Monday, January 7, 2013

Inspiration Interview: Writer + Musician, Martina Clark

 All Rights Reserved. Taken in the New Forest, England. 2011

As part of my new Inspiration Series, I am highlighting creative people I believe listen to the passion that fuels their hearts, choose to live that path, and are true to themselves.

You are in for a treat.  Today’s Inspiration Interview is with the beautiful Martina Clark, a freelance writer and a musician based in Brooklyn, NY. 

Last December, in the middle of a global recession, Martina took a leap of faith and decided to leave her secure job with the United Nations and follow her dreams. She knew it was time to focus on what brings her deep joy: music and writing.

Martina worked in HIV prevention and education for 20 years with the UN and international NGOs. During that time, she traveled extensively – to 90 countries – in the kind of job some people dream of.

Martina explains she was “burnt out and felt it was time to step aside and let others add new energy to the work.”

I wondered if the need to be creative grew stronger because she didn’t have the time to pursue it while in her demanding UN job; but Martina says that “the ‘need’ to be creative never changed. I just smushed it down to focus on the job and so, denying that creativity was eating away at me. But the need/desire has always been there and never ever waned.”

Martina was fortunate enough to be in both a financial and emotional position that allowed her to feel like she could leave her job. “…I left to get back to what I’d always wanted in the first place. I never wanted to [have] a career HIV education. I only got into the work because of personal experiences, so it really felt like a 20 year blip.”

Martina has lived abroad in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Australia and New Zealand. She has dual citizenship (EU and American passports) and grew up in California.  Although we all know New York City is amazing, I wanted to know what kept her there and if she ever thought about moving away. She said: 

“I moved to NY just for the job with UNICEF. I’ve stayed because I now own my place and also because there are so many great musicians in New York City. That said, I don’t love New York, but I appreciate what it has on offer. I regularly consider going back to San Francisco which I find to be a much nicer place.”  

(Who doesn't love San Francisco?!)

©Martina Clark

Passions: Writing and Music      
Martina has felt an affinity with music and writing for as long as she can remember.  This is something I knew about her when we met many years ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (circa 2003).

We were both working for the UN at the time; I was living in Ethiopia and she was already living in New York City. 

Martina traveled to Ethiopia with a guitar and explained that she spent time in the evenings playing it and singing as a way to relax from her busy, stressful job. During our interview, she told me more about it:

“The travel guitar, which later – sadly – got left at home, was a way to stay connected to something other than work. I’m not very good at guitar but it was fun to try and made for a lot of good stories in airports… I once told a woman that I was the in-flight entertainment because the video system was broken, and she believed me.”


During August 2011, we met up in NYC and I learned that she hears music in her head 24/7. I found this fascinating. 

I seriously wish I heard music in my head all the time, but…I don’t! Martina says, “I think many musicians do. To me it’s normal and I was surprised to hear that it isn’t the case for everyone.” She further explains, “Sometimes it’s just rhythms that grow in complexity. Sometimes I hear canned music. Sometimes a tune that is completely unfamiliar.”

©Natty Dreadz Productions - see Sanghatones FB page.
My dear friend and I have bonded over many things and reggae is one of them. Martina recently co-founded a Brooklyn-based reggae band, the Sanghatones, with super talented musicians.  She explains her attraction to reggae is because it’s “feel good music and the heavy bass line mimics a heart beat in a driven pulsing way that I feel at my core.” Her band sings a lot of classic reggae hits influenced by old R+B, soul, and Motown. 

Though she used to play her guitar, she sticks to vocals, “these days I only sing and leave the instruments to the professionals – trust me, it’s better this way!” I’m not sure I believe her!
She goes on to say that she loves being on stage, “but what I…love in the covers we’re doing is the harmonies – I love hearing blended voices.” 

Still, for Martina, the music project is just for fun. An outlet to release all that music brimming inside her.

She’s serious about her writing though. Martina recently published travel writing articles with Lowestoft and Travelati. She loves writing and love travel, so travel writing is a “natural genre” for her. She also enjoys writing short stories. 

I was curious to see how Martina felt when she was writing and why she felt she needed to write. She says, “I feel it is important so that when I’m gone, the stories of my life can still be told. When I’m in ‘the zone’ I get lost in my writing and feel like I’m physically in the story…I write because the stories inside of me need to come out.” 

She’s inspired to write to “keep the stories alive.”

