This week I have fallen into self doubt.
Self doubt is an interesting little swamp to be in.
Once you’ve taken a few steps in, it’s weirdly compelling to wade in further until you’re right up to your neck in it.
Thankfully I’ve done enough wading about in this slimy, cold experience and I’d rather just emerge back onto warm, dry land as soon as possible.
In my attempts to divert my attention away from the self doubt, this week I unlocked the attic door and went on a hands-and-knees exploration through old suitcases and behind picture frames. It was during this mission that I discovered some treasure. This treasure came in the form of my art folder that I had ten years ago, when I was only 20 years old. It seems like I was so little back then.
I dragged the folder back out into the almost civilisation of the Boy’s trashed room and looked inside.
What I found inside took my breath away. I wanted to cry and laugh and hug the contents all at once. I felt like an old friend of massive, courageous, daring proportions had just banged on the back door.
I don’t know where she came from or how she jumped into my head but out of all the characters I ever made up, Granny is the maddest, zaniest, most courageous, daring and loving person ever. I created a whole picture book around her and it was these illustrations I had found.
I’m not even sure if Granny is completely human (she is seven foot five, with wild blue hair and a ting of weird that would suggest some sort of Avatar DNA.) She works as a government explorer.
Being a government explorer involves:
a) being told where to go by stuffy government officials who smell slightly garlicy
b) exploring and documenting the place
c) feeding the information back to the history and geography teachers
The history and geography teachers then tell everyone what it’s like “out there” and society can happily sit at home believing they know about the world.
But one day something really bad happens. Granny gets a fax telling her to go to an island off the southern coast of Oogamiwotzit. When she arrives, she realises to her horror that she has already been on this island. She has come full circle. The whole world has been explored, documented and written down.
What is she going to do now?
Granny returns home. Everyone claps and welcomes her back to Society (Granny is quite famous by this point.)
“What will she do next?” ask the newspapers. “Will she buy a cottage in the Cotswolds and take a watercolour course? Will she settle down and bake cakes?”
Everyone is eager to know.
But Granny doesn’t say a word.
Instead she visits her granddaughter Magdalina.
Magdelina asks. “Are you going to stop exploring?”
“Stop exploring?!” gasps Granny in reply. “My dear child, I am about to embark on the explorations of my DREAMS!”
And that’s what Granny does. She heads off to explore all of the things that Society refuses to believe in.
The world watch with disbelief as she takes a trip to the Himalayas and not only finds the legendary Yeti, but also makes friends with him and goes back to his cave for Darjeeling tea.
After that, she treks north on crazy new adventures that nobody approves of at all.
“What’s she doing?” demand the papers. “Is she mad? Who gave her permission? Who warranted these explorations?”
The people who once clapped Granny are now beginning to doubt her.
“Have you heard what she’s doing now?”
“You won’t believe it, you really won’t.”
“She’s actually searching for the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu!”
And yet she finds them too!
(You can see that I didn’t quite complete all of the illustration spreads).
By this point the Powers That Be are getting really worried. Granny is shaking things up. She’s shifting people’s perceptions about the world, geography and history. She rocking the boat and altering beliefs about what is “really” out there.
It’s even making other people want to go and explore for themselves.
The Powers That Be try to bribe Granny to stop exploring. Then they blackmail her. But Granny is unbribable, unshakable, unstoppable. Eventually they decide enough is enough and as Granny sets off to Papua New Guinea to find the lost tribe of Zongalicious people, a group of bounty hunters and their robots are sent after her.
The Zongalicious people find Granny first.
They take her to their witch doctor, to whom Granny quickly explains, “The whole world has been organised, documented and found. There’s nothing left to explore anymore and I’m just looking for new ground.”
The witch doctor gazes at Granny for a long time. Then he smiles and says …
“Your world is as you make it, Granny. Believe in boundaries and you’ll make them. Believe in possibility and you’ll create it. Reach for doors and they’ll open. Never let your own world be dictated by the limited views of the people around you. Explorers will always expand the world by their curiosity alone. Doubters can’t help but hold it back.”
He then shows Granny how to knit a hot air balloon out of dust and light and silver cobwebs.
Granny returns to see Magdalena once more after that. As she lands in the lantern lit garden, the clanking sound of the bounty hunter’s robots can be heard outside the gate. Granny hugs Magdalena and tells her that she is going to go on the greatest exploration of her life and that the chances are, she won’t be coming back.
Then she picks up her purple dog and she climbs into the hot air balloon basket and she waves goodbye.
Magdalena watches the balloon travelling up and up and up, until it vanishes into the light of the moon.
All that’s left are Granny’s umbrella, her rucksack and her explorer hat.
After I completed Granny Woz Ere (it was a story told completely in rhyme) I sent the book off to 40 publishers. Most told me to bugger off. Yet some said, “we’d love to publish it, but the story is just too unconventional for a children’s book”. Eventually I wrote Granny’s character into my second “conventional” children’s book, Eggaporting To The Amazon. She even made it onto the front cover. After that I tucked the old Granny book away into my art folder and there it stayed until this week.
I’m so thankful for Granny showing up though.
I think she’s re-emerged to remind me and anyone else who feels self doubt at times that we all have elements of the explorer inside us. We also have elements of the Doubter too. When we’re trying to create something a little risky, a little daring or we are attempting to push back what is possible for us, there will always be voices inside us (and people in our life) who judge and point and laugh at new ideas and little visions of makign the impossibe possible.
Yet just like the witch doctor said, it’s the explorers who help the world emerge. New inventions, dreams, ideas and visions are what push back the horizons of the human experience while self doubt and fear pull those horizons in again.
I guess it about balancing the parts of us that think, “mustn’t stick out, mustn’t risk being different, mustn’t do anything too loudly incase I get judged,” and the wild, raucous, out there parts which just wants to leap in, get out there and join a tribe of Zongalicious people in Papua New Guinea.
So there. Granny has well and truly hauled me out of the self doubt swamp and I’m inviting her out of the loft.
I might even make her story into a book and put it onto the website.
After all, ten years have passed and I know how to make my own books now. Maybe it’s about time Granny re-emerged into the world. Shall I do it? Shall I? Can the world really handle someone with teeth like this?