stepping out

“argue for your limitations – sure enough, they’re yours” from Richard Bach’s Illusions, the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

It’s nearly a year since I posted, and life has been full of interest [as in, ‘may you live in interesting times’] including most recently mumps for the second time and falling 4 weeks ago, resulting in a head injury I feel lucky to have survived.

Yesterday I had one of those therapy sessions where you empty a bowl of spaghetti out and both of you pause and go Hmmm… I have been slogging away on how to come out of the space I have felt backed into, whereby all my art impulses are dissolving before they hit the ground running, as they used to. Art was my go-to process, was the ‘reason I floss my teeth” as I put it back in 2000, the ‘answer’ to life’s questions after 50 years of traumatic incidents…

Today I have woken up and seen a community art event I feel attracted to attend and while thinking over a design I could submit to a related open, a new thought arose. I have been joking [sorry, gallows humour!] that if nearly fracturing my skull is what it takes to shake my ideas up, then I need an intervention 😛

How do I get out of this corner I have painted myself into?

I take a step forward. The paint is dry, it’s safe to move now. I’m allowed to be in a different place now.

This looks like the simplistic neuro-linguistic programming/ New Age woo woo I feel like hurling a brick at as a person disabled by complex PTSD and fibromyalgia. So if you’re in that place, I apologise. I don’t quite know how to express what the difference might be, except that I was really stuck and now something has shifted.

 

hanging on in

hanging on in

***spoonies feel free to skip this, it links but it’s not essential 😛

I want Parliament to have a revolution now it’s been pro-rogued by those Brexit venture pirates… I want to turn things around, to fight back against the big bullies trashing the planet and turning economics into those disgusting rat overpopulation experiments where they end up eating each other… I want individuals to take back some power and start facing down the shadowy puppeteers – I want us to run with scissors and snip snip snap at them till THEY run away…

In the Opinium surveys about Brexit, there are frequently questions about how you feel about your political opponents, and I find this very difficult to answer. Yes, I feel infuriated by the sheer stubborn refusal of suicidal Brexiteers among the working class who have no idea what kind of economic collapse it has caused before it even takes effect. These people have been lied to for years and – on some level – they chose to believe the tabloid lies rather than some common sense that all these great projects in their communities are funded by EU money, that the people who come and pick cabbages in the snow when they wouldn’t should perhaps be entitled to equal standing, that the nurses and bus drivers of the Windrush generation were entitled to want happy, healthy, fulfilling work for their children and it is amazing given the racism of the UK that so many BAME people have jobs other people envy and guess what they f*cking worked for them, so stop being envious, get your finger out and fight for better schools for your children and better news services for all of us and DON’T F*CKING FALL FOR DIVIDE AND RULE!!! And breathe… on one level, I am so angry I feel contemptuous of anyone who falls for the tabloid lies, on another I feel deeply sad that Thatcher tore up an education system that was creating opportunities for so many more and all the damage caused when you privilege unlimited growth economics to make what was an uneven playing field into a war zone…and breathe!… and then I am aware of my own privilege that despite a traumatic childhood I was still given the tools to be aware of injustice and fight for equality of opportunity [just not mine…] but how that has kept me safe from those capitalist myths… so how do I feel about people who weren’t? oof, tricky, it depends how much they embraced the racism etc… because most of them are also victims, it just is an ugly truth that when society is divided, some will follow the bullies… 

***and breathe***

 

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I want the House of Commons MPs to admit Brexit is unworkable and no MP can both endorse it and claim to want a positive economic future for the vast majority of the British public. That’s a big ask for people trained by an abusive system to lie, who have painted themselves into a corner by following party interests instead of national interests…

And something about their moment of opportunity has maybe shifted the background enough for me to admit there is also a place where I, memyselfI have let go and allowed myself to be painted into the corner. Maybe it’s just that the paint has dried? Maybe I can just step out? “Just” being one of those words that are written in flame for the disabled community… “just” nip to your surgery and ask… “just” fill in this 50 page form to claim the benefits your National Insurance should entitle you to if you have a medical history… “just” rise from your sickbed/ wheelchair/ depression and f*cking fly…

Or maybe the fall has rattled my frontal lobe enough to shake some thinking loose? I do feel odd since the fall, in a way that reminds me of previous incidents where I could have died, but didn’t, so what do you do now?

I remember running across a zebra crossing and a lorry coming out of nowhere and my skirt touching the radiator as I ran, but somehow I made it to the pavement. This was back when I was 19 and a student into disarmament and development politics… and I stood and held on to the belisha beacon [crossing light for non-UK readers!] getting my breath back and everyone on the street had stopped because we all thought I wouldn’t make it… and I thought what do I do now? What’s the best possible thing I could do with this life I unexpectedly still have? And as I got my breath back, I thought about the non-violent direct action protest I had been on my way to, and thought, yes! Amazing that what I had been doing was what I wanted to do! So I went and built a shanty shack outside the student union and talked to passers by and put my tiny contribution into the enormous pot of positivity that people around the world were filling, to try and help the world be a fairer place…

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What do I do with this moment now? Take the step that looks and feels right for me, right now.

So I have taken a step: I have booked myself onto the Creative Conversation event at Nottingham New Art Exchange next week. I will take another step by posting this. I will take another step by getting out my brown and blue ‘ingredients’ and some aromatic bark and some beachcombings and see what my hands want to do.

And breathe…

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clutterclearing queen visits!

I have had the loveliest weekend! My dear friend Emilia is on sabbatical from her eco job in Edinburgh, and after wrestling the neverending problems of air pollution fancied a bash at the supposedly finite [ahem] problem of organising my studio for me. I am very lucky in my friends, previously Jennifer has given me birthday presents of time sorting the studio as I downsize and share regularly, but equally attract large gifts of materials and tools when people want to find homes for things too good to throw away. Being known as someone who can direct craft and art materials in many directions is good, but as I get more ill, I think next year’s resolution might be to accept less, and signpost more! Jennifer is much missed in my life at the moment as she is nursing her terminally ill mother and her calm wisdom and loving support of my art and self development have helped me enormously over the nearly 20 years of our friendship. When Emilia spontaneously suggested giving me a weekend of clutterclearing the studio, I leapt at the chance! Like Jennifer and myself, Emilia is deeply committed to thrifty use of resources and environmental responsibility, and I knew I could trust her to respect why I had hung on to things others might have sent to landfill, and to help me let go of things that no longer appeal or are possible with the increasing limits of disabling fibromyalgia.