Mortality is an issue that Martina’s faced in a more raw way than possibly some of us. Her HIV+ status was part of the reason she had a 20 year career in HIV advocacy and education. 

I asked her if her HIV status makes her more sensitive/aware of the need to write her stories down than perhaps the average person might.  “Sure. The current project is motivated by the desire to capture the stories before I die, whenever that may be.”

A friend of mine – who I will be interviewing soon – has survived cancer and describes writing as her “Xanax,” a way of coping with her illness. This made a lot of sense to me because even though I haven’t been ill, I find writing to be a way to cope with things for me. 

Martina says, “I think that writing is cathartic but I don’t link it to illness in any shape or form. Writing is good. Illness is bad. And, for me, never the twain shall meet. Also, I’m not sick. I don’t think I’d have the energy to write if I was. Way too exhausting!”

©Martina Clark
The Nitty Gritty: Work
Finding your own voice: it’s what every artist and writer and photographer and musician says you have to find. I asked Martina if she has struggled finding her own voice and she had this to say, “It found me, I think…I haven’t done anything to try to change it or refocus it. It just comes out. Doesn’t make it great, but it is what it is, both on paper and singing.”

Martina doesn’t write every day, but when she does, she writes mostly on her laptop because she’s a super-amazingly fast typist. She even worked her way through university this way, typing 100+ words per minute!

To capture inspiration, she generally takes notes on her iPhone, but she also has “…a little moleskine always in my bag for when the battery dies.”

Art and music don’t really influence her writing or her singing practices. When she writes, she prefers no music “…unless it’s quiet quiet quiet instrumentals.”

There are those inevitable days where you just don’t feel like practicing your art, whatever form that is. Martina admits that happens to her, so she “get[s] a little bit frustrated with myself then try to do better the next day.” 

A typical day keeps her busy managing the building she owns. Later, she tries taking time to write; music comes last. But since she has traveled so extensively over the last 20 years, she needs to relax and take care of herself, “I spend more time cooking these days and just relaxing. I used to travel over half of each year, internationally, and so I think I was exhausted and for the last year I’ve really just been recuperating and getting myself back onto a more creative track.”

Martina’s gentle with herself. When trying to balance things, she tries not to “over-think things too much” but also says she thinks it is possible to balance the artistic parts of ourselves with the rest of our lives, “…if that’s what is important to you – I think that a lack of balance is a lack of honesty or denial of parts of the self that need to be nurtured. Staying in tune is key.” At the end of the day, “I just do my best,” says Martina. 

That’s all any of us can do!

Other ways Martina takes care of herself are: “baths, good food, and sleep.”

 ©Martina Clark

Dreams and Inspiration
When I asked Martina who inspires her the most musically and from a literary standpoint, I got a very refreshing answer, “Maybe I’m just self-absorbed, but there is no musician or writer who has influenced or inspired me enough to be singled out. The perfect tweet of a bird or a well-placed graffiti tag is just as inspiring.” 

But let me tell you: Martina is not self-absorbed. She just knows herself. 

Her dreams and ambition for writing are “to publish a book about my UN travels and work and then work on other stories and travels in my life.”

She hasn’t yet started querying agents or publishing houses. Martina says, “– not even close to that point. The stories I’ve published recently were opportunities that fell in my lap.”

Her other intentions are to return also to tangible creative outlets, in particular pottery and making lamps. She used to make lamps when she lived in Geneva, Switzerland 14 years ago and would like to again, “but that will be in the more distant future.”

Courage + Celebration
Many creative types struggle with fear, especially fear of not thinking they’re enough or their work isn’t good enough. 

I certainly do; but Martina says, “I don’t worry too much about that – I’m older, for one, and also I know that even if it doesn’t please anyone else, I am the only person that has my voice (writing or singing) so it must be the way it’s meant to be.”

Martina hasn’t always felt this way, though she did “the first time or two that I shared my writing. Since then, I don’t care and know it can always be better so I welcome people’s comments and criticism.”

Despite all this, Martina maintains she isn’t brave. I told her she was crazy. She was adamant she was “just like anyone else.” So, I said this to my beautiful friend:

“You’re nuts! You were totally brave to quit your job + trust things would work out. You could’ve got another job. But you didn’t. That was super brave!! You cashed in your retirement, right? Invested in your building…and you’re doing what you want to do.”

