Category Archives: Localise!

Crawling to the finish

I think I haven’t done much on my diploma, or this website, for pretty much a whole year. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I was busy bringing a human being into the world. But now she’s here, and we’ve got our routines, I need to just finish this thing. Why is finishing something so hard? I have done more or less all the work, I just need to present it in a compelling way.

 I have never been much of a ‘finisher-completer.’ I am far better at having ideas and getting them going than I am at seeing them to completion. It’s probably one thing doing this diploma has driven home. It’s now a matter of pride to take bite-sized chunks and see them through to completion. I am doing well in other areas of my life, but finishing the diploma seems to elude me. I know why though. I haven’t given it full headlights-on focus. I need to think about it, and just it, for a period of time. And that’s the issue… I am doing plenty of other things (not least looking after a baby) and they seem (and frankly are) more important than what my brain now regards to be ‘admin.’ But, but… I have to finish this darn thing so I need to make time and space to do so. 

So, here’s what I am going to do… I am going to set myself two simple tasks… 

1. Read the diploma guidance manual in detail and check how I should be presenting my designs (and whether I have missed any steps). 

2. Contact a diploma tutor and ask them to look over my designs (I jettisoned mine a number of years ago). 

That shouldn’t be too hard! 

Now, where am I up to with my designs? I’m afraid not a lot has progressed but a few things have. 

Action Learning Pathway

Not redesigned. I need to be honest with this one. It’s less of a redesign and more of a historical document. I just need to write down what I did. I’m happy to be honest about this. Were I to do another diploma, I would be able to plan it in detail from the start, but when I started this one, I had not yet developed the skills to have that overview. So, it developed piecemeal, and designs chopped and changed though my focus was always on developing designs for livelihood. So, I think this design needs to be a sort of ‘how my diploma panned out’ précis to the whole thing. Suddenly it’s seeming more achievable 

Action: find my original ALP and work out how I got from there to here.  

Career Design

Written up! 

Scythe Teaching

Written up! 

Permaculture Teaching

Written up!


Yet to be written up. 

Action: write it up

The Seed Blog

In all honesty, I can’t remember where I am up to with this. Implementation of this has all but ground to a halt, because of the baby and because of the need to focus on other projects. I think it’s written up in draft form though. 

The Garden

As I am currently implementing this design, I have written up what I can. I need to revisit this and finish this write up. 

Action: finish this write up

The Larder Project

Yet to be written up

Action: write it up

Fat Hens

Designed and written up!


Designed and written up! 


End of the winter round up – design 9 and the Scrumping Project

Design 9

Design number nine has been through a number of iterations.  First it was going to be a design for another one of the secret projects I have up my sleeve (Localise), then it was going to be the design for how to integrate kids into my life.  I’ll do both of those designs, but I have decided that I would like to do another land-based design so that I have two in my portfolio.  I have a couple of different friends who are moving onto pieces of land and I would like to do designs for one them.

ACTION:  Find out whether my land-lucky friends would like me to do a design for them

This is a bit of a departure for me, not just because it’s about land, but also because it involves working with (arguably for) other people on their projects rather than my own.  It will involve developing my listening skills and interpreting the permaculture skills that I have learned for an audience that doesn’t necessarily think exactly the same way as me.  In many ways, the pressure is off because I don’t imagine that my friends will implement my designs exactly the way I design them.  Though I am sure that they will be grateful for my designs, they haven’t asked for them, so I would expect them to be less likely to implement it lock, stock and barrel than if they had asked for my advice.

The Scrumping Project (formerly foraging)

The foraging design that I had hoped to do just never seemed to find its form.  I never quite worked out what it was I wanted to do with it.  So, I have changed it.  I’m now going to make my final project the formation of a ‘Scrumping Group’ in Lindfield, the village that I have just moved to.  I’m going to use Brighton Permaculture Trust’s Scrumping Project as a model, though I am not aiming to create something anywhere near as big as theirs.  The idea with this design would be that people from Lindfield get together to harvest fruit trees that the owners are not able to and then share out the fruit amongst themselves.  There might also be the opportunity to process (e.g. juice, jam) this fruit together for our own consumption and possibly for sale (for community/charitable causes).  Another aim would be to buy equipment that could be held in common – apple scratters etc and maybe even hosting an apple day celebration.  One of the biggest outputs of this project for me is to get to know people in my local area, so hopefully it will do that.

