In With The New

December 26, 2012

I love a new year. I don't love it in a hyped-up, all-of-my-eggs-in-the-basket-of-what's-ahead kind of way, as much as in the hooray-for-reflection-and-perspective kind of way. I'm grateful for the time to dig in and think bigger.

For me, New Years is not about resolutions as much as clarification. I love a good ritual-- the chance to cleanse and start fresh and admire what was good, and mourn what was hard.

Do you have a favorite New Years ritual?

Andrea Scher, of Superhero Life, offers up one via video this year. She suggests that you come up with a word that will be the theme for the year ahead. Mine? Release.

Or, maybe you want to take the opportunity to whip up a batch of these Bourbon cocktails with grapefruit and mint (find the recipe over at Heart of Light), and write a Mondobeyondo list. I took an eCourse last January that culminated with such a list. It was a list of seemingly impossible and dreamy big things that I wanted to do in my lifetime. The result of putting it on paper? Hugely liberating.

Or, maybe you'd like to follow my friends Betsy and Molly in their New Years tradition of 3 words: 3 words that best sum up 2012, and 3 words for the new year ahead. Sometimes it feels good to burn the old words and close the door on the old year with ceremony. This tradition is one of my favorites.

Regardless of how you choose to transition, I wish you endless possibility in 2013. To the new!


December 20, 2012

Last night I ate at Restaurant Alma, and it was some of the best food I've ever had. Ever. Dear friends mailed us a gift card for helping with their wedding. The timing nicely paired up with Christmas-aversary-- the celebration of our first date. So, there we were. (I was reminded, though, that I'd like more meals like that without a reason to celebrate.)

Alma serves a 3-course tasting menu-- mix and match to create a meal of your choosing. I ate swordfish served ceviche-style, homemade pasta with greens and a tomato sausage sauce, and then a short rib with kale and potatoes, all paired with wine.

There's something special about eating like that-- the time to breathe between courses in a relaxed atmosphere where everything has been carefully considered but nothing feels pretentious. All of the focus was on the act of eating. Slowly. Because, you don't want to miss any of the carefully considered combinations and flavors. Snow started falling outside as I noted a hot pepper oil and some cilantro on the swordfish. Something clicked into place and I started to feel the magic of slowing down. 

Slowing down: something I'm awful at. I have more lists than I have space to put them. And the holidays, which are supposed to be full of merry and cheer and carols by the fireplace feel full of deadlines and one more thing to rush for. 

After the meal we went home and walked around our neighborhood. Each house had a Christmas light display that seemed to attempt to one-up the next. My favorite was simple: a large, arched window with a white-lit tree shining through, coming from the second floor. It echoed the quiet of the meal, making me breathe a little deeper. 

See you in 2013.

Ode to the obsessed

December 18, 2012

I love nerds. I love talking to people who are totally into one thing, and can't stop discussing and elaborating on it.

Which is why I loved these movies...

[Don't you want me to draw a movie poster for you? Ballet dancers have very long left legs. Fact.]

Both are documentaries. Man On Wire follows a man obsessed with walking a wire between the World Trade Center's twin towers. First Position follows kids in love with ballet as they prepare for a national competition. Both films have loads of heart. You might cry. Because, watching people pour all of themselves into one thing is pretty inspiring.

Moving Towards Self-Employment

December 14, 2012

A couple of days ago I bought a book as a Christmas present for a buddy, but ended up sitting down and reading most of it in one sitting before wrapping it.

It's the kind of book that I took a gamble on-- I thought it might be one of those cutesy artist/self-help books that tells you to dance like nobody's watching. Instead, it was full good stuff-- ideas that felt like they were written with my creative dilemmas in mind.

The principles in the small 140-page book seem almost too simple (Do good work and share it with people...Take care of yourself...Write what you like). But, the principles of being a successful creative person ARE simple. It's implementing them that's ridiculously complex and uncertain.

My eyes traveled to this section:

Keep your day job. A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine... A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them. 
--Austin Kleon--

There is a romance to (the sound of) self-employment- something that I hope to fully attain someday in the next couple of years. Strangely, it's been Ben's full-time self-employed that's made me feel grateful for the 2-3 days I spend serving at a restaurant. It's made me really appreciate the regularity of my (albeit small) paycheck, those hours when I'm not in charge of anyone or anything other than mixing a martini for an business man with a suspiciously young-looking lunch date, and the chance to daydream and people watch.  

But, my arrangement of money jobs and freelance jobs hasn't always fit so nicely. There were the years I taught dance at six different suburban schools while nannying, and the years I worked 40 hours/wk at a restaurant for health insurance and still kept up the day of teaching in Northfield and the nights of rehearsals. My life has become a lot simpler since I limited my teaching and freelance gigs and focused my energy on:

1. A job that allows me to make a good hourly wage with minimal baggage to bring home and maximum flexibility(for me- serving).

