What if…

IMG_0109

What if…

What if it is easier than you think it is?
What if you’re already good enough?
What if you put your inner critic in its rightful place?
What if you already know?
What if you quit now?
What if you actually do know what you need?
What if time is on your side?
What if you said ‘No’?
What if it is closer than you think it is?
What if you already have all the resources that you need to start?
What if regret is the only form of failure?
What if there is no right way or wrong way?
What if there are no rules?

What then…?

 

 


Creativity as Presencing

5220907045_d3489807ba_o

 

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

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

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

5221504700_519eb609d5_o

 

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

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

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

Presence really is the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learning to Ringmaster.

306462635_bae799e94a_o

.

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

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

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

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

(*or woman, obviously)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pow! Thank you Sharon.

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

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

END of circus analogy now, I promise!

..

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


The Night Owl

6332310179_e9eef24cb3_o

.

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

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

The darkness is a portal to insight.

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

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

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

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

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

..

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

6482838275_c1c32d4a64_o

On the ache and the longing…

IMG_8479

 

Do you ever feel an ache in your heart? It is both a longing and a void. It is dark and alluring simultaneously. I feel it. I feel it all the time. But it is the kind of ache which spurs you on. Prod a little deeper and it tells you there is more. Ask it ‘why’ and it will lead you down another track, to more questions, and later, more choices. For the ache is a choice, a choice to create, and to create is to be led into that void; that undeniably frightening quest to discover. Each time you show up to the blank page, or a viewfinder or an empty canvas, or to where the ache is calling, each time you show up, the quest becomes richer, deeper, more alluring because you move deeper towards your soul and find some meaning, some connection, if only for a moment.

Right now, as I write, I can physically feel the ache. It is deep deep in my belly, or is it my womb. If I dare to feel it fully I know it will make me cry, not with pain, but with the exquisite vastness of fear and that inexplicable longing. It feels like there is a universe within there, with a life force which I can never understand but can only approach. I write to touch this. I paint to touch this. I take photographs to touch this. I may never understand it, but I know it will animate.

To create is to animate that force too- to provide depth, dimension, form as we dive into that creative cosmos to pluck forth a poem, extract an image or carve some words of tenderness and hope. When we create we begin to experience that sense of belonging to something wider, beyond ourselves, and in showing up to the page we participate with the unfolding of meaning and experience. It is reciprocity in action.

IMG_8484

But sometimes we only have a glimpse of it; a brief moment during the creative process that you don’t know who is writing or what is that force surging as you paint. But you feel it, a power beyond yourself. The brevity is the ache too. The painting comes, then lands. The words congeal, settle, form. The image becomes fixed. We do our best to catch them. But what we catch will never be enough, it will never quite get there, because all the time we are in dialogue with what ‘there’ actually is. And yet we trust, that there will be more words, more paintings, more images, more creative possibilities. We show up again and again and again, to animate ourselves, and in doing so we animate the world.

The ache is longing and the longing is life.

So what do you long for? And what are you aching to create today?

 

IMG_8412

Creative Islanders: Katie Sanderson

 

Creative Islanders Katie Sanderson

Photo: Shantanu Starick

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

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

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

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

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

….

20130824_Trade 115_0072

Photo: Shantanu Starick

What keeps you in Ireland?

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

20130824_Trade 115_1004

Photo: Shantanu Starick

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

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

What do you do just for the love of it?

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

20131130_Trade 115 Part 2_0928

Photo: Shantanu Starick

What does the creative process teach you?

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

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

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

(This question is easier!)

20130824_Trade 115_0085

Photo: Shantanu Starick

Why do you do what you do?

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

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

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

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

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

20130824_Trade 115_0738

Photo: Shantanu Starick

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

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

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

20130824_Trade 115_1146

Photo: Shantanu Starick

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Nature and travel.

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

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

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

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

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Photo: Katie Sanderson

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

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

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

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

 

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
_MG_5353

Photos: Katie Sanderson

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

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

Fool Magazine.

The Bar Tartine Cookbook.

Podcasts- On Being.

20130824_Trade 115_0962

Photo: Shantanu Starick

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

That it is not weak to ask for help.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Don’t forget to have the craic!

