The Curious Incident of the ‘Almost’ Dog and the Stranger. 

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There are moments in life which stop you in your tracks. This was one of them.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving to Wexford with Finn (my housemate’s dog, or as above). The car was my housemates too.

I had decided to buy my own dog. For weeks and weeks I had been looking online for little doggies, searching for the one. And then, there on the website was this little face, all too cute, looking back at me. This was to be the one. She happened to live in Wexford.

When I got to Enniscorthy, I called the owner and was on my way.  I was excited, a little nervous, thinking about how my life was about to change with my own dog. It is a big commitment and one I don’t take lightly. However, life was about to change in another direction, with a bit of drama in the mix too.

About five minutes from the owner’s house the car engine literally blew. There was steam and ruckus and more steam. Thankfully no flames, but I was clearly not going anywhere. It was getting late and would soon be dark. What on earth was I to do? Little Finn’s big eyes were staring back at me.

‘I’m no mechanic’, he said, ‘but an avid enthusiast- can I take a look?’ I turned around to see that a stranger had pulled over to help. The news was not good. He suspected the head gasket had blown, and that indeed I wouldn’t be going anyway. But then he looked at me and with the kindest of gestures said, ‘You can trust me. I am not in a hurry. I will not leave you stranded here on the side of the road. We will get this sorted and you will be safe’.

In those moments you have got to trust.

Within minutes he had figured out a solution- calling friends, arranging support, arranging to borrow a trailer, offering to tow the car, offering a space to leave the car while we arranged to get it back to Dublin.

Meanwhile I had also phoned my housemate, who was trying also to find a local mechanic to help- she did, and before I knew it that mechanic had arrived, the car was towed to Enniscorthy, the other man was on his way too, and I was dropped to the train station with little Finn.

All this kindness, all the generosity and all this support.

On the train I texted the first man to thank him. He had given me his number in case anything else happened and I needed help. His reply, ‘It was my pleasure, I wish more people would do the same so it wouldn’t seem like it was such a gesture’.

That first man’s name is Gareth and he happens to run a restaurant in Gorey called The Pig’s Tail. If his food is anything as generous as his kindness or impeccable as his manners, it will be spectacular.

As for the dog? Well it turns out I am still looking for the one. I’m going to wait a little while though, as if ever there was a sign to pause, this was one. In the meantime Finn is in her element, lapping up all the love and plotting how she can put a spell on the next engine too!  One thing is for sure however, we are both ever grateful for the kindness of strangers and the momentum of trust.

 

 

………….

And a little reminder…

Living Seasonally starts tomorrow, Wednesday 4th Nov. More details including registration info is over here… I’ll leave registration open until Thursday. Hope you will consider joining. Clare xx


Creative Islander: Naomi Fein

Naomi Fein Creative Islanders lead image

Photo: Clare Mulvany

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

I first met Naomi about five years ago at a dinner in Cork. I remember her telling me about her move to Ireland from Israel and her love for animation. At the time she was teaching animations skills to kids. Next time I met her, she spoke to me about an idea for a business, and boom, before I knew it Think Visual was born and booming. Naomi Fein is certainly one to run with an idea, but as she will say herself, it has taken passion, perseverance and a whole lot of trial and error.

Think Visual, based in Cork, is a visual design consultancy offering graphic recording, harvesting, and visual tools for making knowledge actionable, shareable and memorable. In a world of so much data and stimuli, Naomi is always seeking ways to make information more accessible and meaningful. How can complex problems be solved when the information about those issues is presented in complex ways?. It is questions like this which drive her business.

One of the many things I admire about Naomi is her willingness to try things out and learn by doing.  So while she has this natural instinct for creative entrepreneurship, she also knows that the skills can be developed and all the more when you surround yourself with excellent mentors and colleagues.

A couple of weeks ago Naomi and I met in The National Gallery of Ireland. She talked, I took notes, and together this interview was born….

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What keeps you in Ireland? 

Space. It is the outside space; the fact that I can lift my head and see green and sky. I did not have this in Israel. And it is the personal space which people give you. In Israel people do not give each other so much internal space- so people enter into each other’s mental space/ emotional space all the time, and I think in Ireland we give more room to each other.

And the friendliness here. Simply put, the people are nice, and it is a pleasant experience to interact.

 

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Graphic by Naomi Fein

What makes you tick? What motivates you? 

Seeing my colleagues grow- I get so much energy from that. So when you see someone take a confident step and own their learning is inspiring and motivating. Like Gracie, who came to Think Visual as an admin, and is now designing and delivering programmes, and is proud of her work. It is mindblowing, and something I am proud of too.

Think Visual is where I am focusing me creative energy at the moment, and it is building connections, real connection, with people. That motivates me too. I love supporting people to find their potential and clarity. When people have clarity of vision, you can see results in their outlook and actions- I love that. I just want to use all my skills and gifts and try to have a positive impact on the world. I suppose that it the true motivation.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

I draw. I actually can’t stop. Like right now, I am on the iPad. I draw a lot! I listen to stories too- podcasts. And I talk business. I absolutely love it- chatting to people about what they really want. I want to hear their dreams.

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Image: Naomi Fein on Paper App from Studi0 53

What does the creative process teach you? 

Slowing down is really important, and if you build a good base it comes. So for example, asking a lot of questions in the beginning and not jumping into the making too fast is so important. There is always the urge to jump into an idea, but the creative process has taught me to ask the right questions, poke around in the corners and then let things fall into place naturally and effortlessly.

Listening to yourself and the feedback which is coming back to you is also really important. There are many signs which are very subtle but if you know how to listen to them you get a feeling of when you are off or when it needs refining. So it is working with your whole experience- a body sensation, or feeling, or a word which keeps coming back to you. It can even be the breathing of the person next to you. So constantly listening to the feedback which is coming can teach you so much.

