How to survive the summer

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I’m going to be honest. I’m knackered. It’s that time of year when the countdown is on to the end of term. If I get another reminder in someone’s lunch box for something not handed in or paid for, I think I might scream. Only 5 more mornings hustling three children out the door. Only 5 more afternoons begging them to remember to bring their own stuff in from the car, to put their lunch boxes in the kitchen, to do their homework before they numb out on screens. I CANNOT WAIT.

Always at this point, I rub my hands with glee thinking of lazy mornings drinking coffee in my garden while the children play. I imagine picnics on the beach. I plan crafting games and projects. I essentially create an avatar of the perfect homey mum in my head and determine that this year I’m going to give them a summer to remember.

We’ve never gone in for putting the children in camps or activities for the summer months. For a start it’s expensive trying to pay for three children. The deal has always been that me being at home would mean we’d save money on childcare costs. Also, my three are at the age now where they can play together and generally (generally) they are good pals and enjoy each other’s company.

We’re not getting a holiday away this year. (Again, 3 children = wildly expensive holidays!) Last summer was completely taken over with moving house/country and setting up our new home. Now that we’re more settled, we’re going to stay put and explore our local area because honestly, when the sun’s out, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than on the North Down coast. Give it its due, Northern Ireland has a ton of stuff to enjoy for families in the summer, most of it either free or relatively inexpensive.

But there will come a point (probably about a few days in, if I’m honest) when I will suddenly remember that I really, really love my work and need to work and the eight weeks of uninterrupted child full holidays will look pretty scary!

So here are some tips that I’m going to try to keep myself sane and keep the work ticking over while I have my three maniacs around and no money to pay for child care.

  1. Lower expectations – Look, I know I’ve not ever seen you and WonderWoman in the same room but I’m pretty sure you’re not actually her. There is only so much one woman can do with there are small humans in the mix so expecting to keep the same level of productivity is just not a good idea. So don’t beat yourself up!
  2. Get efficient –  Make lists but be really strict about what is completely neccessary to complete and do those things first. Stream line and weed out of your ‘to do’ list everything that is not a priority because if you leave it in there, believe me, you’ll do it and avoid the stuff that is truly imperative.
  3. Create ‘quiet time’ – no, really, stop laughing. This is where screens can be a godsend. Let there be no judging but my kids are allocated an hour of screen time a day (and usually that bleeds over into more time) but it’s amazing what you can get done in an hour if you’re focussed. Set a timer and together as a family agree that when it goes off, all screens get put away.
  4. Include your children – I know, I was just a little bit sick in my mouth too, but if your work is in any way creative, little people love to ‘help’. Get the pens, paper, crayons, paint, and do your thing while they do their thing. (But yes, that might not be practical at all. I mean, can you really imagine me doing a self-tape audition with my 10 year old reading in for me? Nope, neither can I. She’d freaking photo bomb, upstage and get the gig herself! In which case…)
  5. Rope in help in the shape of family and friends – I am the luckiest woman in the world with my father in law, affectionately known to my kids as Bapoo. He loves nothing more than to hang out with my children and I’m planning on working out a morning or two a week maybe when he gets time with them all by himself. But if you haven’t got family close by, perhaps you could do playdate swaps with another parent. Choose carefully, mind. You don’t want the parent with the kid who loves to burn stuff but I know two mums locally whose children I adore and who get on well with mine and if they’re happy to have my terrors then I’ll mind theirs for a couple of hours once a week, no bother.
  6. Get up super early – with these bright nights we’re getting in the Northern Hemisphere, getting the children to bed has been a real chore. My four year old routinely insists ‘But mumma, is still MORRRRnin!’ and he’s horrified that he’s going to bed before the birds roost in the trees opposite our house. (That was our winter thing, ‘Look sweetheart, all the birds are going to bed now at 4:30 in the afternoon, you’re getting to stay up waaaaay later than them!’) But the plus side is that they tend to stay in bed a bit later. Soooo, if you go to bed when it’s still light too, then you could get up before them and get some stuff done. I know, I know that sounds barbaric of me. What about Netflix and wine and winding down adult time? On that note….
  7. Avoid alcohol – No, wait, don’t scroll on. Keep reading. I know, I know what I’m suggesting is downright MEAN and you can roll your eyes like your own pre-teen at me all you like BUT if you want really good, really deep sleep so that you can handle a summer of creativity and parenting closing the wine fridge door is seriously a good idea. I’m fessing up here; I love a glass of chilled white wine on a summer’s evening or a G & T or a cold beer or a vodka martini with a twist of lemon… Where was I? Oh yes, it doesn’t feel like summer without an alcoholic beverage of some sort or other BUT I know I sleep better, have more energy, wake up more alert and have the COOLEST dreams (hello Chris Hemsworth dear!) when I lose the booze. Even one drink can wreck my sleep which is seriously annoying. I feel amazing when I go tee total. So I’ve got to find other ways of dealing with the inevitable crazy making of small humans than cracking open a bottle of Sauv Blanc.
  8. Create – When I create I feel good. When I feel good I can manage just about anything. I have taken it upon myself to take up knitting, crochet, painting stones, sewing, anything that involves making something from nothing and it’s given me something to keep the creative spark alive even in the driest times professionally. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be shown to anyone but my children who all thing everything I make is amazing anyway. It keeps me going and keeps me sane. Having a sane mother is every child’s dream – so win, win.

