goodbye 2017 (and a peek at my Christmas decorating)

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

It's hard to believe time could go any faster, yet each year scoots by so fast, we seemingly overnighterly find ourselves at December with bodies stock-still and heads spun 'round on shoulders like an empty tin can. At least that's how my head feels right now. Empty.

Yesterday, I could not remember what 11 minus 6 is, nor 15 minus 8.


It's been a huge year, a surreal year, a soul-crushing year and a heart-thumping-surprise year. How one could be pulled more tightly in opposing directions, I do not know. At once I'm thrilled and dreams-come-true-content with 2017 and yet hellishly disappointed and bereft. Disillusioned and inspired. Fulfilled and sucked dry. Deeply hurt and loved more than ever before.

It's been a decade whittled down and wedged into 12 breathless months. It's been an entire planet compressed and stuffed into each and every one of us, in an all-you-can-stomach smorgasbord of Too Much. Have you, too, felt like you've taken on both the pains and the joys of the world during 2017? And have you, too, drank more coffee than ever before in 2017??? Oh well, I suppose it was better than vodka.

Is it any wonder our brains are rattling--all that caffeine and all those burdens? Is it any wonder, some of us have reached the end of year 2017 feeling... well... sad?

There have been times I've wanted to shut down every social media account I own (I still do). I'm exhausted by the bombardment, the cloying closeness of it all. I'm tired of feeling the tragic loss of a stranger as deeply as it were my own beloved. I'm tired of feeling my life is lesser than others, that I'm not thin enough (illustrating full time comes with extra padding), successful enough, rich enough. I'm tired of the tortured and abominable gaslighting and division and greed. I'm tired of the competitive, the bombastic, the bigots and the braggarts. I'm tired of mean and exclusion and judgement.

It's like I've been suffocating and find myself scrambling to break free. My kingdom for a barren mountaintop! (With no wifi!)

I'm tired of the hauntingly shallow pervasiveness into every crook and cranny of my life. Where has the depth gone? The slowness? We're like scurrying ants, tossing crumbs to a tsunami of other ants, with nary enough crumbs left to feed our own souls let alone the souls of the handful we truly deeply love.

Where is the stillness? The reaching hand? The time and capacity to read (and I mean really read).

2017, to me, has felt like standing in one of those 6-storey Japanese department stores with flashing lights, ceaseless noise, and an avalanche of signs hanging from every hangable surface, and all over the floor, too.

Enough, I say.


Never in my life have I craved silence and solitude more. And never in my life have I craved deep, focused, attentive company as much.

The thing is, we really can't go on living our lives virtually nor vicariously through others. Because we'll miss out on living our own. If we can't sink our feet into grass, meet friends face-to-face, stare at the sky, pull food from the earth and give more than a slip of unfocused time to those we treasure, then I truly fear 2018 will undo us all. I know it will undo me.

Hence. Do expect to see a lot less of me online in 2018. It's not that I don't love you or want to connect. I just can't sustain the rigor. Like you, I have pressing deadlines and much to do, but I'm so damn jack of saying I'm 'busy'. I just want to live, you know? In the real world. Busy or not. I want to work unencumbered by either feeling too much or feeling lesser. I want to run my own race and appreciate being human, not an avatar. I can't abide the competitive and there's just too much of it out there, in so many incarnations and forms... I'm done with it.

Now, out of the dark, and into the light... What better happy-place to start than with books?

Some brilliant school librarians, from around the country recently decided that the closure of yet another school library (who DOES that???) is beyond tolerance. They have begun a Save Our School Libraries campaign, which will be revealed next year. It's all very exciting. You may see authors and illustrators, hither and thither, backing this priceless initiative. So when you see it next year, be sure to retweet and share.

Another light-filled kind of thing - I began work in earnest on Mamie (HCP, Dec 2018) and fell headlong into another world. I have loved immersing myself in this book, and this is the kind of work I feel compelled to continue on with these coming years. When we speak of happy places, this is it.

I'm around 5 spreads from completion now, and it's been an absolute joy to work with Lisa and Eve from HarperCollins. I hope to show you some more peeks next year sometime.

