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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This Creative Island…

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So folks, I don’t have a Creative Islanders interview for you this week but I do have a series of photos and a writing extract from my recent travels around this very creative island, when I was fueling myself with inspiration and lining up some more interviews for future editions…

Travelling around the South West and West coast I was reminded over, and over, of how amazingly beautiful this country is, how fortunate I am to call this home and how much more there is to discover. This land is charged with potential and possibility. This land is alive with story and myth.

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Here a little extract from my journal while on my travels, offering a sense of what is on offer.

I needed time, away from words and screens. Instead this happened…

I got birds, in abundance- blackbirds, swallows, herons, egrets, greytits, cormorants, crows, wrens, gulls, moorhens, swifts and a whole number of little finches whose names I do not know. They potter and swoop, telling tales of distant lands and the ever wonderous majesty of flight.

Instead I got the sea. Inhaling and exhaling, offering a slower pace; a steady inevitabilty of change. There was the necessary meeting of cold salty water on my skin and unapologetic mud between my toes, marking trails of adventure.

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Instead I got hedgerows, their edges all fired up with mombrisia and behind, the budding blackberries- some still in bloom, some just ripening, some ready to pick. Then the ferns- at various stages of unfurl. And the moss and the fushia, and the little yellow flowers in bloom, unnamed in me also, and those purple too. Their beauty is name enough.

Then the sunsets, cliched in magnificance, defiant of words, interjected only with the sounds of flapping sails, birdsong and the music from another peninsula.

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Instead I got time with little Finn. Her first sea swim. Her claiming of empty crab claws, and dried seaweed fronds and abandoned sea clams. And the hours and hours of shore wandering and exploration of headlands. And the time we saw dolphins. And the boats we took. And the days we lost track of time.

I needed time away to come towards. Towards the natural life, the one which does not need to be switched on or plugged in but consequently plugs you in and switches you on.

The sun is out now, and we are off again with no agenda but to wander, with no aspiration but to be. Me and my four legged friend.

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The Danger of Until…

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So often we put our plans on hold. Our dreams on hold. Our creative impulses on hold. Our lives on hold. ‘Until I practice more’, ‘Until I loose a few more pounds’, ‘Until it is perfect’, ‘Until I am ready’, ‘Until they say I am ready’.

Until is a dangerous word.

Most of the time I don’t feel ready. I usually wish I had more time to practice. Most of the time it doesn’t feel quite good enough. I always want to loose those few pounds. I don’t actually know who ‘they’ are. But I am tired of waiting until.

I have found that ‘until’ actually stifles creative energy and clogs us up until something in us needs to burst, and sometimes it bursts in destructive ways. To even hold the energy of ‘until’ takes energy. It takes energy not to create and dream. It takes energy wishing those pounds away. And it takes so much time waiting for the right time.

I learned a very big lesson about ‘until’ last week. For several years I have been thinking of teaching online. I looked a LOTS of different courses. I did some. I thought about structure and format. I over thought about structure and format. I looked at more courses. I got overwhelmed with it all. ‘Until I have more subscribers, until my new site is ready, until I feel I am ready’ Until, until, until. A few years passed (yes, years).

This year however I knew it was time to take a leap. When designing my new website, a space was incorporated for online learning. I had courses in mind and a rough sense of how to get them out into the world. But I did not feel quite ready. Additionally, with all the comings and goings this year, by the end of July I had a deep sense of needing to step away from a screen in order to recalibrate. A holiday was being called out. The break was needed and wonderful but when I got back home it left me with little time to launch and promote the course. It was just a week to go before the date I had originally announced. Was I mad? All the advice had said I needed six weeks…

‘Ah maybe I will wait until December’

‘Maybe I will wait until more people have signed up to my newsletter’

‘Perhaps I will just hold off until I feel there is more time to prepare’

Until was back, dangling what could be easily seen as procrastination or laziness right in front of my face. I was so close to not continuing. The night before I was launching it, I was so so so nearly pulling it. Until was teasing me with ugly excuses.

