No Paint Today
It only takes seconds, really, to recognise that I’m depressed. That kind of depression that has you standing at the shed door, looking at paint and knowing there isn’t an ass’s roar of a chance that you’ll get it together to do that touch up paint job you promised yourself you’d do; have it all done by the time Geoff gets home and shove in his face that a woman’s work is never done and a woman just gets it done. Not an ass’s roar, if that’s the expression. Although, the emotion is far from such passion. I recognise that I’m not going to be painting anything today, I’m not going to make it to Karen’s exhibition, I’m not going to do diddly, because that is what happens when the darkness descends.
This is not about the darkness. This is about the light. The Light. The glimmer that always emerges when I am about to give up.
I’m standing with paint in my hands, wondering how I could be so determined to do something and now, for no apparent reason, I’m destined to have a day of absolute fecklessness. That glimmer of love that shines even when I’m not bothered to look for it, whispered in my ear.
Like an automaton, I turn back to the kitchen. I will make soup because for some reason, soup making is something I can do at this time. At these times. In that moment, that hand grasping mine from out of nowhere, in that moment, all I have to think about is chopping vegetables.
“Okay,” my lost soul sighs, “I can do that.”
I’m aware, as I walk back down the garden, that this act is my lifeline. I think about writing a recipe book. Then I think it might be better to write about why I make soup and then, as an added bonus to the reader, who already has enough books about soup making, I could add the recipes. I remind myself that I make it up as I go along and the Wise Woman in me is already smiling, because she sees that I am having creative thoughts: a book; making up recipes. I am further on now than just hanging onto the hand that reached from the sky to save me. I am beginning to dream about sitting by the camp fire with a hot drink and a blanket, the comfort of knowing my almost perilous drop to my death is all behind me.
I reach the house and decide I will make the most delicious creamy sweetcorn soup, with potatoes perhaps; something I can try to get Ash to eat. My hand picks out a sweet potato too, and some onions. I chop and peel. There’s no challenge to that at least. I notice this particular variety of sweet potato has the brightest red orange inside. I mindfully peel and admire it before adding it to the onion in the pot. I borrow two potatoes from Kevin and add salt and pepper and something suggests a little paprika to me, before adding frozen corn and a vegetable stock cube. There is a mild satisfaction in me that I am using up food that might have been left to rot. I am aware that I am creating. I let myself off the hook for missing Karen’s exhibition. It’s the last day and I also missed the launch night, but she will understand I hope. There is nothing I can do anyway. I am a million miles away from driving to Bray. The soup is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life. I eat it slowly and carefully and begin to take stock of my blessings, a sure way out of the pit of doom if ever there was one. Ever wondered what it is to eat mindfully? Make this soup and spend some time with yourself. You’ll see.
Sweet Mindful Soup
2 white onions, chopped
1 large or 2 small X Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium sized potatoes, (peeled if not new) and chopped
a pinch of paprika
maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bag of frozen sweetcorn or can of sweetcorn
1 vegetable stock cube
1 glug of cream or soya cream
Sweat the chopped onions in some oil (mild olive oil or coconut oil) until soft
Add the chopped sweet potato and turn around in the oil
Add the regular potatoes and turn around in the oil
Boil a kettle of water
Add a pinch or two of paprika, salt and pepper
Empty the bag of frozen sweetcorn (or drain the can) into a colander and rinse under a cold tap for a few seconds. Add to the mix.
Add the boiling water and a vegetable stock cube and stir well, bringing the soup mix to the boil.
Turn the heat down and simmer over a low-medium heat until the potatoes are cooked.
Let the soup cool slightly before blitzing with either a hand held blender or let it cool almost completely and blitz in a nutri bullet or liquidiser. Return soup to the pot.
Check the seasoning and add some cream or for a lower calorie option, soya cream.
You will eat this soup mindfully because it’s just. too. gorgeous.
