December 15, 2014

Hi! There are just 10 days until Christmas if you identify as a Christmas celebrating individual. Some things on my mind:

+ My goal for next year is to budget better for the holidays-- especially so that I can put my pennies towards many of the super options for locally made gifts (or at least gifts that support small businesses). Will someone remind me of this goal in July? Laura Brown is selling her fabulous annual calendar, and today is the last day to buy it if you want it shipped before the holiday! Today-- Monday! Get on it.

+ I'd also like to buy everyone this great print.

+ We're preparing to host a party. I love parties! Thanks to our co-host, we have an abundance of festive tunes to play-- pretty much every single pop star's Christmas album. What's a good beverage to serve? I want one with booze and one without (that's more exciting than sprite and fruit juice). This bourbon grapefruit drink is delicious, but I'd like to try something new.

+ I am pleased to be staying home in my pajamas for Christmas. I plan on watching marathon episodes of Scandal, which I originally wrote off as trashy tv. Be you not so dismissive! You could also catch up on Serial, which you're probably already listening to. I'm already mourning the last episode, set to air this Thursday.

+ Yes, I know this time of year is really busy, but I highly recommend spending a couple hours knocking out a few things you've been procrastinating for maybe, say, months. Maybe do this the week after Christmas. You'll start the new year feeling insanely good. 

+ I recently reread this book and found it to be full of stuck-ness solutions-- the awesome, deceptively simple kind. Maybe ask Santa for it? 

All I want for Christmas is for our cat to stop thinking that the downstairs bathroom is his bathroom. What about you?

December Reading

December 4, 2014

I first read The Gifts of Imperfection (which I keep giving a typo to, much to my amusement) in 2012, but I'm in need of another dose of the Brené gospel -- not a skim, a real read. So I've started into it again with the goal of covering a couple of chapters a week. It's tempting and easy to read the whole thing in one sitting, but I fear the content might go in one ear and out the other if I take that approach.

Have I mentioned that I'm suspicious of self-help books? I am. This isn't one-- it's more of an approach to life book (I've consumed the kool-aid, haven't I?). Brené Brown (well known for this TED talk on vulnerability) is a researcher. In the midst of her research she started noticing similar traits amongst a group of people she labeled "wholehearted": worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude and creativity. And these wholehearted people were missing some other traits: perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgement and scarcity. The Gifts of Imperfection takes Brené's research studies and explores what this wholehearted living thing is all about.

Here's why I think it's important: wholehearted living is all about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness-- a place of heck yes, I know I belong, rather than a shame-y place of inadequacy where you're constantly aiming for perfection in order to prove yourself (*cough, cough*). I know from personal experience that when you're trying to make your best work that this shame-y place gets in the way. Want to make great stuff and share it freely with the world? I'm fairly certain that the secret lies somewhere in the (deceptively hard to master) list of wholehearted traits. As I look to the year ahead, these are the traits I want to lean into-- the muscles I want to develop. The last couple of years have brought really amazing things to fruition in my life. I'd call many of them miracles! They didn't happen because I worked to achieve and muscle them into place. They happened from letting go and trusting and becoming more vulnerable (and getting rid of some of the counter traits in the second list above). 

Other things I've been reading:
+ Austin Kleon's Show Your Work, because I've been excited about the ideas he shares on his blog
+ Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: a journal of my son's first year, one of the few Anne Lamott books I haven't read
+ Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: essays by 40 working artists, edited by Sharon Louden -- though I was bummed to realize about 15 essays in that all of them are written by visual artists

What are you reading? Do you want to join in the December dose of Brené Brown?

5 With: Ben McGinley

December 3, 2014

I'm really excited to share thoughts from my very own spouse for this week's 5 With. I've known Ben for 9 years, so I've been able to watch (up close and personally) as he transitioned from a career in theater (and food service!) to his very first video client, and then to working for himself full-time (just about 4 years ago). I've learned from him that the best way to learn is to do-- that learning curves are inevitable, and only time and practice will make them less agonizing. I've also been reminded of the permission theme that I keep running into. As in, no one is going to give you permission to do anything; you have to give it to yourself. I'm guessing that there were plenty of skeptical people when Ben started his little business, but today he works with some pretty dreamy clients. Want to make something happen? Start.