Martina maintained her stance:

“I still don’t feel brave. It was leave or go postal. I was blessed to walk away with 8 months’ severance pay and, more importantly, the satisfaction of feeling I had contributed something small through my work and my job was done. The retirement money had to be reinvested for tax reasons so I have it, but not until I’m close to 70. I would have left, however, even with no money. I would have sold the building – which I’d already owned for several years in my planning for this moment – and moved back to California and become a clerk in a bookstore or something. I would have gone for a job at McDonald’s – anything – I was ready to leave!”

She says she’s not brave. I say she is.

©Martina Clark

I’m learning that community, finding a tribe, some people supportive of my writing, is important to me. Sometimes, creative types can feel isolated.  We discussed this, but it wasn’t really much of an issue for Martina: “I’m a loner and I’m good at being alone (maybe too good!) so I’ve been okay – I don’t feel isolated. I felt more isolated at the UN because I didn’t fit in.”
Still, she does have a group of writerly friends and happy-reggae folk who are like a little community to her. 

Celebration Time!
When Martina accomplishes something important to her, she doesn’t have a ritual, but might take herself out for breakfast or a drink. 

And let me tell you: you’re missing out if you don’t go out with Martina. A night out with Martina is magic and she can make any day a celebration.

But what is she most proud of?


Paying it Forward
Martina’s advice to all of you who are scared to push through on your art, whether it is writing or music or painting or photography: “let it out before it consumes you and makes you crazy.”

So, of course, I had to talk to Martina about Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and bring up that quote poet Jim Bodeen shared with me in his Inspiration Interview here.  The quote talks about if you don’t pursue your art/writing/whatever, the “goddess will pick the meat from your bones.” 

I asked Martina if she felt like something was missing when she was working for the UN and doing HIV work because she wasn’t writing, “Sure. I felt like something was missing because it wasn’t feeding my creative side. But at least the travel made up for that and I had an overflowing bank of ‘experiences’ to draw from…” 

She suggests that if you want to be a better writer or singer or whatever, that you take classes so you can learn from – and be surrounded by – other writers, musicians, etc.  

Some of the courses she has taken are geared toward adult learning and include workshops with Gotham and MediaBistro.   She’s fortunate to be working with one of the professors as her writing coach. She says that is “brilliant.”

©Martina Clark

Martina is an inspiration to me. She is strong, funny, gentle, kind, and yes: brave. She’s one of the most beautiful people I know. Who else can you talk about breakfast candy with one moment, then the next discuss deep and meaningful relationships while laughing hysterically on a bench waiting for a hurricane to hit. Before you know it, you’re in the standing-room only famous KGB Bar listening to a book reading. Next, you’re eating pasta in a quaint little Italian place and wishing you had many more days with her.

I’m proud to know her passionate, humble heart. Anyone who knows her, loves her. And if they don’t, they’re really, really dumb. I’m just sayin’.

More Martina: because you know you want to know more!
Martina has done condom demonstrations in at least fifty countries as part of her job as an HIV prevention and education specialist, providing ample inspiration. Her piece “In Search of the Bubbling Muppets” - about Iceland - appeared earlier this year in Travelati under her pseudonym, Lucy Eaker. 

Her writing is fantastic. You can follow her on her writing Facebook page here.  

She also makes lamps and sings in a reggae band, the Sanghatones. You can follow her reggae band, the Sanghatones on Facebook here and on their YouTube channel. You can check out one of her publications with Lowestoft Chronicle here.


  1. what a freaking AWESOME job you have! I can't wait to read more about your adventures! thank you for stopping by my blog and have a happy new year!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Sofia! Loved that you stopped by. :) Happy New Year!

  2. Becky, I just love reading your series of interviews. What a beautiful and creative soul Martina is. I love your style of interviewing and how you have pieced it all together, from the photos to sharing all of the person's many talents. I love how Martina is following her heart and soul's calling and not looking back. Beautiful interview loved every bit of it Becky. You are an awesome writer. Looking forward to the next one. :)

    1. Hi Suzanne, thank you so much. I really enjoy writing the interviews, so I am happy that you like reading them!

      Yes, Martina is brave + fearless, I think!

      Thank you!!

  3. I truly love your blog.. Great colors & theme.
    Did you develop this web site yourself? Please reply back as I'm looking to create my very own blog and would love to find out where you got this from or what the theme is named. Cheers!

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