Emer by Karen Hickey
A Fortunate Stumble
It was 1972 and I was lying on my tummy on the carpet, elbows on the floor, chin resting on my hands, watching cartoons with my sisters and our neighbours. It was a good place to be, so when my mother called me to tell me it was ‘my turn with Kathleen’, I wasn’t pleased. Kathleen, our friends’ mother, lectured in child psychology, and was doing some exams at the time – her Masters I assume - so each of us had our spell with her. I liked Kathleen, she was, and still is, like a favourite aunt, but there were cartoons on the TV and none of the other kids had to leave that sacred space. My mother bribed me with a club milk and I succumbed (though I do remember weighing up the pros and cons and I won’t lie, it was a tough decision) and then I took my five year old self off to answer questions and put round pegs into holes. I’ve since realized, in my maturity, that it’s most likely the other kids all got a club milk once I had left, but what I didn’t know at the time didn’t hurt me. Much of the episode is clear to me as is the outcome of my test: I would most likely become an actress. My fate was sealed; I liked to talk, I was confident and sassy and loud. Hereafter, people would say, “Oh, don’t mind Emer; she’s dramatic.” I began to resent the idea of becoming an actress – apart from a brief flirtation with the idea when I was ten, during the aftermath of the very first Star Wars. Who, I surmised, in their right mind wouldn’t want to head for the Hollywood hills and seek out the handsome Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker? What opportunities lay waiting for someone of my abilities (an accident prone day dreaming mood swinging pre-teen)? But once I got over that, and turned thirteen, I was determined not to satisfy the oracle. I would do anything but become an actress.
Besides, back in those days, the kids who took private drama classes seemed to be of an elite class, belonging to an inner sanctum that I could never know. We did drama in my primary school, so I was somewhat familiar with mime and voice production; with princesses who wouldn’t stop scrubbing the floor and toads that liked to drive flashy cars. The fact that I played a tree or the wind at every annual end of year play only convinced me further that I was destined for anywhere other than the stage. (Incidentally, I did attend ballet class during these confusing days, and received from the teacher a sharp slap on my leg one year for playing with my shadow during an entire concert. My mother did her best, but how could she prevail against such anarchy?) My turn finally came in the last year of primary school when, instead of having Griselinia branches sellotaped to my arms, I donned the fancy robes of the prince; handsome and wise, he saved the scrubbing princess from housework by disguising himself as a non-prince person and talking her out of such nonsense.
“I should like to meet the princess ‘incognito’ so to speak.” The first lines I ever learned. I was nervous but proud to be holding down such a decent role and I learned what incognito meant. I used it at every opportunity until someone declared I was such a bore with my incognito this and my incognito that.
I went through secondary unscathed; no dramatis personae came looking for me. I got over Mark Hamill and fell in love with Art Garfunkel, although I was looking at old footage of him in his younger years, but what did I care? Discos, boys, cigarettes, disobeying parents, boozing and other distractions took over. Gone, long gone were my dreams of being discovered by George Lucas while working as a petrol pump attendant in Hollywood (cute and all as I would have appeared, in my little eighties jumpsuit.) Did I join my friends when they signed up to take part in plays and musicals with the neighbouring boys school? I did not. I think I may have laughed at them, for their fancy frolicking about. By the time I was nineteen, I had nothing filling my life except a difficult social scene. I found myself on a dark road, pregnant, abandoned and with my eyes fully opened. It’s been well documented, but in case you don’t know, the short version of this part of the story is that I gave my baby up for adoption, and I was broken for a while. After some time, I allowed myself to be dragged along to the local musical society rehearsals for Grease, by my two friends Denise and Fiona. I got a job backstage: I found my calling. Nothing had ever made me happier. Backstage life was so comfortable to me, I realized I was never destined to be on the boards, I was destined to be all around them. Two years later I was directing The Sound of Music and my drama school grew from there. That was more than thirty years ago.
A fortunate stumble.
You must understand, I never meant to find myself living the dramatic life. And I’ve spent my adult life learning to be calm, to be mindful, to eliminate the stress that life drama brings. Teaching drama has helped that, ironic as it sounds. I don’t train actors, or look for talented performers; I use drama to help people to develop; to build confidence; to look inside and find all sorts of wonderful surprises about themselves.
When people ask me what I do, I say “I teach drama.” But I don’t – not exactly. Not anymore.
Over the years I have adapted my teachings and developed an important ethos:
I facilitate creative possibilities.