Describe your creative work and what drives it. How did you come to do this work?
I produce video for arts organizations, public education, and individual performing artists. There are three things that drive my work:  
  • Mission: I’m very lucky to say that 90% of my clients’ missions are ones that I can proudly stand behind. It makes me feel a part of important work, not just a hired hand.  
  • A love of being the producer and making (lots of different) things happenProducing video on this small of a scale allows me to wear many different hats, which is good for my attention span as well as my tendency towards wanting control. I worked as an educational theater actor for the better part of 15 years and grew weary of just being one of the slices of pie; I wanted to be the baker.
  • Money: There’s no getting around it: I need to make a living, and video production is how I do this. I value building a creative life and eating. Luckily, I’m part of a generation of kids who have opted towards entrepreneurializing their passions.
I’ve been making movies since I was 6. It never occurred to me until my mid twenties that I was more passionate about video than I was about live theater. I messed around with a cheap camcorder and iMovie making various short films in my off time. Eventually, someone offered to pay me to do it for them. And I loved it. Video editing, as it turns out, is a fantastic fit for the control freak. I can be anal retentive, fussy, nitpicky and my work is better as a result.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
Challenges for me come in the form of client relations or technical limitations. Though I’ve gotten very good at curating the type of client I like to work with, there have been less-than-idea circumstances that were very negative experiences. Part of it is just having needed to put in my 10,000 hours. I have much more confidence now than I did 4 years ago. As for technical challenges, I’ll spare the details, but the world of video, editing, graphics technology is vast and there are countless tutorials and workflows to be learned, implemented, altered, and mastered. Every day is a Lynda course.

How do you balance running a business with other aspects of life?
  • I know my limits: I don't thrive when I constantly work. I take breaks, big and small. I work at home, so sometimes this means taking a break to do laundry, going to work out or cooking lunch. 
  • I self-advocate: I ask for fair compensation; I over-communicate with clients and set clear boundaries; I take time off for vacations. I've learned over time that I'm the only one who will make these needs a priority.
  • Inspiration: I love movies and I love live performance. I make time to watch both regularly.
Give some advice:
My advice is to get in the driver’s seat and work. Everything I do is self-taught; I have learned and am driven by doing. And don’t let technology get in the way: every $100 problem has a $1 solution. That’s all I’ll say. Get to work.

What's inspiring you right now?
I’m inspired right now by The Verge’s video segments. They are entirely motion graphic based and have given me that old feeling of I don’t know how they did that, but I want to learn how and do it in my next project.

You can find Ben's work here and here, and read more 5 With over here. 

Work Habits for the Self-employed

December 1, 2014

It's one of our first really cold days (4 measly degrees), and this morning it was hard to shake off thoughts of skipping out on work in favor of curling up on the couch with a heating pad and some leftover pie. When you work at home there's always the temptation to break the deadline you made for yourself. Motivation has been harder than usual for me lately. I'm genuinely excited about what I'm working on-- I've just needed a little help getting into a groove. Austin Kleon wrote this, insisting that there's still a lot of the year left at the beginning of December. I agree. I want to make the most of it. Here are some ideas for refocusing when you're out of a work groove: 
  • Step away from the computer: Computers are really helpful for, say, computing. It's great to write emails and researching things and make spreadsheets. A lot of times I begin my work day by automatically sitting down at my computer when I don't necessarily need it. The computer is full of distractions that will take me down. All of a sudden I have 8 tabs open unrelated to my original search. All of a sudden I'm on Twitter. Or checking email for the 10th time-- and I'm unsure as to what I even set out to do in the first place. Today I was reminded of the importance of a separate analog workspace and a good old fashioned pad of paper and pen. 
  • Organize: My work is a combination of performance projects and writing/web content projects. And then there's the book keeping and promotional and administrative bits. I also have to schedule dental appointments and pay bills and find new health insurance, etc... This hodgepodge of tasks can leave me really scattered. This week I put everything down on paper and grouped similar tasks together: home/family, current work, future work, self care, producing, outreach... It doesn't matter what kind of categories you use, just that they make sense to you. Deadlines and billable work always gets first priority, but I try to scatter other things into a work day, too. 
  • Make space for balance and fun: If you dread your to-do list, you're doing it wrong. There should be some fun stuff on it-- otherwise what's the point of being master of your own schedule? I like to mix in coffee dates so that I'm sure to see other humans. I write this blog because I like to. I take movement/gym breaks and try to cook myself the occasional exciting lunch. I mix my favorite aspects of the job with my least favorite ones, and make sure to surround myself with sources of inspiration. 
  • Move it, move it: Taking movement breaks isn't just about physical fitness or health, it's about mental sanity and optimal brain function. I work better when I go on long walks daily or stretch every hour for a few minutes. It's icy outside, so I rely on classes and the track at the Y for exercise. Movement is also really helpful for warding off SAD. 
There's also a handful of usual work habit suggestions I give clients. They are pretty straight forward, but invaluable for me:
  • Don't work for longer than 90 minutes without a break: Your work will be better!
  • If you are dragging your feet about something, commit to doing it for just 20 minutes: A lot happens in 20 minutes, and you might end up getting into the groove once you start.
  • Limit the coffee dates: Your time is valuable, and you're the only one who can enforce this. Don't be afraid to schedule something a few weeks out if it's not directly related to billable client hours.
  • Set attainable goals: I make my to-do list at the end of the previous work day, rather than at the beginning. If I get too ambitious, I get frustrated.
  • Do your hardest work in your prime time: When do you work the most effectively? Use it wisely.
  • Give yourself structure: Most people I know crave a certain amount of structure. Even if you make your own schedule, figure out how to find some. Can you work out at the same time each day? Work on a particular project on certain days of the week? 
What are your best suggestions for getting sh*t done?

