When she was in her 80s, a very dear friend of mine, a radically independent thinker from a remarkable family, talked to me about a family discussion over dinner during her childhood when different family members kept trying to define the true meaning of character. Her youngest brother – then only twelve years old and who would later die far from his native Donegal in a Soviet gulag – suddenly surprised then all by speaking up. “Character,” he said quietly, “is what you do every day.”
By this I think he meant that your inner character is inseparable from who you actually are and, likewise for me, culture has always been inseparable from who I am, in that I use culture every day not as a hobby or pastime or luxury but as a prism through which I try to glimpse and understand the world around me – as a writer, as a reader, as a cinema, concert and theatre goer, and as a citizen, listening out for fresh interpretations of the ever changing streets about me.
For me culture is driven by curiosity: my curiosity about where my imagination will lead me and where other people’s imaginations will also lead me if I suspend my disbelief and enter the imaginative worlds which they create as poets, songwriters, painters, theatre-makers or through whatever other medium they use to reimagine their lives. It is everywhere around me and inseparable from how I try to understand the world.