Three Years Later: Part One

July 30, 2014

Oh, hello. I have been attempting to write this one post throughout the month. I word crunch/craft, then delete, then try a new approach...all which points me to believing that I've made the stakes unnecessarily high, or that maybe this is just touchy feel-y territory that will never feel properly articulated until something like ten years from now.

Who wants to wait ten years from now?

So, I'll just jump in. This is a photo of Ben with our friends' French Bulldog, Sophie. It's probably a good place to begin, though entirely irrelevant to this post:


It's a blog:
I began blogging publicly just over three years ago. It started with a month-long series of posts (which I have yet to reformat) called 30 Days of Awesome, for which I did something fun every day in an attempt to feel more happiness. Because, I was really depressed. I'd spent six years actively trying to balance making a living with making performance. Sometimes I was successful at this juggling, and sometimes less so. I made money through a combination of teaching dance and theater, nannying, and waiting tables. I spent the rest of my time hoping that I'd be able to climb the grant ladder. Meaning, rehearsing and thinking up projects. In 2011 I received my first significant grant to make an evening-length work, and decided that This Was It: a pivotal opportunity to show audiences and colleagues that I could make great things! Unsurprisingly, this high-stakes mentality led to a whole host of horrible anxiety and self-doubt, especially as I threw work and planning a wedding into the mix. I second-guessed ideas, I panicked at rehearsal, and I generally didn't sleep, since I was continually imagined what THEY would say after viewing my performance disaster. I hated the piece because I hated the experience-- made only worse when a friend was hit by a car leaving the performance one night. He eventually died. A couple weeks later the new manager at the restaurant where I worked fired me without warning or reason, other than the advice that I should really smile more. And this pretty much felt like the ULTIMATE failure, because I'm an unfortunately dedicated people pleaser/rule follower. I was all how wasn't I smiling more?, rather than recognizing a bat shit crazy person when I saw one. My anxiety turned to depression, and there I was, sad, broke, and burnt out. Also, hellllo shame: I was convinced that every artist I knew was talking about my massive failure. Probably in groups. Probably accompanied by head shakes of disbelief as to how anything could have been so awful.


Ob la di:
After stumbling upon this article and realizing how burnt out on art making I was, I decided to take a break. Which felt like giving up. I'd studied classical voice for 10 years, majored in theater, then made dance-based performance-- WHO WAS I WITHOUT THESE THINGS NOW????? I felt suddenly skill-less. How would I find a career without first knowing Excel? What did I like, other than making art? Did I even like making art? Why didn't I have any hobbies?

Though I've been extremely lucky in the friend department, I've had less success at having close, honest relationships with other artists-- the kind where we talk about the good and the hard of making art, and what we're figuring out along the way. Why? The usual suspects: feeling self-conscious about my work, assuming that everyone else has it figured out, forgetting that this is even an option. But in 2012, this was a big part of what helped me get back on my feet (along with tending to my depression with therapy and exercise). If you've read this blog, I'm sort of a broken record of love for the people who let me interview them, formally and informally. Breaking out of my isolation banished any lingering jealously I felt towards other artists. I benefitted from the resources they shared, and started advocating for their projects. I became something of a Jealous Curator. Not only did this introduce me to a whole new community of people, it helped me remember what I loved-- creative people, their work, community-making. I thought and wrote a lot about smarter ways of making art. It turns out that someone got into my head and wrote an extremely articulate version of many of the things I've been pondering-- you can download and read it for free over here

[Continued, soon!]

Experiments and Failure

July 18, 2014


Whether playing catch with lemons or putting 100 choreographers into 4x4 foot spaces, the summer has been full of experimental Open Field projects. I constantly wonder if people will show up to participate and watch these events. When they do, I wonder where they come from and who these people are. How did they know to bring their mitt for the catch game? Obviously I credit the internet (and of course the Walker) with a certain amount of promotional assistance, but sometimes I think that word-of-mouth and the spectacle of action on the field are far more powerful. Regardless: they came! we shared! the experiment worked!