ACTION: Start observation process for this design 


Am I finished? How I know when a design is done.

At the beginning of my diploma, when I was looking at my big, sprawling, open-ended designs, I wondered how on earth I would know when they were finished.  It was a good question, and the lack of clarity was definitely a flaw in my design process.  Two years in, I find that the constant process of thinking about what I want to achieve has really developed my skills in defining project  boundaries and knowing when I am done.  I find that I can come up with an idea and not only know whether or not it is feasible (through experience of biting off more than I can chew), but also know how I will know when I have finished that particular design.  I have italicised the I, because I think that markers of success are very person-specific.  For example, in a design for a business, one person’s goal might be to earn a certain amount of money, but financial goals just don’t work for me, I am not motivated by them.  I would prefer to set goals along the lines of ‘run x amount of courses,’ or ‘raise prices to x amount’.  What I have realised is that being able to clearly define what you want out of a project means knowing yourself, your priorities and what is feasible for you really really well.  So, for me, the first step to knowing when a design is done is to know yourself well and set project boundaries that fit in with that.

The second way I have discovered of knowing when a design is done it to understand the lifecycle of how things are achieved.  I wrote about this idea in this post.  It’s the Hero’s Journey, the idea which suggests that all of the stories in the world are based on one story – the monomyth.  My friend Erica has just written a book on how you can use this idea in your own life.  The hero’s journey goes (a little) like this:

The call to adventure – “wouldn’t building a garden on this roof be cool?”

The refusal of the call – “nah, it would be too difficult and I couldn’t do it.”

The acceptance of the call (this is when you get cool stuff and people want to help you) – “ok, sod it, let’s have a go!  Wow, thanks for all of the plants, mum.  Yep, it’d be really great if you helped me out.”

The belly of the whale – “Aggh, it’s really hard to get stuff to grow up here because of the wind.  This isn’t as exciting as when I started out.”

The Supreme Ordeal  – “All my plants have died.  Ok, I’ll plant the whole lot again.”

Triumphant return – “I’ve done it!  I’ve grown all these plants through a whole season on this less than easy roof. Want me to teach you?”

When I think about all of my designs, I can plot them along a point on this journey.  I have come to realise though, that a greater ‘journey’ (e.g. making a living from scything) might be made up of several smaller journeys.  You might not get your big success all at once.  In fact you probably wont.  I think that every success (for example, I feel like I have done really well with scything courses this year), heralds a rethink and a new journey.  I have discovered that it is impossible to create a design that is too big, because each big design with naturally break itself down into several smaller ones.  A garden design will do this – e.g. a smaller design for a pizza oven, for planting for beneficial insects, for year-round produce.  This ‘breaking down’ is a pretty good example of designing from patterns to details – a principle that baffled me when I first started, but which I really really value now.





Tagged , , , , ,

We moved, goddamit, we moved!

Well, finally we have moved. Here it is, my new abode (the one with the white door and the yellow flowers outside of it). I am sure that I will get over the post-traumatic stress disorder in the next few months…

The house!

The house!

Now that I have moved house, quite a few of my designs can enter a new stage of implementation. It’s really interesting how having more (and different) space means that new and exciting things can happen. I thought I would use this post to map how my designs are affected by my new place – area by area.

The Shed

Well, we don’t have one yet, but Will assures me that he’s onto it… Once we do have a shed, I will be able to expand my scything empire by stocking more scythes to sell on courses and perhaps at other times too. Having all of my teaching equipment on the ground floor (and not up four flights of stairs) means that going off to teach courses is a much pleasanter experience. I honestly did not realise how much I dreaded emptying the car and dragging all my crap upstairs. It’s little things like this that make a big difference to how you feel about doing a particular job, and I am glad that I will have this sorted for next scything season.

The Garden

Long view of the garden

Long view of the garden


The current growing area

Well, I have one! And it’s great! I have been doing some observation of light patterns and – in August at least – most of the garden gets sun at least some portions of the day. The soil looks really good and well looked after. There is a compost bin with a strong-looking colony of worms. There is corn and courgettes and beans to harvest.

