At our core in an intrinsic knowing- the spine of us, our unique pattern, our individual code, our purpose, our source. Life gives us a zillion fast messages a day telling us who we should be and how we should show up in the world. They sway us from one manufactured desire to another. Our practice helps to strip that back and return us to our core; who we really are, how life is authentically longing to show up through us, and the intention or purpose for this next phase in our lives.
Our practices are designed to help us listen below the noise, below the internal chatter- to the vast expanse of silence, and within that silence, to the vast expanse of possibility and promise. When the world turns wobbly, when feeling off-kilter, when the muddle in the head shows up as anger or fear, or anything but trust and love, it’s time to practice: to return to the yoga mat, to the meditation cushion, to the blank page or the blank canvas, or to that thing which brings you into intimate conversation with your inner life force. Our practice is our prayer, our ritual, our return, our saving grace. This is why I practice. And to that I say, ‘Hallelujah, Amen, Thank you’- over and over and over again.
‘We make our lives bigger or smaller, more expansive or more limited, according to the interpretation of life that is our story. – Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher.
I have this strong feeling at the moment that tectonic plates are shifting. No, not those actual one, although we can all feel the earth shifting gear, but my own- the geography of identity and the geography of how I place myself in the world. What I thought were big solid chunks of me have been crumbling, like clay, and what remains feels raw and exposed.
I’m not complaining; it’s about time, and on a scale of one to good, I’m definitely at the good end of that right now.
Let me tell you a story.
For the past five months or so I’ve been facing the blank page on a near daily basis, first in my journal and then to the book. The book is still very much a work in progress. I’m 95,000 words in now though and I’m about at the stage where I’ll be doing my first big edit. That’s five months of unearthing the tectonic plates which have formed me, 5 months of having whopper conversations with the layers of my identity, and 5 months of diving into the dark to bring up the pearls. It’s some dive.
Already I can say this with 100% certainty that whatever happens next, if no one ever reads it, if I never write another word of it, the process of writing my story has fundamentally altered me- on a scale of one to good, I’d say remarkably so.
I’d always known this about words and writing and the power of story, but I had never really really fully fully allowed the writing process to change me; like at a DNA level, like at a cellular one.
This may all sound dramatic, for effect, but I kid you not, it’s not- I literally feel different in my bones.
So, the story: Well, it’s about my own journey into womanhood, a story which criss-crosses religions, continents, professions, loves and longings. It goes back in time to my great-grandmother and forward to the future generations which are to inherit our collective legacies. It’s a story about the silences we carry and sometimes the shame which gets held somewhere in the marrow of us. It’s also a love letter to the sea. Books can do that you see, have magic potential to travel in space and time and to make meaning. I am finding this all out as I go.
Telling my own story has been the biggest gift I have ever given to myself – by far. It’s to do with my mother.
The writing of the book has given me permission, in a way, to ask my mother questions I would not have asked otherwise. In doing so we are each getting to know each other better, and deeper, and so in a way the book has already given me the gift of my actual mother- not the mother of the stories I had made up in my head, but the mother who is filled with love and who has always been there. It’s beyond scale. And I will be forever grateful for the book for this.
But as tectonic plates shift, there is a natural churning and turning, and episodic outbreaks of turbulence. I’ve cried tears which I’ve held on to for years, I’ve released shame which was buried so deep I mistook it for my identity and I’ve shed layers and layers of stories which are no longer serving me. There is more to do, but by God, I knew writing was powerful but I did not realise just how powerful it can be, if we let it.
So, yes, the tectonic plates are shifting. I’m entering into a new decade of my life next year, which seems significant. I know that how I am going to be showing up in the world will be different, and what I put out into the world will be different but it is not yet formed, and I can tell you this friends, that scares the tiddlywinks out of me, so much so that some days I don’t want to get out from under the covers and definitely not come out to play.
For many of you who have been following my own journey for some time now, even as far back as the ‘One Wild Life’ book (*hello, and thank you), you’ll know that my path, particularly my career path, has shifted and changed route so many times it would make even a signpost dizzy, but I warn you, it is changing track again. I’ve a sense of it forming- likely to do with helping other people birth their books, and it is do with listening to the landscape (internal and external) for our own maps. I’m walking into that slowly… I have a big roll of white paper out tonight, scrawled with ideas, but the full story is just not their yet and (to drag the cliche out a bit longer), the next chapter is not quite ready to emerge. So yes, scary as scary, but trust is trust, and I am learning more and more to lean into that; so on a scale of scary to trust, I’m tipping the balance to trust right now, just.
So, I suppose I wanted to share these words with you tonight to say that things will be changing around here, but I am not exactly sure in what ways yet, or when, but yes, changing.
And I wanted to say, if you are thinking of writing your story- do it- because on a scale of one to certain I am beyond certain that it will change you.
