What Matters to Fiona McNae

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Twenty-two years ago, after time as a biochemist and research director, Fiona McNae founded Space Doctors, a cultural and creative consultancy. She lives with her partner Richard – and Bob the Border Collie – in West Sussex, and now focuses on developing regenerative approaches to life, community, and work.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Setting out on a new journey. It is that new pencil case moment, a new term, a new blank notebook – all to be shaped, to be created. The pure potential, sensing newness, learning, building something never built before. Ooh that energy! It is at the heart of why I love working in our agency as much today as I did 22 years ago – every project has a new potential to be shaped, to learn, to create. It’s all about the beginning!

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

Being obsessed with building a cardboard home for a tiny orange-haired troll in the 70s, complete with a chest freezer and full-on polyester wardrobe. That troll had it going on!

What is your biggest regret?

Not staying in touch with my inner self in my working life. Letting my intuition be silenced. There were times when I knew the answer but did not trust myself, and did something more expected, more in-line. Since then, all the golden moments have been moments when I tuned in and paid attention to my intuition.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

By standing strong facing the storm. Feeling it all, letting it all in, shouting into the wind at the beach (also, running a half marathon in Marrakech, and probably way too much gin). Not sure you ever really get over heartbreak though… it’s a bit like getting over love, I’m not sure you can, I’m not sure you’d really want to.

What makes you cry?

Among many, many things (ask my family), silent gestures; the Western Isles of Scotland; a glorious debrief once written by Malex Salamanques; the final moments of the play Jerusalem; love, acceptance & loss but mostly acceptance; just thinking about David Bowie; a brutal steel ‘hook’ installation in the Tate Modern which broke me; the Golden Temple in Kyoto – a portal to the next world; and oh…. small porcelain pots (that’s a story for another time).

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Deep joy and pride, the kind that you can always access in your heart when you need to, comes from parts of my life I have invested many years in – my wonderful children, the garden, the privilege of developing and working with the brilliant Space Doctors team. This joy and pride will last as long as I do.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I lost my parents quite young and when I had my children, their parenting language – their idioms, songs, sayings – just reappeared from when I was a child. I heard myself speaking their words, words I had not heard for 15 years. Also, I see my dad’s (and his sister’s) strong, working hands when I look at my own. Dancing helps me sense my mum and how she moved. I know my Dad when I hear the cork of a malt whisky bottle. And with moments in need of paternal inspiration, I can listen hard and sense what they would say, what they would do. They live on, passing through me to my children. They are golden energy that flows, shaping an ever-changing narrative. I think that is afterlife.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Ooh ‘hate’ – that is a set of knuckle tattoos! I don’t hate very much about myself; at least now I have
 gotten over failing to live up to other peoples’ expectations (and that took 5 decades or so!). 
 I don’t like myself if I have misunderstood or over-reacted negatively to something, got cross or overly
 vocal or provocative, without getting my facts straight. I don’t like that unfiltered energy, it’s a bit much
 and can be hurtful. That’s not good. I’m sorry, if it was you. But I don’t hate myself for it, I just try and
 avoid it.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love my strength, my resilience and compassion. I love being comfortable in crying randomly when the feeling takes me – letting myself express the full bandwidth of emotion. I love being just about 6ft tall. I’m loving the commitment I feel to unlearning much of what got me here and embracing some very new ways of thinking, which is important for regeneration. I want to always feel ready to unlearn and relearn.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Pasta aglio e olio made by my partner, at home, on an unremarkable day. Sweet content!

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