I am not the world’s most patient mother. I don’t naturally thrive in the home environment. I’m not a domestic goddess. Mary Poppins, how are ya!? I itch and scratch through every stage of my children’s childhood, dying for them to be bigger and more independent while simultaneously missing their chubby arms and gappy smiles. But here I am, with a 10 year old, a 7 year old and a 4 year old and the days are flying past. I can curse the lego littered living room all I like, but one day, I’ll crave the mad creations of my wee artists.

For me, the most important thing to do is to breathe and stay present and not to wish the time away.

Enjoy the summer! No, seriously, do… enjoy it!

For more creative inspiration, why not subscribe to the Strut and Bellow podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud. You can always listen to an episode while you’re making the dinner or pretending to sleep through the sixth rerun of Wall-E with your earphones in. You can watch my Shout Out Fridays on the Strut and Bellow YouTube Channel. Or sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you my ebook Keeping Creative for free. If you’d like a hardcopy to take with you to the beach, it will soon be available to order from this website. Stay tuned for the latest on Instagram and Facebook.IMG_1026

Shout Out Friday – Tara Doolan

 

When Cerstin Mudiwa emailed to say she was working on a project with an up and coming female director I wanted to know more. Today I got to chat with Tara Doolan who, with her partner Pius McGrath has created Honest Arts, where together they create theatre (writing, directing, designing) that deals with the issues we’re all facing today.

Their latest collaboration is Punt, which runs at The New Theatre in Dublin from 2nd of July for two weeks.

Listen in to our chat and be sure to check out the show if you’re in Dublin over the summer. It’s gathering momentum and is sure to be a good night out.

Honest Arts and The New Theatre present

PUNT

A story of gambling culture and the adventures involved with a life investing in chance

Written and Performed by Pius McGrath

Written and Directed by Tara Doolan

Composed by Aine Doolan

Video content creation by Mario Beck

The New Theatre

43 Essex Street

Temple Bar

Dublin 2

July 2nd – 14th @7.30pm

Opens July 3rd, Preview July 2nd

Tickets EUR 16/13 (conc.)

Booking www.thenewtheatre.com  or 01-6703361

Please note this show is suitable for audiences 14+

 

Shout Out Friday – Go BIG

There was lots to talk about in today’s Shout Out Friday.

Angela Josephine’s new album Daylight went LIVE this morning. Check out her dawn chorus live on Facebook!

You can listen to Angela and I chat about the album on the Strut and Bellow podcast.

Karen Hickey’s solo exhibition Clothed launches tonight at the Signal Arts Centre in Bray, Co. Wicklow, my home town. Definitely worth checking out.