How does taking a creative approach to running your own business influence you? 

I am a fan of the collaborative approach. Creativity is not exclusive. There is magic when you celebrate that creativity to come from all people- whether they are labelled ‘creative’ or not. So, the engineer in a meeting, or the accountant, may come up with the best solution- but you need to be willing to listen for that. So it is a partnership approach. People are intrinsically creative.

I always wanted to play in a band, and now this is how work feels for me. We are all the instruments and the music or magic is in the interaction between all the diverse elements.

Why do you do what you do?

I want to have global influence. It is a feeling I have had since childhood. I live in the big picture, and have a global perspective. I really want to play my part and have a good time on the way. I love connecting with like minded people and people who want to use their power and passion and gifts.  Connecting to people who feel powerful and working together- it just feels so right.

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What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

The things which come to my mind are the darkest moments. Feeling totally isolated, being in a severe depressed and anxious place but finding that I could find my way out of it. So there are not specific moments, but  I have had this mental shift to know that I can survive. I found a way to get out of that dark place.

I did have one moment which really informed this though. I was 21. I was in India and suddenly I felt that everything is OK and I don’t need to do anything. I realised that I did not have to fix the problem, instead I was able to just feel that there is a bigger picture, bigger than my personal story. That is a base or foundational moment that I go back to. Interestingly I was not practicing meditation at the time- it was quite spontaneous and I was not looking for it. In fact I felt that I had been working really hard up that moment, but in that moment it was effortless. It was not passive but I knew that if I let the reins go, I can be part of whatever is happening without stressing about it. I had a sense of flow and the kind of energy it takes to sustain it. It does not mean I can’t work hard- I am working very hard- but it not in a forceful way. If I feel I have to push something, I know it is just not the way it should be.

So, in essence, if you are not enjoying it- find another way to do it!

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

I talk! I am extroverted thinker and I need to hear myself talk about the issues or the stuckness. So I look for people I can learn from. Who has done it before? Who has connected to this? If the problem is a visual thing, I look at other people’s work. I look for something that has inspired me. Pinterest boards, google searches, Paper App. I assume that someone has tried to solve that problem before and then I ask for help.

I start with ‘What am I really looking to do?’. If I am stuck, there is something lacking clarity. I use this approach with my clients or colleagues too, asking, ‘What part of the process are you stuck on? Are you jumping steps?’ So it helps to reflect on the process and ask if you are missing information or starting at the right point.

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Photo: Clare Mulvany

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Pinterest. 

Ira Glass! (Oh my god!)

I really love Anna Sale from Death, Sex and Money podcast. 

Visual wise- paper app of Studio 53

I have really good colleagues. Eleanor, Gracie, Alfreod, the Georges (we have two!) and Carol are an endless source of inspiration, each one in their unique way.

My brother and my sister.

I also love a Mexican artist Ado Crusher I found recently online.

Carol Dwek (Mindset)

Dan & Chip Heath – they write about business books, they talk about what makes stories stick and how you make sustainable change with people and decision making.

The 5th Discipline with Peter Senge. 

And my grandma – she is remarkable. She is an artist and creative person. She is 95 – she can’t really see or hear well but she just redesigned the guest room. She re-painted the door to suit the new design, the mattress was too big for the room for bed, so she cut it. There was a hole in the wall so she got cement and fixed it. She is an innovator – and even though she is house bound, she always finds a way. She has such a positive outlooks.

There’s inspiration all around us! Having a positive outlook is a thread linking all these…

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way ? What have you learned from your ‘failures’? 

So many! That is a whole new blog.

I just gave a talk on it!

The biggest learning in the business is managing people. I have had to let go of so many people because it just wasn’t working out. But I have been learning to take small successful steps. Small successful steps- they are key.

As a creative person I can see an idea, and people invest their emotions and energy into that idea.  But I have learned that you need to test the ground, and do it in a safe way so that you take calculated risks together… so small and successful steps. Then you build on each small successful step and evaluate as you go. Is it working for you? What are you learning? How can we do better? Are we each taking responsibility for our actions? I believe in supporting people in the right place so that they can set goals which are attainable and build upon that.

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Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals? 

I am bad in routine! I think it is because I live a lot in my head. But when I am more in my body I am more inclined to keep a routine. But I do walk with my dog every morning in nature. Most of the time I will listen to a podcast and get my dose of stories for the day.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path? 

Be kind to yourself. It means slowing down. It doesn’t have to be painful. If it started with ‘I have to scratch my wounds, I have to bleed, you have to be a starving artist’. That is bullshit! It is not true… we can enjoy the process and it does not have to be all pain.

What is coming up next for you? 

This year has been about finding the team- finding my colleagues.

What’s coming us is taking us as a group to the next stage. It is interesting place because I don’t have a strong vision for the company but it feels so full of opportunity but we are going on a journey together. We are planning our first big party! I am really looking forward to seeing what will come for us.

There is something that became more quite for me personally too, and I am meeting people at a deeper place. I am settling. I don’t have itchy feet. I don’t know exactly what is emerging, but I am looking forward to  finding out. It feels good quality so I am not worried. I know I am attracting the right people around me, and what they bring is good.. and everything else will be OK.

Although recently winning the Business Woman of The Year award was great! We are getting good feedback… and people have been so kind and heartwarming and supportive. It is empowering! Very empowering…

 

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Who would you like to see interviewed here on Creative Islanders? 

Got suggestions? Please leave a comment below. 

Clare. x


A Question of Design

Take two scenarios.

Classroom A and Classroom B- schools I visited on my travels a few years back.

