This month it will be six years since my first book Modern Rustic was published. I was planning to write a post about the book – how it was made, share a few photos of that time – but as I was thinking back on that period, I had a bit of an aha moment. I realised that I was looking back fondly on a time that was actually quite difficult. This got me thinking about memory and perception and the past and the present. Deep, I know 😉 And here you were thinking this was a blog about interiors!
I’ve written before about how I was able to publish a book in the first place, as a relative unknown, so if you’ve been following me for a while you’ll have some idea. If not, read this post. It was a difficult time. One of reinvention and instability, disappointments, failures, and fear. God that sounds awful! It wasn’t all bad I promise but it was challenging (euphemism for REALLY F**CKING HARD). So why is it that now when I think back on that time, I don’t feel those same emotions, the way we often do with painful memories? Why instead do I feel nostalgia for that time? Is it because things worked out ok? Would I feel the same had it all been a complete failure? Memory is such a funny thing.
When I was making Modern Rustic I had no idea what would become of it. I didn’t know if people would buy it, and if they bought it, would they like it? I didn’t know if it would lead to anything, would it help me jumpstart my career having moved back to London from America? I didn’t know. I certainly didn’t know it would lead to three more books and lots of doors opening because now I was a (hushed, serious voice) ‘published author’. All I could do was keep moving forward, working at a job I disliked and making the book on the side, all the while trusting that it would work out. So cheesy and cliché, but being an artist or entrepreneur, faith is often all you have. You have your big idea and the belief that it will lead somewhere positive.
I’m intrigued by this since so much of my career has been about driving something forward and trying to have faith that it will work out. ‘Trying’ to have faith isn’t really a thing though is it – you either have faith or you don’t (I’m speaking here of faith in a non-religious way, meaning absolute trust). In reality what this means is long periods where you feel like you’re living in limbo, faking it til you make it, and you have no clue if you’re going in the right direction. You have to be almost pathologically optimistic to survive as a freelancer/artist/entrepreneur, because things will not be easy and no-one will be able to tell you if you’re doing it ‘right’. But when the reward for your struggle is a book that people buy and enjoy or a painting sold and hung on a stranger’s wall or a fledgling business that takes off, the painful memories of struggle can magically fade and be replaced with endearing stories and funny anecdotes.
This is not dissimilar to having a baby. The discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of labour lead many women to swear during child birth that they will never, EVER do this again. I certainly did. But when a mother sees and bonds with her beautiful baby – all babies are beautiful in their mother’s eyes – many forget the pain and do it all over again. When I had Ella – my first – it was horribly painful as I had back labour (which I wouldn’t wish on anyone) and I refused to take any drugs because I had big ideas about that sort of thing back then. I was sick the entire labour and thought I would die from the pain. But when I think back to that couple of days in the hospital those memories are surrounded by a warm glow and a feeling of utter joy. How strange.
It’s the same for when we lived in Texas when Ella was a baby and then toddler. Living on an army base in a town I disliked, with literally nothing to do for entertainment but go to the giant Walmart on the weekend, I was surrounded by people with whom I felt I had nothing in common (incidentally I was wrong and I made a few lovely friends). I really didn’t like living there, yet some of the memories I have from that time are also cloaked in that cosy warm light. I seem to only hold onto the good times. Rose-tinted glasses and all that. The times we walked in the fields behind our house, in the golden glow of the setting sun, with our wild cat Betty following us and meowing loudly if we strayed too far from home. Or playing with Ella on the front stoop, waiting for her dad to come home from work. Times that weren’t exciting and were sometimes quite dull now feel special. Around the same time I was trying to start my own kids clothing business while we lived in the middle of nowhere Texas and I would drive miles with baby Ella, hunting for fabric and sewing patterns and often feeling frustrated with my situation. It was tough and there were many hiccups, but my selective memory has created a romantic story about that time – the struggles now seem like a beautiful tale that in some way led to where I am now.
When we were making Modern Rustic, photographer Catherine Gratwicke and I had a few challenging moments on our shoots. Like when the hire car got stuck on a hair pin turn in the snow in the middle of nowhere as it was getting dark and we had to dig ourselves out. What was then a scary moment that might have resulted in us freezing to death in the icy Norwegian hills is now a funny story because we got out ok. Another time, the camera tripod slipped and the camera fell off and broke. We were on our own in Norway, literally hundreds of miles from anywhere we could get a replacement and we had to photograph this house. Luckily Cath had another small camera, although not one with the correct lens for the job. Somehow brilliant Cath made it work and the photos are some of our favourites. For both of us this was a sickening moment. We’d flown and then driven many miles at great expense, to reach a cabin in the woods and it looked like we may not get the shots we came for and a very expensive camera was busted. Again, what was an awful moment is now a good story because it worked out ok. I remember us laughing when we finally got the car moving. I remember the relief when Cath said she could make it work with this other camera. If things hadn’t worked out perhaps I would now have that awful sinking feeling in the stomach that accompanies truly bad memories. I fear poor Cath may still have that feeling when she remembers this trip! Thank goodness for camera insurance.
Is that it then? Is it when things work out alright that we are able to erase the bad memories and focus only on the good bits? Or am I just a hopeless optimist? I wonder what the lesson is. Perhaps it’s that old chestnut about enjoying the journey regardless of if you reach the desired destination. While this view seems trite, perhaps there is still value in it. We rarely (never?) know what the end result will be to our endeavours. It might not work out, so we somehow have to find value in the moments along the way. This is the same thing I say about our homes: Work with what you’ve got. Aspire and work towards the home of your dreams, but enjoy what you have in the meantime. Because what if that is all we have? One day you may look back fondly on your one room flat above a garage (speaking from experience), or the time you bought your first home and had no furniture for months because you ran out of money.
As I write this, I’m in that limbo state I spoke of earlier. A time of transition. Again ffs! My career is shifting. Partly by choice, partly not. As any freelancer will tell you, it’s important to react and take action when your circumstances change. You have to continue to steer your career even when it feels like it’s out of your control, and if it feels like you’ve hit a dead end, you have to turn it around and try a different road, knowing you’ll find the right route! It is likely the exact same feeling I had seven years ago when I was making Modern Rustic. Fear, hope, anxiety, excitement, uncertainty, possibility. It’s all there bubbling away, vying for my attention. Every day I have to quash the anxiety and the fear and focus on the hope and possibility. I’ve learned that I have to enjoy and even be grateful for this time, even if it is uncertain, because I will definitely look back on it with that same warm glow I’ve spoken of here. Some good memories about this time will stick and it will likely be the most mundane moments: the time I spend at home with my son upstairs and my cat next to me, tapping away at my computer as autumn sets in; the evenings I spend watching 80s and 90s films with my film student son; the freedom I have stay up into the wee hours reading. It’s these small things that will later seem like big things.
Happy birthday Modern Rustic. And thanks for the memories x
Modern Rustic is published by Ryland Peters & Small, as are all my books.