20130824_Trade 115_1205

Photo: Shantanu Starick

What is coming up next for you?

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

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

Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset

Photo: Katie Sanderson

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

Dillisk_V1 from Ben McDonald on Vimeo.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetPhoto: Katie Sanderson


The Danger of Until…

Aug 2015-93

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.

Aug 2015-51

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.

…..

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.

406A8105-683x1024

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.

406A9096-742x1024

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.

406A9193-1024x882

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.

406A9290-1024x624

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.

406A9328-1024x683

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


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.

…..

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:

……..

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 21.05.30

 

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. 

…………….

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.

planner2

 


A Culture of Ships

7995530206_9c912676be_o

I am interested in ships. Not tall ships necessarily- although some of my best journeys have been on floating vessels- but entrepreneurship, leadership and at the root of it all, friendship and fellowship. If I was to coin a word right now and add it too the fleet, it would also be creativeship (the discipline of creative being). The ship here is important for many reasons, namely because it connotes a culture of this particular thing and not a rarified merit or accolade. Let me elaborate…

Over the next number of years we will witness a radical change in social contexts and labour markets. This will be the era of the freelancer and the creative. This will be the era of rapid automation of what was previously done by manual labour and the subsequent rise of niche markets, specialists skills and a whole new breed of worker. Gone are the days of permanent and pensionable. Instead we are seeing a rise in hybrid work and life, blended careers across sectors and continents, and people seeking flexibility over predictability. As a consequence will need a whole advanced set of skills to go with it, with creativity, innovation and solution mindsets placed centrally. Plus we will need a new system and ground rules for collaboration and engagement. This indeed will be business as unusual.

This too is an era of unstable economic and social tides. We only have to look at the (mis)fortunes of Greece today to see how systems which were once thought to sustain us are in fact destabilising us. There is universal systemic mistrust across politics and power structures, traditional institutions and the very fabric of society which once we lay our trust upon. It feels like shaky ground.

And so to navigate this change, economically on the one hand and socially on the other, we need also to be an era of rapid prototyping, experimentation, innovation, risk taking, openness, and collaboration. We need to be able to forecast, plan, design and execute new social initiatives and political agendas with a maturity which I believe can only come when we excavate our inner landscape and call on our collective compassion, solidarity and trust. We need to essentially learn to raise our conscience and then evolve and design our operating principles based on a new order of values.

Wishful thinking? Idealistic? Maybe- but wasn’t it ideals which built democracy in the first place, and wasn’t it ideals which got us to the moon, and back.

12589549965_9ba5625e39_o

As it has been said many times over, where there is crisis there is also opportunity. I believe that the opportunity resides deep within in each of us, if we frame the questions right.

At this stage, you may be wondering, where on earth do the ships come into all of this?

Well right here.

You see, we need to broaden the questions and the scope of our inquiries. Currently we don’t ask enough questions about how to cultivate a culture of the right kind of ‘ships’. What if instead of asking how we educate people for the current system, we really asked, how can we build a culture of entrepreneurship, of leadership, and equally of friendship and fellowship, so that we can equip ourselves with the essential skills we need as a collective to navigate these altering tides and not just survive, but thrive in the future- economically and socially. What would our education systems look like then? And our political system? And our economies? And our future?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that how we frame the initial question is critical.

Leadership and entrepreneurship have been heralded as the merits of a few. But this need not be the case. With the right training, and embedded within a culture of these traits, we each can express our own leadership and evolve our own innovative means to solve problems- we are fundamentally creative beings, and our creative intelligence is like our life raft.

We have our hearts to help us too, for with each of us there is the capacity for universal friendship and fellowship (as this is the stuff of hearts). Fear can mask it, and mistrust, but I believe the capacity to unearth and rediscover our essential nature is within each of us. Sometimes it just means we have to slow down, listen and really see each other, and ourselves, for the beauty that we are.

It is not easy, it requires dedication and deep inner work as well as outer work. But it is possible. We can thrive, if only we have the right mindset and the will to make it so.

So yes, it is idealistic, and could even be called naive. But what other choice do we have? I would rather set sail on that ship, trusting many others will jump on board too, in friendship, and in hope.