Be better than me


I’ve been silent on this blog for a little while. It’s been much too long for me. Things have been distinctly hectic, meaning that I’ve not had sufficient time alone with my thoughts. It’s time to pull back and to think. Time to draw breath again. Time to feel inspired.

Inspiration can come from any direction. People, places and circumstances can all inspire.

The best they can be

“So, what makes a person inspirational?” Kate Griffiths-Lambeth* asks and answers this question in a wonderful blog post entitled An Intake of Breath. “Truly inspirational people do not engender envy in others,” says Kate. “Instead they encourage people to become the best they can be. Inspirational people seem to breathe encouragement and confidence to do the right thing into those around them.“

She also considers the etymology of the word "inspiration,” and its root in the Latin word “spirare,” meaning “to breathe.”

How a person draws in breath – and what they choose to do with it as they expel it – can inspire.

It ain’t right

These first five months of 2017 have sustained the accelerated, out-of-control pace of world events that characterised 2016. The latter half of this month alone has brought so many shocks. The inhuman terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. The sad loss of two gentlemen I consider inspirational: Sir Roger Moore and Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.

What the latter of these two gents**, Chris Cornell, did with his breath, his voice, is pure inspiration to me. His voice was always reaching so far beyond himself.

“Be better than me.”

This is comedian Bill Burr’s take on what he wants from his musicians, and what he got from Soundgarden and from Chris Cornell’s voice, every time. For Burr, Soundgarden stood out in Seattle by being unapologetically unleashing the pure freedom and power through their music, while their contemporaries acted embarrassed that anyone should be paying them any attention.

For me, the best expression of Cornell’s incredible talents is his joyously over-the-top vocal turn on Alice In Chains’ Right Turn. It’s quite hard to miss Cornell amidst this song’s parade of three Seattle singing stars (the other voices here are Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley – rest his soul – and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm). He makes perhaps the least restrained vocal entry into any recorded song in history at roughly the two-and-a-half minutes mark. Once you know what’s coming, the song itself almost feels like it’s drawing breath until Cornell lets loose.

To open our homes

The worst circumstances can inspire people to be their best. The most testing times can reveal the most inspiring extremes of strength, character and compassion.

In the midst of the tales of unthinkable horror emerging from Manchester in my Twitter feed on the morning of Tuesday 23 May 2017, Lauren Duca shared some beautiful words from a young Mancunian, describing the immediate reactions of the people of that great city:

“We in this city have not reacted to this terror attack with vitriol; or with fear. We have not even reacted in open defiance (yet). Our first reaction has been to take to the streets with water, with supplies, to open our homes to those who are stranded and also, sadly, to guide the families who have lost their children through to the centre of a city they don’t know.”

So many stories have emerged of people giving selflessly and without a second’s hesitation to help those affected by the attack. I am also full of admiration for Ariana Grande for promising to return to Manchester to perform a benefit show to raise funds for the victims and their families.

Elsewhere, good things still happen in the world. Alex Mizzi – who it was my privilege to see speaking at a conference last month, on her penultimate day’s work before maternity leave – tweeted something rather wonderful. Her new arrival drew its first breath out in the world on Tuesday.

  • If you want to donate money – or give blood – to help those affected by the terror attack in Manchester, this JustGiving landing page has links to point you in the right direction.

Inspiration and genius


Places can inspire. Yesterday I took a short early morning walk to a beautiful forest not far from my home. Passing through the gates to the forest area, and entering into the deep verdant shade as the day’s hot sunlight started to cut through the trees overhead, the very air transformed around me, becoming rich and moist with forest goodness. My heart lifted a little, and the stresses and strains of recent weeks seemed to lighten.


Further inspiration – of the most serendipitous kind – came as I returned home. Every day, a local builders’ merchant tapes a new handwritten motto into the hands of a shop dummy dressed up as a workman. Given the words of Kate’s post this week – and my own feelings of refreshment and renewed inspiration from walking in the forest – yesterday’s motto was perfect:

“Inspiration and genius – one and the same.”


Inspiration is always there, waiting for you to find it, waiting for circumstances to reveal it, waiting for you to draw breath.


* It’s no secret that I find Kate hugely inspirational. Read her
blog, follow her on Twitter, or – should you get the chance – talk to
her in person and I am sure you will feel inspired by her, too.

** I’m concentrating on Chris Cornell in this post. But Roger Moore, too, is a true loss to this world. Read these two wonderful tales of close encounters with Moore – as shared by Sean Jones and Marc Haynes – to get some small measure of the great man.


  • My thanks to my friend Kari Quaas for her kind permission to use the image at the top of this post. Kari runs a wonderful Instagram account named Everett Sunsets, through which every night she shares an image of that night’s sunset over Everett, Washington. This one from Wednesday 24 May 2017 is particularly sumptuous.
  • All other images by @mjcarty.

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