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Classroom A is a government run primary school in Mombassa, Kenya. The average pupil teacher ratio at the time was 133:1 (yes, you read correctly). This is only half the class in the photo- a group of pupils who were coming in for some extra tuition in the run up to their final primary school exams. While numbers are large, there are signs immediately that this is a classroom: school desks, text books, notebooks, school bags, blackboard, teacher at the top of the class, uniforms.  Note too that this is a primary school and the majority of the students are in their mid-teens.

Now, let’s look at Classroom B. This is a primary school run by an NGO in Kolkata called Vikramshila. And again we recognise it as a classroom: children, learning, writing… But in Classroom B, things strike me, like in a game of spot the difference.

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By painting the base of the walks in blackboard paint, each wall has become a copybook which children can write on directly. The rest of the wall is used to hang artwork and learning prompts. Desks and chairs have been eliminated, as too uniforms. With a flexible space, the teachers knell down to engage with the children. The teacher is not always at the top of the classroom and the class is working in small peer-to peer groups.

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It strikes me that we have an ‘idea’ of what education should look like, but this pre-conceived notion does not equate to quality education, nor is it always the most cost effective.  Do you really need chairs for education to be good? Or books? Or uniforms? In developing contexts, these are expensive items. Having to buy a uniform or a copybook could be the difference of whether your child goes to school, or not. It seems to me that the thinkers behind classroom B have asked some fundamental questions about learning and were willing to toss the education blueprint. I suspect they asked questions such as; ‘How can learning be best facilitated? How can we eliminate barriers to entry? What economic contexts are the pupils coming from? How can we make best use of the space that we have? How can the children learn from each other?

Whoever designed classroom B are true design thinkers, in action. They know that the most effective is not necessarily the most costly. Instead effectiveness begins by asking the right questions and getting into the mindframe of not just the pupils, but their parents too.

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And in saying all this, I also want to add how much I admire the teacher is classroom A. My goodness, she was doing her best. Her name is Madame Florence, and here she was coming in on her spare time to give extra classes to pupils who she cared about. It was not a lack of caring which is impeding on their progress but a lack of questioning at a design and systems level.

Creativity too is a process which begins with questioning. So weather you are designing your own classroom or workspaces, your business or even the flow of your days, you can take some inspiration from Classroom B and ask yourself… 

  • What can be eliminated in my systems to make them run more efficiently? 
  • How might the space I am in be used better to create the outcomes I am looking for? 
  • What context are my students/ clients/ customers/ beneficiaries coming from? 
  • What resources do I currently have which I can redistribute or reuse to create a better environment?

 

Change begins with a willingness to shake up the blueprints we have inherited and question afresh. 

Now, I am wondering, where can I get my hands on some blackboard paint….

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Tonight I am facilitating a workshop on Education and Development for the Suas Global Issues Programme – which prompted me to write this post. I will be covering similar topics as well as looking at gender in education and new trends in global education. Find out more about the Suas Global Issues courses here.


Creative Islanders: Katie Sanderson

 

Creative Islanders Katie Sanderson

Photo: Shantanu Starick

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

Katie Sanderson is part magician, part chameleon.  I mean this metaphorically of course, based on her ability to transform food into rare treasure and the dexterous navigation of her own career path. She lets curiousity and passion direct her, and placing creativity at the helm, she leads others down wonderous journeys too- not just through their taste buds, but through creative experiences which all follow a love and respect for food, community and the land which they inhabit. These journeys have involved the creation of a pop-up restaurant- Dillisk, food workshops, raw food events and communal dinners. Within them all is that extra bit of magic; alchemy for the senses and the soul.

Last week Katie and I sat down in The Fumbally Cafe, tossing around these questions and capturing her responses – first verbally, and then seeing which words wanted to land here. She also shared an abundance of amazing images- taken by both herself, and the talent of Shantanu Starick of The Pixel Trade.

With pleasure, I introduce you to chef and creative islander Katie Sanderson…

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What keeps you in Ireland?

It is the people and the land, but also the amazing group of friends and the community that I am lucky to be surrounded by. Ireland as a place has become more ‘home’. At one stage I thought I didn’t want to be here because I kept leaving, but I realise now that I was going away to learn things, expand my experience and then bring them back. Ireland is as much a launchpad as it is a base for me.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

When I feel like people are getting something out of what I do- that they are enjoying it or are inspired by it. (I find this question hard)

What do you do just for the love of it?

Tea with friends. Picking seaweed. I love to go to the shore and look at all the rock pools. And I cook even though sometimes I forget to do it for myself. But at the end of the day I’m one of those  lucky people who loves what I do (most of the time)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What does the creative process teach you?

It teaches me that more is possible. We are super capable of creating anything. It can be difficult but it becomes easier over time. The creative process facilitates a place where you are able to think in a different way. The more you do, the more you are able to do.

It tells me to follow my curiosity. As soon as something comes up which I want to follow, I try not to hesitate. I just go for it. This is when I take off and travel. For example, I recently started exploring different methods of fermentation after a meal in San Francisco in Bar Tartine blew my little socks off. It wasn’t that it was the best meal I’d ever eaten it but it was that I could taste the creativity and the originality beaming from the kitchen, and that was super exciting. A few months later I went for two months to work alongside them and soak in as much as I could. Then I came back to Dublin, the stars somehow aligned and Ash and Luca of the Fumbally asked me to help establish the homemade drinks and ferments which are now available. The Fumbally tends to be there for me one way or another when I need my stars to get in order.

When the journey is a creative journey you can’t really go wrong. There is no failing. Once you start to work in this way it builds its own momentum and everything including the supposed “failing” is part of that journey.

(This question is easier!)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Why do you do what you do?

