Maybe I Was Only Then Becoming

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“You know you need to think of it as giving folk the opportunity of doing something that will make them feel good. You are doing them a favour really!”

~ Kim Roberts

Yesterday, I did two things that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I’ll need a telescope to try and ascertain the faint smudge of its boundary if I ever choose to return there. I could say that launching my first ever mentoring program was the scariest thing I’ve done all year (maybe for the last three or four years) but it’s only the second scariest thing.

DO IT YOURSELF

In The Art of Asking Amanda Palmer says there’s two ways to do DIY.

The first is “Minimal DIY” where you literally try to do it yourself. Where the emphasis is on total self-reliance and individuation.

The second is “Maximal DIY” which is about expansion and asking. The emphasis is on collectivism; you throw your problem out to your circles to see what solutions might arise. (Page 100)

GO YOUR OWN WAY

I have always been a Minimal DIY when it comes to business. For most of eP’s life there was me at the forefront editing, designing, launching, financing and dealing with the day-to-day challenges that arise in a left-of-centre publishing model. I was terrible at delegating. I had no money for help, so I couldn’t source additional paid help if I wanted to. I didn’t feel I could ever ask anyone for help for the love of it. It was one thing for me to do it, but another thing for others to give it. (The few months when Laura Meyer helped me with admin  — because she refused to take no for an answer — was heaven and I sorely missed her when she couldn’t offer that help any longer!)

The irony of it is that all of eP’s publications exist because of collectivism. But for whatever reason (okay I could list them all but I wont), I would never allow the collectivist approach to encroach beyond the creative stage of storytelling.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Amanda refers to a problem in her references to DIY. My problem was: right now I am in the middle of my 105 day social media sabbatical.

To promote For the Asking I was faced with two options:

  1. break my social media sabbatical (the minimal DIY approach and my fall back) — take sole responsibility for the promotion of For the Asking at the expense of something that is equally as important, or
  2. contact people, explain my situation, and ask for their help in spreading the word.

I opted for number two, the Maximal DIY approach, and spent an entire day wound up and feeling sick at the idea of emailing every close friend, every old friend, every person I have ever worked in publishing with to ask them to help me promote my new program. But I did it, because I had no other option. In reality, number one never existed.

AND IT PAYS BOTH WAYS

Years ago, my friend and colleague, Janette Dalgliesh, said I had a responsibility as the head of my business to lead by example, to be a role model for those who worked with me. At the time it was in regards to ensuring I was completely honest with the people I worked with about how I was coping and for me to care and put myself  first (especially with my mental health), get plenty of rest and to pause projects when I needed periods of down time to get well.

If this was the expectation I set for myself, if this was how I treated myself then not only did it encourage others to treat themselves the same way, it instilled confidence that they would receive the same understanding and allowances if they found themselves in a similar position while working for me.

Yesterday I thought of her again. I knew that by stepping out and asking, I was giving other friends, other writers, other creatives ‘permission’ to ask too. The confidence to say: could you lend a hand? If I could do it, then they could do it too. I don’t just want to be be part of a culture of generosity, of always being willing to help, and giving where I can, I want to be part of a culture brave enough, and stubborn enough (to get over themselves) to ask.

It’s something I know I have to learn to do. This is the beginning. Not the end.

Maybe now I am starting to ‘become’. I hope so.

What is one thing you want to ask help with but are scared to?

MENTORSHIP AND THE FUTURE ME

IMG_3157For NatCon2013, I was invited to sit on a panel about mentorship alongside Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton and Kimberly Gael. My first response to the invitation was: are you sure? I don’t think I know anything about mentoring other than that bit of youth mentor training I did back when I worked in behaviour management? (and I was pretty sure that I was the only one who knew about that a decade on!)

If it were possible to attach a good-hearted chuckle to an email, the reply would have come with it, plus: you’ve been mentoring writers for years, you’ve just never seen it as mentoring. It made me look at (and appreciate) my business and creative practices in a whole new way.

