Creative Islanders: Michael Gallen

Creative Islander Michael Gallen

(Headshot Photo: Daire Hall)

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.

Michael Gallen is next up in the Creative Islanders Series, the first of 2016. A composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and maker, Michael exudes many layers of  brilliant talent.

I first came across him through the band, Ana Gog, for which is pianist and lead vocalist. I simply love the richness and lightness of their work, its breath and depth too.  Since then it has been wonderful to follow his other compositional work for film and theatre, equally rich and even more diverse. It seems like things are just about to take a leap for Michael, with a new large scale compositional work for the National Concert Hall in the pipeline and with 2016 seeing him being awarded the Trinity College Long Hub residency.

Plus, beyond his music, he is also a gent as his words below so evidence.

So over now to Michael Gallen, and when you are finished reading I highly recommend diving in his music and videos. You will find links below.

What keeps you in Ireland? 

The answer to this question keeps changing. I lived in France for a few years and I moved home primarily to be closer to family and to the band. Returning to that intimate space made some aspects of life and work more difficult, in that there’s less of a sense of freedom, but it also brought so much richness into my everyday life. When I got back to Dublin I was very taken with becoming a part of the arts scene here – but in truth I think that I’d probably get that feeling in any city if surrounded by people whom I admire and whose work I enjoy. I think that I feel closest to Ireland when out in the countryside, away from it all. I tend to do most of my composition work in quiet, isolated places, and I get a lovely sense of belonging when I’m out for a ramble and stumble across some ruin or sacred site – or even just a beautiful view.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Once I’ve managed to get started on some music (which is definitely the hard part), I think I’m only really motivated by the next note, bringing the idea to life and doing it justice. I tend not to be able to think of anything else. I love performing and it’s amazing to imagine how other people might feel when listening to my music – but everything grows from that itch when I feel like I have the beginning of something in my head and life won’t be right until I get it made.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

I’ve been doing a lot of driving over the past year, and one of my favourite things is to take random turn-offs when I see a sign for a holy well or wedge tomb or the like. They’re never as close to the main road as you hope and I invariably end up trudging through several fields or spending ages trying to turn the van when a road unexpectedly just ends. I love the spontaneity of it, not knowing what you’ll find, if anything. I also love swimming in the sea – this was my first year swimming all the way through winter.

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(Ana Gog)

What does the creative process teach you? 

That there are parts of myself to which my everyday, conscious thought doesn’t have access. I am always surprised by the way that music sometimes pours out of me, and I often look back on periods of creation in a bit of a daze and wonder where it all came from. I know that so many aspects of the piece are shaped by my decisions, but the substance of the work seems to come from a part of myself that is much wiser than the one that regularly botches things up – burns the toast, forgets the keys, etc!

Why do you do what you do?

I have no idea. I love music, and both listening and writing have been hugely important to me from a very young age but I never made a decision to become a musician – it’s always felt like something that was already decided. I couldn’t come up with reasons for it without sounding cheesy, and because I honestly never thought about it – there was never any question of why, it was just already what I was doing.

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

Ah, so so many. I’ve been very lucky in terms of some of the people I have met quite randomly who have given me direction and support – beginning with the fact that I was born into a very musical family. I remember being given some minidisks of Arvo Part and John Adams’ music by my physics teacher at secondary school-  hard music to come across in pre-Youtube Monaghan – and that was definitely around a time when music became bound up with all my ideas about adulthood and work. Meeting the band was a massive moment of course;  they’ve been by far the biggest influence on my musical life. And then all of the times when things didn’t go according to plan, when I didn’t get certain opportunities or commissions that I was sure I would; those are always the times when I’ve had to figure out whether success is necessary to why I make music. Each time I’ve gotten back to finding joy in the work itself has been a key moment.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

I go to the quietest place imaginable and wait!

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(Photo from theatre production TARDIGARDE)

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

In the past I’ve found inspiration in a multitude of places, – other people’s music, books, nature. For the most part it in happens in solitude – I think that it’s probably just that I’m more observant when I’m off on my own, or that I’m able to devote more of my awareness to the world around me. I’m a bit of an extremist in that regard; when I’m working I shut off from the internet completely for a few weeks and ideally go off to some hideaway where I can have space. With larger work, like the orchestral piece that I’m finishing at the moment, I find that it takes a few days of silence before my mind becomes capable of hearing what it needs to or slowing down to the pace of thought that the composition requires.