And sometimes it doesn't quite, and this is valuable, too. One thing I will certainly take a way from this work and apply to my own art practice is the importance of looking at outcome with a certain amount of objectivity: it's not personal, it's an experiment. Open Field is made possible by an amazing team of people that take on the grunt work and brainstorming of each programming day. Maybe sharing the responsibility is a way of taking failure less personally and even examining what failure means in the first place. This can only be a great thing-- when we feel safer taking risks, we risk more often.

Earlier this week I sat down to chat with dance makers Monica Thomas and Theresa Madaus for an article I wrote about their performance trio, Mad King Thomas. I've gushed before about the gobs of respect and admiration I have for these ladies (including third group member Tara King), both as artists and humans. Their work never stays complacent; it's always taking big risks. How do they do this without continually high blood pressure? Theresa talked about two important tools for moving their work forward:

1) Framing each project as an experiment
2) Allowing space for failure

YES. YES. YES.

I'd add to this: a safety net of people who remind you that you're great, regardless of whether the experiment flops or not (and maybe a few good collaborators to share the risk with).

What helps you feel comfortable with risk-taking? What was your biggest flop?

Art Geeking

July 10, 2014

Chris Holman rehearses 4x4 =100 Dancing Outside. Photo by Laurie Van Wieren. 
Salad greens and 100 choreographers-- I'm in my art geek happy space this week, thanks to projects by Alison Knowles and Laurie Van Wieren. You can read more about them over here

Summertime Goals

July 7, 2014


It's a list that hopefully allows space for a messy combination of leisure and productivity:
  • Enjoy summer things: boats, invented cocktails on the porch, bike rides, cabin time, the farmer's market
  • Soak in the last two months of Open Field & BE FULLY PRESENT 
  • Occasionally weed in the back yard
  • Read those two books on money-- maybe over the above-mentioned cocktail
  • Write the grant you keep debating (you'll be glad you gave it a shot later)
  • Book some studio space
  • Move more, think less

Drinking the Kool-Aid

June 27, 2014




Last night I shared in a bit of applause. Actually, it was APPLAUSE, a world record-breaking performance on Open Field of a core group of ten clappers and the numerous community members that walked in to join them over their two-hour stretch of clapping. It turns out that clapping feels really good, and clapping for a bunch of strangers as they walk and bike by feels even better. Every time I entered the event I had a permanent grin on my face.

But it wasn't just APPLAUSE that felt like magic last night, it was the mash-up of events the clapping was a part of: the spurt of energy from Capture the Flag, the clever Fluxus signage created by artist-in-residence Maria Mortati, the dozens of people sitting at the picnic tables to draw a Fluxus score or practice their cursive, the robot-like sculpture hanging out in the garden, and the music performances that closed out the night. (I especially loved sitting down next to the woman who knew the words to every Neil Young song Anonymous Choir sang and quietly sang along.) My Open Field cohorts, many whom have shared in all four seasons of the field, could probably much more articulately identify the source of last night's magic. It sounds so simple to insist that that it was just about being together, and having numerous unjuried opportunities to create something in a space big enough for us all. It was the communal feeling I've sought through my own projects, and I was delighted to find it in a big woodchipped green space with a group of (largely) strangers. Hello, Open Field-- I really like you!

So this is in-part an invitation to the summer party of odd and wonderful events (and oddly wonderful, too). Community programs are happening most Thursdays and Saturdays through August 14 (more information on the calendar here). It's also a written reminder to myself to fully enjoy this short time and the feel-goodness of being a small part of making this happen. I feel very lucky. It's such a joy to get to make things together.

Al Desko

June 24, 2014

This is the truth: I have been thinking a lot about lunch.


Working a 9-5 job for 6 months feels a little like spy work. My schedule for the past ten years has been a hodgepodge of days, weekends and evenings doing money work (teaching, nannying, serving in restaurants), and super early mornings and late nights spent doing the projects that I love (writing, choreographing, scheming), every day a little different. But my schedule right now is more or less a strict 9-5. There's plenty to love about the routine, structure and predictability (satisfying for my inner control freak), and plenty that still feels strange (all the desk time). Lately I've come to the conclusion that working a day job is a good exercise in many things, but especially in valuing small pockets of time: coffee in the patio before I leave, my quiet morning drive, lunch. Lunch has never before stuck me as an exotic or especially desired meal, but now I think it holds potential as the best meal of the day. It can be the key to properly recharging.