Closing Out November

November 24, 2014

Hi! What's new with you? It's very cliché to talk about time speeding by, but the snow on the ground is messing with my brain. Part of me feels like it's February and we just moved and I'm about to start working at the Walker. Also, I'm producing a show. All of this causes me to feel strange when I realize 2014 is, in fact, almost over and I'm done with all those things. I then start down the rabbit hole of deep end-of-year questions:

1) Did l make resolutions this year? Did I accomplish them? I honestly can't remember. The end of last year was really bogged down with loan officers, squirrel removal people, dentists and performance planning. Resolutions were far from my mind, though there was that whole "Thrive" thing-- more on that later.

2) Did anything really change this year? Sure. Things always change, and this year was a combination of subtle & big changes. Isn't every year? But I think I should really save these questions for January and focus on getting some sh*t done (though I'd rather bake holiday cookies). 

A couple of things relating to this blog:

+ There won't be a 5 With posted this week: There will be one next week and until I finish the project. What's that mean? I decided I'll take it to 25-- a nice, even number. It's also the number I'd have if I had actually posted one every other week for the year (the original plan). I want to finish this project, and I want to take the time to curate a varied group of people. I believe strongly that creative entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial creatives (those identifying as artists and those not) can learn a lot from one another.

+ I'm challenging myself to write more in December: This blog has long served as an accountability tool for me, and lately I've found myself feeling a little...stuck. My theory is that if I write and post frequently, especially without thinking too hard about what I'm posting, that I'll unstick. Will it work? Let's find out!

And on the non blog-related front:

+ I'm making a dance: I have a choreographic deadline of January 28 to make a short work-in-progress dance. I'm having a hard time beginning -- which is probably what makes the deadline so helpful.

+ I'm on the hunt for a me: Over the past few months I've longed to have an outside eye that can give me some tough love and point me towards the projects that will give me the most momentum. A person who will help me see clearly in areas where I'm stuck. I'm making the search for this kind of a coach a priority. Do you know someone who does this type of work?

+ It's the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas and Thanksgiving were quiet affairs last year, and this year I can't wait to bring out the Bing and put up a tree. We're throwing a holiday party in collaboration with a dear friend. What should we serve? Where do I find my ugly Christmas sweater? I'm very excited. How are you celebrating?

SCINAS | Support

November 21, 2014

[SCINAS = Self Care is Not About Smoothies, wherein I try to figure out what self care IS for me. You can read more about it here.]

Dana Nelson, Executive Director of GiveMN, spoke on a panel at Giant Steps this year. The topic of the panel was work/life balance, and she was talking about the importance of friendship and support: "Everyone needs at least three people they can lose their shit with on the phone."

I immediately zoned out of what she was saying and started counting. I am lucky to have lots of friends-- even a few handfuls of really close friends. But I would rarely think to call these people in times of crisis. At least, not until after I have the crisis semi-figured out, because what are they going to do? 

And this last statement gives away my real problem: I am a fixer, have been since childhood, and supporting and fixing are not the same thing. Support is about empathy, saying "hey, me too" or "yikes, that sucks" and "I really love you." It's not about providing a handbook for improvement; it's about being together in this awesome but messy life. I know from personal experience that this is not a burden-- it's an honor to know that my friends trust me enough to see them in a vulnerable space. 

