, the banners. All of it. Every single time.

They are ferociously inclusive. This one knows that vulnerability is power. And she is afraid but is doing it anyway. 

The kindhearts.

The bravehearts.

The soft ones. The strong and stroppy ones.

All of you.

Remarkable women, you are everywhere.

 

Mental tumbling, drunk men, and leaky roofs

On Saturday night I found sanctuary in a bar.

Outside, Auckland’s summer was thundering into black puddles. My dress was damp from the walk, and the bar roof leaked – sending droplets onto my nose, the table, the floor.

My friend and I were leaning close, yelling – trying to hear each other over the rain, the big screens, the sports team getting wasted behind us.

But sanctuary arrived anyway.

We talked about fear. About holding ourselves back. About ideas that are calling to us – intensely – while we, wide-eyed with panic, stay rooted to the spot. Caught up in mental tumbling. The what-if-it-fails-what-if-it-is-a-waste-of-time-what-if-I-should-be-doing-something-else-what-if-everyone-hates-it-what-if-everyone-hates-me.

What if no-one even notices.

We talked about being afraid to use our voices. And the insanity of comparing ourselves to those, who, in all honesty, have lives we don’t even want.

We talked about how hard it can be to own our power. To let it be enough. Let it be different to others'.

We paused. The roaring behind us had escalated. I squashed the lime in my glass with the end of a straw, and watched red-faced rugby guy do another nostril shot.

That night, I gave the advice I most need to give myself: that all that plunging and rolling around – that self-doubt – not only hurts us, but it is a disservice to the people we could be helping if we just quit the drama, told fear to pipe down, and gently but purposefully got the fuck on with it.

I gave the advice I most need to give myself: Do it. Please don’t hold yourself back. We need what you have to offer.

That night, I found sanctuary in being reminded. Women that I admire – women who make wonderful things and who impact the world in wonderful ways – trip up over the very same things that I do.

That night, I found sanctuary in being reminded.

I know what to do.

I know to gently, purposefully, just get on with it.

Fail Club

Six of us. Creative entrepreneurs, service designers, social innovators. Colleagues and collaborators. Mutual admirers. We first came together for a six week course – hoping to learn practices that could improve our own work, and improve outcomes for those we worked with. We explored how we might better support young social entrepreneurs – those bravely setting out to redefine business as a force for good. We threw ourselves into our research, and soon a theme started making itself known.

Failure.

The fear of it, the shame surrounding it, an unmet need to talk about it.

Then, as quickly as it started, our course ended. And our group shifted shape.

Into Fail Club.

We meet monthly over breakfast. We fling our bags on the floor and our coats over the chairs, hug each other tightly and exchange a flurry of greetings. We exclaim over fabulous shoes, great reads, weekend adventures, and swap quick professional state-of-the-nations. Then, over eggs and perfect crispy-edged hash browns, the cafe hum our soundtrack, we talk about our failures. Personal. Professional. Spectacular, subtle, painful.

We abandoned our original intended audience and made our own support group.

We laugh at ourselves a lot. Shared in such a safe space, our failures often seem hilarious. We all make such entertaining mistakes, form such lousy assumptions, and run so very enthusiastically with such deluded beliefs. On those mornings, I wipe tears of laughter from under my eyes and try not to spit green tea in an outburst of joy.

And then other mornings someone shares a failure so heart-wrenching that for a moment all the air in the room evaporates and we just sit. Quietly. In joint reverence of the fragility of being human.

We share shake-it-off strategies, resilience-building activities, and failure dissection tips. We dig into the failures behind the failures – yikes, it’s messy down there. We observe ongoing patterns of failure – failing to put our wellbeing first, failing to notice we are falling into unhelpful beliefs, failing to call ourselves on our own bullshit.

Failing to prioritise the stuff that actually matters.

We’ve met monthly for almost two years, now. And we have realised something.

This isn’t really about failure. This isn’t just an exercise in embracing failure. Trying to fail more or better. Faster.

We’ve fallen, entirely by accident, into something so much bigger.

Fail Club is about empathy. It’s about extending empathy towards our own failures and towards the failures of others. It’s about kindness. It’s about compassion. It’s about making space in the turmoil of everything, all of it, to notice.

It is a glimpse into the whole imperfect worlds of others – a gift in this glossy, social media-ready, carefully curated, cultural bubble that we live in. It’s about letting ourselves be seen.
It’s about our humanness.

We meet. We spread our failures out, gently, between the teacups. And we have those rare, vulnerable conversations that offer so much sanctuary.

Then we leave. Restored. Ready to try again.

Desire Map

Once a month, a group of eight wholehearted ones squash into our shoebox of a living room. On the sofa, on the uncomfortable and rickety bought-cos-they-looked-cute wooden dining room chairs, on cushions on the floor. The Herbal Tea Collection – (Seriously, how are there so many? Are they breeding in the cupboard?) – is unearthed and paraded across the kitchen bench. A cup of Hot Cinnamon Sunset tastes like hot cross buns and heaven. We eat fat and refined sugar interspersed with carrot sticks and hummus, and have the kind of conversations that break you open while healing you up.