I am going to spend a year observing and growing on a small-scale – in pots and annuals in the empty beds, and then do major changes next winter (i.e. winter 2014). I think what I’d like to do over this winter and next spring is move the compost heap closer to the house, research and get some chickens and establish a 365 day a year salad system. I’d like to work out my seedling system so that the whole house is not completely covered in pots all the time. We have south-facing windows which is very exciting.

Other than that I shall be doing lots of research and getting some idea of what I would like the garden to contain and to look like. I still think that I would like to do a garden design course, so I will have to see if I am rich enough to be able to do that!

The Outbuilding

The larder to be...

The larder to be…

I started calling this ‘the larder’ until I realised that Will and I had not discussed how we would use various rooms. So anyway, this is the larder… 😉 Currently it’s housing much of the crap that will go in the shed, but when that’s moved, we’ll put a work surface over the top of the washing machine, and as many shelves as we can fit in there and it will become a larder of great joy! I am itching to get going at this one… I am going to attempt to emulate the store stump from Brambly Hedge or Bilbo’s larder from the recent Hobbit movie. I’m a bit obsessed.

The store stump

The store stump

Bilbo's larder - with hairy dwarf

Bilbo’s larder – with hairy dwarf

Having outside space and space to store stuff means that I will be able to get going on the dehydrating and canning that I want to do with ease (and with somewhere to store the equipment).

The Office

The office to be...

The office to be…

This was another room that I had started calling ‘the office’ in my head before I had really discussed it with Will… Ooops! Having an office means that I’ll be able to write more easily and I can do stuff like leave my sewing machine out so that I am more likely to use it. I have an online sewing course to finish after all! We’ll use this as a guest bedroom as well, as rooms have to have multiple uses in this house.

Finally, just knowing where I am going to be for the next few years means that I can get on with my coppicing design knowing that I will (hopefully) be in one place for the whole of a coppice cycle and I can design for succession after that. Also, being in the countryside (more or less) means that my foraging design – whatever it turns out to be – will be so much easier to implement. Even though I’ve put a lot of planning and thought into this move and what it would make possible, it’s still amazing to be here and realise that all those things really are possible and I can do them now!  Expect more from me soon…  Maybe even pictures of bits of the house without stuff all over it!


End of winter round up: Part 4

Nearly there…


This is the design which I always say is still up in the air and never go into more detail about and I am going to do the same again today.  How frustrating!



I started this design with gusto a few years ago, and since then it has gone quiet.  Coppicing was in the running to become an income stream but then a few things happened…  Number one was that I hit my finger quite hard with a billhook while doing a tryout for an apprenticeship at Ben Law’s.  I became, as you might imagine, a little scared of billhooks (and my finger is still wonky and doesn’t bend properly).  Needless to say I didn’t get the apprenticeship and I can never look Ben Law in the face again… ;-(

The second thing that happened was that I went and helped my friends in with their coppicing business called Blackbark.  I realised that while coppicing was great in that it gave me a reason to be outside in winter, as scything did in summer, it was actually going to be really expensive to set myself up.  To be a coppicer and make money from it, you need a pickup and a chain saw and a chain saw license (and lots of other things, but those are the most expensive).  It wasn’t going to cost me the £1000 it had done to set myself up as a scythe teacher, it was going to cost me £10,000 at least.  While it’s entirely feasible to coppice by hand, especially if it is worked, rather than overstood coppice, it isn’t feasible to do it on a commercial scale.

Since I started the diploma, I have been thinking hard about one of my original aims which is to be outside ‘doing’ half the time and inside ‘thinking’ the other half of the time.  I still aspire to this aim, but I have refined the way that I plan to do it.  What I have discovered is that it isn’t possible to work outside and get paid for it unless you have a job doing that, or unless you give your whole life to it and don’t mind earning a pittance forever.  Doing a variety of things is really important to me, so those two options are out.  I’ve also discovered that what you might think is a failsafe ‘outside’ job – i.e. teaching scything – actually involves spending most of the time indoors doing marketing and administration.

