1. Which living person do you most admire?
I find that question difficult to answer truthfully – we live in a world full of celebrity and unequal power structures, so I’m going to name some dead people instead. At a push I would say Agnès Varda, Holger Czukay, Billie Holiday, Richard Feynman, Emmy Noether and Muriel Rukeyser. The thing I admire about them is that they were all exceptional at what they did without being pretentious or overblown, they retained the essential quality of children in that they still play! They also overcame major barriers of ignorance with humility and grace, and without becoming bitter (as many do). I think that’s why they are also such great teachers. [apologies if this answer is avoiding the real question!]
2. What is your current state of mind?
3. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
4. When and where were you happiest?
When I was a child, my family would spend the summer (which seemed endless then) in a semi-derelict coastguard station situated on a remote peninsula of Mayo. It had no running water or electricity. During the day we were free to explore derelict stonework, cowpats inside a derelict caravan (how did they even get there?) or dig mussels on the beach when the tide was out — listening to the high-pitched sucking sound of evaporating water, or countless other magic. At night, our whole family slept in a loft my father had built above the kitchen, and my parents would take turns reading us terrifying bedtime stories by paraffin lamp light. As a consequence of this, I still savour the overly sweet taste of condensed milk, the bitterness of paraffin, and the toughness of thistles.
5. Where would you most like to live?
On a remote peninsula, with no running water or electricity.
6. What do you most value in your friends?
Their support, love ….and fun!
7. What is your most treasured possession?
There are no material objects I own that I really care that much about apart from art objects, and even then, their soul will live in me forever, even if they are destroyed.
8. Who are your heroes in real life?
When I was a teacher, the severely disabled students had their own teaching assistants. The teaching assistant’s job is extremely physically, mentally and financially demanding. It is backbreaking work, requires supreme patience, and is (criminally) underpaid at minimum wage in Ireland. It seems to me that they are only doing it for the simple reward of helping others. And as Bertrand Russell pointed out, this is the secret to true happiness, not success or personal gain.
There are millions of people like this around the world who make life more bearable for those more vulnerable than themselves. They aren’t doing it for a photo opportunity, or praise (and they are not looking for it either) and certainly not for the money. They don’t have the right haircut, or consume the hippest cultural products, or know all the cool people. To me, these are the real heroes – certainly not Achilles or Thor!
9. What is your most marked characteristic?
To answer that would be like asking a mirror “what do you look like?”.
10. What is your motto?
It’s not finished until you can take half of it away.