GRASS ROOTS

I came from a grassroots publication where it was the people who mattered most. I spent three years as a magazine editor seeking out, collating and publishing the most personal stories: those of birth and early parenting. Part of that job was belonging to and participating in a small but incredibly strong community. That same community sustained, educated and supported me throughout my pregnancy, birth and early years of parenting.

When I left Down to Birth and started eMergent Publishing with Paul Anderson in 2008, I took what I knew of community building and peer support and wove it into the foundations of our new business. It was less a conscious decision of this is what we will do and more an intuitive approach of what I knew, where my comfort zone was and how it melded beautifully with Paul’s worldview.

It also had a lot to do with what both Paul and I really wanted to do – we wanted to create publishing experiences for authors who were keen to collaborate because, at that time, collaboration between authors was rare, even rarer as a large group, and most of the collaborative efforts were published online. And while we were able to begin because of the digital revolution and the low overheads that came with it, we were able to show a few years later, in dead-tree print, complex collaboration and high-concept ideas were absolutely possible in publishing.

A VERY HUMAN TWIST OF FATE

When I began editing fiction, I came to it with a false notion it was just about the best arrangement of words on the page to convey the most powerful story. I had no idea at the time that the role of editor (especially in long projects) was also that of best friend and most sworn enemy, harshest critic and most exuberant cheer squad, confidante, life coach and magician. The relationship between author and editor is synergistic. It’s the most human element of publishing, one I find equally challenging and fulfilling in its frustrations and intimacies.

A COOPERATIVE ROLE CALL

As an editor, I’ve had the honour of giving dozens of writers their first publication credit and for many of those it was also their first paid publication. For other writers it was the first chance to work closely with a professional editor or to work with other authors. My preference has always been to work with new and emerging writers.

As a publisher, I’ve been lucky enough to create projects that facilitate collaboration and creative exchange, opportunities for writers to connect and work with each other, in a way traditional models of anthology collation do not make possible. I’ve always been more interested in working with a group of writing to develop and publish the best stories each individual could write rather than opening to public submission and publishing the best individual stories from there. Because of this very different model, new writers have left projects with a support network they didn’t have when they started.

As a workshop facilitator, I’ve had the fortune of interacting with (and learning from) an ever-broadening group of people. For the past three years I’ve delivered the highly sought after self-editing and critique seminar through the Queensland Writers Centre. Alongside hints and tips on how to edit your work, I’ve also been sneaky enough to transform the impersonal seminar space into a personal one that pushes writers our of their silence to talk and connect with each other.

As a community builder, I’ve had the joy of building and facilitating spaces (in and beyond eMergent Publishing’s boundaries) where individuals or clusters of writers have come together to help and support each other, to foster new and enduring relationships and friendships. Last year I wrote about the experience of accidentally building an online community of writers. The article was published in IF:Books and Editia press’s n00bz.

A RECIPROCAL CONNECTION

As a writer, I’ve seen the importance of peer support and encouragement, and been lucky enough to find other writers and industry professionals who’ve been able to help me. From the people who took me under their wing and introduced me around at Cons and literary events when I knew no one, to others who have offered advice or guidance over the years.

And there are others, those with whom I have written shoulder-to-shoulder with over the years, in collaborative arrangements, as beta readers, as fellow travellers, as members of online writing groups and community, who have challenged me to be the best writer I can be. They have been there with me through good times and bad.

I have always tried to pay it forward because I am everything I am today, not just because of the hard work I’ve put in, but because of the hard work my writing colleagues have put into me.

THE BIRTH OF A MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

I’m not the only one who hungers for connection, for support and for the confidence that comes when others invest their belief in you.

I’m also not the only one who is constantly looking to upgrade their skills, deepen their creative connection and seek innovation in story telling.

And surprisingly enough, I’m not the only one looking for creative and sustainable ways of building an art-commerce model of income to support myself – in this case it’s the double whammy of not just funding myself as a writer but also a small press that wants to pay  authors well.

This has culminated in the conception of a mentorship program that draws on my own experiences, skills and accumulated insights. My vision is to be the curator of a supported creative space with the benefits of one-to-one personalised attention and small group interaction.

FOR THE ASKING

For The Asking is a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.