2. Making space for business things (making a website, meeting with clients, devising methodology, developing materials).

3. Taking care of myself. 

This is still a relatively new experiment, especially since a lot of time and energy this summer and fall went towards moving, rehab-ing our house, and boring business things like opening bank accounts. But, what's working well for me is having enough time and space where I HAVE to keep moving forward with our creative business pursuits. I can't make excuses for doing scary things by saying that I'm too busy. And, this wasn't the case when I was teaching a lot, and rehearsing for 3 things that I sortof wanted to do, but maybe didn't really want to do.

For me, it's come down to energy. I can't do all the things and do them well. And, I can't make a business happen without a bit of a financial cushion. So, that serving job? I kindof like it.

What kinds of day jobs do you think fit best with freelancing? When do you know it's time to quit your job and be fully self-employed?

[I also write about finding a day job that works with freelancing here.]

Christmas in Wales

December 12, 2012

After I graduated from college I got a work visa for the UK. After weeks of looking for a nannying job, I found a family and booked a plane ticket to London without even a phone conversation with them.

I lived with Stephen, Ashley, and (then) baby Zach for 6 1/2 months. Stephen and Ashley are artists-- painters and print makers. We have been the best of friends since meeting. Zachary (now nine) and his sisters Rosie and Scarlet are my godchildren, and that job was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

The Christmas in Wales we spent together goes down as the most fun christmas ever. We were all short on cash, but incredibly resourceful-- focused on thrifting and creative gifting. Christmas was spent just the four of us, in our pajamas, with a stock pile of chocolate, champagne, and delicious ingredients. There wasn't a holiday obligation in sight.

I think of that Christmas a lot as Ben and I build our own family traditions. Christmas is the anniversary of our first date- which gives us even more of a reason to do fun things. We've started going ice skating and singing karaoke with friends on Christmas Eve Eve. Otherwise, traditions surround food-- a menu that's always changing depending on what we're excited by, a walk, an experimental cocktail or two. More relaxing, and less traveling, because it usually just leaves me stressed at this time of year. I'm inspired to do the simple things and enjoy them fully.

How do you balance family and holiday obligations with the things that bring you the most joy? What are your favorite traditions? a musician makes an album

December 11, 2012

2012 is ticking away. I'm starting to think about 2013 (!) and what I want it to hold. I want to grow our business. I also want to set aside time (and energy) to make some art. This time, though, I want to make small dances. I want to make dances the way a musician makes an album. 

What does this mean? I want them to be portable (in my case, no big sets and projectors), easily sharable (short pieces that can be performed as part of a collaborative evening or for at a performance in and of themselves), employ some kind of element outside of the performance that's consumable (like a poster, a t-shirt designed by a visual artist I love), and versatile (the material can continue to be used and manipulated in various ways).

When I was twenty four, my obsession was my friends Kristof and Paul's band Dance Band. I never missed a show. They dressed up in wild outfits (Paul often just wore sparkly underwear, with MAYBE a cape framing his hairy chest), and performed a set of music that made the It was a sweaty experience that made us all happy and form strange magical bonds with the other people in the room. At each performance they sang most of the same songs. But, we all kept showing up to hear their sweaty dance-inducing message, week after week.

Why spend hours and hours making something to just have it performed once? Why not make it transportable and sharable in various settings for new groups of people? Why attempt to reinvent the wheel, rather than going deeper (and getting better) at one thing?

Musicians record an album and take it on tour. They promote the album endlessly-- collaborate with visual artists and designers to make posters and t-shirts, and take time to talk about the body of work. So, while they spend hours and hours to compose the music and record the album, they get to really leverage the energy they put into making it. 

Any creative person will tell you: energy and time are finite resources.  I refuse to believe that making a living as a creative person is impossible. It demands strategy, though, and a respect for the time and resources it takes to create. 

Examples of people who are making creative projects... like a musician makes an album:

Candy Simmons-- developing tour-able one-woman shows.

Braid Creative-- an eCourse curriculum that they can offer repeatedly throughout the year.

Emma Freeman-- putting her personal photography in a gallery show,  then an etsy shop.

ARTCRANK-- touring their bicycle-lover-meets-local-printmakers- party around the country (and in England!).

Small Art: results from the experiment

December 7, 2012

Last Friday Ben and I had twenty folks over to our house for a performance. We set up our living room  like a movie theater. Brad Liening read poems, Kristen Graves sang, and Emily Gastineau performed two dances. One dance involved the audience passing around a bowl of giant marshmallows, hardboiled eggs, and roses. In each was a message, and we took turns reading them aloud while Emily improvised. I think that-- hearing each audience member read, and then laugh in response to one another-- really summed up why I wanted to have the performance in the first place: the sense of community and intimacy that performance in a small space creates. There we were reading and watching and laughing together, dear friends and strangers mixed together. It was delightful.