Isabelle Gaborit from Wildfire & Wax is exhibiting as part of As Na Studioeanna at Secret Garden Gallery in Kinvara, Galway.

Lorna Watkins’ exhibition heartfelt will be on later in June at the Hyde Bridge Gallery in Sligo. More details nearer the time but gosh, I love her paintings.

And Mel Wiggins is doing some mighty work with Assembly Gatherings – definitely worth checking her out if you love some soulful, soothing women centred creative community. I feel so excited to be part of her membership circle. We’re all going to do some exciting things together, I can just feel it.

Apologies to my newsletter subscribers, April’s newsletter and ebook are a bit delayed but both will be in your inboxes soon.

It’s a bank holiday weekend here in Northern Ireland so I’m looking forward to chilling with family. Hope you have a great one too.

The why.

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Never underestimate the power of women, friends.

At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t have imagined that in a mere 4 months I’d have a sell out show on my hands and a demand for it that right now feels daunting considering the size of the cast. But each of the women in the photo above, as well as our director Jo Egan, (not to mention our male assistant director Colm Gorman and two crew members David Willis and Stephen McVicker) have given their time and energy without compensation for this play. The box office receipts for Friday’s show have yet to come in and hopefully there’ll be a small amount for each of us but it’s nothing near what they all should be paid for the work they’ve done.

Friday night was very special. We arrived at the Black Box in the afternoon and walked through some of the play to get adjusted to the more limited performing area. There was no time for a full dress nor technical rehearsal. We hadn’t all been together in the same room since the show in February. We’d managed ad hoc rehearsals working around people’s full time work, child care and family commitments.

At one point, the twelve of us crammed in the tiny dressing room back stage, moments before we started the show, someone said what we were all thinking,

‘Why do we put ourselves through this?’

There was an outburst of nervous laughter, an admission of nausea, a crampy tummy, an irrepressible need to pee and at least one of us asked quietly ‘Do you actually think I can act?’ Someone’s babysitter was not following the plan at home, someone else’s elder child had been left in charge, someone had had to leave work early, someone else had exams looming. We all had other places we could have been that would not have needed us to go out in front of over 100 people and perform a show about vaginas, that would not have needed us to remember lines, overcome fear, expose ourselves to criticism, risk making a mistake and looking foolish.

But we lined up anyway, and on the word from the stage manager, we marched on stage and began;

TVM APRIL‘I bet you’re worried. 

We were worried.

We were worried about vaginas….’

It turned out to be a great show. The bar was raised high and every actress gave her all. There was laughter and tears and sounds of agreement and affirmation. It was with great relief that we bowed to a standing ovation from the audience who had been engaged and respectful throughout. It was good to leave the stage on a high.

At the interval, before we showed excerpts from Eve Ensler’s documentary film and hosted a post show discussion, a woman came up to me and introduced herself. Her name was Karin and she was my contact from Woman’s Aid, to whom we had donated the proceeds of the last show. This was her first time seeing the show and she loved it.

I want you to know,’ she said ‘that all of the money you raised from the show in February went towards creating Northern Ireland’s first rape crisis helpline.’

There it was. The why.

I was approached by a young guy in his twenties who seemed visibly moved. He talked about his mum and how she had instilled in him a respect for women that he was grateful for but that the show had really touched him and made him realise how important this conversation was for men as well as for women. He said he was going through a transition time in his life and had recently moved back to Belfast. He was questioning the model of masculinity he had grown up with and seeing some of its toxicity.

There it was again. The why.

In the post show discussion, a woman rose her hand to share that having been the victim of a violent attack in the past, she had ‘shut up shop’ but that the show had made her think that perhaps it was time for a ‘refurbishment’.

The why.

In the light of recent swinging cuts to arts organisations here in Northern Ireland, and a patronising attitude towards practitioners where we’re accused of being bad at business and incapable of managing our resources, Friday night proved to me how vital and valuable a show like ours can be.

