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

Aoife McElwain Headshot by Julia Dunin Creative IslandersPhoto: Julia Dunin

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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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

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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


Say No for Your Bigger Yes

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No. Only two little letters but pack a powerful punch. Learning to deliver them with grace, tact, wisdom and strategy is quite the challenge though. But No is essential to give rise to a bigger Yes. And when I say bigger Yes, I mean the big dream, the fuller view, the longer term, the core of what makes you come alive.

‘No’ is a portal to the realm of your possible.

Over the years I’ve had an undulating relationship with yes, and as a corollary, to no. When I first started as a freelancer I said yes to pretty much everything. Yes was experience, and yes came with the incredulity that people wanted to pay me for my work. That was great, for a time, and led to many an adventure, but yes also led me to stretch myself thin, not focus enough and keep putting off some of the bigger projects because I was filling them with shorter term projects. I was working lots but getting paid little- taking on jobs that did not offer enough finance, out of fear, ironically, of my own lack of finance. The fear of lack of work and fear of lack of opportunity were also forcing the default yes. I would say yes because I was afraid another offer would not come along. But there comes a time to refine the no and tackle the fear head on in order to grow and thrive.

This is a work in progress (always) but these are some of the things I have been learning along the way.

In order to say No, I needed to substitute it with my bigger yes. Having a vision, a dream, and a plan of action to get me there has always motivated me and my vision needs to be loud, clear and alluring. It is something I need to constantly revisit and keep alive and fresh (meditation, guided visualisations and Pinterest helps me!) My vision changes frequently too, evolving with my ideas, experience and skillset. But with a bigger yes in place, I feel more justified and aligned when saying no. No becomes easier and clearer, and I trust that it is creating space for a larger plan to unfold. No is fuel and fire for my own creative practice.

Over time I have also learned that there are ways to say no. Graceful ones, and ones which actually help the other person while also helping to maintain the relationship with the potential client or collaborator. So, in saying No, I also aim to ask, ‘How can I serve this person? What is their need and can I link them to a solution?

Here are a few examples of how I have learned to say No:

No, that timing does not work for me, but thank you for asking. Please keep me up to date with your progress and projects and I hope we can work together again in the future. In the meantime here is a resource which I think you will find useful….

No, I am unavailable on that date unfortunately, but here is another person who I think could help you…

I am afraid that my skills set does not match up with your needs on this particular occasion. However, I love your work and what you are offering to the world, and I would be keen to work with you on a future project- please keep me in mind.

I’ve had a look at the brief a few times, mulled over it, but don’t think I am the person for the job. I think you need someone who can _______ and here is where you might be able to find them ___________

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you. My daily fee is beyond your budget on this project. If you could stretch your budget to meet X amount, I would love to work with you. I know your funds are already tight, so if this is not possible at present, please keep me in mind for future projects where there may be more financial scope. (These are often the hardest ones to write!)

I recommend practicing saying no, and also having some templates or scripts prepared- like the ones above- so when the time comes you are not caught off guard and can adapt your response as necessary.

Saying no has also extended to finding the right people to work with. I’ve recently been approached for by a potential coaching client but knew instinctively I was not the person they needed. My gut simply said, ‘let it go’. I knew in my heart of hearts the right thing to do was to pass on their contact details to someone else, who I felt would be a better fit. While it did mean turning down the client fee, I also knew it was opening up other options for myself, and for the client. The money can be a lure, but if not exchanged with trust, openness and a sense of service, it can be a burden too. Money comes, money goes, but trust can’t be bought or sold, and in this world, I value trust more.

So that is some of the No tactics. And then there are the criteria for saying yes.

Below are some of the questions I ask myself when I am offered a piece of work.  

A project may meet some of these criteria, rarely them all, but at least has to meet a few. I have turned down some photography jobs because they did not match my value set, for instance, but have taken on some work because the pay was good and the work was a mostly a match with my interests and values. It is not a fixed formula, but pausing and checking in with myself before I give an answer is time well spent.

Does it align with my values?

Do I like the people/ organisation involved?

Is the money right? Does the budget match the time and skills required?

Am I connected to the cause or issue?

Do I feel I can really contribute here?

Is it a good use of my time, and theirs?

Is it building my skillset and experience? Or can it contribute to my bigger Yes?

Does the idea of this light my fire?

How is this of service? Will it have a wider impact or benefit to others?

So here are a few questions for you now:

What is your bigger yes?

What questions do you need to ask yourself, before you say yes to a project?

And how can you say No more often to give rise and room to your bigger yes?

Spending time with these questions will be time well spent too. I can assure you. The Bigger Yes in you will thank you in the long term. You are giving it space to grow, and time for yourself to expand into it.