I love it. I did think maybe I would like to be a forensic scientist too.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I was a child on Saturday nights in Hong Kong we ate our dinner on a picnic rug watching movies on Laser Discs (records with movies- I don’t think they ever became popular outside of Asia). My papa would bring them home on Fridays and we would have family meetings about which order we might watch them in. We generally wouldn’t see very much of him during the week and the excitement of him and the movies was huge. Somehow at a very early stage (8yrs)  I got the role of making dinner. I think it was a cunning plan of my mother’s to free time for Cilla Black. We called them ‘naughty nights’. In a city with so many people and not much freedom, I got this space to go to the shops and pick what I wanted my family to have for dinner, and make a big mess in the process. Only summers in the West of Ireland with blackberries all over my face has topped the freedom of these nights for me.

Later (about four years ago) back in Dublin, I worked for a family as a private chef. It was the opposite experience! The money was good and for a very short while that sustained me, but I was really restricted and had many parameters on what I could do. I noticed my love starting to dwindle and I knew I had to reclaim it. With absolutely no knowledge of the subject and on a bit of a whim I booked a raw food course, and found myself in Oklahoma of all places…

Then, with an increased knowledge and inspired by new aspects of food creation, I kinda made a promise to not let myself get into a position where I don’t have creative freedom.  This has helped to guide me forward.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I think that naturally when you are feeling stuck, you end up not wanting to move physically. You can get stuck on the internet and in your head and I think that moving your body, whether that be yoga or a walk with some trees, or whatever it is you do. It’s so important to make yourself do it, and to do a lot of it.

And then to speak- don’t let your voice get stuck too. Talk to your friends, family anyone who will listen and see if anyone has any insight or a different perspective.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Nature and travel.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way ? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

You need to be confident in what you are offering or your products. I believe in helping people out, but you also need to be able to charge for what you do and not be taken for granted.

Obviously you are going to be influenced by other people and things that you see, but if you try to come up with original ideas, and do something for the right reason- I believe it is always going to succeed. It may take you in a different direction but it will take you somewhere.

I have also learned that I have the most amazing generous friends who help each other out all the time. With Dillisk project we built a small restaurant in a loosely converted boat shed in the middle of connemara. It was a dream my partner Jasper and I had. It was only possible by the amount of friends that came down to help us. Some weekends we had 18 people down there and we would cook big lunches and everyone would be helping us all day long-  it’s remarkable to think of how much they gave and continue to support us.  The restaurant was done on a shoestring, only made possible by collaboration. There is such beauty in working in this way.  

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

Not really.  Well…. the thing is I have been trying to be one of those people who get out of bed early and move slowly. But it takes me ages to get out of bed and then I spend most of the day chasing my tail.

In so far as creative habits, I take photos. I find words difficult (like this interview!) but I have always enjoyed imagery and can showcase my work and express myself through this medium.

Ginger and lemon tea too! I have it when I need to focus.

 

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Photos: Katie Sanderson

What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

The Pixel Trade website (my friend Shantanu who has been travelling the world and documenting trades for three years. Sometimes I forget how giddy his project makes me but a short time on his website puts it all back into perspective)

Fool Magazine.

The Bar Tartine Cookbook.

Podcasts- On Being.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

That it is not weak to ask for help.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Don’t forget to have the craic!

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What is coming up next for you?

It is evolving. I am in a transition period and working things out. To be honest I’m a bit stuck and at some crossroads. But that’s OK too.  I’m going to Kenya for a bit of the winter, and will be Staging (interning) in London for a few months afterwards (Lyles). I think i’ll be back in Connemara for summer but not sure in what guise. It will all evolve…

Connect withKatie: Her website is here and more on Dillisk Project here

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

Watch this beautiful video of Dillisk, made by Ben McDonald…

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetPhoto: Katie Sanderson


Living Seasonally Winter Session

Living Seasonally Winter 2015 poster

The months swing around. The seasons come, and go again. As the days here in Dublin get shorter and the nights longer, I am preparing for the winter.

There are practical things, like buying a new blanket for my bed and stocking up on woolies; and then there is the mental shift, understanding that the darkness has something to serve, for in the dark the light is born.

It is only really in latter years that I have started to understand the darkness more; an understanding which has been augmented by appreciation of the ancient rhythm of the celtic calendar, itself underscored with the truth of constant change. Tuning into this seasonal pull and pace is a way, I find, to steady myself and connect me deeper to the natural cycles of life. I find it a beautiful thing, for nature knows when it is time to bud, then bloom, and it knows so instinctually when it is time to rest.

We resist so much of that, with our electric cities and the constant murmur to ‘do’ and push at pace.

I have come to think of the seasons as powerful metaphors, offering us questions from which to explore our own currents, visions and purpose. The turning inwards of nature offers the questions of, ‘what is wintering in your own life?’, and then, ‘what wants to be seeded?’.

But winter is a time too for a slower germination.

I remember the first bulb I planted. I was about 6 or 7 years old and was given a hyacinth in school. But in order for it to germinate I had to keep it in the dark, for what seemed like an eternity. I hid the pot under a bookshelf in my classroom but every so often would peak a glance, staring into the darkness for signs of life. I was doubtful, very doubtful. ‘How could something grow in there?’, I wondered.

But the conditions for growth have a mystery to them, and little did I know back there that darkness was growth’s aid.

Then one day, kneeling down of the cold classroom floor, and scooting further under the bookshelf to get a glimpse of the plant pot, I spotted it. A green tuft popping out of the clay, edging towards the light. I’ll never forget that hyacinth. It turned out to be purple and had the most magnificent evocative fragrance. All born in darkness.

The winter is a time to turn inwards, to let our own hyacinths come to their gradually life. It is time for us to honour our own wintering, as we honour our own growth. It is time too to warm our hearts.

All of this; this wintering, this honouring, has led me to develop  this coming session of ‘Living Seasonally’. Over the course of 8 days, there will be a chance to gather online, prepare for the season ahead, turn inwards and trust our own rhythms. There will be time too to warm the heart- with poems and the sharing of stories. And time to find a sense of rest and renewal through meditations, journal practices and creative prompts. I’ll be sharing some seasonal recipes as we all learn to nurture ourselves, and others, from a place of connection and wisdom.