Right in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, on a Friday night, we packed out a top venue and talked about issues central to women’s experiences; menstruation, birth, body shaming, the male gaze, sexuality, violence and rape. At one point two audience members left after collapsing in giggles during the monologue inspired by the rape of women as a weapon of war during the Balkan conflict in the 90s. We later discovered that each of them had been victims of rape and that the piece in question had triggered a nervous reaction that manifested as laughter, a very common reaction to trauma.

With the #metoo movement highlighting just how prevalent sexual assault is and with numerous women all over the world rising to say enough, there was never a more important time to talk about these things in the public arena. We are proud to be taking the conversation out of the kitchens and behind the closed doors and into the heart of public discourse. Come with us as we continue our journey.

The Vagina Monologues will be returning to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast for two nights on the 1st and 2nd of June. Tickets will soon be available from the Lyric box office. Spread the word and sign up for the email to keep updated on news about the show.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Creative – Trust your Instinct

1It’s the end of the Easter holidays and, while it’s been so lovely not to have to rush out the door every morning, I think we’re all getting ready for the summer term and the familiar routine. My fabulous Father in law, known to my children as Bapoo, is my go-to for childcare and for an 80 year old widower he’s amazingly hands on. He loves the children and they adore him and I can think of no one better to leave them with when I need to get some work done while they’re on a break from school.

That said, I underestimated the amount I could achieve in the last two weeks and instead of listening to the still, small voice inside warning that I was being too ambitious with my to-do list, I plowed on, got over tired, over grumpy and ended up dropping the ball.

Why don’t I trust my instinct?

It should be my super power as an artist, that ability to look at things from the outside and see how things really are, being able to look beyond the facade and intuit the truth. It’s what I use to dig deep into a character or to follow a story, it’s how I know what choices to make creatively when I’m working on a story or a play.

But far too often, I listen to everyone else’s advice, follow the crowd, jump on the bandwagon and ignore what my gut is telling me in case I’m wrong. Because let’s face it, who am I to be right? Right?

Right now, my social media feed is choc full of ads for Some Famous Person’s Ten Steps to Instagram Influence, or This Unknown Millionaire’s Secrets to Success. This is because, against my better judgement, and in an attempt to learn what I needed to do to make this platform a success, I signed up for a few ‘free’ webinars and email listings. Something whispered, as I punched in my email address, that these people were selling something too good to be true, or too shiny to be real, or too self centred to be wholesome, but, hey, what do I know?

The thing is, I do know. We always know, deep down, in the quiet of our souls, what the next step is and what the next step is not. Often times though, it’s not in step with the tide of conventional knowledge, it’s not aligned with the values of our greater surroundings. Often times it involves risk, either financial, emotional or spiritual risk.

Rob Bell has a terrific talk on this subject on his podcast called You listening to You and I’d highly recommend that you listen to it as he is far more eloquent than I and he knows a thing or two about taking risks.

But here are a couple of things I’ve learned to do when I find myself mired in other people’s stuff and which I wish I’d used in the last few weeks to avoid the inevitable exhaustion that comes with it.

  1. Quiet your mind – whether it’s mindfulness meditation, centring prayer, a walk in the woods (with your phone on silent!) or yoga, do something that reduces the noise of other people’s opinions, advice or your own anxious thoughts. I’m the first to admit that I use noise to narcotise but it’s usually because I know the quiet will being me truth and the truth can sometimes be hard to hear.
  2. Listen to your own heart’s wisdom above all others’ – this is not arrogance, but running hither and yon asking everyone else what they think about this thing that you want to do can be a sure fire way of avoiding actually doing it. When you have quietened your mind and heard your own heart’s wisdom, no one else’s opinion actually matters.
  3. Know that you are loved regardless of the outcome – you’ve quietened your mind, listened to your heart, taken your own wisdom and done the next right thing – your job is done. Whether your venture succeeds or fails, whether you make a million dollars or go into the red, it doesn’t affect your value as a person. Of course, we want to succeed at everything we do. Believe me, if there’s one thing that I fear above all else, it’s failure and I’ve had my share of it but the thing I hold on to is that I am loved and nothing can take that away. Failure is just another chance to grow as a person and an artist. It’s not something to fear and in a creative life that involves risk on a daily basis, it cannot be avoided forever.