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Luckily something within begged me to knock on the door of until, asking was it was trying to tell me. I knew I had been thinking about this for a long time, and I knew that teaching is a big part of my business plan moving forwards. When I questioned ‘until’ two things popped. Firstly, I realised I was afraid that the technology for the online teaching wouldn’t work for me, but mostly I was afraid that nobody would sign up. Fear. That was it. Big, juicy, daunting fear. ‘Until’ had simply masked itself.

When I saw ‘until’ for what it was, I knew I had to leap and pull off its mask. It was indeed time to put the course out there and show up to the work. If no one signed up to the course, at least I had tried.

The leap is leverage.

And guess what, people did sign up. Not in droves but enough that it felt like a healthy contingent and a brilliant start. There were people living in Ireland, USA, The Netherlands, UK, and even as far away as Tazmania. How amazing is that! Plus I loved the experience. I loved creating the videos and audio recordings. I loved reading responses and connecting with participants and seeing them connect with each other. Here was a space, carved on the internet, for people to connect to themselves, their visions, build new skills and engage with others. What a privilege for me to get to do this work.

‘Until’ would have extinguished all of that.

The leap has fueled me with added determination and a relief that I knocked on that door. Now I just need to keep knocking, keep listening and keep showing up to the work. For the work wants life, and life needs life to live through.

So what are you waiting for? Where is until in your life? And what is it really saying?

Knock on its door… I suspect you will get an interesting, leveraging, response.


Creative Islanders: Aoife Mc Elwain

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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.

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A bundle of life and talent, Aoife McElwain, food stylist, recipe writer, and a creative force behind Forkful is next up in the Creative Islanders series. Her food writing brings an elegance and charm to even the simplest of dishes, offering unusual twists on classic dishes. Teamed up with photographer and videographer Mark Duggan, Aoife has a knack of peeling back a recipe to its basic structure and revealing, step by step, the sheer delight of cooking it. That it will be tasty is unquestionable.

Beyond food writing, one of the things I admire about Aoife is her honesty about the creative process and what it really means to be a creative practitioner, speaking candidly about the highs, the lows and the dogged determination it can take to keep our internal critics at bay. We spoke together last weekend at the Creative Islanders event at Another Love Story but for those not able to attend, I hand you now over to the lovely Aoife McElwain…

All imagery below: Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography: Mark Duggan

What keeps you in Ireland?

My community keeps me in Ireland. That includes my close community of family and friends, as well as the wider community of taxi drivers who talk about metaphysics on a Monday, old ladies who love a chat at bus stops, event enthusiasts who strive to create happenings that increase the happiness of people around them… I think the size of Ireland and our openness for craic and banter lend itself well to making connections which can help make good things happen.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Cold, hard cash. Hah! Just kidding. I’m motivated by creating things for people to enjoy. Making yummy food for people is one of the ways I say “I love you and think you are wonderful.” Though I have no problems saying those types of things without cake, too. I go to extra effort when setting a table for dinner so that it feels like a special occasion that my guests will remember. I spend days planning and organising treasure hunts so people have fun discovering a new place. I’m also motivated by newness and connections. I like learning new things and meeting new people.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

It’s interesting because I love a lot of what I do. I’ve been really lucky in the last few years to have put myself in a position where I’m doing things I love all the time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get stressed or I don’t procrastinate… but even when I’m wrecked after writing, cooking and styling ten recipes in one day for a photoshoot, I feel very grateful for the opportunity to get to work at doing stuff that makes me proud of what I’ve achieved, and the funny little diverse career I’m starting to carve out for myself.

What does the creative process teach you?

To me, the creative process goes like this: “Aaarrrrgghhhhhh oh CRAP I can’t do this, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to do this arrrrgghhhhhh…. Oh! Wait. I think I have it. Oh, yeah, that’s actually pretty good.” The more I go through this process the more I trust myself at the outset, and the better able I am to deal with fear of failure and the anxiety that surrounds putting yourself out there creatively.

Why do you do what you do?