Last month, the Chief Minister's Reading Challenge wrapped up for another year. This glorious initiative celebrated 13 years in 2017, and had its biggest and best year yet. Irma Gold spoke beautifully on behalf of the current ambassadors (six in the centre, below), inspiring kids to take a pen in hand, and write their own books one day.

L-R: Jo Andersen, moi, Jack Heath, Harry Laing, Tracey Hawkins, Irma Gold, Virginia Haussegger, Lauren Dries

Here are some stats from the CMRC this year...
  • 2017 is the thirteenth year of the Reading Challenge
  • a whopping 34,000 students (across 91 schools) registered for the Challenge this year – an increase of over 3,000 students from 2016
  • on 22 November, 49 schools (with the highest percentage of students completing the Challenge) were invited to attend the Awards Ceremony, to celebrate their achievement
  • 26 schools finished with 100% completion rate across the school –including 2 early childhood schools, 1 Community Languages School, and 23 primary schools
a packed house at the National Library of Australia

Huge thanks to Jo Andersen, Lauren Dries and the team for managing the CMRC, and for such a sensational annual wrap-up.

I had the great pleasure of catching up with Jane Brummitt, grand niece of May Gibbs, and the amazing Belle Alderman (National Centre for Australian Children's Literature), for coffee this month. Jane was in town to see family, and we nattered about all the exciting things surrounding May Gibbs and her work in 2018. Can't wait to share more on this.

me, Belle Alderman, Jane Brummitt

NCACL had it's annual Christmas drinks, too, where we sipped, nibbled, talked books and art, and received a peek at some brand new artwork acquisitions from Shaun Tan, Bob Graham, Narelle Oliver and Alison Lester, no less. It was like Christmas times a billion.

me, Jane, Craig Cormick

My Merry Everything Window reveal at Harry Hartog, Westfield Woden, was a morning of bling and bubbles, with gorgeous friends in attendance. You can see the entire thing by clicking on the image below. The display is in situ until just after Christmas, so stop by for a peek!

My map launch, also at the amazing Harry Hartog (thanks, James!) was super special, too. I'm stunned at the response to the map--I don't think I've seen something move so fast! Seems an Australia map was long overdue... Click on the image below to see the entire launch.

And on maps, I was thrilled to be asked by Hardie Grant Travel to create another. It's going to be a lightning-fast creation--my deadline is closing in on me, and the launch date is June 2018. So watch out for that one! Here is one of the map's inhabitants...
At the end of November, SCBWI ACT branch, headed by Grace Bryant, held our inaugural illustration exhibition, entitled 'Story Time'. What a wonderful initiative, celebrating creators from emerging to established. My piece are below, and it was a delight to see the work of friends adorning the walls.

L to R: Jennifer Hulme, Leanne Barret, Genevieve Hopkins and son, Joy McDonald, Grace Bryant, Gemma Harrison

The Christmas season also descended suddenly this year. I was late shopping, and late decorating. One thing I love to make every year is a wreath or two, and this one was made from snippets of rosemary (in late flower, hence all the seeds, below!).

I started the wreath on our outdoor table, but half an hour into it, a wasp began hovering around my legs. As I'm kind of severely allergic to such things, I hightailed it inside and finished on the kitchen bench. I later found a brand new little wasp nest under the table. Eep. Lucky I found it early.

I also added the most whimsical pine-cone-style decorations from Adairs. How beautiful are they? And little snatches of yellowed pittosporum branches. The leaves look like tiny golden butterflies.

Oh--and I found these at Kmart... do they not make one weak at the knees, especially with fresh rosemary?

We decided to buy a fresh tree this year. I long ditched the whopper tree we bought in Beijing over 10 years ago, and have been simplifying more and more each and every year. But for some reason, I just had to have a stunner from the local Christmas tree farm. Maybe it's my desire to reconnect with nature. Down she comes...

...and we were instantly rewarded with the most intense pine scent, sending me careening back to childhood. Do you recall a Little Golden Book scratch-n-sniff Christmas? That is the pine scent I can still smell as my little finger scratched that page decades ago.