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

I try my best not to let myself become stagnant. I don’t think that I can say anything meaningful about sad events such as the loss of love or loved ones, in that each of those situations has been so unique in itself, and I don’t think that any of my experience of dealing with them will make me any better prepared for the next one. I have a wonderful group of friends, and they’ve been the biggest support in times like those. But I know that in terms of depression or periods of low mood, the big thing for me is to try to keep moving, to stave off the feeling of total inertia. I have one of those overactive minds that can start to turn in on itself if not kept active, so if I can, I try to weed out the tiny bad habits that I know can eventually turn into more substantial thought-knots.

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

As I mentioned above, I think that the moments where things haven’t worked out as planned have probably been the times when I developed a proper sense of vocation. I love meeting older artists who have lived entire lives of those ups and downs, and who, despite the madness of choosing so unstable a career, have also fallen in love, had families, found a myriad of different roads to happiness and still maintained a healthy relationship with their creative work.

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

No, I’ve never been good at keeping routines, much as I’d love to. Every now and again I make out a timetable that has me up early and keeping regular hours, and then two nights later I’ll end up staying up til 5am working on something and it all falls apart! I make big maps of all of my pieces before starting to score them out – that’s about my only regular creative habit.

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

I read quite a lot, so it’s hard to whittle them down – The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Roberto Bolanos Savage Detectives, The Lover by Marguerite Duras – I don’t know whether I’d say they inspired me but I remember the reading of each of those (and a few others) as  types of events, similar to things that happened to me in “real” life. I love poetry too – starting from an obsession with Patrick Kavanagh and leading everywhere from Sylvia Plath to Rilke to Shakespeare. Actually, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet were quite inspirational in the way that they spoke about the creative life and the challenges that it might present. I’m not really a website person I’m afraid!

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Photo: Sharon Murphy

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

Practical advice, about how best to balance a life where your work is unstructured and self-disciplined. Not to worry too much about the future, and to enjoy little successes for themselves and not as pit-stops on the way to bigger things.

And what advice would you give to your future self? 

Just the same – to enjoy all things, including work, for themselves. Not to let the stuff of life pass by without being fully experienced.

What is coming up next for you? 

At the moment I’m finishing a piece for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Cór na nÓg inspired by Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales called Wilde Stories – that’ll be recorded in April and broadcast on Lyric FM in May, with some live performances on the cards for later this year. Over the next few months I’ll be working on a new choral commission, an installation and two dance collaborations – it’ll be fun to work with a team again for a while! We’re also mixing Ana Gog’s second album at the moment, with a view to a release either late this year or early in 2017. So lots on the cards…

Thank you so much Michael for your contribution to this series.

Here are LINKS below: 

You can read more about Michael over on his website here

And listen to some of Ana Gog’s music over here

There is also a selection of Michael’s own compositions over on SoundCloud. Here is a sample, ‘Difference in Clouds’ from TARDIGRADE. 


And the year that was… 

 

Milly Dec 13, 2016-9

Hi Folks,

This post comes a little later than hoped as my website was hacked and it has taken a few days to get it back on its feet- which I am so grateful has been accomplished. Thanks to all those people who have offered advice and support.

So now over to this… (mailing list subscribers, you will have already received this in your inbox, with thanks)

There is the doing, and then there is the being.

2015 invited a lot of doing for so many of us. Looking back now it reminds me how much can be done in just a year. But before we swing into the new, it is powerful to pause. In review can come insight and if we are lucky it can inform our doing, and further still, our being too.
So tonight I pause.

For myself, I entered 2015 in a bit of a haze, lacking focus and feeling the depths of the doldrums. But something inside me urged me to sit with that shadow and question what really wanted to be born. I sat (sometimes reluctantly). I cried. I wrote (a lot). I sat some more and thankfully within a few weeks the doldrums shifted and the darkness stepped aside. There followed a blast of a year in which my ‘doing’ had a boost of inspiration. I launched two new websites, a new coaching practice and a new business. I set myself the task of learning to drive and passed my test by May (I am still pinching myself on this one and so utterly delighted that I have finally done it). I also faced a long held dream, and fear, of teaching online and have hosted two very rewarding online courses. I created a series of seasonal planners and set up my own Etsy shop.