My aim is to lead a life where I keep learning. I really do believe that every person you meet has something to teach you, even if it’s something mundane like the name of their local football hero or something profound like their thoughts on the meaning of life. I like to push myself to try new things, whether it’s horse-riding or a recipe for shortcrust pastry, even though change and newness can a bit scary sometimes. It can be hard to keep up the momentum of discovery however, and, as I get older, I’m better at allowing myself breaks from activity to make room for rest and renewal. Chilling out is so important.

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

When I met Niall (my husband) ten years ago, I didn’t really know what a blog was. He helped me get set up with my first food blog (I Can Has Cook? www.icanhascook.com) which led to my columns in Totally Dublin, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. At that time, I had been trying for a few years to break into radio (I had a show for five years on Dublin City FM interviewing Irish bands) and I was feeling pretty rubbish at how little success I was having. So when I started the blog for the fun of it, it was an amazing thing to have it turn into a career of sorts. When I met Mark Duggan in 2012 and we started working on forkful (www.forkful.tv) together, it also brought opportunities to work more full-time in food, which I’m really grateful for. It’s allowed me to develop my skills as a food stylist, which is a fun and challenging job wherein I have to use my creative wits to make challenging vegetables like celeraic look gorgeous.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I very often suffer from procrastination paralysis when it comes to writing features. I’m grand with recipe writing but when I have to articulate my own opinion about something, I start to hear the voices of the world’s best writers in my head saying “Oh… so you call that writing? Wow. Scarleh for yer ma.” Sometimes the voices get so loud I have to take to bed with bowls of cocoa pops for company. This is not a nice place. If this happens in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ve learned to indulge it. I let myself take the time off and then I wake up very, very early the next day. I’m talking 5am early, when the foxes still own the streets and twitter hasn’t woken up yet. My inner critic only seems to wake up at around noon (she’s lazy as well as mean) so if I can get a good few hours in before that, then I’ve already had a productive day. Productivity really spurns me on too, so once I get one job done, the rest can often follow.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

For recipes and food styling ideas, I look to my peers like Imen McDonnell, Cliodhna Prendergast and Jette Virdi. I also follow a load of great people on Instagram for inspiration from folks like Beth Kirby (@local_milk) and publications like Root + Bone (@rootandbone), Lucky Peach (@luckypeach) and Fool Magazine (@foolmagazine) who are doing something a little different in their approach to food journalism. For personal inspiration, I often find myself looking to comedy for answers. I adore Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. I read their books and tweets, and watch their TV shows. They make me laugh and help me understand the world.

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

I do try to go easy on myself. Though I have found it really hard to learn this, it’s ok that life isn’t all ice-cream sundaes and sunshine. I’m getting better at listening to myself. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a break (if deadlines allow it – and usually, they do). Hanging out with my dog Daffodil can be a great release. Apart from the times she bullies other dogs in the park – she can be quite the terrier. But she thinks I’m absolutely brilliant, in every way, and is completely blind to my flaws. When I’m feeling low, hers is a good energy to have around. She mirrors my mood and will snuggle up to me quietly when I’m taking time out of the world, just so I know she’s there, if I need her. Apart from my canine companion, my husband Niall always has my back, as I do his. We’re a good team. He makes amazing sandwiches which is a crucial skill to call on in a crisis.

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

That you don’t have to get things right straight away. That you can will your life to be slow and conscious, rather than too fast and stressy; you just have to work quite hard on your own self to achieve that. Taking time to slowly evaluate problems rather than emotionally reacting to things is a good pattern to try to live to. I’m only beginning to wake up to this and to see it as a possibility of a way to work and live. Some slow, gradual early success living and working to a more mindful beat makes me hopeful for the future.

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

My favourite morning habit is to take my dog Daffodil to the park first thing in the morning. Then I like to come home and have a proper breakfast (the best is boiled eggs sprinkled with ground cumin and sea salt, with sourdough for dunking) and a coffee, brewed by my husband Niall. But I’m not going to pretend that routine happens every morning. Mostly I wake up later than I’d like and spend the rest of the morning catching up. I try not to get too angry at myself when this happens because that adds insult to injury. When I do get my ideal morning though, it sets me up for a happy and productive day.