So, until soon,
With love from the wild edge, on this Friday evening, beside a crackling fire, with Milly by my side as I am about to dive into a plate of roast vegetable and particularly the roast potatoes, so on a scale of one to bliss, it is definitely bliss.
What’s on your mind? What keeps you up at night? What questions do you carry? What is your heart longing to say? What is it that you want to birth? What is it that you want to jettison? What is it that you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?
Why do I ask? For many reasons.
I’ve been asking these questions of myself, and I suspect I’m not the only one.
You see, I’m marking several thresholds. Firstly, it’s been six months since I made the big move out of Dublin down to the wilds of West Cork. I’ve had six month of open landscape and big skies, of wild encounters and starry nights. I’ve had six months of coastal walks and hedgerow viewing, and each time I’m out in nature it seems like I am seeing it all for the first time- it always seems like the first time, for it always is. The new is in the way the light arrives each day, or the uprising of a wave, or the tumble of cloud or the particular shade of green at that particular moment. Six months seems like nothing at all but it is enough for me to realise that the space has been releasing me from certain ideas I’ve had of myself, or even certain ambitions, and in turning inwards I am finding the energy and drive to turn outwards again, reimagined. It is exciting, and daunting, and I am so so grateful for this space, this landscape and this remarkable piece of land I get to inhabit for a while…
I’m stepping over another threshold too. It’s been 10 years since I started blogging, and 10 years since I set out on my crazy journey to write what was to become the book ‘One Wild Life’. It is so hard to believe it has been 10 years. (I have a surprise down the line for you all on that matter by the way- it is in development, so watch this space). As I cross the threshold I have been reflecting in my journal on my journey since then; what I have learned, how I have changed, and what now wants to emerge.
I realise that I must have written hundreds of thousands of words over these 10 years, many of which were discarded, many of which sit in journals, some of which wound their way into blog posts or articles- yet each word in itself, whether kept or unkept, remembered or forgotten, is somehow life-giving. I say that even though I’ve abandoned two books in the last few years, and burnt the whole manuscript of my first novel. Yes, gone.
But they are not really gone. It is just that the form I was placing upon them was forced, and the words I was choosing to share were not really the true ones. I was pushing them into a shape that they didn’t fit into. And beyond that, I was scared to let them take me to my edge, to that raw place of truth and beauty were great writing goes. Now I know that the fear is a signpost; it tells me I am on to a good thing, the honest thing, the brave thing, the uncomfortable thing, the thing that pushes as my edges and takes me outside myself to be able to go inside myself with more force, grace and determination. And so in a funny way my fear tells me to trust that more words will come, and those words will change me. What shape they land in doesn’t really matter because the words in themselves are the life-giving force. The words themselves generate. They carry new ideas, insights, possibilities, connections. It is in the writing that the magic happens.
And yet, there is power too in the witness. When we do choose to put our words into the world, we never really no where they’ll land, who they’ll touch, how they may stir things, who they could infuriate or who they will resonate with. Whatever happens afterwards is beyond us. In the space between us and the reader is another clink of magic.
So I know words matter and I sense that how they land is out of our control. But what I think really matters is that we write them in the first place; for the love of it, for the connection to our creativity and our fear, and for the fundamental need to give voice to our voice. While I have not always been entirely consistent with mine, writing has given me a channel to my voice and a place where I have full expression. It’s both liberating, and connecting, and yes, I repeat, life-giving.
And so I ask again.
What’s on your mind? What keeps you up at night? What questions do you carry? What is your heart longing to say? What is it that you want to birth? What is it that you want to jettison? What is it that you want to do with your own wild and precious life?
Write it out, my friends, write it out out out. Listen to the place where fear tells you to go. Listen to the places of solace too, for you’ll be writing your very own map to your own answers. It’s your personal guide and who knows where it will land you.
And if you need a witness, I’m also here. I’d love to read what you have to say. So, feel free to write to me my friends… What’s on your mind? What keeps you up at night? What questions do you carry? What is your heart longing to say? What is it that you want to birth? What is it that you want to jettison? What is it that you want to do with your own wild and precious life?
(And for a little musical treat, I heard Ger Wolfe perform in Levis Corner House in Ballydehob on Sunday Night, and this song, with all its magical simplicity and charm, had me in tears. So if you need some respite from all the questions, for the TV, from the radio, from the government, from the crazy times, may this be it! )
I have lost count of how many I’ve had at this stage. A least 100, maybe more. Some are torn and tattered, some with lines. You see, since I’ve been 11 years old I have been keeping a journal. It is my constant companion, my guide and one of the best friends I’ve had. I bring one with me pretty much every where I go and when I don’t carry it I feel I am missing something.
Recently I started looking at journals from a few years back, and I could see the same themes that are visible in my work now, re-emerged. There is a quote from Rumi which I love; The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens’.