Do you want to see what's possible for you this September? I'm now enrolling for the following:
Youth Theatre aged 14-17
Youth Theatre aged 17-22
The Exceptionals: Musical Theatre for exceptional people with extra needs, aged 16+
It was a dark time; a time before hair-straighteners, mobile phones, t'internet. I stood before Mrs Galassi, in all of my twenty three years and under a mop of dangerously wild, late 80's/early 90's 'big' hair. "Are you looking at me, dahling? I can't tell." She said. I brushed my curly bangs out of my face and smiled nervously. Mrs Galassi was the drama teacher around these parts, a legend, even in her own time. I had been summonsed to her parlour following the resounding success of The Sound of Music, a show I had directed for our local amateur musical society and she had decided to take me under her wing. Mrs Galassi was, and still is, the epitome of easy confidence. She was dramatic to her fingertips, and she used these dainty ring-clad digits now to categorise the order my young life would henceforth take:
1: I'd study with her and get my teaching diploma. 2: I'd set up my own drama school. 3: I wasn't concentrating anymore, so I can't remember. I was dizzy with excitement that anyone - let alone Mrs G, would consider me worth investing in.
I studied drama and a whole new world opened up to me. The more ancient the Greeks were, the better I liked it. Where was Euripides when I was in school? Wherefore the absence of Sophocles? My mother bit down on her knuckles with glee; her little girl was getting her act together at last. When I first picked up a script and planned the course of direction, I felt like Cinderella slipping her tiny foot into the glass slipper (although there was nothing tiny and cute about me back in those days, I was a tyrant if truth be told. In my defence I got nicer with each subsequent production, and the sure knowledge that all would, in fact, be well.) In those early days, teaching was intended to supplement my career as a theatre director. But some things began to happen: as I grew through drama, so did my students. The joy and pride I felt in them as they overcame personal obstacles took precedence over theatre career plans. I came to see the endeavour as the power behind the person, and creativity as a golden key. Emer Halpenny School of Drama, born in 1990, bred in Stillorgan in the backstage canals of amateur theatre, was doing good work. Mrs Galassi was right to take a chance on me all those years ago.
By 2014, the school had long since become one big happy family. Generations of youth theatre students took over as teachers and I enjoyed the extra time this gave me. However, whilst resting on my laurels, I had overlooked one thing: resting doesn't come easy to me. Teaching is a high energy occupation and a little time away from it seemed enticing after twenty nine years. But rest? Not so much. I threw my rekindled energy into building a business - natural skincare, no less - with my long time pal Caitriona, and that pretty much took me over the hills and far away from the wonderful world of drama for a while. I loved almost everything about business - the challenges, the opportunities to be creative and tell our story, even, to a point, standing in 'dragon's den' type pits - but money has never driven me, and here I would stall; everyone loved me until it came to the numbers, and then, quite simply, I crumbled. Why though? I set and managed budgets several times a year when I ran my school; the numbers meant something to me back then - they manifested into big lovely bums on hard plastic seats. That's the bottom line (if you will) for a theatre practitioner. Growth, in the world of business, it seemed to me, had an insatiable appetite and the dragon could never be satisfied. It would have broken me if the pandemic hadn't gotten there first.
For almost two years I sat locked in my tower, overlooking the Kilmacud Road, reading and re-reading What Color Is Your Rainbow; taking courses to fill in the gaps I had managed to avoid during my fine life in a creative world. The brand of 'me' bounced around LinkedIn like Zebadee until I knew, at least, what it was that I did NOT want: to give you my soul, you insatiable monsters! You want too much, employers! Where is the time to dream? To plan, to create? If I took on what I know I could do, it would destroy me. There it is, in a nutshell.
What the pandemic did do, was lead me back towards the yellow brick road, which I walked up and down for a while, until I remembered that the road leads to silly places. Eventually though, I looked down at my feet, and realised why they had been so sore: I was wearing red glittery stilletoes - totally unsuitable to tramping up and down any kind of road, yellow or otherwise. My first thought was that they'd be darling in a costumes room and so I took them off, banged them together thrice, and ended up back where I started: teaching drama to amazing people.
Thirty two years after I opened my school, I'm back doing what I love and what I'm good at.
