I met Katrien last year when I photographed her incredible country wedding outside of Wagga Wagga. Leading up to the wedding we emailed back and forth for many months, sharing our own stories , ideas and bonding over our love of Australian flora and fauna. Katrien is a talented published author, who has a really unique and interesting perspective on life. I deeply admire the leaps Katrien and her family have taken to live a life that matters. You are going to love the wisdom that Katrien shares about her own unravelling. Did i mention she is really funny too?
WHO ARE YOU?
I’m a daughter, sister, wife (although I prefer the term ‘partner’), friend and human to a large, playful puppy. Some things I know to be true about me are that I love puns, fiction and fantasy books and eating with friends around a table or campfire. You may notice I use commas like breaths, I’m not sure why but I hate ending a sentence. I also identify strongly with the term third-culture kid: My sister and I were born in the Netherlands and raised on the Big Island of Hawai`i by an Australian mother and an English father. Because of their own travel adventures, my mom is an AMAZING cook and my Dad has a knack for getting us lost then found on what have become known as ‘Pickle tours’.
Being a student is the identity label I’ve had the longest and what I write on forms that ask for my occupation. I jokingly say that being a student is the socially acceptable way to never grow up, but in many ways it’s true. I love to learn and I’m so grateful to the adults in my life who have encouraged my curiosity. Unfortunately, I have not inherited my dad’s mathematical genius. Or maybe I just never put the effort in. Instead I’m burrowing my way through a PhD in Family Studies.
I’m someone who wonders about many things, reads a lot and eats a lot of cheese. Writing is a way for me to try and make sense of the world around me. Picture books are my favourite form of storytelling. You know those moments in life where you wish you could stop time and bottle up the exact feelings of that experience? That is what picture books can do. I’m really proud of Georgina and Dad theDragon, the partnership-published picture book I wrote and Lauren Merrick illustrated. It’s led to many amazing conversations and friendships with adults and children. There is a certain magic in connecting through picture books - they definitely are not just for children. If ever you’re feeling lost and alone, you can bet there is a picture book to mirror your experience and give you solace in knowing someone else felt what you’re feeling. Picture books are like illustrated posters that shout, “You matter!”
WHAT DOES UNRAVELLING MEAN TO YOU?
To me, unravelling speaks of shedding unnecessary layers to get to the core who you are: your identity. I think it’s a necessary, on-going process as you grow, or outgrow, certain parts of yourself. I’ve found that you need different layers depending on the season you’re in, but unravelling allows you to change outfits to suit the climate of your life. I once had a pair of black reebok high-tops with purple laces. I remember wearing them to death in second grade. My current self regularly wears (and loves!) a pair of Redback workboots which I’m sure my 7 year old self would have hated. To each her own!
For me, the concept of unravelling, is that the process can be ugly, hard and uncomfortable while also being beautiful, creative and rewarding. And playful, definitely playful. You call it the space in-between on your blog, and I totally agree. Making time to sit with uncertainty is how you can unravel creatively. Filling your time to never sit with uncertainty is how you can unravel painfully. I do think these moments of unravelling are inevitable because our identity needs space to grow and change.
COULD YOU TELL US A STORY ABOUT YOUR OWN UNRAVELLING?
At the end of the street I grew up on, there was an empty lot with a rambling, overgrown path that led to a stream and swimming hole. My sister and I would go there with our dog or sometimes mom would help us catch tadpoles. I can remember walking there one afternoon and finding a herd of cattle on the other side of the fence. For about the next week, the cows were still there. Cows have the most beautiful eyes when you see them up close. The cows wouldn’t let me touch them but I could sit with my arms over the top of the gate and my legs through the middle just talking to them about school and life in general. A similar sort of unravelling experience happens when I spend time with dogs, but being so close and seeing so deeply into the eyes of a cow, the feeling is intensified by their size. People who go diving and lock eyes with a whale have also written about this experience. It’s a reminder of your humanity mixed with a rush of emotions that come from asking fundamental questions about who you are, why you’re here and what life is. I wish I kept a journal so I could go back and read how I described it back then. I don’t know if I even told my parents or sister about it. When you get knocked off your feet by the beauty of nature, you can begin the process of getting back on your feet from a humbled view of the world. In a way, it’s a powerful reminder that you matter but that you aren’t the only one who does.