 

Then there was my first trip to Morocco, some additional yoga teacher training with one of my role models, Elena Brower, photographing a wedding in Turkey and a wonderful trip exploring the South West coast of Ireland. The year was also punctuated with my first art exhibitions- a group show last January and my first little solo exhibition in the summer- and some artwork delightfully sold. There were public speaking engagements, seminars and workshops which I hosted, and curating the Creative Islanders series on my blog with a corresponding live event. My camera took me places too, with photoshoots and portrait sessions and a few beautiful weddings. Most surreally there was even a live painting experience at a festival. Beneath it all, like my bedrock, I taught my regular weekly yoga classes and continued exploring my own practice, which seemed to fuel it all.

 

So, with reflection, the doing of 2015 was vibrant and diverse bringing me into new territory and opening doors which twelve months ago were unknown to me. And of course, with the newness, comes fresh questions and fresh challenges- and it is these which I think are key.

In a way I measure growth and success not with the amount of things I have done but the quality of new questions I carry as a result. I am interested in the way in which my being navigates those questions and how, in asking them, I am carried to the things I need to learn the most. The doing then is the vehicle.

The ‘being’ of Clare found 2015 an intriguing one-  at times exhilarating and other times tough. Reviewing my own learning I can see that this year I was confronted with having to let go of variants of control, namely, loosening the hold on perfection and releasing the need to be right all the time. ‘Right’ in fact, seems to present itself as more nuanced now, while the need for perfection has been exposed for what it really is- the fear of failure, ridicule or being truly and deeply seen.
We are many layered beings and when our ‘doing’ is activated it can bring us closer to our deeper self, our vitality and the base layers which govern us. To ‘do’ our true work in the world or to show up as our true being is to be raw with vulnerability. But most brilliantly when our doing aligns with our true longing it brings us closer to our own edges and to the questions we most need to ask ourselves.

So, as we move into 2016, I am welcoming the new questions, particularly ones which probe to my being; the ones which challenge how I am showing up, how I am being of service, and how I am in relationship to others through it all.

I have many ‘doing’ plans for the coming year but beyond them all my intention is to ‘do’ with aliveness, warmth, generosity and authenticity, so that my being may be strengthen and and my doing take on a greater depth, reach and vibrancy.

Now,  as I give 2015 a nod farewell, I give thanks too to those people who have helped to shape these last months into what there were. To the people who supported me, challenged me, questioned me, inspired me- thank you. And I give thanks too for a little being who has come into my life as this year draws to a close- to little Milly, my new canine companion, my new friend, and my new little teacher. Thank you for choosing me, and I you.

And to each of you, dear readers, as you transition into 2016 may your doing be blessed by your true being, and may your questions lead you to insight.
Happy New Year.

Clare. (And Milly) x


Creative Islanders: Fiadh Durham

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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.

There is such an allure in textile design and weaving for me. Seeing a manual loom in action seems like I am travelling back in time to something ancient and wise, and hearing the loom heave back and forth has a meditative lull for me. I’ve never studied weaving but have much admiration for those who can spin myriad treads into such wondrous patterns while making sense of the what looks like a complex piece of equipment.

It was with such lure I was drawn into Fiadh Durham’s shop in Dingle last summer. Fiadh had been mentioned to me by another friend but little did I realise that she had her looms on view and makes her beautiful textiles there also. Greeted with warmth, I was immediately impressed with Fiadh gentle touch and her passion for both business and weaving.

So it is with great pleasure that we head to West Kerry for this next instalment of the Creative Islanders series with weaver, maker, and creative entrepreneur, Fiadh Durham….

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What keeps you in Ireland? 

So much!  The people, the craic, the scenery, the towns, the clean air and of course it is home. I have always loved to travel. The list of places I want to see gets longer rather than shorter with each trip. When I was younger I had this idea that I would pursue my dreams as a designer abroad, somewhere much more exotic and different to Ireland but the more places I explore the more I appreciate living in Ireland. There are so many opportunities here, it is up to the individual to make it happen!

