Happiness

May 25, 2012



A friend of mine posted on facebook last week, asking when it is too late to risk undergoing a career change.  I'm glad that many others chimed in to tell her that it's never too late, and that doing what is REALLY going to make you happy is worth it, and that you can find ways to make these career adjustments work.  The scariest part is admitting that you want a change.  The other stuff is doable.

It's been almost a year since playwright Tom Poole died.  It's unfortunate to think that it takes losing great people to remember how to live life better.  But, Tom was a reminder for many of us.  In fact, Tom's death happened in the midst of a period of time where I realized that I did not like the way that I was living life-- that I was overrun by anxiety, spread too thin, and unable to remember what I really liked.  In fact, Tom defined happiness in such a beautiful way-- a way that really did explain to me why I was having a hard time finding it:  My experience of happiness is that it just comes to you. It is not so much the product of things you like happening to you as it is a feeling of yourself in the world.

I'm happy to report that, a year later, I like the feeling of myself in the world a lot more.  And, I'm grateful that I feel much more aware of life's possibility-- that if I want to make something happen, I truly can.  I guess what I'm trying to articulate is this: If you wake up one morning (or many mornings), unsure if you like the life you're living, change it.  It's totally possible.  I think that for a long time I thought that life was supposed to be Really. Hard. Work.  And, I guess it is-- creating the life you want to live IS really freaking hard-- BUT I don't think it's supposed to be hard in the I'm-chronically-anxious-and-over extended-and-can't-remember-my-name-for-months kind of way.  I thought it was, but it turns out that it was just me, making things harder for myself than they ever needed to be.

So, yeah.  It's a process, but it feels possible.  And, that's really exciting.  And, on that note, I'm going off grid for a while, and will return June 4.  JUNE!  JUNE?  Yes.

Reading: The Fire Starter Sessions

May 24, 2012



I've long alluded that I'm in the process of Making. Things. Happen.  I'm excited to soon share exactly what's happening!  But, the bottom line is that I'm reading lots about making things happen, and I have been for the last year.  Danielle LaPorte's The Fire Starter Sessions grabbed my attention, because it's all about finding clarity-- in figuring out what you want to be doing and why.  Because, I'm all about reducing stuck-ness.  I know all too well what it's like to be trying to get somewhere, but unable to articulate what is actually in your way.

Despite being a big-thinking, dreamy artistic type, I'm actually a very pragmatic person.  As a result, I'm not really a fan of books that give too many encouraging speeches, say things like 'you go girl' (or call me 'darling'), and tell me to get in touch with 'my deepest self.'  Don't get me wrong-- I'm a big fan of my deepest self.  But, when I've bought a book about building a business or making things happen, I want concrete information.

So, The Fire Starter Sessions was a little, um, spiritual for my taste.  I mean, it refers to itself as a soulful and practical guide.  And, there are lots of pump-up speeches (I actually believe that Danielle refers to them as 'sermons').  BUT, there's also a lot of concrete information and hard truth involved.  And, it wasn't until I completed some of the exercises that I realized how helpful some of the information was at contributing to personal clarity.

One of the exercises asks a very simple question:



Yes, that's it.  Just that.  At first I wasn't sure how feelings actually got to the heart of the matter.  How will feelings help me reach the 90 remaining goals on my 1,000 days list, Danielle?  I'm a tough sell sometimes.

But, I made myself do it.  I actually thought a lot about how I wanted to feel, and, according to Danielle's instructions, whittled my list down to 3 core feelings that are important to me.

One of them was 'connected', which wasn't much of a surprise to me at all.   I'm at my best as a collaborator, in cases where I can tap into stores of empathy, and when I'm working to help other people carry out ideas.  So, it makes total sense that some of my less successful projects have occurred when I've tried to take on an enormous effort as one person, and ended up feeling really isolated and alone.  I'm more successful when I feel connected.

The exercise continues:



Yes.  What can you do today to generate the feelings that you want?  Is it writing an email, or starting steps towards planning a project, or showing up an an event?  I like this exercise because it encourages you to start to take immediate steps towards feeling the way you want to feel.  Rather than waiting until you accomplish some huge feat in, say, 6 years that will bring on feelings of success, you can start to feel like you're headed in the right direction now.  And, isn't that so much better?

I talk to a lot of friends (specifically artists) who are feeling stuck and not really sure why.  Sometimes it seems like it's about not getting the grant, or not having enough time or money.  I get it: these are legitimate concerns.  Interestingly enough, though, I have artist friends who did get the grant, the role, and the big check, and still feel just as frustrated.  This makes me pretty sure that getting what we want has to encompass more than just a feat-- something that we can check off a list.  It appears that how we feel really does matter-- or at least being able to articulate how we want to feel.  So, how do you want to feel?

