A few years ago, not long before her sixtieth birthday, Debra Hauer approached the seventh decade of her life with a burgeoning second career as an existential psychotherapist. This followed a time in her early fifties when, having had a successful previous career in theatre and television as an arts producer, she had reached a moment of reflection about her aspirations for the remainder of her working life. There had been a number of unexpected life developments in recent years (most notably, being divorced after a twenty-four year marriage) and Debra felt open to change. She was aware of several women that she knew who had decided to train as psychotherapists. “I’d seen them do it and I noticed that I felt fascinated, and very envious”, she says. “So at a certain point, I thought ‘why do I have to be envious – why can’t I just do it?'” And she did. At the age of fifty-three, she began her foundation course in psychotherapy. “And I knew as soon as I embarked that I was deadly serious and I never looked back.”
In our chat with Debra, she talks to us about the rejuvenating exhilaration she has experienced and what she has learned about herself by changing careers in her mid-life.
N.B.: Interested in meeting Debra, hearing her thoughts about her life in psychotherapy and gaining some insight into what happens in the consulting room? Book here for our next F² Fabsters Event — Psychotherapy Post-Fifty with Debra Hauer — on Monday, 12 March 2018.
Fabulous Fabsters: If you were to describe the phases of your career, what would they be?
Debra Hauer: The first phase of my career lasted about twenty years. I moved to London in 1978 straight after graduating from Swarthmore College in the US with a degree in English. I came to London to study acting but within a couple of years I was working for an international theatre organisation which later developed into my years in arts television, as both a producer and director. By the time I stopped altogether in the late nineties, I was married with 3 small children. The next decade was about the children and eventually, the breakup of my marriage, which delayed my return to work. Eventually after a stint at the National Theatre as an assistant director, I was employed as a freelance producer at the Young Vic. I loved the work, but I began to question the long term sustainability of what I was doing.
I felt like I had a gash cut across my career with 10 years of child rearing and doubted that I would be able to achieve my potential in the theatre world. I wasn’t exactly treading water but I just didn’t think I would get the jobs I would have gone for had I not taken the break. Then I had this epiphany about psychotherapy – I’d always been interested in it but it had never occurred to me that I could make it my profession. I decided to train and embraced the existential path along the way. It took five years of being back at school and since qualifying three years ago, I have been successfully running a full-time practice.
FF: Tell us a little more about the first phase of your first career.
DH: I came to London with the intention of pursuing an acting career, but I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t have the capacity to live with the uncertainty that comes with being an actor. I felt my need for self-determination would always be an issue, as I wouldn’t be able to tolerate that other people would get to decide whether I was working or not. I was a very long way away from home, and basically don’t think I had the confidence to risk it. But theatre was my great passion and so I found other ways in; I began working with an international theatre organisation under the auspices of UNESCO that was all about creating cultural exchange between theatre professionals in Britain and overseas. We were part of an international movement of people who were committed to opening up what was a pretty insular British theatre culture at the time. And the work was exciting, giving me opportunities to travel and meet a lot of interesting and like-minded people.
FF: What sorts of things did you do?
DH: Having established close ties with people at various theatres who supported what we were doing, a number of opportunities started to come my way and I was able to establish myself as a freelancer working in various subsidised theatres. The founder of the Almeida Theatre, Pierre Audi, sought me out and asked me to work with him as part of his original team. I started doing press and then became the administrator of his international festivals — Pierre was a visionary and I was lucky to be part of his extraordinary achievements. My role at the Almeida later led to my being on the board for 10 years, and even serving as chairman. Meanwhile I did stints at the ICA, Riverside Studios, Black Theatre Cooperative and on the early years of LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre). They were wonderful times.
FF: How did you move into television?
DH: Having only been interested in live performance before, I became interested in television with the advent of Channel 4, which at the time was this innovative force that landed into the landscape of British television and was going to change everything. It was known that Channel 4 was going to place a lot of emphasis on its arts output, and the ethos was to challenge the mainstream which was right up my street. Through my theatre contacts, I was introduced to Tariq Ali and Darcus Howe who were setting up Bandung Productions. They employed me to use my admin skills to support this brand new production company, and in exchange I got to learn about television production. From there I moved to the ICA to help set up ICA Television, where I produced the film of Michael Nyman’s opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, based on the famous Oliver Sacks case study. This film went on to have a great deal of success and it established me as a television arts producer. I produced a few more films with various directors and eventually formed my own company in partnership with a female colleague with whom I loved working. We called it Euphoria Films, an expression of our joy at working together in a female-led company..
FF: What was your favourite part of this period?
DH: I had 10 fantastic years making lots and lots of arts television — TV about architecture, TV about opera, TV about visual arts. We would take an idea to Channel 4 and if they liked it, they would give us the money to go away and make the film. By the time I left the business, they would call you and say, “we want a film about this, do you want to do it?” So instead of being artist led, it later became commission led — and that was very different. In fact, this was the main reason why I didn’t go back to TV after my career break. I no longer felt like there were the same opportunities to do the kind of work we’d been able to do in the early days because it had become a much straighter business.
Anyway, there was a golden time for me personally in terms of creativity and fulfillment in the early nineties. I had made the transition from producing to directing for my own company, which felt like a bit of a gender triumph as I didn’t want to confine myself to helping male directors realise their projects. A high point in terms of the convergence of the personal and professional was when I was pregnant with my second IVF child, and I was commissioned to make a film for Equinox, the Channel 4 science strand, about assisted reproduction. I presented the film and used my own pregnancy as a way to talk about the science of IVF as well as exploring the emotional journey that culminated in the birth of my daughter. It was a unique privilege and out of that film I became a kind of advocate for various fertility groups and even had the crazy experience of addressing the annual general meeting of the HFEA (Human Fertility and Embroyology Authority), telling all the doctors and scientists about the IVF experience from the patient’s point of view.
FF: How did you arrive at the decision to stay home with the children?
DH: So there I was with my own company and making a lot of films. Increasingly though, it felt less creative as we became preoccupied with the business side — always having to generate enough income to pay staff wages. And by this time, I had children which meant that I always literally had one foot in the office and one foot halfway out the door to get to the school concert or whatever it was. And then that important phone call that you had been waiting for all day would come in just as you had to leave — it’s a story that’s familiar to many working mothers.
The first programme that I directed was for the BBC, a documentary for Omnibus about Robert Lepage, one of my favourite theatre directors, and it meant leaving my first-born at the age of fifteen months to go and film in Quebec for a couple of weeks. And I just remember the way she held onto me when I got back – how she didn’t want to let go of me – and that was tough.
By the time I was pregnant with my third child, my colleague and I had established our offices around the corner from where I lived in order to facilitate the working mother model. Our ambition was to make a really high quality television drama — a shift from our previous documentary work. And then we received a fantastic commission to do just that but it required us to film in Belfast. Suddenly I was looking at the prospect of having to be out of London for nine months and I just thought who am I kidding? I am not going to Belfast and leaving three children behind. So basically, that’s when I faced the crossroads where I was either going to accept my children being brought up by nannies so that I could go on working, or I was going home. And I decided to go home. I’m glad I did it but it was a difficult decision at the time.
FF: And some time later, your marriage also ended. Divorce is difficult in anyone’s life. Tell us how it affected you.
DH: Just as I was getting ready to return to work, my marriage went into crisis and rushing back to the workplace was no longer my first priority. I focused instead on making my kids feel safe and helping them to manage the new reality of their changed family situation. This delayed my return to work another couple of years beyond what I had intended.
The divorce also set me back in terms of my own confidence. But you know, I don’t think that any of the psychotherapy journey would have happened if I hadn’t gotten divorced. Rupturing my status quo put my world in to this kind of free fall. Divorce had been the most impossible, alien and unanticipated thing that could happen in my world. I would wake up in the morning thinking, “No no, this can’t be my life. I just had a bad dream. That’s not me.” That was the negative side. The positive side was, “Oh I’m surviving this —anything is possible.” It showed me that you don’t just have to keep on repeating what you’ve always done. There’s this whole world out there and suddenly I was thinking, “I’m going to train to be an existential psychotherapist.”
FF: Why did you choose existential psychotherapy?
DH: I see existential therapy as the most ethical way that I can practice psychotherapy, and the most closely aligned to my political, intellectual and personal values. As the name suggests, it is inspired by existential philosophy — the philosophy of existence and the human condition — as much as it is by human psychology. It is grounded in the belief that the nature of the human condition is rooted in relatedness — being in the world with others — rather than on an idea of individual psyches and pathology.
FF: Do you see a relationship between what you did before and what you do now?
DH: I love that question! And this is where my reputation for sometimes getting carried away with my enthusiasm comes out, because I feel there is such a strong connection between my “before” and my “now”, and I love that connection. The things that drew me to acting — and that still draw me to theatre — are expressions of the same qualities in myself that draw me to psychotherapy. If there are traits that I could say are fundamentally important to me, they are around communication and connecting intimately with others. Both therapy and theatre are avenues of enquiry into the human condition, into what it is to be a person in the world. Whether it’s through art or through the dialogue of the way I practice psychotherapy, both forms of enquiry are expressions of what I find most interesting in life.
FF: What do you love most about being a psychotherapist?
DH: For me it’s an expression of my most creative self and what I value most which is connecting with other people. That I get to sit in a room with another person and have these intimate and enquiring conversations interrogating what it means to be a person in the world. And that I’ve done the work to be able to bring myself as an open and hopefully skilled person to facilitate— for another person — the possibility of connecting in a way that they find therapeutic. And I’m a different psychotherapist with every client that I see because each relationship is a unique creation. When clients come for the first time to talk about whether or not we would be a good fit to work together, I often make the point that the therapy work we do together will be utterly different from what it would be with any other therapist. It’s a completely individual subjective encounter that creates something entirely unique – like art!
FF: What’s the most important thing that you want clients to know when they come to you?
DH: I’m always honest and say I’m not going to fix you nor am I going to give you advice. We’re going to have some really meaningful conversations that will hopefully help you to become the more autonomous and authentic person that you want to be. We’re going to explore a wider spectrum of choices and probably challenge patterns. That can be difficult for those who want a ‘right answer’ – who come knowing what specific outcome they are looking for – or want to be ‘fixed’.
FF: Do you for see any limitations with how far you can go in this career?
