I am a free womxn
Michelle Stemm works as an artisanal jewelle in Brisbane, Australia. Michelle is an advocate for responsible sourcing of materials and the ethical production of metals and gemstones in her craft. Michelle's design practice is led by a desire for versatile, innovative and functional jewellery that reveres the story of origin. Two Plums Design website
Describe a turning point in your life...
I recently separated from my husband. It was the most courageous and gracious thing I have done. It was the beginning of my knowing, finding my unwavering truth that gives me purpose and guides my decisions. Now I know I can do hard things.
What are you working on?
Personally I am working on letting go of things that irk me. Generally I try to push things aside thinking they don't matter, and I will magically get over it. But of course, the thing grows annoyance, resentment and frustration and eventually ends up in a hurtful situation. One of the processes to let it go, is to face it with a conversation. I am working on those conversations before they become arguments. I am also working on adventure.
What makes you optimistic about the future?
Listening to other amazing humans who think and feel deeply through their connection to nature and the wider human experience. I am certain that my little part will make a difference, all I need to do is affect just one person. I can say I have already done that, and I'm moving on to the next.
Describe an influential woman in your life …
My Kenyan (ex)mother-in-law. She is an only child who was raised in the English Catholic school system by nuns. She met and married a Kenyan man and was ostracised by her family. She moved to Kenya and had two boys before the relationship dissolved. She had no family and few friends. So she moved up to the Kenyan highlands, far away from her husband, bought a dairy farm and taught herself to run the farm, speak Swahilli, employ 40 workers and grow her own food. She remained connected through the BBC world service, and the Australian Womans Weekly that was often stolen before it got to her. She loves to do yoga in the evenings followed by a bath. She survived several violent break-ins, political unrest and personal grief, to eventually move to Australia when she was 79. She has always remained curious, generous and able to laugh at herself. She now lives on a small farm north of Taree and turns 92 this year. Among many things, I learned to love gardening from this woman. That has shaped my life in wonderful ways and will continue to.
How do you nurture your relationship with nature?
I am an avid gardener, inside and outside. I am a permaculturalist at heart and I get great joy from eating my produce. I also love to hike and swim whilst exploring the outdoors. I am endlessly inspired by nature, I always have pen and paper to draw what I see or at least take photos on my phone for future reference. My interactions with nature inspire my work, I simply couldn't live without it.
What's easy for you as a womxn?
Appreciating everyday things. Stopping to notice a scent on the breeze or a magnificent cloud.
What's difficult for you as a womxn?
That other people don't appreciate the same things.
How do you maintain mental fitness?
I am a regular exerciser, I go to the gym and dance classes, I also do yoga and am often in the garden. Physical movement is closely tied to my mental state and energy levels. I also journal, and am learning to use breath to be present and come into my quiet knowing.
What brings you joy?
Knowing brings me joy, because it leads directly to purpose and that energises my days.
Where do you feel a sense of belonging/community?
Amongst my friends where ever they may be. My making community of metalsmiths. Oddly, Kenya and the wide open plains of the Serengeti. But equally Port Macquarie, my home town.
Where do you live/work?
I live on Turrbal country in Meeanjin. I work for myself as an artist and a maker of jewellery. I have been fortunate to have a workshop in the Brisbane Arcade for the past year, however I much prefer working from home.
What have you changed your mind about?
I have changed my mind about a lot of things as I grow and evolve into the best human I can be. I have changed my mind about men, clothing, hair, meat, money and marriage.
What’s important to you?
My health and wellbeing is important to me. It is a way for me to connect with nature by focussing on foods in their natural packaging. It is also a way to offer my love and care for my friends and family. There is always something sprouting, fermenting or soaking on my kitchen bench.
Best piece of advice from a woman?
Follow your heart, and if you can't hear her, stop and listen, then listen some more. Then, do the next right thing.
How do you play?
I seek adventure and new things! I love to dance, listen to music and travel. And I am fortunate to be able to let myself play in my material craft. My creations are often my play.
When you’re down, how do you get back up?
First of all, I let myself be down. I take time to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings as they move through me. I will often journal, take a bath, meditate outside, do a yoga session at dawn. And when I am able, go for a bushwalk, or get to a spot where I can see the horizon. Gazing out to the ocean or the hills calms my soul and allows me to appreciate the moment, because going through down times means change, and change is good.
Knowing you can do hard things and emerge stronger is empowering. Over the span of our lifetime many relationships end for many reasons. Some we have choice over and as Michelle says it requires courage, but to be able to manage a separation with graciousness is more difficult to achieve. There is a move away from the acrimonious break-ups of the past towards conscious uncoupling. I first heard about this concept on a podcast called The Good Divorce, produced by my friend Maria Tickle, an excellent resource if you need help to consciously uncouple.