So, the basic problem in the studio is that it is a very small bedroom – think room for a double bed you can squeeze round, but with very good built in wardrobe and shelves on the left hand wall. The window faces the air shaft up to Woodborough Rd [a very busy main road in Nottingham] and the wall has broken away a little so there is a terribly depressing view of bricks and breeze blocks, and almost no natural light. The light in the front room is fantastic by the huge window, which is why I have the big front room as a bed sit and use this back room as a walk in storage area for clothes and most of my craft materials. {that could be an economical use of the truth, my materials are in every space in the flat 😀 } Anyway… the walk in had become a squeeze in, and due to dizziness and fear of falling I rarely tried to get to the back any more and would ask Cherise or Penny [personal support carers and friends] to fetch things for me. So, basically a big ‘island’ had built up in the middle, with chairs I only use for gatherings, boxes of eBay goods, project boxes, and then what I call randomness… boxes gathered from the sofa in a scurryfunge {(v.) middle English; to rush around cleaning frantically, when company is on their way to your home. To clean briskly.}  which start off easy to remember, but get very blurred after a few weeks, especially as this summer’s medical sagas have drained my spoons. Then some paintings a friend had been storing came back and though I tried to put them in a sensible place, somehow {that’s the bit I really need to work on!!}  now they were in the way… sigh. And being vulnerable/fragile and in the way is a terrible combination! So, brace yourselves, now come photos that don’t really convey the horror, because it was so cluttered I was standing in the doorway to take the pics and there’s almost no light in there… {be glad people!!}

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and some more:

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and, er, some more…

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Emilia suggested I make a list of things she could blast through while I was sorting through randomness, and although she has recently had a knee operation, she is still very agile and nimble, so I asked if she would have a go at the kitchen window frames, which were beginning to show signs of blackspot mould, something I can’t afford to be around, as it is so bad for your health. Again, this window faces the airshaft, but the landlady has put in a pretty stained glass window sticky plastic facing, which is much more pleasing than the broken wall shaft view 😉 One of the reasons I was accepted for the flat was that I was happy to agree to never change the colour scheme of orange and green in the kitchen, which the younger applicants all hated. However, I know why she chose it, it warms up what would be a cold dark room otherwise. So, this is what Emilia tackled – she had to climb up on the counters and sink unit to get at the upper bit of wall framing the window and my lovely homehelp Penny is a real treasure but not someone comfortable on ladders or chairs, never mind vaulting a counter, so this hadn’t been deep cleaned for a while.

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and more:

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Emilia achieved wonders with this, there was a patch nearly as bad as behind the taps in a very inaccessible corner and she white vinegared it to death, and wiped down tops of kitchen units and shelves on either side and helped sort out bottles saved for an apple juice making friend and randomness such as bubble mixture leftover from when I had toddler friends visiting [easy, taken for her youngster] and leftover paint jars, beakers, yoghurt pots etc etc all washed and put in recycling or back in the painting cupboard.

So, you’ve seen the before, here’s the after!

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There should a trumpet salute for this really 😀

It’s difficult to convey how much has changed really, but what has happened is that the wardrobe space on the left has been joined by the wicker drawer unit, with the de-humidifier inbetween keeping the room dry/ mould free. Every drawer was brought to me as I sat in state {coffee regularly refilled on my right, mints on my left, cat at my feet} and I purged lots of items – I filled a large binbag with ‘rags’ for a charity shop to get 50p for from the mattress makers [they shred all fabrics] and a large carrier for the Queensize clothes swap, mostly very good condition, but some ‘medium’ because it’s useful to get clothes you can do the decorating in, as well as the obvious interview and event options. Then the drawers were filled with the clothes that had been starting to collect at the front of the island. Win Win!!

This was a good way to get into the ‘shedding’ mood, on the whole I have very little attachment to clothes, though I did keep a couple of shirts I’m intending to create Joe Brown style mixed fabric block dresses with. Seeing two large bags ready to leave really felt good and built some positive momentum for the next items, which were some very random boxes. Emilia had to do a lot of scurrying backwards and forwards as I had a big box for Playworks [a scrapstore for children’s and outreach projects] and the Community Orchard [where Jen – not to be confused with Jennifer-  works with children and vulnerable adults doing gardening and playwork, and has a keen knitter I’ve never met but often send yarns to…

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previously there was a young lad I sent yarns for, because his family wouldn’t support him doing something so ‘girlish’ as knitting, I really hope it helped him that the project supported him, I can’t stand that sort of ill-informed prejudice, most yarnwork – knitting, crochet, sprang, weaving all came from nets for fishing, shelter building and garment making. They were skills used by all genders, for all genders! Grrrr!]

I was constantly finding items that belonged in project boxes, eBay potentials, and MISSING things – like my much loved embroidery scissors, which have been gone at least 3 years :O I’d already gone through my fabric boxes to eBay materials bought for community quilts I now don’t have the spoons to make…

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that was a recent breakthrough in therapy, to just let go gracefully and save my spoons for art [I can hear Jennifer cheer 😀 ] and that means I can also let go of my midarm quilter. I’d arranged for that to go to a refugee charity in Greece, but they couldn’t get it from Nottingham to Dover, which was very frustrating – I suppose I could have paid for it to be shipped, but I don’t trust carriers with £650 machines and also felt unwilling to add £25 to what I was already giving, when I have to fundraise to afford Oxygen therapy… Emilia did a great job cleaning the cover of the machine which had been sitting waiting in a corner for over 6 months before I gave up on the charity. I’ll now try and sell it, and if I can get some Oxygen sessions out of it, that’s a good exchange.