What makes you tick? What motivates you? 

It depends on what what element of my life or work I’m thinking about but in general I love a challenge, having something exciting to work towards. I love the idea of kind of custom designing ones own life, doing it your way, its not always easy but a major driving force for me is the thrill of the unknown. It keeps life interesting!

What do you do just for the love of it? 

One is listening to good tunes and another is being outdoors, whether it is running, surfing or just going for a creative ramble with my camera and headphones… soaking up ideas fresh air! I suppose we all have that thing we need to to get head space and these are mine. Growing up, I think we spent 90% outside and I think that has stayed with me.

What does the creative process teach you? 

Sometimes I might question the amount of time the creative process takes and I forget how important it really is in relation to my designs. For me, following a creative process teaches me patience, discipline and it allows for design development to happen naturally. I think good designers are problem solvers and you need time for that.

Why do you do what you do?

I love what I do. I don’t think it would be possible if I didn’t. I love designing and making (textiles especially) and I think in the back of my mind I always wanted to run my own business. Its only been in recent years that I have built up the confidence to realise that I can actually do it. The rewards of your worked being loved and appreciated outweigh the many headaches of running your own business.

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

Making the decision that I was in it 100%. Full time. It had to be done. Another thing for me was realising that I was in Dingle because I chose to be and not because I ended up here. It’s a dream place to live if you can do what you love.

I have been so inspired by successful creative artists and craftspeople over the years but funnily enough I’ve also been inspired by others who have not managed to make it work and if forces me to ask why and how will I do it differently.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

A bit cliché but I’d say believe in yourself and what you love.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems? 

I am constantly being charmed by stunning colours and patterns around the Dingle peninsula especially but if you look hard enough I think you can find beautiful combinations in the most surprising places. I remember a speaker in art college once say that when you work as a designer that you see design in everything, everywhere you go, that doesn’t switch off. I wanted that to happen me and I think it has, so trick is catch the bug.

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

I try take a step back, get a bit of space from it all and then look at the bigger picture, it may be one bad day or week but things have a way of working out. Especially if you want it to, you just have to stay positive and keep going but be realistic about what is achievable too.

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

First thing for me is timekeeping; you need to be disciplined. Make out a plan and give yourself deadlines if someone else doesn’t. I’m not naturally organised so I have to really put the work in to these areas, it good to have what need to happen in the next day, week, month and so on.

I had to write a detailed business plan when applying for funding and I would advise anyone setting up a business to do this.

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

My routines always change but I do find it really helpful to have them, it keeps me grounded and healthier.

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

I do like to read books, especially when I’m on holidays but the things that really inspire me are more visual. My favourite weaving book is ‘Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas Into Great Cloth’  by Sharon D. Alderman

Designers and websites I am into at the moment:  margoselby.com, habutextiles.com, giveirishcraft.com, irishdesignshop.com, makersandbrothers.com

 

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

I would have liked to have more mentors in the beginning, so many things that would have been easier if I networked a bit more. You have to put yourself out there. In saying that, you have to have the confidence in your instinct. Take some advice but also know when its not right for you.

And what advice would you give to your future self? 

Find a way to have a good work/life balance. I am a hard worker but I feel that surely its only all worth if if you have a healthy personal and professional life.

What is coming up next for you? 

I feel that my business is at the brink of being properly launched so the next year will be all about getting Fiadh products to a much wider reach. I have big plans for online trading but the thing I’m most excited about is the new designs to come. I am investing in a multi-shaft computer aided hand loom and I will use this to create limited editions of more complex, dynamic designs. I’m so looking forward to getting stuck into that in the new year.

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Thank you so much Fiadh! I look forward to following the growth of your business and talent. Clare x

Fiadh’s website is over here. 

And her Etsy shop is over here. 

 

 

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Your advice please…

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Something a little different today, and a little ask from me to you. I am wondering if I can borrow your brain for a few minutes please.
As I move into 2016 I am taking some time to reflect and think about where I am headed with my business. So I am popping onto my blog  ask for your advice.