I wish I’d listened to my own heart’s wisdom two weeks ago when the holidays began. My instinct said to shut up shop for the holidays, to cook, clear out, clean up, refresh ready for the next term, ready for the summer, ready for the next creative surge of energy. Instead, I worried about visibility and consistency, I dabbled and dipped, I signed up for stuff I was never going to have the time to read. I numbed out on social media, angsting about all the influence other people had, worrying about failure. And was all of this use of my time and energy useful? Nope.

I’m committing again to keeping creative. I’m going to trust my instinct, breathe, show up and be myself. I’m going to be brave, sit with the vulnerability, leave the dishes and do the work. Will you join me?

This series is inspired by my conversation with the actress and writer Noni Stapleton on my podcast which you can subscribe to on iTunes or SoundCloud. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and later this month, you will receive this whole series as a free ebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out Friday – Angela Josephine

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I’m so thrilled to be able to share with you this wonderful recording artist who I had the pleasure of talking to back in October of last year. Her new album Daylight – Stone, Bright, Solid Vol 2 is out on May 4th and her latest single, Got to Believe, which she sings on the podcast, releases today. You can hear the single here. And pre-order the entire album here.

Based in North Michigan, Angela is a folk musician and songwriting who began her career in 2002 and has since recorded three albums. She has been compared to “a modern, female Nick Drake” (David Faulkner, CRD), while Northern Express reviewer Kristi Kates cites “a more jaded Sarah McLachlan.” She’s going to be performing next month here in Belfast as part of Pete Rollins’ WAKE Festival so I’ll be sure to keep you informed of details nearer the time.

Angela’s album Daylight is at once a folk-rock opera and personal exploration. A project spanning seven years, from its demo inception in a pole barn in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2011) to a fully produced album recorded in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan (producer Chris Bathgate) (2018), Daylight delves into themes of darkness and light .  The cinematic prelude “This Light” invites one into an expansive landscape that unfold with unexpected beauty and lush discovery, culminating in the haunting finale “Face to the Wind”.

Check out the video for “This Light” here. For more information on Angela and her tour dates.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud and sign up for the newsletter to be the first to hear about new events and opportunities. 

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Keeping Creative – Breathe, show up and be yourself.

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When I was 12 and in the grip of puberty, I remember wailing to my Mum (note the recurring theme) about the fear of starting out in secondary school. I had been in a tiny primary school with only about 10 children in my class and I was moving to a massive comprehensive. My closest school friends were going to different schools and I was freaking out about making new friends. My mother responded in what I now realise was the tone you use as a parent when your kid is irritating you but you know you have to be kind because they are only a kid.

‘Just be yourself,’ she said, with a smile that I’m sure was forced.

To which I wailed, ‘But I don’t know who I ammmmmmm!’

While to the outside world, I came across as an extroverted and confident child, inside I was a squirming, uncomfortable, insecure bag of nerves. I had invested so heavily throughout my childhood in being who other people needed me to be, that I had no clue who I really was. And I will let you in on a little secret, I’m still trying to figure it out 30 years on.

It’s a rare thing to meet someone comfortable in their own skin, authentic and true, the same person on and off the page or screen. I recently had the great pleasure of meeting a writer I had long admired and struck up a friendship with online. She’s not exactly a celebrity but in certain circles she’s well known and has her fair share of fans. I’ve met a few famous people in my line of work and you can always tell when they have their ‘game face’ on. You can almost see them switch on their public persona. But this writer was different. She writes personal journey stuff, shares certain family things on social media, so in many ways you can feel as if you know her but I wasn’t dumb enough to think I really did know her. I expected our chat over coffee and a walk to maybe feel a little awkward, like I was interviewing her or something, as if she might hold herself at a slight distance.