So yes to that. And yes to all your dreams and visions…

Onwards.


Creative Islanders: Mari Kennedy

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Photo: Clare Mulvany

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

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

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Transformational leadership coach, yoga and mindfulness teacher, and facilitator, Mari Kennedy has been a pivotal friend and colleague in my own life, and in the lives of many. Her creativity spans many ventures including The Ireland Iceland Project, The Yoga Salon, and my own collaborations with her through Be Retreats.

Mari has a special knack of sparking fresh conversations and insights, and creating learning spaces for rich and lasting change. She is always real, ever honest and just through her being inspires creative responses to life. She is great craic too and has been the brightest treasure of a friend anyone could wish for. It is such an honour to be able to include my creative collaborators in this interview series. So, go make yourself a cup of tea and dive into these rich words from the radiant, Mari Kennedy….

(All photos by myself, apart from Cliff of Moher Retreat Centre, by Mari)

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What keeps you in Ireland?

I ask myself this question all the time. Certainly for the first 30 years of my life it was a combination of being very close to my family and fear of the unknown. I was a funny mix of someone who dreamt of travelling and new experiences and a total home-bird, safety junky. The latter always won out. Deep down I was afraid of change and loss. Life threw me a few curve balls over the last 10 years, reminding me there is no such thing as safe, and ensuring that I understand that change and loss are the very essence of living- rather than fearing them they are to be danced with. Now I choose to stay here with a willingness at any moment to leave. I am in Ireland today because I am excited by what I see around me – friends, colleagues and clients who are asking bigger questions, choosing to live in a more courageous conscious way, desiring a different future for this particular corner of the earth and its inhabitants.

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 (Mari speaking at Body & Soul Festival, Trailblaze event)

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

The mystery of life and attempting to show up to the adventure and the crazy complexity of being human. That excites me and terrifies me. I have learned to love the fact that everything is always changing, transforming and evolving. Everything! Think about it – in the utter bliss of kissing someone for the first time is the loss and ending of that relationship, whether it happens a day later or at the end of a lifetime of kisses. Isn’t that amazing and painful and beautiful all rolled up together? That’s what we have to deal with as humans.

I love working with others developing and designing transformational experiences, events, programmes, retreats. Collaboration brings me alive. And yet it’s the most challenging thing I do because it always brings up shadow (the parts of me I prefer not to see or more significantly don’t want anyone else to see!).  It also demands that I stop trying to control people and situations. When we collaborate we are invited to stop relying solely on our own intelligence and trust in the bigger collective intelligence. Its pure magic but it is guaranteed to unearth the small self. My first attempt at collaboration was with Kathy Scott in the ireland:iceland project in 2011 and we’ve been playing with collaboration and learning ever since. More recently we created The Yoga Salon which allows us to bring other great creatives and yogis together.

Inquiry and questioning is also something that makes me tick. Both self-inquiry and asking questions of how we are living as a society are essential to our evolution. I became a coach because coaching provides a place to safely question and open up new possibilities. The world I grew up in did not encourage questioning and it’s taken me a long time to relearn the questioning that was so natural as a 2 year old.

The change I see happening in the world motivates me. It’s really exciting. One thing that really struck me in the last 12 months in my work in Leadership and Mindfulness is how mindfulness and wisdom practices are been taken on by organisations. I have been amazed at how deep people are going in the practice of meditation and how committed they are even in the middle of a busy office and hectic work load.

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Photo: Cliffs of Moher Retreat Centre, Mari Kennedy

What does the creative process teach you?

Perfection is overvalued, impossible to sustain, and ultimately cold and clinical. Imperfection and brokenness are rich with potential and full of beauty.

Play, curiosity and kindness are some of the forgotten portals into creativity.

Mistakes are part of the process and to be celebrated as opportunities to encounter my small limited self (who hates them!). It teaches me to respect and revel in cycles, make friends with the unknown, listen and celebrate.

That loss, confusion, discomfort when given space give rise to hitherto unimaginable possibilities.

There’s a time to listen and there’s a time to act – and that is the process.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Sit in the stuckness, stay close into the stuckness and inevitably it will open up. As our Celtic ancestors knew, everything begins from darkness.

 

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Jump off rocks into the sea. For the pure joy freedom and craic of it!

My morning meditation- it connects me to larger belonging every day, keeps me close to my heart and to what really matters.

I love words and I find myself collecting them like beads with the hope that some day I will string them together into a couple beautiful pieces.

Making food–put me in a kitchen with music to sing along to, a fridge full of fresh beautiful food and I’m happy out.

