Looking back through my diaries I see that the first time i wrote about putting some kind of photography course together was June 2008. Abby and I had spent the day in Bath, walking around as i tried to decide if this was a place I could see myself living. As we drove back to Bristol, we talked about what i could do when i got here – at the time my sister was working for an adult education centre and she uttered those fateful words as we hurtled down the motorway: 'Why don't you create a course for us?'
I don't know if i ever fully conveyed on this blog just how nervous I was about my first time leading a group of students – I was can't-eat-can't-sleep nervous. I feared I would sit with these women and not know what to say, so i prepared and prepared and tried to put together a lesson plan that i hoped they would enjoy; Abby helped me plan the first session in 15-minute chunks so every minute was accounted for! And something amazing happened – fifteen minutes into our very first session, i completely relaxed. I could feel the nervous knot in my stomach loosen as i explained what we'd be doing in each class. By the end of our first two hours together I was smiling.
My little evening class in Bristol had taken about two months to fill up – I left postcards in coffee shops and made posters for the local library. Most of the participants had read about the course in the college prospectus; they took a chance on this curiously-titled photography class that wasn't really a photography class. Unbeknown to them they took a chance on a first-time tutor. Fast forward to last Monday, and my autumn Unravelling class sold out in just 83 minutes. People, it was insane! Clearly a lot has happened in a year.
Recently I've been getting emails from people on the mailing list who are frustrated that the courses always seem to be sold out by the time they click over to the registration page – going forward into the new year I want to find a way to organise staggered enrollments that's mindful of all time zones. What excites me the most about the course is that moving it to an online venue has not only made it so much more dynamic and rich but it also means people get to know each other from all over the world; i know Unravellers have been getting together in person and there are lots of emails and phone calls flying around the ether.
In a recent comment Anu asked me: what have you learned from your Unravelling
classes? What has it excavated for you that surprised you? It's interesting that even though the class is based on stuff i've tried over the last few years i still find i have bits of me that can be stretched some more. I share personal thoughts with the Unravellers, and one of the most surprising discoveries is that I now feel more comfortable making videos; I feel i can be more myself and embrace how i look; there's no clever lighting or fancy cameras, just me and my webcam.
What has also become apparent is just how incredibly passionate i am about doing this work. I have never felt this passionate and committed to any other work i've done since i left school. I always struggled to fit into the regular world of working – I struggled with a salaried job, i struggled being freelance. I was a student for many years; i've
worked in cafes and shops. I once worked in an oil
refinery canteen serving greasy breakfasts to hungry men at 7am. I tried my hand at portrait photography; I've done
tele-marketing and PR; I've made sandwiches for the minimum hourly wage. When my love died I was unable to work for the first year and felt adrift in my
life and without purpose; I didn't know that his death had set me on a path that would eventually lead me here.
When I launched the first class in January I had no idea that it was going to turn into a business – for some reason business has always seemed like a dirty word. It's as if i assumed that meaningful-work would be accompanied by harps playing in my zen office space as i shared my work for free and didn't need to worry about silly things like paying the rent. The reality is that i am working harder than i have ever done in my life and I'm learning how work can be an important exchange of energy for both the giver and the receiver. I'm learning about how to promote the work you do (i did my first ever podcast interview here – BIG learning curve for me), how to create a working model that is sustainable, while keeping my focus on creating courses that are enjoyable and multi-layered, and making sure I am as available as i can be for every participant who reaches out to me. I'm constantly asking myself what would i want from this course? What would my own expectations be? It's a constant challenge that i'm enjoying trying to figure out.
With every testimonial or email of thanks i get, there is a 15-year-old girl inside of me whose eyes sparkle as she thinks 'wow, i made that happen. That is so cool.' The girl who never thought she had any talent. The girl who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, quietly said: an artist.
To go on a blog-book tour across North America, Europe and down under is one of my wishes i shared in yesterday's post – i'd love to publish my Unravelling book, with stories and assignments, case studies and exercises to do at home. I'd love to be able to do that book tour, not even necessarily to lead workshops, but to create a space where we can get together for coffee and poetry, chats and sharing. Take the online network into the real world. To build a tribe of Unravellers*.
Heady dreams, perhaps, but the 15-year old girl is enthusiastically nodding her head: 'That would be so cool.'
* This is a big wish i'm sharing. I actually feel a little nervous putting it out there, so it must really be a heart wish!