I think that sometimes there's a confusion between social media spewing and asking for help: genuinely reaching out to another person. Social media is great in black and white situations that people can easily wrap their heads around: the loss of a loved one, advice on doctors and plumbers, directions to polling locations. Approach Facebook on a day where your depression is flaring up or that rejection notice has triggered your worst feelings of inadequacy or the holidays are bringing up all your family baggage, and expect to be disappointed. These things are more challenging for Joe Shmoe to wrap his head around -- go directly to a real live human. 

I believe that the thing that often prevents us from the reaching out is a feeling that we should really have our shit together. I know that when my life gets messy, it sometimes feels personal -- maybe I did something to cause the mess (even in times when the circumstances are entirely out of my hands). I deeply admire the people who own their challenging experiences (and feelings) with a sense of pride, as just a part of their story. They recognize that they are not alone in going through crappy times, and use these times to connect to other people.  

Like many, I've been deeply moved reading the writing of Minneapolis local Nora Purmort, recounting her husband Aaron's experience with cancer. I admire them for finding the good in the shitty, for owning with grace what's happening to them, and for reaching out-- they are so very connected to this community. Aaron has moved to hospice care, and they are fundraising to support this and their medical expenses (not to mention the toddler they are raising). If you can give them some dollars, I know they'd be appreciated. You can find out more here

Meanwhile, let's find support. Let's not wait for brain tumors or death. Let's rally around the daily things, too, and resign ourselves to not having our shit completely together. 

5 With: Taylor Baldry

November 13, 2014

I met Taylor this summer while working on Open Field, where my colleagues referred to him as an Open Field Alumni in High Standing. That basically means that he makes really cool participatory projects that we were anxious to bring to the field. This summer Taylor brought old school-style recess games, like Capture The Flag, and I've never seen a group of adults take a seemingly tame game so seriously. I mean, look at these photos. Taylor is a really talented illustrator, and his event promotion was almost as fun as the event (see below). I'm excited to share what he's making! Now let's all join Grown-up Club together. 

Describe your creative work and how you came to make it:
I value meaningful relationships and strive to create experiences that are accessible, entertaining, participatory, and promote human interaction and community involvement. My current work revolves a handful of passion projects that focus on public engagement. I produce the Pangaea Station, a quasi-educational art history web series. On Sundays I curate an experience-based oatmeal bar. I also co-founded Grown-up Club, which empowers and connects wayward adults through a monthly event series. 

I didn't always create work that was participatory; I am actually pretty introverted. This changed a few years ago after I moved back to Minneapolis after living in Japan. It found it really challenging to meet and connect with people in the digital age. 

What's your biggest creative challenge?
One of my biggest creative challenges has been accepting that I'm an artist. If someone asks what I do, I tend to mumble "I'm an artist" under my breath. I don't always own it, but if I don't, who will? So that's a pickle. 

I have always expressed myself artistically but I never thought that I could be an artist. The idea of it made me anxious. I thought that to be an artist, you have to be a superstar or else you're going to be living on the street. It took a career change and living in a foreign country for me to warm to the idea.

I still struggle with my artistic identity and I am constantly questioning myself: Am I creating work that is accessible? Am I giving myself enough credit? What are you doing with your life Taylor????

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
I am a part-time barista at FiveWatt Coffee. I also do freelance illustration and some commissioned art projects. A part-time job gives me some structure and piece of mind to work freely on creative work. It also gets me out of my studio (bedroom) and forces to meet new people and be social. I'm thankful for that.

I also take a lot of sabbaticals. I'll work intensely, save up some money, and then take a few months off to travel or learn something new. Sabbaticals are refreshing, and it's also fun to say that you're on sabbatical when really you're unemployed.

Give some advice:
Take an improv class. I am just wrapping up my first improv class and it's been brilliant. It's made me a better collaborator and communicator, more open to ideas, and more willing to embrace failure. If you're on tight budget, HUGE Theater allows students to trade classes by volunteering at the theater. 

Also: if you're at a party or event where you don't know anyone, stand near the snack table. Everyone will come by to snack. Snacks are a great conversation starter and you can eat them. 

What's exciting?
I'm looking forward to this winter. I'm excited to design some postcards for the oatmeal bar-- we are going to sell oatmail. I'm pumped to reboot the Pangaea Station, and have been doing some writing and pre-production for that. Grown-up Club also has some ridiculous events that we're planning for December and January. Neat! 

Find Taylor and his work here (and via the links above), and more 5 With here!

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