The Twin Cities are saturated with opportunities to see live performance. I feel grateful for this, but I think that it often works to the disadvantage of the artists. It's hard to get a consistent audience, and making performance work is expensive (rehearsal space, performance venue, set, costumes, designers...) -- especially if you're only going to be able to have a short run.

I wanted to start Small Art as a baby experiment [start small-- with 20 people!] in making + curating artistic work in alignment with my values. Meaning, it supports:

  • Creative and inexpensive performance spaces. In this case, all money proceeds were able to go to the artists. There was no tech, special costumes, or expensive set.
  • Unlikely collaborations (and, as a result, broadened audience bases). Many of the audience members we had typically attend dance performances. They had the opportunity to get exposed to poetry and folk music, too. And, as a result, Kristen and Brad got to expand their fan bases a bit.
  • Reusing artistic material. The artists didn't specifically make their material for Small Art. They will be able to perform the material (and hopefully make money off of it) again.
  • Multiple ways of supporting artists. In addition to ticket sales, audience members could support the artists by buying beer + wine, books, and albums. In the future, I'd like to have some kind of visual art element (posters, etc...).
  • Talking about/educating the audience on artistic work. Rather than just stepping on a stage and performing, all of the artists talked about how they made the work and what drove their choices. It made for a stronger connection between the art and the audience.
  • Creating community around art. When you're sitting on a floor next to a fellow audience member, and then enjoying wine with them later, if fosters new connections. I got really excited to hear performers sharing updates on their work, and see unlikely collaborations forming behind the scenes.

And, of course, there is lots of room for improvement and growth. For one, we need to find a better system for ticketing and promotion than facebook. It was hard to make sure that all of the seats were going to get filled, without worrying about overbooking the space. Overall, though, I am certainly game to try this again and see how it grows.

Critic Lightsey Darst writes about Small Art for here.

[All photos by Ben McGinley.]


Mo Perry: on puzzling together a creative life, surviving the universe's punches, and the value of serial television

December 6, 2012

Mo Perry inspires me with her ability to throw herself into back-to-back acting projects, freelance writing, and a 32-hour-a-week job, while still making time for the things that bring balance: road trips, marathons, the Twin Cities' best foodie offerings, and tv on the couch with her love. Her performances have made me simultaneously tear up and laugh my face off, and her METRO Magazine column was a constant reminder that adulthood and - though sometimes painful- is mostly hilarious. Mo doesn't appear to take life too seriously, and we're all the better for it.

Many of my acting buddies are in challenging new territory. They're past the point in their careers where it's advantageous to say YES to every acting project that comes their way, but they don't yet have a steady stream of gigs that fit their new pay scale and excite them. It makes for a lot of awkward waiting gaps, a lot of cycling through the ups and downs of the audition game, and a lot of resulting self-doubt. I'm grateful for Mo's honesty about the challenges of piecing together life as an artist, and the reminder that the experiences of creative people are really universal. 

Mo graduated from the University of Kansas, joined the Peace Corps, and then worked as a tour guide in California.  In 2006, she made her way back to the Twin Cities. I know I join many in saying that I'm so glad she did.

[photo by Debbie Tallen]

L: Talk about the beginning. What was auditioning like when you first moved back to Minneapolis? 
M: Exciting. It’s kind of dissolved now, but we had what used to be known as the Small Theatre mafia-- the group of people who used to gather at the Market BBQ every Wednesday and Sunday night and ran Callboard. I kind of came in at the tail end of that. The theatre scene here is very welcoming, and I made a lot of friends just by showing up. It was a time of a lot of change. I got a little studio apartment under ground in uptown. I just started doing as much theatre as I could, started dating another actor, and hung out with the theatre people.

L: You’ve had a lot of success with getting cast. What’s helped you?
M: Early in your career, it’s about saying yes and yes and yes. You show up, work your ass off, and do the best possible work. And then, as you progress, I think it’s equally important to be more judicious. Because, I think if you continue to spread yourself too thin, the quality of your work does suffer. Earning some higher profile projects and more money for your work is important for how you’re perceived on some level, which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do something if you really love it, or if it revs your motor, even if it pays you nothing. My friend Xavier has a really good algorithm for taking a project. He says, it has to pay me in one of three ways: it has to pay my pocket, my resume, or my spirit. And if it can pay two of the three, all the better. Three? Home run. It’s a constantly shifting thing you have to evaluate at all times-- what does it mean for that thing to pay your resume, your pocket, or even your spirit?

