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!

In This Space

November 11, 2014

I've referenced Lisa Congdon's talk Embrace the Abyss before, and it merits another mention. I listened to the beginning of the talk again this week, especially noting this section:

"It is at this precise moment-- the moment when we’re out of our comfort zone or going through some personal misery...those horrible moments are the moments when we’re most ready for creativity. And yet, what do we do in those uncomfortable moments? We scroll through Instagram. We get sucked into the black hole of Facebook. We go shopping. We do everything in our power not to sit with those feelings of emptiness or fear. And yet we all know that it is embracing those moments of emptiness and fear that our greatest ideas come to us. That space is the field of all possibilities. Great creativity happens in the space when we are most vulnerable." -Lisa Congdon

These words really make sense to me. 

After a rather leisurely October, I'm jumping back into the swing of #1) being my own boss lady and #2) starting new artistic projects. Building new things! This is equal parts exciting and daunting. I feel the urge to drag my feel, as I often do at the beginning of things, as if there will be some kind of safety net if I do. I'm trying to remember how much I need these things that I want to make. I need an opportunity to exercise my imagination, entertain wonder and put together strange puzzles. It seems much more comfortable to distract myself with the things Lisa describes...or spend my time worrying or writing lists...but what I actually need is the work. Like this great quote I recently read: "Nothing will make you feel better except doing the work." Amen.

It was such a gift to spend last year's miserable winter in a studio making things with great people.  It was the perfect time to be present after a really challenging year. That's one of the huge gifts of creating: presence. You can't run away from the things that make you uncomfortable.

We had our first snow this week, and I can't help but be energized by it. Here it begins! Looking out my door, there's evidence of this strange kind of transition: snow on the ground, but yellow leaves still on the trees. Not unlike the transition I'm feeling. But let's plunge in. Let's make something in this space.  

5 With: Gemma Irish

November 5, 2014

Gemma Irish wrote for Minnesota Playlist about how her day job skills have made her a better writer (read it here), and I was instantly smitten with her perspective. The advice is my favorite kind-- get out of your own way and make the work. You know, very Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. So much of the creative puzzle that Gemma shares below echoes my own-- the challenge of making the money piece work; the realization that no one else can make this happen for you but YOU. I'm so happy to share her words.

Describe your creative work:
I write plays. I love language and storytelling. I love a good fight.

I believe that the theater teaches empathy, certainly to its practitioners but also to its audiences. Because of this, I think of theater as a political tool, something that can affect change. But I also think theater can be fun, and weird, and smart, and (gasp) entertaining. All of these can co-exist.

What's your biggest creative challenge?
Getting my work out into the world. No one really cares about what you do until you make them care. That is to say, no Artistic Directors are pounding on my door begging me to let them produce my scripts. So I’m doing it myself, here and there, trying to pay people with money and not just beer and pizza. But I only have so much cash and time (and beer and pizza), and it’s a challenge.

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
This has been a huge struggle for me. The problem, for me at least, is that 40 hours a week is too many hours to do anything besides make theater. It’s just too much. But I need close to 40-hours-a-week worth of paycheck to pay my bills. I’m not a person who can live exclusively on beans and rice and food rescued from a dumpster. I didn’t take a poverty vow when I chose to be an artist. Maybe this is crazy, but I think I should be able to write plays AND enjoy a nice meal out once in a while. It takes skill, talent, and hard work to do what I do, and I believe I should be compensated for my time and expertise.

But until I can figure out how to make that happen, I have a corporate day job. I actually really like my job, and I’ve been there long enough that I’ve gotten a few raises, and built trust with a few key people, and was able – though some hard work and compromise and negotiation – to go down to 3 days a week at work, and still earn enough to live on. This has been literally life-changing, and I’m starting to find some balance after nearly 10 years of trying to juggle it all.

Give some advice:
Ask people out for coffee – they will probably say yes. As an introvert, I used to think I was bad at networking. (The idea of “working a room” and handing out business cards makes me nauseous.) But I’m good at knowing what I like and sending emails to the people who make it. People love talking about what they love. Literally no one has said “no” to me when I asked them to coffee – if anything, they’ve all asked me “what can I do for you?” and I’ve almost never had a ready response. Ask someone out for coffee, and then show up knowing what you want.

What's inspiring you right now?
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc

You can find Gemma on Twitter here, read her various Minnesota Playlist writing here, and read more mini interviews here

One Last Thing

November 3, 2014

In these three posts about connecting to creative work, I left out one crucial (to me) suggestion:

Start a Blog

Blogging has been an invaluable tool for me to #1) get moving creatively (generally, the more frequently I produce something, the more likely I am to keep making things) and #2) get clear about what I care about and want to put in the world and #3) connect my ideas & thoughts to other people. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's been helpful for me. 