DH: Well, one of the great things about this career, unlike many others, is that no one is going to tell me to stop because I am in my seventies or even my eighties. It would have been problematic to change careers at fifty if I thought I had to retire at sixty-five. This is one of the few professions where being old with all the experience that entails is seen as an asset instead of a problem. So I just hope to keep getting better at this.
FF: What is the impact of changing career at this stage of your life?
DH: To feel like I’m learning and growing gives me energy — and I know it’s a bit cheesy to say it but it definitely makes me feel younger. Also, to have walked away from situations where I was the boss and gone back to the beginning and started again as a novice is character building. I think in my particular field of work I am fortunate to be able to draw on all of my life experience in ways that are relevant and helpful but I imagine that anyone who has the motivation to change career at a relatively advanced age will feel similarly stimulated and energised.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
DH: I have found that what suits me is ever evolving as I change so it behooves me to stay alert. Conventional femininity was never me and I arrived in London dressed like a tomboy/hippie. I paid close attention to women whose style I admired — real women, not the ones in magazines — and definitely benefited a great deal in my 20’s from a couple of key older women who inspired me. My best friend Vera, who was old enough to be my mother and sadly now deceased, was one of them.
What I am certain about these days — partly to do with my age and partly due to my work — is that I just want things to be simpler and simpler. I like quality but I’m not driven by fashion; I tend to invest in good things and keep them for years and years. Four mornings a week, I start at 8am having gone to bed way too late the night before. So time is very much of the essence in the morning and I want to minimise the energy I spend thinking about what I’m going to wear and have evolved a uniform which is black, navy or grey trousers and a white shirt. Never underestimate how a good a white shirt can make you feel! In the winter, I might exchange the white shirts for polo neck jumpers in black, gray and navy. Maybe occasionally, I’ll wear a nice white t-shirt with a jacket. My shoes are functional and classic like oxfords or brogues. Sometimes I will include a flash of really strong colour somewhere, in a necklace, scarf or even my shoes. And of course, my signature ear cuffs — I have had them for almost 20 years, wear them more often than not and still get a compliment on them from someone almost every day.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
DH: Coffee and milk! Because my morning café au lait is very important to me so I have even learned to keep a pint of milk in the freezer just in case. I would really be in trouble if I woke up in the morning and I couldn’t have my latte. The food that I always have in my cupboard — artichokes in olive oil, sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, hearts of palm, berries, and green apples. And always oatmeal because all you need is water and you’ve got a bowl of porridge for breakfast, which is perfect.
FF: How do you stay strong in your mind and body?
DH: For a long time I was in my own personal therapy because that was a requirement in my training. I carried on with it because it is invaluable to have an outlet to process one’s own own stuff when I am spending days helping others with their processing. Also, I think nurturing good communications with the people who are important to you in the world is essential to your well being.
For my body, I have learned to love exercise which I only really got into at 40, once I’d had my three kids. I thought “it’s now or never” and started going to the gym — which I try to do twice a week — supplemented by running around the park if the weather is good. And I try to eat really well but by that I certainly don’t mean austerely. I have an excellent appetite and I love my food so eating for pleasure is definitely on my menu.
FF: What messages do you have for your younger self?
DH: Too many but I’ll give you two. The first is advice to myself from before I had children and it would be something about being aware of and managing the tension between the fear of failure and the fear of succeeding. I look back and I think I was very afraid of failing and succeeding at the same time. I think fear of failure is generally a fairly obvious thing to feel, but the fear of success is more subtle and complex, especially for women. It took me a while to figure that out and to address it.
And my advice to myself once I’d become a mother would be about having the courage of my own convictions and those of my children. Challenge the insecurities that lead you to listen to other people’s values and ideas. I look back on the things that I worried about in relation to my children and these were actually often anxieties that I was taking on from others. They weren’t preoccupations or values from my own deepest wisdom but at times I would allow myself to be drawn into other people’s agendas. I wasted a lot of time and energy with this and will certainly be alerting my children to it if they become parents themselves.
FF: What do you hold dear to your heart?
DH: The obvious things: my family and friends, the man that I love, my work — and also art. Art of all kinds – theatre, literature, music, visual art. Those are the things that make me feel intensely alive and make my life meaningful.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Debra Hauer!
Artist and creator of the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project, Setsuko Sato Winchester is a first generation American of Japanese descent. Six years ago, her husband the British writer Simon Winchester became a US citizen — a decision which propelled Setsuko, a ceramicist and former NPR journalist, to grasp the full meaning of her own US citizenship. “Being married to a writer who has written books about America, loves this country and even became a citizen in 2011, I kept running into the same questions, ” Setsuko says, “Who is an American? What does citizenship mean? and How long do you have to be here to be considered a part of this mongrel American tribe?”
Setsuko’s initial interest in the history of Japanese Americans evolved into 120 hand-pinched tea bowls and two extraordinary road trips across America. In her Land Rover with Simon’s assistance, she drove the bowls to every one of the ten internment camps — officially referred to as War Authority Relocation (WRA) camps — where the US government had incarcerated 120,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
The result is a haunting series of site-specific photographs which contrast the yellow tea bowls against the background of each camp. Delving further into the concept of Freedom from Fear, Setsuko continues today to photograph the bowls at iconic American landmarks. Join us as we interview Setsuko to learn more about her yellow bowls and how they represent her greatest concerns for the United States at this moment in the country’s history.
Fabulous Fabsters: What is the Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project?
Setsuko Sato Winchester: My project is about the concept of “freedom from fear”: What it has meant in America in the past and what it could mean today. More specifically, it’s about how the US government — under the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration — imprisoned 120,000 people of Japanese descent, 70% of whom were US citizens, by relocating them into WRA camps in 1942.
FF: The Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project is a reaction to a relatively unknown event in US history. Can you please elaborate?
SSW: On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy led a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor, a US Naval Base in Hawaii. Immediately after the attack, the FBI rounded up 5000 Japanese foreign nationals — mostly community leaders like teachers, businessmen, heads of religious organisations- and put them into internment camps run by the Justice Department. For those remaining, the government ordered their bank accounts to be frozen, imposed a curfew and put travel restrictions on them. Two months later on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invoked Executive Order 9066. This order gave the US military the authority to evacuate anyone whom they felt posed a military threat to the United States. While the order did not specifically state the Japanese, the US military evicted over one hundred and ten thousand people of Japanese ethnicity who were living on the West Coast — many who were US citizens — to what were euphemistically called “relocation” camps. These camps would eventually hold over one hundred and twenty thousand individuals, one third of whom were children.
FF: How did the military initiate the evacuation?
SSW: Initially, the military encouraged the Japanese Americans to voluntarily leave their homes, businesses and farms, implying that it was their patriotic duty to do so (or conversely, unpatriotic not to). The majority refused to leave without some assurances as to what would happen to their property. However, about ten thousand voluntarily uprooted their families to head East. They packed up their belongings and tried to reach family or friends in other states. But by the time they reached the borders of the next state, they found themselves rejected and not allowed to cross the border. The argument of the governors of those bordering states was that if the Japanese Americans were dangerous in California, they would be dangerous in their states as well. Those who had volunteered for eviction discovered they were stranded. Patriotic gas station owners refused to sell them gas. Store owners wouldn’t serve them and those who owned boarding houses or other establishments where they could stay turned them away — thousands were stranded on roads and sheltering in parks. The US government had essentially created a refugee situation for US citizens within their own country.
FF: What did the government do next?
SSW: As a result of this debacle, the US government ordered everyone to return and FDR proceeded to sign a series of Executive Orders that included the creation of the War Relocation Authority. This gave the military authority to forcefully remove everyone first to “Assembly Centres” — which were hastily created at race tracks or fair grounds where thousands were kept in former horse stalls — and then into 10 shoddily built concentration camps where the prisoners found new homes in overcrowded tar paper and wood slat barracks. In order to survive the cold winter weather, many of the camps were built by the incarcerated themselves because that was the quickest way of getting the structures up. Rather ironically, the prisoners built their own prisons.
FF: Where were these camps?
SSW: The camps were in some of the most desolate and forgotten parts of the country mostly out in isolated desert areas of the west. There were two in Arizona, two in California, one each in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Two were located as far east as Arkansas in the swamps of the Mississippi Delta flood plains.
FF: You do not have any relatives who were living in the US during the war — your own parents were not incarcerated because they didn’t move to the US until the 1950’s. How did you come to learn about this piece of American history?
SSW: In 1973, a book called “Farewell to Manzanar“, a memoir about a family’s experience in the camps was published. A few years later, when a substitute teacher in my school in New Jersey realised she had a Japanese student — me — she brought the book into our classroom. Two boys in the class said, “That would never happen here. That’s something that would happen in Nazi Germany.” Then they said that if that were true, she would know — pointing at me. I was shocked and also mortified because I didn’t know anything about it.
At the time, I tried to ask some people, adults I thought might have answers, but no one seemed to know or care much about it. Many of the Japanese Americans who had been in the camps were cast and shamed as traitors and so they never spoke about it. They were to spend most of their lives trying to prove that they were American in a country with a long history of anti-Asian legislation, originating with the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880’s. It wasn’t until I had left journalism and was in my 50’s that I started asking questions again and digging deeper into this story.
FF: What happened when you dug deeper?
SSW: As a former journalist, I was ashamed that I didn’t know the story of my own peoples’ history in America. And as I read, I realised that much of the fear that has been generated since 9/11 is eerily familiar — like we’re following a roadmap of the 40’s. I felt an urgent need to get this story out but I wanted to do it in a way that would be gentle and not hurtful. World War II is seen as the “Good War” in terms of heroism and pride and I did not want to belittle those feelings. But I also believed that if I as a Japanese American kept quiet about this incident, it could easily happen to somebody else.
FF: Tell us why you decided to express this story through your ceramics.
SSW: In 2014 we were out in LA at an event related to one of my husband’s books. At a fancy dinner afterwards, I found myself seated next to the chair of the event. We started talking about California history and then about my research into the history of the “internment” camps in the 40’s. I said that growing up on the East Coast, we weren’t taught about this part of US history. I wanted to know what they were teaching the children on the West Coast where the incarcerations occurred. She said, “My dear, that was a very unfortunate sequence of events. But it was something the government had to do. The government did it to protect the Japanese people.” “That’s very interesting,” I said out loud while thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s alarming — is that what they’re teaching the kids here?”