The first 12-week mentorship block begins Sunday 13th September.

The program is open to all writers 18 years and over. Places are limited to FOUR and are via an application process. Successful applicants will be notified by Sunday 6th September.

Investment* is A$250.00

Additional information and the application form can be downloaded here.


*The proceeds from this mentorship block will fund the publication of ‘The Heart is an Echo Chamber’ (the follow up to ‘No Need to Reply’), the second Pandora’s Paradox novel and eMergent Publishing’s website redevelopment. 10% will be invested via Patreon into my favourite podcast, Tea and Jeopardy, created by Emma and Peter Newman.

A Western Queensland Adventure

An extract from the last missive mailed out three weeks ago when I returned from holidays.

It’s been a while between letter drops because we went West, into the outback, for the July school holidays, plus a week. The week and a bit I’d spent off social media prepared me well for leaving civilisation behind. The middle position of our time away was spent in the middle of nowhere, 1600km west of Brisbane.

IMG_2708In Birdsville we were closer to Adelaide than Brisbane. It was the longest I’ve ever been camping (all up 7 nights) and this was camping without any luxuries (no showers, toilets, running water or power!) But the firsts didn’t stop there. They included, first time:

  • camped on a river bank and a channel bank

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  •  eating a camel pie
  • going to a camel race meet (these were mutually exclusive!)

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  • placing a bet at a race meet

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  • going without a shower for 6 days

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  • seeing Venus and Jupiter conjunct (in the dusk sky of an outback town!) as a full moon rose

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  • visiting places first trod by the ill-fated Burke and Wills and seeing some of the marks they left behind

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  • towing a camper trailer (the first tyre I didn’t blow but I was driving when the second one went!)

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  • writing my name in gibbers (small red shiny desert stones)

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  • visiting Stonehenge — post code 4730. Apparently it is close to one of the three bases of the ‘over the horizon radar’ defense system and we stopped for lunch here just after the gibber stone signatures.
  • hugging a prehistoric tree that can grow to be a 1000 years old

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  • photographing windmills at sunset

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  • seeing solar concentrators (5 power the township of Windorah). I dare anyone to disagree with me when I say they are the most stunning future-looking structures. We also saw a coal fired power stations – it wasn’t worthy of a photograph (in case you’re listening Mr Abbott!)

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  • drinking beer at the iconic Birdsville Hotel

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  • visiting a modern-day ghost town. The pub closed its doors for the last time in 1998.

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  • climbing a sand dune, and a red one at that.

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  • and crossing the Qld/SA border

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  • eating breakfast burritos morning after morning and never getting sick of them (unlike a social media saturated existence full of food pictures, there is a pattern of having to tell rather than show about the food!)

Other highlights were:

  • the Stone House and Museum in Boulia

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  • the sunset concert of ‘Lime Cordiale’ in Winton

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  • the amazing and ever-changing colours of the desolate landscape

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  • seeing tanks  transported west on huge semis between Longreach and Winton

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  • the country west of Winton where films such as Nick Cave’s “The Proposition” were shot

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  • Wendy’s damper (again, no photo of this — was too busy devouring it after a day of horrific nausea — the precusor to the shingles I didn’t know were waiting for me upon my arrival home!)
  • a camp fire every night

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  • travelling the stretch of road infamous for the min-min lights (but sadly during th ay so not lights!)

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Despite the rough living, or perhaps in spite of it, I returned home relaxed grounded, focused and the most clear headed I have been in years. While running water, toilets, showers and other amenities like fridges are nice, I do miss the simplicity of living in a tent on the banks of a river the banks of a river.

.. and almost a month on, I still do miss the simplicity of it.

Artfully Present 

The current Venus Retrograde transit through Leo continues to be an artistically auspicious one for me – someone who is usually bent toward the creation of pictures and stories through words than words and stories through pictures.