The boxes of randomness were gradually sorted, with lunch breaks, flapjack breaks and then an overnight break as Emilia partied with some Nottingham friends and I rested and Facebook chatted 😉 Lovely Lailah is in Edinburgh on an MSc in Forensic Anthropology {close enough for skiffle?} and I had chatted lots with her during my experiments with acrylic paint, like Onni, she loves acrylic, and as she has a birthday coming up, I arranged that Emilia will pass on the tube paint set I recently bought and hardly used before my eyes gummed up. [see last post] It is very handy to have friends who aren’t offended at being offered my leavings!! We had also discussed my downsize, so when I offered her rovings for feltmaking, she could tell me colours that would work for her, and I went through my two large crates of felting equipment and materials and sorted out some yarns and rovings that I could sell on ebay, which with the small carrier I collected of bold and vivid rainbows for Lailah meant I could squash everything into one crate, though the ‘head’ for hats isn’t counted in that {not cheating really 😉 } I also was inspired by Emilias’s window blitz to downsize my herbal tea collection a bit and shared out some quarter boxes between Emilia and Lailah as I know they enjoy organic teas. I still have a dozen, so visitors have plenty to choose from 😉

By now we had a respectable count of cardboard boxes empty and folded for recycling, and when Emilia returned, slightly less caffeinated and a touch on the hangover side we had a slower speed, but still rattled through another half dozen boxes. It was so amazing to see the gaps appear, first in the ‘island’ and then as we got access to the shelves on the side of the wardrobe, boxes began to be rehoused and wasted space began to fill:

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and:

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Labelling is essential for me, and while I still have ‘backlist’ projects I am keeping materials for, I know that keeping like with like in labelled boxes means that I can easily find and pull out what I need and that equally some of these projects require more spoons than I have right now so can go under small, light canvases without suffering any harm, and when/if I’m ready, they can be pulled out by a helper.

Another big win was getting the ‘carrots’ trolley out of the wardrobe and emptying it, lots of things went straight into the Playworks box 😉  Emilia really liked the trolley, so it is now rolling back to Edinburgh with her, along with a backpack I can no longer sling over my shoulder, and 3 {so happy about this!} crochet projects I was given by Tish from clearing out her mother’s house in the hope I would be able to pass them on 🙂 I’d washed the pale cyclamen pink cardigan jacket to felt it slightly, and added some embroidery to the brown waistcoat, but the unfinished violet dress was beyond me, and I’m really glad Emilia found a friend who is happy to get a vintage 70s project!  She also has taken some beautiful woven fabric that will be great to re-upholster the new-to-her dining chairs her partner sourced, and insisted on giving me some money for it, even though she has worked so hard! I’m enjoying how things I once loved are back in use, I always enjoyed how funky the carrots looked even though Andy laughed at them 😀

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so, final numbers:

1 binbag rags, 1 large carrier of crafts and bits to charity shop

1 large carrier to Queensize swap

1 large box to Community Orchard

1 large box to Playworks,

9 cardboard boxes flattened and put in recycling,

1 large binbag paper shreddings

small bag to Lailah, small bag to Jen, trolleyful to Emilia,

1 broken shredder to the tip to be checked into electricals

1 carrier of landfill.

And a large, large breathing space! where clutter blocked the way, now you can cheerlead for art: Thanks so much Emilia xxx

And the space is more than I imagined, so I’ll be able to invite more friends to my birthday gathering, yay! Win win, winnity win 😉

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looking back, moving forward

It’s been a very long summer of medical appointments and fighting to keep my balance, but at last the tests the different GPs ordered have come to an end, the meds have been tweaked to a point where, while I don’t get any pain relief from the Duloxetene, it is at least holding back enough anxiety and depression that I can unclench my fingers from the safety rails, as it were. The new therapist works very differently to Sharon, but in a useful way, and I feel I have some space to take risks again.

Mast 2009

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I have been working with Nick, the therapist, on what I call the ‘collateral damage’ of Andy’s death, that I lost him, but also painting, my allotment and garden and then my health. Breaking my collarbone and some ribs when I tried to save him had some very expensive consequences, painting had been the mainstay of my life for 10 years, had pulled me out of the depths of PTSD and agoraphobia, had made me brave. Losing that calling was very hard, I felt I wasn’t painting at the previous level, and my collarbone dislocating every time I painted was awful, as the physical pain took me straight back to the first days of being bereaved. Todd, the chiropractor also warned me that the more the collarbone came out, the more it would, and that really I should stop. As he has bought two of my 4′ x 3′ paintings, I knew he wasn’t saying this lightly.  It’s very difficult describing the feeling of being robbed of a skill, particularly when it wasn’t just a skill, it was my hope for the future before I met Andy, and very intertwangled with my connection to Andy [we met because I went into the Heathcote Arts Gallery on the last day of his exhibition to measure up for my exhibition, talked for a couple of hours and then I gave him my number.] I used to joke that I flossed my teeth because I was a painter, that’s how central it had been, and I had to struggle to have enough energy for painting when Andy was alive and for coping with the stress levels of living in Hucknall, coping with my step son’s drug addiction issues, coping with Andy’s bi-polar, while I also had my own PTSD to manage. My paintings went from quite serene near monochromes, exploring beauty and the hand made line or grid, to spirals [Humility and the Beautiful Daughters, 2003, No Such Thing as Empty Space 2003 – in Rog Pattinson’s collection] and eventually to multicolours after Andy died [Death of a Poet 2009, Flagships for the Landlocked 2009 – collection Jill Parkinson – and Flying Colours 2009, one of the very last I painted before my final exhibition of paintings in 2009.]

