Autumn Fires

I sat with the fire this evening until it died, I felt like I owed the blaze that much at least, especially as I had called it to perform. Each fire is special, just as people are; they have a character of their own and eachs burn very differently.

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Lunch with R.D.(Bob) McKenzie

I first met Bob and his wife Fay way back in 1981 in South Africa when I was apprenticed to an electrical engineer. At the time the McKenzie’s owned the farm Gray Rocks near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. Bob was at the time heavily involved in cattle breeding programs, dairy and various other farming operations. My company had been employed to ensure that the farms electrical installations complied with the regulations required for connection to the national grid. Now, nearly 28 years on, standing in Bob’s studio in “The Barn” it seemed like that history was a world away, in another dimension.

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Out of Africa – will the colours be the same and the memories as vivid?

My studio is quiet, almost as if it is waiting, knowing that I going away.

A good friend of mine used to have a dog that was very good at reading the signs. It seemed to know when preparations were being made and the family was getting ready for a vacation. It would sit silent, head down, and perform the saddest portrayal of rejection, worthy of an Oscar for a tragic character from a Shakespearian production.

That’s how my studio feels tonight as I gather and select the materials for my trip to South Africa. I find it amazing how this space, Thornwood Studio, has taken on a character, a personality, an almost human nature. Of course I tell myself that it is simply a room, a pre-fabricated room full of paint, canvas, bottles, brushes, books and music…..damn it, it’s my studio and an extension of me…that’s why it feels almost human; it’s a part of me and it knows it’s not going to Africa with me.

I have selected, for this trip, 12 fine pieces of watercolour paper, my, as yet unused Windsor Newton watercolour Travel set and a very limited selection of brushes, pens and watercolour pencils. I have limited space so am travelling light.

It is four years since I was last in South Africa, a land seldom far from my thoughts and longing. I have lived in England for fifteen years and love this beautiful land and the opportunity it has afforded my family and me; yet always there is this distant voice, almost like the sound of a drum beat in the night which draws my attention south and to the constellation of The Southern Cross. To deep, dark, velvety African nights enjoyed under the Milky Way and in the company of the hot crackling Thornwood fires from where my studio derives its name.  

My visit is mostly for family reasons; firstly I must deliver the ashes of my late cousin to those who will inter them in the family burial grounds at the foot of nTaba Temba a mountain in the Eastern Cape. Then I must acquaint my twelve-year-old daughter, who was born in the UK, and has little knowledge of her roots in Africa, with her family history. She will learn of her grand parents and ancestors and how they established themselves and prospered in the area known as Queenstown, a settler town named after Queen Victoria. She will tread the paths I once ran on as a little boy and she will inhale the sights, sounds and smells that will, in time to come, become the drum beat which will draw her back on her own pilgrimages and towards her own longings.

When we have visited all the sights, left our footprints on ancestral land and enjoyed the reunion of family and friends, I shall steal-away and rekindle deep memories of my own. If the spirit is willing, the flesh strong and the eye true, then the twelve watercolour papers will return to England, having captured something of the colours of my memories, the scenes and the emotions of what was once my life in Africa.

Wish me well everyone and pray for creativity, vision and interpretation. That my African trip would truly be a safari of the spirit and that I would return to Thornwood Studio with tales to tell to my canvases, colours to relate to my palate and instructions to give to my brushes.   

My cup overflows………

So its Friday!!!!  and in the world of Twitters and Tweets it’s that time of the week when you grab the finest coffee beans which the grocery cupboard has to offer, brew the brew, find a quiet place in the garden or studio and, as the caffeine works its magic, begin to reflect on the past week and who you would like to #FF,  recognise, honour, mention or avoid.

My reflections and thoughts this morning revolve predominantly around the amazing world which has been created by the internet and it’s associated links and streams. I have already said something about this previously so won’t go there again but thought that today I would share a little of my experiences “on the net”.

People that are cleverer than I have suggested that there is a finite number of social connections which an individual can have before managing the associated social interaction becomes impossible to track. This magic number is called the Dunbar Number, please allow me to quote from Wikipedia (I told you there was someone cleverer than I):-

 “Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.[1] Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number

If this is true and my social interaction is to be made more difficult exponentially as my follows, friends or fan numbers grow, what will this mean and how will it impact my day and the available time I have to designate for social media interaction. You see for me the problem is this, I love people and especially those people who are engaged in life, living their adventures and pursuing their passions i.e. bloggers, Twitterers, Tweeters, artists, writers…..you get the picture. Ten years ago such contacts were limited to perhaps a small local group or one or two national groups and with any luck, an international group. Correspondence was either done through news letters and the odd email which allowed sufficient time between meetings, reunions or exhibitions to digest the news and get the picture of what was going on in your social/organization or interest group.

Not so today! In the last week I have been exposed to so much amazing material,so many thoughts, ideas and people, all of outstanding abilities and skills that my spirit is overwhelmed. Perhaps its time for the second cup of that coffee which I call snake-bite. Maybe a caffeine induced trance will offer some solution to my condition. The point I am making is this, the speed at which these opportunities to engage arrive and the frequency at which they present themselves is outstripping my ability to honour all that I would like to.