The Things We Make: Kristen Graves

May 23, 2012

Kristen Graves is a singer/songwriter, activist, and all around kickass human being.  Here, she writes about the teaching adventure she's combining with her summer tour this year.  I'm so excited about her plans, and really glad that there are people like her in the world!



I'm a singer/songwriter originally from Green Bay, WI, who was lucky enough to spend four years at St. Olaf College, where, during my senior year I lived in a suite with 9 other girls, one of them being, Ms. Laura Holway.  We had a great four years together - tons of laughs and inappropriate amounts of fun, yet, we always knew that we were both going to go out into the world and 'do something'.  The time has come, we're all recently turned or soon to turn 30, and we're living our lives, creating what we think matters, and doing something.

Last summer, during my annual summer tour, I made a quick five-day stop in LaPlant, South Dakota where my partner/husband (I like to use both titles, one for connotation, and one for clarity...I hope you don’t mind) has spent the last few years working with the Lakota people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.  He does all sorts of great things out there, but to sum it all up quickly, he works with home repair and construction and hosts summer camps and community events for the families living in this remote town.

During the end of the week community cook out, I played a few songs, since the kids for the five days had been asking me about what I did for a job.  After I was done with my mini-concert I was literally swarmed by children.  They asked me all sorts of questions…'How do you hold a guitar pick?  How many chords to you know?  If I strum, will you play?  Do you know Taylor Swift?'…you get the idea.  So, this of course, got me thinking about what a huge role music played in my life as a child, and the huge amounts of joy that it brings into my life each day.  How great would it be, to be able to offer that same joy to a community of people?

I decided that I would host and teach a free guitar camp for any and all who want to come this summer on the Cheyenne River Reservation.  Between weeks of touring, I'll be spending weeks on the reservation teaching as much music as I can.  In total I'll be spending five weeks between shows spending time with curious young musicians, and learning fun songs.  ('Smoke on the Water' and 'Pumped Up Kicks' have already been requested.)  I have to say - this summer's tour is going to be my best one yet.

And that's it.  That's the plan.  This summer I'll be carting guitars out to South Dakota, picking up tuners and strings along the way, and of course, as I travel from town to town, I'll be bringing along our 'camp guitar', which will be used to bring back messages of encouragement and hope from my friends around the country to my friends on the reservation.  I can't wait!

This also reminds me, to mark my summer tour departure, I'll be bringing along a new EP - I'm really thrilled about that as well!  It has five songs, they're about comfort, love and kindness, and the general idea behind the cd is to slow down.  We could all enjoy life a little bit more if we'd just let ourselves, don't you think? The above photo is a sneak peak of the album cover.

To follow along with my tour, and the summer guitar camp, please stay in touch through my blog, twitter, or facebook.


New York

May 10, 2012

The last time I was in New York was in early 2008, and Ben and I were just a few months into dating.

Here we are.  It appears that I'm doing some hand improvisation for the city, while Ben wonders if he should be mirroring.



And again walking through the city.





Today we leave to go there again, this time to watch a dear friend get married in Central Park.  It's also our 1st wedding anniversary on Monday.  What a year it has been.  I'm a big fan of love.

Working: supporting your freelance habit

May 9, 2012

Photo by Gregg Eyman

A few weeks ago, as I got hyped up on coffee and admired the early morning light streaming through the windows of the restaurant where I work, I took a moment to acknowledge something:  I like my job.  My serving job.  It's the perfect fit for what I'm trying to make space to accomplish right now.

I talk with a lot of artists who are trying to find a money job that doesn't suck up all of their time and energy.  When I graduated from college, I was pretty sure that the only way I could be a choreographer was to also be a teacher.  Although I don't regret teaching, I never realized the challenge of spending so much time and energy on something that I don't want to make a career out of.  Thinking back on the restaurant work, the nannying (here and in Wales), and the teaching, I realize that the best jobs were the ones that allowed me the emotional energy and finances to make progress towards figuring out my career steps-- a way my art might finally allow me to make a living (at least more of one).  This lead me to think about a few things I've realized about working in my 8 years out of college:

What do I value, and what do I want to be doing with my time?

Even when I haven't been able to focus my work time where I've wanted to (sometimes those jobs are harder to find), it's always helpful to keep this perspective.

If I make more money per hour, I have more hours to spend doing what I really want to be doing.  

I make more money serving than I do teaching or than I’d make at some office jobs.  Yes, the work is often more physically exhausting than teaching or desk work (and the money can be erratic).  But, I can usually work three days a week instead of five, and spend the other days on rehearsals or other freelance work.

Work that stays at work is the best.