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

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is the most thumbed and food splattered book in my kitchen. It’s an absolute must for cooks who are ready to start finding their own creativity in the kitchen. I really enjoy reading memoirs by chefs, including the classic Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a lovable rogue) and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve also been inspired by the work of Michael Pollan, an American food journalist and writer whose work has taught me a lot about the basics and history of food.

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

You don’t have to be good at everything and you certainly don’t have to be perfect at doing something straight away. And you don’t have to tell everyone you don’t know what you’re doing. Most of the time, this actually isn’t as endearing as you think.

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And what advice would you give to your future self?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and think about the other times you thought you were going to make a total mess of things and then actually did a pretty good job. You’re not a total dumdum, McElwain. And stop comparing your productivity levels to those of Michelle Obama! She has a team of, like, ten people. Of course she’s super productive!

What is coming up next for you?

Myself and Mark Duggan are releasing some new forkful videos this autumn, which I’m really excited about. We have been focusing on refining our still photography skills, as well as working with brands on video and photography content for their websites. I’m also working as a copywriter helping small brands develop their messages and identity. I’ll continue to work on my recipe columns and restaurant reviews for The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and Totally Dublin, and I’d like to flex my non-food writing muscles too. My current passion project is to develop a treasure hunt design agency. I recently organised an island-wide treasure hunt on Inishturk island which 35 visitors and islanders took part in. I designed it so they would not only bond with their team members but also discover the island, in a historical and physical way. I think there’s great potential to design place-specific treasure hunts around the country to enable people to embark on adventures of discovery. And I’m ready to start doing it.

 

Video credits: 

Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography and Direction: Mark Duggan / Editing: Killian Broderick / Music Supervision: Niall Byrne


The Art of Remembering

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Sometimes things take you by surprise and tell you something about yourself which had long laid hidden. That something can be a good thing; a thing that was with you all along but you had unintentionally ignored, or even chosen to ignore. Or even it was just time passing which took you away from it, further and further until it became a dot on a distant horizon, hazy and doubtful.

If you had said to me 11 months ago that I would be having an exhibition of illustrations I would have laughed. Me? Sure I haven’t drawn in years.

I used to, back then, somewhere along that hazy horizon zone of time. But I had forgotten. I had forgotten the feeling of inky hands and the organic, unpredicable relationship between paint and water. I had forgotten the gentle undulating feeling of textured watercolour paper or the way you need to carefully navigate a nib from an inkwell. I didn’t remember that I had once so enjoyed the feeling of the exact moment when the pen touches a surface with the intention to draw. Or how time can slip away; hours feeling like glimpses. Or the concentration it takes. Or the sense of having to let the image speak to you. Or what it takes to know when to stop. I had forgotten.

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Twenty years later a knowing has returned. It is a surprise to me this, a big one. Yet it is as if a familiar friend has come back with new stories to tell and images to conjure of distant lands. Or even deeper, now that I am painting, I feel fuller again, more me. It is like a chunk of myself was missing and now that it is here, things are starting to make sense again and I am understanding my programming in a new light. I am finding a certain capacity for calmness, and an exhilaration which I knew existed but I had suspected someone had locked away and permanently misplaced the key.

It wasn’t so hard to unlock after all. It just meant following an urge, showing up to a blank page and allowing my hand to remember. It has somehow been there all along. I had just been intent on forgetting.

Things can happen quickly. Time has done that funny dance, distorting what you think might be possible. So 11 months on, my first solo exhibition has been mounted. It is small but attended to with love and gratitude. Plus it serves as a whopping reminder that you never ever know what is coming. Sometimes we just need to show up to the blank page and let the remembering remember.

If you would like to see or purchase the drawings and are in the area on West Waterford head on down to Blackwater Garden Centre Cafe, outside Dungarvan- hosted by the delightful and welcoming Anne McKenna. (Huge thanks to Anne for enabling this and welcoming me and my artwork with such warmth and openness. She serve lovely tea and cakes too 🙂

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Exhibition Aug 2015-3

Creative Islanders: Martin Dyar

Martin Dyar by Fran Marshall High Res Creative Islanders

Photo: Frances Marshall

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.