Lets take #FF on Twitter for example. This is a great way to recognise people who make the Twitter experience so colourful and worthwhile. This week I have tried to check each profile on my followers list to “get to know” the faces behind the Tweets. In the process I have visited websites, blog sites, journals and galleries all of which have been so very interesting. I have read short blogs, long blogs, looooooooooonger blogs, comments and viewed some work and art of the highest quality and finish. Here’s the rub, I have  so much to say to each one I visit that all my available social networking time is blown in a flash…..and I still have not even visited Facebook where I have 250 friends, some of  whom I am corresponding with now for the first time in 30 years. Oh, did I mention that I also write and manage a few commercial blogs and tweets; you can see my problem, so many wonderful opportunities and people……not enough time. Alvin Toffler the American futurist, in his book future Shock, held the hypothesis that in the future technology would outstrip humanity’s ability to keep up with the speed and volume of information which was to be created; Alvin, buddy, I know what you mean. 

I am now on my third cup of caffeinated venom and all is becoming clear. If Dunbar and Toffler are right then their ideas trash the modern concept of having 2000 people who you can possibly follow with any grain of integrity. Even Jesus decided on 12 as the most effective number to disciple and just in case you have forgotten, He is God.

Here’s what I propose as the solution to my current state of self-imposed overload. I am going to be led by my heart, which after my scan in May I am assured is working just fine. I am going to allow chance, providence, artistic energy, spirit and faith to each play their part in directing me to the relationships and experiences which present themselves. I will resist the temptation to feel guilty about who I have not touched base with for a while, who I have not heard from in a weeks or who I have forgotten to #FF or email. In short I am going to let my cyber-life evolve and just see where it takes me; this seems like the most creative way to go about this adventure.  So when we run into each other again, share a tweet, blog, direct message, fan page, group affiliation, email or call,  it will be sweet, it will be fresh and it will be unforced……it will be serendipitous.

Oi! waiter….bring me another cup and make it a double Americano please, I think I am beginning to see the light. 

True Colours

There is no doubt that social media is changing the way we engage with each other. In the last month I have given much more time to Facebook and Twitter than I normally do. The results have been very encouraging and I have met, in a cyber way, with a number of amazing and talented people. They include artists, writers, creative manufacturers and social media specialists, all of which have embraced social media as a means of sharing their passions and engaging with the  like-minded .

All these new contacts and followers are enhancing my own experience and passion for creativity and engaging with creative people. I find it very interesting each time I receive a new friend, follow, group or contact request, in discerning at what level the request is made. Some people engage immediately with open informative bio’s and profiles. In fact, after a quick read there is generally enough information to get a very good idea who you are linking with. Others however leave you wondering about who they really are, what they really do and what type of conversation they will respond to or even want to have?

I have a simple rule to help me navigate the social media world of friendship and communication. Come to think of it, it is no different to the rule I apply to face-to-face everyday contact with people.  I work on the assumption that everyone I meet is a potential friend and I then send out some sort of “social sonar”, like a submarine navigating a path through unknown waters; I bounce a greeting, a comment or a sign off of them and see what I get back.

At first the internet appeared to be a place where people with ulterior motives could hide out, like highwaymen waiting for passing traffic, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. In reality though, we have all become very good in our ability to cognitively access people, websites and blog-sites. It turns out that the internet and social media is a very transparent place, if you know what to look for that is. The phrase, “if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, walks like a duck and smells like a duck……it is a duck” fits well.

What has all this got to do with True Colours, the title of this post? I guess I am simply trying to make the point that our websites, blog-sites, Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook bio’s should be a true reflection of who we are or who we are trying to become. It’s the up-front stuff, the showcase info about “us” which needs to be clear from the start and which makes the rest of the social media experience worthwhile and, dare I say it, great fun.

I take my wifes point when she says that some people are shy, reserved or suspicious. However, it seems that if we are going to commit ourselves to the amazing opportunities which are to be found in genuine social media relationships then we need also to be open to the various degrees of vulnerability which those friendships and contact will create.

A friend recently complained to me that no one was following him or commenting on his posts. I had to agree because I was one of those who didn’t post on his site and the reason, as I showed him, wasn’t hard to find. His site was neat but almost sterile and void of any of his personality, and the information he did volunteer was so sparse that the FBI would have had trouble working out either what he did or what he was hoping to find. His reason for this was, “I just don’t want someone using my details to screw with me”. After a cup of tea and a short chat about transparency,vulnerability and the nature of social media and it’s potential, we rigged his sites and it seems to have done the trick. What magic did we perform?, none,  We simply showed his true colours and communicated his intention to engage with others who were as interesting and available as he was.  He left his personal fingerprints all over his site  together with a true Bio which added the personality and warmth needed to attract and engage other people

I will continue to foster, nurture and enjoy the wonderful friendships I am making through Social Media  and its many avenues and in doing so I hope to advance my interests and the interests of others. What method will I use?……..Esse quam videri , “to be rather than to seem to be” or in my language……showing my true colours.

Catch you in cyber space and who knows, we may even run into each other in the local coffee shop……Oh, by the way, I’m the guy at the table near the window, the chap with paint on his hands.