So I was pretty excited when Bon Appet├ętit wrote a whole article about the workplace lunch, aptly titled Lunch Al Desko. The goal was to present a lunch in a positive light-- moving towards creating a lunch that we're all actually excited to break for. I think that's key.

So, what do they suggest? Well you can check out the online version of the article yourself. It comes down to creating surprising, open-face sandwiches, getting inventive with salad dressings, and dreaming of possibilities for hardboiled eggs and avocados. Equally important as the ingredients is the manner in which lunch gets consumed: ideally away from a desk in an actual bowl (tupperware be gone).

The most exciting ingredients I've had in my lunch are cheese (feta, fresh mozzarella), an amazing sharp mustard a friend bought us in Germany (almost gone-- how will I survive?) that's good on pretty much everything, and avocados. Sriracha is welcome; dark chocolate with ginger becomes downright exciting. And leftovers? They can sometimes be pretty wonderful, especially if they're the kind that you don't even need to reheat (I had a great cold noodle salad).

What's the most exciting lunch you've had lately? What should I be eating, sans tupperware and away from my desk?  


Taking Time for the Big Picture

June 16, 2014


About a week ago I read this great interview that Nancy Rosenbaum did with photographer Jenn Ackerman. There's a lot to love about the interview, but one section I was particularly drawn to was where Jenn talks about taking a seven-month retreat to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with her husband to essentially figure out what they want to do with their careers and lives. They ask a lot of important questions; they write lists about what makes them happy; they wrestle with uncomfortable truths (maybe I don't actually want to be a traveling nomad). It reminded me a lot of the questions I was beginning to ask myself three years ago, when I was just starting to write in the this blog space. My questions were something like:

What if I'm tired of bring an artist? Can I just quit? If I quit, do the past 10 years that I've invested in this career just become meaningless?
What brings me joy?
Where do I see myself in 5 years and then in 10; what kind of life do I want to create?
What's been bringing me the most satisfaction?
How do I build a career?
How do I survive as an artist without burning out?

They were hard questions to ask, because I was afraid of what I might discover; I took the better part of 6 months to focus on pondering them. Now I find myself checking in every 3-6 months for a day or two (sometimes a bit more) to ask different versions of the questions. I highly recommend this: zooming out, reevaluating, interrupting the go-go-go of routine to determine whether or not its proving satisfying; finding places to make tweaks as necessary. I'm not just talking about career, but also about life. Are you liking it? Are you exhausted? Why? How can you adjust?

As I've been diving into more coaching work lately, I've realized that most creative people have this dance they do between big picture and small: zooming in to rehearse and produce and make (Get Shit Done), zooming out to do a bit of strategic planning, write about what they do, and attempt to get funding and grants so that they can take care of the making things.

Both are incredibly important, and it seems like all of us are challenged by either 1) needing more of one or the other or 2) not knowing how to move smoothly from big picture to action (thinking too much and getting paralyzed).
------- Anyway -------

It's June, and even though things like, say, work are trucking away at full speed, I feel a sense of leisure in the air. It's sit-on-the-patio-with-a-cocktail weather, and maybe that lends itself to good question asking. I also recommend pondering questions while riding a bicycle or walking or doing movement improvisation, because sometimes your body is smarter than your brain, and the answers surface more smoothly while moving instead of thinking. Good questions to ask in these big-picture moments are

1) What have I been doing or working on that's been fantastic?What has been less fantastic? (Why?) What lessons can I take away from these things?
2) What are some dreams for the future that are in the back of my head?
3) What would I like more of in my life? Less of? What action can I take towards making this happen?
4) What am I trying to do in my creative practice? (aka, your mission statement as it stands today)
5) Why am I trying to do this?
6) What do I need to feel like my daily life and creative life are balanced?

Certainly don't ponder all of those questions at once. Take some time-- maybe a couple of hours a week over the course of a month? In between, take deep breaths and remember that the stakes are only as high as you make them. This question asking can be fun; remember that the answers are helpful, regardless of where they lead you. If you get to a place where you're hitting a wall and getting frustrated, chances are you should stop and return to making. Sometimes making things (and taking action) leads us to answering these questions in a much better way. 

What kinds of big-picture questions do you ask yourself? How often do you find yourself zooming out?
 

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