Saturday, October 26, 2013

Feeding the muse

my sister's windowsill

My sister is serious about crafts. Whenever I met up with her recently, she would have a new elaborate project going on, while I would still be knitting the same never-ending wrist warmer. We want to participate in various crafts fairs, so there is a deadline of sorts approaching, and I am hoping it will motivate me. My sister knits and crochets every day of the year, whereas I seem to take a break during the summer (an exception is cotton and silky yarn - wool just feels wrong in the warmer months), but now I am slowly getting into it again. One reason for the slow pace is having to prioritise other work. Once again I have spread myself too thin with commissions and my own projects and can feel panic tingling at the edge of my awareness.  

What I tend to do in such times is shut myself away from the world, thinking I need time at home both to work solidly and also to recharge for the next burst of productivity. In a talk she gave with her writer mother-collaborator here in Galway last year, the illustrator Polly Dunbar said her friends were used to not seeing her for weeks on end when she is in the depths of working on a project. 

I recognised my own work tendencies in that. But ideally I will find time for everything that is important in any given week - people, work, leisure, exercise, rest. I realise I am actually more productive when I make time for friends and for attending things. This week was packed full with activities and events I thought I wouldn't have the energy for but that ended up energising me. These two musicians (and wonderful people) were a heart-warming part of a fireside soirée that included a panel discussion based on Jean Cocteau's contention "The arts are essential - if only one knew what for". They talked about being subversive and how everything we make is art ("cleaning one's kitchen really well") and children being the most incredible artists of all - topics I feel passionate about. A friend invited me to see the beautifully shot Renoir and I have resolved to go and see more films from now on. With the internet and a DVD player you have endless inspiration available all the time, but there is something about going out and seeing something live or on a big screen surrounded by other people that makes me feel more inspired and more alive than anything I absorb via my laptop.

I still haven't found the magic solution. While I saw friends and went out and did things, I somehow forgot to make space for the essential task of buying groceries, so I lived on peanut butter sandwiches and meals out (and of course those lovingly cooked for me). I've been feeding the well of inspiration but neglected feeding myself properly. There was also very little meditation and yoga; they were replaced by almost daily glasses of wine, which is a rather inadequate substitute.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


My week included tiny feet (photo taken during a little rest from playing while babysitting) and a tiny kitten my sister found (or rather it found her, travelling in the engine space of her car unbeknownst to her after having made several appearances in her garden. Some of its whiskers seem to have been chopped off. The first weeks of its life must have been tough, but already it trusts people and purrs loudly and eats until its belly resembles a balloon. They think it's a male; if that proves true, he shall be named Branwell). 

Both these playtimes helped me get out of my head. Not that I have had a lot of time to wallow around in my head recently; October has been a very busy month so far. But it always strikes me how easy it is to switch off the endless chatter in your mind when you are forced to because a small being needs your attention or you get absorbed in how it navigates the world (or its sheer cuteness and life-affirming joy). Something I struggle to reach in meditation can be so simple. [My emotional wellbeing would only be one of many many reasons I would get a cat. Seriously thinking about it again. Especially now that my sister and brother-in-law live nearby and are available to cat-sit and also after reading this. I, too, seem to have become "an expert in future living" in some respects.]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Purity of heart

"[...] purity of heart, which, according to [Kierkegaard], is what makes one do the thing, whether it's embroidering an altar cloth or making a crème brulée or writing a story"
(what Edna O'Brien aspires to, as told to Susanna Rustin in the Guardian, 28/09/2013)

My fascination with accounts of old age and what it means and the life stories of septua-/octo-/nonagenarians continues. I have always had friends of all ages and always more older friends than from my own age group, but recently I have been more and more drawn to the elderly. Maybe turning 30 - still quite young, but nevertheless very different from the feeling of being 21- earlier this year had something to do with it, carrying a heightened awareness of mortality and the brevity and preciousness of life.

So I seem to be collecting life-affirming stories by people with plenty of life experience behind them. My almost 80-year old neighbour, who had to endure several tragic losses in her eight decades, was dancing in my kitchen the other day, eyes sparkling with mischief and joy. She regularly goes to a nursing home where she teaches people younger than herself knitting, signs up for courses, travels, exercises and goes to concerts and other events. She probably has a busier week than me.

This piece by Penelope Lively was very insightful, and I loved this interview with Edna O'Brien, one of my heroines. She describes her routine, which includes making "endless cups of rooibos tea" and reading "something astonishing" before settling down to write, as well as going for walks. These are people to whom "retirement age" means nothing and who continue being creative *.

And then there are those who only find their calling late in life and embrace it fully, spurred on by the knowledge that there is not much time left and ending up with a prolific late-life output (Mrs Delany, the subject of The Paper Garden) - reassuring when I worry about having wasted so much of my twenties being depressed when I could have been productive, or, productivity levels aside, enjoyed myself more.
Should I be lucky enough to make it to old age and find myself in reasonable health, I will make sure to make the most of it, with "purity of heart". 

* though of course there is nothing wrong with just enjoying retirement, whatever that may consist of. My focus here happens to be on writers and artists, because they are of special interest to me personally, and also because most written accounts prerequire that the person is a writer).

Monday, October 7, 2013


I was absent here for a while for various reasons - family visiting, work in the Uni starting again after my long summer off, needing time away from the computer after long sessions of teaching myself Adobe InDesign - and came back only to find Blogger stubbornly refusing to cooperate, so I have temporarily lost bits in the sidebar. While I attempt to solve this, here are some glimpses of recent happenings and be-ings:

View from the prom in Salthill. Galway Bay was eerily still for a few days - a mirror-like surface, coupled with thick warm air and people moving slowly; it felt like walking through a dream.

Encountered on another walk. I must emphasise I do not approve of people dumping old furniture in the landscape, but this was at least aesthetically pleasing. It also reminds me of that famous Cranberries album cover. 

My sister and I are busy preparing for crafts fairs, Christmas markets and online shops. I am trying to establish whether buttons or hooks and eyes or snap fasteners work best on crochet cuffs.

Baking. There has been a lot of baking, for birthdays, hikes, visitors and visits. I found out that liberally substituting honey for sugar is not always a good idea (banana mash instead of banana bread) and that a cake described as "really moist" in the recipe still can turn out excessively moist (pear mash instead of pear cake), to the delight of my visitors, who thankfully were all family and brave and ate it anyway.

Rab and I presented some of our collaborations at the first ever Cong Arts Festival. My sister and brother-in-law kindly helped out in various ways, from driving to filming our show. Cong is a picturesque village most famous for the film The Quiet Man. We loved this sign plus painted ducks' footprints.