Flying Colours:

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I was very surprised no one bought Flying Colours, it’s very enjoyable and accessible compared to Cherish the Beloved [a 4′ x 3′ red oblong with one payne’s grey line vertically bisecting it by a third, with a very fine translucent grid overlay in cadmium orange, think ‘Fire Walk With Me’!] but there you go…

Anyway, while I immersed myself in the Advanced City and Guilds Machine Embroidery course, which gave me a great structure while I coped with bereavement, losing the allotment and painting, and then developing fibromyalgia, I didn’t miss painting too much, but as I built up my fibre and textile skills to a point where now I feel I am working at the same conceptual level as I was in the process paintings, I still just really miss messing around with paint… About 18 months ago I started trying to paint by other means, art quilting ideas, collage stitching [which I had managed quite easily on the course, but seemed much harder now] brusho on collage and prepared surfaces, and then finally acrylic paints in spray bottles on lace and net curtain. I discovered while making art journals that painting patterned net curtains is good fun!

 

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Somehow I couldn’t get much further… one reason is, that having made quite intense, internally sourced abstracts, I find it very hard to incorporate found images in collage – anything too ‘finished’ or too obviously someone else’s work feels like stealing, plagiarism, and wrong [ you need to imagine Nigel Planer reading Death’s voice from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld! WROOOOOONNNGGG! ] and that really puts the kibosh on free flowing creativity.

However, I have been edging my way back into collage again, I made a quote collage piece for Onni, about historians earlier this year, Letraset galore over found papers with more collaged on.

I have read some very helpful books lately, Vron gave me Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training* for birthday and xmas, and I lucked into The Art of Mistakes ** by Melanie Rothschild, who makes art from paint poured on flat surfaces and then peeled off when dry… she shows lots of other techniques, but not that one, but I’m going to have a go when I’ve found the shower curtain I got Cherise to buy for me! Anyway, my creative juices have been thawing from the frozen tundra of  meds-changeover depression, and together with therapy prompts and explorations and an internal clock ticking towards the tenth anniversary of Andy’s death, some sort of momentum has been building… yesterday I was in town for a chiropractic appointment and decided to nip into WHSmith’s and buy some more tube acrylics and some really BIG bulldog clips to help with squeezing 😀 Today I woke early and made soup, put some music on and set up a painting corner on my sewing table. Handily I finished the quilting on Uditi’s quilt last weekend, so there was already some cleared space, and the prepared boards I used today are only A4ish. I decided to start the quest for a new method with palette knives, as I had occasionally used those before, when I wanted a very wide mark.

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I laid down some cream emulsion with a brush on the first two samples, and scraped excess off those onto the third with the palette knife. Then I used squeezy tubes, spray bottles and drip bottles to apply colour, and the palette knife and a fine crochet hook to make the marks and lift excess paint, oh and some dried out baby wipes to clean tools and fingers and blot areas. I use quite a lot of the babywipes with aloe in as they help enormously when my eyes get that horrible sticky gummed up allergic reaction I had for a couple of months in the spring. And can feel again now, I do hope it’s not an allergy to acrylic paint fumes, that would be the tin lid!

Anyway, I played around a fair bit, building texture with neat paint and filling areas with the diluted acrylics, and then making lots of meandering loops:

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detail

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detail

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I think you can see from the detail shots that there are some pleasing effects emerging, a marbling as the two strengths of paint meet – apparently there is a rule that you shouldn’t mix acrylics, probably because of this reaction. Like all rules, it depends on what effect you wanted! More will be added, when the paint has dried, apparently up to a week for very thick acrylic is sufficient, after waiting up to 6 weeks for oil, that seems  very handy. I miss the smell of linseed oil, it used to remind me of walking past a chip shop, whereas the smell of acrylics mixing is far more plasticky… I had the door open while I was painting, and I will open it again when I finish this and take my coffee into the garden, as I know you need good ventilation for acrylics, and the last thing I want is a toxic reaction!

I feel very VERY happy to have found the energy to start experimenting. This method may not work out – I felt my internal rotator cuffs grumbling at one point, so if I ache badly afterwards, or my eyes go gummy, this won’t be the way. But I feel like there will be other things to try now, it won’t be too upsetting if any one method fails. Fingers crossed, eh?!

 

 

surfacing

CW: medication switch struggles, depression, loss of self

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Well, I have been very low and it has taken me a really long time to pull round ‘enough’ to want to post again. Most of the trouble has been connected to coming off Citalopram after 10 years, and switching onto Duloxetine. They are both anti-depressants with strong anti-anxiety effects, and Duloxetine is also supposed to help with pain management, though so far it has not had that effect for me, but the two friends with chronic pain I know taking it who feel a benefit are on far higher doses. I’ve also had an allergy to the treatment for the allergy to the treatment for my eye trouble… sigh. Itchy eyes and blurred eyesight are not conducive to creativity and it’s been over 6 months now. Another problem has been missing my continuity people, my oldest friend has been away for 6 months and I really miss her wisdom and listening. My therapist of the last 10 years died last spring, and I didn’t get closure as she was suddenly rushed to hospital. I’d like to think I can weather stuff like this, but apparently not, or maybe not when it all falls together with a GP demanding I follow treatments that are traumatic for me, while trialling 4 therapists in 15 months to replace lovely Sharon.

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I now have a new therapist, a MAN!! [I’ve only ever seen women for 27 years] who is so far impressing me though the usual drawback is occurring – Sharon and I had worked out that a 90 minute session worked really well in allowing me time to trace through triggers and issues in my complex PTSDs and time to re-surface and face the world again, as an agoraphobic going home after delving deep. I’ve now been told by various people [who I found tbh pretty inadequate at their jobs as counsellors, therapists and supervisors] that this was inappropriate, but you know what, it worked. I have atypical agoraphobia in that I can go places and do things others find difficult, but can sometimes find no feeling of safety anywhere, including my home. I challenge myself to stay part of the world, to make art, to be at some level an activist, to not be silenced by my experiences and their perpetrators. 50 minutes to name, explore, trace, untangle and figure out strategies is impossible, without then also the making safe… at least I only have to get a taxi home now and as I am very good friends with 1 of the drivers, and liked by all the others in the small company I use, I can feel safe enough to get home and crash, if necessary. Before I had to take 2 buses home, and change in the busy city centre.  So maybe it only needs to be a 2 minute turnaround? It irritates me that what I know works best for my long term balance and self care is unavailable on my limited budget, because of the Government cuts to disability benefits. Cuts? Yes, they are frozen, and the cost of living isn’t. A bus ticket costs £1.20/ 33% more than it did 10 years ago, a loaf of sliced bread 25p- 60p more, depending what kind you get.