Raucous gales of laughter. Pin-drop quiet. Our sessions are sacred but swear-ridden. And today someone reveals she woke up still drunk. It’s Tuesday.

This for me is church.

Tonight: The Desire Map, Chapter One. Discussion: What would happen if we made all our decisions based on feeling good?

Anarchy. Filthy bathrooms, hungry children, sacked-from-work. Terrible, self-induced sicknesses from greedy feasting on cake. Cocktails. Chocolate-covered ginger.

Or. Profound self awareness. An ability to be wholly present. An intuitive balancing of short and long term feels-awesome’s. People who are so filled up that they can’t help but give the very best of themselves to others. A radically different world.

Joy as our currency.

Next: Do we push away good feelings?

Yes.

Why?

A flood of reasons. Top of the list: Busy. Horrible, toxic Busy. We believe we are just too damned busy. We believe we need to get to the bottom of the to-do list before we can feel good. We believe we need to earn it. We believe we don’t have time to stop and notice and soak in it. We convince ourselves that we will feel good once we’ve done this and this and this. Or maybe we’ve just become so flustered and harried and over scheduled to even notice the good feelings anymore. We’ve taught ourselves that, right now, feeling good is just not a priority.

We feel unworthy. I haven’t done enough. I’m not enough. We believe feeling good lies with an as yet un-obtained thing, moment, goal. We’re so busy with our pasts, our futures, that present joy doesn’t get a look in. We believe that because everything isn’t perfect, this moment can’t be perfect. We believe that if we truly let ourselves feel how wonderful something is – let it sweep over and through us – that we are just asking for it to be taken away. Leaving ourselves wide open for a bitch slap from Murphy’s Law. For The Unimaginably Bad Thing, waiting, hidden in the wings, to storm in.

We believe – on some level – that feeling good is unimportant, selfish, shallow.

I can’t shake this discussion. We squash our joy. It’s not that we don’t have it, it’s that we’ve stopped noticing it. We’ve delayed it, we’ve reduced it, we’ve ignored it.

We squash our joy. We squash our sanctuaries.

We wondered – profound wisdom of groups – if the more powerful question is not what would happen if we made all our decisions based on feeling good, but what would happen if we just made the decision.

Feel good.

Understanding sanctuary

Last year G and I found our chats over dinner, dishes, and stuck-in-traffic moments were often wandering to the same place. We kept returning to a soft ache – for idleness, for quiet, for space. He talked about working towards selling everything and moving to Nowhere. How it would feel to live simply and lightly surrounded by bush, by sea, by sky. We talked about trips, remote spots to stay, and long hikes with soaring scenery. I imagined wilderness, silence, just-us-ness. Deep lungfuls of air that smelled of pine needles and salt. But in all the well-worn conversational tracks, we always seemed to imagine that true restoration, for us, was to be found at a place. A remote, wild, uncomplicated place – miles from traffic and people and cell-phone coverage. We envisaged a beautiful cabin. Fantasised about star-lit nights and slow unscheduled days.

I still badly want to make this place.

But we also love our lives here in the city. And our weekends, while often chore-laden, are rich with friends and fun. So something nagged at us – how often would we actually make it this place? Once a month? Once every two? And the cost. With the necessity of paying guests would our quiet place simply become another chore to be attended to? For us at least, ceasing to be what we had intended?

And I was curious. Did others feel this need for sanctuary? How did they create moments that sustained them? I interviewed friends and colleauges and acquaintances – tell me about your day to day life, tell me about your last holiday, tell me about the stuff that makes you feel drained. And then: tell me about the things in your life that help you feel vibrant, whole, resilient.

We talked about exercise – not-negotiable daily yoga practice, paddle-boarding sessions scheduled between meetings, 5am walks. Prioritising time to be by ourselves versus feeling amazing because we have spent time with our friends. Holidays were divisive: Wholly necessary, or a logistical and financial luxury? Restorative long beyond the actual time away (anticipating, reliving)? Or a fleeting, feel-good blip – the benefit of which is seriously undone by the schedule stress prior and post. We talked about the nourishing practice of finding pleasure – flowers on the counter, a scented candle burning, a bed with fine sheets, a delicious treat. A moment each evening sitting on the deck looking out to sea. We talked about how sometimes, sometimes, all that we can think of to prop ourselves back up again after a total shit-storm of a day is an evening of indescribably bad TV. Several glasses of wine. A mountain of whatever chocolatey junk can be ferreted out from the depths of the kitchen cupboards. And in that moment, that’s exactly what we need. But how, at other times, being disciplined, and intentional, and self-reflective is how we create nourishment – how we build pockets of sanctuary into our lives, and fortify ourselves with resilience.

And I realised, high on connectedness, that restoration is a Thing – a big, complex, multi-faceted Thing. What renews me, might make you feel lonely. That weekend road trip with no fixed destination, which makes you feel bulletproof again, may make me so anxious I bury my fingernails into my flesh and ask on repeat when we can stop for a cup of tea and a lie down. What gives us sanctuary today may be the exact opposite of what we need tomorrow. How being delighted by the one or two or three times a year we get to leave home and take a holiday is not enough. That we can feel restored everyday – by a place, by a person, by a thing, by a moment.

Tiny Sanctuaries. In all their forms.