I came home and just started pinching bowl after bowl — it was like a physical compulsion. The bowls in my mind were people. They were families — moms, dads, children, grand-parents. Each one was an individual — farmer, doctor, artist, carpenter, journalist, dentist, carpenter, gardener, painter, sculptor, musician, banker, Buddhist, Christian, and so on. I also varied their sizes — from very small to the oversized — representing the fact that those incarcerated ranged across the human spectrum, as tiny as babies, as large as Sumo wrestlers. I made one hundred and twenty bowls, one for every one thousand people who were incarcerated in these camps.
FF: And the colour yellow?
SSW: I chose yellow to represent The Yellow Peril as the Japanese American population was referred to at the time. The different shades and combinations of yellow glazes helped me group the bowls into families. I wanted to show that the incarcerated Japanese American families were as threatening as a bunch of tea bowls.
FF: Why bowls? And why did you hand pinch them?
SSW: For the Japanese, ceramic pots are the architecture of life. There is a pot for every occasion from the ordinary to the celebratory to the solemn. I chose the tea bowl because the philosophy of Japanese tea is to celebrate humanity. A tea bowl fits in the palm of your hand — human scale.
I hand pinched them because I like the irregularity of the handmade where no two are the same. The simple act of sharing a cup of tea is about taking the time to stop and acknowledge the other person, extolling simplicity over complexity and celebrating beauty in the everyday. We’re all imperfect but in the end, life is a gift. Like cherry blossoms — no two petals are exactly the same but together they are beautiful.
A handmade tea bowl may not be perfect, but it has soul. This seemed a natural way for me to bring art, history and my personal journey together.
FF: Why did you want to go and visit the camps?
SSW: I wanted to see for myself what these places were like and what actually remains from that time. My original plan was to go to every camp and leave one hundred and twenty bowls to memorialise what happened there and to acknowledge and thank those fellow Americans who came to this country before me.
FF: An ambitious plan. What happened?
SSW: The logistics, time and distance in terms of travel and the physical act of taking and leaving two large boxes full of one hundred and tea bowls at each of these remote areas proved daunting. I had also developed carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand and had to limit the number of bowls I could pinch to ten a week. Then in 2015, an opportunity arose where we had to be in southern California by a specific date 3 months ahead in December and we decided we would drive there from Massachusetts on the East Coast where we are based. The three months was just enough time to make the last few bowls and plan our trip.
FF: How did you use the cross country drive to further the intentions of your project?
SSW: Another part of my goal was to bring this story — one that has mostly remained on the West Coast — back with me to East Coat. As a photographer, I’ve always been intrigued by the phenomenon of the Travelling Gnome. A prankster takes his neighbour’s garden gnome and photographs it at famous landmarks around the world — like in front of the Eiffel Tower — and then sends the image back to his neighbour to let him know what a fabulous time his garden gnome is having. It’s a playful and intriguing form of documentation, which eventually became a global online phenomenon with many creative versions. I decided to take that contemporary meme and twist it a bit by taking something that wasn’t easy to carry — one hundred and twenty delicate little bowls packed into two huge boxes —to places where no one wants to go, the camps. I documented the journey of the bowls with photographs and put them on my website — Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project. My hope was that if I could get people to look at the tea bowls and become curious about them, they might want to know where they went and why.
FF: What keeps you up at night?
SSW: In December 2015, Donald Trump — before he won the presidential election — invoked FDR many times as a good man and a good leader. At the same time, he also cited FDR’s “internment” of the Japanese during World War II as a possible line of action for the US to consider with regard to our current immigration problems. The following spring, I visited Tule Lake, one of the camps in northern California. The National Park Service officer there told me that ever since Mr. Trump had invoked FDR and “internment”, the camp had seen an increase in visitors who had never heard of the camps before. Their reason for coming? They were curious about how the camps might work now. If history is prologue, then other Executive Orders are sure to follow along with the selective enforcement of increasingly restrictive legislation. The Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project is not about Japanese people nor is it about Asian history. It’s an American story about what happened to Americans in America and asks, “Who is an American?” and more importantly, “Could it happen again?”
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Setsuko Sato Winchester.
Writer and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly is on a mission to teach the world about how the food you eat can affect your mood. Learning from her personal experience with depression — she suffered two major life-defining, depressive episodes in her early thirties —and her subsequent journey to recovery, the former Times journalist, wife and mother of 5 children, has written 3 books describing her personal experiences with mental illness and the toolkit of strategies she developed to regain control of her mental health.
Rachel’s most recent book The Happy Kitchen is the culmination of her work with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. The pair worked 5 years together to develop recipes that boost energy, relieve low mood, ease an anxious mind, support hormone balance and aid in sound sleep. Working with the evidence from one hundred and fifty research studies, the recipes are delicious, easy to follow and they work. How do we know? The Happy Kitchen has been in our house for six months and in that time, the recipes have become an integral part of our meal planning.
We recently caught up with Rachel in her happy kitchen to discuss how her concerns for mental health drive her passion for nutrition and its power to heal mental illness.
N.B.: Be sure to check out Rachel and Alice’s delicious Dark Chocolate Brazil Nut Brownies recipe — the ultimate comfort food to improve your mood.
Fabulous Fabsters: Staying strong and well in body and mind is critical to your well being. Please explain.
Rachel Kelly: It’s interesting. I used to think of the mind and body as separate entities. And then I had this light bulb moment when I realised that not only were the two connected but that their connection was indissoluble. More and more people are beginning to understand this and it’s changing the way we view mental health. People are now looking at whole body systems comprehensively. For example one potential explanation for poor mental health is that low levels of chronic inflammation throughout the body can affect both the mind and the stomach. So this indissoluble connection is a very exciting concept.
If you’re feeling low, it’s all very well to say “snap out of it”. But sometimes you just can’t just change your negative thoughts. You can however change what’s going on with your body and if you approach the low mood physically, you can have a direct affect on your mental state. If you can learn to be more physically relaxed, you’re automatically mentally relaxed. And vice versa. If you’re mentally tense, you’re physically tense. This insight underlies a lot of the strategies that I have developed for myself to cope with mental illness.
FF: What are the tools in your toolkit?
RK: There are two types, psychological and physical. Psychological approaches include therapy, meditation, poetry and gratitude exercises. Learning to think in a grateful way has been very helpful.
And with physical approaches, I think I first started with breathing exercises. One of the big characteristics of worrying and anxiety is that essentially you’re not in the moment. You’re either worried about the future or the past; you’re not here and you’re certainly not focused on the present. But if you think about breathing while you inhale and exhale, you can’t really breathe in the future or the past. So learning a few breathing exercises is would be a good place to start.
Exercise is another important physical strategy. What’s most interesting here is just how many bodily processes exercise affects. We all know about the endorphin high but in fact, exercise affects many more systems in your body —the endocrine system, the digestive system, the muscular skeletal system — it affects us in so many positive ways.
And then of course, there’s nutrition!
FF: Why do you feel it’s important to have nutrition in your toolkit?
RK: Because food is the one tool where you can have an enormous amount of control. In one day, you have about 7-8 chances to make a good decision. With all of these strategies, there is the potential to fall off the bandwagon — fail to show up at an exercise class or not do your breathing exercises, for instance. The thing about nutritional interventions is that you have to eat — that’s a constant. Even if you have 5 croissants for breakfast, another chance to made a good decision is not far away. You can have a really good lunch and get back on track.
So that’s the first reason why nutrition has become so big in my life. The second reason is that the kind of changes you can see with nutritional interventions are incredibly quick. And by interventions, I mean cutting out the CRAP — Carbonated drinks, Refined sugars, Aspartame and additives and Processed meats and foods — while taking Omega 3 supplements and increasing your intake of probiotics and prebiotics to improve your digestive health. There is really good compelling evidence about the benefits of oily fish and healthy fats.
It makes sense because our brains are sixty percent fat. If you cut the CRAP, you can begin to see changes in one day and within 4-6 days of changing the microbiomes of your digestive health, you can see even more improvements. It’s very exciting when you can make a difference so quickly. The best antidepressants can take up to 2 weeks to start working. I think that nutrition is going to be very big in the future.
FF: How does The Happy Kitchen differ from other healthy eating books?
RK: In my journey to get better, I discovered that nutrition could have a positive effect on my mental health and I wanted to know more. The big motivation for writing The Happy Kitchen was that I couldn’t find a book which connected food to mood.
I started working with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh 5 years ago and this book reflects the journey I went on with her. She started with my energy first and we moved onto addressing low moods, anxiety, hormones, and sleep. Every recipe we developed in The Happy Kitchen is symptom led, focused on precise intentions and backed up by research from one hundred and fifty studies. We are careful not to over promise on the idea that nutrition will fix everything and are very honest about what nutrition can deliver based on the research that is out there now. At the moment, there aren’t enough long-term studies. But then again there aren’t that many long term studies on the medication used to treat mental illness either. A lot of the medications are quite new actually, and I think that in the future, we will look back at this time and think “gosh we were just at the foothills.”
FF: Tell us about the mental health charities you work with? What do you do?
RK: I am an ambassador for Sane, Rethink Mental Illness, Young Minds and vice-president of United Response. I also volunteer at our local prison in Wormwood Scrubs although I don’t do nutrition with them because I can’t affect their diet. In my journey to regaining my mental health, I have been fortunate to be able to work with nutritionists, psychiatrists, therapists, scientists, and psychologists. And now I want to share what I have learned and work to reduce the stigma and improve the treatment for those suffering from mental illnesses and I do this through running workshops alongside the various mental health charities. I see myself as a conduit to some of this new information about what can make a difference and making the new studies accessible. Good mood food is a huge and growing field.
FF: Why is campaigning for mental health so important to you?
According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability in the world. It’s overtaken lower respiratory disease as the biggest global health problem with over 300 million people worldwide having a diagnosis of depression, an increase of 18 percent between 2006 – 2015. And according to Transforming Mental Health Through Research, mental health research receives 5.8% of the total UK health research spend. This problem is not going away and carries a huge human and social cost. I campaign to raise awareness of this critical issue.
FF: What is your key message to anyone suffering from mental health?
RK: Mental health is an illness like anything else and there is no shame in it. It is complicated and nuanced and we are all different. I do think thought that some of the interventions are quite simple and most importantly, you can do them yourself. My key message is this idea that you can take some charge of your own mental health.