This is living seasonally for me.

We will be live from 4th- 11th November. I would love for you to join me.

Registration is now open. Head on here to find out more and if you have any questions please get in touch.

Until soon…


Creative Islanders: Alison Ospina


Alison Ospina

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

….

Back in August I went on some gallivants around the South West of Ireland. I had travelled in search of the wildness of ocean but in going I also had an ear out for innovative talent and creativity which had not previously been on my radar. It doesn’t take long in West Cork to find it for it seems to be flowing out of its very sinews. Within hours I was already being invited to exhibition openings and into artist’s homes. Fortune continued to favour me, for I got invited along to a series of short talks by makers in the region who were hosting a showcase exhibition called ‘Seven Hands’. And it was there I met Alison.

Hearing Alison talk about her work was a pure joy. She radiates enthusiasm, knowledge and a pure love of her craft. I have never met anyone more excited about chairs in all my life!

Alison is no ordinary chair maker however. She brings such respect to her material (hazelwood), that one could also describe her as a diviner of chairs- asking the wood how it wants to be shaped, what form it wants to take as she selects pieces for the legs, arms and back, and honouring the soul or essence of the tree from which it originated. That connection to source is carried right through to the final product. With some of the bark stripped and some left raw, it makes for tactile, textured and strikingly characterful chairs which are a delight look at, touch and sit on. The hazelwood Alison uses is all grown locally and sustainably. Plus, because of its growing cycle it means that the winter months are quite for her. During those times she writes. She is the author of two books, with a third on the way. She is a teacher too, sharing her craft and passion in workshops in her West Cork studio.

So, it turns out that I already knew Alison’s husband, who I met through Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. Mmm… small world Ireland indeed!

With pleasure, I hand you over to Alison Ospina. In doing so, I wish you could sit on one of her chairs as you read this. You’ll just have to enlist your imagination and pay a visit to West Cork soon…

 

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What makes you tick? What motivates you?

I love trees and I love wood, I love working with it, polishing it, touching it, looking at it. I also have a major obsession with chairs!

What keeps you in ireland?

I moved to West Cork almost 20 years ago and it was here that I started making Green Wood Chairs. Here I learnt to make elegant, sculptural chairs that reflect the grace and beauty of the trees they come from. All my materials are grown in my immediate locality – my chairs and I are rooted in the West Cork countryside.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

All of my work is done for the love of it – I can’t stop, it makes me feel so good!

What does the creative process teach you? 

Initially I was so excited about making chairs from hazel that I rushed at it with only the final result in mind. Over the years I have learned to enjoy the process. I am methodical, I take my time, correct mistakes and focus on getting it as close to perfect as possible – that’s where the real satisfaction lies –  I guess it teaches me self- discipline.

Why do you do what you do?

I used to work in psychiatry – I’m fascinated by people and what makes them tick. I have discovered that there is nothing more therapeutic than working with your hands to create useful, beautiful things. I enjoy the making and the learning processes and I enjoy the feel of developing skills – it is satisfying and makes me feel fulfilled.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I started teaching in adult education I had to write a module descriptor for Green Wood Furniture Making. I was forced to really pick apart every process and describe it in writing. It was so hard to do but ultimately really useful.

The next key moment was writing my first book  “Green Wood Chairs.”  Writing down all my methods and techniques turned my practice into something accessible to others. I now find that people who see the book, get inspired and have a go at green wood chairmaking themselves.

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

If I do not feel inspired for a while, I do something completely different and unrelated. I read a lot of fiction and I write (non fiction) books. My work schedule is dictated by my materials to a large extent:  Hazel is coppiced in December/January, it is left to stand until April/May, I make chairs and teach courses from May to September and I write books and teach in college from September to May.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems? 

Much of my inspiration comes from seeing the bare branches of trees in Winter silhouetted against the clear grey sky. The shapes of the negative spaces intrigue me, these are the shapes I want to incorporate into next year’s chairs.

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you? 

Through the tough times I am sustained by my husband (who says, “It doesn’t matter if you have made a loss this year – you are an artist – look at Van Gogh, he never sold any paintings in his lifetime”, my family and my dog who loves me unconditionally!

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

I have learned that it is very difficult earning a crust as a creative practitioner. I have done a few courses for entrepreneurs and read lots of business books and come to the conclusion that with marketing, advertising and selling there is no “one answer.” Everything works a little bit, so you have to do everything. I have also learnt that self-employed people are generally very resourceful, reliable and hard working. I have learned (from my many failures) to never participate in craft fairs – people do not buy chairs from craft fairs!! In the early years, when my work did not sell, I got disheartened and felt that I should not be making chairs that nobody wanted. However I could not stop and after 20 years I have developed a high level of skill and now at last people are buying my work. In my case it has been a long, long game.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals? 

I do not have a morning routine but after finishing work I always sweep the floor and put my tools away because nothing makes me want to work more than a tidy workshop!

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

After trees, books are my main source of inspiration. I have books about Wharton Escerick (Studio and Collection)  Sam Maloof (The Furniture of Sam Maloof) and George Nakashima (The Soul of a Tree). The book that started me off in furniture making is “The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture”.  I love big, shiny, hardback books – I even like the smell of them!

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path? 

“Keep at it, believe in yourself “- I know it sounds corny but it is true.

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And what advice would you give to your future self? 

“Keep an open mind, keep designing and innovating –  look for ways to help yourself progress and develop”

“Listen to your students – they know nothing and they know everything” (cryptic –  but teachers will know what I mean)

What is coming up next for you? 