I’m currently developing some new products and services but before I dive into creation mode, I would LOVE your input and ideas. Your continued support means a lot to me and I greatly appreciate the readership which is gradually growing over on my site and through my work.

To help, I have created a short survey. It should take no more than 5 minutes of your time, and will be invaluable to me, and down the line hopefully to you too.

You can fill in the survey over here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8MF7NVR

To thank you for your support I will be putting names into a hat and drawing one winner, who will receive in the post a limited edition print from me- it is of a little squirrel (you can see it over here. I will draw the name on Sunday 20th December.

Thank you again- in deep appreciation and looking forward to the adventures ahead,
Clare. xx

thank you

Creativity as Presencing

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When I was 22 I moved to China for a year, teaching English language and literature at Peking University. It was one of the hardest times of my life. I was in at the deep end, alone, and felt like I was swimming against a very large crowd. I found Beijing to be over populated, over polluted and overwhelming. I did not speak Mandarin and I was teaching about 250 undergraduate and graduate students at the top university in China with no curriculum and no idea what I had got myself in for.

Looking back now it was art that helped me get through it all. Art- namely writing and photography- gave me a window out and offered me vital breathing space to make sense of it all. And when I say vital I don’t just mean that it was important, I mean it was a way to breathe in new life and connect me to my own vitality. Not only that but it also helped me to find beauty in the broken bits. Art was grace. 

This was in the days before I could afford a digital camera (they were expensive things back then!), so I got myself a whole pile of simple disposable cameras. They were a saviour. Through all the noise, commotion and craziness I started to look for things that pleased me and started to take photographs: the unusual shape of ginko leaves; the way the rushes in the lakes bent and froze; the interweaving patterns the thousands of bicycles made in the snow; the steam from a bowl of street noodles; the ping pong bats used to reserve tables in the canteen. I started to notice the little details, and in the little details I found solace and belonging.

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That was during the day. At night, I wrote. In fact, I couldn’t stop writing. The simple act of writing helped to connect me to my body. I wrote by hand, page after page, each page allowing me room to find myself. I wrote my first novel in a couple of months (a book that will gladly stay in my drawer), a whole series of poems, a collection of short stories including one little children’s book (which I still love) and an English language learning textbook, which was even published!

Through the taking of images I was able to stand on solid ground and through the writing process I was able to connect with my inner world. Together they brought me back home to myself and to a quality of presence which for a while I had lost.

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed’- Mary Oliver.

Presence really is the key.

Creativity, I have come to realize, is not so much a series of technical skills as a way of being present, and a way of capturing the quality of that presence. 

Now, as a photographer, when I feel present at an event or in good relationship with the object or person I intend to photograph I know it makes a massive difference to the type of photograph I am able to take. When I do not feel that my photographs are good enough or I have not learned from the experience, it is usually a sign that I was not fully engaged with the creative process to begin with, and certainly not with the moment when the image was taken. However, when I can plug into that presence, everything changes.

Learning how to be present is a skill set which we can acquire and practice over time. The mindfulness revolution, yoga techniques and centuries of meditative practice have a huge amount to offer this process, as too the simple act of noticing.

So here is a little practice for you… Next time you are feeling a little ungrounded, start to notice what is around you right now. The little details, the way the light falls or the curvature of shadow. Take a pen and write about it for 5 mins- no need to edit or review, just write. Or pick up your camera (maybe the one on your phone) and photograph just for a sake of seeing, and being.

In the noticing is the act of presencing, and in the presencing is lies the seeds of transformation. 

Looking back now I am so grateful to that time in Beijing. It has helped to make me who I am. It helped me to shed old layers of myself and it forever brings me back to the page and my camera, to notice, connect, and at times, transform.


Art & Auction : Badger & Robin

If you have been following along my blog this year, you will have see that I have been back painting again- with lots of little creatures and birds making an appearance. Many of these original paintings are available for purchase over on my Etsy shop, alongside an original limited edition print.

I also want to offer something back and have decided to auction two of my paintings for two organisations which I admire and which are very worthy causes.