I’ve worked at restaurants with amazing amounts of drama.  I was once a middle school teacher, and brought a lot of my workload and stress home.  I’ve learned that it’s essential to my wellbeing to be able to separate from my job.  This means I go to work, do my job to the best of my ability, and then practice being off the clock when I’m done.  Some days it’s hard, but it’s so worth it.

Insurance & benefits are less important than I thought.

When I got out of college, I was really concerned about finding a job that offered me health insurance.  What I’ve since discovered is that I’d rather pay for my own, get the tax write-off (since I freelance a great deal and file as self-employed), and not be limited to working a job that offers benefits, or limited to working a specific number of hours a week in order to keep my insurance.  No, my insurance isn’t great.  But, it’s good enough.  There are a lot of reasonably priced health insurance options available these days.

Working too much doesn't serve me well.

I'm a driven type-a, and I'm always tempted to pick up extra shifts and projects.  But, when I'm over-extended, I don't do my best work.  I can't work five serving shifts, teach three classes, and still bring clear, big ideas to rehearsal.  So, I try to come back to the first question: what do I value and what do I want to be spending my time doing?  It doesn't always translate to more money, but it usually means that I'm happier with my progress.

The restaurant I've been working for closes in three weeks.  I'm excited and anxious for the next big thing.

Eating: Guacamole

May 7, 2012

In April we were visited by my wonderful friend...April.  Ben cooked a lot for us, including this Guacamole--the best I've ever tasted!  We ate it so quickly that we had to make more.  His secret?  A couple scoops of Greek yogurt, which added a nice zip, as well as creaminess.  Otherwise, the recipe is pretty basic: avocado, lime, garlic, red onion, cilantro, tomato, salt & pepper.  Chili powder & jalapeno optional.  But, the yogurt?  So. Good.







PS-- Do you know the pit secret?  I learned a couple of years ago that leaving an avocado pit in the Guacamole keeps it from turning brown.  It works!

Learned & Noted: April

May 6, 2012

April was a Life School intensive.  In no particular order...



1.  New Things Are Scary At First

Last weekend I found myself on the edge of a fifteen-foot pool wearing scuba gear.  As I jumped in for my maiden attempt at diving, I was flooded by pictures of the made-for-tv movie that I watched as a child.  The characters were on a boat that sunk while they were sleeping, and they drowned IN THEIR SLEEP beneath the ocean, unable to breath.  From the moment I put the mask on, I felt myself clench up a little bit.  And then, in the pool attempting to breath off of the respirator but continually managing to suck down water, I started to get pissed.  I am just going to have to explain to people that I am not the scuba diving type of person!  It doesn't help when you know that your lack of breathing is complicating your ability to think rationally.  I don't know what made me stop choking and start breathing.  It was a lot of talking myself down from the wall, but it happened: I had fun under water.

2.  Make Space

There are only so many hours in the day.  Seriously.  This month a lot of them went towards choreographing a high school musical in the suburbs, and a lot of other projects went on hold.  I'm getting better at saying no when a project doesn't genuinely jazz me up (or pay my bills).  I know too well that it's a real bummer to resent where your time and energy are going.  I guess it goes back to the idea of making a clearing.  That said...

3.  What Are You Trying To Do?

One of my major, major (major) goals has been being debt-free.  I know, it's probably taboo to talk about money.  But, here I am.  I've had any number of unfortunate financial adventures, from several medical surprises, to shows that I've gone into debt producing, to losing my job.  I've learned that money doesn't have to be scary;  it's actually quite useful.  In order to hopefully attain my goal of being debt-free by 30 (soon!), I spent many hours yelling 5-6-7-8, again! in the suburbs, and shelving other projects, because being debt-free is what I'm trying to do, even at the cost of other things.  And, sometimes I have to remind myself of that-- that I can't have it all at once.

4.  Try To Do What You're Best At

I seriously doubt that I will ever choreograph another musical again.  There are others who are far superior at jazz hands.  I would be just fine if I never hear the words "Can't you just add some more arms?" from another director.

5.  Gravitate Towards People You Respect

I'm inspired by a lot of people.  Sometimes approaching them as friends and collaborators feels scary, though.  I'm so glad that I met the folks who produce ARTCRANK.  Learning from and being surrounded by people who make things happen with positivity, smarts, and vision was such a privilege.  And, it made me feel braver about approaching others.  So, watch out, people!  I'm coming for you!

6.  You'll Figure It Out

At the end of the month, I learned that the restaurant I work for was unable to negotiate a lease, and is closing at the end of May.  Luckily, it was a part-time job.  Luckily, I'm good at piecing things together.  But, it's truly been a moment of shrugging my shoulders and saying to myself 'I'll figure it out.'  I will.


 

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