Instead, I discovered that the person whose words I’d been reading for the guts of a decade was exactly the same person that I was talking to in the flesh. There was no pretence, no persona, no falseness whatsoever. She was herself, guileless, gentle, interested and kind. It was a rare and precious thing and I will treasure those few hours I had with her.

You can only be yourself when you know who you are and most of us spend so much time constructing a persona that will be pleasing to the outside world that we have no clue who we really are. Or maybe it’s just me!

My persona has always been that of The Nice Girl. I was the elder of two girls, the sensible one, the one who never rocked the boat, the one who did as she was told. I followed the rules, I stayed inside the lines, I reenforced the borders and I judged the hell out of anyone who did the opposite, I just did it with a smile so sweet no one guessed. I judged them but I also secretly kind of admired them. I envied them their freedom to do as they wished. I supposed that the sky would collapse on my head if I put a foot wrong. Even at the height of my fame, I never fell foul of the tabloids. I did once get chased by the paparazzi but that was only because I didn’t want my photo taken and they only chased me because they thought I had something to hide. Once they realised I was just being a scaredy cat, they lost interest.

The Nice Girl may have looked good on the outside but She was not my True Self. My True Self was not allowed to surface, She was suppressed to such an extent that She could only emerge in negative and destructive ways; She drank too much, She smoked (for 20 years She smoked while pretending she didn’t), She shouted at her husband and children, She was jealous and resentful, She sabotaged herSelf, She pretended She was fine, She frequently thought about harming herSelf.

How can you be yourself, how can you be your True Self when you are terrified that She will never be loved or accepted? Far better to be superficially nice but safely hidden than to be vulnerable, real and risk rejection. But here’s the thing with authenticity and vulnerability – they deeply connect people and help us all to feel less alone in the world. Not everyone is going to like it, it will make some people feel deeply uncomfortable but that’s their problem, not yours. And wouldn’t it be awesome to connect deeply with people who see You and love You and not worry about those who don’t.

My True Self is a rare White Tiger. She’s beautiful, soft and strong. She’s fierce and independent. She’s nurturing and gentle with those in her care but if she feels danger approaching you’d better beware because she is not to be underestimated. She’s a bit of loner. She’s tried living in packs but it never really works so she’s learnt to be content not to be part of the gang. She’s not a domestic cat! She’s wild and when she’s attempted to live the tamed life, she gets sick. She needs solitude, water, open spaces, forest walks and to systematically reject all the things the Nice Girl wants to do to maintain the status quo.

There’s such liberation in just writing this down. There’s freedom in recognising who you really are and then committing to living out of that place knowing that the True Self has its origin in the Divine and can therefore never be cut off from love. That’s the place that creativity comes from as well and so when we’re aligned with our True Selves, secure in our belovedness, we can do the creative dance with confidence and peace.

How much beautiful work could you share with the world if you knew who you were and could live from that place? How much more needed are real people in all their glorious, odd complexity, unwilling to live the nice life but committed to the True life that knows that abundance is everywhere?

Find out who you truly are, then breathe, show up and be yourself.

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White Tiger by Inoichiro Sekiguchi

This is part of a series on creativity inspired by my conversation with Noni Stapleton and the whole series will be released as an ebook exclusively to my mailing list at the end. Tune in on Friday to my Facebook page Strut and Bellow with Melanie Clark Pullen when I will be releasing the conversation I had with folk musician Angela Josephine whose new album Daylight will be released next week. We recorded the conversation back in October but it is particularly pertinent to this week’s blog post. You can preorder her beautiful new work here. 

Shout Out Friday – Vicky Blades

Here’s the video of my Shout Out Friday chat with Vicky Blades. Details of the event she mentions, Investing in me, in Belfast next month are below.

 

 

Investing in Me – An insightful and inspiring day of mindfulness, coaching and learning to support good mental well-being for those involved in the Arts in NI.
We will be hosting a variety of workshops, classes and talks on the subject of Resilience and Self-Care. Come along and learn practical tips on how to build self care practices in to your life, including yoga, mindfulness, EFT and coaching. 

