August Happenings

August 20, 2014

It's late August, which is a great time to remind you all to stop working in favor of cabin trips, bike rides, visits to the State Fair, and eating corn and heirloom tomatoes. There will be plenty of work opportunities in the inevitable dead of winter. 

A few things I want to share:
  • Open Field has come to the end of its summer season, over 70 programs later! Gabby Coll, my fantastic media intern, wrote a great summary of the season. Sharing #CatVidFest with 9,000 fellow humans was a delightful way to end our programming. As I've been reminded: "It's not about watching cat videos, it's about watching cat videos together." Amen. I end the season feeling downright inspired-- both by my Open Field cohorts and the inventive artists and community members that proposed programs. 
  • Nancy Rosenbaum is a talented writer and storyteller that I met at a Small Art two winters ago. She interviewed me for Pollen about my journey towards scaling down creatively (as I've described here and here). It's a most generous article, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to tell my story. You can read it here
Related to the interview: my thoughts are with you all going through transitions. My advice is to just keep going: follow anything that makes your heart beat faster; ask someone dangerous to coffee; have mad amounts of faith, even if you're not sure what that faith is in. You know, easy stuff (so hard).

I'm spending the rest of August wrapping up full time field work, pondering the future, and celebrating a new year of life (!!!!!!) with a travel adventure. I'm looking forward to blogging regularly mid-September. Enjoy celebrating the final days of summer!

Connecting to Creative Work You Love (3 Years Later: Part Two)

August 11, 2014

[Continued from Part One]

The Experiment

The last three years have been about figuring out how to connect to work and collaborators that make me excited. I did this by making a list of what I knew I liked: people I'm inspired by (& why), books I love, blogs and podcasts that lit a fire under my ass, ideas that felt revolutionary, experiences that have made me feel like my best self. I followed a trail of things that were exciting and a little out of my league, and didn't create the parameter that these things needed to relate to choreography or performance. Throughout this process, I also started noting my work strengths-- and I'm not necessarily talking about power point and excel proficiency. Artists have loads of skills! For instance, performance makers are great at supervising lots of people and making something out of nothing-- that's really valuable. And, as I noted before, I made a point of getting outside of my own brain and connecting to other people.

My interviews in 2012 were largely about doing research on one topic:

How does one connect to creative work they love without turning into a poor, bitter, tired individual? (What secret should I know? What training should I have?)

The folks I made a point of connecting with were people that possessed skills/outlooks/careers that I hugely admired. I wanted to know how they did it-- how did they deal with the fear and uncertainty?My questions were along these lines....
  • Jen Scott seems really easy going, prolific, and happy-- does she get freaked out about self-promotion and overwhelmed by career building? (Sure.)
  • Kate O'Reilly whittled together a career out of her skills (and based on her values)-- is that even allowed? (Yep.)
  • Alan Berks created a whole damn amazing website with Leah Cooper-- does he have secret survival skills? (Nope-- they just work hard and aren't afraid of failure.)
  • Mo Perry appears to be a balanced person with HOBBIES and an an artistic career-- tell me more! (She's worked really hard to make balance a priority.)

2 Big Lessons
Collage by Anothony Zinonos via Creative Block
Through these talks, formal and informal, I've seen two different themes continue to emerge:

#1-- Decide what success looks like for you; figure out what you need:
There are a hundred ways to make an artistic career, and you get to decide what your own will look like. There is no one way to do it, and your own path will probably (hopefully) change and evolve over time. Stay flexible! In the process of taking an art-making break, I finally was able to let go of the grip I had on my career, set it down, and take an honest look at it. One thing I learned is that I want to make work that involves more collaboration and connection to lots of different kinds of people. That's a valuable thing to know. I've also learned over time that I'm not the kind of person who wants to make a season of performance work-- I crave balance. I thrive on directing other people's processes and taking on non-performance-related projects with teams of people. Sometimes I look at my choreographic peers who are constantly planning rehearsals and applying for grants, and feel like the odd one out. Shouldn't I want that? Nope-- it doesn't work for me to constantly live in that world. For me, success looks like a balance (or semi-balance) between making a life with my partner, getting in a studio, writing in this space, and building opportunities for people to come together that involve a diverse group of collaborators. The common thread that I find in my creative work is an interest in connection: bringing people together around shared experiences. This takes many forms.

#2-- Do the work, make the thing:
The people I talked to didn't wait for permission to make an audacious step or create something radical- they just did it. I found this exciting and mostly terrifying. HOW DO THEY NOT THROW UP WITH FEAR EVERY SINGLE DAY?????? I'm guessing that they give themselves a soft place to land when they fail, and then get up and do it again. 

In 2012, I started a long run of doing scary things-- doing the thing I wanted to do, without waiting for permission. Some of it was writing, even though I had no formal training as a writer; some of it was inviting people over to my house and playing curator/producer with Small Art; some of it was starting a business. No surprise: like anything else, doing scary things gets easier every time. The more I try things outside of my comfort zone, the more I realize that the consequences of doing something poorly are much less significant than the consequences of doing nothing. Writing this blog helped me develop the chops to write for Minnesota Playlist, my clients, and Open Field; curating Small Art led to working at the Walker; quitting teaching and waiting tables were scary moves, but helped create the space for me to plunge into other, more fulfilling endeavors. Identify the impossible thing you'd love to do, and then make tiny steps backwards. Start working.

More of This

I won't pretend that making a life doing what you love is easy, but I will insist it's worth it. I can give lots of advice on what I've noticed as I watch the people around me build careers, and it will be helpful, but it's not absolute. Stay flexible, be gentle with yourself, make micro-changes, think as creatively about a career as you do about your actual work. Stop expecting outside praise-- find a way to be your own cheering squad (or use the buddy system). I find that success is less about working to a place of full-time self-employment and more about connecting to something, anything, that brings you fully alive for a part of each and every day. Cynicism totally dampens this, so I recommend avoiding it at all costs. Instead, breath more life into that thing that brings you alive: cultivate it, wonder about it, share it with someone else. The world certainly needs more of this.

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


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.


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