So, I have come to the conclusion that getting outside often is probably not something I am going to be able to get paid for.  Bearing this in mind, the coppicing design has become a much smaller project which will be done for the purpose of wellbeing and health and being in nature, as well as for getting a bit of firewood and charcoal.  I am working on the design now, and will try to start to put it in place after we move.  Not knowing where I was going to be has put the brakes on this project as well as the garden project.  Trees work to a longer timescale than I was able to give them before, but when I move I will make a promise to be there for one whole cycle and to make plans for succession after that.

Action: Finish coppicing design   

Aaaand, that’s it folks.  My ten projects.  Hopefully they’ll look different in another six months when I feel compelled to do my next round up post!

Tagged , , , , , ,

End of winter round up: Part 1

Welcome to my six-monthly round up of how my projects are going.  Please overlook the fact that it’s nearly the end of May and cannot really be described as the end of winter any more.  On the surface of things I have hardly done anything for my diploma this winter – no blog posts for four months etc – but actually I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my designs, about my motivations for doing them, about how to make them work individually and all together as a group.  What follows is fairly dense, apologies for that now.


I am using my diploma to effect major change in my life.  I have chosen to do it over four years to give myself the time to make these changes happen.  This long period of time has also meant that I can observe and redesign the more complex designs.  I’ve also used it as an opportunity to do ‘practice‘ designs in some cases.  I’m working on a redesign of my Action Learning Pathway as I have refined my ideas a lot since I used Hedvig’s as a jump off point.

One of the ways in which I have refined my ideas is working out just how big or small a project should be.  In my head, the optimum size for a single design is the size of Hedvig’s clean air plant design (which I can’t seem to find a link to right now, but I am sure Hedvig will supply in the comments).  I’ll admit that when I first saw it I thought that it was quite unambitious in its scope, but that’s before I learnt how much observation and analysis it takes to actually make a design work properly.  Now I think it’s just about the right size to be interesting without being so big that it needs to be broken down into smaller designs.  This realisation has actually made a big difference to my designs as it as given me a scale at which I feel comfortable doing observation and analysis.  I feel like I have ‘got real.’

I have also realised that there is a different between a project which is large in ‘area’ (i.e. happens over a large piece of land) and a project which is large in complexity (i.e. has lots of different facets and therefore requires lots of different mini-designs).  A design could be large in size but not complex (i.e. the coppicing design I am working on – more soon), or be complex but not obviously large and important (such as the marketing designs I have been doing).  What I realised is that it’s really hard to work out the size and scope of a project without either quite deep analysis or without doing it.

As I know that I naturally tend towards massive overblown projects that will change the whole world (and which I haven’t got a hope in hell’s chance of pulling off), this has been the biggest win of the diploma so far.  Using the design cycle has made me slow down, observe, analyse and really think about how a design will fit into my life because for me (and I suspect for most people), it’s self observation rather than external observation that makes the difference between the success and failure of a project.

So, in redesigning my ALP I have decided to include a ‘non land based design starter kit’ which can function as my jumping off place for all non-land-based designs, as well as the basic roadmap towards my goals.  I’ll include the checklist in this starter kit obviously as I am already finding it immensely useful.  I’m so glad that I managed to write those ideas down because where the hell you start a non-land based design has always baffled me completely.  There’s so much help with land based design and almost none at all with non-land-based design.

ACTION: Write up redesigned ALP and ‘design starter kit.’  



The design is a basic overview of the ways in which I make/hope to make my livelihood, how much each strand will contribute to my finances and how much time it will take.  With this design as with a few of the others, I hit the issue that it was impossible to do real observation and analysis without actually implementing it.  I found that without actually launching my scythe teaching business I could not estimate how much time it would take up nor how much money I would make from it.  My first design was based on a series of guesses.  This is because almost no one (with a few exceptions) are teaching scything at the scale that I want to do it.  Even if I could have done, I think I would have struggled to estimate how much time it would take me to get up to speed with running a micro-business (a long time).  I really feel like I had to learn by doing in this case.

