The Importance of Recognising Transformational Times
Both globally and personally
This post contains extracts from His Holiness Pope Francis’ TED Talk from April this year, entitled The Future You.
While I definitely wouldn’t call myself a Catholic (not a fan of all the guilt), Pope Francis’ words really made an impression.
You can feel it, can’t you?
All this pushing and pulling. People everywhere are antsy, curious, frustrated. Seeking something more.
Whichever side or country or party you come from, the dominant sentiment seems to be:
Surely we can do better than this?
Especially for those who have known nothing but year after year of having their arses kicked by people better off than they are.
As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: “Why them and not me?” I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s “discarded” people. And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: “Why them and not me?”
In nature, there is change.
In nature, a species evolves.
For many of us the natural instinct is to try and get off these shifting sands as soon as possible. To get back to a place of safety, if we ever had one. There is a certain knowing that something is coming, but an uncertainty as to what that something is. The soul craves for faith, perhaps, in our future. But for many of us, that faith is not only absent, but accompanied by a mounting sense of responsibility, and a desperate need for direction. Taking action means so many different things to so many different people.
Timor-Leste is a country in its infancy. The old meets the new, often with volatile immediacy, and the power of transformation can be seen everywhere.
In art, transformational times can be duplicitous. You are tired of the old. But you are afraid of the new.
If you fight against it, you feel stuck, anxious, wretched. There is a deadness to it. Nothing grows. It’s like banging your head against a wall. The fear of what could go wrong ends up crippling you completely.
But if this transformational state is accepted, embraced, received with gratitude, the most wonderfully intense creativity begins to flow. Places open up inside that you never even knew existed. And that’s when things really start to happen.
Some believe that the transformational times we find ourselves in are just another in a series of many. Currently, we can add an ominous sense of urgency into the mix, as the human beings alive today confront the fact that they may be responsible for whether or not our race survives. Parents wonder what kind of future lies ahead for their children. Our situation is unique.
Hope can vanish, especially for those most in need. There is an instinct to protect oneself, to close the door to what’s going on out there, to retreat to safety. To do what you ‘know’ works.
Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world.
Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component.
Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness.
And this is where the creative fire comes in, in order for us to accept, to embrace, to fully experience this time as a race.
Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.
In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude.
Pope Francis is talking about embracing the unknown, letting go of what we have been taught to fear, and entering into a creative phase, together, driven by love.
Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The “you” is always a real presence, a person to take care of.
A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another “you,” and another “you,” and it turns into an “us.” And so, does hope begin when we have an “us?” No. Hope began with one “you.”
When there is an “us,” there begins a revolution.
I hear echoes of Corbyn’s for the many, not the few, in the Pope’s closing words. They are words I hear echoed everywhere. The secret to unlocking the door to our future, lies within every single one of us.
We just need to remember how powerful we really are.
Fears We Leave Behind
At the moment, available on CD Baby. Soon coming to Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, and every other music programme you could possibly think of. I will post links as soon as they are ready. But you might want to buy it right now from CD Baby and support independent artists.
Give yourself a break from politics and have a listen!
Half the profits from sale of this album will go to the Bairro Pite health clinic, who are doing amazing things in Timor Leste.
Please share the shit out of this post! Let’s send me platinum!!!!!
Mimosa flowers fall on them. Wisps of cloud float overhead and dew forms as twilight approaches. Passion has possessed them completely. They are as two young foals, spirited animals, moaning and possessing each other voraciously. Finally, everything ends, and they lie on their backs, watching the sky. Stars look on with their faces of fire. Still she forgets her son, who has been washed away down stream, over waterfalls and through torrid shoals.
The Azuero Peninsula is full of stories. Like the wistful tale of Tulivieja (a young woman who appears in various forms all over Central America), who went mad with grief after losing her baby on the banks of a river, while she was in the arms of her lover. Some say she grew hooves and long, wiry hair. Some say she roams the banks of remote rivers, wailing mournfully. Some say she knocks on doors late at night, looking for children who have been neglected or abandoned. Some say she leaves upside-down footprints on doors to warn of her presence.
Whatever the story, the past is never far away in Panama.
In Panama I learnt the importance of being yourself, no matter who that is.
