I REMEMBER going to the Cork Jazz Festival in the 2000s and being irritated that it was sponsored by a beer company. That wasn’t the worst part, though. It was the way people acted. Maybe they just didn’t like jazz. Okay, okay. I know it’s a niche thing, sort of. Fine. But… what was it with the whole ‘being seen’ thing? I still remember. A weekend up in the city, away from the quieter days in West Cork. A city break, yeah. That was it. And a festival of jazz. Amazing, right? In theory, yes. In practice, it was a zoo.
The overwhelming loudness of the people drowning out the music with boozy jokemaking was the start of a series of disappointments: more and more large-scale events in the years I would attend them since would seem to be less about the art, and more about ‘going there with my friends,’ ie, people ‘looking cool’ together instead of actually listening to the music, or having a good conversation. What about the craic, like?
Ireland, though, for what its worth, was where exactly I learned how to begin to design S P A C E. Space for remarkable connection. Space for really sharing, deeply. For poetry and art and music happen in that country, or used to, I don’t know what’s going on now. I went to my first writing circle there, at the West Cork Arts Centre. I went to the West Cork Literary Arts Festival, and met the people at Fish Publishing who helped me understand that writing isn’t about trying to sound like a writer, it’s about telling a damn good story. Or improvising one. I still remember that week of opening up, trying things, sharing, and lots of pints. Rounds, as they say. It was what you call ‘a formative experience.’ What some people who are interested in vocabulary words would maybe see as a chapter in: bildungsroman.
Writing to learn, learning to write
Later, I wrote The Elopement (listen to the interview on NPR), but I forgot to put in all the things about Ireland that helped me become the designer of S P A C E that I am, today. I make space the way Irish people taught me: hosting, welcoming, inviting, sharing. I make space the way, too, I learned how from the philosophy circles at my high school summer in Laurinburg, NC, at a place called Governor’s School East. Where I met four people I am still to this day in touch with and whose stories I have followed closely, so much so, in fact, that I still feel like if it weren’t for that summer, and it was only six weeks, I wouldn’t have been tuned in to the kinds of things that say, ‘You know what? Grades don’t matter. Heck, we’re not even going to have them, this summer. And you know what I want to do? Let you lead this conversation. Let’s sit in a circle. Let’s have a dialogue. The kind with a center and not sides.’ GSE, as we called it, was an even earlier formative step. In this narrative of S P A C E.
TODAY I AM GOING THROUGH lists and memories and archives. I am searching out the people who most inspired me, all these years. I don’t mean that they became financial success; that would be dull. Anyone who has the right connections, privilege, and gets to go to the right places at the right times because of those things, can make it with their wallets. But art. Art is different. Art requires tenacity and grit and sticking with it and saying ‘fuck you’ when you have to because someone tries to discourage you from going where you are going. It takes being okay with publishing drivel and knowing that it’ll be time, and only time, and practice, and only practice, that will make you get better. And you will be your only audience. At the end of the day, you have to make stuff that you like. This is the overwhelming refrain when I ask highly creative people near and far (or ask them to be a guest editor) what they are doing and how they are doing it and more than all of that, why. They want do stuff they want to do. Period.
DO WHAT YOU LIKE.That’s what I’ve learned, too, from conversations in S P A C E with some very talented and far people. We are inspiring each other and co-creating a tapestry together, int eh comment threads of protected pages. It’s not just ‘cool’ or ‘nice’ or ‘something to do to be seen at’. It’s because we care about our practice. Of showing up, making something, and doing the work. To. Get. Better.
Self-improvement is something I learned not from Ireland, though. I learned that drive for constantly challenging myself and seeking new opportunities from someone specific. I just talked to him, the other day. It had been about six months. It was nice to tell him, ‘The most creative person I’ve known now, all my life, is you. And I’ve traveled around quite a bit you know, well, that was inspired by you, too.’ The person was delighted, I think. His wife said, ‘He’s getting emotional.’ That woman was my mother. Because the coolest and most creative person I know in this whole wide world and all its seas and continents, is RK.
‘Art is in the moment’
SOMETIMES YOU FIND the red ribbon that threads the narrative of your life story. I think that for me, it’ about these ‘magic moments.’ Not just of self-awareness, but of simply being together. Noticing that. Sharing that time, and being truly present. Not in a ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ or ‘yoga retreat’ way, but, like, for real. That’s what I experienced with S P A C E events and also ‘N’ ones, like in Hanoi. Wow. We did that. But it’s not just… me. It’s… us. All of us who are attendant. Who are making S P A C E. Quality, not quantity. Making it. Together.
Were this Ireland, someone would now say, ‘Ah, g’wan. Give us a song, like.’
And I would. (Since I’m not a singer, I’ll share something I had taped when I was working for the Skibbereen Day Care Centre kind of on a part-time basis as a help for teaching ‘internet,’ would you believe. But yeah. One day there were this kids with their musical instruments. Now, the contrast between that Cork Jazz Festival and its buzzy thing and the shared moment of intimacy and quiet and connection that I got to experience with this moment, well, wow. You can see for yourself, what it was like. I found the old video. Here it is…)
HT to all the members of ‘Slow Moment’ and S P A C E. And RK. Here it is.
ATELIERS ARE A WAY to bring some of this to the contemporary space of real life and now, wherever I go in the world. Hosting events is a way for me to bring to other parts of the world the good days of Irish pub life, when it’s early evening and you’re with your mates and things are cozy, and fine. It’s not hard to have a good time when you’re with people who are so clearly skilled at bringing conversation to the fore. Now I’m starting to get misty-eyed.
Alright. Where’s my Christy Moore CD?