12 April at 10:00–16:00

Accidental Theatre   12-13 Shaftesbury Square, BT2 7DB Belfast

Other helpful links:

Aware NI

Inspire Well Being

Theatre NI

Lifeline  Dial 0808 808 8000 All of the people who take calls from this number are trained counsellors and there is free crisis counselling for anyone who has the need.

Samaritans – you can call 116123 from anywhere in the UK or Ireland for free and you’ll get an compassionate voice on the other end.

But don’t forget if you or anyone you know is in immediate danger from self harm, or in need of urgent medical attention, please call the emergency services on 999.

 

Keeping Creative – Be brave

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My first encounter with depression was at a time when, from the outside, you’d have thought I had the perfect life. Plucked from obscurity to play a role on a leading British TV drama/soap watched by millions, earning money unheard of for most 22 year olds, living in London at the height of Cool Britannia; it surely didn’t get much better than that. But one of the clearest memories I have from that time is of lying on the landing of the flat I shared and thinking that I might not ever have the energy to get up again. Triggered by the grief over the breakdown of a long term relationship, the loss of two dear family members, isolation and loneliness living far from friends and family and the sheer bonkers life that celebrity brought knocked me for six. Had it not been for the dear English man who had the madness to fall for me and want to look after me, and his dear Mum who took me under her wing, I am not sure I would have got through that time as relatively unscathed as I did. I am eternally grateful that social media didn’t exist at the time. The worst tabloid slur I encountered was having my style named ‘granny chic’. I’m not sure I would have been able to cope with the scrutiny of today’s media.

Being an actor requires vulnerability in spades. Not least having to put oneself and one’s talent in front of casting people time and time again only to be rejected but even when on the job, the greatest actors enable themselves to open up, to feel and express emotions that most people would run from. Actors go where angels fear to tread and I don’t care if you think that’s hyperbole. But actors, or indeed any artist, who allow themselves to be vulnerable without first knowing their own worth are like someone going deeper and deeper in to debt, hoping that somehow it will be magically paid off. It rarely does.

If you’re going to embark on creative living, you, first of all, need to know that you are enough in and of yourself and that no amount of criticism, rejection, disdain or abandonment changes the fact that you are worthy of love and belonging, that you are enough as you are, that in terms of your place in the universe you have nothing to prove, nothing to earn and that you have value above and beyond your mere output.

When we work from that place, then we are free to express whatever truth we feel compelled to share. It’s vulnerable because it’s an expression of our deepest selves and may not be welcomed by others and that’s what also makes it brave. It is daunting. No one sets out purely to reveal their heart in the hope that they’ll be rejected.

It has been the undoing of many a gifted artist and it’s really no surprise to me that there are many creative people who turn to drink or drugs or sex or bullying to dampen the fire that laying bare deep emotion can light. Self destructive behaviour comes not as a result of vulnerability but as a result of the artist not believing in their own worth before they set out to be vulnerable. The idea that being an artist goes hand in hand with a life of starvation, addiction and mental illness is, at best, boring and at worst a damn lie. If self destructive artists are more noticeable, their stories make the news more often, that’s just because the culture we live in feasts upon misfortune and illness rather than understanding or healing. But they also wreak havoc on the emotional well being of others around them.

I was once bullied by an actor known for his brilliance and talent. It rocked my confidence to the point where I essentially ran away from my career. I was told by other more experienced actresses that this man hated women and younger men and that I shouldn’t take it personally. While the whole experience was pretty traumatic and while I blamed him for the gap in my professional life for years, I can now look at him with compassion. No amount of praise or fame was going to make that man know how brilliant he was because he just didn’t believe it of himself. He drew his sense of power from belittling and bullying more inexperienced or sensitive people not realising that his greatest power could have been in sharing his brilliance and shining his beauty on the rest of us, raising us up rather than pulling us down. Instead, his true beauty was hidden behind technical mastery and clever sleight of hand and no one could wait for the job to end so that we could be as far away from him as possible.