I learned the importance of integrity, honesty and trust. I learned the importance of respecting the depth and complexities of culture, not just of those countries in which we travel. In Panama I relearned the strength of the bond that ties me to my own home, my own culture.
I also collaborated with some beautiful musicians
and co-wrote this song with my good friend Sarah, leaving behind a fear of singing in Spanish.
Fears We Leave Behind will be released on Tuesday 6th June, and will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Music and the CD Baby website.
How it Became What It Is.
Returning to Portugal, Where Fears we Leave Behind was made. Where I gained a second home and a reverence for Irish traditional music steeped in Guinness. Over to one of my favourite men on the planet, Mr. Billy Corcoran, who, between destroying Irish Music every Friday and Saturday night and riding the high stool, has managed to expand and expound in honour of all things Lusitano.
I came to Portugal for four months almost eighteen years ago. That’s pretty much how it works here. One day you’re sitting on a cliff, pondering the sea with a bottle of Sagres, and the next thing you’re sitting on a cliff pondering the sea with a bottle of Sagres and half your adult life has passed you by.
This is no bad thing, by the way. It’s just that your life becomes more whimsical here. That wonderful word amanha (tomorrow) applies to almost all things here. It reminds me a little of how Ireland used to be. Never put off for tomorrow what you can do the next day. For a serial procrastinator such as myself, this is the best of all possible worlds.
It’s the same with coffee. Who knew there was so many ways to have a humble espresso? Normal, full, short, just over half ,almost full, in a hot cup, in a cold cup, with hot milk, with cold milk, weak, or my personal favourite, almost Italian (quase Italiano). And that’s before we even move on to long coffee!
But having drunk coffee in the main coffee countries of Europe I think Portugal wins hands down. It’s the kind of languid café culture where caffeine has absolutely no effect. Which brings me nicely on to those who are serving the aforementioned coffee: the waiters. My, but they surely are a breed apart. In France it’s almost expected to have rude waiters; it’s de rigeur, but here it’s a joy to behold. A class of men whose grumpiness pales to insignificance when compared to their abject contempt for humanity.
It seems to me (now I know I’m wandering, but that’s how this is going to be so try and stay with me) that ‘the momentum’ is with Portugal now; ‘The Momentum’ being a strange invisible force that affects countries from time to time. Ireland had it in the early 90’s, for example. Things are looking up here. Portugal won the Euro soccer championships last year (soccer being one of only two occasions where Portuguese people can lose all rationality). The economy is steadying. Lisbon is one of the hippest cities in the world at the moment. There is a bit of a spring in people’s step. Cautious optimism is flourishing. I mean, they even won the Eurovision song contest last week for the first time ever. The centre left coalition government seem to be making all the right noises. All of this combined with the mysterious ‘momentum’ and Portugal is a pretty interesting place to be right now.
That other occasion where rationality takes a hike is in the realms of driving. Now at the outset I have to say things have improved here over the years, but Mother of God, when I landed here first it was lunacy. It seemed so contrary to the normally mild, laid back ‘amanha’ Portuguese attitude. If there was a gap in the traffic it was essential that everyone went for it as fast as possible. Equally important was driving bumper to bumper at insane speeds in the driving rain. One of the main roads between Lisbon and Cascais, the ‘Marginal’, at one time was considered the most dangerous road, not in Portugal, not in Europe, nay,nay and thrice nay, in the world I tells ya. I used to sit on my balcony and watch the crashes. Outside my apartment alone I was taking in about three per week.
Anyway, I’ve meandered enough for one evening. If Emma ever asks me to write anything for her again I might muse on the bougainvillea, the jacaranda,the night blooming jasmin, ginjinha and the peculiar affinity between Ireland and Portugal regarding ‘Saudades’.
So despite being in penury, I do believe I am one of the richest men in the world.
How it Became What It is
The upcoming album Fears We Leave Behind was written over the space of about two weeks. My friend Tiago and I then spent about a month recording the tracks, including one particularly fraught day recording Six Vials, when I drank way too much coffee and we both went slightly mad.
Then, I moved to Timor Leste, leaving the rest of the production to Tiago. There followed an erratic yet productive chain of emails, as each track took shape, in spite of dodgy internet connections, hectic work schedules and random bicycle accidents. We are almost finished.