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I think it is fair to say that Martin Dyar has a way with words. His poems pack powerfully gentle punches,  turning you to cadences and verbal connections which you may never have experienced before. They become particularly alive when read aloud; his own renditions doing them the best justice. For a while I hosted a poetry evening in my home (soon to be reactivated!). On the occasions when Martin would come, he made the whole experience into treasure- his knowledge of poetry, and beyond it, his passion for poetry, would fill any room with light.

Martin’s debut collection of poems Maiden Names (Arleen House, 2013) was a book of the year selection in both the Guardian and The Irish Times, and was shortlisted for both the Pigott Poetry Prize and the Shine/ Strong Awards. He has also written a play, Tom Loves a Lord, about the Irish poet Thomas Moore. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2009, and the Strokestown International Award in 2001. He is currently working on his first novel.

I am delighted to bring you Creative Islander… Martin Dyar:

What keeps you in Ireland?

A strong sense of home, a sense of possibility, and maybe from time to time the special historical sense of this being a writer’s island. Ireland is an endless, beautifully eccentric subject.

What makes you tick? 

I am motivated by the curious optimism of the instinct to pursue a writing life. It kicked in early, with its own meaning, and I am following and responding as best I can.

What do you do just for the love of it?

I sometimes get up from my desk and dance. It mortifies my dog. Recent songs that have got me to my feet are ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ by Van Morrison, and even mellower things, like ‘Caught a Long Wind’ by Feist. The American novelist Johnathan Franzen made a very memorable remark about creative commitment, along the lines of: ‘In order to be relentless, first you must love the thing.’ It is hard to be in love with the whole experience of writing. But the good days are full of amazement, and they can be magically restorative.

M Dyar Strokestown Poetry Fest 2012 by Clare Mulvany

Photos: Clare Mulvany

What does the creative process teach you?

My learned process has taught me the skill of expressing before thinking. A central concern is to parry the shadows of perfectionism and self-criticism. I don’t believe in writer’s block. There is some truth in the idea that if you can speak you can write. I prefer to generate looser improvised material and then accept a longer process of finalisation than to sit there invoking inspiration and begging the page to reveal a single path. I’m debunking the muse a bit perhaps, but there is also the sense of the artist as a channel, and there are certain experiences which are best explained by that term. Neil Young once said, ‘When the songs are coming, it’s my job to get out of the way.’ That’s a massively idealistic remark, but then Neil Young may well have been born with a cosmic tap inside his head.

Why do you do what you do?

I don’t know why I started. But I keep going to honour the special echoes that still reach me from the beginning. Also, I believe in poetry and fiction as essential forms of communication. A good poem can stop time. The poem ‘Reuben Bright’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson can stop time when read aloud. The novel ‘The Member of the Wedding’ by Carson McCullers stopped time for me recently.

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

I played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady in secondary school in Swinford in County Mayo. I was thirteen, and my mother and I somehow made easy work of memorising the lines. I recall being asked to write a poem in an English class around the same time, and lifting my head after about twenty minutes in a crazed peace and satisfaction. In 2000 I spent a year in the creative writing program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. I was hungry to learn and to get my writing dream off the ground. It seemed that all of the faculty and graduate students in Carbondale were going around saying vatic and pithy things about what stories and poems were and where they came from. ‘Go back to your story,’ the fiction writer Beth Lordan, a powerful mentor, used to say, ‘Your story will tell you what she needs.’