MY TEMPORARY WORLD, SQUARED

As the photographs show, I’ve been creating in the same medium as last week: basically one side of a Delite’s rice cracker box, two pieces of origami paper unearthed from the bottom drawer of my desk (thank you Daiso for your beautiful, inexpensive paper and thank you past me who wanted to make paper cranes!) and a randomly selected page of Italo Calvino’s ‘Six Memos’ (did I ever tell you the story about how my dog ate Calvino?). The rest is communing with scissors, glue and random acts of meaning.

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‘Arting’ – as I’ve come to think of it, has been a way to remove my mind from the turbulence of the here and now. It’s also been an opportunity to create something unique for the special people in my life. The top square is a birthday present for Kim and the bottom a housewarming present from Rob. (This time I’ve shown them as works in progress rather than as the polished, final piece!)

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Amid the glue — and the chaos that comes with breathing out a little too hard and blowing tiny pieces of paper across the desk (and thus, for a few horrible minutes, destroying the perfect poetry of the words assembled because one of the words can no longer be found!) — there was a gift for me!

EPIPHANY, REPEAT

Many years ago I learned as an editor and a publisher of strange and left-of-field conceptual ideas that the best approach to any project once it had been conceived and entrusted to a group of writers was to step the hell out of the way. The Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mix Tapes anthologies are the results of this ‘letting go’. Of trusting that the writers involved had the capacity to grow an idea far beyond anything I was able to.

I’m learning the same lessons over again, this time through art.

I was afraid the first one of these little squares would be the best I’d ever make and everything after would be dross. The Ego of Perfectionism has always been my nemesis when it comes to art (far less so with writing). It’s an easy way of opting out of my creative expression. I can give in, do nothing because I believe I’ll never be good enough…

… or I can step the hell out of my own way. Let go.

Tuesday afternoon I sent this message to Kim (after messages earlier in the day about getting over oneself in the creative process!)

Lesson 1: every little piece of art has its own energy and dynamism. This means if you step out of the way of expecting anything of it, it can ‘become’ all by itself.

Lesson 2: return to Lesson 1

And at the end of the ‘becoming’ you let it go and so it can ‘become’ again when it reaches its new home.

Then you go back to the supermarket and stock up on packets of Delites, thumb old books in boxes downstairs that haven’t quite made it to the donation bin (in the hope it might be the new cornucopia of found poetry) and wait for the time and space to imperfectly create again.

Thank you to Rowena for the gift (a pre-release!) of She Makes War’s new album Direction of Travel (which I’ve been listening to as I’ve been writing). I am ever so grateful for beautiful, generous friends who bring rays of light in a week of turmoil.

Art As Therapy

In the last 24 hours the odd itchy bites on my back have developed into shingles. At the moment they are not particularly painful (insanely itchy, yes) but enough discomfort to warrant some kind of escapism.

I decided that I’d sit and make Kim a postcard. It’s been a long time since a hand created card was added to the postcardia project. I’d had a hankering for a while to do some more paper weaving.

One thing lead to another and I ended up with something that was part art, part poetry, part bibliomancy and part correspondence. It’s a little Japanese, a little Italian-Cuban, a little suburban Australian.   
It’s as pure an example of magic as I can think of. If you consider the equation for magic as posited by Barbara Moore in the Steampunk Tarot: Magic = will + skill + connection. (Something specific was definitely being channelled through in the words!! ) It also looks kind of pretty too. 

Today is the start of what could potentially be a long and painful illness. So perhaps this might be the first of many magic little paper squares to appear here. Even if illness doesn’t have me seeking respite in creation, I don’t think this is the last of these squares I’ll make!

While You Were Away; A Letter

IMG_0080Tasmanian indie publisher Transportation Press’s new project  is a joint undertaking with Iranian-American writer-editor Shirindokht Nourmanesh and Twitch Tasmania. “The Letter Project” seeks to create a dialogue between one part of the world and another. I was chuffed to arrive home from holidays this afternoon to find my letter had been published earlier in the week while I was far from Brisbane, internet or mobile phone service.

To Wish A Letter Into Being

Have you ever been asked to write a letter to you in the past?

It’s one of the sappy kinds of self help exercises I’ve always detested. But somehow, in the last few years I’ve found myself wishing I could actually write a letter to teenage me, a way of saying “hey, there’s all this juicy, awesome stuff in the future. Hang in there” rather than needing or wanting to impart my hard won knowledge *cough* and wisdom *cough* (which I assume is the reason behind the letter as an exercise).