I am working in collaboration with Kerry Woollen Mills to make a Limited Edition Winter Collection of upholstered chairs. They have dyed a batch of woollen fabric especially for Green Wood Chairs.The Collection will be shown at an exhibition at the RIAI in 8 Merrion Square, Dublin November 17th – 27th.

Green Wood Chairs will be profiled on an RTE programme entitled “Designing Ireland” due to be aired this month.

I am writing a new companion book to “Green Wood Chairs” called “Green Wood Stools” due to be published in September 2016.

Visit Alison’s website Green Wood Chairs

Thank you so much Alison- such a delight to learn more about your work and process. – Clare x


Creative Islanders: Emily Archer

Creative Islanders Emily Archer

 

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

………

Artist, activist, shining human, Emily Robyn Archer exudes creative flair. She brings passion and purpose to her interactions, coupled with a curiosity which takes them ever deeper. A graduate from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Emily is the founder of Cre8 Sustainability, working in schools to marry art practice with environmental awareness. She is known for her large scale installations, incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials as well as her hydroponic window installations, a method she uses for growing plants in water without the need for soil. With a love of wild nature running through to her, Emily’s work is an embodiment of this love and respect. It also acts as an exploration of how to engage humans with their environment in creative, educational, and mutually beneficial ways.

There are many things I love about Emily- her zest for living, her commitment to friendship but mostly her simple presence, for never do you leave Emily’s company without a renewed sense of hope and a reclaimed sense of possibility. Quite simply, she glows.

With pleasure, I introduce you to Emily Robyn Archer… 

 

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 What makes you tick? What motivates you?

I’ve always been motivated by our relationship to the environment. Nothing gets me like environmental injustice -I know there are many, many other hugely important issues; how we treat each other for instance, poverty, war hunger- the list is long. And I don’t see these things as isolated either. But for some reason since I was a little girl I connected with this idea that we could be living in our environment in a better way- in harmony with the planet and all the creatures that roam its surface with us. I spent so much time as a kid making drawings about it, trying to raise money, even staging my own protests! Nowadays my art practice is centered on environmental themes (not much has changed!) I work with issues like water, waste and especially climate change. I don’t know why I’m so focused on this I just always have been and I’m pretty sure I always will be in one way or another.

I suppose if I peel back the layers I’m motivated simply by the natural world. It’s a difficult one because it sounds cliched. But I really am totally in awe, inspired and stirred-up by what I see growing through the cracks in the pavement, or soaring over my head everyday. I can’t look at a tree in passing without delighting in it. 

What keeps you in Ireland?

That’s easy-  my community here. Old friends, new friends and of course family- I treasure them all. I also love living here- it’s my home. I grew up here and that connection is really important to me. When I was a teenager my family lived abroad in Kenya for years so I got an idea of what its like to be foreigner in a foreign land. Being in Africa was an amazing experience in a so many different ways, and it made me value my own home place; that piece of land that I felt connected to. I was always sure that I wanted to live here.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Spending time hanging out with my family and friends. They are the stuff of life. It may be that unexpected pop around for tea, surprise visit and a long meandering conversation or all of the above if I’m lucky.

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What does the creative process teach you?

My first creative coaches were my Mum and Dad. They’re both very creative in their own way- my Mum is a dancer and my Dad is a business man always coming up with new ideas. Mum instilled in us to never waste anything, every little thing has value and can be used again in a creative way. My Dad gave me my first official art lesson- the table was set with paints, brushes and paper and we both sat down to paint together. The very first thing he taught me was that there was no such thing as a mistake, in fact you have to make mistakes to learn and make new and interesting things.

I’ve really held on to these ideas in my own practice: I don’t get put off by what I don’t know yet or all the ‘mistakes’ I could potentially make while learning- I try to look at it as part of the process. I have a sort of ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach and usually find that if you put yourself out there and go for it- all sorts of wonderful things happen. My mum is probably happy that I work mainly with salvaged materials and am always trying to work out how to reuse and re-invent commonly undervalued or discarded materials.

So 3 things I learnt from my creative process and am still learning today are

  • That there is no such thing as mistakes. 
  • Limits and parameters are sometimes great creative catalysts
  • That there is a magic to opening up to possibilities

I take these learnings into other areas of my work: I run an initiative called Cre8 Sustainability that delivers environmental education and awareness raising projects with a creative edge. This can vary from teaching a group of city kids about urban growing by creating an upcycled hydroponic system with them for their school or getting teenagers interested in biodiversity by making seed bombs and teaching guerilla gardening tactics. Basically I feel that the creativity and its process are a really important part of the environmental movement and I’ve learnt from my work with Cre8 how powerful it can be in terms of getting people engaged, inspired and finally motivated.

 

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Tidy my spaces: that’s a big one. I get stifled with too much stuff and mess around me. I take some time to remove whats not necessary, do some recycling or giving away and organize my living and work spaces. Then I sit down with a pen and notebook and go back to and reconnect with my core vision and mission.

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I have found meditation really helpful in the past in terms of recognising and sitting with different emotions. Yoga helps me link mind and body too. But probably most of all- people- being with friends and family. I always delay sharing my feelings but when I do level with a friend and share what is going on I always feel better and have a different perspective on things. Another thing that really nourishes me or gets me through tough bouts of the blues is just being in nature: going on a wild walk, getting blasted by a bit of wind, looking at some amazing trees and realising that I am and we all are ‘only human’ at the end of the day.

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

  1. Walk out the door and bring the natural world into focus again
  2. The wonderful work and vision of my friends and people in our community.
  3. Books & publications & podcasts
  4. Talking with my partner Sam! He’s always got an interesting perspective up his sleeve.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Key lessons: 

  1. Find a vision that enlivens you
  2. Keep doing what you are uniquely doing
  3. Charge a proper fee for your work

Failures are of course all marvelous life lessons in disguise. I always think of Beckett’s words, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’  

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

I can be counted on to use a steaming hot facecloth with essential oil to wake up myself up gently. I’d like to say I walk or do yoga every morning but it doesn’t happen that regularly. I do try and stretch and be mindful and gentle in the morning. In fact I can definitely say that I’m a believer in ‘gentle mornings’. This means taking it easy, not rushing, enjoying some good food and generally appreciating the morning that’s in it. If that also happens to involve a cup of tea in bed then even better!

