In 2014 I was invited to Cyprus to speak and perform at a TEDx conference. The theme was ‘Look Deeper’ and I spoke on my experiences in dementia care and as an artist.
It was an amazing few days that I won’t quickly forget. The lost luggage, dash to the mall, and borrowed equipment all added to a memorable weekend. Speaking at a TEDx conference was truly a dream come true for me.
Watch the video below. I’ve also included the transcript (including the bits I forgot!)
My TEDx Transcript
All people are artists. But we don’t always remember to notice.
And we don’t believe it.
We often tend to think that art begins with some act of imaginative creativity. It doesn’t. It starts with the ability to observe, to listen, and to notice.
This is where you find the inspiration to make a difference in the world; to make your impact and to express your unique response.
And amazingly there is enough inspiration for everyone. Why? Because it’s everywhere, it IS everything.
The world is here to be noticed and we become artists when we start noticing what it is and how it is that we as individuals seem to notice it.
I’m a songwriter. I write songs. Simple.
This is a response to noticing.
I have always reacted strongly to sound. I’ve long been fascinated by noise to the point where I want to play with it, experiment, and explore ways of using it.
And it is from this starting point that my desire to create music and write songs comes.
What about you?
What is it that you notice in the world that affects you at a deeper level?
In other words, what do you notice right now about what you generally seem to notice a lot?
And then…what do you DO with that?
This is the tricky bit.
It’s fairly easy to notice. It’s a part of life, it’s how we know where we are and what we’re doing. We can’t help but notice.
But art is the product of actively noticing and responding to what you passively can’t help but notice, and then turning it into something real, something that has the potential to make a difference to someone else.
Discover and Connect with Yourself
The American writer, Flannery O Connor famously said ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say’. I find real beauty in this simple statement.
The innate human compulsion to create provides us with a way to discover and connect with what we have noticed about the world, and this helps us to understand how we feel or think about those things.
I sometimes think that I don’t know what I truly feel until I write a song.
During two years that I spent writing the bulk of my latest album I was helping care for John; a very close family friend who was suffering from lewy body dementia. Working alongside healthcare professionals and members of John’s family opened my eyes to the creativity and art in everyday life.
It showed me that when push comes to shove and you start noticing what you notice because you are forced to, you begin to find new and creative ways of approaching and dealing with challenging and painful situations. And within this place the artist can’t help but emerge from within every single one of us.
Noticing and Communication
Dementia is a most horrific disease. It is essentially the slow destruction of internal connections to the point where communication becomes extremely difficult.
The true challenge for us as carers was to take our time; to observe, to listen, and to notice what John was attempting to say beneath what at times appeared to be jumbled words and confused moments of behaviour.
Because when we took the time to notice, it became clear that these were not random acts and meaningless words. Rather he was expressing something tangible; his real needs beneath them.
The surface of the situation was filled with clues and communication. Perhaps John was hungry, thirsty, feeling lonely, maybe he wanted to say thank you or simply contribute something to a conversation. Maybe he just needed some reassurance.
As carers, by actively noticing what we passively noticed , i.e. by writing things down, by sharing seemingly insignificant things that happened while we were with him; by building up the bigger picture, we were ultimately able to better understand something deeper about the way John was expressing himself and his needs.
In learning to recognise these signs we could meet those needs in our response to him. That’s where the art is…
Art is the active response to noticing.
It was a poignant moment for me to get the message telling me about the theme of TEDxUnic, while I was on my way over to visit John in the nursing home earlier in 2014.
The theme was ‘Look Deeper’, which summed up our philosophy of care. It struck me that John was always there when we took the time to look deeper. His smile, his personality, his sense of humour. None of it ever really left him despite what it maybe felt like to us as the communication became harder.
There were always deep glimpses of John’s truth when we took the time to look beneath the surface.
Being able to write songs was a life saver for me as I sat by John over the weeks, months, and years, trying to process what was happening as I watched him slipping deeper into the tragic grip of that dementia. Music was a way for me to cope, and to notice how I was feeling and responding to that painful situation.
And I learned that art isn’t a way to cover things, or hide from them. It’s not a means of escaping the realities of life. Rather it is our everyday active response to noticing and feeling the very things that we as individuals notice and feel.