I’ve really just wanted to say, “Hey, here in the future, you get the things you want. They’re just not in the shape you want or expect them or in the time frame you wish it would happen. But it’s all here.”

Post Marked: The Past

Other than the actual practical ability to do so, the idea of sending a letter such as this into the past is based on a couple of assumptions :

  1. The way you remember the past is they way it actually was.
  2. The way you feel in the present about the past, is the way you actually felt in the past, and
  3. Past You wants to hear from Future/Present Day you.

Ah, but what if they are all erroneous assumptions and the tech was two-way?

Dear You

“Dear You” is a semi-fictious, semi tongue-in-cheek, semi-autobiographical piece that opens:

29th October 1989

Dear You,

(I’m not addressing this to “Future Me” because I’m not any version of you.)

You go to all the trouble of writing to me from the future about “that boy” but you don’t tell me who he is. Is he someone I already know? Someone I already like? Someone I have already lost? Someone I’m yet to meet?

And what the hell do you mean by “be patient…

Read on

I have Kris’s gentle nudges to thank for making me sit and write while on holiday and with only a very basic smidgen of an idea to fly a letter by the pants of.

You can read Kris’s letter here, and there’s also a letter by S.G. Larner, plus half a dozen other great pieces of epistolary writing.

Awaken the Social Media Army

And… because I am only a small way through my social media sabbatical I need your help. It transpires, getting the word out about your work without social media is the proverbial silent scream.

So… If you have a minute, please share “Dear You” on Facebook or Twitter. Transportation Press makes it simple with a bunch of social media icons on the bottom of the letter page.

And before you leave… would you or wouldn’t you write a letter to past you if the technology was available?

Image: Letter Box (c) Jodi Cleghorn 2012

Hello Silence, My Old Friend

IMG_2083My former business partner always said to be wary of me when I came calling with crazy ideas because they had a habit of catching. There is something of the catchy crazy idea in my friendship with Rus VanWestervelt. We don’t have the sort of friendship where we talk every day. We might go months without talking but you can be certain, when we inhabit the same think space, there’s a tilt of life’s axis.

Last week was no different.

But first let me back track a little…

The Social Media Sabbatical

When I was growing up television and radio were our main platforms for media consumption. The default was always ‘if you don’t like it, turn it off’ (and this was in the days when you actually had to get up off the couch to work your magic with the TV!)

Unlike no other time in my life (perhaps no other time in this planet’s history) has there been such a saturation of incoming data and a reliance of being ‘plugged in’. Last year in my fragile state, the bombardment of ‘unsolicited data’ began to take its toll on me. And it wasn’t always the general negative state of the news or inappropriate online behaviour of the minority. It was just as often a friend’s happy news that threatened to undo me.

In the end I unplugged. I announced  I was taking a break from social media, removed all the apps from my phone and steeled myself away from accessing Facebook and Twitter from my laptop. I took time, in the silence, to recalibrate. I did it several times, each time when I felt  I was unable to cope with what might come through my newsfeed. Usually it was for a week, one period lasted just shy of a month.

I was doing what I’d been groomed to do in the 70’s and 80’s. If you didn’t like it, turn it off.

This year I’ve taken a week’s break every month. I’ve taken it when I’ve felt I needed it and when I was sure I didn’t. I’ve tried to be a quiet advocate for less time engaged in online interaction and more time spent in other forms of interaction, championing as always, written correspondence (as the woman who continues to embrace her phobia of the telephone).

A Struggle

While taking time off social media has gone a long way to help me start to regain some equilibrium with my mental health, I still struggle with long term issues that stem from my son leaving mainstream schooling in 2012. It’s hard not to feel like you are not disappearing when your entire life shrinks to the size of your house. I’ve struggled with irrational ideas of being invisible and of suburbia slowly consuming me, until the point of disappearing forever. A bit like my dreams and ambitions which have been put perpetually on hold.

