This series of work started around 2011, when I developed an interest, nigh on obsession with “Funambulism” or tightrope walking. As this years progressed, this developed beyond the tightrope, to include a variety of aerial arts and the interior of the circus environment in general. However, the story starts with the Tight Rope Walker…
The Tight Rope Walker
I thought I was a risk taker until recently. I have also sought to do things differently, but taking a massive “leap of faith” seems to not work for me: I get scared, run out of energy and money and find myself back peddling. I recently read a article by Chris Guillbeau, writer and entrepreneur, about risk taking. He questioned some of the traditional narriatives about risk and career: “leap and the net will appear” but sometimes no net appears. I had just given up a very well paid job, in order to leap, but leaping never felt right- I was walking a tightrope in my new business. My journal entry on that day included:
“Not so much as a leap, but a step over the edge into faith with a path that is narrow and focused. Balance, poise, concentration and composure are needed. A tightrope walker keeps her eyes firmly fixed on the end goal; don’t get distracted by other things, job offers, courses, praise, doors of possibilities. If you loose your sights, if your eyes gaze at all the beautiful other things, you will wobble and fall”
In Funambulism (tight rope walking) there are risks but there is a recipe for success (bear with me on this one). If I am walking the tightrope, trying to get from A to B, what do I need to be, do or have in order to give me the best chance of success?
-the tightrope walker has a clear outcome…she can see if before she steps off the platform, she keeps her eyes on it all the time, not being distracted by noises, people etc -she has practised rope walking both physically and through mental rehearsal
-there is a net, assembled beforehand, but she has no intention to use it
-training…practice…developing skills…being willing to wobble and fall to learn!
-she may have a pole to help her balance, but importantly, she sinks into her body core to be balanced, grounded in her body
-she takes small, considered steps, maintaining forward momentum as stopping too long causes her to wobble
-her eyes remained focused on the end point, the result
So what does this mean for me now, in my business and my life in general. How does it help?
Outcome. What to focus my eyes on. The end of the tightrope. For me, I have to constantly remind myself of what I want, where I want to be, the outcome I desire. I have an appalling memory…really bad and use vision boards and other right brain and left brain techniques to give me reminders…..I also use my own coaching to remind me! This isn’t about being rigid and overly attached to the outcome, but it’s an overall sense inside of what I know I want to be doing and my life to be like.
Rehearsal. We practice all the time, by our daily actions, habits and routines. I have also been using mental rehearsal as we might call it in therapy or “Mind Sculpture”. Mind Sculpture draws on the evidence we now have from the Neuro-Sciences (that we have known for many years) that you can change and strengthen neural pathways through thought and actual practice.
Understanding distraction. Projects, courses, people, or nice ideas. If I decide to let myself be distracted whilst walking the tightrope, I can do so by bending my knees, taking one foot off the rope and dipping one toe into the “distraction”. This has to be done carefully and only for a short time or I’ll fall off the rope, but I can’t move forward toward my goals whilst doing so. So there is choice: enjoy the distraction or detour, but know that I am choosing to do so, OR I can keep moving forward. I have choice.
Trusting. Knowing that a net is there, without spending too much time and energy on creating it, at the expense of moving forward. I could spend most of my time making the net safer, smaller holes, tighter, ensuring the net works should I need it, but does that just makes my fear of failure even greater?
Being centred. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Sinking so that my centre of gravity is lowered and helps me maintain balance. Making sure I really know where my feet are! Being mindful. Noticing when my balance starts to go. Noticing what is sending me off balance.
Small steps. Having being almost completely converted into the way of small steps, ala Dr Bob Maurer and Jill Badonsky I now know that small steps often results in disproportionately large movement, and can take place without stress or fears getting in the way.
Juggling whilst trying to balancing is not a good idea!
“Every August, I fall off the tightrope. I seem to lose so much belief in my business, my ideas and myself. Juggling doesn’t help.”
“I am “in progress: falling off loads. I am juggling website development, product development, marketing and PR, home, kids…not to mention at least 15 paintings in progress. I am so very very slow. And this causes me to lose momentum which also means I risk falling…well not just risk it, but completely spend weeks off the rope and in the net, like a trapped fly in a sticky spiders web”
….small steps Jen…just one tiny step is all that’s needed…it will yield greater results than you think…remember that a “crappy first draft” is really helpful…
The distractions are multiple at this point. In the paintings, the distractions are seen as the audience and the doors below the net (doors of opportunity which are far too tempting to not open!)
My biggest distraction is always myself, my creativity, my ability to see a million possibilities and generate a million ideas”
Yep you are probably thinking, “this woman takes years over her paintings!” you would kinda be right, but lots has happened in between time, honest! The metaphor I have been using took a seismic shift a couple of weeks back and I extended the metaphor to include other circus related things like “plate spinning” and “juggling”. The tightrope walker now seems to have transformed into an aerial artist!
In the previous 2 years, I have fallen off the rope so often – it really wasn’t working well for me, so I took a fresh look at whether a tightrope walker was the right metaphor for me. No, perhaps not at this time. Not at this time of life, where I need to juggle being a mum, a job and so many other things. I don’t have the luxury of being “single-minded” as I know other artists are able to. So I have chosen to master a different aerial skills, one that seems to require less balance – trapeze, hoops and silks. The same principles apply, but perhaps with these I will stay balanced in the same place whilst being able to move, juggle and master other things? You can also do much more exciting, diverse moves if you are not so focused on this thin rope in front of you. Perhaps the tightrope was too linear for me? Like a linear plan – they rarely work for me.
Several things helped this seismic shift occur:
1) I got some mentoring for my painting specifically, which has been amazing and helped my work so much and he actually gets what I am trying to do: combine my painting and coaching Yey!
2) I started to visit the circus and draw from real life experience
3)I attended a circus skills as therapy course…yep, completely out of my comfort zone but that’s ok.
The project is really starting to develop. I made some radical changes and really let go of what was originally a quite representational image. I loosened up, chopped the top of the board – one one of the reasons I love working on board.
This particular painting is finished and exhibited in May 2014, but around the same time I decided to take my exploration of the aerial arts to a new level….
“Realising my age and my limitations”
It’s April 2014 and “en route” to my 42nd birthday I find my self dangling from a trapeze at Circomedia in Bristol. I am surrounded by 20 something, slender, beautiful girls: clearly, I am old enough to be their mother…
and it shows… my weary, exercise free, lumpy body needs huge amounts of energy to haul itself up onto the trapeze. I make it…just and manage to stand…just. Feeling quite gratified that this old bird could get up their with the youngsters (oh god I sound desperate…) I realise that next week is the hoop and then silks…hmm
It’s still April 2014, in fact it’s only 2 days after my heroic journey onto the trapeze. I have shared my “amazeballs” achievement on Facebook announcing it like a warrior returning from war. But now, the effect on my body is making itself very known. I actually cannot move my arms…at all. The pain is immense and I have to resort to some chemical help (painkillers and gin). Its now the morning of the next class. I am due to climb a rope and dangle upside down. I realise that my 12 stone, 42 year old is just not made for this. I don’t go and my career as an aerial artist ends as soon as it begins.
I complete some work at this time including:
Making way for the next generation
This is really a young woman’s game. I enroll my 13 year old daughter instead – vicarious achievement is alive and kicking. She really enjoys it and suffers no aches and pains the day after!
The interior at “Circomedia” is fabulous. It is an old town church, with amazing stained glass windows and beautiful masonry. I take lots of photos of Jillie, my daughter and start to create some new ideas and directions for this project.