January Treats

Sometimes the last few weeks of December can feel like hard work. There’s all those jobs that need to be done by the end of the year; the days that are too short and too dark; there’s so many nights out and so many hangovers and so much rain. Then the holidays come and it’s a relief to just relax in front of the tv or the fire, eating and drinking and sleeping too much; ignoring the fact that soon it will be January when the days will be just as short and dark and the weather just as miserable, but with no Christmas break to look forward to. Instead there’ll just be counting the days until payday and failing to live up to New Year’s resolutions made in happier, more hopeful times.

So it’s a good idea to do something nice for yourself and plan a couple of treats for January. I know I will need something to help me get through that long month. It might be connected to a resolution but it must be something fun. Something far away from that faithful trinity of resolutions – diet, exercise and managing your money. For me, this usually means booking tickets. Last year it was Walworth Farce, which I’d booked in November and definitely brighten up my January! This year, I have tickets for Nollaig na mBan at the Irish Writers Centre on January 6th and the Theatre of Change at the Abbey at the end of January.

Nollaig_na_mBanI booked my ticket for Nollaig na mBan really early this year because last January, I only got in by the skin of my teeth. (Thankfully sometimes throwing yourself at the mercy of the waiting list works out!) It was a really fun night in the Irish Writers Centre; Una Mulally quoted Constance Markievicz and Tara Flynn managed to be very funny about Ireland’s lack of reproduction rights. Other speakers talked about mental health, being a “lovely girl” and apologising too much. The panel discussion included lots of recommendations of great books by women which I’d forgotten by the time I’d got home because I got carried away by the wine and the Secret Santa-style book-swap at the end of evening. It was a really fun night and I enjoyed it immensely. Sadly it’s already sold out for this January but the waiting list worked out for me last year so it’s maybe worth a try.

The other ticket I’ve booked is for the Theatre of Change, the three day symposium at the Abbey. This was the thing I was most excited about when the new programme was announced in October. I’ve been to the last two and found them fascinating and insightful. (I even did a top five of my favourites panels and presentations from the Theatre of War, with YouTube links.) For this year’s Theatre of Change, I’m hoping for forward-looking, optimistic discussions but I don’t really know what to expect. One of the things I’ve liked about the last couple of years is that the content was surprising; often it was the speakers I didn’t know that I found the most fascinating, and the topics that I didn’t even know I was interested in were where I learnt the most. I know that spending three days in the Abbey listening to a bunch of artists and academics talking may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but to a giant theatre-nerd like myself it makes me very happy. Tickets are still on sale if you feel the same way. The €50 Early Bird tickets are available until December 31st.

Other January treats
First Fortnight – the mental health arts festival begins on January 1st and there are events happening all over Dublin until January 16th. I’m hoping to see some of the plays that I missed during the Fringe, and maybe some of the visual arts exhibitions and discussions. I’m also looking forward to Enthroned – “a modern fairytale charting a woman’s journey to confirm her right to existence” which takes place in St. Patrick’s Hospital.

What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now
This exhibition is on at IMMA until the 7th February. Featuring modern and contemporary masterworks from the world’s leading collections by Abramović, Brancusi, Dalí, Duchamp Ernst, Giacometti, Oppenheim, Picasso, Warhol, Yoko Ono, and many more.

Dublin Old School – there are still some tickets available for this show in Project Arts Centre, 12th – 16th of January. I loved it last year – it’s really energetic and manages to be both funny and sad. It was one of my theatre highlights of 2014.

Dublin Film Festival isn’t happening until February but you could buy yourself a gift voucher now and make sure that you definitely go and see something during the festival.

Or if you fancy a bit of self-improvement, you could sign up for a class. This January, the Science Gallery are running short courses on how to make an app, web development and getting to grips with the Raspberry Pi, a tiny but powerful computer. The Irish Writer’s Centre has loads of courses coming up in the New Year, as does the very reasonably priced People’s College.

Whatever you do, do something nice in January.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert at Liberty Hall

Liz&Roisin
Sorry for the blurriness, I’m not very good at taking photos. I was too busy soaking up the creative wisdom!

“Stop pretending that you are not powerful.”

This is one of my favourite lines from the author Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw her in Liberty Hall last month. It was in response to an a question from the audience about what to do if someone is afraid to show their work to the world. Her response, to the predominately female audience, was that for most of human history, women were not allowed to have a voice. In many parts of the world, women are still silenced in many ways. We are lucky enough to be born in a time and place where we are allowed to express ourselves which means we have a responsibility to all those silenced women. There are enough powerless people in the world, stop pretending that you are not powerful.

Another line (borrowed, I think from Brene Brown) was that courage is contagious; by speaking up, you will encourage others to do the same. I really liked both these sentiments. They made me think about #WakingTheFeminists where the courage to speak up was most definitely contagious, it ran like a virus through the theatre community and made things happen.

The event in Liberty Hall – Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Rosin Ingle – was very enjoyable. As a big fan of Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, Roisin Ingle was an enthusiastic interviewer and Elizabeth Gilbert was a generous interviewee. She was happy to talk about the book, happy to tell stories from it and to make fun of herself a little bit. She seems to be a chatty person in general – she talks to her creativity, she talks to her fears, she talks to her ideas and her characters; it seems to works for her.

The main thrust of the book is that creativity is for everybody; everyone has the ability to be creative. Gilbert’s describes creativity as being close to curiosity and makes the point that asking yourself what are you curious about is a less stressful question than trying to “be creative”. Instead, just follow your curiosity. She stresses that creativity is healthy, it’s natural and it shouldn’t be the domain of a chosen few.

I also like her idea of creativity being a little bit magic. Gilbert personifies ideas as living things looking for the right collaborator. If an idea decides that you are that collaborator and you don’t show up and show the idea that you are serious about bringing it into the world, it will go off and find someone else to work with it. This appeals to me because I am a fan of collaboration and because it injects a sense of urgency to any creative work. You have a responsibility to the idea, you owe it a daily word-count or regular work hours because it picked you.

Other creative tips from the evening that resonated with me:

Take the day job.
When she was 16, Gilbert made a solemn vow to live a creative life; but she didn’t expect creativity to provide for her, part of the vow was that she would provide for both of them. She says that this was because it was something that meant too much to her and something that she enjoyed too much to put under that sort of pressure. As someone who recently started a non-creative job, this pragmatic pledge stuck a cord with me. It also reminded me of Sara Benincasa’s essay Real Artists Have Day Jobs.

Do it even when it’s boring, because that’s when things get interesting. 
There’s a feeling that creation should be all about finding your flow and then it’s all magic and easy. The reality of making something from nothing is not like that. It can be difficult and it can be boring, but you have to get through the dull parts to make it to the fun stuff. Gilbert listed other things that contain a lot of boredom before the pay-off; these included meditation, sex and raising children!

Treat your art like someone you’re having an affair with.
Be excited by it, be in love with it, spend every spare minute with it. Instead of waiting until you have enough time and the right environment to work, do it every chance you get! Something happens when you work on an idea everyday. Gilbert said that this was the idea trusting you to show up, so the creativity shows up as well. When you do this, things start getting serious.

My signed copy of Big Magic is currently sitting in a large pile of books beside my bed and I’m looking forward to reading it in the new year.