As for other rituals: I keep an online day planner- it includes priorities/focus for the week ahead, daily tasks and deadlines and also a ‘long finger’ list that I tackle when I get a quiet day, things can stay on this list for a long time but having them written down and organised in priority really helps me not to get overwhelmed by having ‘a million things to do’. I really enjoy being able to say to myself- ‘there’s going to be time for that.’

It is hard to really pinpoint a particular creative habit. I know I work best at night when everyone has gone to bed. I know I sometimes have to go on an aimless cycle or walk to let a creative solution or idea to spring up. Sometimes you can try and try and try sitting at a studio desk, and then the creative vision comes as you’re watching the ducks!   

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

Most recently Burning Ice-Art and Climate Change. A collection of essays and artworks undertaken on an arctic expedition ‘Cape Farewell’ including insights from artists, writers. scientists.

Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird

My favourite podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett. One of my special pastimes, when I know I have the house to myself for a couple of hours, is to listen to this while cooking a lovely meal.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

Do exactly what you want to do, don’t worry about what others are doing or what other’s think you should be doing. Following your own interests and passions- they will fulfill you and excite you. Don’t limit yourself either- dream big. Oh and thanks to my friend Shrine who did say to me years ago “Give up your day job and go for it!”

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Grab a seat one of those solar powered airplanes and go on an adventure!

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………..

 Emily’s work is currently on show in Paris as part of an exhibition in the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The exhibition titled Et si on s’était trompé ? (What if we got it wrong ?) runs until November 4th.

Link here to Emily’s website

And more on Cre8 Sustainability in this lovely video.

Cre8 Sustainability from Ishka Films on Vimeo.


Blessed Momentum

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There are days when it is hard to stay motivated in business, and in life.

As a freelancer, juggling many projects, with so much up and down, things can get messy. It is an ever fine tightrope walking between feeling the upward swing or edging into a downward spiral. And so often we are led to think that business, and life, is a linear process. But is so not.

In fact the more I do business, and life, the more I realise it is clearly not so. Labyrinths seem more appropriate images to enlist and yet still we are continually barraged into thinking in linear patterns: growth, scale, expand, produce, exceed; growth, scale, expand, produce, exceed, succeed. Again.

But the labyrinth has led me elsewhere.

Having launched this website earlier this year, alongside a new business- Zen Hen-, while also keeping my photography business, yoga classes and my own art and yoga practices on the go, by August a deep part of myself just needed to wander. I headed out to the West of Ireland, and then to Morocco and Turkey. It was magical. It was filled with love and connection. My eyes landed on newness. It was abounding in beauty and elegance. I am so glad I went.

But coming back into the flow of daily life here, things need my attention. So many things. And all week I have been almost paralysed by the sense and scale of it. ‘What next to do’? I have had the guilt trip, kicking myself for feeling I let my foot off the pedal.

But that serves no one; not me, or not you, dear readers, dear friends.

The fierce reality of all of this entrepreneurial lark is I am still figuring it out- how to run my own business while not running out of steam, how to keep finances in flow so that I too can thrive, how to deeply serve the needs of my clients from a place of integrity, love and openess. This is a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We all are.

And so the learning is in this process too, and so we must proceed.

 

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I believe in honesty and truth telling, which is why I am sharing this now. So lovely folks, I don’t have a Creative Islanders interview for you this week and I don’t have my new e-course ready to launch yet either (which I had planned for a Monday start)… But I know they are coming. Why? Because they are in my heart, because they have energy of their own, because I know they are serving a need, and I know they want to emerge. I’ll get there. I know I will. It is just taking me a little longer than I originally hoped. And so I’d love for you to bear with me while I figure out how to steer this ship.

The funny thing about labyrinths is that just when you think you have reached a dead end you turn a corner to realise you are right at the centre of things, into the heart of what matters, and you were never actually that far from it in the first place. The entrance and the centre have a proximity which the path belies.

So often we look at other people in business, in life, and think that they have it all figured out and that things come so easily for them. I am as guilty of this as others- looking at my own role models and wishing, wishing… but behind the scenes we are all struggling with what we need to learn; our challenges lead us to our growth areas, our labyrinthal path is our very own training ground; tailor made to meet our own twisting and turning trajectory.

It turns are that we are really all just seeking our way to the heart of things. 

And so I am grateful. Yes, grateful for it all. For this opportunity, for the not knowing, for the knowing, for the detours and mostly for the people I meet along the way.

In fact, each morning as I wake up and put my feet on the ground, I say to myself, ‘I am grateful for this day’. Even on the days that are hard, even on the days that I want to turn in on myself, ‘I am grateful’. That alone helps to start the day on better footing. ‘Whatever comes, I am grateful for this day’.

It took me about a month to make this little act a habit but it feels like it is there now- the moment my feet touch the ground, ‘I am grateful for this day’.  And that feels like a good place to begin, with pause, with gratitude for it all, over and over and over again. So I can take myself by the hand an lead myself to the next step, and then the glorious next step. For this is the labyrinth of life continuing with its own blessed momentum towards the heart of the matter. Always.


The Magic of Tidying

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I have been converted. To a tidy person. Which, believe me, is a mighty revelation.

For years I have walked around with the label of ‘untidy’, which at times edged its way into the realms of ‘disorganised’, ‘scatty’ and even ‘lazy’. I have carried these internal labels like little scars, marking out some internal gauge of moralistic cleanliness and taking on the outer mantel of their meaning.