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I went to a really good conference last Friday and Saturday and have come out with lots of thoughts and questions, having met some lovely people – potentially 3 new friends! – and while it was an extravagance of spoons/energy, I really needed a bit of a shake-up, as the GP had weighed me down with appointments and bad diagnoses, so I was feeling like my life had no fun, and I was becoming very dull to be around. Though my kind friends have never hinted at this, I’ve been aware of having to ask for extra listening, and of course it becomes that spoonie anxiety nightmare – will I know when enough is too much? Will I wake up one day with only paid helpers coming round? Luckily most of my friends are intersectional in their politics, and often have experience of these issues themselves, but with no therapy holding the space, it has been very hard, and I have cried with friends and others who really didn’t expect it, as their question was a straw that broke my back. Two friends in particular stepped up to the plate, and I am very grateful to them. I have always ‘kept my face up’ as part of my self-defence, so this became upsetting in its own little spiral.

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The single hardest day was when I woke up and thought about my artmaking, and just felt the thought settle that there was no point to it. At this point I normally joke, but actually it was very frightening. I have always managed a lot of my anxiety by doing and when I am doing enough, I can then feel safe to be. I grew up with no acceptance of my right to be myself – I was instructed from an early age to be my mother’s comfort and to do whatever it took to cheer her up. One of my earliest memories is of her bursting into tears when my father came home from work, and of feeling I had failed. That’s not a feeling a 4 year old should have. I was also told I wasn’t allowed to make art or study art at various points, and it has taken years and a really supportive tutor on the Access course I attended to break the block, ‘be selfish’ and attend to my own needs by making. My oldest friend is my absolute go-to champion for my making, and after 18 years of her friendship, I thought I was pretty solid on this. I have had solo shows and made some wonderful pieces, had people tell me how much a piece meant to them, but still… I hit that place of feeling the world has no need of my art. And it has been very hard to hold, because if my art is not needed, then I am not needed. I could feel that here was a ‘wonderful opportunity’ to heal some of that bad scripting, and replace it with solid assertion of my right as a human being to just be.

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Without a therapist, missing my best ally/friend, feeling the general depression of all Remainers about Brexit, feeling the fear and anger of all disabled people about how the Department of Woe and Persecution is killing thousands with the Government’s blessing and the Opposition’s silence and the media’s collusion… yeah, that’s a bit of a tall order.

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Instead, I am holding onto making what I can – patchwork, painting components, recently tie-dye and dressmaking. And now I have a commission for some textile art and a request for some collage art I had already planned to make as a gift for that person, and they are slowly creeping forward. I have plans for a new quilt in grey and sunshine yellow! I have bought a swimdress and am planning to go to a disabled swimming session, I have found a new doctor… I am resurfacing, feeling the sunshine on my skin, looking out in my tiny garden or on the terrace of the British Library, reading lots and thinking about things and being present. Being. Being me. Breathing, being, breathing. Phew.

hanging on in

Plastic Challenge Audit

Like so many other aspects of ethical living, everything has to be weighed up for whether it’s sustainable in the long term – making yourself super anxious about every last shred of clingfilm is not kind and KINDNESS must be at the heart of all our efforts to improve life on our planet, reducing our impact on all the other inhabitants and creating more flow and joined-up thinking in our daily living. And because it is OUR daily living, that means intersectional awareness – the busy working parents can’t afford as much time as the pensioner, who might struggle washing out every milk bottle, the chronically mentally ill might not be able to think about any of these issues as they struggle to stay balanced as yet more deathly policies are handed down by the Tories. People with loved ones in hospital, prison, detention centre, dying on sanctions… plastic will only matter again when those crises are over. We all need to give and share space to others and ourselves on what we can or will take on. The financial implications of switching some products are a good example – I have bought bamboo toothbrushes from China because they are very affordable [50p each] and using a local quick-grow, carbon offsetting product, which is shipped here, not flown. Many people who use eBay can manage that – they can’t afford £6 deodorant. I used my birthday money, because that worked for me. So this post is very much sharing what worked for me, and encouraging anyone in the right space to consider what might work for them.

 

Briefly, I learned lots about my plastic consumption, some exciting new alternatives to plastic packaged products and also some new-to-me recycling possibilities. Well worth doing!

In all, I was left with about 950g of plastic in this 5 week month – I forgot to weigh all the milk bottles, so there’s a bit of guessing in there, but that’s pretty close. Next month should be quite a lot less!

How it broke down:

can’t be re used or recycled 229g :  wrapped sweets 30g, cling film 44g, brittle plastic 48g, veg wrap 48g, blister packs for medications 38g, toothpaste tube 21g,

30g of this I have found plastic-free substitutes for – some of the veg  and sweetie packaging I hope to reduce by more mindful choices and seasonal cooking.However, there’s a hardcore 60g in medication wrapping and toothpaste tube that isn’t going to shift – most toothpastes make me sneeze or my gums itch [allergies] and I have stockpiled at least 6 tubes to futureproof myself should this brand ‘improve’ its recipe too…

can be re-used but then goes to landfill: bubble wrap 18g,

re-using, then recycling 150g eg large margarine tubs 150g

recycling via Sainsbury’s plastic carrier collection point 97g stretchy plastic eg bread bags 50g and cereal liners 47g

recycling via Council bin 460g [grand total 707g]

123g of these were easily substituted – see bathroom buys!

