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

Connecting to the Work | Final 6

October 27, 2014

[Read part one here, and part two here.]

photo by Marie Ketring for Pollen Midwest
These Connecting to the Work posts are for those of you who
  • Feel like you're in a work rut: something needs to change-- it's not exciting you
  • Want to feel like you're building something you care about, but you're not sure what it is
  • Are artists, committed to a particular field, but trying to get more specific about what you work is-- or what's next for it, or what you big long-term goals are with it
This is the last handful of suggestions that I've found particularly helpful for finding movement in times of stuck-ness.

1) Adjust Your Sense of Time: This isn't an active suggestion, but I think it's worth pointing out: all of this takes time. I think many of us leave college with an artificial sense of timing set in-- the kind that was more common in our parents' generation: you leave college, maybe you go to graduate school; you get a job, you get promoted, you let time coast by so that you can eventually retire. This sounds pretty depressing to me, actually. Jobs and people and creative work evolve over time; life experience changes us and what we make. This is good! There is no possible way I could have know what I wanted to do with my life when I was 22-- I was barely an adult. Allow space for change, recognize that it's positive, and remember that there's no such thing as a wasted life experience. I'm no longer a dance teacher, but I learned a lot about being a leader and taking creative risks in that 10 years of teaching. Everything builds towards where you are now. Trust that change will happen: it's actually impossible for it not to.

2) Get an Accountability Buddy: We all need sounding boards. It's hard to get perspective on your own jumbled brain and heart. I find it's helpful to work with a buddy who isn't in your exact creative field-- that way there's no room for weird competition. It's crucial to find someone who you respect. And, if you're going with the buddy system (not paying for advice), it's important that you feel like there's an equal give/take with the person. It'll take time to find the right fit. It's worth the wait.

3) Move Before you Think: I really don't just like dance for pretty, virtuosic movement on a stage; I like how it helps us tap into a different kind of intelligence. I promise that if you take a 20 minute walk or jump around the living room to Queen (or, music of your choice) for a half hour before trying to make a big life decision, you'll think more from your gut than your brain. When I think too much from my brain, I'm bound to get stuck. When I think from my gut, the answer feels more obvious. Try combining this exercise with Morning Pages (move first, write second).

4) Ask Yourself Big QuestionsWrite down the date and answer some big questions...
  • What do I value and want time for? How can I make this happen?
  • Where do I feel stuck? Get as concrete as possible...
  • How do I want to feel? (I know, the woo-woo one, but I swear by it...)
  • What gives me energy? What takes it away? How can I incorporate more of these energy-giving things into my life?
Briefly look over your answers. Choose 3 tangible take-aways from your writing and put them somewhere visible where you can be reminded to act. Put your writing away to consult in 6 months. It's rewarding to see how things shift over time (see #1).

5) Superpowers: Ask that accountability buddy (or a trusted friend or two) what they think your superpowers are. Don't worry: you have them! What do your friends appreciate about you? What life experiences have made you feel like the best version of yourself? How can you take a little of this personal superpower and bring it into your creative/work life?

6) Make Space: If you want to invite change into your life, you'll have to make space for it. This might mean getting rid (even temporarily) of any neigh-sayers you spend time with, or making additional time by letting go of activities that you're no longer enthusiastic about. In 2011 I started canceling as many teaching gigs as possible, and sure enough this eventually led to work that better utilized my strengths. I took on projects, like this blog, that had no real connection to my career and that my more logical brain would have viewed as a waste of time. Be impractical for a while. Come up with a sentence or two to respond to well-intentioned people who want to know what you're up to. When you change course, they'll probably feel at least a little confused. Politely ignore them. You get one life, so choose what's in it wisely.

Is there anything you'd add to these lists? How did you find your creative work?

SCINAS | Comfort

October 24, 2014

Note: What the heck is SCINAS? My little mantra that Self Care is Not About Smoothies. I introduced it here.

The highlight of my week was watching Ben make this pie. It was less about the joy of having pie to eat (though I'd eat pie & whipped cream for breakfast every day if it was available), but more about the joy of making ordinary, everyday comfort. 

When I experience crappy circumstances, or just exhaustion over life's general unpredictability, I'm aware that the things in life that comfort me most are tiny, ordinary things: Ben's mimed orchestrations of the opening credits to television shows; the sight of our cats in a sunbeam; apple pie. (Actually, a long list of foods...)

A few months ago I was at a friend's house and noticed she was keeping a jar of moments of the year that she wanted to remember-- moments to hang onto and be grateful for. For me, that's the stuff of comfort. I need to make a long list of moments and things that I love. I'll add to it that thing I read on the internet; Morrissey singing My Love Life; the last episode of Six Feet Under that slayyys me; Tiny Beautiful Things; that picture from our wedding where I was crying and laughing in the same breath; the memory of the first grilling on our patio. We need the stuff of ordinary joy. Gather it around you like armor, because that's what good comfort is. 

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