This year though, I’ve been trying hard to embrace the lot I’ve been dealt. I’ve been rethinking how I conceptualise myself. In March, rather than say I was a ‘shadow of my former self’ when I needed to turn down three project proposals, I looked for a more positive self expression because I’m not sure the person I was in 2011 was the best version of myself – someone who was a workaholic, who had no close friends and was barely writing. That’s hardly the best iteration of myself. The template for whom I do a compare and contrast.

So, on the way home from having coffee with a friend, as I cried barely able to see my way to walk, let along text, I said that perhaps I could think of myself as the strongest distillation of myself rather than a shadow of my former self – all the fire and heat and steam burning away all the things that didn’t really matter. At the end of it all, I had my family, my friends and my writing. Perhaps this was the strongest I had ever been, the purest form of me?

Accepting Limitations

Rather than change my limitations or mitigate them, rather than try to fix them or hope someone else might do it for me, I could instead try and own them. Make them my own. And I didn’t necessarily have to rebrand them to make them palatable.

As writers we are more often than not bound to perform within arbitrary parameters: word count, style, genre just to name a few. Given this is the world I inhabit, surely I’m able to work with my limitations (or what I perceived as them) rather than my limitations work again me.

Invisibility

The motif (aka the irrational fear) of being invisible remains indelible on my psyche, no matter what I do. The ridiculous thing is, Invisibility in any other realm would be considered a a super power  If I were to Facebook now and ask: What would you do if you were invisible for a day? I am pretty sure no one would answer: sit in a corner and cry. (And just in case you wanted to know, I’d be leaving the house without my clothes if I could be invisible for the day).

So I decided several weeks ago (and purely by accident, all this ‘insight’ is after the fact), that perhaps I could embrace my invisibility. I went to Continuum (the Victorian science fiction convention) without any one knowing. I didn’t nominate for panels. I didn’t organise to meet up with any other writers. I went as a writer, without adding any publishing credits or any other hats, to my name. While I did end up hooking up with other writers, I by-in-large lurked in the audience, knitted and soaked in the conversations around me. I enjoyed myself more than I have at any Con in the last few years. Being invisible had been far from awful.

But my extended social media sabbatical with Rus is a whole new level of invisibility.

105 Days

Rus has very fixed ideas on what he wants to achieve in the next 15 weeks. I’m more here because I can never say no to Rus, and I think it’s a really interesting social experiment, to black out all social media for 105 days. I’m hoping it’s an experiment that won’t leave anyone scared and will provide the opportunity for some enlightenment on the way.

While Rus has conceptualised our social media sabbatical as The Darkness (and yes, invisibility definitely fits with that idea) I’m thinking of it more in terms of The Silence (I won’t be getting around and wiping memories though!) I can live with my own invisibility within the world I usually inhabit by taking myself off social media and in doing so, I can seek the kind of silence and stillness that the here-right-now, at your finger tips, instantaneous type of communication and information stream doesn’t allow for.

It’s daunting though.

My life hasn’t changed since the end of 2012 when it reduced down to my home and even further, to the kitchen table where our lessons happen. Social media has always been my ‘water cooler’ – the place I’ve gone to for social interaction when I haven’t been able to have that kind of interaction in the real world. With it gone, I need to make a greater effort to stay in contact. I also need my closest friends to know that we need other forms of communication to keep in touch. Text messaging has always been my best friend, now it might have a slightly angelic glow about it. I’ll be forced to get out of the house. My son will be forced to deal with it, and come with me.

Coda

It’s one thing to own your invisibility as a concept. To embrace it. To live it over a weekend. It’s another thing entirely for it to be your default for 15 weeks. I know Rus is there, on the other end. The only catch is we both agreed to communicate entirely though letters for the duration of our sabbatical. So whatever I pour out on the page will be history by the time it reaches the US. But at the same time, in the perfect time machine a letter is, it will also be the present.

In the silence … there will be plenty of time and space to begin mending the brokenness I’ve inflicted on myself in the past six years. At no other time has the name of this blog been more pertinent: 1000 pieces of blue sky, all waiting to be fitted together.