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SO…

Mr. Robin is going to fly the flag for the Capuchin Day Care Centre for the Homeless in Dublin, which I have come to know a little better through the amazing work of my friend Brother Richard Hendrick who I first met through Trailblaze (you can see his talks here and here). There is a massive housing crisis in Ireland right now, and the centre is flat out serving the needs of those most in need. Their dedication is outstanding.

Mr. Robin is beautifully mounted and framed and measures 16 x 20 inches.  He is an original pen, ink and watercolour painting with gold acrylic and heavy, acid free watercolour paper.

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Next up…

Mr. Badger is going to try to raise some money for the second organisation is Gatoto Community Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya.  My connection with Gatoto goes back over 10 years now, to when we were sending volunteers there with the Suas Volunteer Programme. It was a wonderful school, working in very tough conditions, and run by one of the most resilient and tenacious women I have every met, Betty Nyagoha. It is a very special place offering a lot of hope and real educational benefits to children.

Mr Badger also comes beautifully mounted and framed, measuring 16.5 x 23 inches. He is an original pen, ink and watercolour on heavy, acid free watercolour paper.

How the auction will work. 

Bids will be taken on my blog and directly via email.

Please let me know what painting you are bidding for (Badger or Robin)

Submit bids via email to clare@claremulvany.ie or over leave a comment below with your bid, what painting you are bidding on and a way for me to contact you. If I receive a bid via email, I will put a comment in the blog with the amount, the time the bid was received and the initials of the bidder.

Starting bids at €100 (please note that my direct sale price for these is €275)

Deadline for bids is 12 noon on Wed 16th December.

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Shipping: If you are Dublin based, I can meet with you to deliver the image. If you are outside Dublin we can arrange shipping/ delivery. Depending on your location there may be an additional shipping fee- but we can chat about this.

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I am really excited about this and hope Mr. Robin and Mr. Badger will do some good work for some very good causes.

 

 


Learning to Ringmaster.

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Being a creative or social entrepreneur is akin to circus performance. You are learning to balance on tightropes as you juggle all your plates. Sometimes you feel like a bit of a clown as you put ideas out into the world not knowing if people will laugh or cry. Then there is the jumping through loops and hoops as you preform miraculous acts holding on by the skin of your teeth. Not to mention battling all the lions and tigers which enter the arena and the acrobatics you have to do with limited resources. And there you find yourself as ringmaster learning to co-ordinate it all with flair while selling tickets at the same time. Yes, a circus.

Am I mad, I ask myself? There are frequent moments when I wonder why I ran away with the circus. Shouldn’t I just get a proper job and when did lion taming become part of my remit? But once in the arena there is a charm and a huge sense of gratification which keeps you showing up again and again.

Brene Brown speaks about the power of being in the arena in her recent book, Daring Greatly and hinges inspiration on this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man*who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

(*or woman, obviously)

The arena, I have learned, while a place of daring and rich learning, can also be a lonely and a hard place too. There are so many times I have wanted to leave but only with the support of friends, mentors, coaches and leadership training have I been able to stick it out. And I am glad I am here.  It is through the strength of support and having people to bounce ideas around and who offer insights into my blind spots that I have been able evolve and keep learning. Which is how my own coaching offerings have grown and why I am doing the work I am doing. I believe in the arena and I believe it doesn’t have to be such a lonely place. 

Creative coaching is a whole array of tools and processes I have developed and use for working in the circus (metaphorically of course). From visioning exercises, to branding and communications strategy I offer one to one support to keep you thriving in the arena. It is like having an accountability buddy to keep you on track and a fellow ringmaster to help co-ordinate a masterful performance. 

I’ve been working with a wonderful woman recently called Sharon Green, who runs a company called Queens of Neon. Sharon shared some words recently which captures some of the creative coaching process:

I have been feeling my way along for a very long time, taking creative projects that come to me through word of mouth and throwing myself into them whole heartedly.

But I always wonder how I can get more of the projects that I love, how do I word my website properly to reach out to clients that have the projects that really make me tick. I was recommended Clare by a friend and she all at once made sense of my confusion. She made me see that it is a waste of my energy always trying to change the copy on my website until I understand what my dream and my vision is. To start back at the beginning feels very freeing and exciting.