I decided to see what I could change easily and was delighted to find that some things are far more affordable than they were a few years ago. Everybody has to make their own decision on what mix of ethical priorities works for them, so some of these won’t work for others.

Bamboo toothbrushes: these used to cost about £3.50 and aren’t always easy to find  outside healthfood shops. I won’t buy from Holland and Barrett because I remember when I found out they were owned by Dewhurst the butchers! I think they’ve changed hands again since, but I still avoid them. So, I looked online and was completely won over when I found RAINBOW bristle bamboo brushes for 50p each! They are from China, which will be unacceptable for some people, but I understand some farm shops carry a UK version and some Waitroses. I also can’t put pig bristles in my mouth, so am hoping a hemp plastic will eventually replace the nylon bristles on the bamboo bristles I chose.

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Now I use old toothbrushes to clean grout etc but eventually you have to throw them away and that’s 18g of longlife plastic 😦 The bamboo brush comes with nylon bristles, but only about 2 grams, which you can cut off after use and turn the handle into a plant label! Yay! I also bought a bamboo hairbrush which is very gentle on my scalp.

Another easy bathroom win is the switch to shampoo and soap bars – more people are making these and it’s worth checking out Conscious Crafties

https://www.consciouscrafties.com/?s=shampoo+bar&post_type=product

or on ebay I found some lovely products by Funky Soap http://www.funkysoapshop.com/ whose approach matches mine perfectly, ‘green’ palm oil, no parabens, no sulphates [kill the daphne that fish eat] which a lot of the cheaper bars include, to make foam.

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I’ve tried the malva and citrus shampoo and citrus soap so far and my hair has loads of shine and volume, and my scalp and skin feel better – I get very dry skin/psoriasis as part of the fibromyalgia. I like the mild scent, I feel clean and fresh and not too invasive of other’s space, but there are a huge variety of flavours available, including Castile l think, which is plain.

Deodorant was also simple to replace [thanks to eagle-eyed Cherise who spotted a voucher code] –  Kutis Skincare make different flavours, the Citrus is lovely and works well on me, and I bought a Rosemary and Lemon for myself too, and Rose and Grapefruit as a gift. That would have been £18, gulp, but the voucher helped. I can’t tell you how long it will last yet, but after a week I don’t seem very far down 😉 £6 is dear for me, but they are handmade by a small business in Wales and I really like the way they’re presented. https://www.facebook.com/kutisskincare/photos/a.188407244823952.1073741829.153250998339577/587856678212338/?type=3&sales_promo_bypass_snowlift=1&sales_promo_id=10154976299955614&sales_promo_referrer

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I’m not sure if the cardboard container would be too aromatic to put in a compost bin, but you could certainly soak it with other card to make paper pulp and papier mache. It will definitely bio degrade anyway.

Onto the kitchen!

This was harder, partly because I can’t do my own shopping most of the time. I order online from Morrisons [who are VERY good about taking back plastic bags and you get a credit, so more people will do it] and occasionally from Wilko so that my homehelp can go straight to Customer Services to collect [they have a bad habit of wrapping everything in huge clingfilm] and sometimes manage a few things at Lidl [near my counselling appointment] or the corner shop.

Vegetables are wrapped in irritating amounts of plastic – Iceland [Frozen Stores and Supermarket, not the country 😉 ] has just announced it will go plastic-free on its own veg but aren’t very local for me or either of my homehelps.  I get the Morrisons Wonky Veg Box, which is fantastic value at £3, none of the veg are wrapped and the box folds up easily, and then I use it to send cans and rice etc to the foodbank at Himmah. Frozen veg however comes in stretchy plastic bags [like bread bags] and these, oh frabjous day! I have discovered can be recycled at Sainsbury’s. Obviously, wash the bread and veg bags out and turn them inside out to dry, so no nasties get in. These can be handed in with carriers at the collection point in EVERY Sainsbury’s 🙂 Happy rollie dance!

That won’t work for salad, but it’s a good start. You can grow salad leaves fairly easily on a windowsill or sprout seeds, and maybe make a trip to a proper greengrocer who uses paper bags [or provide paper bags, or recycle the plastic bags you’re given.] This is where the tailoring begins again, what will work for you, may not for another.

Sugar – Silver Spoon British beet sugar comes in paper bags which can go in compost or recyling, and coming from the UK involves less fuelmiles. Fairtrade brown sugar sometimes comes in that thin plastic film, which might be cellophane [which IS biodegradable] and comes from plant cellulose. Could be worth a petition campaign to Billingtons etc to make clear if their plastic is cellophane or if they could swap back to boxes. [I remember when brown sugar came in boxes!] I’ve also tweaked some recipes so that I use molasses [comes in a jar] or golden syrup/ black treacle [comes in a tin.]

Some things can be solved by buying in bulk, so that the plastic container you’re left with becomes very useful – eg vegan margarine comes in 2kg tubs, which is a useful size if I am giving cookies to the free cafe [it also reassures vegans that I really did use the dearer marg 😉 ] or freezing large amounts of things. The 1kg tubs are also more useful than the 500g for families freezing soups and sauces, and this goes for yoghurt too.

Bread – as I said earlier, Sainsbury’s take CLEAN bread bags and other stretchy plastic in the plastic carrier bag recycling point.

Boiled sweets – I really like butter mintoes, however they come individually wrapped in cellophane/film, in a plastic bag. Luckily when I went to Lidl last time they had tinned travel sweets, which aren’t wrapped , in Eis [acid drop] and ACE [vitamin a,c,e] flavours. There is a plastic seal, but the tins can be re-purposed for candles etc or recycled.

Chocolate – the more expensive fairtrade brands come in card and foil, the worst offenders are the foil coated plastic individually wrapped multipacks eg Cadbury’s. As Cadbury’s [Kraft] forced their fairtrade farmers last year to accept a drop in wages while insisting on keeping the f/t logo [grrr] this is a good time to consider buying full on f/t chocolate all the time if you can afford it, or buying biscuits. Biscuit wrappers can be recycled via Ellie’s Fund https://www.facebook.com/emptybabywipeseastyorkshire/ among many other unusual things – see their info!