Depression could easily be described as the sense of forgetting your worth, letting go of the truth of your being of value regardless of anything you do. Those first years of my life in London I spent most of my time trying to be someone I thought the world wanted me to be, trying to be someone people would like, love, employ, be friends with. I forgot that I was enough already. And it’s a vicious cycle striving to keep the persona you create alive in order to get the work/relationship you think you need to fill the void that you’re running from by creating a persona…. Instead of vulnerability, we find ourselves oversharing. Instead of brave, we are brash. And it’s all to fill a well that can never be filled by other people’s opinions or by our own fears.

The body knows when it can’t run anymore and when the well is empty. The reaction is to turn in on itself (depression) or on others (aggression). When you’re at empty, it can take a long time to fill back up and heal from the myriad of issues that come with a body and mind that breaks down. The focus in our creative community needs to be on resilience and self care so that the well never runs dry. Self care is a phrase that’s bandied about a lot and used as an excuse for further numbing but the important thing to remember is that Self Care is not Self Comfort. Drinking a bottle of gin while binge watching Netflix could be classed Self Comfort. Self Care is knowing that in order to function you need decent sleep, good food, some exercise and perhaps a local AA meeting.

Self Care is about honouring ourselves, knowing our worth as human beings and understanding that to be able to share our truth with the world through our art, our bodies and minds need looking after. And listen, in case you think I’ve got this one licked, let me be truly vulnerable here (in the spirit of fostering deeper connection) and say I’m writing this at the tail end of yet another depressive episode that has meant that most days have felt like wading through mud. The stone of anxiety in my chest has been lodged for a while and simple things like making school lunches can feel overwhelming. I let the well run dry again. I got ‘too busy’ (read: too arrogant) to keep up my daily walks, my healthy diet, my teetotal life. I looked for comfort rather than care. I turned in on myself and on others. It’s no fun when your seven year old tentatively wonders whether Mummy has taken her medicine today.

Instead of indulging in shame however, I am acknowledging that I am a flawed human being who is still worthy of love and belonging. Every new day offers the opportunity to start again – this is grace and for that I’m grateful. I am enough. This is what my spiritual beliefs teach me, this is what I can return to again and again, building myself back up, filling the well.

Be brave, be of good courage, you are fearfully and wonderfully made and you are loved beyond all you can hope or imagine. Start from there. Draw from that sumptuous well. Bloom and grow and flourish. And then, be vulnerable and share your beauty with the rest of us.

This is part of a series on creativity inspired by my conversation with Noni Stapleton and the whole series will be released as an ebook exclusively to my mailing list at the end. For more tips and information on self care for artists, tune in to my Shout Out Friday at 11am this week on my Facebook page.

Brene Brown made the topic of vulnerability famous with her TED talk from 2010. It’s worth checking out.  

Shout Out Friday – Amy de Bhrún

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I first came across Amy de Bhrún when I heard about her through her sister, actress and singer Fiona Browne. My sister and I went to see her one woman show The Female of the Species at the Mayfield Restaurant in Dublin a couple of years ago. She was funny, poignant and gorgeous, clearly a talented actress and a terrific writer to boot.

Hopping between London and Dublin, film work and a thriving career as a voice over artist, Amy has diligently set about creating a model of being an actor that has an autonomy and independence that is seldom achieved.

Now about to take her new show I See You, inspired by the life of trailblazer Lady Mary Heath to the Theatre Upstairs in Dublin this May, Amy has created a crowdfunding campaign so that she can properly finance the venture. People seldom think about the cost of doing a show and assume that we make theatre for the love of it, which we do, but we also have to eat and pay the rent.

Amy’s aim is to raise €4000 which will go towards paying her actors, director and crew. costume, set and promotional materials. This is not a huge amount of money and she’s almost there! Let’s get behind her and get her and Lady Mary Heath’s story heard.