L: Are you acting as much now?
M: This last year has been slow for me, and it’s been frustrating. I’m used to being super busy and going from show to show. It’s also exhausting [doing that], so I haven’t stressed out about it too much. Part of it is that you start working for theaters that pay you a living wage, and then it gets hard to go backwards. You get offers for things that you’re more inclined to say no to. You’re older, you’re more tired, and you don’t necessarily have to do those things anymore for the exposure. So, you have to wait a little longer for those offers that are aligned with what you want to be doing artistically and financially. I’m 31, I have a 32 hr a week job and other things I enjoy doing with my spare time. I love theatre and acting, but I want to be doing it as a career, not as a hobby or as something that’s fun after work for a little spare change. I don’t want to do that anymore.

L: The cycle of auditions seems really potentially destructive- the emotional ups and downs of it all.
M: It’s awful. It’s like depression in that it’s something people struggle with alone- something that actors take to their partners and private spaces and chew on and obsess over and feel anxious and sad about-- and question their worth as artists, their career choices, and wonder if it’s ever going to work out. And then they go to theatre parties, or the Ivey’s, and put on this cool, calm exterior and attitude of ‘I’m just rolling with the punches.’ It’s crazy making. It can feel really isolating. It can feel like you’re in a boxing ring with the universe: this is who I am, this is my destiny, this is what I should be doing, this is my talent. And the universe is constantly punching you in the face and saying ‘No it’s not. Go back to your corner.’ And, once every fifteen rounds, you win. And, it’s exhausting. You fall in love with a play, a character, the prospect of a certain production. It’s not like you can just decide to put the same production on in your garage or something.

L: How do you work through it?
M: It’s really important to have other things in your life that you’re enthusiastic about. I love food and I love travel. I love sitting on the couch with my man and watching a tv show that we’re hooked on-- finding comfort in things that have nothing to do with theatre. I like to see a lot of theatre, and I can see more of it when I’m not doing as much theatre.  I think sometimes you just need to let yourself feel sad and crazy. It might feel better tomorrow. And, you’ll probably feel like this again. In between there are stretches of feeling like life is pretty good. For me, I think I’m lucky that I have another creative outlet in that I like to write so much, and I can channel some of in that direction. 

L: If you could be doing anything in 4 years, what would you be doing? 
M: A mixture of freelance writing and acting. Doing theatre as it comes up, hopefully putting work together from the places I’ve worked at and loved and places I haven’t worked yet but would like to.  And writing- which I do right now. Sometimes pieces for corporate wellness blogs. I just did a thing for General Mills about how to write a Christmas letter that people will actually read. I loved having my column in METRO, and would love to put together a book of essays, write web content and maybe keep growing my part-time job at the University of Minnesota, which recently became more aligned with where I see my writing career going. It’s a big puzzle that everyone has to figure out how to cobble together for themselves-- how to make a living, and how to feel like you’re doing what you love without selling out.

L: You’ve put together a pretty good arrangement right now. In a way, your job at the U is perfect.
M: I couldn’t ask for a better day job to go with the life that I have. They’re so flexible and supportive. They support my values and goals, and that’s really amazing. 

L: I just realized that hobbies outside the performing arts can be balancing. Like serial television. 
M: Yes. My sister [and roommate] just passed the bar exam and got a job. She asked me to go in on cable with her. I’ve never had cable in my adult life. And now we have it, and she got this got this comfy chair and sofa, and I just want to be in that chair watching Modern Family. And Nashville

L: I could use a new series.
M: Did you see The Wire? The Wire for me is like no other television show. They should stop making television since it was already perfected. I mean, I named my cats after the two main characters. 

[Since this, I've become addicted to The Wire. See you in March.]

You can find more of the Artist Series here

New blog home + Giveaway!

December 3, 2012

As I wrote in my old Mildly Minnesotan space, the time has come for a new blog home. I'm excited-- things are easier to find over here, and I even have a space for my performance work.

To celebrate + say thanks for reading, I'm giving away a Laura Brown Art calendar. Check it:

Laura Brown has a kickstarter campaign going on right now. She's fundraising to take a bunch of her prints on a midwest tour! I'm a fan of this particular kickstarter, because I can clearly see how it's going to boost Laura's career, and introduce her work to a new audience. Kickstarter is a great way of crowd-sourced fundraising-- you can give a little or a lot, but Laura won't get the money unless she meets her funding goal. Even 10 dollars would greatly benefit what she's doing! Please consider supporting Laura's work with your dollars.

I'm also giving away a copy of Brad Liening's book of poems, Ghosts and Doppelgangers. Brad writes about pop culture and celebrity, and he read many of these poems at my house Friday night as part of Small Art. They are both heartfelt and hilarious, and I think everyone needs a little Brad this holiday season.

So, leave Laura Brown a message telling her how studly this calendar is {or Brad a message telling him how clever you're sure his book is}, and after Friday at 5:00 central time  [postponed until 10:00 am central on Monday!], I'll pick two commenters at random and mail you the goods. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting the arts!


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