 

CONCLUSIONS:

by following the challenge I have made a shift of 15% by simply researching alternatives  – 153g  may not sound like much, but 123g is completely away from plastic, so not even sending items to recycling. Then there are reductions in what will go to recycling by repurposing eg using 2kg tubs of margarine for plant pots/watering tubs for homegrown tomatoes etc, for gifting food to the free cafes [otherwise I have to use clingfilm] and though they will perhaps put them straight in recycling, I hope someone thrifty will think, ooh, handy freezer tub 😉 

One very positive effect of taking part in the challenge has been to create a ripple effect – at least 4 more people have joined in because of conversations/Fbk info posts I’ve shared,  and because I have given people soap, shampoo bars and toothbrushes there has been a lot of happy chatter rather than earnest lecturing. This was a less happy aspect that came up, I am very aware of how lacking in intersectional awareness many eco-conscious people are, some very middle class attitudes towards approaching the workers in scoop stores came up in one group – these are people who either work on zero hour contracts or below the living wage, and that includes the owners of the business, standing for very long hours. Check your privilege before you ‘demand’ an alternative to a plastic bag that Market or Supermarket regulations may mean they are supposed to use. Instead, take some clean/new paper bags along with you and ask if goods can be weighed into those. They can be composted afterwards, but asking someone to refill your margarine tub or cloth bag which may be covered in cat fur as far as the staff know, is just unreasonable. Bakeries will often do this because they can reach around to drop a loaf in, but anything where your container touches a scale or could shed anything on open food is asking for someone worried about hygiene to report them. Small, local businesses rely on local goodwill and operate on tiny margins. Don’t feel people are being unreasonable when they find your request too difficult. There are plenty of small, local and even ONLINE businesses that are set up to provide plastic-free packaging, support them instead. In Nottingham UK, we have the Food Assembly and Sneinton Vegan Market, where you can take your own container, and PlasticFree Pantry is an online business who can deliver to Food Assembly if that’s easier than waiting in. Ask around, and go with the flow, pushing market traders is counter-productive and just plain rude.

 

So, overall, I feel it’s been very successful, though because there are things I can’t work around, I have decided to do a plastic ‘offset’, the way travellers make a carbon offset. I am researching an ocean cleaning charity to make a donation to, and  I have bought 20 of the bamboo toothbrushes, and gifted some to friends and some to the Himmah foodbank. I’m also considering being a collection point for biros and other pens/felt tips etc for Ellie’s Fund, but I need to think if I have spoons and space – you have to save 1600 to send off at once! They recycle items like biscuit and plastic wipe packets by collecting bulk amounts and then sending using a special postage label to a company who then credits their fund for research into brain tumours. The lovely mum of a very dear friend is currently affected by this, and my own granpa died of a brain tumour, so I feel very inclined to support them if l can make it work in my bijou flat 😉

This kind of joined up thinking, recycling making money for a research charity, or San Francisco’s street collections of refuse now producing enormous amounts of compost for local farms/ eco projects are exactly what we need to turn our society’s addiction to throwing things away into mindful re-purposing.

 

 

 

 

 

tutorial: machine cords

apologies for some blurriness, my eyes are very dry because of the fibromyalgia or the meds, and the gel that helps the pain gives my eyes a mucky windscreen effect, so making sure the camera is focused is no fun at all! Thanks to Cherise for taking the clearer shots!

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Machine cords are very easy to make and have dozens of uses. They’re a useful way to use up half bobbins of thread and scraps of yarn and to add a different texture to your collages or fibre sculptures. If you want to cut back on wrapping paper etc tying a bow with cord round books or a bottle adds a festive touch, that can be re-used by the recipient too.

1.Choose your colours/textures to suit your end use, or just for fun, a piece may arise from a random choice 🙂

2. Set your sewing machine to widest zigzag the foot will allow, and longest stitch your machine does.

3. Hold the 4 or 5 yarns together loosely enough that there is some give, but firmly enough that you won’t drop them. Holding them too tightly is dangerous, because if you get a snarl up, you may strain the needle or worse, the machine timing.

4. Hold the yarn ends with your left hand well behind the foot – do not tug! again, you might break a needle or the timing! – and your right hand between the machine and your lap, to keep the yarns smooth and tangle-free.

5. Put the foot and needle down and start the zigzag slowly. If you are used to piping this is ridiculously easy, but if you are a beginner, just take your own time until you are confident. I now have a sense of which spangle threads or eyelash yarns cause trouble and rattle along at top speed, but that’s taken a few years!

6. I normally make at least 3 metres of any cord, but it obviously depends on what you are using up, or your end goal. Cut the yarn before it goes through, and reverse it under the foot.

7. How stiff do you want the cord? If you want to crochet with it, or bend it at all [think bows] then reduce the stitch width by 1-2mm and the length by 2/3 maximum. If you want it super stiff, then you can either stitch at 1.5mm or several times in different colours until you have the effect you want. If you want it looser, or you’re in a hurry, then reduce by 1/3rd of the maximum stitch length.

8. Hopefully you now have a beautiful length of cord and are thinking, wow that was easy! It takes a lot more explaining than it should – as long as you hold the yarn in position and it doesn’t tangle, it is very very easy, so please don’t be put off that I’ve made 7 stages!