She asks the right questions and listens intently picking out the words and phrases that make sense and always paying attention on an energy level so notices when things excite you. She helps you see your dream scenario and gives you structure and homework to help manifest it. In my case she is also bringing me out from the shadows to feature prominently on my website, honing in to what it is that makes my business unique and that is me. Its true therapy for the creative business person. I would highly recommend Clare to anyone, who like me, feels like they are close to filling their true potential but for reasons just can’t seem to just get there.

Pow! Thank you Sharon.

So if, like Sharon, you have big visions, creative goals, dreams of possibility but you would like some support to help clarify your direction, perhaps some creative coaching is for you. I offer a number of tailored packages. You can find out more over here. If this sparks interest, I offer a free 20 minute Skype call where we can figure if we are a fit for each other and what areas of the arena to focus on so that 2016 will bring you closer to it all.

May the games commence… (*insert circus theme tune!)

END of circus analogy now, I promise!

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The above photo was taken in Cambodia at a circus I went to. I had totally forgotten about this image until I used the new ‘Camera Roll’ feature on flickr. AMAZING. Any flickr users still out there? This tool is amazing…


The Night Owl

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I have always been a night owl. I love to stay up late, working, creating, writing, painting, pondering, figuring out my next moves.

Lately though, the owl in me has been somewhat on overdrive. I find myself up at 2, 3 or 4 am, reaching for my journal. It is the quite time. There is a stillness as the street noise outside settles and the air falls soft. I turn my phone to quite mode, so there is no disturbance or even the possibility of disturbance. When the hush descends I feel I can penetrate into the mystery where the silence holds some of the answers, or at least indicates a way.

The darkness is a portal to insight.

Others find this silence and stillness in the early morning, but for me, it has always been at night.

I could resist it, the late night pull but I have learned not to. I’ve had some of my best ideas and made some of my most radical decisions in those liminal hours. The other night, it was almost 2am when an idea which has felt blocked for months suddenly popped and a new wave of understanding entered. I had been looking at it entirely the wrong way round and in an instant it seemed to flip and there is was, a way through and forward illuminated. There was nothing for it but to grab a notebook and write. Pages and pages later I could see the light. It is the kind of light that only the dark of silence can offer; the light of stillness bringing the clarity of in-sight.

The word itself if a clue. Mostly the answers are already within us. We know our own way forward but it just takes some inward reflection and a questioning spirit to find our way to our own insightfulness. 

I have also learned another thing: that when I write in such a way, there and then I need to collect action steps I can take into the very next day to carry the insight into the tangible. Otherwise the dream or idea can remain hidden too, coming out only at night when it feels safe to dream big and hold the ambition of possibility. In the light of day the distractions can creep in, and my fear or uncertainly too- so those tangible steps are critical. It can mean sending an email to get a project started, researching a domain name, registering a trademark, or sounding out the idea with someone you trust (all of which I did this week!).

So each day, after a night of dreams, ask yourself, what is that one little step that can take you closer to the insight, can take you closer to the light, your light…

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(PS: Staying up late also means I get up a bit later. I never schedule a meeting or job before 10am, if I can help it. It is just my rhythm and after many years of trying to convince  myself that I could be a morning person, I have given in to the fact that I will never be! The owl in me does some summersaults knowing I grant her permission to do her job without resistance. My mother, of course, has known this all along. I asked her recently want I was like as a child and she said even from when I very little (2 years old) this was my pattern. I refused to eat before 11am, but after which time I would come alive and want to stay up late. I should have listened to her after all!)

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Minimal Viable Commitment

 

minimal viable commitment blog

 

We have grand plans. We have huge visions. We are ambitious. There are so many things we want to do. At times it has a momentum all of its own, other times we feel overwhelmed and internally feel more like a deflated balloon than a rocket ship.

Reaching our goals, we know, is about sustaining momentum and building good habits. But how? There are many ways, but is little trick is one I have used with developing my home yoga practice, which applies across the board, to business and beyond. I call it, Minimal Viable Commitment. 