We couldn't wait to get the tree home, prop it up and water and decorate. Gone are the days when the family gathered around to help. My son lasted half an hour, and I then spent the day stringing baubles and and lights all alone. I must admit, I do love it, help or no help (slept well that night!). Here is a peek. My theme is green. Can you tell?

On 1 December, I announced a little project I'll be hosting on Instagram--A Bear a Day--you can read more about it by clicking the image below. An original bear illustration every day for 90 days, from Jan to Mar 2018. It's going to be a lot of fun. Will be held on Instagram at abearaday90 and I can't wait to show you the line-up of bears I've prepped! French clown? Frida Kahlo?

Also on 1 December, my Australia map was officially released. People have been sending in photos of their kids enjoying the map, and it just fills my heart. I seriously want to have it made into a floor mat for little ones! Interesting, though... where are the chicks? Please send me pics of your daughter or granddaughter or niece enjoying the map!

The ACT Writers Centre held their annual festive shindig and book awards night last week. I just love what the Centre does for local creators; they're great people. Big congrats to industry friends Kaaron Warren, Jack Heath, Gina Newton and Jacqueline de Rose-Ahearn for their fabulous successes on the night, and I was honoured to receive a little nod for Australia Illustrated. That book was a year in the making and was blood sweat and tears personified, so it was a lovely thing.

If you're looking for last minute Christmas gifts, I have a limited supply of maps and books, as well as my giclee or laser prints, available on my Etsy store. The books, and especially maps, won't last long, so get in quick if you want something signed for someone. If you don't want to go through my Etsy store, you can email me directly (and I can give you a small discount).

Last mention of work, the lovely people at Dymocks (Canberra Centre) will be hosting an Australia Map window in the new year, for much of January. I'm installing on the morning of 4 January, so if you're out shopping, come and say hi!

You know it's Christmas when hydrangeas get blousy. We planted a grove in our front garden a month or two ago (all white) and the happiness they bring... it's everything. Our agapanthus are also going nuts, and by Christmas day, I hope to have some purple blooms to bring in to the festive feast.

Wishing you all an amazing Christmas and blissful new year of fine beginnings, warmth and friendship, and peace of mind. I hope you spend it with immersed in people you love, and that fond memories sustain the many who have lost those they love this year. Far too many, really. 

I hope there is champagne and flowers and baking and song and holding hands and lying in a hammock with a book. And I hope you stride into 2018 with purpose in your step and an intention to reconnect with real life, with the ground, with the sky, with image and text that doesn't have a backlight. 

I wish you love. And most of all, I wish you a palpable lack of busy.



Sheryl Gwyther said...

Loved zooming into your world via this post, my dear friend. Hold your head high, and your heart as well. You are a champion and a person with soul, and sometimes it means your heart cannot hold another thing.
Take the time to soak up your beautiful environment, and your dear family.
Your true friends are by your side as always, holding out our hands.
Take care, my love.
And I know, you and I will both fly with silver wings in 2018. See you in April!
Sheryl 💖😊💖

Winterberry Art said...

Bless you Tania, thank you so much for sharing...your Christmas decorating is so beautiful. All that you said at the beginning of this blog, resonates with me so very much. I felt exactly like that at the end of 2015. 2016 was almost a blur...don't know how I got through it other than by the grace of God, and now here we are at the end of 2017. Life is still a little crazy, but I'm able to report that through little changes (like ditching almost everyone on Facebook and starting again under the new name of Winterberry Art and dedicating my social media time to be all about art) plus moving to a new area...a quite area...a slower pace area, has truly helped. So I understand exactly what you are saying. Be encouraged dear creative friend...switching some of it off really does make a difference and is well worth it for your soul. No matter what anyone else around you may think or feel. In my slower pace, I sometimes find myself feeling a little guilty that I perhaps should be doing something else...and then I remember that I need this time, I need this healing or I won't be here to fulfil my destiny. It's okay to say no sometimes. Be who you were created to be. God bless you and your family this Christmas. With love and admiration, Annie Magee xx

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