Tiago’s dedication to this project has been overwhelming. I’m indescribably grateful for the time he has put into making sure the songs sound exactly how I envisioned they would, and sometimes, providing that vision when it wasn’t there.
I’ve got a few weeks off from teaching soldiers how to sing speak English…
…so I came to Puri Wirata in Amed, Bali.
I’m staring out across the Lombok Strait and listening to the final master of Fears We Leave Behind. Despite the haste with which it was created, this album is a patchwork depiction of all the ways I’ve travelled over the last few years. It is an infusion I didn’t know I was concocting. It is everything I was unable to describe.
If you listen carefully, you can hear Portugal and Panama in the songs. Invisible markings of movement and sound left in the darkest reaches of the soul, only to be brought forth as some sort of subconscious musical alchemy.
A Portuguese friend in Timor Leste listened to the songs. What he could hear was England. I listened again, and then I could hear it too. Of course I could! A strong English weft, around which the colourful warps of venture and voyage wrap themselves.
What better way to pay homage to that weft than with this poem I wrote, while ensconced in my mother’s house last Christmas. If you don’t like poems, you can stop reading here, and just look at this beautiful picture of my mum instead.
At My Mother’s
At my mother’s, I resign,
rather than decide,
to enjoy myself.
It isn’t like it used to be.
In a good way.
On the television, a man drives his truck into shoppers
Just like the ones we have here.
They urinate on the homeless, now
(not the shoppers).
On the bus, a frantic, careworn woman hoists a flat screen TV.
Casually, she cannot find her son.
But the child at the back knows where he is.
Or where he was.
A sensitive boy sits with his grandma.
She struggles to understand him,
but she would hate him to think she didn’t care.
She asks him to bring it, show her.
He promises he will.
Earnest, blue eyes.
I see into his future,
that sensitivity broken and splintered
into a not-belonging.
I see his power broken,
because I am
(though I try not to be)
By the lake mallards,
with shining green heads,
waddle towards us.
Their hope is menacing.
Who told me
you aren’t allowed to feed the ducks anymore?
We imagined a false flag.
Someone, somewhere, getting rich.
On the television,
a wise man tells us that lightning
leaves patterns on human skin,
like translucent tattoos of intricate fern leaves,
spreading out over someone’s heart.
Perhaps the heart of that sensitive boy?
his skin like this.
All the while the wind chimes in the backyard remind me to be melancholy…
lest I forget.
A whole day in bed,
twisting in the warm folds of the duvet.
Occasionally swapping hands,
one clasps the book in a crooked urchin,
the other slipped
between deliciously warm thighs.
On the television,
a woman in a van speaks of musical keys
I want to write music, now.
Music that moves, just because it can.
I know those rooms, I think.
The clouds lie heavy, with a new lightness.
The warm dry air.
A hundred pillows and a thousand adverts and a million useless words.
And what else?
My skin, my bones.
Is that all?
As the days pass, it becomes harder to translate what is my personal human experience into words.
Where have I been?
My heart has broken a thousand times and I feel more alive than ever. I have travelled to places I never dreamed I’d go to and met people who were kinder than I thought possible. I’ve been inspired and rejected and loved and hated and surprised and insulted and freed.
And what I’m left with is my own face staring back at me in the mirror. I have left behind the dearest travel companion I ever knew; two people with such strong dreams whose paths are drifting apart for a while. Every day I am strengthened by what he taught me. He helped me to set free the strong, fierce warrior I have inside myself and now I’m running free. No direction, but no fear.
I left part of my soul in Panama. Everywhere I go I am blessed enough to meet people who burn with unbelievable passion. Living souls colliding with mine.
I passed through Portugal and made an album of songs which flowed out of me like water. But it wouldn’t have existed at all if it weren’t for a friend I met in the mountains of the Serra da Estrela, who helped me get really comfortable with my creativity. The more you are true to yourself, it seems, the more your kindred people drift towards you. I know that I am who I am partly because of the spectacular people I have been lucky enough to have cross my path.
And now? Timor Leste,
where bravery runs in the blood.
Many more adventures from the Land of Crocodiles to come
Watch this space for the release date of “Fears We Leave Behind”