Bàrd is Eòlaiche Cuimhneachd
Bidh Martin Stepek a' sgrìobhadh air ceithir cuspairean: bàrdachd, cuimhneachd, comas daonna agus soirbheas is slàinte. The dualchas Pòlannach aige agus tha air sgrìobhadh mu dhèidhinn gnìomhachas-teaghlaich is an dòigh sa bhios sin ga ruith.
Tha e air còig leabhraichean bàrdachd fhoillseachadh gu ruige seo, agus aon dhiubh ann an co-bhann leis a' bhàrd Ameireaganach John Guzlowski. A bharrachd air sin, tha e air sia leabhraichean air beatha le cuimhneachd a sgrìobhadhadh.
Do Mhàrtainn tha sgrìobhadh fhèin na dhòigh eòlas beatha a chur an cèill. Mar sin, na chiad cho-chruinneadhadh 'For There is Hope (2012) bheachdaich e air bàs a sheann-phàrantan Pòlannach rè an Dàrna Chògaidh. Ann an 2019, dh'fhoillsich e 'Original Mind' far an do bheachdaich e air a' bhàrd is a' mhanach Iapanach Ikkya. Bliadhna às dèidh sin, chuir e leabhar meanbh-bhàrdachd an clò air a bheil Prose Lines.
I think all human activity emerges from a combination of automatic responses to nature, on the one hand, and our genetic need to express. ‘Express’ initially comes from Latin, and means ‘to press out’. I believe all human artistic expression is a need to get a portion of what has been absorbed over one’s life out of one’s mind.
Thus, I think culture is the sum-total of this endless ‘pressing out’, and the arts a more deeply personal – and often mysterious – aspect of this wider involuntary human reaction to life.
This all sounds very cold and technical but the results, as all people in the arts world know, is a continual flow of varied, reactive, responsive, and at times utterly unique and inventive ‘stuff’, which, if the mood is right, can bring a sense of awe to both the artist and the person absorbing the art.
Creating things that can be deemed as art is integral to my daily existence. I don’t mean I crave it or ‘can’t do without it’. I simply mean it happens in my life just as readily as breathing, heart-beating, eating, drinking, and sleeping do. Nor do I sit down to ‘create art’.
Usually, I’m working at my desk on something non-artistic, or am walking, either in nature, or to the shops, and an idea springs from my mind. Maybe not even an idea; often just a few words. I stop and write the words down on my phone or a notebook and let any follow-up words emerge, if they arise, but without me trying to make this happen. It is the same with art or conceptual artistic ideas. I just have to scribble down the idea and what emerges after the idea has become part of the material world i.e., on paper or in a document on my phone or laptop.
In terms of absorbing or experiencing the arts, it is a part of my daily life too. Again, seemingly at random I’ll have a gut feeling to read some poems or open a book at random and just experience what is there. Or I’ll look at books of paintings or websites with art in them or browse Ebay or Etsy, just to connect with art outside of me. I collect art, culture, or nature-themed stamps – especially Japanese paintings and calligraphy stamps – so I occasionally go to my three albums and just soak the beauty of the art into me. I think of them as miniature works of art – a portable world of human beauty and creativity.
When I make the time, I try to engage with other artists and organisations, doing a reading or two a year, entering poems for anthologies and e-magazines, but my free time for this is limited by my other work and personal interests. I would like to do more art-based stuff but not at the expense of my other chosen areas of life.
One of the things I do – possibly the main thing in terms of time each day – is teach and write about being mindful as a life philosophy and practice combined.
In a nutshell, this entails deliberately trying to hone awareness in each moment, so that, if what is happening is unhelpful, harmful, or unhealthy, we can shift our attention to something more nurturing, compassionate and constructive. And is something good is going on – outside myself or in my mind or body – the opportunity exists, if you are aware of it, to make a good thing even better.
Thus, in my wee inner world every moment matters, and every moment can be shaped to make the most of it as a gift of existence. So right now, a fly is in my room, and I’m annoyed by it. Instead of staying annoyed by it, I recognise it too is a living thing, as worthy of doing its own thing as I am, so I change to acceptance of it being here, and wish it safety and happiness.
In consequence to this I can then be moved to write a poem
Fly in my room Means no harm to me I’m in my room I mean no harm to it The coexistence of fly and man Is vital for all life.
Now, that might be a crap poem or a great poem or somewhere in between, but that doesn’t matter to me at all. It’s the moment – always just the moment – that matters, and I try, always imperfectly, to articulate the miracle of any moment when my mind opens up its creativity to me.
It looks like every blade of grass on the planet, every plant, insect, mammal, fish etc., and every land, sea, and skyscape. The greatest creative life is the universe itself, and astonishing ever-changing, ever-creating unknowable mass of energy that effects artistic creation in every moment and in every subatomic particle in existence.
We – humans – and to be more specific, we, creators of art, are simply part – a tiny part – of that process. In this regard 2021 is in no way any different from every other year since the Big Bang and what went on before the Big Bang.
At the human, community, societal level, creative life is also much the same. Yes, Covid made the bigger global, national and community cogs stutter and sometimes stop, and some of us lost people we love in this time – in my case an aunt, who was the last survivor of my mum’s generation of siblings, and a friend from my working life, whom I had known for over forty years. But, these are life experiences. They happen and we get changed by them as we get changed by every experience – good or bad. It’s called neuroplasticity in neuroscience. So, the creative life is to get on with being creative, as the ‘new you’ you have become, based on your experiences since Covid arrived, and your creations will directly or indirectly reflect the change in you.
An Aghaidh na Stainge
Martin has done over 800 free mindfulness sessions online since the first lockdown in March 2020. The focus has been to create a medium to help people de-stress and release their anxieties, sometimes grief. Martin notes that he uses no notes in these talks, or guided meditations, and considers these akin to creating art. They have been a way to keep busy and deeply connected to people from all walks of life and experiencing all kinds of challenges.
Martin continues to write almost every day. He paints, both online and with acrylics on card, and even had a go at composing music as part of a project of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. His closing reflection was that ‘it’s all fun and deeply wonderful to be alive.’