More recently, an uncomfortable unravelling process began with planning a wedding. I had to really evaluate who I was and what marriage meant to me, which led to asking myself more important questions about my values and how I want to spend my time. I look now at my changing values and idiosyncrasies and have to laugh because the same people who listened to me rant about my issues with patriarchy and the ‘Wedding industrial Complex’ came to celebrate my marriage to Ben. My sister even ironed my dress, haha! I now feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to celebrate this joy with our families. The major unravelling was when I was knocked off my feet by the beauty of so much love for myself and Ben: up until that moment I had equated independence with solitude. After we got married, I left a full-time job for an unpaid internship, did a road trip from Newcastle to Adelaide to Wagga Wagga, got accepted into a PhD program and moved house three times. I also dyed my hair three times after making a pact with myself that I wouldn’t dye my hair at all this year. I confuse even myself!
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN THROUGH THE UNRAVELLING PROCESS?
Moments connecting with nature always leave me feeling small, in a good way. It’s a reminder of the insignificance of the personal and the significance of the collective. It’s an unravelling of ego so you can find more solid footing on shared ground. I spend so much time wondering about things in my own life, I need daily reminders to get outside – outside of my head and the little bubble I create.
The nitty-gritty conversations that Ben and I had before and after we got married have brought us even closer and made me aware of how much I like him not just as my partner/life buddy but as a person. I really admire and respect who he is and how he lives. It is a privilege to be my complete self and do life with him. The lessons I learned through this recent unravelling journey have taught me to soften at the edges and let go of control (something I am still working on!). For many years in our relationship, I couldn’t find the balance between independence and reliance on someone. I thought it had to be either, or. Now I’m seeing it can be everything, all at once in a messy, wonderful, difficult and rewarding jumble of love.
Something else that has been so valuable from this process has been the opportunity to reflect on who I am if I’m not employed. For a few glorious months, Ben and I were fortunate to stay with my parents while I did an unpaid internship in Adelaide. It is so humbling and eye-opening when you’re asked ‘What do you do?’ and you don’t have an immediate job title to answer with. If ever you need a prompt to explore your identity, ask yourself that question and don’t use any part of your paid work to answer.
HOW DID YOU SUPPORT YOURSELF DURING THIS UNRAVELLING?
In planning for the wedding, I talked a lot. To Ben, my best friend, my parents, my sister, my colleagues,…. everyone who would listen! I actually remember a series of essay emails I wrote to you to be our photographer, before we’d even met in person, haha! I wrote a lot down and tried to make sense of everything I felt. I also read a lot (books and blogs!) and through one of the blogs I like, I found a mentor who helped me to map out my goals relating to a vision. It’s the first time I’d ever thought like that – in a practical, linear sense. Most of the time I’m just floating along with ideas that pop out at me and I follow those until I’m distracted by something else. A lot of the time, this works for me because I happen across things I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t been wandering aimlessly. Other times though it adds to my anxiety because I get nervous that I’m going nowhere and wasting time. Having help to define my values and set a vision means I can go back to these pieces of paper whenever I want to and see that I am indeed moving along a path that is, although unforeseeable and uncertain, still tied to my values and dreams. It also helps ground me when I’m floating around to see where I should be reigning myself in and being more task-focussed.
WHAT ADVICE YOUR YOU GIVE TO YOUR UNRAVELLING SOUL IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME?
Oh, woah. I would not like to go backwards but if I could shout out to the self I was two years ago from where I’m standing now, I would say BE GRATEFUL! I totally took for granted that I was in a fun and loving relationship with a kind person. I was so focused on marriage as a social construct and trying to force it to be something different to me that I lost all perspective of what really matters. Connecting and contributing to the people I love is what matters, to me. I’m still on a see-saw to figure out how I can do this, because the amount of brain energy a PhD requires sometimes squashes me flat and I become a very cranky bear.
I love this question. I feel like this is the perfect question to ask someone instead of, “What do you do?”Lately I’ve been dreaming of setting up a space for children to curate their creations: artwork, speeches, workshops, etc. I think it may be something I can try when I finish this PhD, because a lot of the literature I’m reviewing at the moment relates to children’s use of space. I like the idea of flipping an adult-made world on its head so that rather than finding spaces that are child or family friendly, there is a space that is made by children that ends up being enjoyable for all ages.
WHAT BIG DREAMS DO YOU HAVE ON YOUR RADAR?
I also dream of long hiking trips, rail and road trips through many countries, of designing our home and trying to build as much of it as we can, and of living back in Hawai`i for some years. I would really love to have more stories published as picture books, so I continue to write and send in manuscripts when they feel good enough. I am slowly finding a community of other writers both where I live and online, which is really fun!
My haphazard attempt to be an entrepreneur includes random instagram posts and a sporadically updated website, but if you order a book from me I can dedicate and sign it before posting!
Purchase a copy of Katrien's magical book Georgina and Dad the Dragon