And why not? This has got to be our future. We got lulled into the sense that pills were going to sort us all out and it’s now time to be proactive and take responsibility for our own health. And just like our physical health, there are proactive steps we can take for our mental health.
FF: Does your toolkit exclude medication?
RK: I am not saying that I am against medication. Interestingly studies are now showing that medication works more effectively when taken in conjunction with practising these other interventions. And some psychiatrists are now explaining this to their patients when they prescribe them medication.
The problem with medication that is you are dependent on it and someone else to prescribe it for you. For instance, you can’t change your medication without getting an appointment. That’s quite difficult to manage with the long waits at the NHS. Equally with therapy, you have to rely on going to see someone. The less control you have, the more overwhelmed you can feel.
FF: Any messages to your younger self?
RK: I feel that this post-intense raising a family period can be very positive for us. I’m having the time of my life. I have never felt calmer or happier or able to be creative. And I see it around in many of my girlfriends. I think people feel very negatively about menopause but actually it can be an amazing time.
It’s important to realise that it’s not all over in your fifties. This can affect how you play your twenties, thirties and forties. Don’t be in such a rush to race ahead with your career. Enjoy the other things in your life like raising your children. You will have more chances later — I wish someone had said this to me.
DA R K C H O C O L AT E B R A Z I L N U T B ROW N I E S
We spent ages perfecting these, ensuring that they were soft, rich and gooey in the centre. Though they are still a treat, you have more control over the ingredients as you are making them yourself. Spelt flour is wholegrain, meaning that it won’t lead to a sugar spike as white flour does, and Brazil nuts contain selenium which, as we have seen, plays an important role in the immune system. Cacao is a rich source of magnesium and antioxidants.
Makes about 15 squares
10 Brazil nuts
125g dark chocolate (ideally 100% cocoa, or use 85%)
100ml almond milk
150g coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the tin
250ml maple syrup
Seeds from vanilla pod or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
50g raw cacao powder, sieved
130g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1.Preheat the oven to 190C. Grease a 30cm x 20cm brownie tin and line it with baking parchment. Leave the paper sticking up at the sides to make it easier to lift the brownies out when they are cooked.
2. Roast the Brazil nuts in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them once halfway through. They should be slightly browned. Leave them to cool, and then chop them up coarsely.
3. Put the chocolate, almond milk, coconut oil, maple syrup
and vanilla seeds or extract in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, stirring regularly, until everything has melted and you havea rich, glossy-looking batter.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cacao powder.
5. Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 minutes, and then beat in the eggs. Add the flour, baking powder and chopped Brazil nuts.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake it in the oven for about 12 minutes. Insert a cocktail stick and it should come out with a little chocolate residue. If you like your brownies less gooey, put the tin back in the oven for a further 3-5minutes but take it out before the top starts to crack, otherwise the consistency will be more like cake.
7. Remove the tin from the oven and use the baking paper to help you slide the whole brownie on to a cooling rack. Cut it into squares once it has cooled completely.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Rachel Kelly!
Jeannie Ralston is committed to ageing boldly, encouraging sympathetic and irreverent, like-minded women everywhere to do the same. The Austin, Texas – based journalist and author has recently launched NextTribe.com, a lifestyle website aimed at women who are forty-five and older. An adventurer at heart, she has an uncanny skill for taking leaps into the unknown — from starting a lavender farm in rural Texas to homeschooling her children, world travel included — and converting them into life lessons for us all. In our recent chat with Jeannie, we basked in her warm and infectious spirit, absorbed her life’s lessons and accepted her invitation to join the tribe of women ageing boldly.
Fabulous Fabsters: If NextTribe.com is your latest adventure, can you tell us a little about your two previous ones — the lavender farm and home schooling your children in order to travel around the world with them?
Jeannie Ralston: After living in Manhattan for 10 years working at magazines like Life, Allure, Time and Vogue, I found myself newly married and living in Austin. Just before our sons, Gus and Jeb who are now twenty and eighteen came along, my Texan husband decided he wanted more “elbow room” and convinced me to buy a 200-acre piece in of land — including a stone barn which required a gut renovation — in Blanco, a rural town an hour outside of Austin. It was the kind of project you would only do when you’re young and oblivious and have no idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
FF: How did that go?
JR: Moving to rural Texas was a difficult adjustment for me because I felt like we were withdrawing from society and urban life. It’s fair to say that I was pushed into this move. With the renovation finished and two small boys later, my husband Rob went on a National Geographic photo assignment to shoot a lavender harvest in France. Figuring that our Texan climate was similar to the conditions in France — hot with scorpions — he suggested that we try planting lavender as a commercial enterprise. We had just had our second son and Rob was traveling all the time for work, and I was resistant to the idea at first. I predicted that when the lavender bloomed, he would be away on assignment and I would be left to deal with the harvest. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
But what I hadn’t planned on was that I would fall completely in love with the lavender. Imagine rows and rows of a thousand lavender plants growing just outside of our house — it was so beautiful. From the moment the first crop bloomed, I took over the project. I had so much fun with product development and marketing. And then other people in the area started growing lavender. In a few years we were able to organise a lavender festival and attracted seventeen thousand people one weekend.
I started to really fall for this little town and loved being a part of the community — I even started a Montessori school. And then about five years after we planted the first crop in 1999, my restless husband was ready for the next adventure. So we sold our beautiful stone barn and held back a small piece of the property where we were planning to live.
FF: But things didn’t exactly go according to plan, did they?
JR: Yes, we went to Mexico for a holiday before deciding our next move. We fell in love with the town of San Miguel Allende though and bought a house there to live. We had always wanted the boys who were 8 and 6 at the time to be bilingual and this seemed like the perfect time and opportunity to travel around Mexico.
FF: How long did you live in Mexico?
JR: We lived in San Miguel Allende for 4 years. As the boys reached middle school age, it was time to move back to the States but we didn’t want to go back into mainstream American life — just yet. Once you live outside your home country for a few years, you acquire a different perspective and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. So we decided to keep traveling. We home schooled the boys that year so that we could take two big trips — one to South America where we hiked the Inca Trail in Peru and the second one to Africa, where we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit hunter gatherer bushmen. We also took some little trips one to France for a month to practice our French, and then when we came back to the States, we explored our own history and took the boys on a Civil Rights tour.
FF: And after this year of adventure, you settled back into mainstream life?
JR: Well that was the original plan. But the boys who were now thirteen and eleven had other ideas. They had had fun the year before — they wanted to keep going. So that autumn, we studied ancient history at home while I set up a trip to visit the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Italy. The trip was planned for Spring 2011— which ended up being in the middle of the Arab Spring. After some debate, we decided to still go. My husband was excited and kept saying it was the best time to go because the country would be empty. I was much more apprehensive. We arrived in Cairo in the middle of the night and went to our hotel on Tahrir Square where the dramatic and sometimes violent demonstrations had occurred over the very recent, eighteen-day revolt. Mubarek’s assets had just been frozen and there were people everywhere jumping up and down in celebration. In my jet lagged stupor, I kept thinking that the line between celebration and uproar is possibly too fine.
Rob was right though. It felt like we had the entire country to ourselves. On our boat down the Nile, everyone else had cancelled and so it was just the 4 of us. The pyramids were empty. And while it was an amazing adventure, I didn’t ever fully relax until our plane touched down in Athens. Facing all my fears on this trip was very difficult but rewarding.
FF: So the boys went back to school after this trip right?
JR: Ah, not just yet — they still wanted to keep going and the following year, we went to China and Japan and prepared by studying Chinese and Japanese history. After this trip, we settled back in Austin for their high school years and the boys went back into mainstream schools for their 10th and 8th grades.
FF: From your adventures, you wrote two books, The Unlikely Lavender Queen and The Mother of All Fieldtrips. What did these adventures teach you?
JR: From our years of travel, I learned to face my fears as a nervous mother — talk about pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I had such irrational and powerful terrors about something happening to my kids that I often couldn’t sleep at night. When you are in a situation where there is so much you can’t control, you just have to develop some kind of trust in yourself, the universe or God. I also discovered that there was nothing better than learning along with your children. Each time we embarked on a subject, we were all basically learning together. There are times when you don’t have to know everything. Sharing that learning process with the kids is an incredible bonding experience.
The lavender farm taught me to “bloom where you are planted.” I had never heard that expression before but it describes exactly what I did. I have learned that even when there are things you can’t change, you can always change your attitude. I found myself in this small town not happy about being there because I wanted to be in Austin or some other urban centre. This viewpoint kept me from seeing the charms of where I was. Blanco hadn’t changed —I had.
FF: NextTribe.com only just launched at the beginning of 2017. What was your impetus for taking this leap?
JR: I felt very much at sea when my youngest son left for university in September 2016. I was looking to see what was out there for people who were going through what I was going through and I just didn’t find much that spoke to me. I feel that so many media sources treat women of a certain age to be goofy or fragile and I wasn’t attracted to either. When I am looking for stock photos for the site, I am constantly reminded of this negative images that are used to depict middle-aged women.
It bugs me to be treated like that. My friends and I — we don’t feel any different. The way we talk to each other, the things we talk about. It’s the same things that we have always talked about — even more so — only now we’re wiser and more irreverent because we have life experience. We’re certainly not more fragile. And I’d like to think we have more of a sense of humour. My mother has always said, “if you grow old without a sense of humour, there’s no hope for you.” In one of our editorial team, brain-storming meetings, we said we wanted to be able to share our swinging moods and sagging parts. We make fun of how our bodies are changing, we laugh, we’re resilient, we’ve made it this far.
FF: Please tell us how you came up with the name “Next Tribe”?
JR: Well, my partner, Lori Seekatz, and I love the word “tribe.” It connotes all the feelings we want to create with our site—the feeling that we’re not alone in this ageing thing, that we’re understood. And we felt the word “next” summed up what I felt after my boys left for college. What’s next? Where will I go with my life now? It’s a hopeful word. It means life isn’t over just because you’re over 45 or your kids have flown the nest. You’re just going into a next phase, which can and should be exciting.
