Wind Your Neck In

Zoos evoke in me a strong mixture of emotions–empathy for caged animals whilst grateful for the chance to gawk at their beauty. Despite this push-pull-me dilemma, I have visited a number of zoos this past year.

No denying this: there is marvel when viewing exotics in the city.

But I am also left wondering what happens when the lights go off, when the sky goes dark and an urban hum encases their surrounds? Do animals startle when a bicyclist skims by an adjacent path at midnight? Are the penguins immune to such intrusive, human calamity and just hang out in the dark?

The Dublin Zoo was on the cards last summer. If anyone has ever ventured into the fabulously-expansive Phoenix Park then they will understand what a treasured inner-city gem this enormous space is: a whopping 1,750 acres.

I got dragged to this zoo with one of my dearest friends and expected to again feel a deep-down unsettling feeling about these animals in captivity. I was prepared to grin and bearI adore giraffes but would I want to see them frolicking within half a mile of the Guinness factory?

What I did experience at the Dublin Zoo was fauna-design brilliance—true beautiful landscape with glorious banks of plants and trees, a large lake and the remarkable feeling that I was far from Ireland. Somewhere tropical, somewhere lush, plants selected with purpose and authentic impact in mind.

Yes, I did stare long and hard at two lovely gorillas. I hoped that telepathically they would sense my condolences for being housed behind Perspex for the enjoyment of gaggles of children and grown-up children all seemingly stuffing 99 ice-creams in their gobs. Sometimes the gorillas locked eyes with my own, but I don’t think they got the message. Heck—most humans find it difficult to understand me let alone wishing monkey-folk possess a speck of ESP. 

But I was entranced by the glorious giraffes, entrusting to poke their heads a metre away from me and curl their black tongues around branches of the nearby tree. Their own space was a vast area where they frolicked within their pack and said hello to the rhinos. I’m not sure they were that mad about sharing space with a beady-eyed ostriches but, hey, we all have to put up with less ideal neighbours.

I felt similarly when visiting London Zoo twice recently.

I do think of those animals when I’m not at the zoo. Usually when I can’t sleep, which is often. Do the birds tweet away all night? Is it a happy tune? How would I know it’s not a cry for help?

So, perhaps at night, when the floodlights are cut and the keepers head to the pub, all those animals are doing a dance. Or perhaps the bears are debating politics or a ferret is telling a lemur: ‘You’ll never believe what I heard today from some stupid bloke in an I heart London hat today.’ To which the pig shouts over: ‘I love it when the kids visit!’ Then they all nod in agreement.

Too whimsical a scenario to wish for?

What I do know is that I love taking photos of these animals. They are majestic and kind subjects. They are naturals for the camera. I’m not keen on the fencing but I do feel agog at their expressions, like this opaki.

Tonight I will think of them again. I’ll think about the giraffes in Phoenix Park poking their heads above the trees and staring down towards the Dublin quays that span the Liffey. Perhaps they will then confer about the changes in Ireland since the Celtic Tiger came and went, or how this month’s election is a shocker.

Perhaps the bolder giraffes may even sneak out for a wee pint then return before daylight, the zookeepers none the wiser.

To sleep, perchance to dream.


Creative Cliff Edge

The last week has been a serious archaeological dig into my creative past, mining for amber nuggets.

Sorry–too metaphorical?

This question has been spiralling on repeat in my mind: what’s it mean to be ‘a creative’? Is that even a thing–a noun and not just an adjective?

At school I so envied friends who possessed a fixed gaze on their professional future—my best-friend determined to work in medicine, others went into law, a few dedicated their lives to social-work and public service, many made a success of being stay-at-home parents, some travelled the world.

Panic stepped in quite early because I wanted to do anything and everything creative; however, my wheels perpetually spun in place because I could not refine my choices. I wished to paint, to sing, to dance, to act, to design, to illustrate, write prose and photograph as if I were a Renaissance artist being bankrolled by a wealthy monarch. How indulgent does this sound?

And yet—I knew I would have to pound my shoes on the pavement hard to earn a practical living. I did that. I worked hard yet never slept because, in those wee hours when I should have lay under a heavy duvet and restored my energy for the next working day, I was filling sketchbooks and designing cards and logos, writing books and fiddling on piano.

“You’re a creative,” someone at university remarked in the pub one afternoon. “You’re wasting your time studying law.”

Yep, I knew that. But it was the first time I’d ever heard this term and it felt a revelation. A creative. It sounded like a real job. I’d not seen any tick-box or application form for this.

‘No!’ The critical creature anchored on my shoulder shouted into my ear. ‘It sounds like a professional dosser. Someone on the dole who drinks like a fish and starves for their art. A life of self-indulgence.’ Oh, how that nasty, cutting voice can undermine one’s lofty hopes.

I envied people I regarded as true artists, not dabblers like myself. Despite my successes when I did take the artistic risk, my confidence to go full-art-monty was missing-in-action.

The university wrote me a letter. It said I was taking too many classes and had to focus on my degree. Yep again—I was strolling into painting class instead of ‘Philosophy of Law,’ I snuck into the back of lectures about Chekov and somehow earned a top mark in ‘Clowning.’ But I saw their point—I was just hungry to learn, swimming against the tide of what I thought was a practical path in life and ignoring the direction in which I really wished to flow. This is not a unique story—many could spin this yarn and mirror my tale. In no way to I brandish myself unique.

But here I am. Blathering on. Heart-spilling to the world…or the one or two people inadvertently clicking onto this blog.

Why? Because after decades of juggling practical with my creative passions, the decision to choose one over the other is now. Or never do it. Do it now. [Gulp]

Each time I’ve painted a picture or created a logo, it’s been a success. But still I have thought: I’m not a designer. When I had my first novel accepted, I panicked and hid it away. 

Welcome to Imposter Syndrome! And when people bought my cards or commissioned my photos, I was pleased as punch. I produced the goods then squirreled myself, my camera and my brushes back to my domestic hide-out. The next morning, I would emerge in power suit and whisk fingers adeptly across a keyboard and my comrades were none the wiser that I was indeed the purveyor of polished artistic goods.

‘Take the plunge and do it full time,’ folk-in-the-know told me.

I agreed with them. But only when hiding under my duvet.

Life, however, now has other plans for me. The duvet is being yanked aside and I’m flinging out the door sporting a t-shirt with Crazy Creative emblazoned across the chest. Thank goodness that top still fits!

I am grateful for the support given to me, for the businesses who believe in my work and the customers who come back.

You won’t see me flogging my wares here but starting this blog strikes as perfect place to muse on the balance of inward reflection melded with outward expression. A creative outlet at my fingertips…much better than ogling a spreadsheet.

Hello, fellow creatives. Are you donning your t-shirt today?

Come join me on the cliff—the water is warm.


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