I'll be back building confidence in people from September 2022.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CREATIVE
In the spirit of never forgetting, I'll go back in time to 2016 and one of my last blog posts for Emer Halpenny School of Drama - I guess this is the reason I'm still here...
One of my students wants to base her character on her crazy aunt; she didn't say it was her own aunt, she said she wanted to play the part of "a crazy aunt who always slips money to you at family occasions and gets emotional after drinking too much wine.It's based on a true story." So I'm wildly guessing that the aunt is a real person. The other girls felt similarly familiar with this kind of character. I made a mental note to be more aware. I have nieces and nephews. I'm no fool. And I drink wine. Slipping money to them, not so much - but getting emotional, well perhaps. Depending on the family occasion and how early in the day dinner starts. Dinner can start at 3pm. It's a difficult one, when everyone else sips a casual beer or two. I'm allergic to wheat and gluten - I cannot be drinking a beer even casually. I can only do wine. Two glasses of Pinot Grigio at 3 in the afternoon and anyone becomes the crazy money wielding aunt.
So I have to come up with a story about a crazy wine drinking emotional but generous woman who babysits her teenage nieces and nephews, and not get embroiled into my own life story. Please imagine a literary pause here, a long one. It is in fact a long tired sigh. I'm tired at myself. Why oh why do I say I'll do these things? I am a victim of my own untiring enthusiasm. And to say that my untiring enthusiasm exhausts me is not a contradiction. At the time, it always seems like a good idea to write a brand new play for my students. I adore creative endeavour. It keeps me breathing steadily.
A creative human is a happy human. Why else do people hum to themselves when they're scribbling in those mindful colouring books? Creative people live longer and get away with murder. (For the most part; I've just thought 'Vincent Van Gogh' but he had other things going on). Do you resent time spent doing something creative? I doubt it. What's more, if you do something creative, do you spend time admiring your work and feeling all warm inside? You know you do. When you're being creative, do you ever think, 'I shouldn't be doing this, I should be hoovering'?
What happens to us when we paint or write, play the piano or arrange flowers? I believe we feel the joy because we are truly alone with ourselves; we go deep down to the purest part of us, with ease. When I'm being creative, it's just me and the page or the keyboard or the music or the flowers or the shape of the thing I've just made. And I have spent a lifetime inspiring creativity (so I should live long and prosper) I love to see my teachers get excited about the term ahead (this is occurring presently, there is a palpable buzz around Frangos in Dundrum Towncentre, hub of our meetings). When I see our students get together and animatedly discuss how they will approach some new challenge, I notice some wonderful things: everyone's face is open and interested; I see the moment a brilliant idea lands in their minds; there's laughter, excitement - one idea leads to another idea. A room full of people with eyes engaged on their vision. There is no room for negativity. Obstacles are just another chance to be creative; opportunities for the group to gather all their notions and sew them together.
I love this part of my life. I love that I can never predict what's going to happen in a class (unless we're rehearsing for a play and lines haven't been learnt - then I can predict with great accuracy that I'm going to get cranky - I'm looking at you, Youth Theatre) Even when there are rules to be followed, we still bring our own unique style to a production.
Personally, being a creative teacher has been a gift - I have had to relinquish control. Once upon a time, my way was the best way, but one day I decided to say "I don't know, what do you think?"And I learned that my way is only one way. There are countless ways and they are all beautiful.
People who think they're not creative? Desist! You go shopping for shoes you're not sure even exist, except in your mind. You crack a joke. When you see a flower in full bloom and time slows down for you. When you allow yourself to be lost in the sound of your child laughing. When you smile because that's your favourite song. Or your mum's favourite song. When you laugh at a joke. When you admire someone's eyebrows (it's a thing). When you read. When you anticipate the next chapter.
Thoughts that are creative make you feel good. And if you feel good, you emit positivity. And you draw others into your state of mind, and so you start a flowing chain of good feeling all around you. You create comradery, positivity, kindness, patience, understanding, tolerance, guidance, appreciation, acceptance and joy. And perhaps a picture or a song.
You create. You Rock.
I closed my drama school and stopped teaching & directing in 2019 after 29 years building confidence in people of all ages through creative endeavour. But a true Drama Queen never forgets so here I am, back teaching again after all this time :)