I'm sitting here on a frosty mountain in Germany. This time last year I was sat here too; a little confused. A little bit unhappy, determined to find a way for my work to make sense. Six months earlier I had left my full time job, a little before that I'd left a very troublesome relationship. I was on a journey to being self sufficient. To following my creative instincts fully. And yet, I couldn't make it happen. I was struggling. Right, I don't mean to sound so self-indulgent, but as I sit here in the same place as last year I can't help but note that different feeling. A sense of gratitude. Hopefulness. The lot.
Last year I did a what I called ‘that awkward artist update’ blog post. I saw lots of people I admired doing similar, so I thought, heck, why not do it too…? Even if I did think it was slightly…over the top or as I like to call ‘tooty fruity’. But I did it. For that blog post I was deliberately candid and open, and as 2017 draws to a close, I’ll keep close to that template.
So...What. A. Year.
But before I lol on and feel thrilled. There's one thing.
For a long time it seems I've been suffering from fear.
Don't get me wrong, we are all managed by fear. Maybe it became so stark for me due to my personal experiences that created them? And that small thing of needing to be fearless to get things done in my field of work. Fear managed me no more than the usual I thought. But it was crippling. It affected my drive and my ability to make new work. In the depths of this fear I sat down with someone close.
He put it simply - ‘You need to get over this, or you won’t be able to continue performing’.
For a bit of context, I was at the stage where performing was extremely stressful, not something I wanted to get into lightly. I turned down gigs. I self-destroyed on stage. I got away with it by the skin of my teeth. Charm and instinct will get you somewhere. But being unhappy won't.
I realised that if I didn’t get over this I would not be continuing this journey. So I closed my eyes and gulped.
It’s hard to emphasise the need to spend time unravelling fear in your life. It’s a process. But from that moment everything slowly changed. I’ve dived in to my work in a way I was unable to in the past. I got serious about having fun and expressing myself. Since that moment it’s been a rollercoaster of highs (and thankfully very few lows). I'm not saying I rolled over and said 'I'm no longer afraid'. Fear is a constant force. It's not all that bad. It can protect you. But it can also hold you back.
The key I found was not to compare yourself to anyone. In Edinburgh Fringe I would avoid asking about others reviews, about others ticket sales. I kept in my own lane. I hung out with venue staff (artist’s are awful, I'd know, I am one). It might sound insane, but I unfollowed people on social media that a) made me anxious, b) made me feel less. Sometimes it’s hard as the exhaustion slowly takes over and that little voice starts talking again. When that happens you have to take a break. Hide. Have a face mask. Have some pavlova. I don’t like comparisons anyway.
And it has been the hardest work, but the most rewarding. There’s been that Irish Entertainer of the Year award where I got to speak out about my love of Roscommon Town. There’s even been an advert with Smirnoff. There's been a marriage to a woman (the fantastic Tiffany). There's been more Eurovision glory.
I’ve enjoyed seeing my work being viewed differently. And seriously. I’ve enjoyed seeing the particular path I’ve made start to make sense of itself. I laugh when people say; ‘Who are you darling and where have you been?’. I’ve been over here darling, you’ve just haven’t turned your head.
Sure, professionally it’s been a rewarding year. Personally it has been mixed. I feel more myself than ever before. Fewer bouts of depression. Even less anxiety (maybe it’s because I’m enjoying seeing my professional career go further?). I am proud to have, by a happy accident, become a more direct ally for the Trans community which I am extremely passionate about. I feel strongly about representing my home county and anyone for that matter who feels excluded because they are supposedly less than the 'cool ones'. I'm not cool and that works for me.
It has been a slightly heartbreaking year with the loss of family, and a little persistent but manageable heart break. And heart break is fine. Just fine. I think it keeps us tender and open but it makes up almost 90% of my daily musings. What we do for love, how we harm ourselves, how can we be more open to new experiences and respecting ourself. I’m surprised I’ve not made a show about love yet. It’s a red, heart shaped balloon I carry around with me everywhere I go. Sometimes it bursts. Sometimes I give it to someone. Sometimes it never comes back.
As 2017 draws to a close I am taking some time to look forward. I can’t tell you all that’s coming down the line mostly because I can’t predict the future. I do know I have an exciting project that brings rural and queer life together coming in September, kindly supported by Arts Council Ireland and Creative Ireland. There’s more gigging. I want to do some TV. I will be making some music.