Despite ostensibly being about ‘time and money,’ this design is really about me – what motivates me, what I want to spend my precious time doing.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently and when I have finally come to some conclusions (I’m 90% of the way there), I’ll need to do a redesign of this.  One of the biggest changes I’ll need to make is to take account of how many different income streams one person can really deal with.  I am still in favour of the poly-income (a portfolio career) – spreading out your income over a number of different streams so that it is resilient to crisis – but I have come to realise that the number of different subject areas that one person can keep in their head at the same time is limited.  Changing gears, e.g. from thinking about marketing scythe courses to writing, is an activity that takes time in itself.  Working out which strands to keep and which to drop is hard though and I have not quite come to the end of that process so I don’t feel like I am in the right place quite yet to do a redesign of this project quite yet.

Action: Time and Money redesign when ready

Two projects down… more coming up in the next posts!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Designing information: Organising my RSS reader

bloggery pokery crop


I spent a few hours today reorganising my RSS reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and an RSS reader, like Google Reader (which I use) means that you are informed when blogs are updated and don’t have to visit them individually to find out.

I follow a lot of blogs  (yes, including interior design blogs, I am entering into ‘that’ stage of my life…)  I’m unapologetic about the number of blogs that I follow.  I do spend a reasonable amount of time looking at them which used to set up a frisson of guilt in me (Am I wasting time?  Should I be doing something ‘more useful?’).  In the end I just concluded that I was interested in certain subjects which other people wrote about so why feel guilty about garnering inspiration, information, advice and ideas.  Actually, why feel guilty about being interested in someone’s life?

I am a ruthless culler of blogs too.  I only keep the blogs that I look forward to reading, otherwise looking at my RSS reader turns into work.  I also cull blogs that I enjoy, but which give me the feeling that my life is rubbish.  These tend to be American blogs written by women whose children are perfect, husbands are perfect, houses are perfect, Christmases and birthdays were perfect…  Likewise blogs that rejig the same tired ideas.

I signed up for a few more gardening blogs today because I am looking for places to write guest posts about scything for and by the time I had added them, the list of blogs that I follow was enough to give you a migraine.  No more!  I decided to put them into really simple folders according to their subject.  Previously my folder titles had been things like ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Green Thinkers.’  They date from a time when I had many few blogs to follow, but even then they were a bit vague.  Inspiration for what?  Thinking about what?

Putting these blogs into categories was really interesting because when I was done I looked at it and thought, yep, those are my life interests.  I thought through my diploma projects and considered whether I followed blogs about all of those subjects.  The answer was, almost all of them – coppicing, preserving and scything didn’t get a folder of their own but they fit in under rural skills and food.  One area that I did notice was missing was general life design, livelihood design and blogs about money.  These are all things that I am working on very hard in my diploma and yet they weren’t represented in my blog-roll.  I think this is because I still find the idea of talking about, thinking about or designing for financial rewards a bit gross – the way I felt about marketing before I discover Marketing for Hippies.  I’ve signed up for finance/entrepreneurial blogs in the past and always unsubscribed because I didn’t read them because it made me feel icky.  I need to find someone who is talking about these things in a way that I am willing to listen to.  Any ideas?  They need to be funny and directed towards money-phobes.  I’m also looking for some life-coaching/life-organisation blogs that don’t make me want to be sick.  Help gratefully received…

After I had taken the picture above, I went and looked at these folders and put the ones with some connection to each other next to each other.  Really, they all have connections to each other in my head, but I wanted to draw out the most important ones.   Gardening, foraging and permaculture went next t each other and also next to food.  Photography and graphic design went next to each other and were also linked to lifestyle.

I have decided to read them in a different way too.  Instead of clicking on the feed for the individual blog and seeing a stream of posts just from that blog, I have decided to click on the category – e.g.  Food.  This will show me posts from all of the blogs in that category in the order that they were updated.  Doing it this way means that it’s much harder to discern immediately which blog you are reading.  This is useful because it means that I can see which blogs broadcast their individuality immediately.   For example, I predict that in the ‘food’ category I will be able to recognise Smitten Kitchen immediately because while the pictures are good but not amazing, the writing is hilarious (which is, I have to say, unusual for a lot of the blogs that I read).  I also predict that I will be able to recognise What Katie Ate immediately because of her distinctive photographic style.  This sort of observation is really useful for developing my writing and photographic style.


