A few years ago I was lucky enough to become friendly with the brilliant Shane Langan and Nial Conlan, curators & hosts of a wonderful gig in Dublin called the Weekly General Meeting. As an offshoot of the show, they also had a podcast that showcased some of Irelands best established & emerging artists. I was featured as a performer in the very first episode alongside Hozier and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted), and they invited me back to talk about my philosophy of creativity, and ultimately to share my top 5 tips about being successful in your creative endeavors. This is the interview (starts around the 25 minute mark) and if you don’t have the time to listen, here are my original notes for the interview that capture the essence of the conversation, as well as adding some additional thoughts to it :
1. BE A LUNATIC Be a lunatic and shoot for the moon. Commit to it, then figure out how to do it. As JFK said about the actual moonshot. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”. In essence I am saying, simply grab a hold of an idea, own it, and do it yourself. Figure out how to do it along the way. The Brownbread Mixtape show that I hosted for a decade, as well as the LINGO spoken word festival I co-founded, were both anchored deeply in that idea. Dream big, shoot for the moon, and use your passion as fuel to make it happen.
It’s important to be a doer instead of a talker. Forget about “some day”, make it today. And surround yourself with people who say YES. Immerse yourself in a community of folks who say “Why not?”. Wild flights of fancy are worth the effort. Especially if you have others around you who want to realise the same ideas. And even if you fail, you will have built strong bonds with other creatives, and will likely learn something from the overall experience.
2. BE INCLUSIVE – A rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that. Especially when it comes to the creative community. When sizing up all angles of a creative undertaking, I believe it is important to always think about how to bring as many people along on the journey as possible. For example, when curating a line-up, I place real importance on the variety of voices represented onstage. And when it comes to the audience, my style of performance and MCing is about breaking down the line between me and the audience. I want to make everyone feel like they are fully part of the experience. The great Irish writer Dermot Bolger paid me the highest compliment by describing my live performances as follows: “… there is the feeling you felt at punk gigs in 1977 of no separation between performer and audience.” For all of my poetry performances, and especially as MC at The Brownbread Mixtape gigs, I was really focused on drawing the audience in, making them feel welcome and valued, hearing their stories, and ultimately making the experience theirs as much as mine. This takes some time and it takes commitment to build that trust. But I always go in trusting the audience. Trusting their intelligence. Trusting their willingness to connect. And the end result is a room full of people feeling connected on another level. And part of that is down to me and the people in the room, and the other part is down to the power of great art. Art is the great connector in the universe.
3. BE COOL Be cool and be kind. To artists. To audience. To everyone. To your work. If you are good to others, they will pay it back, or, even better, they will pay it forward. I didnt have an agenda other than to have a great night filled with great art, and in return we would all feel a bit more happy & connected afterwards. Sounds like common sense, but it isn’t common practice always. Most people are just looking for a nice gig with a welcoming audience. And I know that I can always provide that. Whatever comes after that is a biproduct of the energy you transmit. In a nutshell, my artistic philosophy has always been this – Be good and good things come back to you.
4. BE SPECIFIC The more specific you are, the more universal it becomes. When it come to creative work and outputs, my greatest successes have usually come when I applied this principle. James Joyce even said much the same thing – “In the particular is contained the universal.” This has held true for both of the award-nominated Fringe plays I wrote (Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About and The Definitive View with Sneachta Ni Mhurchu). For both shows I chose topics and details that were ultra specific to me personally, or to the country I live in, and through that lens I was able to reflect greater truths and moments of catharsis in every place they were performed in (from London to Paris). Because those moments are really microcosms of grander human themes and experiences. If you get real & vulnerable with people and take them to a specific place, they will likely go with you and immerse themselves willingly, because you want to share something. Because at the core of your creation is often a fundamental human truth that resonates deeply and emotionally. And that is the best you can hope for with your art.
5. BE OK WITH WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW In life. In your art. There are so many things competing for your attention and for your time, and, as hard as it is, you must simply accept your circumstances. When I have forced myself to create something, it is rarely as good as the times where I have a fire lit inside me. And this is not an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but rather a grander idea about accepting the demands of your life at any given moment and being fine with how much you can create at that point in time. Be it your family, your job, your commitments – these things may slow you down, but look at them as opportunities to live your life and fill your cup with experiences that can later be translated into your work. Forgive yourself for the days where nothing creative happens, but don’t forget to celebrate the days when you do create something new. And be prepared to fail. Be prepared not to please everyone. Be prepared to go long stretches without creating. But remain a believer in your ability to create. That is being. That is creating.