I won the Stokestown International Poetry Award in 2001, and that depth-charge of encouragement, and the localised thrill of the Strokestown festival, and the people I met through that experience, helped me to get serious and perhaps through the lastingness of those happy memories, to stay serious about my work. I was quite young, but terribly hungry to proceed. I would also say that the process of doing a PhD in Trinity was a great help, both in terms of the people I met, and the discipline that had to be mustered. I was an Assistant Warden in Trinity Hall, the university’s off-campus accommodation facility on Dartry road, during that time. A formative, and very happy period. I was subsequently a lecturer in the School of Medicine in Trinity, teaching ethics and literature. That exposure to the language of medical education, the privilege of teaching medical students, and the experience of hunting for the poetry of science with them, has branded my writing mind entirely. More recently, a year spent at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa was like following the pied piper into the mountain and then discovering a tumult of generosity and inspiration.

Martin Dyar in his one man show Tom Loves a Lord 2011

Photo: Performing in Tom Loves a Lord

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I swim every day, I walk the dog three times a day. These are tools and ways to retreat, and maybe amulets of a kind. But the only way unfortunately to get unstuck is to write. Maybe allowing oneself to write badly is the best way to get unstuck.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

I can find inspiration in stories, poems and plays. When something really grabs me, really excites me, I will sometimes begin to hatch new dreams of writing. Recently, I was spellbound and boosted by Edna O’Brien’s story Baby Blue. I’ll always remember seeing Declan Conlon play John Proctor in The Crucible at the Abbey. And I feel I’m still recovering from the glory of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, also in the Abbey. John McGahern’s story ‘The Country Funeral’, whenever I go it, draws me right in, and then makes me want to roll up my sleeves.

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

I’m a talker, a social person, and yet my work has always been solitary. Tough times I’ve learned require buckets of language, delivered face to face. But writing is a healing activity too, and a way to say something about the inevitability of darkness.

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

I’m thinking of Johnathan Franzen’s ‘First you must love the thing’ line again. Failure educates of course, but the springs of perseverance abide in a simple, private commitment to the act that is the centre of your art form. A new inscription: ‘First you must love the early night.’ My writing experience has also taught me that doubt is a dynamic force.

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

I like to set up my desk before going to bed. And I like to write early in the morning. It’s the most productive time, or maybe the best time to trap a bit of timelessness.

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

Timebends, Arthur Miller’s autobiography.

The plays of Conor McPherson.

The novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

The short stories of Edna O’Brien and John Cheever.

John McGahern’s novels, especially The Pornographer, and That They May Face the Rising Sun.

The poems of Bernard O’Donoghue, Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Wallace Stevens, and Richard Wilbur.

The novel The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.

Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

The story ‘What Kind of Day Did You Have?’ by Saul Bellow.

W.B. Yeats’s poems ‘Her Praise’ and ‘Ego Dominus Tuus.’

The novel Wiseblood by Flannery O’Connor

The Lifelong Season by Keith Duggan

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

I feel I had a very good start. But nothing can reduce the difficulty or the fearfulness of choosing a creative path. I recall feeling a sense of trepidation when I told my father that I wanted to be a writer. I felt I was confessing that I wasn’t going to be able to knuckle down with a real career. I also understood it as a promise of trouble. “I want to be a writer, Dad,” I said. “And nothing else.” My father thought for a moment, and then replied, “Well, you have plenty of paper.”

And what advice would you give to your future self?

I’d have to say something like ‘Don’t look back.’ There’s a wonderful moment in Rilke’s poem ‘Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.’ Orpheus has chanted his way into the underworld and bargained for his love Eurydice’s release. Now he has the task of hiking back up to the surface, with the messenger god Hermes leading Eurydice along behind him in the darkness. It has been agreed that they will have another life together if Orpheus manages not to look back during the ascent. He succeeds in the challenge for a time, but then, tormented by the fear that she is no longer following him, he turns around. Here Rilke adds a magnificently poignant touch to the original myth. The poem portrays Eurydice as too deep in her death for revival, suggesting that if Orpheus had fulfilled the task their reunion might still have been doomed. When Hermes sees that Orpheus has looked back, he officiously raises his cloak and turns to lead Eurydice away from the light. By way of instructing her to return to the belly of the earth with him, he tells her simply: ‘He has turned around.’ Rilke puts one word in drowzy Eurydice’s mouth. She asks, “Who?”