FF: Please tell us about some of the fun things you have planned for your “tribe” members.JR: Lori and I don’t want NextTribe.com to live just on the screen. We’re hoping to plan events that bring us together in the flesh. We recently hosted a happy hour in Austin for subscribers and we’re hoping to duplicate that in other cities. We want women who are smart and funny to get to know each other and build something together out of all the wisdom and experience they’ve accumulated. And we have a trip planned to San Miguel de Allende over the magnificent Day of the Dead celebration. If that goes well, we want to offer more trips. We aim to fill these trips with like-minded people. That should make it easier to take the leap and we hope make the journey more memorable and exciting.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
JR: I exercise more now than I ever have in my life. Exercise time is useful for sorting out all the things crammed in my head. I swim 3 times a week (2 of those times are with a master swim class), take a yoga class in which we use weights twice a week, and if the weather cooperates, I bike about 25 miles on Wednesdays. I don’t eat beef, chicken, pork, lamb. But I will eat fish. Mainly because I want to have something to order in restaurants. I have a green smoothie every morning and try to limit carbs. My diet and working out have enabled me to lower my cholesterol, which was high due to heredity. I feel very strong now, and want to keep it up.
FF: If you have any messages to your younger self, what would they be?
JR: Patience. I get very impatient, and I would tell myself not to spend so much time obsessing about where I want to be, like in my career for instance. I would say, just keep your down down, concentrate on what you’re doing, make it good and before you know it you will see that you’ve up a body of work that you can be proud of.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Jeannie Ralston!
Lucinda Scala Quinn has a passion for the power of home cooking. Brandishing her signature spurtle — a cross between a spoon and a spatula — like a magic wand, the New York-based cookery writer whips up tasty and nutritious meals, using staple ingredients, that are hearty enough to satisfy the most ravenous of eaters, including her 3 sons. Inspired by their appetites and her mother’s instinct to nourish them well, the former Senior Vice President Executive and Editorial Director of Food and Entertaining at Martha Stewart Living has created an entire industry that champions the merits of the family meal. Her Mad Hungry trilogy of books, written as the boys were growing up, includes Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys, Mad Hungry Cravings, and her most recent book, Mad Hungry: Family, a book that lovingly describes how she gave her boys the most valuable gift of all — the ability to cook. “If you cook for the people you love and teach them to cook for themselves, they will pass it on,” she says.
Fabulous Fabsters: Please tell us more about the power of home cooking.
Lucinda Scala Quinn: I’m a big proponent of the family meal because it’s the one place where you can have an impact on the physical, spiritual and emotional well being of your children. I like to think of it as a one-stop shop to wellness. Over the years, I have hooked my sons, our friends and many strangers onto the merits of home-cooked meals and that is what my latest book Mad Hungry: Family is about. The book includes essential recipes and little tips that can help your family develop home cooking into an essential life skill. Committing to home cooking may seem daunting at first but the best way to cook is to give yourself no other choice than doing it.
FF: How did Mad Hungry come about?
LSQ: I first started working at Martha Stewart when my youngest son, Luca, who is now twenty-two, was seven. His older brothers Calder and Miles were 15 and 11 at the time. So there I was working everyday in this beautiful, pristine test kitchen where everything was about perfection. And then I would go home to the chaos of having a family of three boys to feed. The extreme contrast between the two experiences compelled me to write about what was going on with the boys and their food. The result was the first book of the trilogy — Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys. Published in 2009, this was a cookbook of recipes, strategies and survival techniques for bringing back the family meal.
FF: How did you come up with the name Mad Hungry?
LSQ: One day, my husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table, thinking up titles for the first book of the trilogy. One of our sons came in and went straight for the refrigerator. As he hung on the open door, he peered in and said, “What’s there to eat? I’m mad hungry.” At which point my husband turned to me and said, “There’s the name of your book.”
FF: Where did you learn how to cook?
LSQ: I have a big Italian family on my father’s side. Watching and listening to my grandmother cook with her sisters, my great aunts, was how I grew up. The bickering about whose way of making meatballs was better and the ensuing chatter and laughter showed me how food could be an integral part of family life. My non-Italian mother Rose navigated her own path of home cooking when she married into this family. She learned their recipes but made them more efficient in order to feed her family of six everyday — committed to home cooking in an era of frozen foods and TV dinners. She was and remains a great inspiration to me.
FF: Have any of your sons followed in your culinary footsteps?
LSQ: My oldest son, Calder, is my Mad Hungry business partner and my second son Miles is a chef.
FF: As part of the Mad Hungry empire, you have repurposed and redesigned the spurtle into an all purpose cooking tool. Please tell us more.
LSQ: The spurtle is my all-time favourite kitchen tool. This flat wooden utensil is a cross between a spatula and a spoon and was originally created in Scotland to keep porridge from getting lumpy while stirring. I appropriated it to make risotto, sauté meat and vegetables, even to whip up cake batter. It has an angled edge that makes it perfect for reaching into the corners of pots and pans. Over the years, I have added a few tweaks to the almost perfect design — a few different sizes and even a slotted spurtle.
FF: It sounds like every kitchen needs at least one if not several. Where are you selling them?
LSQ: The Mad Hungry Spurtles and a growing line of multi-use kitchen supplies are available on QVC. They are also available on the Mad Hungry website.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
LSQ: On most days I need to be prepared for cooking, writing, walking in the city, being out or on camera. And that’s asking a lot from an outfit. But I’ve got it down — AG jeans, white cotton & linen & denim shirts, favourite tank of the moment (for layer shedding), seasonally appropriate cashmere (all 4 seasons!), and a basic gray leather jacket from Fiorentini & Baker. For cooking, comfort and style, my shoes are from The Office of Angela Scott. I LOVE hats especially berets and I never go anywhere without a Blue Braggard Apron. My bag of choice is a Filson tote — I carry everything in it.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
LSQ: Dry beans, legumes, brown and white rice, canned tomatoes, canned tuna, sardines, nuts & seeds, dried fruit. olives, peanut and almond butters, garlic, onions, shallots, pasta, oils, vinegars, salts, peppers, soy and fish sauce, sesame oil, wine, coffee, tea, and chocolate.
FF: Any messages to your younger self?
LSQ: I’m actually writing a book about that right now. Stay tuned…
FF: Other than your family, what do you hold dear to your heart?
LSQ: The wellness of hungry children.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Lucinda Scala Quinn!
New York-based film director Gaby Dellal tells all her stories straight from the heart. With humour and grace, her latest film 3 Generations guides its audience to explore the human condition by presenting them with a life-altering decision — one from which there is no going back. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a sixteen-year old trans youth who wants to begin hormone therapy in order to medically transition into becoming a boy. Helping him navigate this life decision are his single mother Maggie (Naomi Watts), his grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon) and his grandmother’s partner (Linda Edmond). “At its core, this film is about the everydayness of being a family and finding a way through the challenges that come our way,” Gaby says.
People frequently ask Gaby, a mother of three boys, if she has a son who is transitioning. “I don’t,” she says “but my relationship with my sons and everything I have been through with them is the inspiration for the film.” On the eve of the opening of 3 Generations, Gaby explains why she tells this story.
N.B.: 3 Generations opens this Friday, May 5, in New York City and Los Angeles, and nationwide in the US on Mother’s Day, May 14.
Fabulous Fabsters: How did the making of 3 Generations come about?
Gaby Dellal: This film came about from my experiences of being a mother and learning to accept the importance of listening to my children. Initially, I was looking at some of the challenges my family and I had faced — ones that I had never imagined we could deal with and yet we did. And then I happened to meet someone whose daughter had just told him that she wanted to become his son. Up until then I had not met a trans youth and more importantly I hadn’t met any trans youth parents. This father was “macho” and accepting, which blew away all my preconceptions. And that’s when I realised that that there comes a point when we stop teaching our kids and they are the ones who guide us into the current cultural milieu. We can’t be stuck in our old ways of thinking how they should live. That’s what inspired me to write this story.
FF: So you didn’t start out doing a film about transgender issues?
GD: I didn’t start with the intention of making an “issue” film, but at the same time I want to honour the subject that I used to tell the story. In fact that’s the beauty of telling stories. You have to immerse yourself in whatever subject you choose and in so doing, you learn so much.
FF: What did you learn?
GD: I have a tremendous amount of respect for the kids and the parents in the transgender community. The kids we met and interviewed for this film have been dealing with this dilemma that they have carried with them since they entered the world —as a result, they are highly evolved individuals. And at first, they had to navigate these uncertain waters by themselves — feeling and being made to feel different, being bullied and having their lives threatened. And it’s extraordinary what they do to come through it.
And the parents have their own journey which is also remarkable. They have to understand and accept what their children are undergoing and then they have to find a way to support their child.
FF: What interests you the most about the challenges these families face?
GD: On one level, you can’t compare the challenges these families are meeting to the ones the rest of us have, and yet at the same time you can. We all have to face up to with what we get dealt and how that sits within our own family dynamic. I have written a part of my own life into the film. The divorced, single mother whose children are doing their best to bring a modern family together is my story too. And instead of making it easy, the mother resists because she’s too frightened of moving forward. The crux of the film is about breaking the fear and the anticipation of the unknown in order to move forward.
FF: Tell us about the recent R-rating controversy?
GD: I started making this film with no idea of where it would take me and when the ratings controversy materialised, I realised how large my responsibilities had become. And because the film has always come from a very loving place, I have always wanted to make it as accessible as possible. The controversy surrounding the R-rating is well earned. We set out to raise the awareness of transgender issues in our culture and get people to understand these issues. If we can get a lot of people into the cinema, we are doing a great job.
In her Change.org petition, trans woman Blair Durkee writes, “The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates there are 150,000 transgender youth between the ages of 13-17 in the United States. It breaks my heart when I think of those kids who won’t be able to see this movie because of its ‘R’ rating. The powerful family drama allows audiences to get to know Ray’s mother and grandmother as they advocate for their trans child and grandchild. It’s a touching story about what really makes a family, and one that will not only provide transgender boys like Ray a character they can finally relate to, but parents of transgender youth a look into a family that deals with issues similar to ones they face.”
Thankfully because of advocates like Blair, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has changed their initial R-rating to PG-13. We’re all thrilled about this.
FF: What is your greatest hope for this film?
GD: That people gain an understanding that in relating to each other, we’re all normal, we’re all human and we can all get it wrong. Relating to each other successfully is a process.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
GD: My staples are Birkenstocks in the summer and Clark’s suede desert boots in the winter. And then it’s jeans and stripy t-shirts — simple and comfortable.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
GD: Perfectly ripe mangos and avacados, an amazing bottle of red wine and olive oil and a very soft loaf sourdough bread from Lafayette Bakery in NY.
