December is always a great time to look back over the year and think not only about what we’ve done, but what we might like to do in the coming months.
I like the demarcation that this process brings, as well as a sense of closure – especially if recent times have been challenging.
There is one thing I’ve learned this year: the capacity to create is never bowed. It might be diminished, obscured in a fog of sadness or illness; but it’s always there, ready to burst into bloom. In fact, being creative can be a positive outlet through difficult circumstances. This is very heartening to know.
Quote of the year
“Apparently inspirational quotes are a thing on twitter, here’s mine: ‘Stop dreaming and turn up on time, be nice and put in the hours’.”
Here are some bits and pieces from my own year.
My images were published by the Guardian Witness project on several themes, and the Observer selected my image, ‘Fluorescents’, as a top picture out of more than 300 submissions in its Tech Monthly Photography project.
I created a workshop on showing and selling your creative work, which I’m planning to deliver in 2015. This came out of my own experiences of showing photographic work in galleries, in the hope that sharing what I have learned might help others to do the same.
My articles on music and media were published at The Rocking Vicar magazine. I’ve been writing for the Vicar for a few years now; my editor Magnus Shaw and the ‘Parish’ team continue to be so supportive and generous. Exchanging thoughts and opinions about music, media and all sorts in our articles and over Twitter is always good fun, and I look forward to more collaboration in the coming year.
I won Wanderlust magazine’s food and travel writing competition 2014 with my piece, ‘Karlovacko and Crustaceans: a food tour of Croatia’.
I edited books and other publications, and received positive feedback from happy clients and authors, which is always nice.
I made some new pictures in my beloved medium of garden photography, and began to experiment with different subjects and forms. Architectural and urban photography is where I’d like to go next.
I continued to play guitar, and revisited some of my songwriting by working on new acoustic arrangements, which is such a beautiful process.
Above all, I realised I needed to write more – so I started this blog.
What inspired me this year? All kinds of things: seeing others’ work, going out into nature with my camera, experiencing the joy of summer, talking to others about their projects.
My creative brain was fed by so many ideas from reading and listening to experts talk about what motivates them and how they’ve honed their skills and insight.
From an artistic perspective I was delighted to discover Sodajerker, which is a podcast on music. Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor interview famous songsmiths about their creative process: it’s an incredibly enlightening listen, even if you don’t write songs. The broadcast that touched me the most was their chat with Paddy McAloon, eccentric noodler, lyrical wizard and loveable lead of Prefab Sprout.
McAloon was a prodigious talent from the outset. One thing that distinguishes him from other artists who have achieved great commercial success is that fame has never diverted him from his core mission. In fact, it’s taken him in a direction you wouldn’t expect. These days, McAloon lives quietly in the north-east with his family, making the music he chooses. He has remained completely committed to his craft, and still in thrall to the process of writing.
As he said in 1988, just after From Langley Park to Memphis was released:
“It takes me about two years to make 12 songs, so this is why I don’t produce albums so often. I have to write maybe 24 songs, and wait for good enough material to come along.”
This year I’ve learned three things from Paddy McAloon:
1) Always do your best work – don’t compromise your standards.
2) Craft takes time. Stick with it. Be patient.
3) Be authentic. Make the work you love, even if you don’t have an audience.
This was echoed by Iggy Pop in his John Peel Lecture for the BBC. His abiding message about being an artist was this:
“Hang onto your hopes. You know what they are. They’re private. Because that’s who you really are and if you can hang around long enough you should get paid. I hope it makes you happy. It’s the ending that counts, and the best things in life really are free.”
The natural world
Life on Earth continues to amaze me. Early in 2014, I discovered a diminutive creature who punches way above its weight – and does it so well, it’s awe-inspiring.
The grasshopper mouse is only 3 to 5 inches long, and lives in arid areas of the USA and Mexico. Why is this unassuming little chap so awesome? Don’t be fooled by his cute appearance: this mouse is nature’s ninja – it can take out the Arizona Bark scorpion, whose venom is powerful enough to kill a grown man. And it howls at the moon!
If a tiny, vulnerable animal like this can be so fearless, and vanquish a lethal insect, it has my unwavering respect. Our wonderful planet always has something to teach us, and I’m always glad to learn.
Person of the year
Perhaps the most inspiring individual in my world this year was a teenager from Foxborough, MA: Sam Berns. Sam was an ordinary boy in pretty much every respect. He was in high school, had a loving family and friends, enjoyed playing drums in a marching band, and wanted to become a biologist.
The difference is that Sam had progeria, an extremely rare genetic disorder affecting some 350 people in the world. Progeria causes the body to age at an alarming rate, as well as ongoing degenerative conditions affecting the heart and other physiology.
Up until recently, the average life expectancy of a child with progeria was 12 or 13. At that age, the body is the equivalent of 80 years old. Sam reached the age of 17, thanks to his paediatrician parents and the development of a groundbreaking therapy at a medical unit in Boston which is conducting research into the condition, and helping to keep those with it alive and in comparatively good health.
In autumn 2013 Sam gave a talk to TEDx Mid Atlantic which is possibly the most humbling thing I have ever heard.
He was articulate and life-affirming in spite of all the sorrow and defeat his illness could have visited on him – and in spite of the fact that he knew his time would be short.
In spite of a bleak prognosis, Sam chose to live a happy life.
I was saddened to hear that Sam passed away from complications of his condition in January 2014. He departed just days before he was due to be awarded the position of honorary captain of the American football team he loved: the New England Patriots.
While other teens rail at their parents, covet the latest iPhone and worry about the opposite sex, Sam possessed an extraordinary wisdom and maturity beyond his tender years. His loved ones have every reason to be proud of a truly exemplary young man.
I share his talk with you, as his message is one of strength and hope: no matter what, keep looking forward.
As my fellow Italians always say at the closing of the year: tante belle cose. I wish you all the best for the season, and a very happy and fulfilling 2015.