Now, I don't think that blogging is the only way to get some of these same benefits. I think what's key is to find something that makes you...

1) Show up before you're ready: If I waited until a post was perfect, I'd never write anything. Writing regularly makes other creative activity less daunting. I know that it's certainly not the end of the world to put something mediocre into the world. I have to start somewhere.

2) Produce work regularly: Similar to the above-- writing regularly makes me creatively accountable, even when I don't feel like it.

3) Share your work & ideas with the world: I've connected to a lot of my current creative community through this blog. 

Maybe you hate writing. OK-- take photos instead, or post your collection of doodles. Maybe you're worried that this world doesn't need another blog? I get it. Probably ignore that. Write for you. Write to figure out who you are and what you care about on November 3, 2014, and then watch that change. I promise you'll learn something in the process. 

[You can find all of the posts on connecting to your creative work over here.]

5 With: Blake Nellis

October 29, 2014

You might remember Blake Nellis from Small Art, where he memorably wore a yellow jumpsuit and matching shades and managed to transfix us all by playing with some tape. He's present and playful, and earns audience trust even when we're not sure what he's doing (see above comment re: tape). I love that Blake stumbled into the world of dance in college, after spending years as an athlete and musician. This multidisciplinary background makes his work delightfully unpredictable.

Photo by Alex Kay Potter
Describe your current creative work and how you came to this place in your career:
I am first and foremost a movement artist-- a dancer and choreographer. Who I am, what I look like, how long my beard is, they are all part of my work somehow. I revel in making dance in the moment. This ability did not hatch overnight, but through extensive training in Jane Hawley’s Movement Fundamentals curriculum at Luther College. When I began making work in college it was largely inspired by Contact Improvisation (primarily duets). As my interests and experience have shifted, I have begun designing much more, and think about the visual shape, arc and images present in my work. I strive for a balance between being creative, virtuosic and honest. I know my proudest moments of creativity have brought unexpected connections. 

What are your biggest challenges as an artist?
I have a hard time dealing with our culture’s ignorance toward dance-making. It seems like we’re still centuries behind other art forms in the way we view dance. It baffles me that people still say things like “I didn’t get it” or “So what does that dance mean?” When was the last time someone listened to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and asked the latter? I strive to be creative and at the same time reach out to an audience that still struggles to name what I’m doing. I hope that someday, in the not so distant future, that people will view my work with their guts or their childlike selves so that art can continue to transcend our culture rather than define something of the past.  

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
I’m currently Visiting Faculty at Luther College (in Decorah, IA). This regular salary allows me to continue my freelance work, project by project. This past year I’ve been working with Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA Dances, and two years before that I started with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. These companies provide income, opportunity, and a training of sorts. More and more I’m finding good jobs that are enjoyable and financially viable. When I first moved to Minneapolis in 2010 I was balancing lesser paid dance gigs with child care jobs. This worked for me because the hours were somewhat flexible, and I was still able to work with people which fulfilled and inspired me. I definitely toy with the idea of getting a white collar job, even if just for a moment, to make some serious dough and then run around the world doing Contact Improvisation. Will I do that? Probably not. 

Give some advice:
  • Learn about the art forms that support your work: For example, when I’m making a dance I like to see what the lighting designer sees, and this leads to new ways of being inspired. 
  • Pinterest is great for organizing ideas and images floating around the web.  
  • Go to real people: When I need help, I get smart, talented, patient people to help me. I have found it especially inspiring to continue studying while crafting work. Good teachers inspire me: Jane Shockley, Jane Hawley, Martin Keogh to name a few.  
  • Strive to be honest: It doesn’t matter if what you make gets you rich or famous. If you’re authentic and committed, it will pay off. 
  • Follow your bliss: People are inspired by passionate people. And find ways to laugh-- at yourself and others. Laugh at the irony and the mistakes. Laugh because you get to do what you love-- this is a great privilege.  
What's next?
I’m really excited about this piece I’m working on now called “Forgiveness Lunch.”  It’s a new solo I'll show at Luther College February 20-21. I feel like I’m headed down a new road with my choreography, adding more depth to my personal narrative and integrating my personal dance technique as I continue growing and changing as a dancer. I love blurring the lines between dance, theater, story, clowning, surrealism, memories…  I’ve always found it hard to call my work “dance” because people already have an idea of what “dance” is.  But they don’t know what I’m going to do.  

You can find Blake on twitter, read more about him here, and find more 5 With interviews here

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