FF: How do you stay strong in your mind and body?
GD: I’m a yogi. I have been practicing yoga since I was 19 when I first started with Bikram himself. I believe strongly in my yoga and it really does help me. Also, I have two large dogs and I walk them every morning in Central Park for at least 1 ½ hours a day. I always get something out of that walk.
FF: Any messages to your younger self?
GD: It’s all right to be yourself, which is the message of the film as well. I was always told that I was too loud or naughty but it’s all right to just be you.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Gaby Dellal!
Sarah Pickstone always knew she was going to an artist. “I don’t remember having much choice about it,” the London-based mother of three says. “Art was all I wanted to do from a very young age.” After receiving a degree in Fine Art from the University of Newcastle, the Manchester native moved down to London to do a post graduate degree at the Royal Academy of Art before winning a Rome Scholarship, enabling her to round out her seventh year of art studies. Following that came the studio at Cubitt Artists in Islington — where she still is — marriage and three children, the oldest of whom is completing his first year of university. On the eve of her current show, ‘Other Stories’ at CGP London The Gallery, we talk to Sarah about how motherhood has influenced her work and career as an artist.
N.B.: ‘Other Stories’ is on at CGP London from 26 April – 4 June.
Fabulous Fabsters: Why did you want to be an artist?
Sarah Pickstone: I have been really single minded about wanting to do art from a very young age — not because I was the best but because it was really important to me. I remember how it felt to make things like papier-mâché ashtrays and how it really mattered to get the colour right and what it felt like to get it wrong. It really mattered.
Whatever I’m working on, I always have this feeling that it’s a work in progress and there’s this incessant urge to do better. Being dissatisfied all the time is so annoying because it would be nice to be really pleased with yourself. Self criticism comes from within and it doesn’t ever really go away. Thankfully, in my case, it goes hand in hand with a tremendous sense of optimism that I will do better next time.
FF: How did having children and raising a family affect your work and your sense of being an artist?
SP: I know that I have definitely become a better artist for having a family because the kids enabled me to become better connected with myself. When they were younger though, I did struggle with finding enough headspace for them and my art. I suppose my solution was to pretend I wasn’t working when I really was by reading and drawing. But even then I could feel quite divided and at those times, I would just give up on the career aspect of my art and didn’t concentrate on showing my work. It takes a lot of energy to show and to self promote.
FF: What were you reading?
SP: Instead of focusing on showing, I turned my attentions to thinking about the creative process. I looked at what other women were doing, which was really important to me. I was reading female writers and it seems to me that they manage to continue with their writing while raising a family more easily than female artists can with their art. There weren’t many female artists that I knew with kids who were managing the whole thing.
FF: What and where were you drawing?
SP: When the children were young, I often found myself in Regents Park. It could have been any park, really — the different layers and meanings of a park interest me. So there I was literally drawing trees because I couldn’t exactly draw elaborate landscapes in the playground. And in making the best of my situation and acknowledging where I was, my work started to get better.
In parks, I enjoy observing human interaction with a nature that is slightly artificial and I take elements from it. If I need a rose, a branch or a pigeon for instance, I can take them from my drawings and put them into a painting at a later date, like I am composing with them.
FF: After reading female writers, you were inspired to paint ‘The Writers Series’, which turned into a show at Roche Court. How did that come about?
SP: While I was doing my paintings from Regents Park, I started reading a short story by Ali Smith. The Royal Parks Foundation had commissioned Ali to write a story about Regents Park, ‘The Definite Article’. There’s a paragraph in her story where she recalls the writers who have once been connected to the park and asks, “Could any place be more historied and less ghostly?”
So I took up the baton and imagined the lives of those writers in my paintings. Elizabeth Bowen and Sylvia Plath both cite Regents Park in their work and I also discovered that George Eliot had written “Middlemarch” while living in a large villa to the north of the park. And of course, we know that Virginia Woolf was walking in and writing about the park. It just seemed like a lot of women inhabited the space.
FF: Do you think these female writers used the park as a source of inspiration?
SP: I like to think they did. I started wondering about where women used to work. They didn’t have studios or offices. They weren’t allowed to go to university. I like to think that they might have been in the park. I certainly was — pushing prams and thinking. The novelist and historian Marina Warner calls it the font of female creativity and she talks about stepping inside metaphorically. I drew on that thought for sustenance in trying to find my own identity as a female artist.
FF: Why has it been important to you to find your identity as a female artist?
SP: It’s only occurred to me quite late in life that being a female artist is different from being a male artist. When I was growing up, the art world was a very masculine place — we were taught by men and all the work I was looking at in museums was by men. Museum directors and art collectors tended to be men. I was slow to understand that the potential of a female aesthetic could be different. The optimist in me can see that shifting now. Every year there are more female museum director appointments and female collectors are emerging as a force as well.
FF: Tell us about your first major show after having the children?
SP: In 2012, I won the John Moores painting prize for ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ (Sarah was the first woman to win the John Moores painting prize since Lisa Milroy in 1989). The New Art Centre at Roche Court in Salisbury then invited me to exhibit and luckily I had this back log of about 4 years worth of work — quite large scale pieces that I had been working while the kids were young, ages 7 – 11. These pieces including ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ are what eventually became ‘The Writers Series’.
FF: And ‘Other Stories’, your current exhibition at the CGP Gallery. Tell us what excites you about this new show.
SP: This time, I had to respond to the challenge of preparing several large scale pieces in a short amount of time. I didn’t have the cushion of 4 years of work behind me like I did the for the previous show. The exciting part is that now that the children are older I noticed I felt completely differently because I suddenly got my focus back and felt much more confident about the job I had to do.
FF: Why is it called ‘Other Stories’?
SP: ‘The Writers Series’ has never been shown in London and at least half of the pieces from that series are on show here. We have even managed to borrow ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. So this show will be paintings from ‘The Writers Series’ and ‘Other Stories’.
FF: What ‘Other Stories’?
SP: I’m back in the park again and this time I am responding to the gallery’s surrounding Southwark Park with its adjacent rose garden. I started studying roses in 2015 and was intrigued by this symbol of Englishness and yet roses actually come from other places, China, the Middle East — Syria. Migration, general upheaval, I started to get cross, which is probably reflected in my recent work.
The political turbulence of this past year comes out in another new painting ‘The Tempest’, inspired by Shakespeare’s play, which is one of my favourites. I am very interested in the connection between theatre and painting. In ‘The Tempest’, Prospero gets to put on a cloak like a creative act and then he makes magic. This appeals because new forms are exciting to me and they motivate me — I want to put things together in an original way.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
SP: I like block colours, good shapes and the unusual — Marni, Zara, vintage and young London designer Florence Bridge. If I had a default though, it would be a pinstripe suit and I would wear it with a tailored shirt that had a good bow in the front.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
SP: Coffee, champagne and chocolate in that order. And I really like salad with a good Italian Romaine lettuce and all those herby leaves like rocket.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
SP: I meditate. Acem Meditation is absolutely fantastic for anyone looking for an easy meditation because it’s straightforward. It’s a Nordic meditation where they give you a mantra, which you repeat for thirty-five to fourty minutes a day. I often do it in the studio when I have come to the end of something or am waiting for a bit of paint to dry. It’s about letting things be and not concentrating in a really focused way. It goes well with the unconscious. You’re the action, which is repeating the mantra but your mind is going elsewhere. Over time the unconscious comes through — a bit like painting. Freedom comes from doing the action.
FF: If you have any messages to your younger self, what would they be?
SP: Don’t be self-conscious or worry about what people think of you.
FF: Other than your family, what do you hold dear to your heart?
SP: Political and personal freedom and education. I am thankful to be living in London in a democratic country and have the freedom to be an artist and to be able to make choices as a woman.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Sarah Pickstone!
Food has always been central to Jessica Seaton’s life. The proof is in TOAST, the name she bestowed upon the lifestyle brand that she co-founded with her husband, Jamie Seaton, twenty years ago. From its inception, the brand has always stood out for its thoughtful and functional clothing (him) combined with a distinct and evocative imagery for which their catalogues and look books are infamous (her). The clothes are a firm favourite amongst creatives like Polly Leonard, the founder of Selvedge Magazine and Deborah Thomas, of Doe Leather.
With the launch of her first solo project, recipe book “Gather Cook Feast, Recipes From the Land and Water”, Jessica explores her fascination with the relationship between food and the landscape from where it comes. And acts boldly on her desire to create, “a plate that feels like a place”. The book’s recipes — over one hundred and twenty — and its accompanying photographs transport you to a world where the body and soul are forever noursished. Think TOAST but this time with an edible result. The offer and Jessica are difficult to resist. Read on and see why.
Fabulous Fabsters: Your creativity is inextricably linked to your family and surroundings. Please tell us a little about how that started.
Jessica Seaton: I have built two businesses with my husband, Jamie. The first, a knitwear business, started as a very small seed of an idea, but after a couple of years, through coincidence or application, we found it developed its own momentum. That business opened our eyes to the world. And when the momentum faltered we decided we needed a change and so we started Toast, which has been our life and inspiration since.
FF: What was your inspiration for your first solo project, “Gather Cook Feast”?
JS: It was really about the coming together of two things that I deeply love – food and landscape. When asked what sort of book we might like to publish the idea came from nowhere with such conviction that it couldn’t be ignored. Thus I can now combine my work at Toast, working with photographers and designers with my love of food, cooking and landscape. “Gather Cook Feast” is about food as an expression of landscape – a plate that feels like a place, if you will. I am interested in food and this sense of place, the tingle down the spine, loving life, discovery and the reward of a job well done, science, a new world, arranging words, empty spaces, Japanese aesthetics, the wilderness, gloomy music, the profound, making a new world, cherishing the natural world, being buried on a bed of wild flower hay.
FF: The images in the Toast look books consistently evoke a “sense of place”. Can you discuss how this developed into “a plate that feels like a place”?
JS: It is true that Jamie and I have always wanted to build a sense of place into the books Toast has published over the years. It was never a plan, we just responded to the beauty we saw, especially seen through the eyes of some of the amazing photographers we have worked with.