Tagged , , , , ,

End of the summer round up: part three

Project five: Localise (Book)

This project hasn’t really materialised as a diploma project yet as it is stalled for reasons outside of my control, so we’ll leave it for now…

Project six:  The Garden

Designing gardens is tricksy when you’re a renter, and even more tricksy if you live with your landlord.  The garden at Toronto Terrace is really the first iteration of the garden that I aspire to (isn’t it always…)  What has been great about it is that it has given me the chance on a very small scale to practice things like base-mapping, observation and designing – even if not all of the aspects of the designs have been put into practice.  Previously Will and I had had an allotment which was far too big for us to cope with and far too far away, so small – for a bit – has been really good!  I’ve also really enjoyed the random seed experiment which has taught me something of plant competition and also how well planted areas lose a great deal less water than areas with bare soil.

The aspects of the garden that have been challenging have been people, rather than plant related.  Most of them are to do with me.  I live with Ben my friend and landlord and I have always known that this is not a ‘forever’ arrangement.  I knew I was going to leave sooner rather than later and therefore I didn’t feel motivated to put too much time, money or effort into creating a garden here.  Really, this garden has always been someone else’s project.  I completed a design and the infrastructure (beds, seating, planters etc) has gone in according to that design, but I really haven’t got on with acquiring many plants  for it.  As a permaculturalist I lean towards perennials, but as I am not permanent here, me making a decision on perennials that would stay always seemed a bit wrong.  What I possibly should have done is to take the opportunity of not having much planting space to take cuttings and start them off in pots so that when I do have space then I will have ‘free’ plants ready to put in.  That’s what I should have done, but even cuttings in pots take up space and while I have not known where I was going – and if it would have any outside space at all – then I have felt reluctant to do even that.  I now know where I am going, and it is tiny, but it does have some outside space – a roof.  I’m also not sure how long I will be there, but I’m a bit sick of feeling rootless (literally…) so I think I am going to investigate this cutting solution.

So my short term, for-the-next-house, vision?  To build up a small (really very tiny, Will) army of plants grown from cuttings that can be planted into the next-next-house which will definitely have a garden…  A kind of super-reserve of plants.

Next step:  Get my mum to teach me how to take cuttings, work out where they are going to go.


Project seven: The preserve-a-thon

What’s going well about this project is that I am absolutely crystal clear about what my aim is with it now.  What’s going less well is that I am yet to write this down properly…  Hmm, that’s a clear next step if ever I saw one.

This project has changed a lot since its inception.  My original design was bitty, with no clear objective.  Now my objective/vision is very clear – to create a use-every-day larder (as opposed to an emergency food store) which always has three months worth of food in it and for home-preserved food to make up as much of this store as possible in the circumstances.  This project also suffered from the ‘am I going to stay here?’ issue as well as the ‘who am I storing food for?’ issue and the ‘wow there’s really no space at all to store food here’ issue.  All fairly critical issues which has meant that while I know what I want to do, I haven’t really done much of it yet.

However, as I am moving there is the opportunity to progress this project a little bit – even if it’s just doing an Infinity (local food coop) wholesale order and having oatcakes available on tap…

Next step:  Write the freaking thing down, goddamit!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Being a permaculture hero – how stories can help your garden grow

Back in the 1940s there was an anthropologist called Joseph Campbell.  After studying the myths of cultures all over the world he came up with the following brilliantly simple insight: the stories were all the same!  Well, maybe not quite the same, but they all followed the same basic narrative structure.  He called this the ‘monomyth‘ and it has been invaluable to writers and film makers ever since.  But it isn’t just useful for writing stories, it can be useful for getting stuff done too.  Stories tell us how to achieve things.

Before I launch into a discussion of the ‘Heroes Journey,’ as Campbell called it, I should point out that all of the work on using it as a personal development tool has been done by my friend Erica Sosna.    If you are interested in this, go to one of the seminars that Erica runs on it.