My promise to myself that at a minimum I must step onto my yoga mat each day. That is all. I must step onto my yoga mat each day. It is so little it is almost comical. But what happens when I do that. My yoga mat represents more than just a mat- it represents the mental and emotional space of practice, of calming of the mind and offers a safe space in which to explore and connect with myself. So when I step onto the space of the mat, I am also entering into the psychological space of practice. To me that mat is sacred, and my minimal viable commitment means that I get to enter that space each day.  And more often than not, I will do more than just step onto the mat; I’ll practice for 5 min, 10 mins, 30 mins, 60 mins, 90 mins… depending on the day, and depending on my mood. My commitment is easy to keep, and because it is easy, it means I do it. And if there is a day where all I do is step on my mat, I don’t go down a big guilt trip, because that is all I have committed to and it makes it easier to commit to again and again and again.

I’m all for big goals but I am also realistic. What does it take to break those goals down into smaller, manageable, bite sized chunks? What would your equivalent of ‘stepping onto the mat’ be for whatever goal you are setting? Maybe it is writing one line of your book a day, or picking your paintbrush, or taking one photo on your camera phone a day, or reaching out to one potential client each day. Something doable and something you can easily build into your daily routine.

What is your minimal viable commitment? … which before long will become a habit, which before long transforms us….

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For those of you interested using an app to track your habits, my friend Mic Fizgerald has built a tool for you. Mic is a serial tech entrepreneur (he has also built One Page CRM)- he is an avid fan of habit keeping and so Habi.io was born to help you keep yours…

(only available on iPhone at the moment)


Until the tide turns..

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There have been words. Many words. Words of pain, of grief, of anger, of despair. Words which search for reason and can find none. Words that grope in the darkness. Words as blame and words as balm. There will be many more words.

In times like these we can wonder if words really matter; but sometimes they are all we can turn to, as way finders in a wilderness of doubt.

As I write these words, I read too of retaliation; more fighting, more fear. I try to remember that every killer was once a child; free from ideology or notions of difference, until he was taught so. And until a series of choices to act led to something so heinous it belies words.

So, what to do? What to do as a citizen of this world who believes in the citizenry of this world.

It is a huge question, and today, as it seems like the world is spinning on an axis of self destruction, I took solace from a two year old. Yes, her.

It was a simple moment. I was travelling on Dublin bus. There was a young girl, a mass of curly hair, sitting in a buggy. Her mum was playing with her – doing high fives, enjoying her company, and her father smiling on with pride. And then the little girl started to sing. She sang out loud, at the top of her voice, singing ‘Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle’- yes, that was the entirety of her song, but gosh did she sing it with passion, wholeheartedness and joy. Her parents didn’t hush her. Soon her joy filled the bus. I could hear laughter and smiles. A few stops later, as she was leaving the bus, she turned around in her buggy, smiled, and waved goodbye to everyone in a fanfare of pure delight. The journey was transformed, for all of us.

That passion, that joy, that delight in utter beingness. Her innocence as shield.

That little girl got me thinking. Despite the fear, the bombings, the pain, what would it be like to reclaim our passion and our wholehearted beingness and sing our own song as an act of transformation, for ourselves, for those we travel with, for the journey we are on.

To live a life of joy and to share that beauty openly is a radical act. It does not deny the fear, nor the pain, but finds the undercurrent of beauty and rides it until the tide turns.

I am not sure when the tide will turn but I sense this: to ride the tide of beauty in our everyday lives means to look into the stranger’s eyes and see the eyes of each other, it means to welcome the other as our own, it means to invite love to be the dominate force. And when we are hurting so much, or fearing so much that we can’t look into the eyes another, can we ride the tide of beauty into our own hearts, find the stranger within ourselves, and grant permission for our fear, our anger, our judgement and our pain to soften, if only for a moment, so we can listen to ourselves. A when we learn to listen to ourselves, we make room to truly listen to another- that too can be a transformative act.

Today I needed to listen. I turned off all media and instead stepped into my yoga mat, seeking out the intelligence of silence. In the silence I found fear, pain and confusion. I found judgement but I also found something of the current, carrying echoes of a song; I found something of that two year old.

So now, it is back to words, inadequate as they may be. I write these words for myself as much as another. I write these words to let the current take me deeper. I write these words to find my ‘wiggle’. I write these words to sing.