We have always thought that the making of the clothes and taking of the photographs as two halves of the work – a completion of the work if you will. It becomes more than just making a pair of trousers or a dress. And we always wanted to express something amazing: something to open the eyes and heart. This the aspiration — how much we succeed is up to others to decide.
And so with “Gather Cook Feast” it is the same impulse applied to food. I wanted to create a deep connection between place and the foods you take into your body and are sustained by. There is an intimacy to eating, the play of texture and taste in the mouth and I love it when foods evocatively betray their origins: a flinty wine from a limestone plateau; the sweet-salty taste of lamb grazed on the sea marshes; the intensely autumn-y taste of a meaty cep. It’s all wonderful to me.
FF: The relationship between the landscape and food is a powerful idea that you explore in depth in “Gather Cook Feast”. Please elaborate on how you expressed the inextricable ties between the two in your choice of images and words.
JS: The book is arranged into six chapters that take you through the year; ‘Freshwater’, ‘Saltwater’, ‘Home Ground’, ‘Field & Pasture’, ‘Heath & Wood’, and ‘Upland’. For me each place had a felt atmosphere and I wanted to communicate the individual feeling of each — a time of year, its colours, its flavours. And so, for example, the ‘Saltwater’ section is not only about fish and seaweed, which come from the sea; but also about brining, lemon and pickles, which feel somehow like the slap of a sharp wave when swimming. In another example, the opening chapter, ‘Freshwater’, is full of green — that vibrant spring growth, which is sometimes so green it can hurt your eyes.
Each chapter starts with a list of words that express these feelings I have for each place and are interspersed with ingredients that are from each place. There are also photographs of each landscape, taken by our son, Nick Seaton. He captured these images by touring the country over the course of a year.
FF: Please tell us how this relationship between the landscape and food clearly nourishes your mind, body and soul.
JS: I have been thinking about this a good deal lately and am cautious about being too evangelistic. But I think many people feel the need to have a relationship with the natural world and that living in cities where it’s hard to see the sky and stars can weaken that connection. Your eye cannot roam the distance and that makes it hard to step out with an uninterrupted stride.
FF: How does foraging fit into this for you?
JS: In “Gather Cook Feast”, I intentionally use a selection of foraged ingredients. Mostly because foraging is an enjoyable practice — getting out into the open air and eating foodstuffs packed with nutrition and complex compounds that have been bred out of many domestic cultivars. It’s very rewarding and the foods you can find are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as tasting, well…. more alive and wild.
FF: How might the uninitiated begin to forage?
JS: To begin foraging is to reconstruct a knowledge that has, until quite recently, largely been lost to the vast majority of people. If you don’t know your way around the British flora, it will be best to take a course first and then to equip yourself with some good foraging books — I recommend some courses and references in the book. And finally practise, practise, practise. The easiest plants to start with are some of the more well-known ones: blackberries, nettles, elderberries and elderflowers. They are also some of the most delicious.
FF: Your memories of your childhood home are, thanks to your mother, filled with “the scent of cooking and the energy of possibility”. What memories do you think your children have of you and food?
JS: The memories of my mum’s food are quite simple really. Her food wasn’t elaborate but she cooked very well indeed and was always curious about new tastes and new ideas. There was a wonderful generosity to the way she cooked – whether it was a wonderful impromptu picnic with roast chicken, crusty bread, tomatoes and red wine or a Sunday tea with the lightest of sponge cakes’ oozing cream and fruit. She made the best trifle I have ever tasted and when I was very young and hanging around stables, the other stable hands used to plead with me to ask her if she would also make them the two-layer, over stuffed baguette sandwiches that she made for my packed lunch. She did too! All this was years ago when sandwiches were mostly made with a sandwich spread that came from a jar.
I had to ask my children what they remember. Rachel said she remembers artichokes, and skate with capers and beurre noir. Nick said he remembers the sounds of my cooking when he played in the garden on summer evenings and school packed lunches that were embarrassingly smelly.
FF: What would you like the reader to take away from “Gather Cook Feast”?
JS: I would love them to just enjoy cooking and eating the food, to feel a sense of space and open air and to be tempted to try something new.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
JS: A good while ago I embarked on the Marie Kondo de-cluttering and suddenly realised what my style was! I would recommend going through this process to anyone who is unsure about their style. The remaining items left on my rails and in my drawers were very consistent and clear in their simple shapes, style, proportion and neutral colours.
And buy better if you can.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
JS: Neal’s Yard Yoghurt, nuts of all sorts, good sea-salted butter, best Tuscan olive oil, bang fresh free-range eggs, a good block of very well made artisan cheese, a loaf of sourdough bread, a bowl of tomatoes kept out of the fridge, a large bulb of garlic and anchovies.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
JS: Yoga, pilates, walking and Buddhism.
FF: If you have any messages to your younger self, what would they be?
JS: It’s OK, honestly.
FF: What do you hold most dear to your heart?
JS: My family.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Jessica Seaton!
Do no harm. Rethink. Recycle. Redesign: The tagline of Sian Evan’s Instagram account is an apt introduction for her individual style of “slow jewellery”. Ever thoughtful and enquiring, the award-winning, London-based jewellery designer and former Central Saint Martins lecturer explores ideas and concepts across continents as well as traveling back through history for inspiration. Steeped in narrative, her jewellery collections draw you in with their poetic names such as Sands of Time, Perpetual or Antumbra. “One of my first collections was called ‘In the Garden of Earthly Delights’, an homage to Bosch’s painting,” she says.
Borne into a creative family — her father is a painter, her mother is a retired humanities teacher and her brother is an artist — Sian grew up exploring the beaches and countryside while “fossiling” near the world heritage site of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Her enduring passions for geology and archaeology developed on these walks and have influenced her work in a multitude of ways.
We recently joined Sian in her Clerkenwell studio to learn more about Sian Evans Jewellery, the company she started straight after finishing her jewellery design course at The Cass in 1986. From fashion jewellery to slow jewellery, the company has evolved like the woman behind it.
Fabulous Fabsters: How did you become a jewellery designer?
Sian Evans: When I started my foundation course at the Bournemouth College of Art, housed in Mary Shelley’s lovely house by the sea, I thought I was going to be a painter. But then I decided that I liked making 3 dimensional objects. Having grown up in an area steeped in archaeology, I had been going on digs since I was eleven and was interested in artefacts and past cultures, particularly in how making things changed over time with technological advances.
I was also very interested in fashion, so it was a bit of a toss-up. But because my best friend was obsessed with fashion and went on to do her BA in fashion, I couldn’t do the same — obviously.
Knowing that I wanted to work with metals — blacksmith, silversmith, jeweller — I applied to several courses with wide remits rather than a single focus and I was given a place at my first choice at The Cass.
FF: You started SE Jewellery in 1986, when you had just completed your jewellery degree course at The Cass. What was your impetus for starting a business so quickly?
SE: I graduated when I was 23 and while I really enjoyed my course, I was a misfit and was nearly thrown off several times for not following the assignments. Being both young and really cocky, I thought that many of the assignments were stupid. While the course taught me traditional making skills — brilliantly I might add — I wanted more. I wanted to be a designer — like a fashion designer — and study jewellery in the context of cultural history and how it might fit in with fashion. I filled these gaps in myself but I was really angry at the end of my course because it didn’t give me what I felt it should have.
So I set up my business immediately after finishing my course because I wanted to show my family and my lecturers that I wasn’t a failure. I had a vision that they didn’t understand.
FF: And what was this vision?
SE: My goal was to design and produce jewellery that would be sold along side the work of my two fashion heroes back then — Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett. I wanted my jewellery to be in the same shops that their clothes were in. That idea of having a multi-brand design boutique had only just taken off then. There were a few others, like Dinny Hall and Tom Binns that had graduated a few years before, who were repositioning jewellery into what eventually became “designer jewellery”.
FF: And were you successful in your vision?
SE: Yes, from one perspective, I was really successful. By the mid-90’s, my jewellery was selling in the States, Japan, Europe. In order to produce 4 collections a year for the fashion weeks in London, Paris, and New York as well as for New York’s inter season fashion week, I was employing more and more people — at my busiest I employed 8 people. I had definitely achieved my vision of selling my branded jewellery all over the world in designer shops.
FF: And then you began teaching jewellery design at Central Saint Martins where you taught for fourteen years from 2001 – 2015. Why?
SE: For several years, I had been asked if I was interested in teaching but I kept declining because I was too busy here with the company. Eventually I accepted and I think one of the reasons was that I had become very disillusioned with what I was doing. I have a very enquiring mind but the success meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to design or to make. Instead, my job was to manage the company. I was burned out and didn’t have the freedom to create or the time to enable me to create. Doubting my ability to create, I became depressed. The whole experience kind of crushed me.
FF: And what did teaching do for you?
SE: Teaching opened me up to so many new possibilities. In teaching you also have to keep learning, otherwise you carry on teaching exactly the same thing. Jewellery design is not fossilised, things move and change. Suddenly I had good reasons to go to all the exhibitions and shows and learn about celebrated jewellers’ practices and what they were doing. This was completely different from when I was in my own practise and my primary aim was to produce the best work that I could at the time to sell at Paris fashion week. Being at Central Saint Martins made me realise that I didn’t have to work in that way.
FF: So teaching helped you regain your old self?
SE: Yes, I suppose. But it wasn’t really regaining my old self. It was more like there was a new me. That bubble that I had got stuck in was like an echo chamber where I was feeding myself the same pieces of information. Working in an academic situation — one of the best in the world — you are constantly bumping up against all sorts of brilliant minds. I am a sponge and the constant stream of different stimuli was fantastic for me.
FF: And meanwhile back at Sian Evans Jewellery?
SE: Back at the office, I let the staff move on when they wanted to go and I didn’t replace them. The practise got smaller and smaller until eventually it was only me. This was wonderful because I no longer had to feed the machine and keep producing collections to maintain the turnover required to maintain the wages. I could actually come to my studio and be creative which liberated me from the shackles I had created for myself.
FF: Since you stopped teaching 2 years ago, you have worked solely on your own. What is your focus now?
SE: To do my practise, my way. My work was compromised when I was trying to feed the beast. I don’t care now. I just want to do the things I want to do and there are very specific things I want to do.
FF: Such as?
SE: Instigated by my passions in geology and archaeology, I have great concerns about what we as humans are doing to our planet and it is one of the reasons why I decided at a young age that I would not have children.