Since as long as I can recall, I have been untidy. My room often looked like a bomb had hit it, with clothes piled up on a chair, a cluttered desk and warren of cables, books, art supplies and random bits and bobs. But it always bothered me. I would occasionally go on a tidying binge and for a few days my room would look ordered and beautiful, and with that order came a calmer mind. But the untidy demons would soon creep back in again, the bomb would explode and with it came a sense of unease in my own space. I could never quite get a handle on it. The label of ‘untidy’ didn’t sit well with me but I could not seem to shake it.

Then along came a book. 

I had seen the book in the shop on many an occasion but had walked by with resistance. I had read reviews and thought the converts sounded smug. But one day, about a month ago, I was in the bookshop and without really intending to I found myself purchasing a copy.

The woman at the counter was a convert too. It took about 10 minutes to buy the book because she started to explain all the ways it had changed how she interacts with her home, and subsequently, her life. Now I was both intrigued and scared. Really? Do I really want to do this?

I took the book to a coffee shop and started reading. I was immediately hooked. This simple little book, written by a tidying zealot, had some clues I had been seeking. Something clicked. Suddenly I could see a way for the untidy demons to be banished and with it the label, and the scars.

The book? Well, many of you may have heard about it already- ‘The Magic of Tidying’ by Marie Kondo. Marie, from Japan, takes her lifelong love of tidying and has created a system of decluttering and sorting every item you own and then putting it back in its own designated place. She starts with the premise that we hold on to too much, and the things around us are mirrors to our lives. She asserts, strongly, that we must first discard items, starting one category at a time- clothes, then books, then music and making our way to the more sentimental- love letters and photos. Holding each item we ask it, ‘Does this bring me joy?’, and if not- out with it.

I finished reading the book while I was in Morocco recently.  Upon returning, I had two days between another trip and I immediately jumped into the process. Never before had I been excited about tidying. Bags were filled for the charity shops. Papers were recycled. Other items repaired. Books given away. And space emerged. I now own about half of the things that I used too, my room looks like a miracle and I find myself actually enjoying folding things! And after all these years of thinking of myself as an untidy person I can finally let go of the blemish, knowing that lifelong habits can indeed change.

The process has deep subtlety too. Our things tell a story of us. Our clothes give a message of how we are to be perceived; the things around us say much about how we value ourselves and our space; and the shape of our space speaks of how we nourish ourselves.

I found myself looking at my clothes and realising they were carrying an old Clare around, one which I have outgrown and no longer identify with. I discarded the majority of them. And my underwear- well let’s just say, 90% of it was binned, and in its place I have bought myself some beautiful items which feel lovely on the skin and are a joy to wear. It changes things. My sock drawer has never looked as well and my wardrobe has an order which makes me enjoy choosing what I will wear each day because only items that bring me joy are waiting for me. I have a lot less but am a lot happier with what I have and feel grateful for my choices.

Beyond ordering the physical space, I found that there have mental shifts too- and there continues to be. Arising out of the question, ‘How can I tidy my physical space?’ came, ‘How can I tidy my mental clutter?’ I have found myself diving deeper into my meditation practice, which is also having implications- healthy ones- on my creative practice. And there is more space around my heart. During the tidying process I cleared away some old letters and trinkets from past relationships; letting go with thanks and gratitude, but knowing that they are not serving me now. Something deep seems lighter.

Similarly I found myself asking, ‘How can I clean up my business, my finances, my diet,  my thought patterns and other habits which are no longer serving me?’  Now, the more I keep my physical space tidy, the more I have space for these shifts too. It has only been a few weeks but I know the untidy demons have been banished, and in their place, somethings calmer, steadier and more spacious is arising. I have more time and mental energy to create, unweighed by the static of the holding on to things which have lost their valence and energy.

This is powerful stuff and yes, I am indeed a convert. But now a tidy one. And I can barely believe these words are coming from me. My mother would be proud. I can’t wait to show her my drawers!

‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. The ‘magic’ is there for a reason.


On the Tale of Marrakech.

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Ah, the delights. It had been on my wish list for a very long time. The thoughts of wandering a warren of red hued streets, of exploring a rich craft and design culture, of hearing the call to prayer and the guttural sounds of Arabic through the soundscape. Then there were thoughts of tagines, and rosewater, and Riads, and succulents, and even a nervous curiosity about what going to a local hammam would actually entail. I had wanted to go with my camera, knowing we would get lost only to find our way again. It all happened, on a whirlwind visit, which turned out to be just a taster. Now I want to return, for the place has so much intrigue and hospitality. Plus I have never felt cleaner in my life after a lovely (and brave) woman scrubbed layers off me. Marrakech, you delight with your charms and your ancient, beautiful, crazy and chaotic ways….

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I travelled there with my housemate, Eavan, who not only has an amazing flair for design and an appreciation of elegance, also took on the mighty task of chief navigator and map reader. For those who have been, you will understand when I say that getting lost is an inevitability. But that is the fun of it. We walked over 30km one day, circling and spiraling through a maze of souks (markets), dodging the traffic and navigating the haggling hoards. Our haggle skills got honed too, as we tuned into the psychology of it, and the game of it too. Our adventures through the markets were intercepted with the occasional sweet mint tea or a delicious juice to give some pause. The light did the rest.

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In the evening, our Riad (courtyard home) was a genuine oasis and simply to ponder its proportions and elegant design was a treat. That we got to stay there, even more so.

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We packed so much in I felt I had been away for much longer than 3 nights, and the whole experience was like inspiration fuel- stepping into another culture to learn, see, experience and soak in the magic and beauty of this world we live in. Thank you Eavan. Thank you hosts. Thank you Marrakech. We will be back, and hopefully soon….

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