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I was taught this technique on an Advanced Machine Embroidery City and Guilds and used the cords as part of my final piece, and in lots of art and craft work since. I particularly enjoy making heavily embellished fabrics, with ribbons, cords and laces stitched down with variegated threads. I’ve used it on book covers, bag handles, jewellery and gallery work. In Threads of Empire, my piece Tangled Freedoms used machine cords and sari ribbons stitched with variegated silks to represent rivers, the huge distances people travelled as part of the East India Company, the struggle for communication and the tugs on loyalty… people didn’t necessarily understand all that, but they commented on the shimmering cords and the connections they made 🙂

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[detail 60cm x 1m of piece 60 x 360cm Tangled Freedoms 3 made for Threads of Empire exhibition, Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre, 2017]

Plastic Challenge 2018

I’m setting myself a challenge for 2018 of reducing single use plastics. I’d been thinking about this for a while and then someone on Zerowaste Nottingham suggested a zero single use January. I already know I’ll fail the zero goal – my meds come in plastic sheets with foil seals and I take 6 to 10 tablets a day… but I’m interested in what wangles my creative mind will come up with that will reduce my usage 😉

I think how I give/pass things on to others will be a major area – from using black binbags for landfill rubbish [mainly cat litter! which as I trained Nonie to accept wood pellets will at least compost and not make huge quarries, ugh] to plastic bags for slices of cake to friends.

I was very pleased with myself for re-using polystyrene pizza bases as platters for the muffins I made for a local free meal cafe [open to anyone street homeless or who attends a foodbank] but then had to swathe the pile in enormous amounts of clingfilm as the platters were slightly the wrong shape and the film couldn’t tuck in. Sigh…

The wins: the polystyrene and the old show cards re-used for ingredient listings; a friend gifted me lots of stuff she won’t use following a diabetes diagnosis so some went in; most of the fruit in the muffins were actually those fancy pressed fruit bars they sell in gyms that I bought vastly reduced from Approved Foods, unwrapped and cut up with scissors [spoonie tip!] and the cocoa and cherries also came from AF, our friend in fighting bbf stupidity. I’ve worked in catering and know what to watch out for with things like flour going off/getting infested, but surely most people know anything with a huge sugar content is going to last for years?

So, lots of wins/ saves from unnecessary waste there 🙂

The painful losses, hmm some of these come from a form of vanity [professional appearances!] but also from the way things are sold nowadays. Mainly clingfilm! Oh my, I wrapped and re-wrapped when the gap became clear. Then how to transport them? They were being picked up by another foodbank supporter and in the end, cursing the rash dispatch of AF boxes to the recycling, I remembered the battered Bags for Life the friend sent stuff in – I hope someone bethought themselves that they can be renewed at the supermarket for the foodbank use, but didn’t want to seem too preachy/ teach my elders to suck eggs so didn’t say. It was very hard to hand over food looking so shabby, but as my favourite saying goes you can save your face or your ass [read planet] and shabby did the job. Then there were the tubs the margarine, cherries, dried fruit etc came in. Hmm. More later! For the moment, a loss.

The next batch I had thought through a bit more and saved the wrapping from some decorative balls I bought for my next art installation

http://www.wilko.com/decelerate-living-room-collection/wilko-neutral-decorative-balls/invt/0427133

 

an aside – do you KNOW how LONG it took me to find out those balls with the slices on are called sola balls? 18 hours of scrolling through floristry and interior design sites.. finding anything when you don’t know the name for it is incredibly difficult, I started with the image pages and apparently most other people don’t know either 😀

So I had the beautiful packaging complete with pretty dangle tag and after airing them for a few days, put the next batch of muffins in the presentation bags. The trays of winter spiced flapjack and gingerbread went in the huge ziplock bags the lotus pods had been delivered in, again after airing [lotus pods aren’t poisonous!] and the info tags were made from scraps of paper and upcycled show cards again. The foil trays I sent the tray bakes in can be washed and re-used if the free cafe people are careful how they slice the cakes [really sharp knives cut through the foil if pushed too hard] as can the ziplock bags I sent the xmas cakes in.

So, much less waste – but even making the cakes makes waste because of the way I’ve been buying ingredients. To be fair, I only decided to offer cakes again when a few friends had said they would help this year, otherwise it is too many spoons. Having company, someone to spoon the mixture into the muffin tins another friend lent, maybe to wash up, it all helps. Also someone able-bodied to nip to the shops in the Xmas throng for emergency cherries 😀 But now I am in the swing and prepared to commit to at least once a month donations, then it would make sense to buy margarine in 2kg tubs, as they can be washed out to be delivery packaging. I already use the little fruit tubs for painting, as I make up a big batch of a colour to keep continuity across different materials, and they tend to need a hard scrub after use as I use craft/acrylic paints which are non-toxic but clod together as they dry. They can be cleaned and put in local recycling though.

The clingfilm/cellophane on the much reduced price fruit ingredients etc and the plastic bags that sugar comes in aren’t recyclable, so I either decide they are an exception clause A [because they make my donations financially possible] and/or pay a plastic toll to a group who do ocean clearing I think… One solution with the sugar is also helpful for spoonies and vegan recipes – using the ‘boiling’ method of cake making, making the mixture in a pan, using golden syrup or black treacle or natural blackstrap molasses or even CAJ concentrated apple juice instead of crystalline brown sugar, as you can buy these in tins or glass containers. White sugar is even easier, as Silver Spoon comes in paper and is from British sugarbeet, so hasn’t travelled thousands of miles to get here either 🙂

Meanwhile, friends will be getting their slices in re-used margarine tubs for a while!

The items that sparked my personal use twang of conscience were shower gel and shampoo. After a fair bit of research it turns out you can get shampoo/shower bars that do NOT contain laureth sulphate/lauryl sulphate, not because of the effect on human skin, but because the toxology tests on animals are utterly disgusting [warning: included only for accountability, reading it is extremely upsetting  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10915818309142005  ]

and because of the effect on waterways – fish can cope with SLEs to a certain extent, but what they eat can’t, see effect on Daphnia:

https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://duckduckgo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1054&context=honors-theses

so that means suppliers like Lush are out. I’ve found a lovely supplier on eBay who managed to send a box out in time for Xmas, though I’d intended it for New Year 🙂 she guarantees no SLEs and various other things are reset to vegan-friendly. I’ll give you a fuller report when I’ve started using them 🙂

So much food for thought – as usual, a mantra I will be chanting is ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough’. I know I will fail a zero single use plastic challenge, but trying will be very interesting 😉