And in jewellery production, we encounter a particular set of problems. The primary one being that no one needs jewellery to survive. We need to eat and we also need shelter but we don’t need jewellery. And yet we have these urgent needs to express ourselves by what we wear — it’s part of being human — and this is where jewellery comes into play. Jewellery is a luxury and I’m fascinated by the fact that we don’t need it but yet we do. From a cultural anthropological perspective, the need to adorn is completely related to rites, rituals and placing oneself in society — social status.
I accept that people have a need to adorn, but since coming back to the practise 2 years ago after teaching, I have been working in a different way. I am very interested in where the materials I use come from and I use a lot of recycled materials. It’s not one hundred percent but it is something I am working towards. And from this way of working, I am receiving a good number of commissions from individuals who have old family jewels that are either broken or in a style not to their taste. I take and rework these old pieces into new jewels. So my clients are relying on my design skills and ability to make things, but I haven’t done anymore damage to any ecosystem or at least as little as I can. Yes, I am still using electricity and gas to make things but no one has had to mine anything or has had to suffer because they have been working in terrible conditions in the middle of the amazon jungle, digging gold out of sweltering pits.
Also, I have been found by the fashion industry again. So I’m doing special projects with fashion companies, which is not recycled. It’s great fun and tests my skills in a completely different way. Clothing brands that show at Milan or Paris fashion week come to me to design jewellery for their catwalk shows. It’s a completely different design process — usually very quick at a larger scale. The end game is different. By the back door, I might end up doing some wholesale again but this time I’m working on my own terms.
FF: What do you want people to take with them when they own one of your pieces?
SE: A sense of permanence — a jewellery piece that they will treasure for the rest of their life. In the work I do now, I invest my time and skills in good quality making and in doing the best I can with the materials that I am given to work with. Most of the time now, I’m working with a client who has seen my work and likes it. They are sharing a vision that I have. The things they’d like me to make for them have a relation to the things that I have made before. Each time I get a commission, I can test a little more about how far that story can go. Permanence — which is the opposite of fashion.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
SE: Keep it simple. If I really like something, I will buy more than one so I that look pretty similar. Most of my life, I’ve worn black. I did go through a slight Goth period but I don’t consider myself a goth — it’s fashion black! It’s partly practical as well because I’m in the studio all the time. Jewellery making is a dirty business.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
SE: I like making things so that extends in to the kitchen where I do a lot of cooking. I even bottle pickles and make jams. I mostly cook from scratch and I buy good quality ingredients. I eat meat and am a cheese monster. I don’t eat much sugar, which is helpful.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
SE: I stay sane because my practise allows me to focus and get into a flow. I do suffer from anxiety but when I’m in the studio and I’m making or drawing, the anxiety completely goes. It’s a huge huge pleasure to be able to have your life’s work the thing that keeps you well. I have also kept fit the whole of my life through meditative exercise. I walk to and from the studio — 4 miles — in the summer and I do yoga.
FF: Any messages to your younger self?
SE: Don’t worry so much. It will all be all right.
FF: What do you hold most dear to your heart?
SE: My freedom.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Sian Evans!
It’s difficult to keep up with Cindy Polemis. In any given week, this former BBC journalist may be guiding art lovers at the Tate or giving bespoke art tours around London, sitting on the board of the Geffrye Museum, lecturing in history of art, tutoring children in the East End, cooking, gardening, or even making flower arrangements for her husband’s restaurants, Fernandez & Wells — a London-based café chain. Her admiration and awe for the human spirit and her passion for the home propels her into a multi faceted life where all the dots seem to connect together seamlessly.
Cindy’s first stint at the BBC in the mid-eighties as a cub reporter was to cover the miner’s strike in North Yorkshire. She then came back down to London and worked her way up through the World Service as a producer, editor and presenter — all the time honing her communication and organization skills. A husband and three grown daughters later, Cindy has been using these skills ever since to promote the causes she believes are important for nurturing the soul. With her infectious smile and enthusiasm leading the way, she takes us through one of her weeks.
What gets you out of bed in the mornings?
I’m afraid once a journalist, always a journalist. Despite leaving the BBC over twelve years ago, I can’t get up in the morning without tuning into the Today Programme. And I am still glued to my newspapers, much to the despair of my family who tell me I get far too worked up about things — especially at the moment.
I first worked for the BBC World Service from the mid-eighties to the end of the nineties (Cindy later worked at the BBC from 2003 – 2005). As many horrible things that were happening — Lockerbie — for instance, there were also so many positive things emerging around the world. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989, the Cold War was beginning to crumble and then Nelson Mandela was released in 1990. If you think about what our lives are like right now in Europe alone, in terms of integration and free movement, those days were seminal. It was a great time to be at the BBC because they had such a fantastic reputation for world reporting and getting the news out. I met so many nice people who are still good friends, my husband included.
After the BBC, you enrolled to do a BA in Art History at Birkbeck University and enjoyed it so much you eventually completed your Masters five years later. Tell us more.
Going back to university was one of the best experiences of my life. I had read history at Oxford and reading history of art seemed like a natural progression — it was something I had always wanted to do. I knew I enjoyed art but I wanted to know more about the stories behind the art works. So there I was in mid life, staying up until 2 in the morning, writing essays to meet deadlines. It was all a bit frantic and my kids thought it was very funny.
What did you take away from this experience?
I am a great advocate for mature learning — well, all learning actually. But as we age, there’s a terrible temptation to think we no longer need to learn. When you learn something new, it makes you think in different ways and encourages you to become less rigid and opens up new possibilities, which I find very exciting.
Tell us about some of your new adventures after the BBC.
Interestingly, they all have to do with learning. While I was doing my BA, I signed up to be a volunteer art guide at the Tate. The waiting list is very long so I knew it might take awhile and had actually forgotten about it when they called me up four years later. The Tate were recruiting more guides in view of the opening of Switch House, Tate Modern’s new extension. After 3 months of training, I qualified last May. Off the back of that, I have been teaching an Introduction to Modern Art course to the staff of a London-based interior design company as well as giving bespoke art tours around town.
For the last three years, I have been working with Into University, an educational charity that supports the learning of underprivileged children. Every Thursday afternoon, I mentor and tutor children, ages 11 – 16, at one of their centres in Bow in the East End of London. In a way it’s like a glorified homework club. Depending on their needs, I help them with a variety of things centred around their school work. In reality, though I am helping them build their confidence. I find with girls especially, and I know this because I am the mother of 3 daughters, that they can be self-effacing and constantly worried that their work isn’t good enough. It’s a very interesting and rewarding 2 hours out of my week.
And in May 2015, I became a trustee at The Geffrye —Museum of the Home.
What is it about the “home” that you feel is significant?
I have always been drawn to making sense of what makes a home. The Geffrye was originally set up as a museum about homes for the middling classes, but its remit is much wider now. When you ask the question, “what makes a home today?,” people will give you many different answers depending on their circumstances. There is a basic need to make a home wherever you are. The plight of the Syrian refugees in Turkey, who are living in tents that serve as their temporary homes, schools, restaurants, medical clinics illustrates this point. Everything they have is in these tents. I deeply admire the way that The Geffrye catalogue the artefacts and stories of the home, giving you a sense of the development of what makes a home.
It’s an exciting time to be part of The Geffrye. They have a new director and a capital program underway to build an extension, adding more space to show its permanent collection. It’s definitely a place to watch in the next few years.
And how does the Geffrye tie in to your personal love of the “home”?
I have always been drawn to the intersection of art and utility. My Master’s dissertation was about the mid 18th century French painter, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin and his sill lifes about food. These are beautifully understated private paintings about domestic objects. I love what his portrayal of cultural artefacts around a home tells us about this period of French history.
Another area where art and utility intersect for me is in craft that is generated for the home. Before I was consumed by my studies, I used to hold small craft exhibitions in my home and got to know some wonderfully creative artists. I like nice simple things that have been well thought out. We use them everyday, and I think these things add to your human spirit in a way.
How do you get creative?
For me it’s all about cooking and gardening. I do them both to decompress. My garden is an extension of my kitchen and nothing makes me happier than looking out at it every morning at breakfast, even at this time of year when I start planning for spring. This year, I really only want to grow potatoes — perhaps some lettuce and rhubarb because it’s so beautiful to look at. I’m actually not even a big potato eater but there is something about digging up your own potatoes and eating them straight from the ground. They are truly a wonder of the world.
As for cooking, well, I guess it’s in my Greek blood. My mother taught me to cook for which I will always be grateful. I have recently learned how to make sour dough bread and it’s become a bit of an obsession now. I just find it totally amazing how you can make a loaf of bread thanks to the natural chemical reaction of flour and water. It’s pure magic, but then I again, I think that a lot about cooking.
Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
I have come to avoid recognisable labels and instead seek out things that are a bit eclectic. I don’t really know what my style is but I do love a classic white shirt and often find myself opting for the work wear look. I’m on my feet a lot and always moving so I stay away from high heels and favour comfortable shoes like brogues or Chelsea boots. And also, nothing is more important than a good hair cut! I have been getting my hair cut for more than twenty five years by Richard Stepney at Fourth Floor in Clerkenwell.
What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
Good olive oil — I get mine from friends at the Oil Merchant — garlic and tinned tomatoes. And the best complete meal out of a tin is Confit de Canard — it is the ultimate fast food. And flour for my sour dough bread, of course. I now have bags of Gilchester’s Organic Wheat Flour.
How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
I love cycling and bike around London except in the rain and around big roundabouts — too scared. I try to go to the gym regularly because I think it’s important to do strength training. I also do yoga and circuit classes. But the thing that keeps me sane is weekend wild swimming in the Highgate Ponds with my husband — I go to the Ladies’ and he goes to the Men’s. We do it all year round even in the winter — yesterday it was 2 degrees Celsius — bloody cold but so much better than any therapy. At first, you think there is no way you can get in all the way and then you do. “Wow, I can do this,” you think. It’s a sort of psychological and physical leap of faith and you are on a high for the rest of the day.
If you have any messages to you your younger self, what would they be?
Caution is way overrated. There are many things I could have done when I was younger and didn’t. I do regret that. And learn how to do something with your hands whether it’s cooking, sewing, knitting, kneading bread — something creative.
What do you hold most dear to your heart?
Sitting around a large table with my husband and three daughters and closest of friends, eating, drinking, laughing.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Cindy Polemis!