Reading poetry -Rilke, David Whyte, Hafiz, Rumi. I just got introduced to Marie Howe when someone recited “Annunciation” to me, standing in a field during Body and Soul and it blew my heart open.

 

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Amazing women and men in my life who are stepping up, dealing with their shit, taking personal responsibility for their lives and speaking their truth. Having them accompany me at the edge of my own comfort zone as my friends is a daily inspiration. (You know who you are!)

My Dad’s legacy of gratitude and seeing the good in all situations.

Clients who sit opposite me and say “I’m lost” or “something needs to change in my life and I don’t know where to start”. I celebrate those moments of honesty as doorways to potential.

Integral Theory makes sense of this complex world for me, and Theory U and the work of Otto Scharmer at MIT inspires me to live in the unknown.

The research and work on mindfulness, empathy, compassion, neuroscience and the heart by people like Tanya Singer, Kristin Neiff, Richie Davison, Dan Segal, and The Institute of Heart Math inspire me to believe that we humans are evolving our capacity for compassion and empathy which potentially could enable us to create a caring society.

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

I recently read a quote “When somethings goes wrong in your life just yell “plot twist and move on”. I found myself smiling and wanting to yell. I recently lost my home and that was really tough. I had to face fear, vulnerability, grief and shame. I was so grateful to have a practice that allowed me to meet and face all those feelings and allowed me to catch my tendency to fall into, ‘poor me, nothing ever goes right…’ You know the script!

My practice of sitting with myself in meditation and inquiry got me through – it helped me to ultimately see that I have a choice to be the victim of this ‘plot twist’ or turn it into a jumping off point to a new and different life, one that is more real I suspect. One thing I know there is always gold to be mined in the challenge of plot twists. The steadfastness of my family, the extraordinary generosity, support and love of friends, and uncovering some shocking limiting beliefs are some of the gold I continue to mine.

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

Pausing is one of the most creative (and courageous) acts you can perform. We are so conditioned to be busy and always in our strategic mind. Pausing summons our creative mind.

Right now I am experimenting with just that. I’ve been testing my capacity to press pause – and failing often – since I first realised, eleven years ago, that I was perpetually over-functioning and never ever stopped. When I first tried to stop back then I saw that I actually didn’t know how to even slow down. So here I am now, down in the West of Ireland, without a schedule, without a plan, with the intention of not filling up time with busyness. Sounds quite idealistic and dreamy but it’s actually excruciating at times not to reach for some distraction but to be in the nothingness of nothing to do. In that nothingness I see the panic that drives the busyness. The more I have learned to stop the more creative my life has become.

Over-achieving and trying to be perfect or create perfection is exhausting. The more you allow yourself to be human and stop worrying about being right or “the expert”, the more innovative and creative you become.

Through my failures I have learned how hard I am on myself and how that unconscious self-rejection has hijacked my life. Self-compassion and friends with a sense of humour REALLY helps.

I have learned that curiosity keeps mind and heart open and that the capacity to take multiple perspectives creates connection and invites possibilities that otherwise would have been missed.

Collaboration is immensely difficult for us humans at this stage in our evolution but hugely rewarding and essential for the future of humanity.

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

Yes – I try to spend 60-90 minutes practicing. I pour (but don’t always drink!) a litre of hot water with some cider vinegar, and I always sit. Then I do one or two of the following depending on time and what’s going on – yoga, dance, running hills, journaling, inquiring.

Silence, setting intentions and checking in are some creative practices I also use. Silence connects us to something bigger, attention as a rule follows intention, and checking-in inspires empathy and connection.

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

These days I listen and watch as much as read. I think Ken Wilber’s Kosmic Consciousness changed my life and my perspectives and I loved his dairy One Taste.

Rilke’s Love Poems to God.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

Roger Housden’s Ten poems to Change your Life

Pema Codron’s When Things Fall Apart

David Whyte’s The House of Belonging

I love the writing of John Moriarty but I have yet to finish a book of his.

Integral Life for all things Integral and the work of Ken Wilber.

Tara Brach Darma Talks

Sounds True Insights at the Edge – some of the great leading edge thinkers in evolution.

Yoga Glo –  great for home practice.

The Love Revolution – Matt Kahn

Mystic Mamma for bite sized pieces of wisdom and great images.

 

What advice would you give to your future self?

I suspect my future self would have more interesting and useful advice to give my present self than other way around. So if I can turn it around my future self would ask me four questions:

What’s asking for your attention?

What really matters to you?

What do you want to create?

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

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Thank you so much Mari! xx

Mari’s links:

The Yoga Salon

Cliffs of Moher Retreat Centre (Regular Guest Teacher)