What do I do with my life? It is not always a one time question, I find myself asking it often at junctures. Here’s a story of how I came to do my next right thing*.
Is there something that you did as a child all the time? Something that you loved to do, dream about, put all your creativity into, but slowly over time, you grew up and some of those first dreams started to disappear? Maybe as you got older, studied, found jobs, hints of those creative forays and long ago dreams appeared as glimpses in your work. As you found small ways to express yourself in the areas that made you feel most alive, you seemed to bloom, the skies were blue and everything seemed right with the world. Other times you felt yourself slowly disappear into the mundane, the day-to-day and nothing seemed to hold any purpose. Those long ago dreams in childhood seemed like foolish fantasies.
When I was a child
Once, I was a child and I had a best friend and my brother’s best friend was her brother and we would badger our parents to drive us to each others houses on Saturday mornings. My friend Jayne and I would make fimo badges and play with Sindys. When we were at our house we used to think it was cool to clamber up a ladder into the loft where all kinds of things were stored and we made it into a den. Alongside the old moses basket and my parents holiday club items stored in a nappy changing tub, we even snuck up there for a midnight feast once, safe in the knowledge that my parents were fast asleep, knowing nothing of it. Of course they did but they let us think we were just like the Secret seven or Famous five. At one point, being maybe the bossy one, I decided to call us the Sunvale sunshines, Sunvale being the name of the road my brother and I lived on. I decided that what our club needed was a club magazine. I dutifully made a magazine, asked my friends for their contributions, for which I think my friend gave me some jokes for, the boys I don’t remember being overly productive. But I stuck pages from other magazines, attempted to draw cartoons, wrote down short stories and stapled them together. Of course there was only one copy, so we had to share it and probably no one actually read it except me, but I loved putting it together.
The teenage years
Scroll on some years and those same sunvale sunshines were teenagers and went to our church’s youth group on Friday nights, hanging out downstairs at the church. Painted on one wall was a huge bus breaking through, just by the covered baptism tank in the floor. There were tables with benches attached, that must have come from an old Mcdonalds, a snooker table and soft drinks and sweets sold from behind a bar. It was called ‘the alternative bus shelter’. Sometimes bands would come and play and we thought it was kind of, you know, sort of alright, in our teenage way. But it was missing something of course. A magazine. A few of us that decided to put together our own little magazine, I’m not even sure what was in it but I do remember writing something on fashion and doctoring a photo of our pastor to make his seventies flares look even bigger. This was in the days before desktop design programmes, so I learnt the ever-so important skill of tearing paper at the edges and placing it on another sheet to photocopy so you wouldn’t see hard edges of that text box on the photocopy. That was how we designed and laid it out, the photocopier was our printer.
What do I do with my life?
Back then my dream was to work in ‘the media’. My Aunt worked for a media company in London and arranged for work experience at magazines, I remember being taken to wine bars and told I had to work hard, visiting whats on tv mag and talking to the picture researcher. At this point I thought that maybe ‘media’ wasn’t for me and narrowly missed getting a now much denigrated ‘media studies’ degree by studying English and Publishing instead. At this point I think I thought books were more respectable and studying Emma for exams at school made me think perhaps I’d be the next Jane Austen? I don’t know, but the persuasive course head convinced me that a high proportion of graduates went on to get jobs in publishing after their degrees, so that swung it.
The course was interesting, I loved books and to be studying in Oxford (at Brookes not that University I hasten to point out) was something I never really appreciated as much as I probably should have. I was young, perhaps impulsive, definitely naive but with my whole life laid out before me. For part of my final project for publishing, we could create our own project and by now you know what I chose to do, I designed a magazine. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was doing a gap year with a missions organisation and I decided to put together a magazine for them using my newly learnt typography and Quark design skills. The cover was a train wreck, I had it printed at a real printers and everything, I’m not sure where it is otherwise I’d show you. But we all start somewhere.
I spent the next part of my working life, being a designer first with books, and psychometric tests, then leaflets, then logos, booklets, brands, then children, then events, posters, craft kits, blogs, social media, books, graphics, and now magazine ads. But something was missing.
That dream I mentioned way back in the first paragraph, was of magazines, working in them, creating them. When I have felt my most stuck, magazines and a cup of coffee at a coffee shop have been my idea of self-care. Magazines are my guilty pleasure, a refuge, an inspiration. I wanted to create a magazine. It may sound silly and small, and I’m not by any means pretending that this new project is the next Vogue, I’ve hesitated to even commit to more than one issue. But this is where I have been drawn to lately. Sometimes the clues are there like breadcrumbs through life as to what the next right thing* is.
Nearly two years ago, I joined an online community called hopewriters, run by Emily P Freeman, Brian Dixon, Myquillyn Smith and Gary Morland. As a long time reader of The nesting place, Myquillyn’s blog, I came to hear about it through her posts. Hopewriters offered me the opportunity to join others learning about writing books, getting published and how to market without it feeling icky. This tribe has been so encouraging and I have met people who are working out their own paths of writing, creating online and publishing books. In 2016 I flew to Charlotte in North Carolina to meet some of these writers in real life at a workshop, never before have I felt as at home amongst colleagues who get this weird writing online world.
Last year I self-published a creative tutorial/devotional book and it gave me an idea. Working alone at home I missed working as a team on something. I knew that I had the design skills to be able to put something pretty together, so I asked my hopewriter friends if they were interested in contributing to this little magazine idea that I had. I was overwhelmed with the response, these amazing writers and artists who are all carving their way in offering hope and beauty to their own readers, decided to offer some of that to this little magazine idea. Knowing we are stronger together and can reach more people together than on our own, we’ve gathered together this collection of stories, playlists, articles, art, words, photos, to offer out to all our readers in order that they might be blessed, encouraged, inspired, find their own slot of time for self-care with a magazine and a coffee.
I don’t like to use the word should, but this time it is warranted, you really should read iola because you will love reading these women’s words. It is not hard to promote something that I know will bless you. Maybe it will even encourage you to chase down your childhood dreams and help you to consider ‘what do I do with my life?’
Find out more about iola and what’s inside here.
*totally helped by Emily P Freeman’s the next right thing podcast