I’m thinking that I am powerless to reach my future self, and that he might not remember me. I’m writing for him maybe. But I hope he won’t be living in the past. My favourite closing lines of any book are in John Banville’s novel Athena. The lines are: “‘Write to me,’ she said. ‘Write to me.’ I have written.”

Listen to a few readings here:

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Delighted to announce that Martin will be joining the live session of Creative Islanders at Another Love Story this coming weekend (Saturday 3-4pm) , and also giving his own reading (Sunday 12-1pm) as part of the ‘That’s Another Story’ session.

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Thank you so much Martin for your time and your eloquent insights-  So very much appreciated, and I have no doubt that readers will appreciate them too.- Clare. 

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PS:

Have you spotted my new online course? Living Seasonally is a 5 day journey to dive into your dreams and visions, and create plans of action in tune with your energy. It start this coming Monday 24th August.  There is still time to sign up. Head on over here to find out more.

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Living Seasonally: Starting August 24th

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After a couple of weeks away, I am back to Dublin. The pause offered promise and renewal, and served a whopping reminder of how beautiful Ireland is. I hogged the South and West coast- weaving in and out of beaches and headlands, popping over to islands and meeting amazing people along the way (was lining up some interviews for Creative Islanders too, so watch this space).

Back in the city, I can feel an autumnal swing in the air as busyness starts to creep in and that ‘back to school’ feeling lingers for longer. I know that I for one want to move into the months ahead more mindfully, with clarity of vision and action- tapping into what the season offers while being in tune with my own energy. It is for these reasons that the idea of creating seasonal planners came to me. A planner with a difference- one which poses seasonal questions and works with the understanding that energy has ebb and flow, just like the natural rhythm of the year. It also understands the power of creating pause space as we transition between seasons, taking some time to reflect and realign our goals and actions with our intentions and energies.

As I was designing the planners, it was my graphic designer, Orlagh O’Brien, who suggested that I also turn it into an online course, noting that it would be great to work on the planners alone but would be wonderful also to have the opportunity to do it was a group of others. She made a good point. The group aspect can help to keep you focused and is an opportunity to learn with and share with others. And so Living Seasonally- the online version, came about. I start my first course on Monday 24th August.

Below a little video which I put together to explain the concept of Living Seasonally (thanks to James Kelly for his filming). (It is so rare for me to be on this side of the camera!)

I would love for you to join in- 5 days to dive into your dreams, aspirations, intentions and set some goals and action plans for the months ahead.

Head on over to the Living Seasonally page to learn more and to register.

Clare. Xx


Gone Fishing

gone fishing

Well, not actually fishing, but you get the idea.

I am excited to be heading off to the beautiful South West coast of Ireland for a couple of weeks- myself, yoga mat, camera, tent, art supplies, a zillions books and, importantly, doggie Finn are off on an adventure to see where the wind (and hopefully not the rain) will take us.

So, I am pressing pause on the blog and my business while I am away (because being my own boss means I get to do things like that!) It is an energetic thing. Over the last few months I have built two new websites, launched a new business, developed lots of new content, worked on a art exhibition and got through the challenge of learning to drive and then passing my driving test! It has been a big time in my life which took lots of energy, and a particular kind of creative energy. Now I need to refill the creative fuel tank.

The creative process works in cycles. Ebb and flow is as natural as a river running its course or the seasons turning. And so it is time to power off for a little while to allow the ebb to give rise to a fuller flow to take me through the Autumn. It is time to turn off social media and all the electronic chatter, and tune inwards to my own voice to really listen to where it is calling me next.

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So there won’t be any Creative Islanders interviews for a few weeks (much as I am loving them), but I am very glad to report that it will be popping up in real time at Another Love Story, where I will be bringing together four amazing creative entrepreneurs and artists in a live session of ‘Creative Islanders’. We will be exploring our practices, sharing our processes and I have no doubt enjoying some great conversation together. We will be in the library of the amazing Killyon Manor on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd August.

Until soon my friends, happy creative adventuring, through your ebb and your flow.

Clare x