So what is this narrative structure and how can it help me achieve things, I hear you ask?  Well, let’s start with Luke Skywalker.  Everyone uses Star Wars as ‘the’ example of the Heroes Journey – largely because George Lucas used Hero with a Thousand Faces to write the script.  He even hired Joseph Campbell as a script editor, so I am not going to start being original now.  Here’s how the Heroes Journey works…

Getting the call to adventure – Luke meets Ben Kenobi who tells him that he’s a Jedi and should, you know, do something about it.

Rejecting the call – He says, ‘nah, no thanks, I have to farm robots’ (or whatever it is that he does).

Accepting the call – But then when he goes home, his aunt and uncle have been burnt to a crisp so he really doesn’t have a choice but to go and save the galaxy.  Everything’s going really well for him (apart from the toasted aunt and uncle).  He gets the tools he needs (light sabre), some collaborators (Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca) and a mentor (Ben Kenobi) to teach him skills and show him the way  and off he goes.

Belly of the Whale – Then things start to get a bit tricky.  It’s not as easy to save the galaxy as he first thought.  His teacher has been killed.  He feels alone and isolated and not yet good enough to save the galaxy alone.  He realises that the hottie he has been snogging is his sister…

Great ordeal – Finally the ‘crescendo’ comes.  He has to use his superior Jedi skills to explode the Death Star.  Which of course he does.

Triumphant return home – where everyone is really pleased with him.  Though not ‘home’ home because that was burnt to a frazzle.

I’ve started to think of each project that I embark on as a story in its own right – to use the Heroes Journey as an analytical tool  I’m finding that thinking about it like this makes me really consider whether all of the elements required for a ‘triumphant return home’ are in place.  I hear the call to adventure very often and I rarely refuse it – hence why I always have such a lot of projects on.  Alas for me, I generally proceed directly from the ‘call to adventure’ to the ‘belly of the whale’ – at which point I generally give up.

In an effort to stop doing this, I’m trying to think before I start whether or not everything I need is in place.  Do I have a clear idea of how I am going to save the galaxy/build a roof garden?  Do I have all of the tools that I need?  Do I have collaborators who can turn up at exactly the right moment and save me from potentially life-threatening situations?  Do I have a mentor or mentors who can help me and show me the way when I get lost?  With some of my projects – e.g. scything – all of these things are in place, but with others – e.g. coppicing – they aren’t.  I’m trying really hard not to move too fast on these projects and work on building up these elements.

The Heroes Journey is, for me, a really interesting tool for permaculture design.  It begs further questions:  What tools and skills do I need to succeed?  Who are the right collaborators?  Who is the right mentor and how do I find them and persuade them to help me?  How can I stop myself from getting disheartened when I am in the belly of the whale?  How do I find the courage to face ‘the great ordeal’?  It asks you to think about your own personal development as well as the skills you have and the equipment you need.

I’m particularly interested in the mentor aspect.  They are the hardest part of the whole thing to put in place.  a cool project will easily attract willing collaborators, but finding someone who can teach and guide you is more difficult.  I consider myself a bit of an expert on finding mentors and I have found that…

Sometimes they turn up…  I consider Hedvig my mentor in Permaculture Design.  She’s actually officially my mentor for teaching permaculture, but before this I had always considered her a wise and knowledgeable owl and the person to talk to when Permacultural confusion began to reign.  I didn’t go out looking for a design mentor, but I found one anyway.

Sometimes you have to go and find them…  I purposefully went and helped out at Blackbark because I wanted to share in their knowledge.

I’ve often found that volunteering my time to help on a project is a great way to find mentors.  It helps that I do a lot of projects that involve ‘alternative’ communities (from anarchists to scythers) and sharing skills and helping each other is often deeply ingrained in these communities.  People will often teach you a skill because they want more people to know about it and because (up to a certain point) it feels good to be asked.  When it comes to working outside of these communities – such as trying to get into freelance journalism – I’m a bit stuck.  I feel ‘outside’ at the moment.  How do I find collaborators (e.g. a writing partner, friendly editors)?  How do I find a mentor who is willing to give their time to help me develop?  If I was an established journalist, I probably wouldn’t want to be the writing partner of someone who is just developing because I would feel like I was putting more into the relationship than I was getting out.  These are some things that I need to think about in my design for this project.

So, narrative as a Permacultural tool.  What do you think?

Tagged ,