Journalling is way for us to see our own future. It is the ground of imaginal space, where we can dream and vision and explore the possibility of the possible. As a personal development tool it has been imperative, and more and more as a business planning tool it has invaluable. Just a few years ago, for instance, I mapped out the idea for Thrive School, but I did not really realise what it was then. I wasn’t ready to see it, but it was ready to seed. Looking through my journal now, I can see it there. Over the few years it had been given room and space, and so when I was ready, much of the conceptual foundation work had been laid, and the seed was ready to germinate.
Over the years my journal has offered me space to loose myself and find myself again. It acts as a witness, a mentor and a host to my inner world and realms. It is a private and sacred sanctuary, an incubation space and a punch bag. There are no rules as to what goes in or what stays out.
At 11 my journal was all about frilly things and the inklings of boys, my teen diaries have pages ripped out of them and some are full of scribbles and tip-ex. I’ve travel logs going back to my first big journeys, written on trains in Russia, boats in Tonga, and back of pick up trucks in Zambia. Page by page I can track my evolution, the error of my ways and insights along the way. With time, I can see patterns emerging, clusters of ideas and the seeds of projects which later fell or flowered. In particular I can see just how important giving space to ideas is.
On the blank page an idea has room just to be. It can be given the opportunity to be thought about, explored and questioned, without judgement or criticism. It is given a life out of the mind and onto the page. There it may need to sit for a while, to incubate, or fade.
I have no expectations of need my journal to look at certain way- only that I love blank pages and work with a nice pen. My preference for the last few years has been blank, soft-backed large Moleskins. I love the texture of their covers and the weight of their pages. The soft cream coloured pages also helps so take a glare off a blank page
My journal is not a day to day account of what I do. Rather it is a place to capture notes, thougths, feelings and suggestions. I write about my dreams. I transcribe quotes or poems which catch my eye. I track learning goals. I jot down things that are bothering me. When a chunk of time goes by that I am not showing up to the pages, I know something is astray. Getting back to the page inevitably brings me back to myself.
So, if you are interested in starting, or continuing your own journalling practice, here are a few tips and suggestions:
Handwrite your journal. I highly recommend handwriting your journal and not working on a computer or screen to type your journal. Writing is a way of physically expressing your inner process and thoughts. The weight of the pen on the page, the way your letters form, the speed with which you write, the variety and shape and sizes of you own lettering all has information for you about your inner process and ideas. I find it much easier to link and connect thoughts and solutions when on paper than on a screen.
Keep your to-do list in a separate journal/ notebook. I’ve always separated out my to-do list. My journal is for reflection and long form ideas, while my to-do list is operational. If I use my journal for task lists, it become more of a ‘work’ place rather than a retreat space. Have a separate task list helps to protect the power of the journalling process.
Invest in notebooks that you really really really love, and pens to go with them. Think of your journal as a luxiourious study or private library space. It’s sacred ground.
Get in the habit of carrying it with you every where you go. This means you will need a cover and a spine that is durable enough to travel with you.
Take yourself on journalling dates. One of my favourite things is to head off to a cafe with my journal and spend some quality time together. Ideally I don’t have other technology on the go at the same time as this is just a distraction.
Don’t know where to start? Here are a few starter questions/ promptswhich help to get the journalling process going.
Describe your current location.
What is the light like?
What colours are you noticing?
What sounds are you hearing…
And once you get writing you can dive a little deeper…
What’s on my mind?
How am I feeling right now?
What am I thinking about?
How goes life? And love? And flow?
What do I need to hear right now?
How can it be better than this?
I am grateful for?
Every few months look back on your journal and ask yourself what patterns are emerging? What themes are you noticing? Where are you stuck or entrenched? What problems do you continue to encounter? Noticing these patterns is the first stage to solving the problem or issue you may be facing.
When you are feeling stuck, ask yourself questions ‘What next questions’ and write an intuitive response. ‘What should my next move be? Who should I ask? Where should I go next? Our bodies and beings often already know what we need and the journalling process is a way of listening, capturing and then responding to this inner knowing. Often this process can reveal a deeper or hidden wisdom within you. I call this a ‘dialogue with my soul’. As you are answering, try not to censor what comes- just write for a few minutes of free flow form. Be open to seeing what happens and what answers emerge.
Keep your journals in a safe space. Gather your journals in a box or a shelf in your bedroom. Wherever you choose, be sure it is somewhere you feel is a space place, away from guests, family members or colleagues. Knowing they will be kept in a secure place will help you express yourself more openly and freely when it comes to facing the blank page…
Don’t worry about what your journal should look like, whether messy or pretty, whether there are spelling or grammar errors – just write. Scribble, doodle, cross things out, link things together. Your journal is just for you. Remember there are no rules.
Happy journalling… may it be the flame to your most exquisite relationship with you and your ideas.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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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